Saturday, March 28, 2015

What’s Climate Change got to do with Lincolnshire?

Involved in the general election campaign, working to get more Green Party candidates elected to Parliament and local government in Lincolnshire, I was asked "What's climate change got to do with Lincolnshire?".

I've given a written answer:

First, let’s just deal with the basic science, the stuff about which there is absolutely no controversy within the scientific community.  The physics was determined in the 19th century.  Add ‘greenhouse’ gases such as carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere and the global average temperature will rise. It’s as certain as gravity causing apples to fall to the ground.  More effort has been put into studying the climate than any other field of science and there are now no working climate scientists who dispute the basic understanding.  For sure there is still plenty that is uncertain; just how quickly a given amount of extra greenhouse gas will cause the temperature to rise by how much and just what that will mean for the climate in any particular place is not known quite exactly.  But then it’s also hard to be sure which way a falling apple will bounce and whether it lands on a daisy or a dandelion.

Global warming is real and most of it is caused by human action.  No question.

Second, let’s deal with confusion of language; why people sometimes say ‘global warming’ and sometimes ‘climate change’.  They are often muddled and used without careful thought.  Global warming refers to the increase in temperature of the whole of planet Earth.  It’s easiest to measure with thermometers in the air at the surface of planet but this method has limitations.  About 90% of all global warming takes place in the deep oceans.  The average rise in temperature of the atmosphere only accounts for about 3% of the extra heat retained by our greenhouse gasses.  Climate change refers to what happens at a particular location as a result of global warming.  Some places get drier, some wetter and with more water vapour in the atmosphere as a whole, rainfall patterns change, with sudden downpours producing floods while shifts in winds cause some areas to experience long droughts.  With global warming causing average temperatures to rise, some areas will experience a greater than average warming of their local climate, while other places will warm more slowly, or even experience a cooler climate, at least for a while.

The climate of the British Isles is dominated by the Atlantic Ocean, temperate with extreme events being rare.  It is likely that we will not experience such a rapid shift in climate as many parts of the world.  Places with continental climates or subject to monsoons or in the Arctic or the tropics, are likely to experience faster change. Nevertheless, even small changes in average temperature can have significant impacts on farming and wildlife. Changing distributions of insects and birds have already been noticed in Lincolnshire and species of fish once confined to southern waters are appearing off the Lincolnshire coast.

The most immediate threat is the increased probability of extreme events. Global warming makes weather events that have happened only rarely, happen more often.  So we should expect more periods of very dry weather and more periods of stormy weather.  Both droughts and floods will be more common in Lincolnshire in a warmer world.  A more long-term threat is the possibility that the ocean currents in the Atlantic will slow down.  This is far from being certain but there is some evidence emerging that such change is underway.  A reduced influence of Atlantic currents would make our climate more continental, with cooler winters and warmer summers.

The practical consequences for living and working in Lincolnshire involve slow, gradual but relentless adjustments.  Farming patterns will change to cope with the occasional but severe droughts, making investment in water conservation and supply imperative.  Flood defences and maintenance of the drainage system will also need prioritising.  The design of new buildings should take into account the likelihood of extended heat waves as well as being insulated to avoid energy costs for heating.  Our population needs to be prepared to cope with heat stress.

Lincolnshire will undoubtedly be affected by rising sea level. As the ocean waters warm they expand and this has been contributing a couple of millimetres to the sea level each year.  Melting glaciers, particularly the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets, are now contributing to more sea level rise than thermal expansion of the water.  Estimates of future sea level rise are uncertain but as evidence is gathered the indications are that it will be greater and faster than previously thought.  The Environment Agency, in planning future sea defence work, assumes a rise of about one metre by the end of the 21st century.  That’s within the lifetime of today’s small children.  There is more possibility that this is an underestimate than an overestimate. It is more likely that things turn out worse than expected as we are only just beginning to appreciate the way in which melting is occurring under the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets.

It costs money and effort but a one metre sea level rise can be coped with fairly easily; we only have to look to the Dutch to see how it’s done.  A continuous programme of improving the sea defences with higher walls and banks in some parts, managed retreat in others, will be a feature of Lincolnshire’s coast for the rest of the century.  But sea level rise will not stop in the year 2100.  It now seems likely that the great ice sheets are in an irreversible decline and no matter what we do in the future all of the ice will eventually melt.  Opinions differ as to how many centuries or even millennia it will take, but eventually much of Lincolnshire will be lost to the sea under a sixty metre rise. At 83m the Boston stump would have its top 20m above the waves.  With its 90 metre spire and standing on ground 20 metres above today’s sea level, St. James church in Louth fares better, but of course the church will be destroyed as soon as the waves crash at the base.  The spire celebrates it 500th anniversary this year but it won’t make it to 1000.

The biggest effects of global warming will be felt, indeed are already being felt, far from Lincolnshire.  We see the devastating effects of floods around the world with increasing frequency and new records are being set for tropical storms. The ongoing drought in the south-west of the USA has had a devastating effect on California’s fruit production.  The cost of almonds and marzipan has shot up in our shops.  It is now widely accepted that one of the key triggers for the civil war in Syria was the worst drought in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ since agriculture was invented in the Neolithic, driving a million farmers from their land to the cities in search of help.  They found none so turned to religion and guns.  The political instability across many parts of sub-Saharan Africa can also be related to the spread of deserts.

But we’ve seen nothing yet.  Many of the world’s greatest cities and much of the world’s best agricultural land lies within a couple of metres of sea level.  The squeeze is already well under way in Bangladesh and several of the small island states of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  Many millions, perhaps billions, of people will become climate refugees through the coming decades.  Lincolnshire is part of the global economy and cannot remain detached from global financial and political change, rises in food prices and pressure from migration.

The issue of global warming and the consequent climate changes have to be tackled at all levels from international agreements between governments, through planning and spending policies of local government, to the individual actions that each one of us make.  We are all responsible; we all have both a duty and an opportunity to act.  The first priority has to be mitigation, doing what we can to reduce the harm.  That means stopping burning fossil carbon fuels, coal, oil and gas, as soon as we possibly can.  Secondly we must learn to adapt, changing our homes, our lifestyles, our work and our farming so that we can enjoy a zero-carbon future.  We must embrace the new energy technologies of wind and sun.  Almost all of the fossil carbon that has already been discovered needs to be left in the ground.  To explore for more is folly.

And we must be mindful of the debt we owe to many other part of the world. Britain started the coal-based industrial revolution and our historical contribution to global warming has been second to none, yet the first to suffer and those who suffer the most are often among the poorest in the world and in no way to blame for the unravelling tragedy.

The tragedy of British politics is that it is largely concerned with the next election. With the scramble for power over the next few years, the long term future is given little attention, and the interests of generations not yet born have no voice. The Conservative Party has shifted from a promise before the last General Election to be the ‘greenest government ever’ to ‘cut the green crap’.  The LibDems have made ineffectual efforts to counter the climate-deniers in the Treasury and DEfRA.  Labour, once responsible for the 2008 Climate Change Act, has done little to promote global warming as a significant issue in the political debate.  None of these parties has given the greatest threat to our future, to the world’s civilisation’s future, the attention required. UKIP is in complete, and absurd, denial.

Only the Green Party has consistently argued that global warming and climate change are the most important issues for politics.  Only the Green Party takes seriously our long-term obligation and responsibility.  The voiceless future generations must be given voice, not sacrificed for our present convenience. And it is in our own interests.  We cannot be truly happy, to live satisfying lives, while we know that our grandchildren’s lives will be nasty, brutish and short, because we have been too selfish, to party on while the future goes hang. 

