ImageRecent winter storms brought serious flooding to the UK – from mid-December onward through the beginning of January the rains seemed endless, and pictures of flooded fields and houses commonplace. Add to these the ferocious storms that swept away chunks of the seafront at Aberystwyth and various other locations on the west coast, and it begins to look as if climate change predictions are coming true – as David Cameron said at the time.

Residents of the Somerset Levels, which were badly hit by flooding after similar floods in 2012, have put forward different explanations. They point to the fact that in their area rainfall was not significantly in excess of the annual average, yet houses that previously had not flooded in over 80 years had been flooded twice in just two years. Some, in other blogs, have blamed the Environment Agency for not  dredging the rivers Parrett and Tone – the EA’s own computer modelling, according to the Western Morning News, has showed that dredging would have increased the rivers’ carrying capacity from its current 60% to 90%, significantly reducing (the EA’s words) the flood severity.

There are other obvious, well-rehearsed culprits in flood events, key among which is upstream development. Here, large areas of previously permeable land have been converted into impermeable surfaces, off which rainfall runs into watercourses quickly and in far greater volumes than before, creating sharper and higher flood peaks. 

Development in flood plains has long been identified as a risky practice, but one that has been allowed regardless of the obvious issues. So what is the truth? Who is to blame? Is the Environment Agency, as some have suggested, keen to see the Levels returned to their original marshland state? On the east coast the EA’s philosophy of ‘managed retreat’ has seen sea defences dismantled so that land can flood, reducing (where this is possible) the impact of flooding from this source. The EA is also an advocate of restoring flood plains to their original use where possible. This would indeed reduce the impact of flooding by allowing waters to spill onto permeable land and percolate naturally into the ground, rather than be channelled swiftly downstream to flood some other location. 

In its defence, the Environment Agency points to the environmental impact of river dredging, something that was not considered as an issue of any significance when it was regularly undertaken. Since the engineering-led solutions of the 1960s and 70s (‘dredge, channel and hope it goes somewhere else’ might be an apt description) much more importance has been assigned to environmental impact – what happens to the invertebrates in the rivers, the plants they feed on, and the fish that feed on them – the whole complex food web that dredging disrupts? And of course, dredging is a solution that simply pushes the problem downstream rather than solving it, possibly creating flooding for another area in the process. The EA by definition has to consider environmental impacts, although the residents of Muchelney might well, with feeling, suggest that their needs are somewhat more important than those of a few river creatures and their downstream neighbours. 

Identifying the key causes of the flooding is an important part of finding the solution. There are advanced computer modelling programmes that can do exactly that, factoring in the upstream rainfall, the impact of storm water discharges from all identified sources, permeable and impermeable surfaces and other structures that either speed or impede the flow of water. Such models can provide deep insight into flood events – one of the country’s leading water research bodies, HR Wallingford, modelled the Boscastle flooding, a fascinating exercise that proved the local terrain, a series of almost stationary storm events over the river basin and the cumulative effects of detritus blocking key water access points, worked together to create an extreme event.

For the Levels, it is likely that a combination of factors again played a part. The area is a natural floodplain, so upstream influences are almost inevitably going to have a major effect. These would include upstream flood defences to protect major towns (an investigation would look at whether new defences had been added that might have exacerbated the flood risk), and of course development, as well as whether a dredging regime of some sort would have made the situation better.

Resolving the flooding will have to take account of the highly-engineered nature of the area – like the Fens, the Levels have been reclaimed from their natural state and a ‘natural’ solution is therefore not possible. However, any solutions will have to be flexible, sustainable and smart. One good starting point would be upstream attenuation through SUDS – sustainable urban development systems. 

SUDS means introducing retention ponds, grassed areas that can be  used to collect rainwater during storms, swales to guide storm waters to such features and permeable paving, which would allow rainfall to soak through car parks and pavements rather than run off into drains.  If these systems were widely adopted upstream, they would undoubtedly help.

Farmers could be encouraged to plant trees, which are a valuable means of absorbing water – EU funding tends to provide financial incentives to reduce, rather than increase, the number of trees on agricultural land, and this needs to be addressed. The EA’s reduced funding and manpower (it is losing 1700 staff) could be a real obstacle in the search for solutions – local flood schemes, which are within the EA’s remit, could help, as might planned use of those floodplains that can flood harmlessly. 

