Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Talk is Cheap

We are now two years on from the Copenhagen Climate Talks of 2009. I remember joining thousands of other people in London to march in The Wave just before the talks to try and raise awareness of the key issues and urgency of the problems climate change brings to us.  Unfortunately, the talks in Copenhagen didn't seem to achieve very much at all as we watched global leaders bicker and argue over even the smallest of agreements.

Now leaders are meeting in Durban for the next round of global discussions on climate change. According to the United Nations website;
The discussions will seek to advance, in a balanced fashion, the implementation of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, as well as the Bali Action Plan, agreed at COP 13 in 2007, and the Cancun Agreements, reached at COP 16 last December.

 At Copenhagen the emphasis was on a top-down solution to climate problems. The plan was for global institutions to work across borders and with national commitments holding countries and states to account. But, ignoring the fact that no deal could be agreed and the money couldn't be raised, many believe this plan just wouldn't work due to political leakage, bureaucracy and corruption.

With this in mind many believe it might have been a success in disguise  for the talks two years ago to have failed, as we are not committed to the "wrong" solution and are free to choose the "right" one now. To be perfectly honest I would be quite happy just to see some sign that politicians and leaders are taking the problems of climate change seriously enough to actually want to find a solution now, rather than ignoring the problem and pushing it on to the next guys.

With the top-down approach seemingly impossible to achieve a new suggestion has arisen. While not as neat as top-down, the idea of a solution driven on national, regional and local levels by citizens interests in jobs, income and security might be the way forward. This process could also be enhanced with the support of international cooperation and investment by industry. The key element would be to drive change by addressing the fears and issues within current society, by using the environmental changes we desperately need to fix the other problems we have such as unemployment, lack of skills and energy security. This method is already working in India, South Africa and Morocco as renewable energy industries are growing thanks to industry and government investments, thus creating jobs, job security and energy security for the individuals in those communities.

I don't have the answers, and I don't even have enough information to start thinking about what the answers might be, but it's important to think about the questions and problems our society faces so that we can tell our leaders who do have the information required what we need them to do on our behalf. Let's hope that talking turns to actions and actions so solutions in the very near future, or the slightly more distant future make look even darker than now.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Tree Week

This week is National Tree Week, the UK's largest celebration of trees and the start of the winter planting season. Between 26th November and the 4th December groups around the country will be holding events that promote local treescapes and educate people about the wonders of trees.

Started in 1975 this week long celebration of our largest plants is organised by the Tree Council, the UK's leading charity for trees which was set up to promote tree planting around the country.

Trees are a vital part of our natural world. They take in carbon dioxide, give out oxygen and provide food, shelter and resources for building. So why not join one of the thousands of events around the country and plant a tree this week? Many member organisations, up to 200 schools and 8,000 Tree Wardens are supporting the initiative with fun, worthwhile activities for everyone. Their aim is to involve a quarter of a million people in the week and to plant upwards of a million trees.

All the events can be found on the events map here, and you can look at previous events here.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Shower Power

I've always been told that a 4 minute shower uses half the water you'd use for a bath. So having a shower is better for the environment than having a bath. Well, maybe...

Unilever have recently carried out a study investigating how much time people spend in the shower and how they use other Unilever products. This found that the average shower lasts 8 minutes, so the average shower uses almost the same amount of water as having the average bath. The numbers get worse if you have a power shower, as this uses much more water per minute, so an 8 minute power shower will use more water than a bath.

HildeHendrickx, from Unilever explained that
 quite a large proportion of our (products') environmental impact occurred when people used them

and, in particular for shower and bath products,
we know that 95% of the associated greenhouse gas emissions are related to people [using] our products because they have to use hot water.

So, if you carefully  use every last drop of shampoo and then recycle the plastic bottle this isn't doing as much green good as if you cut your shower by a few minutes. I was really surprised at the 95% figure, I would probably have guessed maybe 50% of a bottle of shampoo's carbon footprint was from using hot water with it, so it shows how important good research is.

Today from my alarm going off to being back in my room having had a shower it took me 8 minutes, so I think my shower was probably 5 minutes long. I know I take much shorter showers than a lot of my friends so if we all cut a minute or two off our showers hopefully we'll have a greener world.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Three Months On

It's been almost three months since I moved to Preston. My walk along to canal today was a lot colder and darker than when I started back in September. I haven't managed a walk every week since I've been here but looking at the photo's I've taken you can see how the banks have changed as we move into winter. It'll be interesting to see how things change over the next few months too.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Don't Just Turn Me On And Leave Me...

...was the catchy sticker placed above every light switch at my last workplace.

Other than making me smile every time I walked past, these cheeky stickers made a very good point. With the nights creeping forwards and the days getting shorter a warm glow in the house makes all the difference at the moment but the temptation to rush around the house turning ever single light on should be avoided at all costs.

A habit I have grown up with is walking around the house in the dark at night times. I don't mean sleep walking, but if I'm just popping upstairs to get something I won't bother turning the kitchen and stairs lights on because I know where I'm going and I don't need to. I perfected this art in our family home being able to negotiate from the warm bright living-room into the darkness and through the hall, up the stairs round the corner and along another passageway to get to my room, and then back again. Occasionally if there were two people doing this there were minor collisions and surprises but very rarely. It's even more tempting in Preston because the lights to the stairs and kitchen are both on the far side of the kitchen wall. I can only turn them on or off when I enter the room, not when I go upstairs, so I normally don't bother. If I did, I'd be tempted to forget and leave them on for ages.

My reasons behind walking in the dark were 1) I couldn't be bothered to turn the light on,
                                                                       2) It was quite fun seeing if I could,
                                                                       3) It saved electricity.

I'm not suggesting we should all perfect our night vision but turning lights off when no-one's in the room is a definite must. It just makes sense. Turning lights on only when they're really needed, and turning them straight off when they're not saves energy, electricity and thus precious money.

And don't be fooled by those who tell you it takes more energy to turn a light off and on again than to leave it on. If you're out of the room for more than a few minutes- turn it off!  If you're in the room for less than a few minutes think about what the stickers at my work say, maybe you don't need to turn them on at all?

