Vic Warren's Green Stuff - latest news.

SAVE THE GWENT LEVELS

On November 29, 2013, in Uncategorized, by vic
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Yet another try to desecrate the Gwent Levels with an unnecessary motorway. The Gwent Levels is a large coastal area adjoining the Severn estuary, similar in many ways to the Somerset Levels on the other side, but unique in Wales and with substantial heritage value – archeology goimg back to the Bronze age (footprints of their children fishing) and further, history from the Roman period, valuable ecology, and in CPRW terms a precious landscape. that has so far escaped concrete and tarmac. But for about the fifth time in the last 15 years there is a proposal to duplicate the M4 from Magor to Castleton (east Cardiff). Why? two main reasons – for some weekday peak traffic periods it is congested. Wow! Just like every other major traffic artery in the UK, then. And secondly, the resilience of the road network in SE Wales – if there is an accident that blocks the M4, there is no easy diversion. This could be solved without a new M4. Of course there is also an unspoken third reason – it would open up more development land, creating a vast urban sprawl from Chepstow to Cardiff.
CALM (Campaign Against the Levels Motorway) is a group of all the main local and national conservation groups, and local community interests, established some 12 years ago, has once again been mobilised to fight the proposal, and asks everyone to object during the current consultation period – ending on 16th December. Why should you do so? Here is a list of solid reasons: -
.• No business case has been made. Can £1.2bn really be spent on a political whim? Wales would be no better than a third world dictatorship
• Capacity & congestion – no certainty that the proposed new road will help – Cardiff will be more congested with more traffic on A48(M) and other major routes in peak periods.
• Current traffic flows on the M4 are not overwhelming, traffic levels are the same as 2003. Congestion can be managed by initiatives such as 50mph control and managing junctions better
• Rail electrification will encourage a modal shift from road to rail
• Resilience – a much improved A48 route would provide this in emergency (Prof Cole has submitted a scheme at about a third of the cost)
• Newport – the new route would be a Newport Bypass, not assisting Newport trade and business
• What is needed is a S Wales metro system, not a new M4, and this is the subject of a WG investigation

Then there are all the environmental points: -

  • New roads, and this new road across the Gwent Levels in particular, conflict directly with the Wales sustainability policy
  • The road will directly and indirectly affect several SSSIs and be a barrier to movement of species
  • New roads attract traffic, it will not reduce CO2, quite the reverse
  • The total area of loss of open countryside will be much greater than the figures given, without allowing for the ‘collateral damage’ of adjacent greenfield development opened up by the new road
  • Wales has failed to achieve biodiversity targets, this new road will make a bad situation worse in SE Wales
  • The landscape of the unique Levels will never be the same, WG will have destroyed another part of Wales heritage
  • The effects of changed drainage, air pollution and noise are unquantified, but there is likely to be unforeseen damage
  • Adjacent communities and residents will suffer various disbenefits, including likely decreased property values

Iolo Williams passionately supported CALM at a packed meeting recently, and a new name for the folly was coined – the Edwina Hart White Elephant, because if it is built, with car use plateauing, internet use increasing, rail electrification and a S Wales Metro, it will soon be obvious that there was no need in traffic terms. But the White Elephant will have trampled all over the Gwent Levels. What a legacy she will leave.

PLEASE OBJECT – see http://www.m4newport.com/ and the CALM website www.savethelevels.org.uk

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ART MASTERCLASS WAS AN INSPIRATION

On October 5, 2013, in Uncategorized, by vic
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Just been to a fine art Masterclass by leading Welsh artist Jantien Powell, during our CPRW-sponsored ‘Country Views’ art exhibition in Newport. Two hours passed in what seemed like ten minutes, a little beauty of a painting was created in front of our eyes, with each brush stroke, each colour mix, explained. This was craftsmanship (…womanship?) at its best, it was pure magic to see the picture appear, every few minutes it got better and better, almost like when we were kids, painting those magic picture books with water!  I was distracted by a visitor to the the exhibition at one point, and when I looked again a second character had appeared in the painting.

Jantien stood all the time, moving back from the easel to look, then forward to add another part of the picture she could already see in her mind. She explained her technique, colour and application (many methods to apply the acryllic, mostly brushes, but including fingers and hyperdermic needle)

Somehow I don’t think the creation of Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’ would have been quite so impressive. Concept art does not require any craftsmanship as far as I can see – perhaps I should try it – ‘My Desk’ comes to mind. I could do that, but Jantien’s skills are far beyond me.

