Altered carbon: the catastrophe of coal

Old black and white image of a coal miner in shorts and vest drilling a seam of black coal.
Coal mining in the UK in 1942.

In early November this year, myself and my wife went to the Welsh National Coal Museum also known as the Big Pit. It’s a great visit, looking at the working practices over the years of digging up this material that’s been locked underground since the Carboniferous period. Part of the experience is to go down into the mines, down in the lift, and look at the coal seams. The walls of glittery blackness were shimmering under the light of our head torches. We learned how coal is hard to get to, it requires a lot of ingenuity and effort to get it back to the surface; a surface that it hasn’t seen for many millions of years. Due to its importance in feeding the insatiable monster called progress, coal was a huge industry for many years; an industry we now know with certainty was a driver in changing the planet’s climate. But what is coal, and why is it so bad? (more…)

A tree from across the sea

Four men are holding a cross pole; the pole is attached to a large tree which is being lowered into a planting hole.

This month an extraordinary thing happened; a man called Joerma Biernath and his team sailed a World War 2 training boat containing a tree (and a barrel of gin, naturally) 600 miles from Hannover in Saxony to the UK. This tree now has pride of place here in the Botanic Garden, planted by the sailors themselves, North Sea salt in their hair and now Bristol soil under their fingernails.

The tree is Cornus mas or Cornelian Cherry, a rare plant in Lower Saxony; the sailors have planted it outside our Welcome Lodge where it will live as a symbol of the bond between cities. In early spring it produces small bright yellow flowers at a time when flashes of brightness are such a welcome sight after a long dark winter. (more…)

Adapts shoots and leaves: the cactus.

The spines of a tall cactus.Cacti are interesting plants and a bit strange; some look like they could hoik themselves out of the ground and lumber around with spiny arms flailing, and others like they’ve just landed, and a door will slowly hiss open unleashing a thousand tiny aliens. They used to be something we only saw in Western movies, an indication of an arid landscape, usually accompanied by a lone rider with chapped lips shielding eyes from the sun.  There’s been a resurgence in recent times, a lot of care and love is being heaped on these fascinating and unusual plants in houses around the country.  It’s about time they received the attention they deserve; they’re one of the plant world’s many success stories, settling comfortably in the harshest environments with ingenious adaptations. (more…)