Sunday, 27 November 2011

Wood work

I nearly bought a wood this week, well, I got as far as enquiring about it and seeing whether anyone else was interested (two friends were), before finding it was gone anyhow. Learned some interesting stuff, some financial; that woodland is between £4,000 and £8,000 an acre, and is free from capital gains tax, but also exploring some more interesting questions- why would I want a wood, and what would I do with it. And what about others ?

I'd want to crop some wood - but then I still haven't bought the woodburner I was looking at in September. I'm good at collecting wood, not so good at consuming it. I'd also want to encourage wildlife, to plant new trees, to pollard and watch nature taking its course. To feel that the land was being productive and protected, contributing to the balance on global warming, a lung ideally in or near to our conurbation. Which the wood I'd found would have done, but it was a bit scrappy, and out near Ferndown, a bit of a way away. And most of all, learned that if we are to secure some woodland, we'll have to be ready to move fast. And ownership of space (other than one's home) is a concept that I struggle with. Stewardship, and safeguarding for people to enjoy/use now, and to preserve for future generations is more important.

On my driveway, I have had a pile of twisted willow that I cropped last autumn from the tree in my back garden, the second time I have pollarded it. The first time around, I chopped the many branches into short sections mostly for kindling, but something Andrew Hope mentioned in a Transition meeting made me consider how wasteful that was. He suggested, especially with reference to pine wood, full of resin, that it would be advantageous to make rough garden furniture, use it for 10 years, and then burn the wood. Although my willow for the fire involved zero fuel miles, I could do better.

And quite a while ago we had gateposts planted, on the basis that we'd go out and buy a gate to match the lovely sunrise gate that Clare designed and a local gate-maker constructed so long ago that it is now falling apart and needs to be dragged open and shut. But we never have. So, I finally got around to some sort of construction,

Of course the great thing about working in your front garden is that there is the possibility of conversations with neighbours (assuming they are not shooting past in their cars).  I am not sure which of the two comments I had whilst hanging the gate was more helpful - "Ohh that's rustic" said one, and I think it was genuine. The other,  whilst I wss busy attaching the hinges, suggested that it wasn't straight. She giggled, and it's true, but sorry, it never will be straight.

In the sense that I have done more than one half of the first driveway, I'm over a quarter the way there. How long it takes to turn the rest of the stacked wood into the other gate, and how I stitch the halves together, or whether the design is consigned to the fireplace, time will tell ! And I'll have to wait awhile for the regrowth to replace the sunrise gate, assuming it lasts that long.

Wood grows on trees, but not instantly !

Friday, 4 November 2011

Greek Tragedy

It is indulgent Sailing on the Ionian shores of Greece, but when living for two weeks aboard a small yacht, you are conscious of economy of use of water, electricity and fuel. And each port we visited gave insight to the locals resilience, and sadly the effect that sun-seeking people from Northern Europe (mainly Britain and Holland as I saw) are having on the landscape and the population, and the way they use their land.
We sailed some of this area about 10 years ago, and Petriti on Corfu, one of the least developed ports on the island, provided perhaps the greatest contrast. It is still described as an unspoilt fishing village, with a few tavernas, and the harbour is still mostly populated by fishing boats, ranging from the unbelievably small to quite sizeable craft with an array of lights to lure the fish to the surface.
There were several fishermen on the harbour wall, using techniques I had never seen using a rod to catch a small fish, then attaching a hook on a hand-reel to the live bait, getting the fish to swim out in search of bigger fish. These may have been leisure rather than commercial anglers, but one in particular was there all evening, and back at first light, with several hand-reels on the go.
Last time we were here, there were a few smart villas, but most of the houses were modest, set in fairly large grounds, with citrus fruit and olive trees, livestock and woodpiles, a ragbag of tools and toys around the yard, and evidence of the family links with the sea. But now, many of these have gone, replaced by far larger buildings, several to an old plot, with far less growing space.
In the centre, close to the harbour, is a field, full of ancient olive trees, pollarded to around 3 metres high, but as thick as adjacent olives 10 times that height. A couple of handmade 'for sale' signs in English and Greek were nailed to trees. There was a woodpile, a tethered donkey, and a load of chickens and turkeys roaming the site. In one corner was a small shed, and an old wooden boat. Walk around the plot, and a big hoarding announces yet more luxury villas. As a sizeable plot, this will be a whole estate before long.
At a time when we are coming to recognise the values of pastoral life, those who still have this in their grasp are being lured/forced to sell up their greatest asset - fertile land, to plant sterile buildings on. It is ironic that whilst we were in Greece, there were general strikes, and riots in Athens over the planned austerity measures, and yet truly sustainable (if subsistence) existance is being pushed aside to support affluent leisure.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Inter-regional funding possibilities - La Manche

The possibility of European Union funding for the Poole Tidal Energy Partnership lured Paul and I to a meeting at Southampton Solent University. 

