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Enter the Aber Dragon!

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Y Draig Goch: breathing fire (Photo: RtP)

Y Draig Goch: breathing fire (Photo: RtP)

A DRAGON from Aberystwyth was in the forefront of the occupation of an opencast coalmine near Merthyr Tydfil last week.

Pictures of ‘y ddraig goch’ dominated days of intensive global media coverage of the action at the 11 million tonne Ffos-y-Frân mine.

The story first broke in the UK when The Herald previewed the occupation.

Inside the dragon were Mike Fincken from Aberystwyth and Ian O’Reilly from Lampeter.

On the eve of Assembly elections, they were taking part in the occupation to demand an end to coal because of the impact that burning fossil fuels has on climate change.

The occupation and a four-day camp was organised by Reclaim the Power (RtP). This network joined forces with local residents the United Valleys Action Group (UVAG) who have been opposing the mine because of its visual impact, dust and noise pollution since 2004.

Led by the dragon, more than threehundred people dressed in red boiler suits drew a line across the mine to symbolise that carbon emissions are exceeding viable limits for future life on Earth. Alternately singing, dancing and playing football, protesters nonviolently closed the mine for twelve hours. South Wales police made no arrests.

The RtP camp was an impressive feat of organisation. For four-days on a bitterly cold hill-top three-hundred people made use of marquees and geodesic domes for meetings and workshops, enjoyed food prepared by chef from Cardiff, had all the energy they needed generated by a small wind turbine and an array of photovoltaic panels, and made use of commodious and virtually odourless compost toilets.

Mike Fincken was most impressed with the food: “The only thing at this event that was better than the direct action we took was the food we ate, fresh, colourful, delicious and piping hot vegan cuisine.”

Why they did it

Ian O’Reilly told The Herald why he had been a part of the occupation: “Because I had heard of the struggles that the Ffos-y-Frân residents were facing before, but it wasn’t until I started looking at the pictures and reading about it that I realized just how big the destruction was, and how badly the people around there had been treated.

“I went to the Reclaim the Power Camp because I love the countryside, and we have to get out there and protect it – whether it’s outside the door or a couple of hours away. Otherwise big companies are going to keep on destroying it, leaving us with nothing.”

Mike Fincken told us why he was there: “To shut down the largest opencast coal mine in the UK. This was a local protest with an international audience. It was also the first action of Groundswell a series of international actions planned to increase the call for climate justice in 2016.

“Last year I was inspired by ‘Ende Gelände’ where fifteen hundred people occupied an open-cast mine in Germany. Ende Gelände had in turn been inspired by previous actions at Ffos-y-Frân.”

Best moment?

Mike Fincken recalls that his: “Best moment came when I was asked to be the head of the dragon. I was a little anxious that I would be strong enough to carry it off all day but I didn’t hesitate to accept the challenge.

“I did not expect that I would end up leading 300 people in serpentine fashion down into the deep centre of the mine!” For Ian O’Reilly: ‘All of my best moments were about people and that sense of community.

“Down in the centre of the mine, dancing with the dragon and singing with drummers and watching people play a game of football made me appreciate what we had managed to do: In halting a dangerous activity, we had also brought people together.”

Worst moment?

Ian and Mike were in agreement about their worst moment during the camp. Ian told The Herald that: “Waking up to find your tent covered with frost in May wasn’t pleasant, but I would have to say that my worst moment was seeing all the rubbish tipped out on the sides of the roads up near the common and Rhaslas Reservoir on the way to the camp.

“It was a really disheartening moment and sort of captured everything that we were there to try and turnaround.”

Mike added: “I was shocked by the mass of fly-tipped garbage at the side of the road outside of Merthyr Tydfil. Over the long weekend people from the camp made an effort to collect it.

“Office chairs, fenders, pipes, decaying bags filled with trash and a lot of rusty wire. We called the council to take it away but their truck wasn’t big enough and it had to do two runs.”

It is striking that, knowing about the climate change associated with coal and confronted by a filthy great hole in the ground covering 900 acres, Ian and Mike were most shocked by fly-tipping.

To obtain initial planning permission Ffos-y-Frân actually masqueraded as a land reclamation scheme. Merthyr common has long been a notorious site for fly-tipping. Despite a commitment from the developers of Ffos-y-Frân to clean it up, the practice continues unabated.

This in an area of potentially outstanding natural beauty on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, a renowned tourist destination. UVAG and RtP will revisit the common in June to organise a major clean-up.

What was achieved?

Mike told the Herald: “Three-hundred people took a dragon into UK’s largest opencast coal mine and shut it down. We achieved international coverage in the first wave of the Groundswell movement for 2016.

