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…)

Birds of the Botanic Garden

Long tailed tit taking off from a branch; its wings are open and its looking directly at the camera.
Long tailed tit.

As long as there have been gardens there have been birds in gardens; as gardeners we’re continuing the long relationship that will ever end. There may be some ups and downs, pigeons pecking seedlings or fruit bushes stripped; but on the whole gardeners and garden birds have a bond that goes deep. Here’s how I see some of the birds that visit the Botanic Garden. (more…)