It was interesting to see how Southampton pitched themselves as the centre for commerce and research on all things to do with the sea, but we made some good contacts, both with those across the channel (the aim of the meeting), but also with some UK agencies that I had been meaning to contact for a while, and with other UK South Coastal people.

I had not before been involved in a conference which was translated real-time. Given the topics were fairly technical, and my rusty French, it was great to have someone deftly convert.

Whether we can get a collaboration going, and get funding is of course something we will have to work on

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Energy in all its forms

I have been quite focussed on energy given Transition Poole were asked to lead the bid to Energy Share for Tidal Power in Poole Harbour. Think it is a great idea, although I have a slight worry about whether the energy levels are scalable to enable us to cover the inevitably long-drawn out and costly environmental and other work. Will update our progress over at We have made a great start, and raised lots of local interest.

I spoke at the planning inquiry back in the spring into the 4 wind turbines at East Holne, to the West of Wareham. Initially approved subject to conditions Bitterly disappointed that the nimbies subsequently squashed it (some coming from so far away that they needed maps and directions). So short sighted. I suspect the developer will win on appeal and certainly deserves to in my view.

Am interested in the Eneco offshore wind proposals for West of Wight/Dorset Coast. These can be seen  at No specific details as yet.

I would much rather this off our coast than any reliance on nuclear power stations, yet am partly worried about their proposal for the following practical reason. I passed through this whole area on my only trip to France in my boat on the way in deep fog, and on the way back in a howling gale. Arrays of solid poles to hit limits choices for a small yacht.

Also, was alerted today to an interesting series of articles about renewable energy inteligence

And I have finally got around to talking to a local company about how I can better insulate and heat my drafty old house. Great chat with a very knowlegable supplier, who confirmed some of the things I had thought not worth doing, and identified several principles I had partly worked out. Although I was left at the end thinking - you haven't measured anything closely, and you haven't given me any prices.

So I popped in to their showrooms on my bike, in the rain tonight, just before they closed. Very helpful, but Simon, another Poole Transitioner, who shares meter readings on the website, was also there looking at woodburners. It seems the competition is on !

Friday, 17 June 2011

Tidal Power

A meeting tonight at Bournemouth University, talking about a community project to potentially trap energy from the tides in Poole Harbour. If we can get enough supporters to sign up.

Lots of interest from relevant official bodies and others around Poole, and the university are keen to participate. Quick turnaround required for the bid process.

If you can, please support us before the end of June 2011, click the 'support this group' on

Weymouth to Dorchester Relief - not quite

From the station at Upwey, there was no indication of which way to the relief road. I had an inkling that it was towards Littlemoor, so I headed through the railway arch and eastbound. Not too far on, and the road started to rise, the bridge over the new road. There was a large path down to the left - no markings as a cycleway, or that it led to Dorchester. Must be it.

The first part was good - a wide and very flat tarmac path running around the outside of a large lagoon presumably constructed to take surface water from the road. This all looked very raw and bleak, I am sure the willows will arrive of their own accord, though attaching to the sloping black plastic will be a challenge. Too soon it bent back to the road, and then too close for pleasure. Traffic engineers seem to have no concept of separation, or the need for oxygen rather than Carbon Monoxide, and some screening from noise and windage.

A bit further up and there was a farmtrack bridge across the road. Oh no, the cyclepath shot up the gradient, and then gave half the gains back in descending to rejoin the road. Do these planners have no idea about the importance of gradients ?

But worse was to come as the main cut up the Ridgeway came into view. A sign lying on the path - cyclists join main carriageway. A John McEnro moment. What, you cannot be serious ? Ignored it and cycled on a bit further. No, the path definately stopped, or more worryingly, a sub-path took a sharp left turn down to where some workmen were presumably creating some horrendous detour. OK, the road it was. Three traffic lanes, but no off or on-road cycle provision, let alone the broad wobble lane that should have been a minumum. What do these clowns think they are providing ?

So I get to the top, it has been drizzling all the way from the station. Two cyclist were tolling up ahead
of me, and I suddenly spot them on the other side of the road, stopped to add waterproof trousers. What, the cycleway suddenly reappears on the other side of the road. No gaps in the traffic to swap sides. My blood is now boiling with rage at the lack of sensible design or care for how this can sensibly be used. I continue along the road to Monkton Park, taking the opportunity of a gap to cross. Cyclepaths on one side is only half a provision.

