The Gathering Storm; Thoughts, Foxes and Poetry; Bees and Flower Choices

S aa A8 (3)As I write, the clouds have darkened, rain is falling, the winds are strengthening and the Met Office is warning of a disruptive storm tomorrow, to perhaps rival the great storm of October 1987, which felled 15 million trees in the UK. And by coincidence, a secondary storm is brewing more locally on which I really would value ANY reader comments, whenever you should read this post, and wherever in the world you happen to live. (Click here for the Met Office blog link for the impending storm).

I refer to the very recently submitted plans to erect a wind turbine of 87 metres on top of the prominent local copse topped hill that features in many of my blog post images. And indeed, provided the cover image for my documentary film from 2011 ‘Epiphany in Translation.’ Click here for more about my film. (For those who prefer non metric, that’s nearly 300 feet, or roughly 6 times the height of the trees which stand there at present. Thus, it would establish a new height record for a single wind turbine in the whole of Carmarthenshire. Since the trees don’t feature on the site plan, I’m guessing they will be felled should the proposal be approved).M aa A1 (3)

  • My 2 questions for any reader who cares to respond are:

Do you feel that such plans should require direct communication and consultation by the developer and site owner with local residents?

Do you feel that this location is appropriate for such a development?

I’m genuinely interested in how other people would honestly view such a development, and how it would be handled from a planning perspective in the different parts of the world that this post might reach. I hope to publish any views expressed, since they will clearly be more dispassionate than my personal slant – always assuming that they reflect the normal high standards of courtesy that have so far been penned here.01k Tachwedd November (3)

For any unsure of the geography of the site, I’ve trawled through some back images and picked a few which show the hill’s location from a few different angles, and in different conditions.01l Rhagfyr December (3)01b Chwefror-February (3)

Whilst this planning submission has only recently, and indirectly, come to our attention, the county council are still deliberating on the plans for 12 even taller turbines to the West of this hill, and are also engaged as I write, in a planning appeal to consider the erection of yet more turbines on Mynydd Llanllwni, just above and to the West.01e Mai May (3)S aa A3 (3)

Indeed The Storm is gathering.

The shipping forecast on the radio downstairs right now for Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea, warns of Westerly winds of severe gale, force 9 within the next 24 hours.

Almost every day for the last 6 weeks has seen us both on rush clearing duties in our lower meadows. The prolonged drier weather this year, enabled me to cut almost all of the meadow. Clearing what will inevitably be just the first cut of rushes has taken much longer. SDIM4150 (2)However, this rush pitchforking, turns out to be very healthy all over body exercise, and has had the added benefit of getting us both down into the field earlier in the day than we’d normally manage. And so, on a couple of occasions, I’ve caught sight of a fox exploring to the North of our upper field. I’m guessing that I was downwind at the time, and it didn’t hear the distinctive sound of the metal gate’s latch being worked as I arrived on site. Both mornings were clear and bright, and one couldn’t help but be impressed by the richness of its distinctive brown/rust black pelt. But I didn’t have my camera to hand and so instead share an image of a wonderful spider’s web net created around a single Stipa stem overhanging the top of one of the many rush piles which now snake across the fields, like some giant reptilian form.SDIM4147 (2)

But at the beginning of this week, Fiona had a much closer encounter with a fox. Close to the pile of road stone that yielded a mystery egg in a previous post, and in torrential rain, she was doing some vital clearing of rain run off channels on our access track, when she spotted the carcase of a large fox just off the main track surface.SDIM4197 (2)What really caught her eye was that the fox was being stripped by a vast number of maggots. I  was able to capture this 24 and 48 hours later, when the rain had abated briefly, and I have to say that even as a retired vet used to some pretty gruesome sights, this was pretty shocking – so skip the next 3 images if squeamish.SDIM4191 (2)SDIM4195 (2)

But it does demonstrate just how quickly and completely a carcase can be stripped and recycled, given mild conditions, by this larval insect form. Though it has its own mystery attached. How did it end up here? If you look closely it seems to have fractured ribs and humerus. Was it hit on our track? Or on the road a few hundred yards away? Or was it shot or caught by the hunt which has started operating again, nearby in the last few weeks? Was it even the same fox I’d seen in our meadow earlier in the month? Thoughts to lie and dissipate, even as it morphs from animate to skeletal, memory and dream.  SDIM4228 (2)

And by this curiously stormy and foxy introduction I arrive at what was initially going to be the main topic of this post before the above episodes made me change tack.


