Red Star Days; Tears, Clowns and Bees; Splitting Witches and First Frosts.

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Here we go again.

It’s the time of year for seeing red.SDIM9728 (2)SDIM9793 (2)

Is it a coincidence, or is the frenetic pre Christmas activity for many, seen as the ideal cover?

Whether it’s a conscious decision or not, the developers (another German owned company using a, Leeds based UK subsidiary), chose late November as the perfect time to moot the prospect of yet another nearby wind turbine development (number 5 in our immediate vicinity and counting). Notwithstanding the fact that it’s common knowledge that many of the local landowners to the North have been signed up for well over a decade as owning land suitable for placing wind turbines. And notwithstanding the fact that this ridge of mountain top, loosely grouped around Mynydd Pencarreg, is currently designated as a ‘special landscape area’ by the county council, and also sits outside what are known as ‘strategic search areas’ (somewhat arbitrarily designated areas drawn up years ago, with little public consultation and deemed suitable for large scale wind turbine installations).

Mind you I struggled to read anything on the map provided. Can you spot the turbine location – presumably at the centre of the concentric circles below?S1000055 (2)

So another red star day saw us trekking down to the nearest school for the presentation by ‘Energiekontor’ and their proposed installer, Dulas, to erect two 100 metre high turbines (300 feet for those like us more familiar with this ancient measure) just over a mile from us.S1000022 (2)

As shown on their invitation card above.

Strangely, the panoramic vista visualisations of the scale of these monster machines on show in the local school were nearly all taken from vantage points many miles away, typically featuring a foreground tree, or other distractions. A consequence of this strategy is to make the turbines seem small scale, or even invisible to the naked eye. In fact, they would dwarf any of the nearby tallest trees by a factor of 5 or 6, and dominate the skyline for those living nearby.S1000053 (2) A curious, (? Germanic) spelling of Llanybydder.

Should the turbines be granted permission, along with others already approved or in the pipeline, it would place our nearby little village of Rhydcymerau, loosely translated from Welsh as ‘the ford at the confluence of the valleys’, as being at the epicentre of a horseshoe of such industrial scale development.S1000064 (3)

A unique privilege?

Or blight?

Some living nearby consider that the recent disappearance of the cast iron village name signs on some of the entrance roads to the village herald a decision to rename the village appropriately to reflect its pending notoriety.S1000050 (2)

Perhaps ‘Ring of dark turbines’ or the Welsh for?

Though I’m sure that the local authorities would be open to other suggestions as suitable name changes.

By another interesting coincidence, the local council’s latest free newspaper delivered to all households leads with the banner heading ‘Take Good Care‘, though this is not a reference to the landscape of the county, but simply its residents’ health over colder winter months.

You can see we are exhorted “to keep well”.SDIM9815 (2)

Come to think of it, I can’t recall the subject of wind turbines ever getting an official mention in this publication, though I’m probably wrong.

However this stance may change, since the council have recently raised the following initiative for discussion.SDIM9682 (2)
Renewable Energy

It is proposed to commission a study that will establish the landscape capacity and sensitivity of the landscape in Carmarthenshire to wind turbine development.
The study will be an important policy tool to inform future decisions in the county and ensure that its most sensitive landscapes are safeguarded against unacceptable turbine development. Moreover a capacity threshold could be established which would enable the LPA to identify the points at which the impacts of turbine development would be unacceptable, in terms of impacts to landscape character.
The study will carry weight in planning policy terms and if necessary at planning appeals. Furthermore it will be used if the authority needs to provide representations to the Welsh Government on future ‘Developments of National Significance’ (DNS). These applications will be determined at national rather than local level under proposals in the Planning (Wales) Bill, therefore it is important to have a robust evidence base to inform future decision taking by the Welsh Government.
The next steps will be to prepare a brief for external landscape consultants which will go out to tender in the new year with an expectation that the preferred bidder will complete an initial draft of the study in spring 2015. Once this initial stage is completed the draft will proceed through the standard council procedures before being adopted as supplementary planning guidance. This will ensure it carries weight in policy terms and can be used to inform and defend the Council’s decisions.