And on down the path to the Bypass Roundabout. Ultimate insult on a cycleway, "cyclists dismount" sign. These guys really have no idea. With the extra lanes, it takes a while to catch a gap, and just after the roundabout, the cycleway ends (another sign). No drop kerb, no on-road provision thereafter (wrong side of the road anyhow). Stupid, stupid, stupid. Welcome to Dorchester. So I cycle along to the entrance to Tescos, and join the lane out from there. The car turning right into Tescos gives way, but two cars inside him have no intention of obeying their stop lines, the first would have hit me if I'd stuck to my rights. The second was following blind.

So overall, Dorset County Council seem to have squandered loads of money on a very poorly designed cycleway. Given this is attached to the biggest road scheme in Dorset for years, it is tragic that they can get it so badly wrong, through such a series of compromises to usability.

Perils of working on the train

Today started badly. I am tring to use the bike for work as much as I can. Sometimes combined with the train, which can be a strain.

This is either in one direction, a 10 mile one hour trek (I'm not a fast cyclist) to Ferndown across Canford Heath (which is lovely but slow), then through a housing estate in Bearwood, and up a scary bit of road through Longham Bridge and Ringwood Road.

Or it is a short cycle to the station, train to Dorchester South, and either a short cycle to one of the Dorchester or Poundbury offices, or a longer trip to Forston Clinic, north of Charminster, and half an hour by bike.

So I set off in good time for the train, buying tickets in both directions as my afternoon meeting was in Bournemouth. Knowing the weather was forecast wet, I had overtrousers, but no change of clothes, as the distances are short.

With a new blackberry (a handoff that was better than my previous one), I was busy reading a long email on a knotty problem. Upway was announced.  Oops we were in Dorchester already. Rushing along the carriage, although still stationary, the doors were locked, a victim to the pressures for meeting targets rather than serving customers. So much for being early.

Have found before, but quickly established that there was no train to get quickly back, especially with one cancelled in either direction. The half hourly service from Dorchester is actually 2 trains about a quarter of an hour apart, then a long gap. As the train descended through a long tunnel I realised I would have to cycle back up this hill, and Upwey station itself sits on an embankment above the surrounds. Perhaps there would be a Bath bound train at Upwey. Er no, it is only a two hourly service after all.

So I alighted. Ok, there's a new cycleway with the Weymouth Relief road, will just have to cycle back. That will be interesting

Thursday, 16 June 2011

No gyratory please !

Poole council are pursuing a plan to make West Street and West Quay Road a massive triple gyratory system, which will isolate pedestrians and make cycling difficult and dangerous. The vision of the bridge enabling the regeneration to link seamlessly with the existing old town appears to have long since been abandoned in favour of a racetrack route festooned with traffic signals.

Have tried to object to the Transport Advisory Group, the Economy Overview and Scrutiny committee, and this is due to go to full council on Tuesday.

Individually, several councillors have shared our concerns, but on the decision, will they be prepared to put aside outdated designs in favour of a more people-centric alternative ? I fear not.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Do councillors or officers run town halls ?

I ask because I attended a Borough of Poole subcommittee last week - Transport Advisory Group (TAG). Turns out it was the last of any of the meetings before the May elections. I was the only member of the public present, and I had registered to speak. I actually wanted to contrast both of the items on their agenda, but spoke against their plans for a gyratory system approaching the new Poole Lifting Bridge - Twin Sails.

Incredibly, though they only have £150,000 identified for the scheme, and the cost will be over £1M, they waved it through for officers to design and advertise.

My objections were around the inconvenience to all users of the routes, the isolation and discontinuities in making journeys by foot or on bike, and that more forward thinking councils are taking gyratory systems out because they are such a barrier to access in the heart of the town.

I was listened to politely, then most of their debate was around the streetscape of a new link - Marston Link Road, where one councillor opined that she'd prefer Roses at the road-side rather than trees as in the design. I did get the opportunity to point out that in the face of climate change, generations to follow might well need the summertime shade. I also expressed great regret that they had ignored all my points on the wider scheme in favour of minutiae.

But when I relayed this to a friend he suggested perhaps that councillors were just unequipped to challenge the officers. As far as I could see, there should have been no point approving planning until a much higher proportion of the funding stream was secured in these straightened times. The officers want to start building in June, to complete as the new bridge becomes available. Rushing it through just before the election may have been a cynical move to get passed before more enquiring new Councillors challenge the fundamentals.

Which, if elected (as I am standing for Oakdale), I certainly will. And if not elected, I will object again, and regretfully reflect on the potentially unnecessary work undertaken in haste. But having raised problems with the bridge and its approaches a decade ago, no doubt I will still be ignored.

One has to try.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Dorchester - two gardens

In Poole, patches of land for growing food are a bit scarce, the garden has been going for 13 years, but several others are being considered.