Friday, 25 November 2011

Old Fashioned Recycling

I always think of recycling as a modern thing. The idea that everything should return to the factory to be reinvented into something new, like pencil cases made from tyres or fleeces made from drinking cups, does seem quite 21st century to me. But after a conversation with someone at work today I was reminded that's completely wrong.

Many people remember collecting used bottles and taking them back to the shops to be reused, and getting a penny or a discount on the new drinks bottles they bought. During rationing absolutely everything was used in households, twice or thrice if possible! Scraps of food were saved up to make leftover meals, old clothes were used to patch less old ones and nothing went in the bin.

Since rationing finished society has embraced the consumer and one-use culture we now find ourselves in. It's second nature to put things in the bin, not even thinking where it goes or whether it could have been used again. Tin cans, glass bottles, one use clothing, left over food, it all goes straight into the rubbish bin and off to the land-fill site.  If we all had to store our rubbish ourselves in our own gardens I bet we'd all buy less, bin less and take more notice of the packaging on things.

The price of objects aides our throw away culture too. A price of £5 for a top makes it easy to throw away after one use, but does that price include repairing the damaged environment that the production of the top created? The carbon emissions to fly and drive it to the shop, the water and chemicals poured into rivers once it's been dyed and a fair wage for the people who actually made it. If companies began to pay the full cost of their produce, and (as I'm sure they would) passed the cost onto the consumers we'd buy items that latest, that could be used again and that we'd cherish. I'd much rather have a few items that I really value than hundreds that clutter my cupboards and life just because they're cheap and easy.

It's something that we can all work towards. It might not be a big thing, but reusing and recycling in our own homes will mean we're buying less and using less of the worlds all too scare resources. And we can always get better at it. I can make sure I don't throw paper receipts in the bin but shred and recycle them, every bit of leftover food can be reused and any real waste can be composted. What could you do to make your life a bit more valuable and a little less disposable?

we need to start seeing the whole value and price of everything

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Lots of Sprouts

It's Thursday and that means Veg Box Day! This is a picture of our box this week. LOTS of sprouts and there was a bag of potatoes and apples too. This should last us at least two weeks, probably three.

The parsnip season has definitely started with a big bag of these lovely sweet vegetables. I'm looking forward to roasting them and using them in spicy soups for yummy dinners. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A Good Cuppa

Do you often walk past a shop or cafe always meaning to go in and have a look but never quite managing it? I do, or at least I did until today. Today I walked into, rather than past, Beautiful Planet on Friairgate in Preston.

It's a little community cafe selling environmentally friendly drinks, snacks and wholefoods. The outside is decorated with murals of trees and plants and the inside contains leaflets on ever aspect of ethical living you can think of. 50p will get you a take away tea and for £1.60 I'm happily sitting at one of their free-to-customers computers drinking a fairtrade, organic Indian Chai Tea and a piece of "lovely cake"-fruit cake.

The cafe is run completely by volunteers and must make £165 a week to break even. The staff are extremely friendly and I even got a nice Maths chat with Bret who was serving me as we discovered we both share an undergradaute maths history. Places like this really inspire me. A tiny corner of a street filled with consumer driven goods and fast food places which offer a quiet spot to sit, drink a warm cuppa and either be quietly peaceful for a few minutes or have a chat about politics, the environment or the local community.

I think Beautiful Planet might have a new regular now I've finally made it through the door and while I doubt I have enough time for yet another volunteering commitment I'd love to get more involved.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Dark Nights

The nights are definitely drawing in now. It's dark by 5pm and the weather's taking a turn towards freezing this week, it won't be long before frosts are the norm every morning.

At dusk our house becomes a flurry of activity. The curtains which have been opened to let as much light in as possible during the day are quickly shut to keep as much heat in as possible. There's a fine line between being daylight and darkness and it seems to change suddenly. Big thick curtains are great at keeping heat in but I can never understand why radiators are often situated directly under windows. It just makes it harder to keep the heat in! So, as well as drawing the curtains around the house I am found carefully tucking the curtains behind the radiators so that any heat they give off will go into the room and not out into the night.

It's not just curtain tucking that stops heat getting out. Our porch door is really draughty and the stream of cold air coming in is a sure sign that warm air is escaping out. So next weekend a pair of old jeans will be given a new life as a draught excluder, stuffed with more old, worn out clothes. Pushed against the bottom of the door this should keep the living room nice and toasty for those long winter nights.

Another tip for keeping the house warm that we used whilst at university was to have everyone in one room for the evening. This way you only need to heat one room and if you have enough bodies, and laptops, together it's amazing how much heat they can give off. You might not even need the heating on!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Climate change

There have been two news stories I've heard in the last week about climate change.

The first was that the intergovernmental panel on climate change released a report saying that more severe weather such as floods, storms and heat waves are expected over the next few decades as a result of climate change.

The second was that European bird's migration seasons and locations are beginning to change due to climate change. Some birds are moving further north, so we will see more of them, and some are moving so far north that they will pass by our shores without stopping. The time migrating birds spend in their winter stopovers is changing too. Eventually these species will have no further north to go.

These two stories indicate some of the ways our world is already changing as a result of previous generations actions. The result of our emissions will not be felt for year to come but they will be felt. We must act now to reverse and limit our negative impact on the world, and leave it better not worse for future generations.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Green World

This week I got my first copy of the Green Party magazine, Green World. It had lots of news articles about recent Party activities as well as articles on issues that concern Green Party members.

There was a series of articles which discussed how different religions see the link between the environment and their faith. It was very interesting and seemed to reiterate points made in the Saving Species programme on the new Green Pilgrimage Network I talked about earlier this week.

Almost all religions see humans as the guardians of Earth, or at the very least in partnership with other species and with a  responsibility to protect nature. Whether we're religious or not I think more focus on personal responsibilities for caring and protecting nature can only do good.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Crafty Evenings

I've spent the last week watching old episodes of Kirsty Allsop's Christmas craft programmes on 4od. Some of them aren't very practical or cheap but there are still lots of great ideas to help you avoid the plastic decorations that are all over the shops at the moment.

