Welsh Green Dragon


Is the fight lost to save Llanishen Reservoir?

Is this the end?

It seems after months of draining Llanishen reservoir in North Cardiff is finally empty.

Welsh Green Dragon was there back in February when Western Power Distribution, who own the water body, started draining down the water for a reported safety inspection.

Although at the time the water level was falling, young sailors were still having lessons and it continued to be a valued recreational amenity for people living in northern Cardiff.

However after a local resident recently sent the photograph at the top of this piece to us,  it seems the pumps have been turned off and the stark reality of the drain down has been revealed.

What was once a large open mass of water is now a boggy bowl of mud.

Agencies have ‘not done enough’

Campaigners fighting to save the reservoir have always contested the need to drain down the reservoir and that it amounted to ecological and environmental vandalism.

Local anglers have also accused the Environment Agency of not doing enough to protect the fish whose habitat has been destroyed.

Argument that a recent move by Cardiff City council to officially make the area around the reservoir a nature reserve will save it from being redeveloped into a housing estate is optimistic.

Not much protection has been afforded so far by the listing of the structure by CADW or by the minimal intervention from the Environment Agency. Nor have objections by local MP’s or councillors.

Now it’s empty it really does look like there’s no going back.

A piece on the Lisvane News last week asked ‘Is the fight to save Llanishen reservoir almost won?’. I’d have to argue otherwise. Put simply – what is a reservoir without any water?

When will the inspection of the pipes start?

Western Power have always maintained they must drain the water to examine pipes they said sat on the bed of the reservoir.

They don’t seem to be there and as Llanishen RAG‘s surveyors said all along it seems the pipes must be encased in concrete underneath the bottom layer of the structure.

We’ll just have to wait and see how long it takes for this ‘inspection work’ to happen.

What next?

If the reservoir stays empty a number of things will most certainly change.

Damage could be caused to the linings of the clay lined walls as the Victorian banks of the reservoir dry out.

This means it could become structurally unsafe and not be strong enough to ever hold water again.

Despite South Wales rainfall being heavy – it’s thought it could take as long as a decade to refill naturally.

And local residents will no longer be fighting for a reservoir, they’ll be fighting for a swampy brown pit. One wonders how long it will be until support for the Reservoir Action Group will start to wane.

It seems this could be the end for the reservoir, and instead of being a triumph for the locals, they’ve been trampled on by a multinational company who favour profit over the environment.

Let’s hope this isn’t the end for Llanishen and the Lisvane News is right.

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Combating Food Waste in Wales

How much money do we waste on food each year?

Consumers in Wales will spend twenty four thousand pounds in their lifetime on food that they will never eat.

This equates to around 15p in every pound you spend on your weekly trip to the supermarket, or each year around £480 for the average UK household, increasing to £680 a year for households with children – an average of just over £50 a month.

However, environmental campaigners are saying that supermarkets themselves are needlessly throwing away around 1.8 million tonnes of food each year that is still good to eat, and that they need to do more.

Food for the vulnerable

Charitable organisations like Bristol based Fareshare South West are trying to tap into this waste stream.

They work with food distributors directly and receive weekly palettes of produce that never make it onto supermarket shelves. This food is often within date, and is returned because of packaging errors or over-ordering by certain stores.

They then break down the food, including ready meals, fresh fruit, vegetables and cereals, and distribute it to 27 organisations which work with vulnerable people like drug addicts and the homeless.

Jacqui Reeves, manager of operations for Fareshare, says they are only scratching at the surface in terms of how much waste supermarkets produce.

“It’s really seasonal. In the winter we get loads of soup, now we’re getting a lot of smoked salmon. It’s all perfectly good to eat and otherwise it would just end up in landfill – it’s madness really”

‘Bin diving’

Other people are taking advantage of supermarket throw aways for themselves.

So called ‘Bin Divers’ monitor skips round the back of stores at the end of each day to see what they can find. Gareth Blake from Splott in Cardiff has been ‘diving’ for nearly two years. When asked why he shouldn’t pay for his food like everyone else, he said.

“Well anyone can do it if they want, it’s free to everyone.I’m doing the supermarkets a favour really, and think of all the methane that’s being saved from when it decomposes at landfill”

Finding your dinner in a skip is perhaps not everyone’s idea of a healthy balanced diet though. When posed with this, he was still resolute.