It is time to act for the common good.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Victoria Atkins Lied

It's a serious allegation, so please allow me to present the case.  Last night at a hustings in the Lincolnshire village of Ludford, the parliamentary candidates for the Louth and Horncastle constituency faced questions from the public. The candidates present were:
  • Romy Rayner, Green Party
  • Peter Hill, Monster Raving Looney Party
  • Matthew Brown, Labour
  • Victoria Atkins, Conservative
  • Colin Mair, UKIP
The candidates were asked whether they were in favour of Trident renewal and whether they would be prepared to 'press the button'. The questions were asked by two small children, the son and daughter of the Green Party candidate for Boston and Skegness, Victoria Percival. The ensuing discussion included consideration of the threats facing the UK and, in particular, the Russian threat. Victoria Atkins, the Tory candidate, seemed particularly keen to emphasise the need for Trident in the light of what she alleged were recent Russian military aircraft incursions into UK airspace.

I pointed out that the Russian planes had kept to international space and had not entered UK sovereign airspace.  Victoria rounded on me, telling me that the fact was the Russians had entered our airspace and that it was important that everyone knew the facts and stuck to the facts.  She seemed to emphasise the word 'facts' with such enthusiasm that I did, for a few seconds, doubt my own recollection of the news stories.  The discussion moved on with a UKIP supporter in the audience pointing out that RAF planes had in the past 'strayed' into Russian sovereign airspace.  Victoria doubted this but the man responded by saying that he, personally, had been close to the border in eastern Europe and witnessed such incidents.

Now I would be happy to let a little straying off the truth in an off the cuff remark to pass by un-remarked in most instances.  But in this case, the vehemence with which Victoria Atkins contradicted my statement and the way she used my alleged false testimony as an example of why the facts are crucial, has led me to investigate further.

I've looked up recent press reports.  Now it maybe the case that Victoria is privy to information not released to the media, but which she feels can be shared with the good citizens of Ludford.  So we must keep an open mind before calling her a liar.  However, it's either her, her party's leader or the Wall Street Journal that is lying.
 “At no time did the Russian military aircraft cross into U.K. sovereign airspace,” Prime Minister David Cameron said. 

Here are my press cuttings:

The RAF has intercepted Russian military aircraft as they neared UK airspace for the second time this week, the Ministry of Defence has said. Guardian

Two UK Royal Air Force jets intercepted a pair of Russian aircraft flying near British airspace this week, the British Defence Ministry said Thursday CNN

Britain deployed fighter jets to escort two Russian bombers away from the Cornish coast, the second time in three weeks the U.K. has warned off Kremlin warplanes near its airspace. “At no time did the Russian military aircraft cross into U.K. sovereign airspace,” Prime Minister David Cameron said. WSJ

Two Russian bombers last week skirted British airspace off the coast of Cornwall, where they were intercepted and escorted by the two RAF Typhoon fighters. Daily Mail

Russian military planes flying near UK airspace caused "disruption to civil aviation" on Wednesday, the Foreign Office has said.  BBC News 

The RAF has intercepted Russian military aircraft as they neared UK airspace for the second time this week, the UK ministry of defence has said. Irish Times 

One plane was diverted and another delayed to avoid two Russian bombers that flew through Irish-controlled airspace without warning in February, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) said on Tuesday. The disruption is believed to have occurred during the same February 18 incident in which British RAF Typhoon fighters were scrambled to escort two Russian bear bombers identified flying close to British airspace….However, the IAA sad there had been "no safety impact to civilian traffic in Irish controlled airspace". The aircraft did not enter Irish sovereign airspace, but flew in Irish controlled airspace within 25 nautical miles (46.3 km) of the Irish coast between 1500 GMT and 1900 GMT, according to the authority. Daily Telegraph 

The question the child asked, "Would you press the button?" was avoided by all except Romy Rayner, whose clear position was for renouncing nuclear weapons.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Some Questions about Migration

The local newspaper rang up to say they were doing a piece about migration into Boston and Skegness and could I forward some questions to our Green Party candidate, who is currently at the Spring Conference in Liverpool, and could they have the answers by tomorrow morning, please.

So I thought I'd jot down a few notes.  Here are the questions:

1.What is your response to the figures [from the Oxford Migration Observatory]? Do they paint an accurate picture of migration in Boston and Skegness?
2.How big an election issue is migration in Boston and Skegness? Could it decide the outcome for the area?
3.What are your party’s policies on migration, and how could they apply to this new picture of migration to Boston and Skegness?
4.What actions would you call for to deal with a growing migrant population in Boston and Skegness, if any? 
5.What do you believe needs to happen next to make sure migration isn’t again a major issue for Boston and Skegness in the next election?

Last question first:

5. What do you believe needs to happen next to make sure migration isn’t again a major issue for Boston and Skegness in the next election?

Stop flagging migration up as a big issue by writing newspaper articles about it! But hey, we support a free press and the press’s right to write what they like, so on with the rest of the questions.

1. What is your response to the figures? Do they paint an accurate picture of migration in Boston and Skegness?

Let us accept that the Oxford Migration Observatory has produced data as accurate as is available, but the ‘picture’ is only seen when the numbers are set in the context of the wider Uk.  From the 2011 census figures the proportion of people not born in the UK was about 15% for Boston and less than 4% for East Lindsey.  Now compare that with a few other towns in the east Midlands: Peterborough 20%, Nottingham 20% Cambridge 29%, Leicester 34%, and if we go to the wealthiest parts of the nation we find these figures: Kensington and Chelsea 52%, Westminster 53%.  So we see that Boston and Skegness do not have an unusually large proportion of non-UK born residents.

2. How big an election issue is migration in Boston and Skegness? Could it decide the outcome for the area?

Not a very big issue and no, it will not decide the outcome of the election. Boston and Skegness has always been a safe Conservative seat with the Tory candidate gaining 49% of the vote at the last general election.  Labour gained 21% the Liberal Democrats 15% and the other 15% being split between two far-right parties.  In the 2015 election we expect the anti-EU and anti-immigration vote to be split again between the two far-right candidates, one from UKIP and the other a former UKIP candidate.  That vote will be further split by a candidate from the British National Party and an ex-Conservative party member who failed to be selected and is now standing as a Lincolnshire Independent on an aggressively anti-immigration ticket.

The Green Party, which did not contest the 2010 election, expects to gain votes from disaffected LibDems, Labour and Conservative voters but is unlikely to have any impact on the 15% of the voters who support one of the smaller right wing parties.

3. What are your party’s policies on migration, and how could they apply to this new picture of migration to Boston and Skegness?

Green Party policy is set out at length here

It is important to understand the Background and Principles involved.  Unlike the other parties, the Green Party has a long-term vision and looks to the interests of the youngest children who hope to see in the 22nd century and develop a sustainable world order beyond that.  But we also have to deal with the practicalities of the short term.

MG100 The Green Party's long-term global vision is of an international economic order where the relationship between regions is non-exploitative, each region is as self-reliant and economically self- sufficient as practicable and the quality of life (social, political, environmental, cultural and economic) is such that there is less urge to migrate. Logically, in order to move away from the current level of immigration controls, we must create a fairer world.

MG101 The existing economic order and colonialism have both been major causes of migration through direct and indirect violence, disruption of traditional economies, the use of migrants as cheap labour, uneven patterns of development and global division of labour.

MG102 We are aware that, in the 21st century, there is likely to be mass migration of people escaping from the consequences of global warming, environmental degradation, resource shortage and population increase.

MG103 The Green Party recognises the contributions made by many migrants to their recipient area or community. We value the cultural diversity and intercultural awareness resulting from both temporary residence and migration.

MG200 The Green Party's highest priority is the creation of a just and ecological world order in which environmental devastation is minimised and needs can be met without recourse to migration.

MG201 We believe that the world's people have an individual and collective responsibility to ensure ecological sustainability, human rights and social justice. Within this, they have the right to self determination.

MG202 International action and a willingness to share resources will be required to meet the needs of environmental migrants.

