Diary: Renewable Energy Community Schemes (RECS) with flood prevention + other benefits

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This is turning out to be an AMAZING project with, it seems, an unending stream of twists and turns and unexpected (beneficial) outcomes – so, we thought it a grand idea to write a diary as a record of the enthusiasm, cooperation and support we have received, and the pure joy that this project brings. It’s also an unending stream of hard work that will see me into my box – but then, that’s what it’s supposed to be – a project for the community, and for the future.

January 2016: The headline in The Monmouthshire Beacon of 6 January read “Flooding hits road network”. All of the flooding was caused, not by the rivers, but by surface water run-off, + at the end of the very long article readers were advised that the MCC Flood Risk Management Plan was up for consultation. We read this – much invaluable information but the solutions were entirely about moving water on, creating barriers to protect properties and improving warning systems – nothing about preventing flooding from happening. Much had been written over the years about ‘slowing the flow’ but this, it transpired was non-statutory and hence outside the remit of MCC – much as they would like it done.

April 2016: Our conversations with Dave Harris, author of the Flood Risk Management Plan, continued and in April we had our first meeting (which was open to members of the public). Roger Hoggins, MCC Head of Operations, attended as well as representatives of Transition Monmouth, Monmouth Partnership Forum, Monmouth Town Council, Ross Town Council and others. We decided there was considerable scope to alleviate flooding by natural means of tree planting, land + water course management, + with much scope for community involvement.

The Beacon published an article about our project as a result of which several members of the public contacted us with bright ideas + offers of help.

May 2016: A small group – Dave Harris (MCC), Haydn Cullen-Jones (Renew Wales + Transition Monmouth), Peter Brundret (Monmouth Partnership Forum) + Vivien Mitchell (Transition Monmouth) started work on the development of a funding bid to the Vale of Usk RDP. It was suggested that we should make it into a renewable energy project with flood prevention + other benefits. In the meantime we started following up leads from the public on suitable places for planting. We surveyed Overmonnow (the Carbonne area in particular) with Georgie Meadows, + Vauxhall Fields with Bob Handley representing Friends of Vauxhall Fields.

June 2016: The Stage 1 funding application to the Vale of Usk RDP was successful and we started to apply our minds to Stage 2 of the application. In the meantime several sub-projects sprouted, in particular:-

Community Orchards in Overmonnow: A Stage 1 funding application to the People’s Health Trust for planting about 80 fruit trees, and installing benches, picnic tables and notice boards was successful. MCC is keen for the project (all on MCC land) to go ahead combined with a reduced mowing regime to allow wild flowers to flourish. This, in turn, highlighted the total lack of facilities in the Carbonne area and we are working with GAVO to rectify this situation, in particular to erect a community building for residents to meet. We made contact with the Carbonne Community Group + started going to their meetings – a massive eye-opener. This is an area of multiple social deprivation (Welsh Index) that has been much ignored + neglected but the Group is amazingly resilient + positive + wanting to alter the perception of the area as being ‘the pits’.

Vauxhall Fields: A plan for woodland planting, as agreed with Bob Handley representing Friends of Vauxhall Fields, was submitted to MCC + agreed. Further consultation, in particular with Charles Boase, will take place over the summer months.

Planting of evergreen shrubs along the A40 as it passes through Monmouth: This has been agreed in principle with MCC.

Skenfrith Food Growing Cooperative: 15 local residents, with support from 35 others, wish to start this on four possible tracts of land to include an area of soft fruit planting, a large vegetable growing area, children’s sensory garden, a community orchard with chickens and beehives, and an area three miles from the village for growing vegetables such as potatoes that require much space but relatively little attention. A new community group is being formed to undertake this and we are working with them to find funding, sort land ownership issues and the like.

In the meantime, members were encouraged to look out for suitable tracts of land for planting, especially if it might also act as a flood prevention measure, and also to please dig up any saplings they find in their gardens; we would nurture these until they are of a size whereby they can be planted out.

July 2016: Our time was spent mainly on developing our two funding bids + also one to the Police Fund for the Carbonne area.

