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Bluetits team to compete in Winter Swimming World Championships

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IN a true “Eddie the Eagle” effort, 60 members of The Bluetits Chill Swimmers are travelling to Tallinn in Estonia to compete in the Winter Swimming World Championship 2024 from March 4-10.

It will be the second year running that a Bluetits team has entered the event, following their trip to last year’s championship in Slovenia, where the excellent turnout from the Bluetits meant they accounted for 16 percent of the entrants.

The Winter Swimming World Championship is a relatively new invention. Organised by the International Winter Swimming Association, the event draws people from all over the world. Everyone who takes part in the competition gets a position in the world rankings.

While The Bluetits Chill Swimmers are all amateur swimmers, the championship is the ideal challenge for them because of their focus on cold water swimming. The Bluetits Chill Swimmers is a worldwide movement that began in St Davids, Pembrokeshire in 2014 and now has over 100,000 members all over the world.

Bluetits founder Sian Richardson was among the men and women who swam in last year’s championship and will be competing this year too. Bluetits swimmers will take part in races ranging from 25 to 450m, swimming in just swimsuits in two to three degrees centigrade water.

“Two to three degrees centigrade is really cold, and the way your body reacts to the temperatures below five degrees centigrade is literally shocking,” says Sian. “When you go into 15-degree water, you feel a little chill, and then you can feel your body getting colder. But go into anything between under five and your body just goes cold instantly – there doesn’t seem to be that process where you start feeling colder, and the cold really hits your brain like a brick.”

With that in mind, she and her teammates are making use of the cold weather in the UK to get their bodies and minds used to swimming in cold water without insulation such as gloves, boots or a wetsuit.

“The biggest challenge our members have is going to be swimming in very cold water, predicted to be around 2 degrees – especially if they have to swim with their heads down,” says Sian. “I’m advising them to do away with their boots, gloves, rash vests and shortie wetsuits now; get your bodies and brains used to swimming in cold water without that armour. Many team members are also dipping three times a week in an ice bath at home.”

Besides the participating Bluetits, an estimated 30 supporters – fellow Bluetits, friends and family, are flying to Estonia to support the swimmers.

“I don’t know what the organisers will make of us – there’s a lot of us, and we’re going to make a big impression!” says Sian. “We’re really looking forward to the adrenaline on the day, and we know from last year that this competition is run beautifully. There will be the build-up as you walk to your swim spot, the thrill of hearing your name called out, and then the additional thrill of hearing 70 or 80 Bluetits screaming your name!

“It really gets your pulse racing – and then there’s the incredible feeling when you reach the other end, get out, and everyone says you were amazing. However cold it is, I guarantee it makes you wish you could do it again.”

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Pembrokeshire embraces future with new e-bike scheme

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL, under the chairmanship of Thomas Baden Tudor, has announced an exciting new initiative aimed at boosting sustainable transportation across the region. The council has introduced a “pay as you go” electric bike (E-Bike) service, now available in Haverfordwest, Fishguard, Goodwick, and Tenby as part of a 12-month trial that commenced on 8th April 2024.

The scheme, managed by Zeus Mobility, features the Zip bikes—electrically powered bicycles designed to make cycling less strenuous and more accessible to a broader demographic. Each location will start with 10 E-Bikes, with plans to increase the fleet to 50 by summer. The service will include three main charging stations and numerous satellite bays for convenient access and returns.

Priced competitively, the E-Bikes can be hired for £3.00 for the first hour, with subsequent time billed at 5p per minute. Daily and weekly rates are also available, offering users more flexibility for longer trips. The bikes are aimed at reducing reliance on motor vehicles, promoting healthier living, and contributing to national decarbonisation targets.

Councillor Tudor tested the new bikes himself, describing the experience as “brilliant fun for the whole family” and encouraging all residents and visitors to give them a try. The initiative is part of a broader effort by the council to offer eco-friendly travel options that align with environmental objectives.

To use the E-Bikes, riders need to download the Zipp Mobility app, which allows for bike unlocking, ride tracking, and payment. The app also provides information on bike locations, parking bays, and cycling routes within the county.

Funded by a £150,000 grant from the Swansea Bay and South West Wales Metro, the project focuses solely on this E-Bike trial, aiming to make Pembrokeshire a leader in sustainable travel. For further details on hiring and operating the E-Bikes, residents can visit the Cycle Pembrokeshire webpage or contact the team directly via email at [email protected].

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20mph U-turn: Some roads will return to 30mph following public outcry

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IN a recent shift in policy, Transport Secretary Ken Skates announced that some roads in Wales will revert to a 30mph speed limit following significant public opposition to the Welsh Government’s £34 million initiative to impose a default 20mph limit. This move addresses the concerns consistently raised by many citizens.