MG203 Richer regions and communities do not have the right to use migration controls to protect their privileges from others in the long term.

MG204 Communities and regions should have the right to restrict inward migration when one or more of the following conditions are satisfied:

a)The ecology of the recipient area would be significantly adversely affected by in-comers to the detriment of the wider community (eg. National Parks, Antarctica);

b)The recipient area is owned or controlled by indigenous peoples (eg Australian aboriginal people) whose traditional lifestyle would be adversely affected by in-comers;

c)The prospective migrants have, on average, equal or greater economic power than the residents of the recipient area and they or their families were not forced to leave the area in the recent past.

MG205 Migration policies should not discriminate directly on grounds of race, colour, religion, political belief, disability, sex or sexual orientation. Preference should not be given to those with resources or desirable skills.

MG206 The Green Party is opposed to forced migration and forced repatriation.

MG207 Regions or communities must have the right to reject specific individuals on grounds of public safety.

MG208 The interests of both prospective migrants and the recipient area or community must be recognised and, hence, the appropriate resolution of a particular situation (unless covered above) must depend on negotiation between the parties affected.

We support the free movement of people within the EU and acknowledge the positive contribution that East Europeans are making to the economy of Lincolnshire and to the enrichment of our culture.  Boston has a long tradition of trade with the Baltic going back many centuries and it is our relationship with other lands that has been central to the town’s history, remembered in the 14th century Baltic oak roof timbers of the Guildhall and the emigration of the Separatists, or Pilgrim fathers in 1607.  Migration is not all one way and in modern times many Lincolnshire folk have found employment or retirement overseas.

It is with great concern that we view the desperate migration of people from war-torn or drought-stricken parts of North Africa and the Middle East across the Mediterranean to seek sanctuary in Italy.  As global warming proceeds throughout the coming century we must be prepared to come to the aid of the displaced environmental migrants.  It is not actions of the Pacific Small Island States that cause sea level rise but our shared humanity calls us to act positively when whole nations sink beneath the waves.

4. What actions would you call for to deal with a growing migrant population in Boston and Skegness, if any?

As population grows national and local government has an obligation to see that the infrastructure of public services, health and welfare, education, transport, housing and so on, are provided to meet changing demand.  It is always thus, with increased expenditure being matched by revenues from the increased economic activity.  Some folk may shout ‘They’ are taking ‘our’ jobs!  But this is to misunderstand the economy.  There is not a fixed number of jobs; rather, new jobs are created out of new economic activity.  It is well documented that our recently arrived migrants make a positive contribution to the UK’s wealth. When we have migrants for whom adjustment to a new culture is a challenge, then translation and advice services are needed to make the new-comers feel welcome and allow them to quickly and constructively assimilate into their new home.

5. What do you believe needs to happen next to make sure migration isn’t again a major issue for Boston and Skegness in the next election?

Returning to this question again, migration just isn’t a major issue for the next election, though a small minority make much noise to try and make it so.  The main issue is whether we continue with the Tories’ neo-liberal economic agenda of austerity, a shift of spending from the public to the private sector, a shrinking of the state, a transfer of wealth from the great majority into the hands of a select few and a denial of the urgency of addressing global warming.  Or are we ready for a real change, for hope and security, for the common good?

Saturday, March 07, 2015

A Question about Wind Farms.

Wind farms are a blot on the landscape and can never generate enough power to replace conventional power stations. What do you say to that?

The science is clear: to avoid catastrophic climate change we have to stop burning all fossil carbon fuels.  The sooner we manage this the safer we will be.  Many governments now accept that economies need to be zero carbon by 2050 but the science tells us that even that timescale, and leaving 80% of the already discovered fossil carbon underground and unburnt, gives us only a two thirds chance of avoiding warming by 2°C.  Even such a modest warming spells disaster for many regions and peoples around the world.

Wind farms will not on their own generate enough power to supply our wants, but the important point to note is that each and every unit of electricity that is generated by a wind turbine is a unit that does not need to be generated by gas or coal.  Every turn of a turbine’s blades is a win for the environment, however small.

Of course wind power’s contribution is far from small, is growing rapidly and has the potential for much further expansion. The UK is one of the best locations for wind power in the world, and certainly the best in Europe. At the beginning of January 2015, wind power in the United Kingdom consisted of 5,958 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of just under 12 gigawatts: 7,950 megawatts of onshore capacity and 4,049 megawatts of offshore capacity. The United Kingdom is ranked as the world's sixth largest producer of wind power.

In 2014, 28.1 TWh of electricity was generated by wind power, 9.3% of the UK's generation.  There have been certain critical times, such as Easter 2013, when a gas pipeline from the Netherlands failed during a cold, though windy spell of weather, when electricity supplies would have been cut to some consumers had it not been for the available wind generated supply.  For several periods during the autumn of 2014 wind contributed more than nuclear.  Though June, July and September were quiet months last year, from October to March 2015 wind has typically been producing over 3GW, sometimes over 5 and rarely down to 1GW.  It has been a substantial contribution to the nation’s supply, equivalent to a very large coal-fired plant or more.

Wind is variable so can never be relied upon to contribute all our generating capacity, and nobody suggests it should, but with current grid management there will be little difficulty until it contributes at least a third of the total.  The wider the dispersal of windfarms the better as regards variability is concerned.  We already regularly import 1GW via the Dutch interconnector and much of this is wind generated.  As off-shore windfarms are developed in the North Sea and north-west Scotland, the variability will be further diminished.  It should be noted that no generation source lacks variability, sometimes planned and sometimes unplanned.  The overall performance of our ageing nuclear fleet has been lamentable recently.

On-shore wind farms are currently the cheapest new source of generating capacity, even using the normal accounting methods.  But a proper economic comparison includes those costs that are usually regarded as ‘externalities’ and so disregarded.  With nuclear power, the insurance costs are removed since nuclear power stations are exempt from the need to carry more than a minimal insurance. Ultimate decommissioning and long term waste disposal are also externalities, not accounted for in the price of nuclear generated electricity.  With coal and gas fired power stations, the costs of climate change resulting from their greenhouse gas emissions are similarly disregarded.  Thus in any accounting system that is fair to future generations, wind (and other renewables) is a far cheaper source of electricity than either gas, coal or nuclear.

The potential generating capacity for windfarms in the North Sea, on for instance the Dogger Bank, is vast.  It will take time and capital resources to build the turbines and high voltage direct current (HVDC) grid to gather and bring the power ashore but we can realistically envision a zero-carbon Britain by mid century in which all public and private transport is electric, with batteries playing a large role.  There will be a mix of generating capacity, solar, tidal lagoons, tidal stream, and geothermal, but the largest single component will be wind.

Are windfarms a blot on the landscape? Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but the beholder's aesthetic feelings are moderated by her compassion for her grandchildren.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

ZING ~ The Incredibly Light Railway. Part 5.

Important: to understand the following article, please read Zing~The Incrdibly Light Railway, Part 1 and Part 2 first!

Case Study 4: Firsby - Alford - Louth

The railway from the junction at Firsby to Louth via Alford was opened in 1848 and closed in 1970. The first station north of Firsby is Burgh-le-Marsh, though it is about 3km west of the town, retains some of the original buildings and space to reinstate the line is still available, though the new road will require to be bridged of the railway.

Two kilometers to the north, Welton-le-Marsh never had its own station but a new one would be built for the ultra-light railway. Willoughby, however, was an important station at the junction of the line to Mablethorpe, which opened in 1886. It will be reinstated. A case might be made for a new station where the line crosses the B1196 road. It would serve the isolated houses around Mawthorpe and Well and be convenient for the Alford cricket ground.

The old line reaches Alford at the somewhat ironically named Beeching Way, the station site now being occupied by a number of light industrial units. It should be possible to thread the new track past the buildings with perhaps some rearrangement of access road layout and provide room for reopening Alford Station, the main building of which is still in good repair.

