Books and Binoculars

STRAIGHT FORWARD pen and ink drawings appeal to me at the moment as I try to settle back into creative work after our home improvements and the practice I’ve been putting in to find my way around the new computer.

This time I’m testing an old bottle of Nan-King Indian Ink and it’s still free-flowing – perhaps a bit too free flowing as I spill a drop of it from an overloaded nib.

I like drawing with no end use in mind, well apart from scanning it for this online drawing journal, because I can be freer with technique; it doesn’t matter if things turn out looking a bit odd because it’s not a commission and it’s not needed for a book. A bit of hatching here, a bit of stippling there. If one side of the binoculars doesn’t work out quiet right I can experiment with the other side.

A flexible arm magnifier on the top shelf, a microscope on the bottom and the binoculars in between suggest my interest, obsession almost, for looking at the world in close up and at a distance and that’s confirmed by the books on this end of the shelf, on botany, birds and landforms.

See How They Grow

As I’ve been reorganising my shelves, I’ve been tempted to read some old natural history books recently. Books that I bought as a student 40 years ago, which I still hadn’t got around to reading. I’ve caught up on Rachel Carson’s Between the Tides and I’m currently on See How They Grow, an illustrated popular introduction to plants published in 1952 and based on a series of time lapse films on plant growth shown in cinemas. Television was only then becoming established in Britain, given a boost by the live broadcast of the coronation the previous year.

I hadn’t realised how far back natural history filmmaking went. One of the three authors of See How They Grow was F. Percy Smith.  He ‘started film work with Charles Urban in 1908 and in 1925 was engaged in making Secrets of Life and Secrets of Nature films. He always worked alone or with one assistant, using relic cameras and home-made apparatus, and published over 200 subjects varying from popular nature films to specialised technical ones. He died as a result of bombing towards the end of World War II but still has an international reputation as a master of cine-micrography.’

Link: Percy Smith, British Film Institute

Goosander and Grebe

IT’S GOOD to return and re-walk the same route at this time of year as there are changes daily in plant and bird life. The glossy leaves of Bluebell are coming up in the woods around Newmillerdam and on the lake, frozen over only a month ago, there are three Goosanders, a male and two ‘red-heads’ (either females or juveniles).

Also putting in its first appearance (for us on our infrequent visits anyway) is a Great-crested Grebe. We’ve seen the Little Grebe or Dabchick but not its Great-crested relative. By the size of its crests and cheek feathers, I’m sure this is a male. It’s unusual not to see them together as a pair at this time of year. Perhaps she’s already on a nest on a quiet corner of the lakeside.


IT’S GOING to take a long time to sort out the drawers in my new plan chest if I stop to draw everything! But drawing in dip pen gives me a chance to assess which bottles of Indian Ink are worth saving. The Rohrer’s, the ink that I used for the left side of the drawing, is starting to coagulate. It’s quarter full and years old, so that’s got to go but the Calli ‘non-clgging, pigmented waterproof calligraphy ink’ is still okay. It feels more like liquid ink should and I like the spidery quality of the lines is produces.

This cutlery box was left over when we built the extension and went for a fitted kitchen many years ago but it’s just as useful for art materials.

Chemistry Stencil

The perspex stencil, in the middle section, offers a lazy way to draw flasks, tripods, Bunsen burners, Liebig condensers and alembics. It’s something my brother used at school in the 1960s, manufactured by Sterling in the USA.

How Green is my Valley?

A HEAVY DEW and a touch of frost, the rising sun appearing through mist over the wood. It might not officially be the first day of spring but today it feels like it.

There’s a meeting tomorrow about two 130 metre tall wind turbines which are going to be erected (so it seems) in the centre of Coxley Valley, overlooking Stoneycliffe Wood nature reserve. I have mixed feelings. Yes, renewables should be used wherever possible but no, not at any cost.

Sitlington Parish Council appears to be promoting to scheme and I guess that the potential income that might be generated for the community must be a great temptation to them but to me Sitlington’s greatest asset isn’t its village hall or children’s playground or even the library (currently closed and in need of repair) – the kind of things that the revenue could be used for – it’s definitely the bluebells woods, stream and fields of Coxley Valley; I couldn’t begin to put a value on it: a patch of countryside which is right on our doorsteps but where you can get a real sense of freedom and turning your back on the everyday world. You can immerse yourself briefly in the natural world.

