Construction 2004-2005 – a photographic record

Rape of an upland plateau

Introduction (Skip Introduction)

Throughout 2004, as the infrastructure of the wind power station was put in place, Cefn Croes was subjected to a relentless campaign of damage and destruction.

Prior to this, and during the development period, hundreds of thousands of trees – many of them premature crops – had been felled. From February 2004, up to 25 huge excavators, earthmovers, “peckers”, rock-grinders, and other heavy plant machinery were on site, as new access roads were made, existing forestry tracks widened, gradients levelled, drainage channels dug, huge foundations excavated, peat bogs ripped up, and new “borrow pits” (quarries) opened up to gain roadstone and aggregate. The base sections of the turbine towers were set in steel-reinforced concrete, ready for the turbine towers – imported from General Electric’s factory in Northern Germany. The thousands of tons of concrete were made on-site in a plant which was not part of the original planning application.

Numerous planning conditions were violated:

  • Water abstraction from the river Wye, in advance of planning permission
  • Working on site outside permitted hours
  • Unpermitted use of forest roads by construction HGVs
  • Variations in width and route of the access roads
  • Increase in size of foundation bases and “landing pads” (for giant cranes)
  • Disruption of watercourses
  • Ripping up rare habitat – upland peat bogs and mire
  • Tree-felling during the bird breeding season

And then there was the “collateral damage”:

  1. From construction of new access roads. Because of the climb from the A44 to the plateau, the 1.7km of new road has three hairpin bends, and because of the size of the low-loaders (42m long, 5m wide), those bends are enormously wide, resulting in heavy and irreparable landscape scarring, made all the more obvious by wide swathes of clear-felling, and by opportunistic quarrying from the adjacent hillside.
  2. From widening of pre-existing forest roads. First there was clear-felling, then banks were ripped up and drainage ditches dug, then roadstone was dumped and levelled. Familiar tracks quickly became unrecognisable, and landmarks were lost.
  3. Habitat loss. Not just little mossy banks with heather, lichens, mosses and saplings, but moorland habitat and grassland.
  4. Peat disturbance and destruction. Peat is one of the world’s rarest habitats. One foot depth of it takes one thousand years to develop; peat sequesters within it many millions of tons of CO2, which is released as it is cut and dumped to dry out. Adjacent to turbine 37 is a 2m bank of peat; no amount of restoration can reverse damage on this scale.
  5. Hydrology disturbance. Streams blocked, polluted and diverted. The run-off from workings drained into previously pristine streams and rivers.
  6. Wildlife disturbance. Especially to birds, due to noise and pollution close to nesting sites during the breeding season.
  7. Peripheral damage.
    Off-site, due to:
    Vehicle emissions, pollution, noise, dust and vibration from thousands of HGV movements, bringing in aggregates, site cabins, cranes, and cement; and from enormous low-loaders bringing the turbine components themselves, with police escorts and queues of slow traffic;
    Physical damage from passing heavy traffic, to buildings, bridges and drains, road surfaces;
    Economic damage through disruption of commercial and tourist traffic, and the communities through which they passed.
  8. From the grid connection.
    Large sub-station compound on-site
    Underground trenches for cables between turbines
    Pylons and overhead cables
    Expansion of pre-existing sub-station
    New power lines (14km) to take electricity to grid

Who is to blame?

All the “stakeholders” who acquiesced in (decided not to object to) the proposals, and those who positively supported the plans:

  • The Forestry Commission (now active partners in the enterprise, and major financial beneficiaries)
  • The Countryside Council for Wales
  • The Environment Agency
  • The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
  • Archaeological bodies
  • ADAS Pwllpeiran – which continued to pick up publicly-funded grants for landscape enhancement schemes encompassing the Cefn Croes plateau
  • The National Assembly for Wales – whose politicians in South Wales have succumbed to intense lobbying from the wind industry (i.e. the British Wind Energy Association), Plaid Cymru (whose ex-chairman Dafydd Huws is a developer and owner of wind farms) and Friends of the Earth Cymru (who have the cheek to call themselves “green”).
  • The developers: RDC, West Coast Energy, General Electric Energy, Falck Renewables – for their lies and “miscalculations” in the Environmental Impact Assessment.

Who monitored what went on, and DID ANYBODY CARE?

The Forestry Commission certainly didn’t: delays “adversely affected their cashflow” – as landowners they got nothing until the electricity started flowing.

The Countryside Council for Wales toed the National Assembly for Wales line. They were embarrassed by Cefn Croes but did not monitor what was done.

RSPB says it didn’t have enough money to watch events unfold.

ADAS is upset about depradations to the land it leases – a bit late now!

Yet this is industrialisation of Ceredigion on a massive scale ….

Who takes responsibility for the environmental damage?

Shifting responsibility is the name of the game. No-one wanted to know, even though it isn’t possible to mitigate the damage done. So where are the accountable politicians, councillors, complacent civil servants and quango bosses?

2000

Cefn Croes from Pen-y-garn, 2000

Cefn Croes from Pen-y-garn, with Plynlimon on the left skyline. It is July, and the peace is broken only by the skylarks, and a light breeze blowing through the grass. But storm-clouds are gathering…

2004

Click any image to enlarge

Now that the Forestry Commission has diversified into windfarm facilitation, it can start getting rid of all those tiresome trees…

Next a little sensitive upgrading of the forest roads up onto the plateau, and then get stuck into the moorland

All that roadstone has to come from somewhere, but we don’t want to buy it from local quarries. Instead we’ll open up a few quarries on the plateau, and call them something else (“borrow” pits?)

Peat? Well, it may have taken thousands of years to form, but you can’t let history stand in the way of progress…

Make way for the overhead power-lines

We said we’d be sourcing our concrete locally, but we didn’t actually mean buying it locally, just making it very locally

You can trust us to make sure the hydrology and watercourses aren’t damaged

Scars on the landscape? Well, you can’t make an omelette without breaking one or two dispensable eggs

Turbine foundations

Summertime, and the driving ain’t easy…

One-eyed alien monsters

Meanwhile, 14km of power line is being draped across the foothills of Pumlumon

A race with the winter

Gentle footprint? Or Vandalism?

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