October 3rd this year, saw National poetry day celebrated in the UK, and as is usual for us TV – deprived hobbits, this date was drawn to our attention by hearing a feature on BBC Radio 4 featuring HRH Prince Charles, reading a verse of ‘Fern Hill’ by Dylan Thomas.

I’d referenced in an earlier post that 2014 is the centenary of the Welsh poet’s birth, and HRH is clearly a fan. You can read his rendition of the whole of this lovely poem set in the landscape of rural Carmarthenshire by clicking below:

But this reminded me that MANY years earlier, I’d had my own special encounter with the same poem, when Fiona had given me as a 21st birthday present, her own hand written anthology of poems and ‘spells’ – snippets of prose with real meaning to her.

SDIM4240 (2)I dug out the now fading, pale blue bound book, with lined paper and tidy writing, and include a couple of images from her handiwork – a still treasured possession after all these years.SDIM4241 (2)SDIM4238 (2) And as another poetry link appropriate for this time and special part of the world, why not click below to listen to Dylan Thomas reading his own poem ‘Poem In October’ based on a birthday walk around his home town of Laugharne in Carmarthenshire.

But in a final circular link joining thoughts, foxes and poetry, click here to listen to Ted Hughes reading his poem ‘The Thought Fox’. I first encountered this poem quite recently when my brother Mark drew me into the world of Ted Hughes’ poetry and their joint passion for fishing as a result of research he has been pursuing over the last couple of years.

It turns out that Ted Hughes wrote this poem a few years after having a dream in his undergraduate room at Pembroke College Cambridge, when ‘The Thought Fox’ made his presence known to Ted. Years later Mark was able, by some nifty detective work, to establish that Ted’s room at the time of the dream was the one that he, Mark, had later occupied in his early years of research in the English faculty at Pembroke. And this little bit of synchronicity led to much more research which you can read about in an article which he wrote earlier in the year – ‘Fishing For Ted’ for the alumni magazine of Pembroke college called ‘The Martlet’. Click on the link below, for the magazine which also includes 2 fun cartoon images by Martin Rowson (another of Pembroke’s alumni) for the front and back page of Ted Hughes hooking an enormous ‘Pike’ in the College’s pool whilst younger brother, Mark, stands by with landing net at the ready.- Martlet2013-resized

In a final link within a link, which I only discovered yesterday, this edition of ‘The Martlet’ also contains a fascinating piece by a research fellow, Anna Young, entitled ‘Power For The Future’ which details her work in advancing the potential for tidal power offshore in the UK to generate 29 TW Hours annually – roughly 10% of current UK electricity demand. Exploiting the many areas off our coast, such as nearby Ramsay Sound in Pembrokeshire, where predictable flows in tidal channels between islands have huge potential, has been frustratingly slow. Just why such a power source remains largely undeveloped is explained in the article, and at least in part is due to the damage to turbine blades immersed in these corrosive tidal flows caused by sudden unexpected ‘gusts’ or flow surges. These surges produce extreme stresses on the turbine blades and I I predict that similar damaging wind gusts will exact their toll of any wind turbines erected in our local challenging environment, way before the often quoted 25 year lifetime for such installations is passed.SDIM4234 (2)Pushed into last place of topics for this post, is a subject I’ve not quite managed to include before, but better had now before it becomes completely inappropriate for the time of year. Two interesting pieces of research on bee visits to flowers have caught my eye this year.SDIM3472 (2)The first, is from recent work from Bristol University around February of this year. I normally don’t include text directly from other pieces, but have done below since Ed Yong’s piece is extremely elegantly and succinctly written. You must however read the whole piece and look at the images which are there. SDIM3926 (2)Click here to see the fascinating whole piece. Below is a taster:

Dominic Clarke and Heather Whitney from the University of Bristol have shown that bumblebees can sense the electric field that surrounds a flower. They can even learn to distinguish between fields produced by different floral shapes, or use them to work out whether a flower has been recently visited by other bees. Flowers aren’t just visual spectacles and smelly beacons. They’re also electric billboards.