The old railway line north of Alford has few interruptions though stretches of the trackbed are now only visible as crop-marks from the air. Aby for Claythorpe Station closed in 1961 but the land is still clear for a new station to be built. The bridge over the Great Eau river is still in place. The next stop, Authorpe Station, also closed in 1961 but again the land has not been built over and there is room for a rebuild.

The next station was Legbourne, but a case might be argued for creating a new station some halfway between Authorpe and Legbourne, for the convenience of people in the outlying houses of Muckton, Muckton Bottom and North and South Reston.

Legbourne Road Station was, curiously, an early closure on this line in 1953. The station was away from the centre of the village and it might be advantageous to find a more central site. On the south side of Mill Lane a new bungalow encroaches on the old trackbed and threading the line between the new houses might be a struggle. If this bungalow did have to be demolished it would free up space to build a station here, a more convenient location for many Legbourne residents.

The line continues uninterrupted to Louth, but on approaching Louth we have to consider a real danger to the project. Just south of where the line crosses Stewton Road there is currently a planning application for a major housing development. That will not pose a problem so long as the development respects the old railway's course and leaves the necessary strip of land free. A new station would be appropriate serving this housing development. It might go some way go allaying the fears of people expecting more road traffic if Zing linked this expanded population on Louth's southern fringe with the town centre and the industrial estate on the north side of the town. Another new station would be created on the north side of Wood Lane, catering for the high population density in this area and the Meridian Sports Centre.

The problems arise when the railway reaches Monks Dyke Road. From here to the old Louth Station, although a distance of only about 500 metres several houses have been built over the track and there seems little alternative but demolish about nine or ten homes. The bridge over Eastgate would also need to be rebuilt. Our survey so far, from Spalding to Louth, with branches to Skegness and to Spilsby, has only identified two small industrial buildings near Spalding and one bungalow at Legborne that are obstructing our routes, so paying the householders sufficient compensation to release this land in Louth is not going to stop the plan.

North from Louth towards Grimsby the route poses no problems as far as the Low Farm Roundabout on the A16, the start of Peaks Parkway. The construction of this road has been widely regarded as being the final nail in the Grimsby - Louth railway' coffin. We must wait till a later part of this series to learn how this problem can be dealt with. Trains will indeed run into Grimsby again. But first we must investigate the Mablethorpe Loop.

ZING ~ The Incredibly Light Railway. Part 4.

Important: to understand the following article, please read Zing~The Incrdibly Light Railway, Part 1 and Part 2first!

Case Study 2: Boston to Skegness

The line from Boston to Skegness, part of the old East Lincolnshire Railway, is still open but the section from Firsby northwards to Louth, the branch line to Spilsby and the connection to Kirkstead were closed in 1970.

It would be a simple matter to convert the existing railway to ultra-light running, the significant changes being the reinstatement of Sibsey, Old Leake (which is actually nearer Leake Commonside than Old Leake), Eastville, Little Steeping stations and Firsby, whose passenger services were withdrawn in 1961.

Firsby, once a junction for the line to Skgeness, used to be one of the busiest stations on the East Coast Main Line.  But that was before cheap flights for holidays; perhaps in a post carbon world we may rediscover the pleasures of Skegness's bracing air. Now all that remains is one station building converted to a private residence.

Thorpe Culvert station still operates but only two trains in each direction stop here per day.  The next station, Wainfleet, gets a train about every hour.  The next station, Havenhouse, is served just twice a day and the next, Seacroft, had it's passenger services withdrawn as early as 1953, perhaps unsurprisingly as it was only 2km from Skegness Station.  It's reinstatement, even for the ultra-light railway, might not be justified, though there is a caravan site 1km to the north-east and a couple of dozen houses at the hamlet of Croft Bank that would benefit from a station.

The usefulness of the whole line from Boston to Skegness would be transformed if, instead of the hourly service stopping just at Wainfleet, there was a service with a frequency of 10 or 15 minutes, stopping at nine stations on the way but with an overall shorter journey time.  It is this frequency, speed and accessibility that would make public transport a competitive rival to private cars. 

Case Study 3: The Spilsby Branch

The six kilometre branch line from Firsby to Spilsby was opened in 1868 but closed to passengers in 1939 at the outbreak of the war and closed completely in 1958.

Although a little of the trackbed has been ploughed over for agriculture nothing has been built on the line and there is still room for a terminus station in Spilsby at Vale Road behind the industrial units of Vale Court.  Halton Holgate station would be reinstated and a new station serving Great Steeping built about halfway between Halton Holgate and Firsby.

The Spilsby Branch was never a very profitable railway but Spilsby's population has grown significantly and rail services to Skegness, Louth and Boston would transform the town's connectivity.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

ZING ~ The Incredibly Light Railway. Part 3.

Important: to understand the following article, please read Zing~The Incrdibly Light Railway, Part 1 and Part 2 first!

Case Study 1: Spalding to Boston.

This section of the Lincolnshire Loop Line was a 58-mile (93 km) double track railway built by the Great Northern Railway, which linked Peterborough to Lincoln via Spalding and Boston.  It was opened in 1848 and closed in 1970. Much of the track was built over for a new road so the new Zing line would have to run alongside this road.


Immediately to the north-east of Spalding station, partially occupied by a new road layout of the A151 (which could easily be altered) but mostly empty and unused land, is plenty of room for the southern terminus of the Spalding to Boston Zing.  The plot extends north-eastwards to an area of largely unused land, bounded by the Splading-Sleaford railway to the west, the A151 to the south and Sandtone Gardens to the east, large enough to serve as a depot for the new line.  Google Map.

At the crossing of the B1356 Pinchbeck Road, originally a level crossing, a new bridge taking the road over the railway is required.  The route remains clear to Vernatts Drain, crossed by Sharps Bridge, see photo, and for some distance beyond but after crossing Enterprise Way (new road bridge required) the route passes through a new industrial estate.  Two industrial units have been built across the route here: Google Map, and require removal.  Another road bridge is required at the B1180 Wardentree Lane and then there is, just, room to thread the railway between two industrial units.

A station, 2km from Spalding station, at the north side of the industrial estate would be useful to workers on the estate and the village of Pinchbeck, 1km to the west.

North of the industrial estate another bridge takes the railway over the Blue Gowt Drain and the way is clear until meeting the A16.  For 12 miles to Boston a new road was constructed in the mid 1990s, the longest rail to road conversion in the country.  One might think that was that as regards railwas but, fence to fence, the land taken for road building was 35 to 40 metres wide.  The carriageway occupies only the central 10 metres, leaving ample room for Zing alongside with few obstructions to Boston.  

The Bridge over the River Glenn will need widening and on the north side the old Surfleet Station reinstated. It closed in 1961 but the road to the west is still appropriately named Station Road.

A significant challenge is the Sutterton roundabout where the A16 is crossed by the A17.  The solution may require re-shaping the roundabout with the western exits rising over the railway.  Just to the north the site of Algarkirk and Sutterton Station, closed in 1961, is still vacant but with the former station building remaining intact, awaiting its reinstatement.

The Next station is Kirton; its history recounted here.  Here were once extensive sidings but they have been built over with new housing but space remains for a new station on the north side of the A16.  

On the old line there were no stations between Kirton and Boston, but with the growth in housing a new station is justified 3km north-east of Kirton at Wyberton.  Another station on the south side of the Forty Foot Drain on what is now the dead end of Wyberton West Road would serve the residential areas of Skirbeck Quarter that have developed since the Victorians planned their railway.

A new bridge across the South Forty Foot, running along the west side of the road bridge, would need to be constructed.  This is the most significant piece of engineering that is required to connect Spalding and Boston with an ultra-light railway.

