Firestarter.

Conflagration on Mynydd Mawr, with the village of Y Fron in the foreground.

Apparently this time of year is widely known as the burning season. This year, in particular, after ten days of continuous sunshine and desiccating southeasterly winds our natural vegetation is now tinder dry.

Last Wednesday morning I set off into north Wales on the last of this winter’s postcard delivery trips. I didn’t have a very full timetable of calls so by lunchtime I was in Porthmadog. I decided to have a leisurely sandwich and birdwatch by the artificial tidal lagoon on the edge of the town. As the water was high few birds were to be seen there but there was a nice selection of waders on Traeth Mawr nearby. Turning back towards the van I noticed a pall of smoke drifting over from the north. I phoned a good friend who lives in Nantlle, about ten miles in that direction as the crow flies. He was very concerned about a fire in the hills nearby that he believed had been set by a farmer the previous evening. It had been burning out of control ever since. I wondered if the smoke I had seen was the product of that fire.

After a final call in Beddgelert I continued northwards. A huge mass of smoke was rising vertically in the still air from the summit of Mynydd Mawr, and then drifting northwards. The mountain looked like an active volcano. But it didn’t really fit the description of the fire I had heard about. Turning westwards at Rhyd Ddu towards Nantlle, the fire was to my right whereas the fire he had described would have been on my left. Entering the village I could see a few wisps of smoke rising from the crags and moorland south of Llyn Nantlle while the main fire was now raging behind me. There were two separate fires.

Mynydd Mawr from Nantlle

My friend – an ecologist by training and with many years of professional experience – was outraged to see the second fire. He had just returned from Argentina where he had had a bout of Covid, and probably wasn’t in the best frame of mind to see both sides of his beloved Nantlle valley being consumed in a conflagration! We walked a short distance to get a better view of it. It was his opinion that both fires had been set by the respective landowners/farmers. Upland vegetation is burnt like this to kill the older, more woody stems of heather, producing more younger shoots, and more grass; in other words better grazing for sheep. But over long periods of time repeated burning and grazing prevents heather from regenerating and results in upland vegetation being restricted to coarse grasses that can resist fire but have little wildlife value. It is one of the reasons why there is now so little heather moorland in Wales.

Mynydd Mawr again……

I was anxious to get more photographs of the fire so headed off in the van towards the village of Y Fron, at a higher altitude than Nantlle. Cresting the brow of a hill the fire in all its destructive reality was visible – see the main photograph above. Four fire engines were present and I had a quick chat with one of the firemen. It was while they were attempting to tackle the original fire to the south of Nantlle that they noticed this second fire take hold. “Whatever can you do about it?” I asked. He spread both arms in front of him, fingers on both hands conspicuously crossed. He said it could have been started by bored teenagers or careless walkers, but I think we both knew who the culprit was. He said that farmers are allowed to perform controlled burns but that they “sometimes got out of hand”. I spent a few more minutes taking photographs before leaving the area.

Near Pant Glas……

I spent the night in the van on the open shoreline of Foryd Bay ; it is one of my favourite places in Wales. But around breakfast time another pall of smoke began rising into the sky to the south. I had enough time to investigate the source of the smoke and fairly quickly located it near the hamlet of Pant Glas. I parked up and walked towards the fire; a figure was visible, moving around near the base of the flames. Through my binoculars I could see him carrying some kind of fire-lighting implement that every so often he would dip into a plastic container of brown liquid. This was a job for my long telephoto lens! I ran back to the van to fetch it, cursing that I hadn’t brought it with me in the first place. On my return I could see he was slowly, methodically and calmly lighting fires in the dry vegetation, without a care in the world. He was completely oblivious to my presence and I took a whole series of photographs. I don’t know how far this fire spread but the BBC Wales News website referred to a wildfire “at Pant Glas” on that day.

Firestarter………

Normally farmers can ignore the guidelines for “controlled” burning because they know no-one will ever see them. The most unprincipled can light destructive fires in the expectation that they WILL rapidly get out of control and be all but impossible to extinguish. But the expenses involved in the Fire Service attending these wildfires, including the cost of helicopter hire, are, unfairly, borne by the public purse. I have sent a batch of photos like the one above to North Wales police, and I believe that the identity of the man lighting this fire would be identifiable from them. How seriously the authorities will take them is another matter, because all too often unscrupulous farmers are given the benefit of the doubt.

Update : A petition asking the Welsh Government to ban so-called “controlled” burning has been started; please click on the link below to sign it.

https://petitions.senedd.wales/petitions/245129

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Letters to the Editor (1)

The first in an occasional series of pieces originally written for the Letters page of our local newspaper, the Cambrian News. Most were never published ……… although this one was, with the second paragraph omitted..

Dear Sir,

Many people in north Ceredigion will recently have received a note stuffed through their letterbox telling them that the Rali Bae Ceredigion will be held again in September 2022. In their usual self-congratulatory style, the organizers tell us what a success the first rally was in 2019. What they will not have been told are some inconvenient truths about that event.

For example several so-called “sponsors” have since denied any involvement in the rally.  Natural Resources Wales were said to have been “partner sponsors” but have denied that this was the case. The same goes for Visit Wales; the then relevant Government minister denied any involvement with the rally. A third “Partner Sponsor” – Statkraft, who operate the Rheidol Hydro-electric Scheme, and are heavily involved in renewable energy – were oblivious of this “fact” until it was pointed out to them, and have pulled out completely from any future rallies.

One hundred and twenty cars took part in the 2019 rally, over four stages totaling about 90 miles. Distance between stages was a further 90 miles.  On the day prior to the rally itself, drivers’ recces totaled another 180 miles. The total mileage involved in the 2019 rally was thus approximately 43,200 miles. A rough and conservative estimate of the carbon emissions created by the rally in 2019 was 16 tonnes. This did not include incidental journeys connected with the event or journeys by competitors, spectators, etc to north Ceredigion.

Furthermore 45 miles of public roads were closed to enable the rally, restrictions were placed on many others, and 58 public footpaths were closed.

We don’t know at this point what the mileage of the 2022 rally will be or the number of cars. But we do know that rally organizers intend to expand the rally in future years to cover more stages, have more competitors, and also include night stages. The question which must be asked is this – “which alternative planet do these people live on?”

It has become even more obvious since 2019 that global warming is seriously affecting ALL life on earth, and there is no doubt at all that human activities are the root cause. We are all being urged to use public transport (pandemic apart) to reduce carbon emissions. In mid-Wales private car use is a daily necessity for many but this rally is an entirely frivolous source of climate-wrecking emissions.

We are ALL going to need to make sacrifices in our daily lives to prevent climate catastrophe. When are these overgrown boy racers going to realize this and cut down on their driving activities? Perhaps it is unrealistic to ask them to do so voluntarily  but those in positions of power and responsibility should urgently remind them that our futures, our children’s futures, and the planet’s future are all at stake here.

The Chief Executive of Ceredigion Council has that power and responsibility. He should put aside his love of car rallying and nip the 2022 rally in the bud before its organization becomes too far advanced. He can do that by not permitting the road and footpath closures. His council announced a climate emergency in 2019; let us see him translate these fine words into actions.

Yours sincerely………….

(October 2021)

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