“This is a big finding,” says Daniel Robert, who led the study. “Nobody had postulated the idea that bees could be sensitive to the electric field of a flower.”

Scientists have, however, known about the electric side of pollination since the 1960s, although it is rarely discussed. As bees fly through the air, they bump into charged particles from dust to small molecules. The friction of these microscopic collisions strips electrons from the bee’s surface, and they typically end up with a positive charge.

Flowers, on the other hand, tend to have a negative charge, at least on clear days. The flowers themselves are electrically earthed, but the air around them carries a voltage of around 100 volts for every metre above the ground. The positive charge that accumulates around the flower induces a negative charge in its petals.

When the positively charged bee arrives at the negatively charged flower, sparks don’t fly but pollen does. “We found some videos showing that pollen literally jumps from the flower to the bee, as the bee approaches… even before it has landed,” says Robert. The bee may fly over to the flower but at close quarters, the flower also flies over to the bee.

This is old news. As far back as the 1970s, botanists suggested that electric forces enhance the attraction between pollen and pollinators. Some even showed that if you sprinkle pollen over an immobilised bee, some of the falling grains will veer off course and stick to the insect.

But Robert is no botanist. He’s a sensory biologist. He studies how animals perceive the world around them. When he came across the electric world of bees and flowers, the first question that sprang to mind was: “Does the bee know anything about this process?” Amazingly, no one had asked the question, much less answered it. “We read all of the papers,” says Robert. “We even had one translated from Russian, but no one had made that intellectual leap.”

To answer the question, Robert teamed up with Clarke (a physicist) and Whitney (a botanist), and created e-flowers—artificial purple-topped blooms with designer electric fields. When bumblebees could choose between charged flowers that carried a sugary liquid, or charge-less flowers that yielded a bitter one, they soon learned to visit the charged ones with 81 percent accuracy. If none of the flowers were charged, the bees lost the ability to pinpoint the sugary rewards.

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The second piece of recent bee research I shall try to precis, for 2 reasons. Firstly, I was sent it in an email as a PDF and can’t find a link to the actual research paper, though there is a simple review  which you can access by clicking here. But secondly, the actual paper by Mihail Garbuzov* and Francis L. W. Ratnieks Laboratory of Apiculture & Social Insects, School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex, was a mix, at least for me, of incomprehensible complex statistical analysis theory, as well as somewhat poorly explained methodolgy.

But what it did achieve, was to stress that different flowering plants have hugely different appeal to many of our common garden pollinating insects – principally bumblebees, honeybees, flies butterflies and moths – perhaps with a 100 fold difference between the most insect friendly, and the least. A rather strange and limited selection of 32 different flowers were planted in 1 metre square blocks and then were observed on a number of occasions, and actual insect flower visits recorded (though the detail of what constituted these ‘snapshot’ records was a little confusing for me).SDIM3968 (2)Some of the information mirrors my own more basic, and not statistically significant‘, observation records on most of the flowers which we grow in our garden. This is detailed in my ‘Real Botany Of Desire’ pages on this blog. It’s more confirmation that if gardeners widely planted more flowers which really are insect friendly, then there would be huge advantages for our native insect fauna.

Finally on the few sunny days recently, there has still been much of interest to see in the garden:

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14 thoughts on “The Gathering Storm; Thoughts, Foxes and Poetry; Bees and Flower Choices

  1. I can assure you that the clump of trees in the centre of the hill in question will not be felled.

  2. My husband thought your fox photos were fascinating. If you want to see how wind turbines are handled in the US, try looking for projects in Maine, a state that does everything on a very local basis. I seem to recall projects on Mars Hill and the Fox Island Thoroughfare, but an Internet search should reveal a lot of material. From a distance I approve of wind energy, however, I am sure I would be horrified if it was in my backyard. We both know that the real answer includes a drastic reduction in energy use, but no government and most individuals do not want to take that step. It seems ironic that you have done so much but are threatened with a turbine. But the places where these turbines need to go are generally the least developed and most scenic parts of the world, hence Maine and Wales.

