I went for a walk today.
That is not quite as strange as it may seem. I have been known to do considerable exercise, albeit when a little shorter in the tooth. (Is that an expression they use in the US?) And my father was a fitness freak who walked thirteen miles for charity at the age of 95. I must hasten to add that his demise the same year was totally unrelated.
At the back of where we live are a series of lakes and cascades, built on the site of three former coal mines. A little over twenty years ago with masses of money from Europe, the eyesores were all taken away, around a hundred thousand native trees were planted and the river was raised and lakes created. Previously it had been covered by spoil tips. Now it is a Mecca for tourists. The lakes are used by canoeing clubs, model boat clubs, fishermen, and a variety of wild life. Perhaps the only blot on the landscape is the need to regularly rake out a foreign weed. Some incontinent Canadian goose apparently deposited the seeds a few years back and we are stuck with it. At one end of this special park is the largest natural filtration system in Europe - reed beds that clean the water coming up from old mine workings before it is put back in the river, along with an international climbing center, and then at the other end near us a roaring cascade through a series of descending small pools.
The walk was to show us what had been done in the last year. The cascade is designed in steps so that salmon and other fish can scale it and reach the lakes. I would have thought they would need to be particularly energetic fish, but apparently they can jump in these stages without trouble. A sea trout has been found in the lakes, which must have made an adventurous journey, twenty five miles inland and up some steep gradients. And they have recently created a walkway under the main road at the bottom where the cascade thunders through to the main river, for the benefit of otters whose encounters with traffic were somewhat prejudicial.
But now they have put in a hydro-electric plant, which is hidden away. And that is what we were taken to see. Water is taken from the river through a very fine mesh, designed to prevent even very small bits of debris going through. It is taken from the top of the cascade, and as it responds to gravity, is compressed into smaller pipes and powers a generator before going back into the river at the bottom of the cascade. Although it cost about half a million GBP to build, the electricity sold back to the national electric grid raises one hundred thousand GBP per year. On that reckoning the whole thing will be paid for in five years, and then it is all profit. And the profits don’t go to the local council - who might waste it on “expenses” at the other end of the borough, they all go back to the park for maintenance, extra wardens and the like.
I have to say I was impressed. Both with the design of something that is completely hidden from view, and the plans for the wild life, as the park and lakes get increasingly more colonized.
Another local initiative for generating electricity is food waste. We sometimes grumble when we have to put out four different bins for recycling each week, plus an extra one for non-recycled rubbish. Some local authorities will give you just one bin to fill and then hire people to sort it out. But with the massive unemployment in our area since the industry went down the tubes, the local council is always strapped for cash. So it is Do-It-Yourself time. But the food caddy goes out each week, with biodegradable bags full of dead teabags, peelings, and the results of me putting too much on my plate to begin with. It all gets taken to a farm nearby, where I know the people quite well.
They have what is called an anaerobic digester - which sounds painful - but this produces methane. Rather than being a pollutant this is then used to generate electricity. When they first started they immediately produced enough electricity to run the total needs of several thousand homes, and that figure has obviously risen. The farm makes good money, dead food doesn’t go into landfill and since (hey-ho for all these regulations) it can’t be recycled as animal feed, everyone gains. Now if only they could harness the methane given off by flatulent cattle someone would make a fortune.
I guess it wouldn’t work if we all lived in cities, but these different initiatives do contribute. And you know, when I tap my waistline and decide not to eat that last potato, and scrape the remains of my dinner into the caddy, I feel rather virtuous. You see, I’m helping to save the planet.
Well, sort of...