Wednesday 29 February 2012

Tuesday 28 February 2012

The answer, my friend, is... ?? (Part 4)

OK, I guess I'd better wind up the argument and let this storm blow itself out.

The past few weeks have been a bit of a journey for me as far as contemplating the pros and cons of the wind turbine debate. I, at least, have found it useful to glimpse beyond the blades, and ponder whereabouts on the alternative energy continuum I would place myself.
An article appeared on the BBC News website in August 2011, which featured the graphic below. 
Graphic*Can carry a higher cost as the farms are sited further out to sea and are in deeper water
The graphic above refers to energy projects started in 2009. As time passes costs are expected to drop, the government hopes that offshore wind can reach £100/MWh by 2020.
As a species, we're not great at acting together in a national interest, let alone a global one, so I am not convinced of the quick-fix necessity of nuclear power. Unless we can come up with a safer version, it is simply not worth the risk to ourselves and future generations. Gas, coal and oil are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Unfortunately, wave, tide and solar don't appear on the graph, but of all the flavours of generation by wind, onshore is the cheapest.

Admittedly, this is one person's interpretation of one graph, but if I've learnt anything from this project, it's that the local community must be seen to benefit from a wind farm situated on their doorstep. It's the 'hearts and minds' reasoning. I've little time for the blatant profiteering by landowners or the blinkered braying from energy-consuming nimbys.
To end on a less serious note, wind turbines do have their lighter moments.
Try this YouTube clip from Ecotricity.
Or this cartoon strip from the amazing And don't forget the mouseover!

Sunday 26 February 2012

The answer, my friend, is... ?? (Part 3)

In this post, I'll drag the debate a little nearer home and look at the specific proposals for wind farms to the north of Milton Keynes, and then open it up again to see how another community tackles the issue. Think of it as"local, focal and vocal"

There are currently 7 turbines operating for MK Wind Farm Ltd at Petsoe End, approximately eight miles from the centre of town. This went ahead despite vociferous protests from a local campaign group, BLEW (Bucks Lacks Enough Wind), and several appeals to higher authority.

In the pipeline, RWE Npower Renewables have submitted a planning application for 5 turbines at Haversham, four miles from the centre of town. The local action group opposing this is Stop Haversham Wind Farm.

Planning notification displayed in Haversham village
North west of the above site, Gamesa Energy UK have submitted an application to erect up to 8 turbines north of the village of Alderton, ten miles from the centre of Milton Keynes. Opposition for this farm comes from the Tove Action Group and I drive passed their protest signs on my way to work.

Moving east from here, and eight miles from MK, Ecotricity's Stoke Heights development proposes 15 turbines just south of Salcey Forest. The Save Our Salcey group's website was unavailable as I wrote this, so here's a link to the story in one of the local papers.

And finally, RWE have been granted planning permission, in controversial circumstances, for another wind farm of 12 turbines at Nun Wood,  which is 11 miles from MK. The opposition group, BLOT, fought a six year campaign to no avail, though an appeal to the High Court is likely. The Planning Inspectorate overturned the decision of the 3 local authorities concerned, a scant 24 hours before the Localism Bill was given Royal Assent. This Bill would have prevented the overturning of the local authority decision.

But surely there must be more to wind turbines than Big Money and NIMBYism? Well yes there is. And for a good example, look no further than Orkney (OK, that's quite far, I'll admit). Community Power Orkney (CPO) picked up a SURF award this week for Best Practice in Community Regeneration. CPO helps remote island communities to develop sustainable economic projects, like the generation of electricity, to bring in much-needed income. The difference here is that the wind turbines are community-owned and the benefits are local. That's not to say that there aren't concerns in Orkney, especially as the landscape of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Heart of Neolithic Orkney is so special. So there is a balance to be struck, between the needs of the people within the locality of the turbines and the need for more sustainable power generation.

Remember how we've been doing it unsustainably for decades?

Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, East Midlands
Now that's a real reason to whinge about your back yard.

Sunday 19 February 2012

Bridging the divide

I think you all deserve a little time off for good behaviour, so there will be a short interlude before Part 3 of the wind turbine debate. Our Lass and I have just spent the weekend visiting First Born and her boyfriend in Lancashire, who have moved into their new home since our previous trip.

We spent Saturday afternoon walking along the Rochdale Canal in the teeth of a chilly north wind and the occasional rain squall, but Sunday morning dawned clear and bright, with blue skies and hardly a breeze.

