Sunday, December 13, 2015

Tim Farron and the floods: Drowning in ignorance!

Liberal leader Tim Farron:More Sheep Please!

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats appears an amenable soul. Self deprecating and always offering a smile. A devout Christian who nevertheless voted for the Syria bombing campaign-how would Jesus have voted!- Tim 'Nice but Dim' might have trouble separating his 'Prince of Peace' from his 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' but when it comes to getting a handle on the cause and effect of the recent Cumbrian floods, he appears to have even less of a grasp on reality.

His comments that the decline in upland sheep farming has contributed to flooding in places like Glenridding, Cockermouth, Appleby and Carlisle is so far from the truth you would have say that his eco compass requires a sharp tap and resetting. It's hard to understand how Farron could  fail to equate the intensive grazing of the fells by sheep with the inundation of the Cumbrian villages? Before intensive sheep farming took hold in the last century, tree cover extended far up the fellsides. Typically, birch, rowan, holly, hazel, Scots pine, sessile oak and aspen served a valuable ecological service by binding the soil, reducing water run off and preventing the worst excessive of seasonal cloud bursts.
On top of this of course, the woodland was a rich habitat for all manner of wildlife. From mammals to rare bird species, lizards to insects. Rare plants and shrubs were protected within a this arboreal environment and the woodland provided a renewable source of fuel and building materials for the indigenous populations.

How things have changed and a thousand times not for the better! Despite the glib 'Countryfile' view of farmers as 'creating the countryside we know and love', in truth, the countryside they have created is a sheep cropped, manicured desert. 'Sheepwrecked' as George Monbiot puts it. The fellsides in Cumbria-as in Wales and Scotland-have been grazed to the bone by these desertmaking ruminants who will eat any vegetation which breaks the surface. Trees, shrubs, wildflowers, herbs....nothing stands a chance, hence the bare closely cropped fields allows heavy rainfall to run off and overwhelm the watercourses which in turn delivers an uncontrollable volume of water into the rivers below.

By this stage the rivers themselves do not have the capacity to take up water in the volume it is pouring down from the hillsides  and consequentially bursts over the river banks with predictable consequences. Unfortunately, despite only contributing a miserly amount to the nation's GDP, farmers and the agribusiness corporations enjoy an unprecedented amount of government influence. Politicians like Tim Farron simply buy into the great con. Sheep farmers bravely battling against the odds for little reward. Selflessly creating a pastoral rural heaven by dint of their farming practices.

The irony is that our recent governments-both Labour and Conservative- have operated a neo liberal market economy where Laissez faire rules apply. 'Lame Duck' industries like coal, shipbuilding, car manufacture and heavy industry have been allowed to go to the wall, yet farming remains outside the free market rules of supply and demand and sheepfarming in particular, exists as a subsidized industry where farmers are paid to over produce and the product is sold to consumers at an inflated price. Have you seen the price of lamb in a supermarket or butcher's shop!!!

Pooley Bridge...gone! What we need now is even barer hillsides to allow the rain to run off even faster!
Floods that we have seen in Somerset, Cumbria and here in Wales will continue as long as politicians like Farron buy into the 'farmers as heroes' myth. By continuing to subsidize ecologically disastrous farming practices which have negatively impacted on the upland ecosystems and refusing to consider positive ideas like 'rewilding' the countryside, promoting agricultural diversity, alternative business ventures and actually paying farmers not to farm, but to plant native trees instead, then you can put your money on the fact that in future, 'a hard rain's gonna fall!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Carnage to Patagonia: The Eco Warriors who lost their way!

I was depressed to read in the Guardian the other day about plans to build a huge dam in Patagonia. To quote......the presidency of Argentina’s Cristina Fern├índez de Kirchner enters its final days, her greatest – and arguably most controversial – legacy project is just getting under way in the remote grasslands of Patagonia. Here, amid herds of wild guanacos, condor nests and the occasional rhea, a Chinese-financed team of engineers will soon be dynamiting hillsides and pouring millions of tonnes of concrete for two giant hydroelectric dams that will flood an area the size of Buenos Aires'.

The truth is, dams are ALWAYS bad news for the environment. By trying to interfere with the natural world and tame it to suit our consumer needs, ecosystems, unique cultural sites of historical significance and indigenous populations inevitably suffer. From the Glen Canyon dam which destroyed much of the magnificent Colorado in Arizona to the Three Gorges dam in China which saw entire towns and villages submerged and a rare species of fresh water dolphin declared extinct. From The Planning Institute of Australia...