Today I made a trip to HobbyCraft and returning with felt, ribbons and thread spent the afternoon creating my own decorations. It's definitely not as quick as buying them from the shops but it's more fun and cheaper too- it only cost 90p for the felt and a few pounds for the threads and ribbons to create 8 individual, unique decorations. I've still got lots to make but I can't think of a more fun way to spend the last cosy Autumn nights. 

Friday, 18 November 2011

My Beans Dilemma

Baked beans are an incredibly versatile food stuff. Pop them in stews or pasta sauces, have them with your full English, on toast or a baked potato; they're great however you eat them. They are low fat, vegetarian and one of your five a day portions of fruit and veg, definitely a super-food.

Their simplicity is one reason why they're so useful at lunch times. Take in a few slices of bread and you can easily have beans on toast for lunch and feel all warmed inside and healthy too. It's not a huge hassle, but taking them out the tin, finding a microwavable  container, cooking them and then washing up all seems more effort than taking sandwiches. Then there's the problem of size, one tin is a little too big for a lunchtime and the smaller tins at 150g are just not quite enough. So the new 200g snack pots are great because you have the right amount of beans for lunch and you can pop the plastic containers straight into the microwave and then bin them straight after.

It's so easy. Just open, cook, then bin the packaging. But that's "bin the packaging" not recycle the packaging. One of my favourite things about baked beans is that (apart from the plastic wrapping around 4 packs) they come in completely recyclable packaging. I've never met anyone who wouldn't automatically recycle tins, it's ingrained in our lifestyles. But the new plastic containers are much harder to recycle. I definitely can't here in Preston, I might have been able to recycle the main pot at university in Durham but not the plastic film lid. So the question is, do I sacrifice sustainable packaging for convenience of cooking?

I don't have an answer to that. I love the convenience of the new pots, but hate the waste that the new product brings over the old version. It seems backwards to move from a sustainable packaging to non-sustainable. Maybe I am being a little naive about what people do with their tins at work, I might be in the minority to carefully wash mine and pop into my bag to take home to recycle if there aren't facilities in the office. For now I'm sticking to leftovers and sandwiches but I'm still jealous of colleagues who sit eating their warm (just the right amount of) beans on toast at lunch time.

What are your green dilemmas? Post a comment to discuss!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Faithfully Green

On Tuesday I was listening to Saving Species on Radio 4. It's an interesting programme as it covers a hugely diverse range of conservation stories, both successes, current concerns and new breakthroughs. The programme I caught covered a suitably eclectic mix of stories.

The first article told the story of a bird, about the size of a sparrow, which is facing desperate times and a new project which hopes to act as a safety net. There are only a few hundred pairs of Spoon Billed Sandpipers left in the wild and these numbers are declining year by year. This week a group of these beautiful birds have been brought to the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust headquarters in Slimbridge as the start of a captive breeding project. To read more about this incredible story have a look at my Dad's blog from Tuesday.

The second story was about a conference this week in Assisi, Rome (home town of the patron saint of the environment, St Francis). This was a unique meeting of worth faiths and the conservation community with the aim to inspire each other and discuss new ways of working together to protect and help the natural world. Great to see that people from very different backgrounds and beliefs can all work together towards one aim of a saver environment and better future for the next generation. The conference was organised by ARC the Alliance of Religions and Conservation.

Tony Juniper (previously CEO of Friends of the Earth and now special advisor to the Prince of Wales' Rainforest Project) talked about the combined power and potential of the world faith groups. The implication was of a new strong force to counter the current economic lobby of bigger, better growth at any cost.

It's true that when I think about it there are always a huge number of religious groups at the environment protests and marches I've been to in the past. And why not? Most world faiths have teachings of harmony with nature and a guardianship of the environment we have been given.

The conference launched the new Green Pilgrimage Network, supporting and promoting environmentally friendly ways to carry out religious pilgrimages across faiths and throughout the world. One example city is Amritsar, Punjab, India, home to the most sacred place in the Sikh faith, the Golden Temple, Harmandir Sahib.  Some of the steps the city has taken to meet the needs of the Network are to only supply organic and pesticide free food for pilgrims, to provide clean tap water removing the need to buy and carry plastic water bottles and they have also banned plastic bags. Impressive steps, even more so when you consider that 30 million visit the site on pilgrimage each year.

Another couple of points of interest in the programme were that it's National Tree Week soon and that the ispot project is still running. More on both of these in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Walking The Walk Again

Yesterday I finally managed to go for a walk along my usual patch of the canal again. My resolution to go every week has lapsed recently but it was great to get out and see how things have been changing over autumn.

As you can see from the photos the leaves have almost all fallen now and with the morning sun behind me on the walk out there was a definite feel of winter in the air. Despite this, even in mid November there are still flowers in amongst the hedges. A welsh poppy and some purple and pink flowers that have been there since I moved here in early September. It's nice to be reminded that even in the season we associate with decay and winding down new shoots and petals are pushing through.

The canal path was busy yesterday, with lots of dog walkers and joggers as well as a man fishing patiently. I wish I'd stopped to ask him what he normally catches. I've only ever seen one fish in the canal, a pike last spring, but there must be lots of fish in there. Unlike the fish the birds were easy to spot. Still in their morning flurry of activity there was lots of birdsong and I easily spotted most of my normal species. Pigeon (always the first one as they live under the bridge I walk down to the canal by), sparrow, great tit, black headed gull, mallard duck, moor hen, swan, as well as the more unusual blackbird, starling and pied wagtail.

Almost all the berries have gone from the hedges now and the sparrows are hooked on the bird feeder in the garden. They're still only eating from one of the two seed feeders though, it's definitely their favourite.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Telling Tales

Last week I had lots of train journeys around the country. Most of them were after 5pm so it was dark and I didn't get very far with my train I-Spy. There was one trip in daylight, from Wellingborough to London where me (and my Dad) saw almost all the things on my list. I'm not sure if we saw anyone rushing for the train but it was 10am so there weren't many busy commuters rushing around.

