Harnessing the Severn

Posted on 21/09/2009 by


This is the story of a remarkable river – a river I have come to respect more and more as I made this program.

The Severn is the UK’s longest, and most dramatic river. It has the second largest tidal range in the world. Twice a day, the tide drives a massive body of water up the funnel shaped river estuary, creating a strange and beautiful wave.

The Severn Bore.

It is, quite literally, the stuff of myths and legends.

It could also be harnessed to produce 5% of the UKs entire electricity supply.

I wanted to find the answer to a simple question – should the river Severn be harnessed for it’s renewable energy?

I’ll let you decide. Listen to the radio piece, broadcast in America – and watch the video. Let me know what you think. You can even vote at the bottom of the article.

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Making the Programs

Harnessing the Severn was always intended as a multi-platform project. The idea was to make both a TV program and a radio program at the same time.

What’s more, I would be working as a one man band – sound recordist, camera man, editor, researcher and reporter. No mean feat.

I have many years of radio experience, so I felt confident that I could produce a great radio piece, and I managed to secure a commission from an American environmental show called Living on Earth. But what about the video work? I had less than 3 months experience as a camera operator. And how would the demands of the filming affect the sound gathering?

My greatest fear was that, by trying to do too much, the quality of both pieces would be impaired.

In practice, the mediums proved complementary. The radio interviews produced some of the best interview – you can get so much closer with the mic, and just focus on the interviewee, without having to worry about focus, exposure, composition and sound. It’s a much more intimate medium. All of the surfer’s words came from the radio interview – I just layered them over the action.

But the filming brought the river to life for me. The spectacle of the bore, the light on the water, the desolate beauty of Brean Down.

In the end, the radio piece is the more professional – but I almost feel I got closer to the truth of the story in the conclusion to the TV piece.

“In the end, the story of the barrage is a paradox. We are trying to change… to change the  way we make our energy. To protect the environment. But that change will have costs. It may harm the environment in other ways.

Perhaps the debate over the Severn will help us find new solutions, new technologies, that can harness the river without taming it – without swallowing the mudflats, or ending the bore.”