We drove over to nearby Hebden Bridge, a small market town in the Calder Valley, as my interest had been tickled, and my ire irked, following a recent article on the BBC News website. You may be thinking "Ire? I didn't think I&T was so stuffy as to mind about such things." And you'd be right, for this hasn't anything to do with sexuality, it's to do with the use of the phrase 'lesbian people'. Now, despite what one of my work colleagues cheekily asserts, these won't be gentlemen, will they? Pretty unlikely, I reckon. Which kind of narrows the field down a bit, so why the need for the word 'people'? Rarely has pedantry steered me towards the bold at the rainbow's end.

However, much more interestingly, the bohemian culture described in the article brought to mind a certain fictional town in Alaska, the Cicely of Northern Exposure fame. This 1990s TV programme is a firm favourite at Tense Towers, so we couldn't resist a visit to a place that seemed to share its genetic make-up and joie de vivre.

And we weren't disappointed. Hebden Bridge is a charming town where a multitude of communities come together. Whether it's the outdoorsy brigade hiking through the Pennines, the barges navigating the Rochdale Canal, the cafe culture of a Fair Trade town, or the vibrant alternative movement, it's all there and working together for the good of the area.

I mistakenly thought this was a training school for chimney sweeps.
A proper cinema! Films advertised were Tin Tin and The Iron Lady. It must be Metal Night.
Bubbles issuing from an upper window of the Yorkshire Soap Company
'Quod petis umbra est' - What thou seekest is a shadow
And I can't leave you without an honourable mention for pun of the weekend. The homeware and lifestyle shop, Home...Oh! And charming guys they were, too.

Sunday 12 February 2012

The answer, my friend, is... ?? (Part 2)

Change... we're not very good at it, are we? Considering that we like to see ourselves as the current pinnacle of evolution and that our rate of technological advance shows no sign of letting up, we still become rather hot under the collar if faced with something new.

Complaining about new developments is probably a habit as old as the human race itself.

Casebook 1: Middle East

Plaintiff: You've got to stop my neighbour! He's building this big wooden construction and its blocking out all my light! I can hardly see what I'm doing!

Ancient Civil Servant: And that is, sir?

Plaintiff: Well, er... sinning, mainly, but that's not the point. This Noah chap should be stopped. And his bloody dove keeps crapping on my wife's laundry.

Casebook 2: North West Europe

Defendant: 'S religious, innit? 'S a temple to the wossnames, Gods, it is. Got to have a place of worship or what's the point?

Ancient Civil Servant: Indeed, sir.

Plaintiff: But it ruins the view!! We've always been able to watch the funerary processions and this hideous structure will render that impossible. AND it's not even local materials!

Ancient Civil Servant: Yes, I did wonder about transporting dolerite all that way, but apparently it has healing and magical properties.

Defendant: 'Cos it's religious, like I said. But we're a small order of worshippers, we will endeavour to be as unobtrusive as possible.

Plaintiff: Bollocks! There'll be hordes of folk tramping over the barrows every bloody solstice, you mark my words.

Back in the here and almost now...

Windmills have been around for nearly 2000 years, providing energy for tasks as mundane, yet vital, as pumping water for drainage or irrigation and grinding cereals into flour. Despite being sidelined by the invention of steam-powered machinery in the 1800s, towards the end of the 19th Century, a few windmills were even used for generating electricity.

There's nothing new under the sun, eh? I get the feeling that a debate that is over one hundred years old, is only just putting its racing skates on.

Neither side of the argument is as open and honest as it claims to be. Landowners and generating companies are seen as trying to make big profits from the countryside, whilst objectors are labelled as NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) and looking after their own interests.

On the face of it, the differences of opinion are irreconcilable. If we can't even agree whether there is a need for clean and renewable energy production, perhaps we still have a bit more evolving to do (yes, I know that this is an ongoing process anyway, but you get the idea).

I think that we have to presume that the world climate has always been changing. For the last 4.5 billion years, it's been a roller coaster ride of warming and cooling. No civilisation, let alone any individual human, has been around long enough to personally monitor this accurately. We can, however, look at samples of sediments or ice cores and make educated guesses about what it has been like for the previous several hundred million years. It changes, quelle surprise.

All the stuff alive on Earth now, has evolved to be comfortable with the present climate. This includes all of us humans, even the creationist ones. If we like it how it is, we might want to prolong that for as long as possible, especially if the rate of change is speeding up? As we gallop towards 7 billion people on the planet, all burning fossil fuels like they're going out of fashion (oh, they are!), it is entirely realistic to think that this has unwanted consequences.