The Three Gorges Dam, a giant hydroelectric dam located along China's Yangtze River, has the biggest installed capacity of any power station in the world. But the project, finished in 2012, hasn't exactly been a triumph over dirtier forms of energy like coal power. Concerns about pollution, landslides, earthquakes, and biodiversity abound. And for about 4 million people, the dam project was mostly a disaster, as it flooded 13 cities, 140 towns, and 1,352 villages. (Everyone was relocated to new settlements built on higher ground, which in an Orwellian feat, were given the same names as their former communities.

Here in Wales, we've had our own controversial developments. Most notably the Llyn Celyn dam which in the 1960's destroyed an entire valley including an historic  100% Welsh speaking village. See The Drowning Season. In the 19th century, the Lake Vyrnwy development saw the village of Llanwddyn destroyed. Both projects  driven to supply water to Liverpool. Similarly, Alfred Wainwright's 'most beautiful valley in Lakeland' Mardale in the north Lakes was destroyed to provide water for Manchester.

In a way, the damming of natural rivers to create hydro power of water sources conveniently highlights the growing schism in the environmental movement between Conservationsts like myself and the new breed of Technophile 'Greens' who dominate organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.These Technophile greens see science and technology as the answer to the big issues of the day like energy production and climate change. 

The wilderness and ecosystems can be sacrificed for the greater good of humanity. Who needs freshwater dolphins or red squirrels when industry needs power and domestic users demand the right to leave their houses lit up like Xmas trees 24 hours a day! These shrill voices can be heard in liberal newspapers like The Guardian. Berating the conservationists and rural dwellers as 'Ruddy Cheeked Tories' more concerned with their aspect and house prices than global warming.

It's a message defined by the term 'Green Fascist'. I have an image of these Greenpeace Guardianistas. Thirty something metropoles, flying around the capital on their £2k mountain bikes, courier bag flapping in their wake.  Careful not to spill out their expensive iPhones and iPads as they wheel their way to a local FOE meeting  in the Mung Bean Eatery and Meditation Centre. Inevitably white, male and middle class, these humourless emaciated geeks are the fundementalists of the movement.  Zealous proselytisers who have chosen the one true way to salvation and woe betide anyone who challenges their essentially right wing orthodoxy.

Yes..right wing! -for these Technophile Greens embrace an imperialstic philosophy which is every bit as reactionary as its Victorian Empire building variant. The wild places, rare species, indigenous populations and natural resources exist to be exploited in the interests of the common good. Except the common good  is conveniently served by large corporate interests who make billions out of these so called green projects. 

The Three gorge Dam Project in China which literally unleashed hell!
Calling a massive dam project ' Renewable Hydro Power' is the 'get out of jail card' for corrupt national and regional governments and the private companies who exploit the powerlessness of native populations and the natural environment which they call home. For the global corporations, the politicians and the  Green Technophiles who act as the willing footsoldiers for these nefarious shysters, its not enough to call youself 'Green'. Actions speak louder than words and as the man said, ...You're no Green Bruv!'

Sadly, within hours of posting this piece, I learned of the death of Doug Tompkins in a kayaking accident in Chile. Doug is probably best known as a bold outdoor pioneer and founder of the outdoor clothing brand-North Face. However, in the context of the above piece, he was more importantly an outstanding conservationist. A committed eco philanthropist who put his millions into buying vast tracts of Patagonian wilderness to protect the land and the species that inhabit it from disastrous developments like the Patagonia dam project above. 
Thankfully through his wife and the foundation he established, his ideals will live on and the tracts of protected wilderness will be a fitting memorial to his life and times.
  Tompkins Conservation

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Rock Climbers in Action in Snowdonia...fifty years on!

John Cleare and Tony Smythes’ 1966 Rock Climbers in action in Snowdonia has long achieved iconic status in the field of mountaineering literature. With original copies fetching an arm and a leg on eBay, the news that the book is to be re-printed as a 50th anniversary addition-complete with new original photos which did not appear in the original book-will be welcomed by those who yearn to own the book but whose wallets won’t stretch far enough to buy a rare second hand edition.

The pre-publication blurb put out by John Cleare himself reads........ 

by John Cleare and Tony Smythe
To be published early in January 2016 by Mountain Camera.
Similar to the original 1966 edition, if rather fatter, it contains over a hundred of John Cleare’s photographs in a new layout – the original thirty nine plus many others that ‘got away’ in 1966 – together with Tony Smythe’s original text and a few other interesting additions.
The new edition may be purchased on-line (using credit/debit card) after November 15th 2015
direct from the printers at
in hardback at £25 or paperback at £20
plus £3.50 post and packing.

