By Jessie Shier.
A systemic review using a systems map of the decision process which led to granting nature reserve status to Bedford Park, situated at Cefn Cribwr, Bridgend, South Wales, United Kingdom, in order to prevent surface mining of the habitat which is home to a protected species.
This material was created as an academic project for a Master’s programme. Here it is adapted for the site. It is copyrighted, Jessie Shier©️, all rights reserved.
A nature park is situated on the slopes of a mountainous village in Cefn Cribwr, South Wales, called Bedford Park. Adjacent to it is a coal mine that has been surface mining for many years in the region. The mine, owned by Celtic Energy since 1994, had planned to mine the land that is Bedford Park and had sought permission from the local authority several times, (Adamson, 2007). The situation was in a state of uncertainty for 27 years, with the local authority refusing permission and the colliery appealing. During the early 2000s, an agreement was made to allow surface mining next to Bedford Park for an indefinite period of time, with the intention to include Bedford Park land when the mining reached that boundary, (Moon, 2015). The local authority subsequently decided to cease maintaining the park and began to remove the playground equipment as it rotted away.
In April 2021, a proposal was put forward within the local authority, to grant nature reserve status to Bedford Park, effectively ending the situation for Celtic Energy. The rural village of Cefn Cribwr sits on a ridge, with a population of approximately 1500, (Brinkhoff, n.d.). The colliery is situated at the bottom of the ridge. The map, Figure 1, (Neary, 2021), shows previously mined land. The line where the green area begins is the boundary of Bedford Park.
Figure 1: Map showing Bedford Park’s boundary and previously mined land.
This system of interest encompasses environmental decision-making regarding land-use, the granting of nature reserve status and mining for fossil fuels. There is a specific decision that had to be made in order to end a long period of uncertainty and bring a final end to the colliery’s encroachment on the area. The local authority were the main decision makers. They were required to make decisions each time Celtic Energy applied for mining permission. Eventually, they had to create a decision situation using a nature reserve proposal in order to protect the vulnerable park. Environmental ethics are involved in fossil fuel mining in a populated area and the proposed removal of a public amenity which has ancient woodlands. Furthermore, the protected Pipistrelle bat has been found to roost there, (BCBC, 2021a). This discovery was important for the local authority to be able to propose nature reserve status for the park. There was also the hazard and risk of landslides. This is a known risk that occurred in a nearby town in 2020, (ITV News, 2020). This risk is demonstrated for Cefn Cribwr in Figure 2.
Figure 2: System Dynamic Diagram
My interest in the situation is from both an ethical viewpoint of intrinsically valuing a natural space, respecting local people’s right to be informed and have the opportunity for participatory decision making, and in my stakeholding as both a park user and relative of local residents, whose homes would have been impacted by the landslide risk demonstrated in Figure 2.
The aim of the local authority’s decision to grant nature reserve status was to protect the park from mining. My interest in reviewing this situation is to investigate the way that this process was handled and why there was a long, drawn-out period of uncertainty and power imbalance.
The stakeholders in this situation have starkly different perspectives. Celtic Energy demonstrate that it is vital to them to extract the coal in Bedford Park, by making statements such as “[coal makes up] 14% of UK energy demand” and “…in the UK, we have been saved from power cuts by[…]coal”, (Browne, 2020a). However, according to Ambrose of The Guardian, 2021, “coal power plants made up just 2% of the [UK’s] electricity mix [in 2020]”, and “…renewable energy made up 42% of the UK’s electricity [in 2020]”. Similarly, The Office for National Statistics, 2016, states “The UK is consuming less energy than it did in 1998 and more of the energy we are consuming is coming from renewable sources”. This contrasts with Celtic Energy’s statement that “we must not put barriers in the way of coal simply because people do not like it as a fuel”, (Browne, 2020a). Celtic Energy’s uncompromising attitude and insistence on extracting the coal in Wales demonstrate that their perspective is to extract the coal at any cost. They are presenting themselves as in the role of solving an ’emerging energy gap’ by claiming that the gap “can only be met by coal and gas”, (Browne, 2020a). They are also attempting to present themselves as environmental restorers, claiming that their previously mined sites are now the recipients of numerous environmental awards, (Browne, 2020b). While that may be so, the previously destroyed sites, which may have been ancient, and any species which were dependent on them, cannot be replaced.