People may also have to work to make their own homes more flood resilient, and plan for flooding – those who live on flood plains would be wise to take as many precautions as they can regardless of other improvements. Devices to block air bricks are available, as are ‘dagger boards’ to protect doors – these are used in Venice, one of the most flood-prone cities in the world. People have built bunds to protect their properties. 

The culprit, when it comes to flooding, should not be identified as global warming – it is not yet possible to attribute single events to that source, and  it is a concept too easily used as a way of dismissing problems rather than solving them. It is, rather, an inheritance of various short-sighted actions in the past that have come back to haunt low-lying areas.

There are ways to reduce the likelihood of flooding, but they will take concerted efforts from various sources starting with homeowners and including upstream town councils, the Environment Agency and national government. In order to make change happen, there will need to be commitment to do so from the very top. The whole subject is discussed in much detail in the Pitt report on the 2007 floods, which is still available on the internet – the BBC has key points at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7472813.stm. The current Water Bill going through parliament is supposed to address some of the issues, such as flood insurance. More information about the regulations (and there are many) can be obtained at https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/reducing-the-threats-of-flooding-and-coastal-change

It’s not that nothing is being done, it is more that there is so much to do. Bearing that in mind, people living on flood plains should do as much as they can to protect themselves, because a complete solution is impossible.

 

 

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Geranium Magnificum

Geranium Magnificum

Bees are in trouble. Although Europe has announced a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, bee numbers have crashed in recent years, and our fuzzy little friends need all the help they can get. If everyone were to grow a pot full of a flower that bees love, it would help enormously.

But what flowers do bees like? The answer tends to be, simple ones with lots of nectar and pollen (of course!). Frilly, complicated flowers like roses that bees have to fight to get into are not on their dinner list. One that is, is the flower above – geranium magnificum, which lives up to its name in June with a magnificent display – masses of purple flowers that will be filled all month with browsing bees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Foxglove

Another flower that bees love is the humble foxglove. Depending on where you live in the country, this will either be a plant you need to buy from a nursery (it can be grown from seed, though the seed is incredibly fine) or it will be a weed in your garden that you find yourself pulling from every pot. Don’t pull it all out though! Those bell-shaped flowers are irresistible to bees. Just make sure that you keep them well away from children – their berries are poisonous, and their hairy leaves can also cause irritation.

P6140707 Lavender

The beautiful scent of lavender is something that attracts people to the plant almost as readily as bees. The yellow plant in the foreground, on the other hand, is goldenrod and although its flowers are very simple they appear not to appeal to bees in the slightest. But a lovely mound of sweet-smelling lavender will be smothered in bees through August and into September – well worth the space needed to grow this large shrub.

Buddleia_davidii

The buddleia is another plant that needs little introduction – a familiar site everywhere, this hardy little bush can be found growing alongside railways, clinging to cracks in high brick walls – anywhere, indeed, where it can get a foothold. And where the buddleia goes, insects follow. Long, fat spires of tiny purple flowers adorn the bush throughout August and provide both butterflies and bees with an excellent feast. Indeed, it’s hard to take a photograph of a buddleia flower without a feeding bee or butterfly upon it!

Snapdragon

The snapdragon – antirrhinum – is another cheerful and common garden plant, a biennial that flowers profusely throughout the summer. It’s a favourite with children because of its amusing composition – the plant’s stamens are hidden inside the closed ‘mouth’ of the flower, which bees (as you can see) love pushing their way into. A border favourite and very easy to grow, this is a great summer bee feeding station.

oregano

Oregano is best known as a herb, often used in Mediterranean cookery, but it is also another bee favourite. Simple sprays of lilac to deep purple flowers are found throughout August, a month when bees are quite spoiled for choice! Simple to grow, oregano can be kept in a pot on the windowsill if you are short of space, and will be quite at home on a sunny patio.

Sweet pea

The sweet pea is the florist’s favourite, a sentiment that bees would undoubtedly agree with. These gorgeous, beautifully-scented flowers unfold their delicate wings as early as May. A frame of some sort is needed for this popular garden climber – something as simple as a wig-wam of canes in a large pot will suffice, or they can be intermingled with runner beans for an interesting effect. Sweet peas will carry on flowering throughout the summer, providing they are dead-headed regularly. Picking a bunch to allow their sweet scent to fill your living room will encourage even more flowers!