Climbing writer Steve Dean wrote a compelling appreciation of the work in the Climber’s Club journal on the book's 40th anniversary, which was republished in two parts on Footless Crow. See the links below.

I must admit that I’m one of those who has never owned the original work so I’m looking forward to seeing this. More especially those unpublished photographs.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

RWE/Innogy's Conwy Falls Scheme:Dark Undercurrents!

Anyone travelling around the Snowdonia National Park recently, can’t have failed to notice the rash of so called renewable energy projects springing up. Two piped hydro schemes are in progress in the Llanberis Pass as we speak. Revealing ugly scars searing the mountainside as diggers carve out a course for the pipelines to follow to the pumping houses. Around the corner in Nant Gwynant, The National Trust already have an operational power plant installed. Utilising the cascading waters which flow down from Cwm Tregalen beneath Yr Wyddfa to reach the Afon Glasllyn.

Further north the £100m Glyn Rhonwy pumped hydro electric scheme above Llanberis has Gwynedd’s bovine local politicians falling over themselves to back this controversial development which will provide huge subsidised profits for the developer. Currently ‘Quarry Battery Company’, although these developers change the names and indeed the ownership of these companies as often as the weather changes in Snowdonia!

Of all the current projects in development and planning, none is more controversial than the quite frankly insane project to dam the beautiful Afon Conwy between The Fairy Glen and the Conwy Falls to provide a frankly pathetic amount of electricity. The developer not surprisingly is German Energy giant RWE using ‘RWE Innogy’ as its ironic ‘green’ handle. RWE were recently revealed as Europe’s biggest atmospheric polluter through its coal power plants, is currently trashing nearby Clocaenog Forest. Building a 33 turbine wind farm after the Welsh Government waved through the development despite the warnings from conservationists and environmentalists that the development would see the habitats of rare species at risk and increase the risk of flooding in one of the UK’s most ‘at risk’ areas. The Welsh Government of course essentially owns the forest through its quango, ‘Natural Resources Wales. The cosy new name for The Forestry Commission.

To get back to the Betws y Coed development. RWE want to construct a dam which will contain the free flow of the river to feed turbines sited beneath the dammed area.(Or should that be ‘The Damned area!) After all, ecologists are warning that the raised water levels will destroy rare plants and insect species whose habitat is effectively a Welsh Rain Forest. Previously untouched by development due to its inaccessibility.

To quote from The Snowdonia Society...

Conwy Falls and Fairy Glen is one of the top ten sites in Wales for the rare lower plants – mosses and liverworts – which only live in such ravines.  Together these sites form the most important areas of ‘Celtic Rainforest’ south of the Scottish Highlands.  Every single one of the ‘Top Ten’ sites either has a hydro-electric scheme already installed or has an application for a hydro-electric scheme in the planning system.
The Snowdonia Society has submitted a detailed objection to the Conwy Falls scheme, highlighting lack of employment opportunities for local people, construction-phase impacts on local businesses and damage to irreplaceable natural features of the river corridor.
Meanwhile, our Freedom of Information request  to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) revealed that conservation specialists have grave concerns over the Conwy Falls proposal which were not reflected in the official NRW response. We are pressing the National Park Authority and NRW to review their approaches.

Despite the opposition of environmentalists, local people, anglers, canoeists and groups like the aforementioned Snowdonia Society, sadly, going on current developments which have been waved through, I’m expecting this crazy scheme will get the nod as well. It appears that a developer only has to whisper the magic word ‘renewable’, and Abracadabra the planning application will receive the stamp of approval from our frankly inept and ignorant local politicians who are putty in the hands of these slick fat cat developers!

As Bob Dylan once sang...'Money doesn't talk it swears!'

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Still crazy after all these years!

'Get off my land!: Photo Daily Post
If anything acts as a red rag to a bull for a mountain activist, its the insensitivity of landowners and farmers to the access rights of the general public. As someone who was turfed off Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) a couple of years ago because I was crossing land on the lower slopes above Beddgelert which, I was informed, was ‘private land’...whatever happened to the countryside rights of way act?...then being corralled by farmers onto eroded trade routes up the mountain rather being allowed to roam free, is highly irritating to say the least!

