Sunday 14 July 2024

Leigh Day Legal Action

 Adverts have been appearing on Facebook for a while now publicising the legal action that Leigh Day, the law firm, want to take against the chicken farms causing pollution on the River Wye.

They were also at Hay Festival talking to people about it, and I had a good chat with them there.

On Friday evening they held a meeting in the Globe in Hay, one of a series of local meetings they'd been holding all week across Herefordshire.

Doors opened at 5pm, but the speakers didn't start until 6.30pm, so I had a good chat with Françoise and Carolyn, and some very nice cake that had been laid on for the meeting.

Leigh Day is a firm that specialises in environmental legal cases, and they have been doing this since the 1980s.  They believe that the law is a tool that can be used for positive social change.

One of their big cases was against Shell in the Niger Delta, where they helped the local community to bring an action against Shell for pollution, and took them back to court when they failed to clean up the local water supply when the judgement had been that they should do that.  Another case they worked on was against a Zambian copper mine, but in this case the copper mine cleaned up their act as soon as liability was proved against them.

In recent years they've shifted their focus to the UK, and in particular the water companies, and the consistant failure by the regulators and government to hold them to account for the sewage and pollution in our rivers.  A recent court success was that planning applications now have to include a climate impact assessment.

The way it works is that the firm organises a group litigation, on a no win - no fee basis.  If the case is won, then Leigh Day take a proportion of the damages to cover their costs.  If they lose, they will have taken out insurance which will cover the cost - and the fact that the insurance company is willing to take out a policy means that they think the case has a good chance of success.  Each person who signs up to be a part of the case is represented individually, but all the cases are heard together.  When damages are awarded, this is a deterrent to the companies - if they have to make a big pay out because of their actions, they should be less likely to do it again.  

In this case Cargill, one of the companies involved, have been shown to have done the same thing on the Oklahoma River in the USA that they are now doing on the River Wye, so there is a body of evidence already in existance to support the River Wye claim.  Cargill is an equal shareholder in Avara in the UK.  Someone said that the Cargill family are the richest people in the world, which isn't quite true, but they're certainly up there with the top billionaires.  So they can afford to clean up after themselves.

The representatives of Leigh Day invited a couple of local speakers.  One was Oliver Bullough, who talked about the plan he's been involved with to gain bathing status for the Warren.  Testing the water has now started, and the Welsh government has to publish the findings.  The Friends of the River Wye (including the Friends of the River Lugg) are considering the possibilities of extending bathing status to Glasbury and Rhayader, too.

The other speaker is the owner of Black Mountain View caravan park, near Lower House Farm close to Hay.  Which used to be a nice place to stay until the chicken shed was erected.  Now they have to deal with the smell of the chicken manure and flies, and the fans in the chicken sheds making a noise constantly.  They are also worried about the streams that feed into the River Wye, where there are white clawed crayfish and newts, which are supposed to be protected species.

They have fishing rights along a stretch of the River Wye, and this used to be quite busy, but now only a handful of fishermen come, and they say they never catch anything, and there's been at least one case of a dog getting sick after it had been in the river.  

The speaker (Dave? I think) had all the facts and figures about the failures of the planning process with Powys County Council over a number of years.

 Later in the evening, a member of the audience spoke as well.  He turned out to be the Labour candidate who stood against Jesse Norman in the general election - he's also a teacher.  He ran the length of the river to raise awareness of the pollution, and was surprised to find how many people have no idea that there is a problem.

In the Question and Answer session, they explained who could join the claim.  It's people like the owner of Black Mountain View caravan park, of course, and any other businesses that have suffered damage because of the pollution, but also anyone who uses the river for recreation - or who used to go swimming or kayaking or fishing, but no longer do.  

Even before the claim has been brought, the Avara management has been talking about their management of manure from the chicken sheds, presumably in an effort to appear to be doing the right thing.

Someone asked about why the focus was on chicken farms, and they explained that the population of Herefordshire has remained fairly constant over the last few years, and the amount of agricultural run-off has likewise been fairly constant - so what's changed to pollute the river?  And the answer is an explosion of chicken farms, which have been given planning permission without any thought as to the cumulative effect of so many of them.  They also need to make clear that it isn't the farmers they are taking action against - it's the big companies that the farmers are working for.