***Apple

It’s easy to forget that one of the bee’s main jobs, from a human point of view, is the pollination of fruit. Therefore an apple or pear tree is also a wonderful bee attractant during the early days of a warm spring when bees are just beginning to venture out and are in most need of nourishment. A tree is not an option if you live in a flat, of course, but even a small garden can usually find room for an apple tree grown on dwarfing rootstock – this type of tree is far less vigorous than a ‘normal’ apple tree and needs no more than a few feet of space to thrive. A good prune every year, once winter has set in, will ensure it stays in shape – and of course, you get the extra reward in autumn of the juicy apples!

Red clover

Red clover is another early bee favourite and can often be found in the slightly wilder parts of a garden – having everything completely neat is not always good for insects! A small rough patch, where the grass is not regularly mowed and where a small patch of nettles and red clover can flourish, can be really helpful to both butterflies and bees. It’s also possible to buy red clover seed, as it is used by vegetable gardeners as a green mulch. The pom-pom flowers are also very attractive, nestled into a bed of grass.

Honeysuckle

Last, but not least, is the honeysuckle. Possessed of the most glorious scent in the cool of an early summer morning or evening, honeysuckle is a rambling shrub that will climb up and mask even the ugliest of walls. Honeysuckles come in a wide variety of colours, ranging from dramatic reds and oranges to pale cream.

In among this ‘top ten’ is a plant for (almost) everyone – why not find a space in your plot for one or two. Or even all ten! The bees will thank you for it, and you will be rewarded with a scent and colour-filled summer.

Trem y Mor terrace, Nant Gwrtheyrn

This most extraordinary of places is Nant Gwrtheyrn, the National Welsh Language Centre, and I spent last week there on a Welsh course.

For those who have never been, Nant Gwrtheyrn has a long and haunted history, from its days as the last refuge of Kentish King Gwrtheyrn, who lent his name to the valley, and on through its days as a fishing community, a farming village, and more recently as a granite quarry – the two rows of cottages hosted up to 22 people each in the heyday of the quarrying, making the most of the (for those days) great wages on offer.

After a spell of abandonment, after tarmac became popular and granite setts were no longer needed to pave the world’s roads, the village had a short encounter with a hippie group (the New Atlantis commune), who managed to destroy a substantial chunk before they moved on a couple of years later.

Nowadays, Nant Gwrtheyrn has been fully and wonderfully restored as a language centre for that most ancient and challenging of languages, Welsh.

Getting there is a challenge in itself – the road is for the most part single track, with the odd passing place, garnished by a scattering of hairpin bends and a breathtakingly steep segment heralded by a magnificent view of the deep-green bay beyond.

In the village, finding a mobile phone signal is not easy. I found that if I stood on one leg leaning into the window of my bathroom that I could phone home, and did at one point consider renting the room out to others desperate to make outside contact.

Aside from the course, which was excellent and the food (also great), the other learners were grand company and the school thoughtfully organised evening events and an afternoon out at the Slate Museum in Llanberis.

The remoteness of the site also lends itself to legends, and there are two in particular associated with it – one, the tragic tale of Rhys and Meinir, two ill-fated lovers, and the other the dark story of the Monks’ Curse… Of which more in another blog, I think!

The village, surrounded as it is by steep ravines and cut off from the rest of the Lleyn peninsula by the dramatic sweep of Yr Eifl, is a natural focus for drama and mystery. Sudden, enveloping mists sweep in from the sea and fill the little basin, masking the stone terraces and bathing the trees in an eerie glow. Then they are gone again, as suddenly as they came.

If you are ever in the vicinity of Llithfaen, on the Lleyn peninsula, do pluck up your courage and dare the road – the Nant is an unforgettable experience, like walking back in time. I know I will carry it in my heart always.

Parliament has issued its report on the investigation into the sacking of police chief constables by Police and Crime Commissioners. The investigation looked at three cases: Within a few days of the election, Avon and Somerset Chief Constable Colin Port declined to re-apply for his job after the incoming Commissioner, Sue Mountstevens, indicated that she wanted to recruit a new Chief Constable whose tenure would cover her entire term of office. In Lincolnshire, Chief Constable Neil Rhodes was suspended by Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Hardwick—who also referred him to the IPCC—but was reinstated following a High Court judgement. In Gwent, Commissioner Ian Johnston invited Chief Constable Carmel Napier to retire, indicating that he was prepared to initiate the statutory process for her removal if she did not do so.