“If you look at where food comes from, like the blood and guts from a slaughter-house or pesticides and herbicides or animal manure from the farm, it’s [the food] not particular hygienic to start with”

Friendly food fight

There are also an increasing number of stunts that environmental campaigners are pulling to try and engage the public in the food waste issue.

Cardiff East Transition Group worked with Fareshare and bin divers to collect food for a mass friendly food fight. It might seem quite perverse to be throwing food around to highlight how wasteful we are, but according to organiser Tim Fisher, it’s not just about the serious message.

“We’ve had a food fight because it’s a fun thing to do, and something people can relate to. We’re chucking stuff around to show how we should stop doing this”

Will landfill tax lead to higher prices?

So three very different approaches to making the most of the food that never makes it into your shopping trolley. However with landfill taxes rising, the supermarkets may well be forced to clean up their acts and start reducing their waste – which means we might be getting higher food bills instead.



Too many Beekeepers and not enough Bees

The Plight of the Bumble Bee

There’s been plenty of coverage over recent years of the falling numbers of bee populations and the implications this holds for us in terms of food – fewer bees – fewer crops get pollinated.

There are many theories behind why the bees seem to be giving up on us, ranging from falling biodiversity, to parasites and diseases like the Varroa mite, and the very wet summers we’ve seen over the last few years.

Listen to the Radio Feature Piece

Could things be looking up?

However, things do seem to be looking up for the humble bumble bee and his 249 other cousins.

Welsh Beekeepers are feeling optimistic about the season ahead. Bee colonies have managed to survive through the harshest winter we’ve had for 30 years because although it’s been cold it’s also been relatively dry, meaning that in milder temperatures foraging bees have been able to get out and collect pollen.

The recent good news that disease free Queen Bees will now be posted from the Isle of Man to try and bolster populations here is also instilling hope.

This coupled with the increased public interest in the art of bee keeping itself should mean the bees have a fighting chance of survival – in what’s been dubbed the latest craze to hit suburbia, the terms ‘urban beekeeping‘ or ‘backyard beekeeping’ are becoming the norm in beekeeping circles.

‘Massive’ influx of keen new beekeepers

However, it seems that Beekeeping Associations in Wales are finding it hard to cope with the influx of new members.

Some clubs say they’ve noticed an increase of up to 50 per cent, and John King who is chairman of the Cardiff Vale and Valley’s Beekeeping Association says he’s got more students than ever.

In normal years John says there’d be 8-10 new members of which 5 or 6 may have taken beekeeping up properly. This year there’s been fifty new recruits of which forty are showing a keen interest in keeping it up.

Beginners at the Cardiff Vale and Valleys Beekeeping Association

As a result resources are stretched and people in his club are working all hours trying to keep things going. It’s also a simple case of supply and demand, in that there just aren’t enough bees to go around.

You can’t set up an Apiary overnight


John also said there’s been interest from people who are keen to start straight away but are disappointed when they find out it takes time to get set up.

One of the problems we get is that people think , oh I’ve done the course now, I can get everything and the bees will come overnight. The biggest hindrance we have at the moment is bees, because we have suffered losses over the last two years and are trying to rebuild our stocks, and we’re reluctant to deplete them to pass them onto new beekeepers

Beekeeping is a year round hobby, and requires commitment like looking after any pet. One of John’s students Gareth Harvey has been keeping bees for around two years and says it’s not like having a dog – it requires weeks of training and he’s always learning.

One thing’s for sure, it’s not a packaged hobby you can buy in a kit, despite the numerous products and starter kits on sale.

What does the future have in store?

It’s obvious that the media exposure surrounding the threat to bee populations has done a great deal to encourage new people to get involved.

And there are many other projects which are also helping people to understand and engage with bees in new ways, from planting bee friendly plants in your garden to adopting a bee hive.

The National Botanic Garden of Wales has a bee garden that can be home to up to a million bees each summer, and a Big Brother style viewing gallery with CCTV cameras so you can get really close to the action.

There are also public art schemes in the pipeline. ‘For the bees‘ is an art project devised by Swansea based artists Owen Griffiths and Fern Thomas who are  both embarking on beekeeping for the first time.

They hope to harness the sound of the swarm by working with composers to make a piece of choral music – a project that has already been spotted by BBC Radio 4.