Across the bridge and Zing joins the very occasionally used single track line into Boston Docks and then the railway from Sleaford into Boston Station. That line only uses a single track so there is plenty of space for the new track into the station.  There would be some redesign of the track and platform layout to keep Zing separate from the standard size trains running from Sleaford to Skegness. Alternatively, the line from Sleaford to Skegness could be converted to ultra-light running too.  The advantages in speed, frequency, increased number of stations, energy consumption, track maintenance and other running costs, combine to make conversion of many branch lines on the still existing network, worthwhile.

The opportunity for passengers to travel from Boston station to Skirbeck, Wyberton and Kirton in a very few minutes and then on to Spalding would be so welcome that much of the traffic congestion that Boston has become notorious for would be relieved. Only two small recently built industrial building would need removal, with no residential homes requiring demolition and almost no private land acquisition needed.  

We need to envision the transport systems of a post-carbon world.  If we don't greatly increase the rail network then we need to convert all the cars and buses to electric.  That's imaginable, but the argument is that in a resource constrained economy the ultra-light railways are a cheaper alternative. As with petrol cars, so with electric cars, once you have one and paid the capital costs, it's often cheaper and easier to use it than use public transport.  The trick is to shift the balance in favour of public transport by creating a network of sufficient density, frequency, reliability and speed so that it's worthwhile foregoing the freedom and convenience of a private car.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

ZING ~ The Incredibly Light Railway. Part 2.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote the first part of this series about our proposals for ultra light railways.  If you haven't, please read it first.  Today, writing in The Observer, Ed Miliband said, "As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said, if the world is to hold warming below 2°C, global emissions need to peak not long after 2020 and then decline rapidly to reach net zero in the second half of this century. The weaker the action now, the more rapid and costly the reductions will need to be later. I do not want to see Britain or any country having to adopt crisis measures to halt the slide into global catastrophe because we missed this critical opportunity now."

So let us accept that by 2050 there will be no fossil fuel used for transport, public of private.  Beyond a little biofuel, the options will be walking, cycling and motors using renewably generated electricity. That said, let's take a further look at Zing ~ The Incredibly Light Railway. People who have commented on the proposals frequently talk either of disability access or of cost. The first is easiest to deal with.

The proposed trains are made up of carriages that seat people in twos side by side, like motorcars, three or four pairs facing to one end and three or four pairs facing the other end, but in the middle there is a space without seats big enough for two wheel chairs or mobility scooters or some bicycles. There would be no step from platform to carriage so they could roll easily aboard. It’s interesting to note just how many people’s first thoughts are towards disability access, a positive reflection of our times perhaps. The provision of bicycle space, however, is also important as it is the last link in the journey that makes private cars so much more convenient than public transport. Passengers need to be confident of being able to take their bikes with them, as even with the relatively dense rail network proposed, many people’s destinations may not be an easy walk from the station.

The cost is trickier. First let’s set up a bench-mark. In June 2013 the government estimated that the 192 kilometres (119 miles) of HS2 Phase 1 from London to Birmingham would cost £22 billion. Many commentators believe the final figure will turn out to be considerably higher, but let’s use the government’s estimate for now.

In 1914 we had 37720 km (23440 miles) of railways, now there are just 16753km (9788 miles). If, instead of spending the £22 billion on HS2, it were spent on reinstating the lost 22000 km as Ultra-Light Railways then there would be £1 million available per kilometre. That’s more than enough to rebuild every last little branch line that ever there was.

Or it would be if that figure of a million pounds per kilometre is in the right ball-park. So this is where, dear reader, we need your help. Just how much will it cost?

A big saving is in the cost of land acquisition since Zing’s footprint is rather small, at least when compared with HS2, which runs on a 25 metre wide fence to fence vegetation free zone (how much herbicide is that going to take?) and then a further 25m either side of restricted vegetation, making a 75m wide footprint in all and so using 7.5 hectares per kilometre of track. Zing only requires about a five metre width, half a hectare per kilometre. If the price paid for acquiring agricultural land is, say £25000 per hectare, then the comparative costs of HS2 and Zing are £187500 and £12500, a 15-fold difference. Actually the difference is far greater. Instead of running on the routes of closed railways that are still by and large free from buildings, HS2 cuts virgin territory and since it can only have extremely large radius curves there is little opportunity for avoiding expensive real estate by deviating the line, whereas the Zing route can be adjusted to miss most buildings and costly infrastructure. Land purchase, at about £3 billion, is a significant part of HS2’s cost.

The costliest item on the government HS2 shopping list is “Tunnels, including ventilation and drainage, and Bridges including viaducts and other structure”, coming in at well over £6 billion. In this area Zing scores dramatically. Few or no tunnels will be needed and bridges can be simple and cheap affairs since ultra-light weight is the essence. The low headroom required by the carriages means that where roads go over the railway, bridges can be very low; no call for heavy engineering or even the old-style hump-backed bridge. Very many bridges built for the original railways are still in serviceable condition, especially for traffic that will be much lighter than the original structures were designed for.

The roughly £1 billion to be spent on diverting existing utility cables and pipes en route from London to Birmingham will not be required in the case of Zing. HS2 requires almost £5 billion in new stations and other buildings. Most Zing stations, and there will be a lot of them, are very simple affairs. The small wheels and low ride height of the trains mean that platforms worthy of their name are hardly necessary. Rather there will be a slightly raised pavement to allow wheel-chair access with no step up into the carriage. But let’s see what we can do with £5 billion to spend on stations. With 20000 km of new railway let’s put a station every 2km, so that’s 10000 stations. We have £0.5 million to spend per station. But since the vast majority of these stations will comprise little more than a couple of strips of paving, a sign board and a flower bed or two, there should be quite a lot of change available.

Another large expense for HS2 is the power supply infrastructure, the overhead cables.  They also don't look too pretty.  The ultra-light weight of Zing allows the use of modern battery power, a 21st century technology for a 21st century railway rather than using the 25kV AC overhead system introduced in Britain in 1956.  Train batteries will be charged overnight but boosted by induction charging whenever the train stops at a station.  This is a technology still in its infancy but several prototypes are being tested on buses in various countries. Examples: Milton Keynes, Utrecht, NetherlandsMannheimGermany, Gumi, South Korea

By mid-century with the zero net carbon emissions policy enacted, there will be plenty of competitive demand for renewably generated electricity so any opportunity to produce more should be investigated.  The space between the rails, over a metre wide, is unused and unproductive on all current railways.  Fill it with photo-voltaic panels.  There's 2000 square metres available per kilometre of twin track railway.  Using today's mass produced solar panels (and power density is set to continue increasing) one might expect to generate 100000 kWhr per year per kilometre.  That's perhaps not enough to run the railway, but it is a major contribution.  The Utrecht electric buses use about 1.2 kWh/km. Running one of those every 15 minutes for most of the day would only use 40000 kWhr/year/km.

The cost of rolling stock is a significant item, especially for HS2, currently estimated by government at £7.5 billion.  How much would Zing trains cost? For such a light-weight innovative vehicle, rather than looking at the cost of conventional trains, comparison with the Tesla electric sports car may be more valid. They cost about $100000 each.  They are smaller than Zing's carriages but more complex.  Let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that Zing carriages
cost £100000.  That should be generous enough to allow for the automated systems of driverless operation.  If we run trains of ten carriages they cost £1 million per train.  The £7.5 billion rolling stock bill for HS2 thus pays for 7500 trains, or more than enough to put a train on every three kilometres of the 20000 km of new railway.

Of course many of the figures used here are very rough guestimates, but they indicate that for the cost of building HS2 we could rebuild a dense network of ultra-light railways replicating the 20000 km of line lost since the British system was at it's maximum just before the First World War.  As Ed Miliband said, let us not miss this critical opportunity now.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

New Housing - a Case Study from Louth

In Louth, Lincolnshire, there is a proposal for a new housing development, 149 dwellings on a greenfield site on the edge of the town.  Although initially opposed by both the Town and District councils the developer now has outline planning permission and has submitted detailed plans to the local authority, East Lindsey District Council (ELDC).  An overview is provided by Taylor Wimpy here and the planning documents are available here.