On an earlier train journey that week I sat down and realised I'd brought nothing to read on my three hour journey. As the radio signal disappeared and I decided it really was too dark to play I-Spy I looked around for another source of entertainment and was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of Easy Living magazine in the pouch on the back of the seat in front. I've never read this magazine before but it was pretty good and kept me entertained throughout the journey. The best bit was knowing it was free and also that I was recycling someone else's old magazine.

It's a great idea leaving papers or magazines on trains once you're done with them, as long as the nice train staff don't tidy it away before someone else can pick it up to read. A completely read magazine is one thing but what about leaving your most loved book behind for someone else?

While I was in Europe last summer I visited Hanover for an afternoon. Sat on a bench by a church I noticed a cupboard next to me, the cupboard was filled with books and as I sat people came and went leaving and taking various books. I was fascinated, even though all the titles were in German. This is an example of a recent new social trend of book leaving. Public places are designated as "libraries" and people drop off unwanted books and pick up new ones. It's a great idea and although I don't know if it's taken off in the U.K. let I do know of several similar schemes.

For example the Guardian newspaper launched its six-week book season this autumn by setting 15,000 books free into the wilds of the U.K. From coffee shops to stations platforms, children's novels to science books to craft annuals; the books were placed around the country for new readers to discover them, read them and pass them on again. Guardian readers were also encouraged to leave their own books with the special bookplate sticker (found free in the weekend papers) inside with a message from the original owner. Finders can then log their book online and look at where it came from and where it's been.

Along the same tracking lines the Bookcrossings phenomenon allows books to be shared and traced across the globe. Stickers are downloaded and printed than then they and the books they're attached to are left in places new owners can find them. The unique sticker number in the book is then logged into the website and the past and present owners can chat about the books, an organic online bookclub.

All these ideas, from leaving your magazine behind on purpose to setting books free into the world are all examples of all three of the R's: reduce, reuse, recycle.  You reduce the number of books you buy by swapping them with others, you always reuse a great book reading it again and again and you recycle it onto the next new reader. A brilliant example of how sustainable living should be. Although, I'm not saying we don't need any new books. Old stories are good but a new tale always has a special feel.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Cutting Through The Smog

When I think of air pollution in cities reducing life expectancy by up to two years I imagine a Dickensian London with street urchins coughing in the smog. But a report out today by the Government's Environmental Audit Committee is saying that this is U.K. cities now, not 100 years ago.

The committee reports that despite commitments made in the coalition agreement the government is still failing to tackle the problem of air pollution, hasn't met the required EU standards for reductions and is now trying to avoid paying the fines for this by asking for another extension to 2015.

While the committee says that there has been "no meaningful evidence" of progress in meeting standards there has been progress in analysis the effects air pollution has on the population. Nationally the government accepts a shortening of life by 7-8 months due to air pollution but this could be as high as two years for those who are daily affected by the pollutants. In addition to this there is also the estimated £8.5-20 billion a year cost of caring for the health of those affected.

The main cause of the pollution is seen to be traffic from the many vehicles on the roads in built up urban areas. Recent research shows that tyres and brakes, as well as vehicle exhausts, are the culprits for high levels of airborne particles of dangerous chemicals and while some changes have been made (investment in bikes and age limits on black cabs in London) there is still so so much left to be done.

Now the latest government request to put back meeting EU targets until 2015 is being looked into by environmental lawyers ClientEarth. On their website ClientEarth say that they are an organisation of activist environmental lawyers committed to securing a healthy planet. Sounds pretty good considering the normal lawyer stereotypes. In response to today's report Alan Andrews, their air quality lawyer said, 
Under the banner of its localism agenda, the government is dumping the problem on local authorities who simply do not have the resources to tackle what is a national problem.
Once again we seem to be lacking that up beat news story about the "Greenest Government Ever" and how David Cameron, Caroline Spelman (Secretary of State for the Environment) and others are fighting the battles that desperately need to be won both for public health and  well-being and the greater environmental good. Still there's always tomorrow right?...

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Eggcelent Choice

I am proud of my farming heritage. My grandparents owned a small dairy farm in rural Northamptonshire and now my aunt and uncle run an organic egg farm only a couple of villages over. I always feel a link back to the countryside and the farming landscape even though I have no day to day experience of it. I didn't grow up on a farm but I have many happy memories of playing in the fields and "helping" with the farm chores when I was little and visiting, although I doubt how much actual help we were when feeding the lambs or herding the cattle.

Farming is a hard profession, even more so now that supermarkets are trying to push down prices for customers which often means pushing down profits for the farmers not the shops. During my lifetime, partly to cope with this, farming has become much more industrial with the use of chemicals, fertilisers, antibiotics and intensive methods. This often means bad news for wildlife and the environment as intensive methods and chemicals push wildlife out to the very edges of the countryside. I've talked about Fairtrade and the benefits for the environment and farmers that paying a fair price has but haven't yet talked about organic farming and the benefits this has in this country and abroad.

The Soil Association is the main certification body for organic farming in the U.K. For farms to be organic they must satisfy strict standards:

  • Artificial chemicals are prohibited
  • Pesticides are strictly restricted
  • Animal welfare is at the heart of farming with a truly free-range life for animals
  • Diversity and rotation of crops and animals allows the soil time to recover and prevents the build up of pests and diseases in the soil
  • The routine use of drugs, antibiotics and wormers is banned
  • The use of genetically modified crops and ingredients is banned

I always get my eggs from my uncle and aunts farm, this sometimes means travelling by train with a rucksack containing a dozen eggs but normally they survive the trip. When they first started farming organic eggs it was amazing to see the contrast with the normal shop bought eggs. Not only do they last much longer (because we get them straight from the farm which makes them about two weeks fresher than buying them in the shops) but their colour, taste and size is different.