I don’t think we’d entertain any other light industry dominating the valley, however ‘green’ it was and however many jobs it created.

Concrete Proposals

I feel there's an element of 'greenwash' in the design of this leaflet promoting the scheme. The scheme isn't without its environmental costs.

It’s something of a miracle that the valley has survived unscathed when it lies circled by the four communities that make up the parish. And that’s why the concrete towers have to go there in the middle; they’ve got to be sited a certain distance away from houses so that is the only place available for ‘wind farm’ development.

The consultant/developer’s leaflet inviting us to the meeting has all the buzzwords – environment, communities, renewables etc – but only one mention of the word ‘wind’, and that is in brackets, sandwiched between the words ‘hydro, solar . . .  and biomass’.

I’d have had more respect for them if they had illustrated the likely outcome of the twin turbines. The leaflet depicts the sun shining though beech leaves, a feel-good diagram shows the benefits for all, there’s a tree made of hands and a delicate skeleton leaf. All suggestive, evoking the touchy-feely helping hand to the community spirit that multi-nationals and banks like to project – but with no specifics such as a diagram to give an impression of the scale of the enterprise. Or a pie chart of the proportions in which the profits are shared. I guess that’s all available but this is a coyly one-sided publication.

What the leaflet might have looked like if they were being honest about the likely outcome.

Even at this ‘interim findings’ stage of ‘a parish-wide study’, I think they should have been less disingenuous about the way things are going.

We’re not likely to go for a hydro plant by flooding the valley. If it was decided that we should grow biomass instead of food crops on local farms, would we really need a partner to step in to ‘share the profits’ with the community? Would the money being spent on this consultation be better invested in fitting solar panels on the village hall? Would geothermal schemes have less impact on the landscape?

It seems likely that the wind farm would be the preferred option.

After my experiences during the Coxley Meadow public enquiries I know better than to get involved in local politics these days!

Ridge or Valley

I’ve been discussing this with Stephen, who lives outside the area but remembers the valley from his schooldays:

“Shame about the wind turbines. I know we can’t just hark back to the halcyon days of our youth but I have vivid memories of Coxley carpeted from top to bottom in bluebells, grass on which you could play and picnic, and water burbling down the stream.”

It’s still pretty much like that but I think what really unsettles me about this proposal is that the only place in the parish where you can find yourself a quarter of a mile from all habitation, surrounded by farmland with a panorama of woodland, is the place they’ve chosen.

I sometimes draw the pylon that dominates the ridge beyond the wood at our end of the valley – I’m not against large man-made structures – but our end is surrounded by roads and houses. The spot they’re putting these is the furthest that you can get away from a road. If the concrete towers could be grouped next to an existing structure such as the water tower and communications mast on the ridge at the top end of the valley or here at this urbanised lower end I might feel different (leaving aside problems of bird-strike and discussions of their efficiency which I’m not qualified to comment on), but that’s not an option because of the proximity of houses.

In My Backyard?

A friend who as a boy used to tickle the trout in Coxley Beck writes:

As a fan of wind turbines I believe you should think your comments through again. Outside your window do you not have power pylons?

Would you rather have a couple of wind turbines in your local area or a nuclear power station, or how about Ferrybridge power station?

Yes, we’ve got to look for alternative sources of energy and I was trying to make the point, obviously not very clearly, that I’d much prefer that the wind turbines were sited outside my window at this utilitarian end of the valley amongst the power lines, derelict railway viaduct and housing estates than in the quiet rural centre of the valley overlooking Stoneycliffe Wood nature reserve.

We used to have Dewsbury power station a few miles up the valley and I drew there on occasion. It might not have been very green but it was rather magnificent. But it fitted in amongst the canals, railways and grim Victorian mills. They didn’t build it overlooking a bluebell wood in a valley that has been considered a ‘beauty spot’ since mid-Victorian times.

In my opinion, and it’s only an opinion, Coxley Valley has a rather intimate quality and I think that wind farms are better sited in a larger scale landscape – but I know a lot of people would disagree.

Links: The Community Campaign against the Coxley Wind Turbines