Jantien’s masterpiece created this week is part of an exhibition she is preparing for next year to record the Abergavenny Livestock Market, which is about to close – just another abysmal local authority planning decision, deplored by many local people, but apparently desperately needed by a developer. She has produced a number of  views of the Market in operation, the animals that pass through and some of the country characters who bring them – at least the spirit of the market will be captured for posterity.

What a loss to Abergavenny is closing the Market, but it has generated Jantien’s exhibition, and those of us who were priviliged to see the creation of great little picture will not forget it.

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Don’t miss our 3rd annual Landscape Art Exhibition at the Barnabas Arts House, Newport, opening on Tues 24th Sept -

  • PREVIEW IS ON SUNDAY 22nd SEPT – WE HAVE A FEW SPARE INVITATIONS
  • TWO MASTERCLASSES TO BE GIVEN BY JANTIEN POWELL

Artists exhibiting include

  • Jamie Routley – selected for BP Exhibition in London, his works are now expensive!
  • David Bellamy – a favoutite Welsh artist for many years
  • Jantien Powell – very busy with art classes as well as her gallery near Raglan
  • Alex Arnell – Welsh Artist of the Year Award 2010
  • Philip Muirden – superb sea subjects, from West Wales
  • Winnie Kwong Kuen-Shan – fascinating oriental take on Wales
  • Mark Williams,- painter, illustrator, cartoonist – great fun
  • Maggie Davies – ‘richly textured paintings’
  • Janet Walters
  • Glen Carney
  • Sheila Williams
  • Andrrew Worsfoid

Call 01495 755557 for Preview invitation, Masterclass booking, or other info

 

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Last week I was supporting Torfaen Friends of the Earth at the developers’ Appeal against the refusal of the South Sebastopol planning application (some of the sessions at least), until the snow curtailed it on Friday. If you don’t know this, it is unnecessary vandalism of a large are of open countryside, a buffer between Cwmbran new town and the older Valley communities, with 1200 houses. After years of fighting, and recently losing a crucial Council motion to save it by ONE VOTE, we’ve probably lost the battle, the bad guys (Councillors and planners) have forced it through – ridiculously deciding to abandon the original Council decision to refuse the planning application.
What a dysfunctional Council process this has been –
• promoting unnecessary greenfield development (and abandoning the New Town plan)
• refusing to recognise the imminent WG legislation on the value of ecosystem services
• deciding to delete the development from the LDP
• then reinstating it
• refusing the application,
• then turning round and backing it

Who thinks this development is a great idea? The developers, for the profit; a few Councillors; a few planners; maybe a few WG officers promoting ‘growth’ anywhere, anytime.
Who is against it? All local residents who have expressed a view; almost half the Torfaen Council members; local Community Councils; all the local environmental groups; CCW; etc etc
So unless we have another reprieve, we lose
• a vital green buffer between two distinctly different existing communities
• a ‘green lung’ amenity for Cwmbran and Sebastopol
• the rural character of a rare canal-focussed conservation area
• a valuable ecological area and a vital species corridor
• any pretence that this Council has a policy based on sustainability, or that it listens to its residents
• one more area of non-renewable beautiful Welsh countryside
But of course there are also some gains:
• a large housing estate with mostly expensive houses for Bristol & Cardiff commuters, very little affordable housing, and no community facilities.
• regular gridlock on Cwmbran Drive and A4042
• rat-run roads through neighbouring communities
• substantial additional storm water run-off to who knows where
• a blot on the landscape
We at CPRW are very grateful for FoE instructing a consultant to represent the joint objectors at the Appeal. (They are FoE, CPRW, Pontypool Community Council, and ‘several hundred’ local residents – an under-estimate, I believe). Our stance at the Appeal has had to be damage limitation, arguing against some development areas and for retention of more green space. We hope that we have demonstrated to the Inspector, who seems most perceptive, that the proposal constitutes over-development, and should at the least be reduced.
There is one more day of the Appeal, yet to be announced; if you can, go along when it is reconvened, if only to observe the way countryside is still being attacked by those who think short-term growth is all-important, and ignore the consequences for our future generations. And if you have time, catch up with the WG Planning Bill consultation; I have responded to this, putting the case for a proper democratic planning process, instead of this ‘hole in the corner, secretive, development-friendly, growth-driven process.
But the fat lady hasn’t sung yet – we thought we had lost this war six years ago, but nothing happened and they had to start again. Do they really think they can sell houses in this recession? We live in hope for a miracle to save this large and vital area of countryside.