    • Hello Carolyn,
      Thanks for the comment. Interestingly we were seeing more photos of the Maine coast with Fiona’s sister last night, who’s just returned from a holiday there… but no Wind Turbines that I noticed there or in the White mountains that they also visited – maybe they just didn’t see them , or didn’t think they were photogenic! I’ll certainly look into them though on line. There’s always a huge issue raising this subject and being considered a ‘Nimby’ – but as you know we’re pretty committed personally in this area of energy conservation/renewables, but it’s just a case of the appropriate developments/scale/renewable source for the particular area, I think,
      Best wishes

  3. Hi Julian.
    For what it’s worth in answer to your question, I personally feel that during the planning application stages local residents should be actively encouraged to give their views.
    We live near Aberystwyth, mid Wales and have had two wind turbines built very recently nearby. I had no idea they were going up. I can only see them from part of our property (they are not in front of us). I pass them most days though and I’ve found I not only quickly got used to them but look forward to seeing how they are performing. Hope this is encouraging.
    I think an interesting question lies in their potential output compared to something like harnessing tidal and hydro power.

    • Hello Kelvin,
      Apologies for not replying sooner, but we’ve just returned from a week away from rural Wales – more in my next post perhaps. Thanks anyway for the comment – I do appreciate this sort of personal insight into this issue. I was surprised by the potential for UK tidal power which the article I mentioned alluded to, and having researched the potential issues around wind turbines for several years – (since we may end up being ringed by them!), its the lack of clarity over likely output, and the apparent limited local consultation which intrigue me most for something which does create a very visible new presence in the landscape. We were again struck in our time spent travelling by car and train, just how special and attractive the Welsh landscape seems, compared with the rest of Southern Britain and Northern France. I wonder if you know of the link which a friend recently sent me which I give below which gives the data for the UK from the National Grid on exactly where our electricity comes from at any one time- If you click on it, you should find an interesting dashboard type display,
      Best wishes, and thanks again for the comment,

    • Dear all,
      As the most “hated man” in the Rhydcymerau area,I would just like to fill you in on some factuall details of the proposed turbine. Yes it will be tall at 86meters, but will generate up to 2million kwh’rs of clean electricity.That’s enough for 300+ homes. Just in case you query my figures,the planning application is about 1.3 million Kwh’rs.I may only be a farmer by trade

      • but I’ve looked into renewable energy with passion for many years.Hydro on a small scale is not possible on our rivers,the Enviroment agency won’t let us borow any more than half the river flow when the river is at it’s lowest! Unless someone has an historical absraction licence as for and old water mill then it isallmost impossible. but then some 10-20kw would ba a bigish scemw on our rivers up here.So I guess if we are to produce any

  4. significant renewable energy then wind is the only viable option.Anaerobic digestion is the in thing,but is it viable to take some 600 acres of the best arable land in order to produce the same amount of power as say one of the Alltwalis turbines. but 600 acres of maize would consume a lot of fuel,fertiliser ans sprays to grow and harvest.Once a turbine is built,it recoups the production energy in 6-9 months.and then free energt for some 25years.I am passionate that these should be built as community prodjects,and the income should

  5. be used for the local community, there could be eletric cars charged up in llansawel and rhydcymerau ready to go into town,as we have no shops etc in our community’s.excuse my spelling,didn’t have a chance to correct it , regards Emyr George

  6. With hindsight,I should have insisted on getting a community meeting in our that this planning application could have been explained to the people.Now there are some people who for some reason that dislike me,going around scaremongering,and making people jealous because I will gain financially.I never ever immagined that people wouldn’t want clean renewable energy. ,you sound like interesting people there in Gelli,would love a proper chat some time Emyr

    • Hello again Emyr,
      For the benefit of future readers, I’m assuming from these last comments that you are in fact the landowner of the proposed wind turbine.
      Since my blog isn’t really the correct forum to discuss in detail the specifics of this particular proposal, (as you say, a public meeting might have been more appropriate ?) I shall (very unusually for me!) decline making any further comments, and leave your comments above for readers to peruse.
      However I do feel that since I have adopted this self restraint, I would also please ask you not to post any further comments here.
      It is of course quite easy to set up a blog yourself with WordPress to allow yourself to air your views more fully, but as moderator of comments for my own blog, I do have the privilege of allowing or removing any comments that come this way,
      Best wishes,

  7. Hi Julian
    Thanks for the link to the National Grid/gridwatch data site. Very interesting indeed.
    I look forward to your next post, as always.
    Best regards

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