Of course all such developments are controversial, concreting over the English countryside, people have got to have somewhere to live, NIMBY, the town needs growth to survive, too much traffic, there will be a playground for the kids... and the rest.

But let's leave all that aside for now and, for the sake of discussion, accept that new houses will be built on this site and consider whether these are the right sort of houses.

Climate Change and Building Regulation

The 2008 Climate Change Act commits the UK to to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% in 2050 from 1990 levels.  The Paris climate conference in December 2015 may well produce even stronger commitments. Such reductions will require, with legal force, that fossil carbon is no longer used to heat our homes.  How then, will the people in the new homes on this development be kept warm? 

Building Regulations only require that new houses comply with Code 3 of the Code for Sustainable Homes, with some local authorities insisting upon code 4 In December 2006, the UK Government promised that all new homes would be ‘zero carbon’ from 2016 but that promise is no longer likely to be fulfilled. East Lindsey District Council are not currently minded to require 'Code 6', which would make the homes close to 'zero carbon' and similar to the German Passivhaus standard.  

We have an emerging contradiction:  houses are about to be built which will soon become unusable without significant modifications if legally binding climate change legislation is to be complied with.

Our Proposals

To minimise greenhouse gas emissions and consequent climate change potential the development needs to be as low-carbon in both construction and use as possible.  The current proposals are for an essentially 20th century approach to building, using concrete block and brick walls mortared with Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC) on heavy concrete foundations.  Building orientation is not related to solar gain and no solar panels are integral to the construction. Heating is assumed to be by gas central heating with now provision for renewable energy sources planned.

Our proposals call for a low-carbon approach to construction.  All mortars should be lime based, using hydrated lime for most above ground situations and naturally hydraulic lime (NHL3.5) for footings, drains and other sub-surface and wet situations.  The buildings should be timber famed with straw-bale wall infilling.  The roofs should be predominantly south-facing single slopes covered with solar photo-voltaic and solar thermal panels integral with the construction. Window orientation should maximise solar gain.  These measures will eliminate almost all need for heating.

The remaining heat requirement can be met in a variety of ways and for security of supply it may be wise to consider more than one energy source.  Let us look at the possibilities.

Biomass boilers, either fuelled by pellets, woodchip or logs, are likely to deliver too much heat for one highly insulated house, but if supplying a larger building comprising more than one home, might be appropriate.  In the current proposal there is no provision for the siting of a plant room.

Ground-source heat pumps have also not been considered in the current plans. There is no provision of a collection area within the site but the purchase of the arable land to the north and east would allow an extensive array which could be linked either to individual properties on those sides of the estate or as part of a district heating scheme, perhaps in conjunction with a medium-scale biomass boiler to provide hot water for under-floor heating throughout the site.

Heat pumps require an electricity input, though with a large system an efficiency ration approaching 4 should be achievable.  If each house has installed solar pv capacity of 4kW, generating an average of 10kWhr/day there will be more than enough net surplus of electricity to supply household needs and drive heat pumps, averaged over the year.  In practice there will be a larger surplus in summer and a deficit in winter.  Wind power, which is larger in winter than summer, should therefore be part of the mix.  If the adjoining fields were included in the scheme there would be space for sufficient medium-scale wind turbines.  Alternatively, and to allay the fears of those who find proximity to turbines undesirable, a funding scheme could be initiated that supported investment in off-shore wind farms.  That part of the cost of the building that might otherwise be designated for heating could be invested in the wind industry on, say, the Dogger Bank.

Air source heat pumps are less efficient than ground source but have the advantage that they do not require a large area of land.  However they do also work best in conjunction with under-floor heating systems where lower temperatures than conventional radiators are appropriate.  There appears to be no provision for this in the current plans and retro-fitting would be expensive.

Whatever the mix of energy supply decided upon, the developer should demonstrate how the buildings are to be heated without the use of any fossil carbon for the lifetime of the building.

As climate change proceeds we should expect more extreme summer heat waves too.  Designing homes to mitigate heat stress is rarely considered by the short-sighted British housing industry.

Land use

The proposed development has a high density of housing allowing for only very small gardens.  We would prefer to see a lower density and larger gardens that could provide greater resilience for the community in an uncertain future when the ability to grow one's own food could be a significant advantage.  An alternative might be to incorporate the neighbouring land to the north and east, not only for ground-source heat gathering but also to provide allotment land for the residents. The loss of agricultural land would be more than compensated for by the increased productivity per unit are that labour-intensive allotment gardening has over industrial agriculture. Enough land to grow a significant proportion of household food would be a valuable contribution to the sustainability of the community.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Pledge of Politicians

No, it's not the collective noun for our leaders, it's what they have said they are going to do with regard to global warming.

The three leaders have pledged:

  • To seek a fair, strong, legally binding, global climate deal which limits temperature rises to below 2C.
  • To work together, across party lines, to agree carbon budgets in accordance with the Climate Change Act.
  • To accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy efficient low carbon economy and to end the use of unabated coal for power generation.

Let's look at just the first one.  The science's best guess is that we need to leave something like 80% of the fossil carbon that has already been discovered in the ground unburnt.  And that's just to get to a 60% probability of staying below 2°C and disregarding the climate models' tendency to be wrong with the error probability distribution skewed to the bad side.

Yet all three party leaders continue to support exploration for new carbon resources, let alone say that 80% of what has already been discovered must stay put.

The Infrastructure bill going through Parliament right now seeks to enshrine into law the requirement to maximise exploitation of the UK's.
So who are our leader trying to fool?
Oh yes, us.
And today is

Global Divestment Day

Sunday, February 08, 2015

ZING ~ The Incredibly Light Railway.

News 8th February 2015: The President of the RMT Union is to stand for the Green Party at this year’s general election. Peter Pinkney, whose union represents more than 80,000 workers across Britain, will stand for the Green Party in Redcar, a constituency won by the Liberal Democrats at the last election. Read more

The context

By 2050, if current Government targets are met, we will be emitting 80% less CO2. We may go further. Avoiding climate catastrophe resulting from global warming, should mean that by then net carbon emissions will be negative. We will sequester more carbon than we release in our attempt to drive atmospheric CO2 down to the safe 350ppmv. There will be few petrol and diesel driven vehicles.

Connecting the people with ZING, a 21st century concept railway system.

Carriages feel more like motorcars: you step through the door straight into your seat; no corridors; no walking about; too low to stand up. Think of each carriage as a stretched limo, maybe eight pairs of seats. Sixteen passengers per carriage.

Low axle weight means the trackbed does not have to be engineered to the normal railway standards. Bridges over rivers and such like need not be as strong as conventional railway bridges. Low carriage height at perhaps 1.5 metres - means that road bridges over the railway can be very low, keeping costs low enough to avoid having the many level crossings that typified the original railways of Lincolnshire.

ZING is powered by electric motors fed by on board batteries. Electric motors directly powering each wheel, without heavy and complex drive transmission systems, provide rapid acceleration. Braking is regenerative, prolonging battery life. Batteries are primarily charged whilst the train is not in use, such as at night, but charge boosts are given at each station using inductive power transfer (IPT), obviating the need for a cable to be attached. When the train stops it automatically receives power from an induction plate set on the ground below the train, if only for the 30 seconds waiting at a station. There is no need for expensive and unsightly overhead cables and gantries.

The combination of low carriages, small wheels and low ride height means that platforms are not needed. Kerb height alighting makes station building simple and cheap, even for wheelchairs.The light weight and simplicity of the carriages mean they are cheap to construct at a small fraction of conventional rail rolling stock.