Organic, free-range eggs have a much deeper colour and taste, well, more eggy than battery farmed eggs. The yolks are the colour of oranges rather than the pale yellow of primroses. Also, shops want standard size eggs and this hasn't yet been communicated down to the chickens. Because of this we often get the too big or too small eggs that can't be sold in shops. When a new batch of hens comes to the farm they often start by laying double or triple yolk eggs (I've no idea why) and so these eggs are much too big for the shops so we get them. My university friends were amazed by double yolk eggs and I hadn't realised this was an uncommon thing. It can make cake making tricky but an extra yolk in scrambled eggs is a brilliant treat.

Organic farms must adhere to strict welfare conditions and the hens have freedom to roam the fields during daylight and are put away to bed in large sheds when night falls to protect them from foxes and other predators. It's quite amazing to see thousands of hens wandering around in a field but they do look quite happy-as happy as hens can look.

Because pesticides, chemicals and antibiotics are restricted or banned on organic farms the soil and natural environment has time to recover and bloom. Farmers are encouraged to incorporate wildlife friendly schemes into their farms which helps to bring back the balance between nature and farming which is needed to get the full potential out of organic farming.

There are of course downsides to organic farming. It takes up more land, sometimes uses more energy (battery farming is unethical but very energy efficient) and water and doesn't always produce as high yields as intensive farming but the benefits of yummier food, happier animals and better environment must surely be worth something.

How organic farming is used globally and the more general impacts, pros and cons it has are discussions for another blog. For now I'm off to enjoy some bright yellow scrambled eggs! Have a nice Sunday and if you're ever in Waitrose why not try the Organic Free-range Columbian Blacktail eggs, you might even be eating some from my relatives farm!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Fair Cities

I've lived in two cities in my life and by chance both have been certified Fairtrade Cities. As much as I like the idea this doesn't mean their ingredients all satisfy high environmental and ethical standards but that as a community the city has signed up to support the Fairtrade movement.

Preston gained it's Fairtrade status in 2004. To do this the businesses, residents, schools and colleges all signed up to help end world poverty by promoting, buying and selling Fairtrade products. There are five criteria that must be met, these are:

  1. Council: Local council passes a resolution supporting Fairtrade and serves Fairtrade products whenever possible.
  2. Commerce: A range of Fairtrade products are available from local retail outlets (the number is determined by how big the city/town is).
  3. Community: Local workspaces and community groups support Fairtrade and use Fairtrate products whenever possible.
  4. Common consensus: Media coverage and events raise awareness and understanding of Fairtrade across the community.
  5. Captains: A local Fairtrade steering group is convened to ensure the Fairtrade campaigns continue to develop and gain new support.
Other than the sign as you enter Preston I hadn't really thought much about its Fairtrade status. I know there are several ethical produce shops in the centre but I haven't seen much else advertised.  An additional requirement for Fairtrade cities is that they have a Fairtrade Directory. I've just found the one for Preston and as well as the supermarkets and cafes I already know about there are lots more to seek out and try.

There are lots of Fairtrade Towns and Cities around the country. Why not look up your nearest and find out about campaigns and activities near you? Or if you don't have one near by look for the shops and groups that support Fairtrade where you live.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Fluffy Tails

Walking to work yesterday I took a slightly different route through one of the local parks. As normal it was lovely to see the orange and yellow leaves raining from the trees in flurries but I also saw more wildlife than normal.

Along the canal I don't often see squirrels but there were quite a few in the park. Lots of grey fluffy tails shooting up trees into the falling leaves. It's easy to forget that grey squirrels aren't native to this country but they've only been here since the 19th century. While travelling in Europe last summer I saw red squirrels in the parks. I've only seen a few and it's always an exciting sight. I forget quite how red they are and they're very well camouflaged  in the tall fir trees.

Red squirrels are native to the U.K. and have been here for thousands of years. The grey squirrel was introduced as a novelty in 1876 and since then has thrived. This wouldn't be a huge problem (although introduced species always raise questions) but the grey squirrel has adapted so well to the U.K. countryside that it now threatens the red squirrels survival in many areas. In the majority of England only grey squirrels were seen while in Scotland, Wales and the North East there are still red squirrels seen.

There are several theories for why the grey squirrels seem to be out competing the reds.One is that grey squirrels eat a wider range of foods than their red cousins, they can eat acorns which the red squirrels cannot. Thus they deplete the red squirrels foods but still have other foods to continue eating. Another possibility is that grey squirrels might carry the parapox virus (similar to myxomatosis ) and infect red squirrels which it kills. Further research needs to be done to fully understand this complex relationship.

I wish there were some red squirrels where I live, they really are beautiful to see but I still enjoy the flashes of grey that pass by while walking in the autumn leave.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Veg Box Time

After almost a month I'm getting a new local organic veg box today from Riverford. I'm still amazed how long the last box lasted but I have a feeling this one will disappear a bit quicker.

In this weeks box there is
  • potatoes
  • carrots
  • onions
  • parsnips 
  • courgettes
  • butterhead lectuce
  • red bell pepers
  • sugar pumpkin

We're right in the middle of pumpkin and squash season now and as well as tasting delicious these veg keep so, so well. As long as they are dry and not too warm they'll keep for months in a cupboard. Ready to be grabbed if  you're making a roast, soup or adding to risotto.

This is the first lot of parsnips too. They get their sweetness after the first frost so now the temperature's dropping they're ready to be dug up and enjoyed. The parsnip season continues right through winter (peaking around Christmas mainly because of demand) and I'm looking forward to trying new recipes, venturing away from the typical mash or roast.

I'm also pleased to see that almost all my veg is from the U.K. the exceptions being the peppers and courgettes which are both from Spain. I'd rather have all my veg locally from the U.K. but knowing that none of them were flown here is good.