August 2016: We held meetings with Nick Critchley (AONB), Chris Rees (NRW) + Andy Karran (Gwent Wildlife Trust). All were enthusiastic in supporting + participating in our project. We continued with our work in developing the Carbonne, Vauxhall Fields + Skenfrith projects.

September 2016: We finally submitted our funding application to the RDP; at Mark Lloyd’s suggestion we settled on the title RECS: Renewable Energy Community Schemes with Flood Prevention + Other Benefits. Bob Handley applied for a pack of 420 Wildlife Selection (hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, oak, rowan, silver birch) from the Woodland Trust for planting on Vauxhall Fields. We applied for a similar pack for planting at Monmouth Cemetery.

Overmonnow Orchard: Together with the Carbonne Community Group we held a consultation on St Dial’s Wood Green to ascertain public opinion. Monmouth Town Council gave us £50 for leaflets of which 1,500 were delivered door-to-door, + 10 flyers were posted in nearby shops. It quickly became clear that (what was probably a small but vociferous minority) trees were definitely not wanted. Disappointed, we re-grouped + decided on a notice board, three picnic tables + wildflower areas. Our funding bids to the People’s Health Trust + the Police Fund failed, but Carl Touhig (MCC) offered us money for the desired items together with extra for refreshments (for working parties) + other items.

October 2016: We visited the Babington Centre in Trellech to start discussions with the Trustees for planting a community orchard. Monmouth Rotary offered 3,500 crocus bulbs for the Carbonne area + we had a grand planting party at half-term together with Pip Jenkins + children from Attik, + with much appreciated refreshments. This was another eye-opener, especially as regards the children from Attik. We gave them full size garden forks with which to make holes + plant one bulb per hole. They were delighted to be allowed such freedom + behaved impeccably. We also started planting the wildflower areas with marjoram, primroses, snowdrops + violets. After further meetings with Nigel Leaworthy (MCC) it became clear that there was less scope for planting at Monmouth Cemetery than originally thought but obtained agreement for woodland + wildflower planting on a large site on Lancaster Way + specimen trees at Berryfield Park.

November 2016: We received confirmation that our funding bid to the RDP was successful but we also received our packs of trees from the Woodland Trust so the priority was to get these planted. On Vauxhall Fields Bob Handley, Nick Frost + others organised two planting parties, one with pupils from Osbaston Primary School, a second with members of the public. In total 400 trees were planted very promptly + an impressive performance was put in by Roger Hoggins who brought his family along + he himself worked a solid three hours. At Lancaster Way we had a lovely planting party with Osbaston School, Nicola Millard + Nick Frost; 40 trees were planted by 14 very young pupils who seemed very keen to ‘adopt’ the area + have further involvement. We had a meeting with Coleg Gwent who offered a group of Baccalaureate students to take charge of the planting at Monmouth Cemetery to include site clearance, designing a planting plan, planting the trees + undertaking maintenance for three or four years to keep brambles + other undesirable undergrowth at bay while the trees became established; thank you, Chris Knight!

December 2016: We had an initial meeting with teachers at Monmouth Comprehensive to discuss geography A-level students’ involvement as part of their Welsh Baccalaureate, + had one pupil for two days of ‘work experience’. Christmas seemed to take up much of the month but we started planting a hedge on Wonastow Industrial Estate East which we hope will eventually run the whole length of the road + be backed by specimen silver birch to enhance existing.

January 2017: Having struggled with where/how to plant 900 trees we were tempted into ordering more! – a hedge selection of hawthorn, hazel, holly, dog rose + dogwood to infill the hedge we started along Wonastow Road, + a wild harvest selection of hazel, blackthorn, crab apple, dog rose + elder for Lancaster Way; these, along with walnut trees donated by Transition Chepstow, we thought would be a good accompaniment to the community orchard we expect to start next month. The Monmouth Cemetery site has progressed with 14 Baccalaureate students from Coleg Gwent assessing the site – another uplifting experience with an enthusiastic (+ grateful!) group. Site clearance + planting of 52 trees (hazel, silver birch, cherry, rowan, alder, ash, walnut + oak) has cheerfully been completed.