The controversial policy, initially rolled out across Wales under former First Minister Mark Drakeford and his transport minister, Lee Waters, aimed at enhancing road safety. However, it has since faced backlash, illustrated by nearly half a million signatures on a Senedd petition opposing the change.

“We’ve put our hands up to say the guidance has to be corrected,” Skates stated, acknowledging the widespread dissatisfaction with the policy’s implementation. He emphasised the need for targeted 20mph zones, particularly in sensitive areas such as near schools, hospitals, and densely populated housing estates. Yet, he admitted that certain routes should not have been included under the stricter speed limit.

Swansea Council Leader Rob Stewart welcomed the revised approach but highlighted the financial burden of changing road signage, urging the Welsh Government to assist with the expenses. Stewart praised Skates’ “pragmatic approach” and stressed that the government should not impose the financial strain on local councils, which are already facing tough budgetary decisions.

The policy has had its proponents, particularly among cycling groups and safety advocates who argue that the lower speed limits contribute to safer community spaces. Despite this, many have called for a more nuanced application of the speed limits rather than a blanket reduction.

In response to the backlash, Skates is set to present the planned adjustments in a forthcoming statement to the Senedd. The changes will allow local councils the autonomy to restore the 30mph limit where deemed appropriate, potentially affecting up to 10 roads in Swansea alone.

Leaders from other councils, including Huw Thomas of Cardiff, expressed relief over the change. Cardiff, where the majority of roads were already under a 20mph limit, saw a favourable reception of the policy. Nonetheless, the decision to empower local governments has been largely welcomed.

The Welsh Conservatives, through their transport spokesperson Natasha Asghar, have voiced strong opposition to the original policy, criticising its expansive application. Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth called for a more carefully considered implementation, supporting the principle of 20mph zones but criticising their inconsistent enforcement.

Responding to comments made by Ken Skates, Labour’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport on potential changes to the 20mph guidance, Natasha Asghar MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Transport Minister said: “The people of Wales have rightfully taken significant issue with Labour’s 20mph policy and ‘correcting guidance’ will not be enough to ease concerns.

“The Welsh Conservatives are the only the party to have consistently voted against the ridiculous 20mph policy involving 97% of previously 30mph roads and a £9 billion hit to the Welsh economy.

“The Welsh Conservatives want to see this policy scrapped and have given the Labour Government a number of opportunities to vote to do so. A more targeted approach is needed with the support of the Welsh people.”

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Miracle pup finds her forever home after heart-wrenching journey

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AERIAL, a remarkable six-legged spaniel, has captured hearts worldwide, culminating in her adoption this week. Found abandoned in a Pembrokeshire car park and famously nicknamed after Disney’s Little Mermaid due to her unique condition, Ariel’s journey from despair to joy is nothing short of miraculous.

In September 2023, the then 11-week-old puppy was discovered outside a B&M store in a neglected state. Suffering from severe physical anomalies including two extra hind limbs and an additional vulva, Ariel faced daunting challenges. A subsequent medical examination revealed a more complicated internal scenario: a missing kidney and a malformed pelvis that jeopardised her mobility.

Despite the grim prognosis, Ariel’s plight touched many, leading to a worldwide fundraising campaign that raised approximately £15,000. These funds enabled her to undergo critical surgeries at Langford Vets Small Animal Referral Hospital, Somerset, where surgeons successfully removed the surplus limbs and preserved her four functional ones.

“Both procedures went well, and remarkably, Ariel was walking and eating by the next day,” explained Mikey Lawlor, founder of Greenacres Rescue, where Ariel was rehabilitated. “It was crucial that we avoided any post-operative infections, but she’s been in the best hands,” he added, reflecting on the complexities of her care.

Ariel’s recovery was supported by numerous vet visits, specialised surgeries, and extensive physiotherapy. Her resilience and endearing character garnered media attention globally, from radio and television appearances to newspaper features, highlighting her inspirational battle for a normal life.

“We are absolutely thrilled to announce that Ariel has been officially adopted,” announced a recent post by Greenacres Rescue. “Her journey of transformation from a discarded pup to a beloved family pet has been extraordinary.”

The post also extended a heartfelt thank you to June, Ariel’s dedicated foster mother, whose relentless support was pivotal during the rehabilitation process. “June’s care and energy have been instrumental in Ariel’s recovery,” the rescue centre noted.

Surgeon Aaron Lutchman, who led Ariel’s medical team, remarked on her progress, “She’s bounced back and is a happy little dog. We hope she goes on to lead a fabulous life.”

As Ariel embarks on this new chapter with her adoptive family, her story remains a profound testament to the power of community support and the unwavering spirit of animals overcoming adversity. Greenacres Rescue encapsulates this sentiment in their message, “Ariel is symbolic of everything we stand for—love, hope, and the chance for a new beginning.”

For further updates on Ariel and other rescue stories, follow Greenacres Rescue on their social media platforms.

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