This weekend we'll be having another large (ish) joint of meat which will hopefully last through the next week. It'll probably be beef but unfortunately not from Riverford. They do sell organic meat but you can only buy it if your meat order is more than £25 which, with a freezer full of soups and cooked apple, is too much for us to use up quickly enough. I try not to eat meat everyday and so we don't use that much each week. Maybe when we have a bigger freezer we'll start ordering meat too.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A Royal Reception

Yesterday I went to London to collect my Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. It was a lovely day out and the visit to St James Palace was really exciting. But really this was just the very last part of an eight year journey.

I started participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Award (DofE) scheme with my school when I was 13, working through Bronze, Silver and finally Gold awards. For each award you must complete an activity for a period of months from each of three sections, Physical, Skill and Service. As well as this for each award you must complete an expedition. Mine were all hiking on foot but can range from horse riding to canoeing or tall ship sailing. As well as looking good on a CV the award pushes participants to try new things and develop their own experiences further.

During my time doing the awards I learnt how to sword fight, use a compass, play three musical instruments and volunteered with both the Scout Association and as my university college's Environment Representative. This was one of my favourite activities as I got to work closely with staff and students to improve the green credential's of the college which is home to hundreds of students.

For the Gold Award there is also a residential section, for which you must spend 5 days and 4 nights away from home on a shared activity with people you don't know. I spent a fortnight on the RSPB's  Fairburn Ings reserve volunteering with habitat restoration, path laying (after the very heavy floods in 2007) and membership events. It was one of the experiences that helped me choose environment and conservation as a career. I stayed in a house owned by the charity which was used by an ever changing group of volunteers.

The highlight of yesterday was meeting HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and briefly talking to him about Durham's DofE university group, with whom I completed my award two years ago. However, meeting royalty really doesn't compare to all the experiences I've had through the awards scheme and the skills and friends I've gained will stay with me forever.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Small and Perfectly Adapted

Conservation charities come in many sizes and conserve many things. The best known ones are the biggest, loudest ones but there are lots of little charities whose work and issues are just as important and whose staff and volunteers work just as hard, if not harder, to be heard. Buglife is one of these smaller charities with just over 15 staff members and based in a small office in Peterborough, which is where I visited them yesterday.

Buglife was launched in 2004 as the first charity in Europe to focus on the protection and conservation of invertebrates. Its work ranges from outreach events with young people and schools to challenging government policy on planning and brownfield development plans. They also carry out vital conservation work in the field to both protect and discover new knowledge of invertebrates throughout the U.K. If you are a member (or become a member) of Buglife you are in good company. Germaine Greer is their current President with Nick Baker (from Spring/Autumn Watch and Really Wild Show), Edward O Wilson (eminent authority of global biodiversity) and Steve Backshall (from Really Wild Show and The One Show) as Vice Presidents.

It's a lot easier to raise money for big fluffy animals than small wriggly ones but looking at previous Bug of the Month articles on the Buglife website reveals loads of fascinating creatures which are worth protecting, conserving and celebrating.  Here are just a few:

Prickly stick insect photo
Stick Insects are becoming common in the South West.
 Picture by Malcolm Lee

sunset cup coral
Sunset Cup Coral is found in a few locations off the U.K. coast.
Picture by Yoruno

photo of queen wasp and her nest
Common Wasp found through out the U.K.
Picture by Paul Padam
My  volunteering with Buglife yesterday involved looking at their online media presence and also an introduction into how the organisation works. I was very pleased to see that my Bug of the Month article on the Common wasp has received over 200 page views and was very interested to learn about the charities brownfield sites conservation work.  It was an exciting day and all the staff there were so welcoming (I didn't want to go home by the end of the day!). Thank you to everyone at Buglife, in particular to Dale who I'm working with, for looking after me and showing me the exciting work this great charity does.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Stamp collecting

I have a tendency to hoard things, whether it is a small plateful of leftover vegetables, old worn out jeans or jam jars. But the pots of used stamps that have always been present in my home have nothing to do with my hoarding nature. As far as I'm concerned stamps cannot be thrown away under any circumstance, that's just how I've grown up. Stamps go in the stamps pot-that is their home. For years I didn't even questions why this happened, or where the stamps went when, periodically, the pot became empty. The answer is not that we are a family of philatelists (although family tell me Dad dabbled in this before catching the bird watching bug!) but, as it often does, comes back to environmental concerns.

 I've been watching the BBC's new series Frozen Planet and this week it featured some gorgeous shots of the Wandering Albatross. These birds are some of the heaviest flying birds in the world reaching 10kg and (along with the Royal Albatross) have the biggest wingspan of 3.5 meters (11ft). I'm quite a tall person at 5ft 11" but that means I'm only just taller than one wing of these huge birds. 

There are so many other amazing facts about albatrosses that I couldn't possibly cover them all here. For example: they only land to breed, with young flying at sea for 5 years before touching ground again, they have developed intricate gliding skills so that they almost never have to flap to keep aflight and they can cover distances of 10,000km in only 10-20 days.

There are 22 species of albatross and they live in every ocean, except the North Atlantic, in the world. Most breed in the southern hemisphere, with three favouring the North Pacific and one on the equator. Unfortunately 10 species are endangered or critically endangered with all the other species either vulnerable or near threatened according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. In fact this means that 18 out of the 22 are seen to be at serious risk of extinction. There are many threats to the various types of albatross. The normal threats that affect almost all sealife such as floating plastic rubbish, pollution and climate change are important but there are also problems from introduced predators and various types of fishing. Longlined fishing involves (unsurprisingly) long lines of fishing line with hooks all along it. Problems arise when the hooks are visible from the air and albatrosses get hooked and killed. Trawling also kills a huge number of birds sometimes being caught in nets but also hitting the cables on the ships. The death rate of albatrosses has reached such a level that the birds can't reproduce quickly enough to sustain the population.

So, this is all very bad but what can be done to save these beautiful birds and how does any of this relate to the stamps? Solutions are simpler than you may think. Attaching "scare lines" (a curtain of plastic streamers) to boats, sinking the hooks deeper in the water and dying the bait blue are all simple ways to deter albatrosses and the Albatross Task Force has been working hard on the open sea to educate fishermen of the dangers and solutions. Many fishermen are really happy to make these simple changes once they are aware of the problem and the group have seen huge success over the past few years.