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Bravo I say.

Interestingly though, there seems no scope for discussion here as to the actual merits of wind turbines as significant sources of UK electricity. What does one of the foremost thinkers on this, Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at Oxford University think? Click here for a recent article on his thoughts on Scotland’s Dash for Wind.

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Perhaps I should remind any readers who haven’t yet turned off, of my own actions. (For those unused to scrutinising wind turbines,” turning off” is something that they rarely do – even when they should be becalmed since no wind is blowing, particularly in cold weather, they are usually kept turning with external power input to avoid mechanical issues in their innards, so no respite for the natives on still, quiet days). When I first heard about such industrial wind turbine development plans nearby, and researched their effects on local communities around the world, I became concerned, and I felt moved to act immediately and do something.

I bought a camera. And made a film. Click here for more.

And when was this?

5 years ago.

So one might consider a study into the possible landscape impact of multiple turbines by the local planning authorities a tad overdue, with hundreds of turbine applications already in the pipeline? But never mind, we should be pleased that the council are indeed helping to take good care of us.S1010018 (2)

Still, after recently reading a review of the above highly praised recently published book exploring the series of chaotic events leading to the collapse of the Berlin wall, I’m no longer a conspiracy theorist on the subject of political events and timings, thinking more along alternative ‘cock up’ lines. And I do have a huge amount of sympathy for the planning officers who are being deluged with applications, like this latest one, for turbine developments. There are minimal costs to the developer for submitting an application – apparently charges are based on the footprint of the structure, never mind how tall it is, or how much local controversy it’s likely to create.

One senses that in a rural county like Carmarthenshire, the system is just not geared up, or resourced, to manage so many large-scale projects being pushed forwards by non-resident developers, often with huge financial muscle and commercial nous, and rushing to gain approval and lock into higher subsidy levels, whilst they are still on offer.S1000003 (2)

But this red star event has seen us pounding the local lanes to try to formulate our own idea of just where, and how big, the latest turbines would be. And reminding us of how fortunate we are to live in such a beautiful part of the world, as the images above demonstrate.SDIM9776 (2)SDIM9788 (2)No matter which way the wind blows, for now, that’s pretty much all we hear. Long may it remain so.

We’ve had a few gorgeous red star sunrise mornings recently, and following on from a lot of use of time lapse photography in filming the progress of the eco-insulation of our large room over the last month, I belatedly realised that a sunrise could also lend itself to such treatment. The early results are amazing. At 10 second exposures, about 2 hours are compressed into just half a minute, and what one previously would have glimpsed as odd snapshots, becomes an exciting sequence of drifting mists, waves of multiple colour changes, the sun’s arcing trajectories, and moving cloud formations – often in opposing directions at different atmospheric heights.

Transatlantic jet trails become shooting stars across the rich blue sky.

There is a real frustration that I can’t easily upload these video clips, but whizz down the images below for the general effect, from one recent morning.S1010001 (2)

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This post is already delayed since we’d exhausted our broadband data allowance by the 20th, and we’re reaching the busy winter quarter for internet use when speeds slow right down, and even uploading a 100kbs image can take ages. Or fail. So, internet videos are a no-go area of technology for us, for now.

Stuck indoors, earlier in the month, I decided it was about time to begin constructing a bee hotel. I used to think such structures were an irrelevance, but have been won over by Amelia’s on her “A French Garden” blog and her postings about the various bees which use the hotels that she’s put up in her garden in France, and which she photographs brilliantly. Click here for a link to her great blog. And here for Marc Carlton’s overview on such hotels – whatever you do, don’t be tempted to buy one, since apparently many have inappropriately large holes, and anyway I figured they’d be easy enough to create. The starting point was punnets of left over lime based mortar salvaged from the mixer and drilled out. Lime mortars are softer than cement based ones, and hopefully will appeal to those solitary bees which will only build in such hard materials.SDIM9696 (2)