Whilst anthropogenic climate change is only one part of the change mechanism, it's also the only part we have any control over. Whilst future technological innovations will help mitigate the effects of climate change, they will still require plenty of raw materials for a burgeoning population, so perhaps a bit of environmental prudence is in order, right now.

Comments, on a postcard, to the usual address...

Tuesday 7 February 2012

The answer, my friend, is...?? (Part 1)

A double question mark. The jury is well and truly out as regards this conundrum.

Yes, dear reader, the time has come. Last year's odonatological admin is filed, this month's Little Linford Wood post is written, the displacement activity diary has been ripped up and the rug pulled out from under the slippers of prevarication.

It's the big one. The post I've been putting off for longer than I've been on Blogger. The topic that polarises opinion faster then a speeding rotor. A potato that's hotter than a flaming generator gearbox. The... oh, for God's sake, it's the wind turbine debate.

I will say straight away that this issue has not affected me directly... yet. However, as a nature-loving, green energy kind of guy, I have a foot in both camps. And when the fence is high, that's not a great place to be. I want my energy to be sustainable, but not if it means sliced White-tailed Sea Eagle. I have close relatives and good friends with incredibly firm opinions on this topic, so my metaphorical fence is surrounded by a very personal minefield.

As a measure of how seriously I'm treating these posts, I have to shamefully admit that I've even stooped so low as to "do research". I know, I know, how could I? Pun-tificating from the outer edges of ignorance is my usual style, but for this article, I discovered that just about everybody has an opinion and a vested interest when it comes to wind farms. Unbiased fact and rational reporting are in extremely short supply and are so endangered that they should be on the IUCN's Red List.

So I will attempt to navigate the muddied waters of NIMBYism, sail perilously across the Sea of Greed and drop anchor in the Bay of Fanatical Voices. Which would have been a great analogy if I had intended to talk about offshore, rather than land-based, wind generation. Arse!

Why commit my thoughts to cyberspace now? Dunno really, it's not of my choosing, it's rather like the opposite of serendipity. Several factors have come together at this time which almost make it impossible not to write: there are a number of prospective wind farms planned to the north of Milton Keynes, one of which is adjacent to Little Linford Wood; the Government's Energy and Climate Change Secretary has just resigned and his replacement has to hit the ground running; and New Scientist magazine recently published an article concerning the future effects of sustainable energy generation.

My goal here will be to float gently through the arguments, like the dandelion seed head of reason, and avoid being trampled into the ground in the race to claim the countryside for anyone's cause. Why do I feel like I've just told the world that I'm going to come up with a solution for interstellar travel?

Next on I&T: NIMBYs - they just want to be loved.

Sunday 5 February 2012

February in Little Linford Wood

For this month's post about Little Linford Wood, you may detect a subtle but significant difference from the photographs taken in January. As reported in yesterday's post, all the wildlife action seemed to be taking part outwith the wood, with a bias towards mammals, rather than birds.

There weren't any picnickers today, in fact, ours was the first vehicle along the track. Can't think why?

Winter has arrived late in these parts and is keen to make up for it. The switch from unseasonably mild to more typically cold will only add to the confusion that has been a constant puzzle for Mother Nature for over a year. As a pollination medium, I doubt that snow is the preferred option for many plants.

Source: Our Lass
Our wander through the wood was to the soundtrack of a steady crump, crump, crump, crump  from our boots and the gentle swish of snow being shed from the branches. We heard the calls of Nuthatch, Marsh Tit and Great Spotted Woodpecker, plus the occasional chack, chack from Fieldfare flying overhead.

Whilst there was no more snow forecast to fall, the sky had that heavy, glowering feel that makes you think that it's only being held up by the outspread fingers of the bare trees as they strain to support its weight.

The paths and rides were criss-crossed with the tracks made by the creatures of the wood; Fox, Rabbit, Hare, Muntjac deer and Pheasant. Though our attention was drawn to one particular paw print that we weren't expecting to see, Badger.

I've always thought that Badgers hibernate, probably due to reading Kenneth Grahame's 'Wind in the Willows' as a lad, but it turns out that they merely have a winter torpor, as the Badgerland website explains. So I'm guessing that this character was merely nipping out for a quick pee before returning to the sett for some more quality slumber time. Sweet dreams, Brock, me old mate, don't have nightmares. Especially about government-sponsored culls.