Many people will be surprised to realise that the PCCs have the power to sack police chief constables, and that this and other powers (or the threat of their use) were exercised so soon after the PCCs took their posts. The PCCs were brought into power in an election characterised by indifference – for example, Gwent PCC Ian Johnston was voted in by 8% of the electorate, according to the report.

The Home Affairs Committee also expressed considerable concern about what had happened. Their report says: ‘Suspension or removal of a chief constable is a radical step, and not one which should be undertaken lightly. As we have previously noted, it is potentially operationally disruptive and costly, and damaging to the reputation of the force and individuals concerned.’

However, in these three examples, this ‘radical step’ was taken in these cases without the processes  and consideration that parliament envisaged, according to the report, which notes: ‘Early indications are that it is very easy for a police and crime commissioner to remove a chief constable, even when the stated concerns of a PCC are about operational policing matters or are of an insubstantial nature. The statutory process provides little safeguard, since there is nobody—not the police and crime panel, not the Inspectorate of Constabulary, not even the Home Secretary herself—who can over-rule a commissioner who has set his face to dismissing a chief constable. And even the limited scrutiny process can easily be sidestepped with the threat of a potentially embarrassing public scrutiny process in which there is clearly scope for a commissioner to cause serious damage to a chief constable’s reputation and, by extension, the reputation and morale of the force. Though we make no comment on the merits of these cases, it is notable that the reasons given by commissioners who have suspended or dismissed chief constables so far have been unpersuasive, in the case of Avon and Somerset where the Commissioner cited contractual issues; “irrational and perverse”, in Lincolnshire (according to the High Court); and unsubstantiated by any concrete examples in the case of Gwent.’

Of note also in respect to the Gwent case are these observations in the report:

‘We were disappointed that, shortly after we took evidence from Mr Johnston, he took to Twitter to criticise a member of the Committee for asking questions that he believed had been prompted by Gwent MPs, describing the proceedings as “sad really”. Mr Johnson even described Mr Ruane as a “plant of Gwent MPs”.[] This disdainful attitude towards scrutiny by Parliament, as well as an indication of a clear over-sensitivity to criticism, from a politician elected by less that 8% of the electorate, who had managed to side-step the statutory arrangements for local scrutiny of his decision to sack the Chief Constable, is further evidence, if any were needed, that the checks and balances on police and crime commissioners are too weak.

‘The situation in Gwent has highlighted that the wide discretion of commissioners to dismiss chief constables is a significant issue, and shows that statutory provisions intended to give police and crime panels a role in respect of dismissals, albeit a consultative one, can be evaded. Some will argue that it represents an undermining of the independence of the office of chief constable if it becomes too easy for their political masters to dismiss them over any minor disagreement or personality clash. On the other hand, it is essential to commissioners’ role as directly elected office-holders that they have the power to dismiss chief constables, and commissioners can and should provide robust, critical challenge to chief constables. It is right that commissioners should have the initiative in removing a chief constable, but we recommend that police and crime panels should fully exercise their powers of scrutiny in examining and deciding whether the proposed removal of a chief constable is justified. Such decisions, once made, should be accompanied by all the reasons arrived at in the case. We will return to this important area of policy when we come to consider the work of police and crime commissioners one year after their election, in November this year, by which time there may well be further examples of these powers being exercised in practice.’

What to make of all this? While the appointment of PCCs created barely a ripple of interest when proposed, it is clear that those who hold this post have considerable power potentially to disrupt the running of the police force they are appointed to work with. 

The public, to protect its own interests and ensure that the police in their area are able to function, will have to become more involved in the PCC process. This should, I believe, include voting in the next PCC election to ensure that disruptive PCCs who arbitrarily seek to dismiss chief constables are themselves dismissed.

There is a PCC website http://www.choosemypcc.org.uk, which provides some basic information. The PCCs have set four-year terms and a maximum of two terms. We, the public, need to step up and resolve this situation. PCCs have extensive powers, and this first election has seen people elected without most of us exerting any kind of scrutiny to ensure that those seeking election were likely to be fair and impartial, as their oath calls on them to be.  

