Category Archives: Renewable Energy

Ash Dieback – a slow motion catastrophe

To those in a nice flat in the city Chalara Fraxinea, or Ash Dieback as it is commonly known, is probably a (brief) discussion point over a gingerbread latte before returning to the truly important topic of ‘Strictly’. For those with a few trees it becomes at least relevant but for people like us it is a huge huge disaster. We have over 2 acres of mature woodland that is roughly 90% ash. The aim is to coppice the woodland to provide us with all of our heating and hot water needs. If we lose our ash trees not only will we have a decimated woodland which will take 10 years to restore but we will have to buy in wood to heat the house over that time, which we can ill afford.

Ash is my favourite wood – so much so that it is the logo of our website. This is due to its wonderful burning properties, beautifully light and open canopy that encourages undergrowth and clean subtle grain, strength and workability for furniture and building. Not only would we be in trouble from a self-sufficiency point of view if we lose our Ash but, in a truly tree-hugger way, we would be very upset at the loss of some graceful, powerful and, not to mention, old trees.

 

So a quick update on the facts (thanks wiki):

  • -The disease is characterised by leaf loss and crown dieback in the infected trees
  • -First discovered in Poland in 1992… yes, 20 years ago!
  • -By 2008 the disease was also discovered in Scandinavia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Germany, Austria and Switzerland
  • -By 2012 it had spread to Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Britain and Ireland.
  • -The number of sites has doubled in the UK within the last month
  • -Young trees will usually die in their first year. Older trees may survive a few seasons but will succumb eventually
  • -A proportion (<5%) seem to have a genetic resistance to the disease

 

The reason for the title of this post is that I have rarely been more annoyed at the government for such ineptitude and slowness to react to an impending disaster. As the disease has spread across mainland Europe it has been clear that there is no easy way to stop it…  but we have one clear and obvious advantage – we are an island. So when, you might ask, did the government stop the import of ash trees from Europe knowing, as they did, that the disease was progressing inexorably towards us (And that we could quite easily produce enough of our own ash saplings)?…October 2012. WHAT?!?! That’s 8 months after the disease had already been found in the UK at sites that had received saplings from nurseries!!
Now we have to watch a farcical show as various committees discuss strategies on how to close the gate after the horse has bolted, had a few foals, retired to the seaside and written a postcard to the committee about the new extension to the stable and how glad they left that gate open so many years back. The government is being sued for its lame response – but that doesn’t do us small-fry much good. And most strategies now being discussed are focussed on how to replant all those woodlands that will undoubtedly be ravaged over the coming years.

 

Here at Penybanc we are keeping a close eye on our small-leaved friends and trying to form our own strategy to manage it but, needless to say, the outlook is bleak…

Seminal Moments

Autumn 2011 has had important moments for us at Penybanc and in our quest for self-sufficiency. The first was a lot of work for Jules as he built a hearth in the corner of the living room, disconnected the old oil boiler completely and plumbed in both a stove in the living room (a Stovax Stockton 8HB to be exact) and an Esse (model W35) in the kitchen as well as putting up two new flues. This means that our central heating and hot water are now completely carbon neutral, with all the fuel coming off our own land. The timing couldn’t have been better as no sooner could he utter “let there be heat” than the first chill could be felt in the air. Admittedly we still hve a lot of radiators to install, so the fairly stressful plumbing journey has not quite ended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next big moment for me was having to fulfil a promise, that I made over a year ago, that I would bake bread with flour from a local producer once the Esse was installed. Jules managed to source some flour from a water mill from mid Wales and I did my first baking! There is definitely room for improvement, but the bread was tasty and edible (if a little dense) – so I count it as success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then we had our first anniversary, on 5th November, of buying Penybanc so we had a bonfire party with some friends who had, very very kindly, helped us clean the place on our first day here (back when the place had been empty for a year, smelt very damp and was generally filthy and cold). Our mates brought some incredible fireworks and sparklers, we carved a pumpkin, made a Van Fawkes, had three dogs running round and served mulled cider and home reared pork out of the back of our Defender.  It was a good way to mark this special ocassion.

unlit bonfirepumpkin jackolanternguy fawkes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It isn’t quite a turning point, but our border collie, Dusk, has recently been showing real development in her agility and intelligence. Also, her fear of the other animals seems to be a little less exteme. She is our little shadow around the smallholding, so I thought she deserved a mention.

7 month old Border Collieborder collieborder collie catching tennis ball

The last big moment I was to tell you about happened today. Our chickens are very cute but so far they have not been productive at all. Having been hatched here on 9 May, we expected them to start laying 21 weeks later as suggested by the books. But this date came and went and then another 5 and a half weeks went by. As our hens free range, we have been searching the place but we assumed that we must just be failing to find the eggs. We had this morning decided that from tonight we would pen them into an area for a week just in case they were laying them somewhere hidden away. Then a couple of hours later one of the hens started making a massive racket, clucking like she’d just had the shock of her life and the cockerel was standing guard, joining in the cacophony. And there it was. A very small, warm, quite pointy, extremely white, EGG.

leghorns

Microgeneration and Solar Power

So… here’s our first ‘info-blog’ where we try to share some of our research and experiences with you guys in case you are considering something similar – or just because you want to regale your friends down the pub with newfound greeny knowledge.

There’s SOOOO much information out there about renewable energy in general and solar panels in particular that I obviously can’t give you more than an ‘amuse bouche’ without going on for hours. The aim, which I’ll try to keep in mind, is to consolidate the days of trawling through websites, talking to engineers and nosing through text books and give you the key points that led us to make the decisions that we have over our solar installation. I’m also going to assume that you have a desire to reduce your impact on the environment and reliance on fossil fuels… I don’t have the energy right now to be persuading the cynics.

I’ll pitch it at the novice and keep it quite general, so if you do want extra info, don’t hesitate to get in touch. And beware – I’m NO EXPERT so don’t take my word for it if you’re making any decisions… ask one!

Making the choice

That nagging itch over energy sustainability, reliance on fossil fuels, pollution and the hole the energy companies are burning in your wallet is beginning to become a little much… what are your options? Well, I’m going to break down a home’s energy requirements into 2 areas; electrical and heat. These, I believe, form the largest and most logical groups of energy consumption in the household

(In later posts we might consider light, kinetic/gravitational and chemical energy all of which play their own critical parts…).

This first instalment focuses on electricity and next time I’ll waffle on about heat.