Whatever the future does have in store for the bee, there are plenty of people out there who are working hard to stop the decline.

And now with the British Government making bees a priority, and the Welsh Assembly becoming more involved, Beekeepers from novice to experienced will certainly be hoping that the numbers will start to rise again.



Friendly Food Fighting by the Cardiff Food Alliance

If you went down to the woods today, you’d certainly have been in for a surprise. However it isn’t a picnic you would’ve found – in fact it could be described as the exact opposite! If you were taking a stroll down the Taff Trail behind Talybont Halls of residence in Cardiff on Saturday afternoon, you may have wondered what on earth was going on.

Members of the Cardiff East Transition group have been routing through bins and getting their hands on waste food, to stage a friendly food fight to demonstrate how much food is wasted in Cardiff everyday.

It might seem quite perverse to be throwing food around to highlight how wasteful we are, but according to the organisers all the food used would otherwise have been headed straight to landfill. It’s all part of the Cardiff ‘Fix the Food Chain’ month which looks at the problems in all the different stages of food production. A number of groups are involved including Friends of the Earth and Fareshare alongside the Cardiff Food Alliance.



Drainage is well underway at Llanishen Reservoir

Video Report by Chris Halpin and Jennie Clark

Llanishen Reservoir Action Group have been campaigning tirelessly for almost ten years to save one of North Cardiff’s largest green spaces from the developers.

In what some campaigners have called a battle of David against Goliath, the action group (or RAG for short), are taking on the reservoirs owners, Western Power Distribution, who want to build hundreds of new houses in its place. Western Power are the UK subsidiary of American firm Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL), thought to be worth £7.5 billion.

Brief history

Constructed in 1884, Llanishen was part of a network of freshwater reservoirs that brought water down from the Brecon Beacons to be used as drinking water in the ever expanding city of Cardiff.

It ceased to be used for this purpose about 35 years ago, and was sold off by Margaret Thatcher in the eighties when water companies were privatised.

Despite not being used for drinking water now, over the years it has become a valued recreational amenity for walkers, fishermen and aspiring sailors.

However, over the past decade its owners Western Power have gradually restricted access to the public, and soon its final users, Llanishen Sailing Centre, won’t be able to use it either.

Once the water level is too low, about 3 metres below normal, the sailors simply won’t be able to get their boats in and out of the water.

The dispute about draining down

Western Power claim they’re emptying the reservoir in accordance with a survey they had commissioned in 2008. They say they need to inspect underwater pipe work for safety reasons – these pipes lying on the bottom of the reservoir and can only be accessed through drainage, according to the report.

In light of newer evidence and an original copy of the Victorian reservoirs building specification, RAG have since had their own survey commissioned. This says the pipes are not where Western Power maintain, and in fact are encased in concrete underneath the reservoir. RAG are therefore arguing that this completely negates any reason to be draining down the water.

Although Western Power have been denied planning permission for this redevelopment twice, campaigners fear that once the water is drained it will never fully refill, as water levels are only kept stable through rainwater. They are concerned the empty reservoir will become an eyesore, and the council will eventually give in to redevelopment as a lesser of the two evils.

Silt and the threat to Roath Park Lake

Western Power are allowed to drain off the top three metres of water but the Environment Agency say they are monitoring the levels closely to make sure they do not exceed this. If Western Power drain off more than this there is the risk that over a century of underlying silt could be disturbed and enter the Nant Fawr stream, which is where the reservoir’s water is being pumped into. This flows into Roath Park lake and campaigners also fear wildlife there could be affected. The Environment Agency called on Western Power not to empty, but drainage began at the end of February.

Protected Status and Government support

The structure of the reservoir has been listed by CADW as historically important, the banks are protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and the area surrounding it which is owned by Cardiff Council has been made a nature reserve.

Western Power is trying to refute each level of this protected status, and RAG estimates the company have spent around £10 million pounds on legal fees trying to get each of them overturned and appealing the rejected planning applications.

Cardiff Council and the Welsh Assembly are supporting campaigners, with MP for Cardiff North Julie Morgan and Assembly Member Jenny Randerson personally involved. Julie Morgan also recently voiced her frustrations to Welsh Secretary Peter Hain in the House of Commons, which allowed previously confidential information about findings in the engineers surveys to be reported in the press, under parliamentary privilege.