The advantages of railways: no steering, since train is rail guided, low rolling resistance of wheels on smooth rails, low gradients etc, combined with the ultra light weight, means that the electric motors can provide great performance at low energy use. Both acceleration and breaking rates will be very high, allowing high average speeds despite frequent stops. Maximum speeds of 80mph or more are attained even between stations less than a mile apart with sports-car type acceleration. Electric motors provide maximum torque almost instantaneously. Stopping distances are very short, again more equivalent to a high performance sports-car than a conventional train.
Journey times are shorter than the equivalent road travel. Low weight means that steeper gradients are coped with and the short carriages allow tight radius curve so there is great flexibility for routing new railways. 

With only two passengers abreast, ZING is much narrower than conventional trains. Minimal land is required. This allows two-way running on trackbeds that formally carried only a single track railway. Alternatively, new track can run alongside roads with a little widening, or substituting part of the carriageway. This could be particularly useful as road traffic is replaced by ultra-light rail. 

With no infrastructure legacy, driverless operation is envisaged with relatively simple control systems, minimising costs. The obvious advantage is cost saving on staffing but in a future economy labour cost might not be as high as currently. The advantage of greater safety where a human can override automated control systems, and the personal services of a conductor/driver to look after passengers might weigh more heavily.

Train frequency could be much higher than on a conventional railway system. The separation distances normally required for safety are much less with a train with a much shorter stopping distance. Combined with the low cost of the rolling stock, this allows a large number of trains running at a high frequency. Usage becomes higher when passengers can expect a train within a few minutes, like on the London Underground, without having to worry about timetables.

Station frequency can be higher than on conventional railways, facilitated by low construction cost resulting from platformless operation, and rapid train acceleration and braking. Stops at stations could be very short; there are as many doors as seats so no queuing to get off and on. Thirty second stops will normally be adequate. With more stations, more passengers will live within a short walk of the station. The generally low construction costs of completely new lines could allow extending branches beyond the original 19th century network, to serve closely an even greater proportion of the rural population.

Where will it go?

The starting point is the original rail network, built in the 19h century and closed, mostly in the 1960s and '70s. The closed lines are just the start. Although through rural areas, most of the old trackbeds are clear of significant obstruction and could be reinstated quite easily, where the lines run into towns there has been much redevelopment which could be expensive to reverse (but compare the cost of land acquisition for HS2). However, Zing track can be extended onto the road network like the trams of many cities. The difference between dedicated ZING track and road running would be speed. On roads a pedestrian and bike friendly 10 mph might be the norm, but released onto it's own track and train zings away at 80 mph.

Get involved?

If you feel in any way inspired by the notes above to help in this project, whether or not you live in this area of Lincolnshire, we'd love to hear from you. It's blue skies thinking time, envisioning a new transport system fit for the second half of the 21st century. Whether your interest is in battery technology, power or control engineering, automotive design, social impacts or you just fancy some creative doodling, please get in touch with your ideas, written or drawn.

Further Reading

You might like to do further reading about light railways and there are many initiatives around the world, but notice that approximately all the literature on light rail systems is wedded in the 20th (or 19th) century design concept of cars that are large enough to stand up and walk about in, with it's concomitant weight and air resistance penalties.

It can never happen!

Well, I expect that’s what they said in 1820. But a quarter of a century later and Britain had become utterly transformed by a dense network of railways serving the whole land. It can be done!

East Lincolnshire Green Party

Green Party transport policy.

This blog-post is promoted by Biff Vernon and Romy Rayner on behalf of the Green party and of East Lincolnshire Green Party. Tithe Farm, Church End, North Somercotes, Louth, Lincolnshire. LN11 7PZ. e-mail:

Sunday, February 01, 2015

British Beavers - Castor fiber

The European Beaver, Castor fiber.

The beavers of the Otter River have won a reprieve. The government, through the agency of Natural England, has pulled back from its plan to capture and remove the beavers and granted the Devon Wildlife Trust the responsibility to monitor their health and welfare, at least for an experimental five year period.

Stephen Morris, writing in the Guardian, reported the news with some useful background and another piece in the Guardian by John Lister-Kaye discusses the established beaver colonies in Scotland.

A framework for decision-making was set up by Natural England in 2009 with the publication of their report, The feasibility and acceptability of reintroducing the European beaver to England (NECR002). The report can be downloaded here.

Morris writes that "The trial could lead to the re-introduction of the creature across England."  and Andrew Sells, Natural England’s chairman commented: “Future decisions by Natural England on the release of beavers will, in large part, be informed by results of this trial."  

So while it is unlikely that Natural England will grant further reintroduction licences during the coming five-year trial period, after that, if all goes well, a wider programme may be considered.  It is worth noting that in each of France and Germany the beaver populations may be as high as 10000, there could be 70000 in Norway and even a couple of hundred in Belgium and the Netherlands.

However, according to a BBC report, Natural Resources Wales may look for faster progress.  Tim Jones, executive director of operations for north and mid Wales at Natural Resources Wales, said: "The possibility of reintroducing beavers to Welsh rivers needs serious consideration.  They have the potential to help us improve the quality of our natural resources including water quality, wildlife and fish populations."

Perhaps now is the time we should be considering other sites suitable for beaver occupation.  If a population can be sustained in such a densely settled and intensively farmed nation as the Netherlands, surely space can be found in Lincolnshire.

The Environment Agency is shortly to commence work on flood alleviation schemes on the Rivers Lud and Bain to protect Louth and Horncastle.  Perhaps beavers might help.  

Friday, January 16, 2015


Sometimes in conversations, both in the real world and on the social media, the words 'anarchy' and 'anarchism' crop up.  And each time I feel I really ought to try to explain what I mean.  But usually there isn't space or time or I just can't be bothered.  Often I think it would be best to refer people to the very excellent thoughts of my late friend Dr. David Fleming, who, in his wonderful book, Lean Logic, wrote the following.  Please read it.