“For three days we were the top story in Wales. We brought protest home and showed that it is simple, fun and most importantly that it is carried out by ordinary people. Last year was the hottest on record.

“Climate change is talked about on an academic level, but in direct action there is the opportunity for ordinary people like myself to do something about it.”

Ian added: “I’d like to think that somehow we managed to reach the workers we saw and met. That maybe they appreciated that we were doing this for them, their families and their jobs.”

The politics of coal

With Aberthaw power station, the main market for coal from Ffos-y-Frân on its last legs, the end of opencast mining in Wales may not be so far down the line.

Plaid Cymru is committed to no new opencast, while the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party both made election pledges to produce all the nation’s electricity from renewable sources.

Labour’s commitment is less quantifiable, with a vague manifesto pledge to develop more renewable energy projects. While the Conservatives are more sceptical on climate change, UKIP seeks to cut Welsh government spending on climate change altogether.

Only the Green Party found time to actively support the Reclaim the Power Camp as part of a busy election campaign. For all their efforts, they were rewarded by gaining no seats in the Assembly.

Party leader Natalie Bennet visited the camp together with Wales leader Alice Hooker-Stroud, who said: “Fossil fuels must stay in the ground if we’re to act responsibly on climate change. We don’t need or want more opencast in Wales.

“There is huge potential for renewables in Wales, creating a clean energy economy fit for the future. Not only is the industry potentially worth billions to the Welsh economy, which could be invested by communities and local authorities in public services, but it would provide decent, sustainable jobs across Wales.”

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Health

Give someone “the best gift” this Christmas by giving blood in West Wales

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A MOTHER who needed in-the-womb blood transfusions during her pregnancy and a man who depends on regular, lifesaving blood donations are encouraging communities across Wales to give “the best gift” this Christmas by donating blood.

The Welsh Blood Service is preparing to face Winter pressures on its services and is hoping their new Christmas campaign, “the best gift” will raise awareness about the importance of donating blood and the lifesaving difference it makes.

Last December over 900 donations of blood and blood products were needed across Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire to provide care to patients at Prince Philip, Withybush, Bronglais and Glangwili hospital. 

These donations play a vital role by supporting a range of treatments from helping recovering accident victims and patients with blood cancers to supporting mothers and new-born babies during childbirth.

Blood donations were needed during both pregnancies for mother of two, Shelley Parry. After her own life was saved during her first pregnancy, Shelley received several more blood transfusions directly into her womb to keep her youngest daughter alive.

Shelley explains: “Receiving blood is truly the best gift we have ever received. We’re forever indebted as a family to those who have taken the time to donate. Without the generosity of blood donors, quite simply, we wouldn’t be parents. Thanks to their selfless act, we can look forward to Christmas together as a family.

“It only takes one hour of your time to donate, if you can, please consider donating.”

Giggs and his daughter

Also supporting the campaign is blood recipient Giggs Kanias. Since birth, Giggs has received over 1,000 blood transfusions as part of his treatment for beta thalassaemia major, a severe blood disorder. Thanks to blood donors, Giggs is looking forward to celebrating Christmas with his family.

Giggs said: “I am so thankful to the incredible people who give blood. When I’m in hospital, I stare at the bags of blood being transfused into me and always wonder, who is the person that has helped me?

“I know the difference these people have made to my life and I’m so grateful to each and every one of them. Without their generosity, I wouldn’t be here today, I wouldn’t be a dad, or have had the opportunity to see my daughter grow up. Receiving blood is truly the best gift anyone could ever receive.”

Alan Prosser, Director of the Welsh Blood Service, said: “For patients like Giggs, receiving blood will be the best gift they receive this Christmas. It truly is the best gift you can give.

“Blood products have a short shelf life and is needed by hospitals 365 days a year, including Christmas day, to help support patients in need, which is why we can’t stop collecting.”

The Welsh Blood Service provides lifesaving blood products to 20 hospitals across Wales and four Wales Air Ambulance aircraft for use in emergencies.

Alan continues: “It is critical the service prepares. We need to build up blood stocks ahead of a potentially challenging winter, where seasonal illnesses and Covid-19 may exacerbate the usual winter pressures faced by the NHS.

“We are reaching out to communities across Wales to ask them to make a lifesaving blood donation and give “the best gift” this festive season.”

Do something amazing this Christmas. Give someone the best gift. Give blood. If you are aged 17 or over, book to give blood at: www.wbs.wales/Xmas21 or call 0800 252 266 today.

Appointments are available in Pembrokeshire on 7 December and January 6 and 20 in Tenby, 16 December and 27 January in Crymych, 20 December and 17 January in Haverfordwest, 10 January in Letterston Village Hall and 21 January in Milford Haven. 