How to join in the campaign

If you want to join the fight to save the reservoir, you can sign the online petition here,  follow regular updates on the Wales Online blog, or discuss it on this forum.



Fairtrade Fortnight – what will you swap?

This years FairTrade fortnight has centred around one thing. Making individuals pledge to swap just one product they’d normally buy to a fair trade one. Organisers say this year has also been about raising awareness of the whole range of more unusual items that now carry the fair trade logo.

Fair trade groups work throughout the year to dispel any doubts people may have about fair trade products, but fair trade fortnight is the highlight of the calendar.

Welsh Green Dragon went to a Tea Dance organised by FairTrade Wales in St David’s Shopping Centre in Cardiff to find out more.

It’s never been easier to switch to FairTrade, especially now many of the big supermarkets are paying a fair price to suppliers in developing countries who help to produce many of their own brand products. When you think of FairTrade, what immediately springs to mind? Most people we asked said Tea, Coffee,  Bananas, then perhaps chocolate.

But there are many other ways in which we can switch to ensure a fair deal for farmers in developing nations. Cotton is the perfect example, and Tesco have recently made a pledge to sell fair trade school uniforms for the academic year 2010/11. Fairtrade organisations are pushing for hospitals and hotels who use alot of cotton to think about ethically sourcing their linen. Other ways to switch could be with Wine, Rum, Olive Oil or like Environment Minister Jane Davidson, you could promise to switch to buying fair trade Melon’s.

However getting your hands on these items is not always as easy as it seems. Fairdo’s in Canton stocks a range of products ranging from pyjamas to peanut butter, but as part of your weekly shop you’re restricted to what you can find in the supermarket.

I asked some people in Cardiff if they knew exactly what FairTrade stood for.

It’s clear that Wales is leading the way in ensuring a fair deal for farmers in developing nations, and that groups here work tirelessly to promote the fair trade ethos.  There are groups right across Wales who organise events from Tea Dances to holding stalls at farmers markets. However, changing consumer attitudes is easier said than done, as can be seen from the video above.

Fairtrade campaigners hope that with big players like Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and Nestle‘s KitKat jumping onto the FairTrade bandwagon,  other multinationals will also follow suit.

My swaps will be Rum and Coffee – although I don’t think I’ll be mixing them together.



Welsh Assembly gets tough on councils to become Zero Waste

Measures to improve how Wales deals with its waste have been proposed to the Welsh Assembly Government.

Environment Minister Jane Davidson wants Wales to adopt more sustainable waste management practices.

She hopes Wales will become a high recycling country by 2025 with aims to reach a Zero Waste country by 2050.

There’ll be targets for local authorities to recycle and compost, with financial penalties if these targets are not met. Certain materials will also be banned from going to landfill, like biodegradable food waste which could be used as biomass fuel. The announcement made by the Assembly also includes plans to start charging for plastic carrier bags in all shops from 2011.

What is ‘Zero Waste’?

The concept of ‘Zero Waste’ is to try and recover as much energy from our rubbish as possible, and options on how to do this are being researched by a group of local authorities.

Prosiect Gwyrdd is a partnership between, Caerphilly Borough County Council, The County Council of the City and County of Cardiff, Monmouthshire County Council, Newport Council and Vale of Glamorgan Council.

They are looking into the different ways of turning waste into energy, through modern incinerators (also known as combined heat and power), or anaerobic digestion (where the methane gas produced when waste decomposes is captured to be used as fuel).

Recycling as it stands

We are doing quite well when it comes to recycling in South East Wales. For the last quarter the figures are as follows.

Caerphilly: 39.32%
Cardiff: 38.5%
Monmouthshire: 41.67%
Newport: 39%
Vale of Glamorgan: 41.81%

On average there’s been a 3% rise each year in the amounts recycled since 2001. Its admirable that the Welsh Assembly are committed to reducing the amount we send to landfill and that schemes like Prosiect Gwyrdd are looking into ways to convert our rubbish into energy.

However – will ruling with an iron fist work (dishing out fines to councils left right and centre) or will it just hinder any further progress? Surely working to financial incentives and encouraging better waste management is better than penalising councils for not being up to scratch.

Call me a cynic but if councils are fined, then surely it’ll be us lot who suffer in the long run when we have to cough up more council tax.