The story in the Daily Post this weekend, detailing how one farmer, Dafydd Morris who own 1200 acres of mountain, wants walkers to book in advance to walk up Yr Wyddfa and keep dogs off altogether demonstrates the incredible gall of someone who is paid by the taxpayer in ill conceived generous subsidies to overstock the uplands with sheep who then graze the mountain to the bone-thereby creating a bare ecological desert, devoid of trees, shrubs and wild flowers-would be laughable if it wasn’t so much an insult to our intelligence.

On the social media, others have pointed out that Mr Morris and his family are only too happy to exploit the walking community through their Halfway House Cafe and bunkhouse while leaving the watercourses and fences on the land gathering black silage bags and general agricultural rubbish which he/they can’t be bothered to dispose of sensibly. The term including ‘pot, kettle and black’ spring to mind!

Another observation made by Mr Morris and his ilk's critics,is the idea that the farming community are guardians of the countryside which is patently risible in the circumstances. The term used by farmers ‘the land is our factory floor’ could not be more appropriate given the way it is treated and left in places to resemble a council tip! Ecologically, the land would benefit enormously by being taken out of production for sheep farming and left to re-wild naturally. The Wild Ennerdale project in The Lake District is one such enlightened scheme where the valley which was previously heavily planed with conifers, is being allowed to return to its natural state. Only the black Galloway cattle who keep the bracken down and allow saplings to push on through to maturity, are given a free rein in the valley. Sheep are thankfully kept at bay.

Only those with a superficial BBC Countryfile view of the rural areas would see the land as it is and as it has been manufactured by traditional farming as ‘natural’. The irony being that farmers are allowed to operate outside of the normal economic principles which define a free market economy and its dynamic regulatory principles of supply and demand. Overstocking the uplands to rake in the subsidies for a product which is then maintained at an artificially high price-have you seen the price of lamb!!-just highlights how crazy the UK and EU agricultural policies are.

Hopefully, in the future the Welsh government will gain more powers in line with Scotland to reform land ownership and allow charities, communities and environmental groups to buy out dinosaurs like Dafydd Morris and allow the uplands and rough bounds to be managed sustainably or return to nature in a managed but natural way as in Ennerdale. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Welsh Mountain Goats targeted by 'Snipers'

Being a lover of the great outdoors and genuine mountain activities, it hardly needs saying that like most activists I hold the hunting, shooting fraternity in the deepest contempt. Anyone who gets pleasure killing or maiming an innocent creature for fun just has to have suffered some deep, malignant psychological trauma in their past. More likely as a victim of childhood abuse and as such, the abuse of animals-and children- is more often than not a way these poor people deal with their historical trauma. That being said, it’s still impossible to feel any sympathy for these low lifes. Whether it is a bull elephant or a pheasant, using a gun, crossbow, snare or trap is still an incredibly cowardly and contemptible act. 

The latest wheeze from this chav fraternity is the shooting of our wild mountain goats in Snowdonia. Some AH called Ian Hartford from an organisation laughingly called ‘Team Wild’!  Team Wild indeed, If you call yourself a man let’s see you tackle a Cloggy rock climb in the rain and paddle down the Fairy Glen in spate! But I digress; what this contemptible outfit is offering, is the opportunity to kill a mountain goat minding its own business in the hills. Of course mountain goats are a part of the furniture in our mountains and a sighting never fails to lift the spirits. They are so used to people that you can inevitably get pretty close to them and therein lies the rub. Shooting a fairly tame mountain goat is just about as pathetically pointless as the people who would shoot them.

There is no skill involved; no days and nights spent tracking and stealing up on the unsuspecting animal. Just wander up onto Tryfan with a rifle and shoot the poor creature innocently munching away on vegetation. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

The argument will go up that this is controlled culling to reduce the population. I’m sure some of the organisations that are charged with protecting our mountains like the SNPA and the appalling reactionary National Trust will both be happy to collude with the hunters. The irony being of course, that there is no attempts being made to reduce the real ecological villains of the peace—sheep!

These ovine desert makers are left to graze our mountains to the bone and we are told by the Farmers, SNPA and NT that it’s sheep farming that has made the landscape we know and love today. Well then, it’s certainly shaped the Snowdonia mountain environment but not in a natural way. The ecology has been basically raped by sheep. Without them, the natural environment would regenerate and we would see a return of native trees and shrubs colonising the foothills and valleys.

US climber Tommy Caldwell famously kicked a Kazakhstan hostage taker off a cliff. Perhaps we could do something similar if we see a rifle wielding moron poised over the north Gully!