Anarchism.  “Anarchism”, from the Greek an and arches, means “no chief” – hence “no rule”, but there is more than one way of interpreting this, and it has been anarchism’s big problem that people tend to settle on the wrong one – the idea of anarchy as mere chaos.  It was in this sense that John Milton used it – as the state of affairs...
Where eldest Night                   
And Chaos, ancestors of Nature, hold
Eternal anarchy amidst the noise
Of endless wars, and by confusion stand;
For hot, cold, moist and dry, four champions fierce,
Strive here for mast'ry.                                                    (Paradise Lost, book ii, lines 894-899)
Secondly, there is the main body of anarchist literature.  We cannot really speak of “mainstream” anarchism, because anarchist writers, as you might expect, have tended to disagree with each other.  But there is a fundamental proposition in common: governments have a poor, even catastrophic, record, guided by almost any motive other than the interests of the people to whom they are in principle responsible.  If governments could somehow be persuaded or forced to back off, the people could make a far better job of things.
There are some famous names in this literature, and they deserve a mention: [i]
o     William Godwin (1756-1836)  argued that the guide to our actions should be reason, the logic of the Enlightenment.  Once people have a rational understanding of their duties, there is no need for such sensibilities as honour, generosity, gratitude, promises, or even affections; nor for such limitations on individual judgment as marriage, orchestras or the theatre, nor, of course, for government.  He did admit that this enlightened deference to reason would not be easy to achieve; it would require ceaseless vigilance and self-examination, he supposed, but beyond that, there were no suggestions about how it was to be done, and Godwin’s rule of logic lives on in the literature both as perhaps the most heroic of all statements of the perfect society, a fantasy with remarkable staying power, for here we are considering it two centuries later.[ii]
o     Max Stirner (1806-1856) took individualism as far as it would go: no state, government, private property, religion, family, ethics, love or associations beyond what individuals happen to want, when they want it. [iii]
o     Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) looked to the Gospels for the peace and love, which is all that is needed, he claimed, to sustain society without governments, laws, police, armies and private property. [iv]
o     Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) was an early, and strong supporter of localisation: the best safeguard of liberty and justice lies in food producers and craftsmen working together in cooperatives. [v]
o     Michael Bakunin (1814-1876) looked to the violent overthrow of the state, and its replacement as a bottom-up federation of trade-unions (anarcho-syndicalism).[vi]
o     Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) developed his advocacy of the abolition of private property and communal living in an extended and valuable discussion of land, biodynamic farming, decentralised urban planning, technology and the history of effective local action.[vii]
Matthew Arnold’s orderly anarchism
For Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), the cohesive principle is a common culture.  By “culture” what he had in mind was the very highest standards, “a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world.” [viii]  Later critics picked him up on this: culture is not limited to the best; it is, less ambitiously, the common story and tradition of a *community – but Arnold’s point holds: the way in which a community can preserve itself from anarchy (in its chaotic, Miltonian sense), is to build a community which is interesting enough to recognise itself as a particular place with its own identity, loyalties and obligation.  The outcome, as Arnold put it (the above sentence fills in the logic which Arnold does not spell out) is that a community learns “to like what right reason ordains.”[ix]
The common factor for most of these (but not Matthew Arnold, box) is the desire to see the end of government, and the most explicit statement of this is Bakunin’s anarcho-syndicalism, which sees trade unions as the spearhead of revolution, destroying both the government and the capitalism that sustains it.  In this way, the strengths of traditional anarchism’s positive visions and insights were impaired by the tendency to focus on one ideal solution – an ideology in its own right – as the magic pain that had to be endured first, before anarchism itself could have a chance.  A broader, more real vision was suggested by Alexander Herzen (1812-1870), who warned of the consequences of *abstraction, and insisted, instead, on the case for focusing on the local, the feasible, the practical, tangible, the proven – on the freedom to make and care for the particular place.  It was this grounded vision which, a century later, was taken up by Colin Ward.[x]
For Ward, anarchy (or, perhaps less confrontationally, “anarchism”) is the study of organisation – of rule of a particular kind: self-rule, the orderly habits and interactions that come into being with the formation and maintenance of human groups.  Anarchism, as Ward explains,
is about the ways in which people organise themselves, [xi] 
Anarchists are people who make a social and political philosophy out of the natural and spontaneous tendency of humans to associate together for their mutual benefit. [xii]
As Ward points out, the reality underlying this is undeniable: the speed, efficiency and *imagination with which people bring order to a situation which has potential for chaos is revealed whenever a group of people are aligned, in the sense of having a common interests and a common purpose.  It applies, for instance, at times of protest – at Climate Camp in the United Kingdom in 2008, for instance, and in the uprisings in Budapest in 1956 and in Prague in 1968, when good order and altruism were as solid as the commitment to sustain the revolutions.  During the Hungarian uprising, it was the custom in Budapest... 
... to put big boxes on street corners, and just a script over them, “This is for the wounded and for the families of the dead”.  They were set out in the morning and by noon they were full of money.[xiii]
Happenings like these are exceptional, of course.  In due course the revolutions are either suppressed or successful, and things go back to normal, and yet they have something to tell us which could be useful.  Among the students of revolution who have noticed the remarkably competent groupings and councils that come into being if given a chance, Hannah Arendt writes ... 
Each time they appeared, they sprang up as the spontaneous organs of the people, not only outside of all revolutionary parties but entirely unexpected by them and their leaders.  They were utterly neglected by statesmen, historians, political theorists and, most importantly, by the revolutionary tradition itself.  [Even sympathetic historians] regarded them as nothing more than essentially temporary organs in the revolutionary struggle for liberation; that is to say, they failed to understand to what extent the council system confronted them with an entirely new form of government, with a new public space for freedom. [xiv]  
The emphasis here is on what can be done in practice (a bottom-up way of thinking), rather than on ambitions about having to do a lot of demolition first. 
On the other hand, the state’s natural reflex is to make things difficult, even without intending to do so.  The essential freedoms and resources which enable local action are eroded by governments, and, in some cases, such as education, their elimination is comprehensive.  And in terms of sheer practical possibility, too, the option of effective local community is becoming more remote: it is harder to make practical sense of things, for instance, in a locality which has lost its post office, hospital, school, surgery, shops, abattoir, railway station, local trades, church, magistrates court, probation services and local presence in farmland, and where it is difficult to decide on a collective celebration, owing to (amongst other things) prohibitions on grounds of health and safety, the fees and lead-times needed for an entertainments licence, and the sense that there is no cultural expression which does not exclude or offend many or most of the people living there.  
And yet, anarchism, in the cool, practical, local sense intended by Colin Ward, recognises that we innate community-builders ought to concentrate on what we can positively do.  We have a talent for order, and the inherited culture and accomplishments of the modern world are mainly the product of this talent.  The history of social inventions, the institutions and social capital that give us existence as a recognisable and living society, is the history of anarchism in this sense.  Medicine – the science and the institutions – were the product of voluntary persistence, backed by charitable donations, as were the schools and universities.  The whole of our inheritance of education was invented and made to happen by citizens, investing their time and talent in schools and colleges, in teaching as a creative skill in its own right, in sustaining diversity, and in increasing access.  Even such fundamentals as insurance against accident, sickness and loss of income – arranged through the friendly societies, and owned by their members – were voluntary enterprises and, from their start in the eighteenth century to their displacement by a state system in 1911, they had expanded their reach to almost universal coverage of working people.  The organic movement began as a citizens’ inspiration, developing its authority and its scientific standing by using its freedom to decide for itself.[xv] 
The weak point in that capacity for invention – in the spontaneous order that is the primary aim and accomplishment of anarchism – is that it is exposed to the distrust and jealously of centralising governments.  If it works, it tends to be taken over, and the spontaneous order tends to die. 
Anarchism has had its moments.  There are insights there that are relevant to a future of insolvent government, a deeply diminished economy, and no alternative for communities other than to invent everything for themselves, including the meaning of community.  Lean Logic will borrow from it, and will mix it with other lines of enquiry which most anarchists would have been horrified by.  But, then, anarchists have always had trouble with their allies.[xvi]

[i].              Note that Ted Honderich (1995), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, is a helpful first reference on anarchy and its main thinkers (though it omits Colin Ward).
[ii].             William Godwin (1793), An Enquiry Concerting Political Justice and its Influence on Modern Morals and Happiness; William Godwin (1794), Caleb Williams.  For an accessible summary of Godwin’s anarchist thought, see Roy Porter (2000), Enlightenment, pp 455-459.
[iii].            Peter Marshall (2010), Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, pp 220-234.
[iv].           Ibid, pp 362-384.
[v].            Ibid, pp 234-263.
[vi].           Ibid, pp 263-309.
[vii].          See Peter Kropotkin (1899), Fields, Factories and Workshops especially in the (1974) edition by Colin Ward.  See also Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread and Mutual Aid.  [Publication details to follow]
[viii].         Matthew Arnold (1869), Culture And Anarchy, p 6.
[ix].            Ibid, p 82.
[x].             For more detail on Alexander Herzen see Abstraction.
[xi].            Colin Ward (1985), Anarchy in Action p 4.
[xii].           Ibid, p 15.
[xiii].          BBC sound archive cited in Ward (1985), p 34.
[xiv].          Hannah Arendt (1965), On Revolution, pp 260, 267, 252-253, check. 
[xv].           A major influence on Ward’s thinking was Percival Goodman and Paul Goodman (1947, 1960), Communitas: Means of Livelihood and Ways of Life, at it remains a core text of the anarchist literature, especially in the context of land use and planning.  For brief histories of the evolution of medicine, education and social security in the United Kingdom, see James Bartholemew (2004), The Welfare State We’re In.
[xvi].          See also José Peréz Adán (1992), Reformist Anarchism.