Conversely, the perspective of the resident Pipistrelle bat, pictured in Figure 3, (YPTE, n.d.), is one of total dependence on the ecosystem in which it is resident and faces possible extinction in the area if the ecosystem is damaged or removed. All bat species are protected by law in the UK: it is against the law to “damage or destroy a breeding or resting place”, which involves “cutting down or removing branches from a mature tree”, (Gov, 2015). In order for Bedford Park to be surface mined for its coal, the Pipistrelle bat’s habitat would need to be destroyed. As a declining species, the perspective of this stakeholder is of survival. Zooming out, the bat’s role in this environmental situation could be seen as that of saviour of the park. The stakes are high for the Pipistrelle bat, and the law is on their side. From their perspective, their position eliminates other stakeholder’s concerns because it is forbidden to interfere with them or their habitat. Their declining numbers and this subsequent legal protection negate Celtic Energy’s perspective, who are focused on extracting coal from a park that is only 45 acres in size, which is 0.07 square miles. Even if this small contribution of coal is important, that doesn’t mean that it can’t change, especially given that within the region surrounding Cefn Cribwr are several large wind farms. The UK already receives 42% of its energy from renewable sources (Ambrose, 2021). Understanding this background to the country’s energy potential, Celtic Energy’s position is minimised in the context of the decision’s potential disastrous effects on another stakeholder.
The local population of Cefn Cribwr, where Bedford Park is situated, have been entirely left out of the decision, therefore they don’t have a perspective because they are unaware of the whole situation. During my primary research, I spoke to several residents of Cefn Cribwr, dog walkers and users of Bedford Park. During all of my conversations, I discovered that none of the people had any knowledge of the environmental decision-making situation, of Celtic Energy’s plans, or of the protected wildlife that lives there. They have an important stake because their village will be dramatically affected if mining on the slopes causes a landslide, which is a risk in a mountainous area that receives high rainfall, demonstrated in Figure 2. For those people who use the park, their stake is also in a public amenity and valued natural space which they use for sports and leisure. Mining which has already taken place up to the park’s boundary has caused concerns over pollution in the immediate area. There are flood risks from the mine’s wastewater ponds, (Moon, 2015), polluted waterways inside Bedford Park, constant noise pollution and air pollution from the mining and coal dust. The local population are direct users and neighbours of Bedford Park. Whether or not they are aware of it, their environment would be significantly affected by mining in the park.
The systems map, Figure 3, was formed in order to assist me to identify the stakeholders and the issues in the system of interest that is Bedford Park. The outer boundary represents the boundary of the overall system and all blobs on the outside of the main boundary are issues which occur in the system’s environment. They are influencing factors on the system to a greater or lesser extent. The UK government and Welsh government form two blobs in the system’s environment, and this is because the power dynamic and somewhat tense relationship between the two governments has been shown to be an influencing factor on the local authority’s decision to cease maintaining Bedford Park, because they felt powerless. There are several renewable energy farms in the region that have the capacity to fill the gap from not using the small amount of coal available at Cefn Cribwr. Elsewhere in the environment are included elements that interact, creating an environment that could put pressure on the system of interest. Inside the system are three subsystems: one of these represents the main stakeholders that have been identified, one represents the main issues that have been identified as having current or possible impacts on the stakeholders, and the smallest blob represents the decision maker, the local authority, named Bridgend County Borough Council. The development of this diagram helped in forming coherent ideas about who may be impacted and how. This was important to be able to think further about how the decision process was handled by the decision maker, whether they seemed to be aware of who the stakeholders were, and whether they took any action about that. It has been observed that if they were aware that the local population were stakeholders, they did not act on that. However, when they became aware that the Pipistrelle bat was a stakeholder, they put forward the proposal which would give Bedford Park protection as a nature reserve.
Figure 3: Systems Map
Figure 4 is a backcasting diagram, asking “what do we want Bedford Park, Cefn Cribwr to look like in the future?”. It was created as a cognitive map, to think about the future steps that could improve Bedford Park in the long-term. The backcasting diagram demonstrates that for the people of the local area, the steps taken could form an important step out of the deprivation that is present in the region, and help them begin to take back control over their land. It has been shown that local management of land benefits climate and conservation in the long-term, (Vitale, 2022). For the Pipistrelle bat, the steps set up a community around it which enhances and supports its legal protection. It also involves the local people with the bat, by suggesting that children of the local schools are educated about the species which is resident in their area, and are taken on trips to view the park’s special habitats. Bringing two powerful stakeholders together can exponentially increase their empowerment and sense of morale.