Civil law does not require the same amount of proof as scientific proof (the citizen scientists were mentioned for the good work they are doing in testing the water regularly and building up a body of evidence on the phosphate levels).  In court they only need to prove something on the balance of probability, so that it is likely that chicken farms are the main culprit without having to trace the pollution back directly to their door.  And even if Avara say they are complying with all the regulations, the problem still exists, and it is something that they should have to do something about.

A judgement against Avara would include damages for past loss, but also injunctions to prevent future loss - so they would have to work to clean up the mess they have made, and make sure that they don't cause a mess in future.

One recent development that may be helpful is that people can now sue the water companies for discharging sewage into the rivers, which only happened about two weeks ago.

The meeting ended with a short film called Fish Boy, by Rivers that Dance, about a theatrical presentation for schools about a boy who is friends with a fish, and when the fish disappears, he goes on a journey to find out why, and finds out all about the pollution of the river.

So Leigh Day needs as many people as possible to come forward to be part of the claim.  The leaflet I picked up only has a QR code to contact them, which I can't reproduce here, but I found their website at:

Saturday 13 July 2024

Inside the Cabinet of Curiosities

 I went along to Henallt House quite early, but Françoise told me later that they had been busy all evening, up until 10pm (I was chatting to her before the talk about the legal action to save the River Wye, which I will talk about in a later post).

The exhibits in the house are beautifully laid out.  There seems at first to be only a small display - but they all go into such detail!  I was very impressed with the display of cords made from different plants - Cordage by Sarah Putt - with all sorts of plants from banana to wheat.

Each room is dedicated to a different author or other famous person.  So The Pencil of Nature, with the cordage and the botanical illustrations, is dedicated to Henry Fox Talbot the early photographer, and across the hall is Richard Booth's Kingdom of Books, with a lovely Beatrix Potter display in one corner - she is being recognised as a serious illustrator of nature now, rather than just a writer of children's books.

Upstairs two of the rooms are dedicated to Tristan Gooley (How to Read Water) and Robert Macfarlane (Underland) - two recent books that are best sellers.  In the Brent Elliot/Flora room I learned that there are 30 plants with 'Angel' in their name, and in the Claire Wilcox/Patchwork room I learned that French linen used to be sent to Haiti to be bleached, to give it a fashionable blue-white tint.

Upstairs again is a room dedicated to the night sky, named for Jun'ichiro Tanazaki, and one dedicated to the French author Colette.  Jun'ichiro Tanazaki was a Japanese novelist who wrote an essay called In Praise of Shadows, and at the end of Colette's life a publisher called Mermod, from Lausanne, sent bouquets to her regularly, which she wrote about in Pour un herbier, a book of twenty two short essays.

There's also an exhibit of the Earth drowning in plastic.  There are small notices all around the exhibition giving extra information, and many of these are reproduced in the copy of the Cabbage Leaf that was being handed out to visitors as they came into the house.  The notice for this exhibit had the title "5.25 trillion pieces", which is the estimated number of pieces of plastic in the ocean right now.

Signs in the Patchwork room talked about the impact of the fashion industry on the natural world, from the amount of water needed to produce one pair of jeans (3,780 litres) to carbon emissions (8 - 10% of all carbon emissions and rising) and micro plastics (2.2 million tonnes of microfibres from clothes entering the oceans every year).

In the How to Read Water room, along with the display of pottery and clay pipes found by mudlarks on the River Thames, there was information about the 500 poultry farms in Shropshire, Herefordshire and Powys, and their impact on the River Wye, polluted rivers across the UK, and ice caps melting at a rate of 420 billion tonnes per year, leading to rising sea levels.

The little display of butterflies on the landing (dedicated to Charles Darwin) noted that the numbers of Monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico has fallen by 59% because of pesticide use and climate change, while in the UK the numbers of common butterfly species on farmland has fallen by 58% due to modern agricultural practices.

Also scattered about the house are a series of wooden puppets, each with a different costume created by Maizie Hardy.  There's a Welsh woman in a costume made from scraps of Welsh blankets, a Georgian dress covered in wild flowers called Lady of the Meadows, and The Queen of the Night in black velvet and silver sparkles.  The puppet in the Gardening alcove has a smocked top (that area is dedicated to Frances Hodgson Burnett and her book The Secret Garden).  There's also a Welsh miner, and a swimmer and a reader, and others.