We attended the ‘Carousel’ at Monmouth Comprehensive to sell our project to Year 12 students + await the outcome. In the meantime there has been a flurry of bright ideas + offers of help; Sara Warshawski in Abergavenny has offered trees from her garden, Roger Steer (aged 89) has offered to dig – but only three hours at a time!, Sue Parkinson is progressing with plans for us to plant trees/hedging at the new Rockfield Road car park, Roger Ward has suggested a suitable planting site at Wallis Close in Osbaston, Friends of Chippenham Mead want to talk about planting to protect the field from the noise, air pollution + unsightliness of the A40, let alone to act as a flood prevention measure, + Interserve (the contractors building the new Comprehensive School) have offered their muscle to help with our community projects – bramble clearing at Monmouth Cemetery springs to mind – no point in wasting all that brawn on litter picking!

February 2017: We are concentrating on refining our brief for the consultants by way of ascertaining what information + expertise we have in-house by way of mapping, local + other knowledge. For example, we won’t ask them for advice on tree species + will provide a load of information on projects already undertaken. Our principle partners – NRW, AONB + Gwent Wildlife Trust – are all very enthusiastic + we are holding meetings with all three before presenting a draft brief to our wider audience.

In the meantime we are getting on with a plan for Wallis Close (permission in principle from MCC obtained), clearance + planting on Chippenham Mead (permission granted + planting plan agreed within 48 hours!), planting at Singleton Court on the Wonastow Estate, with more to plant at Lancaster Way + Wonastow Industrial Estate East. Because the winter has been so cold we will be able to continue planting through March. We have the new Community Champions Group of Monmouth Rotary helping now, as well as Ioan + Callum from Monmouth Comprehensive who are doing this as part of their Advanced Baccalaureate studies. And, after a cold + wet morning of digging in a field near Chepstow, we have 20 walnut trees courtesy of Transition Chepstow.

March 2017: We are now officially part of the Long Forest hedgerows project + Gareth Ellis from Green Valleys CIC is on board with his specialist micro hydroelectric experience. We had a final meeting with our principal partners regarding the draft brief which, with input on procedure from Mark Lloyd (RDP), is just about ready to go out for a final consultation before bids are invited.

We got more trees from the Woodland Trust + did a load of planting. The hedge at Wonastow Industrial Estate now includes dog rose + dog wood. We made a start on Chippenham Mead to provide a screen against the beastly A40; the area is prone to vandalism so we planted prickly stuff – holly + dog rose. If this survives we will start on an evergreen screen in the autumn. And Lancaster Way now has about 200 trees including a small orchard with almonds, apples + some very beautiful Harry Baker crab apples.

The Carbonne Community Group is our proudest achievement – no trees planted but a vibrant group established with a constitution + bank account, the confidence that they can make a difference to their area + with links to MCC, Youth Service, MHA + St Thomas Church Hall. They now have a noticeboard + three picnic tables, + were thrilled when the crocuses + wildflowers they planted in the autumn actually flowered. More wildflower planting is planned + parties + infrastructure. We are grateful to Carl Touhig for making this financially possible.

April 2017: With Roger Steer (Friends of Chippenham Mead) + the new Community Champions Group we started planting on Chippenham Mead with the aim ultimately of producing an evergreen barrier between the Mead and the beastly A40 with its fumes + noise. We started near the children’s playground – an area prone to vandalism which indeed occurred, so we retaliated by planting only prickly stuff – holly + dog rose. More, much more planned for next year – ideally all the way from the Gibraltar tunnels to Dixton Roundabout – but we need to negotiate that with the powers that be.

The planting season will recommence in October/November depending on the weather. It has been a very dry spring so we have put wildflower sowing/planting on hold pro tem.

May/June 2017: The brief finally went on the Sell2Wales web site – quotes required by 30 June. 22 companies expressed an interest + six submitted bids. We were not just delighted with the quality, we were flattered that such prominent players took our idea so seriously. More news next month on the selected consultant. In the meantime we are looking for appropriate spaces for planting more trees over the winter months. The wildflower area at Lancaster Way has exceeded all expectations:-