The RSPB are working closely with the Task Force and you can help support them. To join the fight to save albatrosses you could make a donation, buy albatross postcards or cuddly toys or, like me, save your stamps. While individually a used second class stamp doesn't have much value by collecting all our used stamps together and selling them on the RSPB raised £15,000 last year for the albatross campaign. Only £50 worth of stamps will buy a tori-line (scare line) for a long line fishing vessel.

It's little by little but to save these huge beautiful birds I'll keep saving my stamps and sending them to the RSPBs campaign address. And the odd looks from visitors when they find my piles of stamps are a great excuses for me to educate them to the albatrosses plight and hopefully spread the collecting bug.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

A Family Affair

When I started this blog I wanted to write about my life, nature and how both impact upon the environment. I wasn't sure where to start but luckily there's a book with tips and ideas for exactly this - Blogging For Nature conveniently written by my Dad, Mark Avery (look at his website if you want to buy a copy!).

I've read Dad's blog since he started writing it and it's been an education in environment and conservation issues, as well as a good way to find out what he'd been up to while I was at university. My friends started reading it which was fine until they started telling me about the day's blog before I'd even started breakfast! Today, Dad's blog is about other interesting blogs, including mine, so thanks Dad!

This week I'll be writing about Albatrosses, Buglife, the Duke of Edinburgh Award, Eggs and I'll be back on my weekly walk in Preston and looking through this week's new veg box. If you've just discovered my blog, via Dad's link or just by chance, thanks for reading and I hope you come back and read more. Please leave a comment as I'd love to hear your views on my blog and the things I'm writing about.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Remember, Remember

I don't know how many countries celebrate the failure of a terrorist attack 400 years after it was meant to have happened, but being partial to fireworks I'm quite please the U.K. does. Fireworks night (aka Guy Fawkes night, Bonfire night and 5th November) has lost a lot of its original themes of anti-Catholicism, class confrontations and nationalism. Nowadays it's all about the brightness and being so close to other festivals of lights, such as Diwali, it's common for  fireworks to start mid October and continue until mid November.

Over the last five years, as well as the traditional fireworks, new lights have appeared on the horizon, those of Chinese lanterns. You've almost certainly seen them in the nights sky, points of orange light floating across the skyline. What they actually are is paper/plastic boxes with a tiny tea light heating the air inside the box and lifting it up into the sky. These little lights are really beautiful and it's lovely to see them slowly floating across the sky, sometimes up to 30 miles. They're pretty cheap too at about £2 each.

But (there always seems to be a but with good things) don't let the pretty lights dazzle you into missing the large risks and dangers associated with the lanterns. Last year, while watching lanterns at a family fireworks party, a three year old boy was seriously injured when part of a melted lantern fell onto his face.  Everyone knows the dangers of fireworks but the dangers of these new lanterns are less well know.

As well as possible injuries there are also risks to the environment, farm animals and emergency services. There have been several wild fires attributed to the lanterns over the last few years and also fires on farm, hay barns and injury to livestock. Many of the lanterns are now said to be biodegradable, but people seem sceptical about this and I always wonder how long they take to degrade, even if they do so. Wild fires will damage natural habitats and impact upon unsuspecting animals while the hot wire from fallen lanterns lies in wait for small unsuspecting paws.

There are less obvious problems for the emergency services with these lanterns. Between 1st October 2009 and 30th September 2010 there were 128 false alerts to the Maratime and Coastguard Agency attributed to Chinese lanterns. People see the lanterns out at sea and mistaken for parachute signal flares and so the emergency services are called. On 26 occasions lifeboats were launched and on two occasion helicopters mobilised. 

There are calls for a ban on Chinese lanterns or at least limiting them to certain times of year. I'm sure there are negative environmental impacts of fireworks too, even if its just the hundreds of cardboard and plastic shells that fall to the ground once they've been lit.

Whatever you're doing this weekend, remember to wrap up warm and keep safe. Also, if you're having a bonfire check it for hedgehogs before you lights it! They love the big piles of leaves and sticks as a warm place to hibernate.

Friday, 4 November 2011


I'm visiting my parents in Northamptonshire for a few days this week and so I'm having to readjust to life in the family home. Remembering that dishes go in the dishwasher, not the sink, and that tea is made using loose tea and a tea pot, not just putting a tea bag in the cup. One thing that is almost the same as at home is the recycling. In Preston paper and cardboard go in one box while cans, glass and plastic goes in another. Here paper goes in one and everything else goes in the other. The food waste is similar except instead of mixing it all together and putting it out for collection the veg peelings and egg shells go on the compost heap.

I don't remember when my family started composting. I know we haven't always but we definitely have for quite a while. There's a plastic tub in the kitchen which gets periodically emptied into the compost bin at the end of the garden. It always felt very strange at university having to throw away food waste, as there were no facilities for composting and the council wouldn't take it away. I'm not sure how much compost we get out, the pile inside the bin always seems to be going down but not a lot of compost seems to come out the bottom. But it's nice knowing that the vegetable peelings from Sunday lunch is going back into helping the garden grow.

Compost is great for garden soils. The high temperatures caused by rotting material kill off seeds, weeds and some bacteria. The compost soil that comes out at the end is light and full of nutrients with a strong resistance to disease so less chemical fertilisers need to be used. Composting your veg waste and using it in the garden also has environmental benefits. You won't need to drive to the DIY shop to buy fertiliser as much and you also won't have to buy peat filled compost.

Peat compost has been used by gardeners for years, but its environmental impacts are really not good. Peat bogs takes thousands of year to develop and are some of the U.K. most specialised habitats. Already 94% of the U.K. lowland peat bogs have been destroyed and many species, such as cranberries and skylarks, depend on this habitat for survival. Also digging up peat contributes to climate change as it releases carbon and other gases into the atmosphere. In recent years through awareness campaigns organisations including the RSPB, Buglife and others have worked together with gardeners and garden centres to education people about the damage peat compost causes. Peat has always been seen as good for gardens because it's high in nutrients but it's not essential to a garden and plants can easily grown without it, especially if you've put lots of home made compost that's high in nutrients on your plants instead. So if you're buying compost from a shop remember to look for the peat free ones!