Comments on this blog

On November 3, 2012, in Uncategorized, by vic
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Sorry, I have discontinued comments, 99% of comments received are auto spam, and I have better things to do than trawl through all that to find the sensible comments. I’m sure those who really want to contact me can do so by other means.

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So, right behind the abysmal Torfaen Council decision to sacrifice the essential green buffer north of Cwmbran (South Sebastopol) for the mythical ‘growth’, (rather like Mayan human sacrifice to appease the gods), we have a superbly organised presentation by the same Council on the amazing Findhorn Eco-Village in Moray, Scotland, now one of a handful of global successes recognised by the UN. What an irony – Torfaen talking and promoting sustainability whilst throwing away a valuable natural resource which should be saved for our future generations.

The Findhorn event was certainly impressive, it appears to be a case of  ’The hippies done good’ – from 50 years ago, an expanding group of eco warriers built this showcase eco-village. Google Findhorn Ecovillage for an eye-opening summary.

My obsession about planning for growth being the antithesis of sustainability was reinforced at the Findhorn event by the last major speaker, Donald Lunan, who was a top planning officer for Moray during most of Findhorn’s progress. He said he had been converted to the Findhorn sustainability policy, and added, with resignation:
‘ Has any local authority produced a policy NOT based on growth?’
I thought YESSSS! Another serious experienced professional who has realised that if we are to safeguard mankind’s future, planning for perpetual growth is the wrong way.

The whole event was inspirational and showed us what should be the way ahead. The several Welsh Transition Town movements are working on the same lines – but we do need planners and politicians still stuck in the unsustainable past to get the message. Very well done to Torfaen’s Environmental & Sustainability Manager Rachael O’Shaughnessy, and, yes, to the Torfaen Leader for bringing the Findhorn experience to Torfaen. The tragedy is, judging from the Torfaen planning policy, it’s just talking the talk.

A glorious failure last week – at a packed open full Council meeting conservationists in Torfaen lost a crucial Council vote on South Sebastopol – a huge greenfield development – BY ONE VOTE! Such a close result, and such terrific speeches by Cllrs on our side, it was almost ok. Makes me confident that greenfield sacrilege like this will soon be about as PC as the death penalty for sheep rustling.

Just before Halloween we have Torfaen Council reversing its previous decision and voting for building on the open countryside known as South Sebastopol. How scary is this decision-making? Flying in the face of what their constituents want, and ignoring any idea of building a sustainable Torfaen for future generations. And half the Councillors disagreeing. Cllr Mawby’s amendment would have sensibly re-started the Local Development Plan process from scratch, giving all Councillors, communities and residents a chance to provide a sustainable future for Torfaen, not the current ‘growth at all costs’ policy. It was apparent that the Council is completely split on this, with reasoned and passionate speeches from Cllr Mawby and many Councillors opposed to the destruction of the green buffer of South Sebastopol. So just one person’s misguided vote blights a large area of Cwmbran, destroying countryside and wildlife, generating more gridlock, providing expensive homes for Cardiff and Newport commuters, doing nothing for Torfaen residents in general, and north Torfaen in particular. What a democracy! And what a dysfunctional planning process we have – if continual growth is essential, I suppose we shall have to get used to concreting over every flat area in south Torfaen for more commuters. How long before the Council gets offers it cannot refuse on South Fields, Llanyrafon Golf Course, the Community Farm and all the rest of the ‘wasteful’ green areas designed into the new town?

But the fat lady hasn’t sung yet, we thought we’d lost this one 6 years ago, and the fireflies and crayfish are still there. Perhaps we can yet persuade the dwindling number of out of date politicians and planners that we have to think sustainably nowadays, and that doesn’t mean destroying every available green space for a misplaced belief in growth, and profit for developers. Countryside is a limited resource, just like oil and coal. Keep fighting, friends!