The other resource used was the stems of what we know as Himalayan Honeysuckle – Leycesteria formosa.SDIM9700 (2)This was first named by the director of the Calcutta Botanic Garden, Nathaniel Wallich (of, for example, Pinus wallichiana fame, a fabulous pine which I’ve grown from seed with long weeping blue green needles), in memory of his friend William Leycester, a judge in Bengal. It seems that this plant has many different common names around the world including Flowering nutmeg, Pheasant berry, and most intriguing to me in Australia, ‘Elisha’s tear’s’. It’s also one of those plants listed as a noxious weed in Australia and New Zealand. I can understand why, since blackbirds love the dark red black berries, and it regularly pops up as seedlings around the garden.SDIM9702 (4)

But why Elisha’s tears? Can anyone enlighten me?

I did however discover the background to the prophet Elisha, and that he is recorded as only ever crying once, after looking into the eyes of the messenger Hazael sent by the dying King of Syria to ask Elisha whether the King would recover from his illness. 24 hours later after returning to the king, Hazael smothered him and assumed the reign. Click here for more.SDIM9717 (2)

Does the name relate to the beautiful drooping clusters of insect attracting flowers, followed by fruit and red bracts?

Or its’ propensity to dominate native vegetation?

The stems are certainly a good bamboo substitute, with an attractive perennial green, with occasional red flushing in the outer layer, which I’m sure would have value as a natural fibre – it strips off easily and has reasonable tensile strength. It could also easily be used to make whistles, or bird calls.SDIM9816 (2)But for bee hotels, the beauty is that the stems are hollow throughout its length, though with variable width internal hollow passages – so should give any bees around next year, a range of nesting options. I’ve simply packed them into a sawn off plastic bottle, which gives good rigidity and water proofing, and eventually the bottles and punnets will be put up around the garden in spring time.SDIM9698 (2)

The other job completed around November 20th, was harvesting the seed capsules from our witch hazels (Hamamelis). I’ve had several attempts at germinating these in the past with only limited success, and wondered whether part of the issue was that the seed were kept inside for too long before sowing. The capsules are incredibly tough, and previously, I’ve collected them and kept them in a lidded container in the kitchen, waiting for them to dry and fling out their seeds. Often weeks later, one would here a sudden noise, as a capsule split and the shiny black spindle seeds ricocheted off the lid.S1000033 (2)

My strategy involved checking the fruit in the garden, and once I saw a few capsules beginning to spilt on the trees, collecting them all, and then attacking them with a set of pliers. Firm but gentle pressure with long nosed pliers, at right angles to the line of split, enables you to squash the capsule open enough to get at the seed. You just can’t manage this with a knife or finger nail. But go carefully.S1000045 (4)

Too much pressure, and the capsule gets crushed along with the seed. This enabled me to get the seed into the ground within 24 hours of harvesting. Seed germination is slow in Hamamelis, but it will be interesting to see if this results in higher success rates.S1000044 (2)

At long last, we had a couple of hard frosts in the last week of November. This always creates photo opportunities, even with the dearth of colour in the garden, and for this post, I’m featuring what I shall call an ice volcano, formed in the water filled, blue glass bowl.SDIM9752 (2)SDIM9753 (3)

As well as frost rimmed patterns on Fiona’s metal table top design. Which got me fiddling, towards abstraction.SDIM9762 (2)SDIM9762a (2)SDIM9763a (2)SDIM9763a (2a) (2)SDIM9763a (2ab) Finally, a few more images from the garden, as we wait for wintry weather from tonight onwards.SDIM9705a (2) SDIM9726 (2) SDIM9737 (2)SDIM9823 (2)

Oh, and the clowns? I’ll leave that up to you to figure out, but if you’d like more information on the proposed latest turbine development, follow the advertised link on the company’s invitation for more.

Bemused? So am I.


8 thoughts on “Red Star Days; Tears, Clowns and Bees; Splitting Witches and First Frosts.