All this, and I haven't even mentioned the kitchen, or the beautiful back garden, or the Rachel Carson area under the stairs - and there is far more!

Françoise and Pierre have plans for the house - I really hope they manage to achieve them!

Friday 12 July 2024

Boozy Weekend

 Two alcohol-related events are on this weekend.

The big one is Beer on the Wye at the Rowing Club in Hereford.  It starts this afternoon (Friday) at 2pm and runs until Sunday afternoon.  On offer are 135 real ales, 130 ciders and a variety of world beers.  Food is available on site, and there is live music on Saturday and Sunday - Sunday is also the family friendly day.

It was thought that last year would be the last Beer on the Wye, because Hereford Rowing Club were planning changes to the field where the marquee is pitched, but the Rowing Club and the local CAMRA group got together and worked out a solution so that Beer on the Wye can continue - with the marquee moved at 90 degrees to its previous position.  The organisers think that this might actually be an improvement, and it means the beer festival is safe for years to come.

More locally, Artistraw Cider are having a Midsummer celebration on Saturday 13th July, at their orchard on Priory Lane in Clifford.  The event runs from 3pm to 11pm, and as well as the cider, Lucky 7 beer and Black Mountains Vineyard wine will be available, and gin and tonic from Hay Distillery, plus a variety of non-alcoholic options.  The Origin Pizza van will be there as well.  Parking is limited, so car sharing is encouraged - or even walking!  The Wye Valley Walk runs close to the orchard.

Thursday 11 July 2024

Music Everywhere!

 Hay Music is going for percussion tomorrow night with the Ensemble Bash Quartet in Hay Castle at 7.30pm.  Tickets are £17.50 or £8.75 for under 25s.  Their programme includes traditional drumming from Senegal.

The following day, at the Globe, there will be an interactive Samba drumming session starting at 11am.  It's for adults, but can include any age from 12 upwards.

Meanwhile at St. Mary's Church, Hay Madrigals and the Ystradivarius Ensemble are having a concert at 3.30pm on Saturday 13th.  Tickets are £10 on the door, with tea, coffee, wine and cakes afterwards.

Wednesday 10 July 2024

Guest Author at Gay-on-Wye

AJ West will be in conversation with local bookseller Dale from Clocktower Books tomorrow evening at about 6.30pm, talking about his new book The Betrayal of Thomas True.  It's a historical thriller set around the molly houses of Georgian London, and it's getting rave reviews.

Tickets are £5, and they've already had to move the venue from the Gay-on-Wye shop to the larger space of Hay Distillery round the corner.  

AJ West also wrote The Spirit Engineer (and I think this is my push to try a new author, because both books look fascinating).

I'll be at the Cabinet of Curiosities, and I think I can only cope with one event per night, though some people are planning to do both.  There's just so much good stuff happening around Hay at the moment that it's hard to keep up!

Tuesday 9 July 2024

Roadshow for the River Wye

 The law firm Leigh Day are staging talks around Herefordshire all this week.  They have plans to bring a law suit to clean up the pollution in the River Wye, and they want to know what local people think about it, and how the state of the river affects them and their businesses.

The roadshow will be visiting the Globe in Hay on Friday 12th July.  Doors open at 5pm, and the talk itself gets going at 6.30pm.

Yesterday they were in Dingestow Village Hall.

This evening they're at the Left Bank Village in Hereford.

Tomorrow evening they're at Goodrich Village Hall

On Thursday, starting from 5.30pm, they're at Grange Court, Leominster, and on Friday they're here in Hay.

Finally, on Sunday, they'll be at Penybont and District Community Centre from 12 noon to 4pm.

Monday 8 July 2024

Cabinet of Curiosities

 Henallt House on Oxford Road will be open on the evening of Thursday 11th July, from 5pm to 10pm.

The exhibits throughout the house are all related to nature and botany - the latest issue of the Cabbage Leaf has more details of what is in each room.  Some rooms are dedicated to books or authors, such as My Kingdom of Books and Richard Booth in one of the ground floor rooms, Oliver Sacks, Frances Hodgeson Burnett's Secret Garden, Arnold Wesker in the kitchen, Rachel Carson, Ronald Macfarlane, Tristan Gooley and more.

Building work will be starting soon to renovate the house, and the hope is to set up a space dedicated to botanical illustration, with a specialised library, and possibly offering residencies to young scientists, botanical illustrators or apprentices involved in the natural world.