The week after BGBW 2012

With the snowfall overnight, there was a noticeable increase in the numbers of birds visiting the Tense Towers garden this morning. Many more Chaffinches, a pristine male Reed Bunting and a second Blackcap. So that's in excess of 20 species for the week, easily the busiest time of the Winter so far. Hardly surprising, given the weather, I suppose.

I was unsuccessful in my attempts to capture a shot of the two warblers together, so you'll just have to take my word for it. There were two. The plumage of the new arrival seemed brighter than the original bird, but that could have been down to the fact that BC1 frequents the shadows behind the Hawthorn tree, whilst BC2 was on the seed feeder and having the benefit of all the reflected light from the snow.

Which was a bit of a bonus, really...

Saturday 4 February 2012

Livin' on the edge

This was going to be my February post for Little Linford Wood, but as you will see, things didn't quite work out that way.

Firstly, yesterday evening, whilst I was washing up, an Aerosmith song was played on the radio, "Livin' on the edge". Excellent track, for all sorts of reasons. And particularly prescient...

It was bitterly cold this morning with a sharp frost. When I looked out of the bedroom window, the bird feeders were lying on the lawn and a bemused Wood Pigeon was trying to figure out whether this was a good thing or not.

This wasn't vandalism, this was ice. The pole that supports the feeders is in several sections and when the lower section fills with water and then the water freezes, the middle section is forced up and out. Result - feeders on the ground, many unhappy birds and a brisk trip into the garden for me. A jug of warm water helped to restore normality, and whilst our porridge was cooking, I watched some very hungry visitors tucking into sunflower seeds, peanuts and a fat block.

The rising winter sun cast a pink glow across the frost on the neighbouring rooftops, like the warm breath of a lover on a cold cheek. And you can't waste a morning that inspires a sentence like that.

Our Lass already had her nose stuck in a text book, so after a quick call to the Admiral and the donning of much fleecy clothing, he and I set off for Little Linford Wood. From the car park on the east side, we decided upon a clockwise route down the south eastern edge, halfway up the south west side, out in a wide arc through the fields, back into the north west side and east through the wood to return to the car.

Halfway along the south eastern edge, we spotted a fox. He was a long way off, but we stood still as he hunted in the hedgerow, moving towards us. Predictably, he turned into the wood on our intended route, so we set off once more with the faint hope of perhaps spotting him again.

Once in the wood, we did indeed spook the fox, who ran off west out of sight. Then, the Admiral saw him dash across the footpath ahead of us and deeper into the wood. Unless, of course, this was a different fox, for as we exited the woodland into the fields, a very vulpine face was watching us from the hedgerow.

Across the next few fields, we saw up to 6 hares, although only ever 3 at once. There was a bit of romance in the air, despite the cold, and one particular male hare was caught a swift blow about the ears by the object of his affections.

Whilst all this was going on, another fox appeared, hunting further down the hillside. It was unperturbed by our presence and eventually trotted off into the wood, passing a Muntjac deer in the process.

No sooner had we taken our eyes off that scene, and carried on towards the valley floor, then what should we espy? Yet another one, sunning himself in a sheltered spot out of the cool breeze.

It had obviously been a tough night, if they were still all hunting in daylight the next morning.

Once across the stream in the valley bottom, we disturbed another Muntjac deer, grazing as best it could in the conditions. Again, these creatures do not like to be out in the open in daylight with humans around, so the cold weather was definitely having an effect on the wildlife.

After circling through the fields, passed an old moated enclosure, we returned to the wood by the side of a ruined barn. Here, on the sunward wall, were sat 2 Little Owls, Athene noctua, basking as far as was possible in the freezing temperatures.

They may be little, but you certainly know you've been stared at if one of these looks at you!

So, to return to the "Livin' on the edge" theme, most of the animals and birds that we saw were not actually in the wood, they were hanging on to Life through this cold spell, hunting or hunkering down at the edges of woods, hedgerows and buildings.

And tonight, it snows...

Thursday 2 February 2012

Flicker sight?

In a blunt piece of foreshadowing, I can happily report that our local council have issued a "draft emerging policy" on wind turbines.

And not as I read it, a "draught emerging" policy.

Ha-ha-ha. That's funny on so many levels, admittedly most of them puerile.

It seems that old Tense is going to have to get his arse off the fence on this issue.
Am I worried about splinter groups? No, just splinters.