  1. I think your analysis that the success of planning depends on the number of applications and the relentlessness at which they are pursued until a weak spot is encountered and the application succeeds. The applications will be pursued with much more experience and professionalism than individual planning offices can counter. I like your lime mortar bee house. Anthophora plumipes might be a bee attracted to that. I listen to them grinding away inside the mortar between the stones in our outside wall and they seem to be going very deep inside but I’ve no idea how deep they go. I think I’ll have to have a go at something similar myself. 🙂 Amelia

  2. Hello Amelia,
    Thanks for that.
    I’m getting to the point where I wonder whether the equivalent of a double jeopardy system for such rural developments might not be appropriate, to bring some closure to the process – 5 years down the line, and the first lot of turbines which were only recently granted permission, have been put on hold by the developing company, because of issues with planning for the electricity link to the National Grid. So they may happen, they may not. In the meantime new applications join the pipeline. And if any do go ahead, there will be a year or 2 of construction disruption. At this rate of progress, it may last decades!
    If you’re unlucky enough to fancy moving house in the meantime, then good luck! Since the uncertainty is perhaps as off putting as if the darned things were up and spinning.
    But enough of such gloom! I do indeed look forward to being able to spot and photograph a few bees next year, having been inspired by your images, though whether my primitive efforts will curry favour with many is doubtful. But I wonder if you had any wisdom about where to site them …e.g. sun/shade, and height off the ground?
    Best wishes

  3. Planners rely on the eventual exhaustion of those objecting, I hope you have lots of support. The Landmark trust led a concerted and successful campaign to stop the planned wind turbines going up in the sea within eye sight of Lundy. It can be done. Love the Leycesteria bee hotel, I had only heard of Pheasants Berry, Elisha’s Tears is a new name to me. Good luck with the Hamamelis germination it will be interesting to see your results.

    • Hello Julie,
      Thanks for the comment. I think that the tide may be turning, to use an appropriate metaphor – it seems that Wales has great options with tidal lagoon technology, such as Swansea Bay (which is going through the planning process now), and which could harness reliable predictable energy, and create a new industry in which Wales was a world leader. Some politicians seem to recognise this potential already – if it takes off perhaps the perceived need for renewable energy from wind will diminish in this part of the world. Locally there seems now to be a sizable majority of those living nearby against such turbines, though some are subject to gagging clauses so can’t openly declare an opinion. Of course for individual land owners on whose land the turbines will sit, there is a huge financial incentive to want the proposals to succeed.
      There is an excellent local group called VAST ( Villages Against Supersize Turbines) which acknowleges that it would be appropriate for farms to erect individual small scale turbines to generate local electricity commensurate with the farms needs – such small individual turbines would, I’m sure, elicit only a fraction of the objections that turbines of the size of many currently proposed, will inevitably engender. It’s a shame that I never seem to read about developments being scaled back in size in this way. But at the end of the day, it’s money that’s driving most of this.
      I’ll update next year on whether the bee hotel actually attracts any residents!
      best wishes

  4. Good luck, and endless patience, with your planning battle.
    I like the idea of the bee hotel – particularly if I can dissuade the mason bees from digging holes in our house!

    • Hello Noeline,
      Thanks for that. Patience is indeed a necessary virtue, with such a protracted time scale of events, and not forgetting to enjoy life in the meantime!We’ve seen masonry bees aroune here too quite regularly visiting flowers, but I’m hoping that if they take up residence, it will be in a location where taking a few photos might be simpler, than having to climb up a ladder,
      Best wishes

  5. Sorry to read about those troubling turbines! Amazing photographs as usual and a brilliant idea for a bee hotel I’m definitely going to try to make one. Happy Christmas to you and all the family and I’m looking forward to your first blog of 2015 already! Marianne

    • Happy Christmas to you both, Marianne. Do follow up on Amelia’s blog – she has some wonderful pics of all sorts of bees, as well as other wildlife in her French Garden. Already have plans for a Christmas post…but whether I get a chance to write it in time is another matter!
      Best wishes

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