Appointments are available in Carmarthenshire on 10 December in Pontyberum, 29 December and 13 January in Carmarthen, 28 January in Kidwelly Community Hall, 23 and 24 December and 4, 12 and 25 January in Parc Y Scarlets and 31 January in Llandeilo.

Appointments are available in Ceredigion on 14 December in Newcastle Emlyn, 14 January in Aberaeron and 18 January in Lampeter.

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The west Wales family on standby to save lives at sea this Christmas

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VOLUNTEERING with the RNLI is a real family affair for the Barbers from Cardigan, with all four family members prepared to swap turkey and tinsel for turbulent seas this Christmas.  The RNLI is calling on the public to support them and the thousands of other volunteer crew on call by giving to the charity’s Christmas appeal.

For mum Amanda and daughter Madeleine, 18, it will be their very first Christmas on call. Both have followed in the footsteps of proud dad Tony who has volunteered on the crew of Cardigan RNLI for the past 12 years and son Leo, 20, who joined the RNLI following his 17th Birthday. The family will be spending their Christmas Day at nearby ‘New Life Church’, ensuring those who are in need of a meal on 25 December have food and company. However, they will have the perfect excuse to leave the washing up should they all have to leave in a hurry to respond to an emergency at sea.

Later in the afternoon, they plan to get together and enjoy a Christmas meal at home, but with a watchful eye on their pagers.

Madeleine says: ‘I realise our Christmas may not be a traditional one and to my friends it seems strange that we may all have to dash down to the station whatever time of day or night the call may come. I don’t really give it a second thought; I’m actually looking forward to being on call for the first time this Christmas and being able to help someone in need.

‘Previously when the pager goes off, dad, Leo and I have left mum at home. She’s so proud of us all but obviously is filled with apprehension as to when we may be back. We’re thrilled she’s decided to join us too and volunteer as part of the shore crew.

‘Being part of the RNLI is something Leo and I have always wanted to do as soon as we turned 17. Hearing dad talk about successful shouts has really motivated us all to want to get involved. We’re so thankful for all the support we have from the community and it is humbling to think people give so generously to enable us to do what we do.’

I would like to thank everyone in advance who gives towards our Christmas appeal this year.

‘This year, I hope people can do what they can to support the Christmas campaign and help the RNLI to save every one.’

The family run a boat trip business not too far away from the station, which means they are all ideally placed to be close by should the pagers sound. In the winter months, Madeleine works opposite the station at a local café, Crwst, who are very supportive allowing her to leave and attend shouts whilst at work.

Amanda says: ‘With the rest of the family on the crew, I know how vital, challenging, yet rewarding volunteering with the RNLI is. After many years of watching Tony run from the house at a moment’s notice and in the years that followed Leo, then Madeleine; I no longer had a reason not to join them. Now, rather than waiting and wondering what the outcome of a shout is, I can be on hand at the station supporting them and the rest of the team together, serving the mission of saving lives at sea. This Christmas if the pagers go off at least I won’t be left home alone holding the turkey!’

Over the past decade, RNLI lifeboats have launched over 1,200 times during the festive period. But these rescues would not be possible without donations from the RNLI’s generous supporters, helping to fund the essential kit, training and equipment needed by lifeboat crews all year round.

With thousands of volunteers around the UK and Ireland, each RNLI crew member signs up to save every one from drowning – it has been the charity’s mission since 1824.

Matt Crofts, RNLI Lifesaving Manager for Wales says: ‘With the increase in staycations and more people than ever heading to the coast, it has been an exceptionally busy year for our crews.

‘Even at Christmas, our lifesavers are ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice and rush to the aid of someone in trouble on the water. At this time of year, the weather’s at its worst and lives are on the line.

‘We know that every time our crews go out they hope for a good outcome, but sadly this sometimes isn’t the case. We hope that this year’s Christmas appeal will show people just how tough it can be, but also that with their help we can get so much closer to our goal of saving every one.’

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Health

Council makes available wellbeing and mental health support for social care providers

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The programme will run until March 2022

IN RECOGNITION of the important work of the social care sector and impact of the Covid pandemic on social care providers and their staff, Ceredigion County Council has made available a programme of wellbeing and mental health support sessions.

The programme consists of Wellbeing and Mental health Awareness, Mental Health First Aid (Adults and Youth) and also offers facilitated support sessions.

The programme of events will run from December through to March 2022.

Any social care provider, carer or personal assistant can request more information or book a place on these sessions by emailing Dysgu@ceredigion.gov.uk

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