Figure 4: Backcasting Diagram
In evaluating Celtic Energy’s position, and engaging with the need for fuel going forward and the fact that there is coal in the ground in Wales, it is useful to bring in some environmental decision making tools to assist in the difficult evaluation and modelling of Celtic Energy’s position.
Celtic Energy seem to be functioning in a purposive manner. Similar to a control model diagram, (OU, 2015), they believe that they see a need for coal and they believe that they can provide that coal with their expertise and equipment, and have the driven intention to fulfil that need in a purposive and single-minded fashion. They are using extremely rational decision making and thinking systematically. Their statements on their ‘planning and assessments’ web page, (Browne, 2020c) are evidence that they have been applying systematic modelling and evaluation to their own thinking and actions, by perhaps using tools such as cost-benefit analysis, to evaluate the contribution that their actions can make to the energy gap that they believe they perceive. If it would emerge that negotiating techniques, or interest-based bargaining techniques, would not be successful in helping them to lift their perspective to see the system at Bedford Park more systemically, even to view the entire situation more purposefully in considering other energy sources for the long-term future, rather than continuing with past approaches, then I think it would be very useful to introduce participatory approaches such as the Delphi technique, (OU, 2015), to engage the public in the area of Cefn Cribwr. This is a step that would inform all residents of the area about Celtic Energy’s proposal, the numerical facts about energy use in the area, garnered from various reliable sources, the presence of the protected species and the local authority’s proposal to create a new nature reserve. This engagement technique was applied in the nearby town of Pencoed, regarding the proposed closure of the town’s level-crossing, (BCBC, 2021). All residents of Pencoed were sent letters informing them of the proposals regarding the level-crossing, and inviting everyone to visit a website to provide their preferred choice and opinion. After several months of this data collection, a decision was reached by the town council and a proposal for planning permission submitted to the local authority, of which the outcome is pending.
An approach such as this is markedly lacking in Cefn Cribwr regarding Bedford Park and its perils from Celtic Energy, but this type of approach could flip a switch in the local population from ignorance and apathy, to concerted action.
The decision to leave the local people out of the decision is significant because it denies the opportunity for concerted action over an important environmental resource and extremely important current energy decisions, in an area that has renewable energy farms in abundance, arguably more abundance than the coal that is present in the floor of Wales. As I review this situation using the T891 framework, (OU, 2021), I become aware of the decision to exclude the local population as part of the contexts exploration, which then left them out of the subsequent developments of the decision situation.
The local authority’s decision in the early 2000s to cease maintaining the park is an example of them acting alone. They described their reasoning to me during a phone conversation with them at the time. I had called to enquire about why the playground equipment was being removed when it rotted and not replaced, and the council worker (name unknown) explained to me as follows: “the colliery is continually making applications and appealing our refusals for surface mining Bedford Park. The situation is unending. So we have taken the decision to cease maintaining the park, since we don’t know if it’s going to be destroyed.” This decision had profound effects on the morale of the park users. Everyone who entered the park could see that it was being neglected. This also attracted crime to the park, such as motorcross biking and pellet gun shooting (which are banned in the park), as well as drug use, as those who would commit crime could see that they wouldn’t be observed there. This had the effect of keeping other potential visitors away and in effect, gave more power to Celtic Energy than they actually had in reality. The unequal power dynamics between the local authority/ Welsh government and UK government were feeding into that decision from the flux, and was possibly the foundation of the local authority’s attitude of powerlessness, which was being fed by an historical perception of oppression, (Adamson, 2007).
However, if the local authority had evaluated more deeply and widely the relationships between the stakeholders and themselves, and if they had done a stakeholder analysis, then they may have been able to realise the real power dynamic, which is not as unbalanced as it at first appears, as the local population were un-utilised, and there was another stakeholder – the Pipistrelle bat – that had the power to allow nature reserve status to be granted and minimise the insisted urgency of Celtic Energy’s claims.
In the end, the local authority did undertake scientific analyses of Bedford Park’s flora and fauna, whereby it was found that the Pipistrelle bat was resident there, and this was the praxis that provided the impetus for them to propose nature reserve status, thereby halting Celtic Energy’s progress for the time being. Celtic Energy and the local authority may have benefited greatly, and still may, by engagement with the T891 framework, in order to move forward in a more secure agreement which protects vulnerable nature, while putting apparent problems into context, thereby bringing in alternative solutions, such as renewable energy farms.
This is an article created by Jessie Shier from material that was part of a project for academic purposes. ©️, all rights reserved.
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