20 miles to the west, a more rural location, Transition Town Dorchester have secured a decent parcel of land for a Community Farm, and asked for our help in erecting a Polytunnel on it. They came to us for some ideas, and reported that on their blog at  I haven't met up on site with them yet, but as I am sometimes working in Dorchester and Poundbury, I have been and taken a sneak preview of the site.

Two large ponds have been dug, fruit trees and soft fruit planted, a beehive was buzzing away, and 8 or so raised beds are being planted up. The post holes for the polytunnel are mostly dug. There is a hedge planted to shield the site from westerly winds (and to partly shield the new sheds being constructed beyond), There are established mature hedges on the Southern and Eastern boundaries. There is so much potential here, and the site is very much at the beginning.

And just up the path, behind the old Poundbury Middle Farm is an oval walled garden, laid out as incredibly neat, but small allotments. The grass was very clipped, and there was no sight of recycled contraptions to hold up the beans (and lots of imported bamboo rather than hazel beanpoles). But in the bright sunshine, it was a delightful spot to sit and eat my lunch and admire the many crops, which seemed very advanced in their cosy microclimate.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Tidal Power

Just how much extractable power is available off the Dorset coast, and how close are communities or companies to being able to exploit it ? A quick search seems to show that several are positioning themselves as having the technology, but not yet installed, and perhaps therefore some time away.

I know from sailing around here that the tidal heights are not enormous - the Solent/Isle of Wight and our mid-point in the Channel seems to conspire to create interesting flows, but a Department of Trade and Industry map shows the central section of the English Channel along with the Channel Islands, Anglesey, and a few other hotspots as quite favourite around our coast.  So this area is good is for peak flow and power rather than for height variation.
The image is on several websites (I'd copy it here but UK government is attrocious at allowing free use of publicaly funded data by citizens), but the following was interesting to cover the topic.

and I found the tidal atlas itself, after a bit of casting around, at

As for any development nowadays, there are various challenges to implement any scheme, creating hazards to navigation, issues around environmental or sealife impacts, and perhaps most fundamental, that the best power is not closest to areas of population and energy use.

Having seen various ancient tidal mills along our coastline, our forebears knew they could extract energy from the tide, without all the science or bother about impact on marine and bird life, but guess that is progress.

Definately one to watch.

Making Poole attractive to sailing visitors

As a kid it was a rare but special and somehow exotic thing to walk along Poole Quay, with the sailing boats 5 and 6 abreast bobbing alongside the wall. Looking for foreign flagged vessels, listenting into the conversations about weather and destinations. Sometimes bigger boats, often gaggles of small yachts.

But when the marina was built on the end of the Quay, any small craft were swept off the quay wall, and with them a lot of the character and unique visitor attraction for yachtsmen to Poole. Why does that matter ? Well, I had a conversation with someone from Swanwick on Southampton water. They moored next to us in Yarmouth, and were eating at the same restaraunt.

He said that Poole was no longer a 'draw', because it used to be an experience to be on the quay wall, but the secured marina could be anywhere. He said it was hard to feel welcome in Poole as a yachtsman. And when I look at the shops available to attract visitors in Poole near the Quay, the bottom of Poole high street could definately do with more provisions, art and diversity, which the extra passing trade could maybe bring. Surely the restaraunts, pubs, variety and interest of the quay would be reinvigorated just by returning the use to such visitors.

Is sailing sustainable ? Well, could certainly construct an argument for sailing (rather than motor) boats, but then I sail, so of course I would !

Wight outlook for local production

Travelling broadens the mind so they say. Just returning from a weekend sailing to Chichester and back, glorious weather. Woke early this morning for the return from Yarmouth, to the sounds of the first ferry of the day arriving from the mainland. Only traffic seemed to be 6 lorries, 3 big Sainsburys ones, and 3 smaller, 3663.

Yarmouth is a lovely little town, hardly unchanged in the 40 years I've known it since visiting as a small child, with a small grocers, an old fashioned newsagents, chandlers, several coffee shops, a deli and a couple of others. Yet the 'Sailors guide to Yarmouth' now had full page adverts on consecutive pages. One for Sainsburies, with 4 stores dotted across the Island, and the other for a Tescos Extra at Ryde, at the far end.

Of course the Isle of Wight has always depended on its links wth the mainland, and many goods have always been imported. It now seems though that the big supermarkets are muscling in even here, where the locally produced foods, the Isle of Wight garlic and other special local products may be even more subsumed by the megalithic traders.

The ferry of course makes this much more visible than the procession of lorries visiting every town across the land in the early morning, how are we to get locally self-resilient when such massive conveyor-belt technologies daily fill the supermarket shelves.

It must be extra-expensive for them to ship goods across the Solent, perhaps we just have to anticipate that the price of diesel, or taxes on the environmental costs per mile will eventually tip the balance in favour of local production. But will that be too late ?