 

Refreshing ‘Green Stuff’

On July 5, 2012, in Uncategorized, by vic
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OK, I am active again, having had a change of life (retiring – feeling like Alice Cooper ‘schools out for ever!). Lots of things I should have reported, latest below, but I thought I’d catch up with a few farm / wildlife comments (I am a Farmer’s Husband, we live on and work a mixed hill farm high in the Brecon Beacons)
Funny old weather we’re having, a bad Spring / Summer for many animals and insects, good for flora I guess from observation. Some obs on the Farm:
Very little frogspawn, few toads around the farm (I counted 11 one evening a few years ago, I’ve seen 2 so far this year). We have had Palmate newts in our two ponds.
A few Orange Tip butterflies early on the Cuckoo Flowers, but only an occasional Tortoiseshell since, up to today, when I have seen a Meadow Brown. (2011 was a bumper year for Orange Tips on this farm)
Nests – only one pair of swallows this year, and they are noticeably quiet; usually they are noisy visitors. We thoroughly enjoyed Bluetits nesting in a CCTV-wired birdbox last year – an amazing experience – but this year they looked at it a few times then went into the ivy. Pied Wagtails have delighted us by finding a space under the eaves, and Redstarts are nearby, so we have enjoyed the marvellous musical Redstart song all Spring. Vaughan Williams should have scored ‘Redstart Fluttering’ after his Lark Ascending, although perhaps Phillip Glass is more appropriate (this is tongue in cheek for non-birders). One morning I saw some fluttering on the lawn, and it turned out to be a mother Redstart feeding three chicks – maybe blown out of their nest. We shut our three farm cats in for two days, and rushed out every time we heard a Magpie (they will eat fledglings). We think they made it. We’ve been her 25 years now, and for the first time our kitchen window was battered by both Bluetits and Redstarts, trying to get in, for weeks. Strange. We have also seen Robins, Blackbirds, Dunnocks, Great Tits around, and one or two LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) that were certainly really rare, if we had identified them.
It has been a grind on the farm most of the Spring, ploughing around in mud and winter clothing, but good litters from our Rare Breed Tamworth pigs (30 on one day), and subsequent success at shows – Best of Breed at the Three Counties Show recently. One sad loss was a Welsh Black calf on a terrible cold wet day (Our indigenous cattle live out all year, including calving. We watch them carefully, knew she had calved, but couldn’t get to the calf through storm conditions, with the mother intent on keeping us away – cows at their most dangerous. The calf had succumbed the next day). That’s farming. We’ve had good demand for Tamworth pigs for growing on or breeding, just as well as the Farmers Market sales are down.
And we did manage to install PV panels on our big barn, the graphs of electricity generation and usage I am producing are fascinating.

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M4 CEM

On July 5, 2012, in Uncategorized, by vic
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If you’re not in SE Wales, the heading is probably meaningless. But if you are in the area, you should be interested. This is a Welsh Govt (WG) consultation to ‘improve’ the motorway – ‘Corridor Enhancement Measures’ – for a length that covers the Brynglas Tunnels bottleneck. If you drive M4 in SE Wales and occasionally hit congestion, no doubt you agree with WG that it needs improving. CPRW is here to protect the countryside however, so we do object strongly (together with other eco-warriers) to one of the options suggested – a major new road south of Newport, badly affecting the unique and valuable Gwent Levels alongside the Severn. Contact the CPRW website if you want to see our full response, and if you are really interested, see also the website of CALM – http://www.savethelevels.org.uk/ – a federation of interests defending the Gwent Levels, set up about three motorway proposals ago

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Mole Catcher Cat

On January 30, 2012, in Uncategorized, by vic
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We lost our old ‘mum cat’ last week. Even though we are a livestock hill farm regularly taking our cattle / sheep / pigs to the abattoir, and selling our meat locally (producing best quality artisan produce, and drastically reducing food miles), we feel the loss of a friend who had lived with us for 12 years. We had four farm cats, now three, and I am not unhappy with a natural reduction in our home predators. A cat or two is generally seen as essential to keep down rats and mice around the farm, but I am always sad when a dead songbird or a yellow-necked field mouse arrives on the doorstep – I usually increase the cats food after that.

Recently though, a rather unusual source of hunting by one of our cats has become apparent –I had seen our white cat patrolling our long-grassed conservation field, and then realised she was spending time near the many molehills, and once digging at one, like a dog. Then, a dead mole appears on our doorstep. So, we seem to have a mole-killing cat.

Moles are a problem to farmers, their molehills reduce grazing, but more importantly can mean soil with unfriendly bacteria in hay and silage, leading to infection in cattle. So if our cat has found a ‘natural’ way of controlling the mole population, which often seems to increase wildly, I accept it as good thing for the farm as a whole.

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