I would also call on parliament to urgently work to strengthen the oversight process to ensure that PCCs are not able to make such far-reaching decisions without proper scrutiny, checks and balances. This is a matter of concern to us all.Image

Going on holiday probably shouldn’t require the same sort of precise planning as a military invasion, but I’m pretty sure that George Bush and Tony Blair didn’t have to put as much thought into Iraq as we did into our holiday last week in mid-Wales.

Taking a diabetic dog on holiday requires thinking. Insulin needs to be kept refrigerated, and as our Lexie is Little Miss Fussy, some fresh food, which also requires refrigeration, was needed.

This is not to mention the various potions and lotions that her increasingly-aged mom and pop require of course! Then there are the tennis balls for Hamish, the bedcovers (just in case giant setter hoofs somehow land on pristine white bedcovers. We’ve been there, and it’s not pretty). 

Add to that various leads, poo bags, harnesses, dog dishes, knives (for cutting up said food), plus all the clothes of course, and you have yourself one serious logistical challenge. I was quite proud to find, when we got there, that the only thing I’d forgotten was a washing-up brush. I bet Tony Blair can’t say the same!

Goodness only knows what the hotel thought as the staff saw this trail of weird goods going upstairs. Refrigerators, bags of all shapes and sizes and two curious dogs. I don’t think there were any missiles, but I could have put one in by accident, of course. Various dictators have tried to explain this small oversight in court trials over the centuries (I particularly like Ghengis Khan’s immortal quote ‘doesn’t everybody take ten thousand horsemen armed to the teeth on a picnic?’). 

I have to add, at the end of a week full of sunshine and trips to the beach (and lakes and waterfalls), it’s not the easiest thing we’ve done. Lexie doesn’t eat well on holiday, and diabetic dogs, like diabetic people, have to eat when they have their injections. With people, you stand a chance of explaining this – with a grumpy hot dog who doesn’t want to eat away from home, you don’t. So I ended up pressing good cheese and fresh duck on her reluctant little self. I know there are various people out there who now want to be my pet, details are available on request (haha).

Put it this way, she survived – no dreaded hypo, which was a worry with all the extra activity and the heat. On the Sunday, when we returned, she got a bit wobbly after tearing round the garden to inspect it all in the searing heat, but some glucose and a couple of her favourite chew sticks seemed to do the trick, and today she is back to being Queen Lexie, she of the upside-down snoring regime.

I would love to hear from anyone else who has taken dogs with health problems on holiday, how does everyone manage?Image

 

I am passing this on because as a Welsh learner, I know how important it is to be able to buy books in the language. Without books, languages wither and die, and e-books are the way forward for books, so it’s vital that Welsh can continue in this form. So why has Amazon decided that it won’t publish books in Welsh for the Kindle? They publish books in other minority languages..Image. Welsh is one of the ancient languages of Britain and we should be proud of it! 

Here’s the details of the petition:

Amazon E-book Petition

Thank you for signing the petition calling on Amazon to allow the publishing of Welsh language e-Books on Kindle. It has been signed by over 4,000 people to date. We will close the petition on Friday the 12th of July. We will be sending copies of the petition to the headquarters of Amazon in Seattle and Luxemburg and to Amazon’s Director of Public Policy in Brussels. Copies will also be sent to Meri Hughes, the Welsh Language Commissioner and to Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales.

So far it has been extremely difficult to get any response from Amazon and we would appreciate any suggestions on how we can get Amazon to change their minds. You are welcome to call on friends to sign the petition by following this linkhttp://www.deisebelyfrau.org/

Pob hwyl

Garmon Gruffudd
www.ylolfa.com

 

 I would appreciate people helping with this one… If only because Welsh is beautiful and deserves the best chance possible to survive.

A day in the sun for the spring lambs

The lambs are happy today: the sun is shining fit to bust, the birds are cheeping, it seems that summer has finally come. And I love the dear little lambs – it seems no time before they settle down to munch on the grass like miniature versions of their mums but while they are young, they are seized with the whole joy of being around, on such a lovely day. And who wouldn’t be? Perhaps we should all try skipping about like a spring lamb for a bit, just to see if it makes the day go better.