Thursday, 3 November 2011


Yesterday I got some exciting post I'd been looking forward to for a few weeks. My Wildlife Watch Leader Pack arrived!

Wildlife Watch is the junior branch of the Wildlife Trusts. Children of any age can join but it's normally aimed at 8 years and above. When I was younger I was a member and really enjoyed learning about wildlife at the once a month meetings. Particular highlights were seeing slow worms, pond dipping and eating home made flapjacks made by our enthusiastic leader Rupert (who I'm pleased to see on the website is still running my old group). There are now also Greenwatch groups which are aimed at older members (12+) which allow young people to work on conservation projects and surveys to gain a deeper understanding of wildlife and nature.

My Mum is a Watch Leader and I've helped out at a few meetings in the past. It was partly this experience that made me sign up to become a leader when I moved to Preston, but also because I loved being a Young Leader at Scouts and other environmental education projects I've volunteered with.

It was very easy to become a leader. I went to a meeting to check I enjoyed helping, filled in a few forms and completed a CRB check (which came back in 24 hours, a personal record!). So now, about a month later, I am officially a Wildlife Watch Leader and will be helping to run the Preston Peregrines group for two hours once a month (although I'll be doing more than two hours work for it!).

My pack arrived with a CD of the essential guide to running a Watch group, a recent copy of the Watch magazine, and a copy of LINK the magazine for leaders filled with tips and ideas for running educational and fun meetings.

I'm really looking forward to starting as a leader and I hope I can make the meetings as fun and memorable as mine were. Teaching young people about nature and wildlife is essential if future generations are to protect and understand these valuable resources properly.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

7 billion and counting...

This week the 7 billionth person was born, that's 7 thousand million people. When I was born 22 years ago there were almost 5.2 billion people, so the population has increased by slightly under 50% in a quarter of a century.

Recent news has focused on how the world will cope with this huge population number as if it's suddenly increased but the population on Monday was only a bit bigger than on Sunday. The numbers are going up fast, but there aren't instant large increases. The question that should be on everybody's lips is how do we cope right now with the current population. Estimates say that 1 in 7 people are currently hungry (not getting enough food, not just peckish) but world agriculture is producing enough food for every person to have 2,720 kilo-calories a day. That's more than enough to keep everyone full so what's going wrong? The main problems seem to come down to distribution and  lack of land to grow or money to buy the necessary food.

As the population continues to increase so will the demand on land for both growing and living space. Already our lives encroach hugely onto the natural world. Deforestation, building on greenbelt and pollution and over fishing in the seas are leaving a very clear mark. Seven billion will be the number that's hitting the headlines this week but the world is also facing the 6th biggest mass extinction in history. The International Union for Conservation of Nature found that 36% of the species it assessed in 2008 were in danger of extinction; a scary statistic.

Some people are using the population size landmark to raise awareness of these connected issues in a rather unusual way. The Centre for Biological Diversity in the U.S.A. has launched its 7 Billion and Counting campaign. As well as national adverts, local events and online activities the group are giving away 100,000 condoms featuring six different designs. Each design pictures a different endangered species and facts about the threat caused to our natural world by overpopulation. The aim is to get people talking about the effect of the population boom and how we can help to stabilise the population.

I don't remember where I first hear the slogan "start at 30 and stop at 2" but with people living longer it does seem to make sense to wait a little later for children and only have enough children to replace the two people making them! What do you think? Populations are going to be a key issue in the next century along with climate change and a sustainable world. Let's hope we find solutions to all these interlinked problems.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

November on your bike

With the start of another month I turn to How Green Are My Wellies by Anna Shepard again. In the November chapter the focus is on commuting, biking and public transport. I wrote a little while ago about avoiding the car when going to work and the gym and so far I'm sticking to walking quite well.

I still haven't fixed up my bike but reading Anna's book makes cycling sound quite appealing. She gives five top tips for revamping bikes (just enough, so they don't look too temping to steal!).
  1. Be creative: Make it look unique to you and unappealing to thieves- flowery garlands, glitter or ribbons on the handlebars make it stand out in a rainy day crowd.
  2. Invest in a good seat: Especially if you're using a third or fourth hand bike a new seat could be the difference between giving up or cycling throughout the winter. Comfort is essential if you're trying to go out in the cold!
  3. Take a waterproof seat covering: If you've spent the time and money on a nice seat make sure you keep it nice. Shower caps from hotels are great for this as the elastic fits nicely round the seat so it stays dry and avoids you getting a wet bottomw when you cycle off.
  4. Get a bell: Making yourself heard will make your cycling safer. There are lots to choose from and you can make it as classic or as unique and individual as you like. 
  5. Light up: In dark winter days having good lights on your bike is essential. When the batteries start to go and the lights get dimmer change they straight away. The greenest way to do this is to get a battery recharger so that you don't have to keep buying and throwing away batteries.
The chapter also talks about walking. Anna gives her top ten reasons for walking:
  • To save money
  • To feel and look healthier
  • To slow down
  • To gain perspective on her problems
  • To make room for a teatime piece of cake
  • To see what's going on outside
  • To appreciate the seasons
  • To unwind- mentally and physically for those tight muscles
  • To hone the art of doing nothing
  • To spend time with someone- or to be completely on her own.
I agree with pretty much all of these. I particularly like the being alone, doing nothing and slowing down ones. Walking to and from work allows me enough time to plan my next few hours, what I need from the shops or what the next weeks hold. But it also gives me time to think of nothing and just walk without being busy but still doing something. That doesn't happen very often in my day.

Walking definitely isn't as quick or convenient as driving, it takes me 90 minutes to walk to work and back. It also means you have to plan your journey more, as I found today walking home in the pouring rain without a coat. In general though i feel better for walking, healthier and smug that I'm saving money and getting a little me time too.