Saturday, 31 December 2011

Seven Swans a Swimming

A few days ago I went for a walk around Stanwick Lakes. My parents "local patch" at home in Northamptonshire. An old gravel pits has been turned into a nature reserve and water sports centre and over the last few years it has become a popular place for local families and groups to spend some time exploring nature and getting some fresh air.

It's lovely to get outside when the Christmas festivities often mean being inside quite a bit, although I am enjoying spending evenings curled up near a proper wood fire again. The walk round the lakes gave us a breath of fresh air, and while it's still mild you couldn't have called it a warm walk as the cold wind reminded us that it isn't even January yet.

On my walk we saw lots of birds including geese (none laying though), several bullfinches and, most importantly, lots of swans. There were at least seven around and I also saw a signet which is slowly turning to it's adult white, almost grown up. Considering how strange some of the other lines in the song are seven swans swimming seems incredibly normal, although since all the UK swans are owned by the royal family the true love is risking a lot to give them as presents.

I didn't manage a photo of seven swans but here is a nice one of just two swans a swimming in the very cold waters of Stanwick Lakes.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Six Geese a Laying

Geese normally lay eggs in the spring, so I've always thought this line of the song was quite weird. However, as I walked into the local Waitrose last week I saw an article in their newsletter about this very subject which seems to prove that it's less silly than it sounds.

Due to the mild weather this year some geese in Cornwall started laying eggs in late November, months before normal. The free-range geese have never laid this early before. While traditionally the first eggs are laid around St Valentine's Day Waitrose normally start selling goose eggs in April for a two month period.

Maybe this is why six geese a laying is such a special gift in the song, it is a very special treat to have goose eggs at this time of year. People seem to be rediscovering speciality eggs recently as goose egg sales were up 49% this year compared to 2010. Other types of eggs are also appearing on shop shelves such as the ostrich, rhea and turkey.

I've never cooked or eaten any of these exciting eggs but since the goose egg is about three times bigger than a hens egg I would probably stick to scrambling or frying as I'd have no idea how long it takes to boil or what quantities to use for baking!

Since these early goose eggs are only appearing in selected stores over Christmas I doubt I'll even have the chance to buy one but at least I know the song line isn't impossible, just that the true love was very lucky to find some laying geese in December.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Five Gold Rings

We're now three days away from the start of 2012, a big year for the UK and a big year for the environment. We'll be seeing lots of five rings and (hopefully) gold over the next 9 months with adverts for the Olympics already appearing here and there.

2012 is also the year when the Kyoto agreement ends, the long awaited Earth Summit is held in Rio and the  final year of the UK's first carbon budget. These, among other landmark environmental events, mean that the focus is on sustainability this summer and the UK's pledge in 2005 was to make these games as green as possible. 

Initially organisers pushed carbon offsetting but since the consensus is now that this method merely justifies using lots of energy at a cost to someone else thoughts have moved to reduction and recycling with a mind to minimise the games direct negative environmental impact.

EDF, the primary energy provider for the games, will be generating 24MW of renewable energy specifically for the Olympics. For some perspective this is only one megawatt more than a single square kilometre of Central London would use but, since Central London uses more energy than anywhere else in Europe, if the games can keep their energy use low this could mean an almost entirely renewables powered Olympics.

Another good sign is the aim that 90 percent of construction waste from the games will either be reused of recycled. This is great as over half of the total CO2 emissions from the games will come from the construction process. 

The games are estimated to produce 3.4 million tonnes of CO2 which is about 0.6% of the total annual UK emissions. This is the first time that any city has attempted to track all the embedded energy and emissions from an Olympics games, from construction materials to transport through to electricity consumption. Let's hope they really can make it the greenest games ever.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Four Calling Birds

It is said that the word "calling" is a derivation of the word collie or colly which comes from the old word for black and has it's origins in the coal industry (such as a colliery or a collier). Thus four calling birds may well refer to four blackbirds.

Fluffy singing blackbird
A few years ago my parents bought me a toy blackbird from the RSPB's range of singing toy birds. This was an attempt at teaching me bird song since after years of nature walks I still fail to differentiate between robin and blackbird songs. My fluffy blackbird sits on my shelf in Preston and occasional it has it's tummy squeezed to make it sing its tune-see here for a listen.

According to the RSPB website the blackbird is no longer in stock, so maybe I now have a collectable! Thankfully real blackbirds are not out of stock living almost everywhere in the UK and after a decline between the 70s and 90s has returned to the Green List after at 26% increase between 1995 and 2008.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Three French Hens

Apparently there are four (not three) main breeds of French hens which are Faverolles, La Fleche, Crevecoeurs and Marans but when this traditional Christmas song originated Faverolles was either not a popular breed or didn't exist yet. Chickens are the most abundant domestic animal in the world and originated from Vietnam. 

While domestic French chicken numbers are doing well other European bird numbers are not looking so good. The Pan-European Common Monitoring Scheme run by the European Bird Census Council this summer revealed that Europe's farmland birds are still in steep decline following years of intensification of farming and loss of habitat and food sources. Since 1980 numbers of farmland birds have declined by 48%, which is incredible. That means almost half of the birds on European farmland (including the UK) have been lost, no wonder I can't recognise skylark songs or describe a grey partridge. 

Monday, 26 December 2011

Two Turtle Doves

Just larger than a blackbird the turtle dove is a summer visitor to Southern and Eastern England. Sadly it is a on the Red List of conservation concern due to several steep declines in numbers. These declines are possibly due to a lack of corn and seeds available during breeding season.

These little birds are really pretty, lets hope there will always be many many more than two left to see in our countryside during the summer.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

Happy Christmas! I hope everyone is having a wonderful day. I decided that for the next two weeks I'd look at a range of environmental and wildlife topics but through the theme of an old favourite, the Twelve Days of Christmas. So, as today is the first day of Christmas where better to start than with a Partridge in a Pear Tree. (I'm hoping that's not what my partner's got me - although I'll be impressed with the packaging if he has...)

This traditional English carol is actually thought to originate from France, partly because the red-legged (or French) partridge, which is much more likely to sit in trees than the native grey partridge, was not introduced to the UK until 1770 well after the song became popular. So if we are to take the song literally, it was probably started across the channel.

Partridges are part of the pheasant family. In the UK there are four birds from this group; the common pheasant (first introduced in the 10th century and then reintroduced in the 1830s), the quail (the UK's only migrant game bird travelling from Africa in the summer) and the two partridges both red-legged (introduced from Europe and long time resident) and grey (native and now sadly on the Red List of endangered species).

Almost all these birds are sociable, living in groups, although the male pheasant is an exception having very little to do with family life. Many more species live in Africa and Asia which is where the common pheasants ancestry originates from. 

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas

Well we're very nearly there for Christmas. At our family home the Christmas tree will be decorated today, the cake and pudding are ready and at least some presents are wrapped. The veg box has arrived, the recycling box is ready for empty bottles and cardboard boxes and the bird feeders are up and being explored by the garden wildlife.

So all that's left if to wish everyone a happy Christmas for tomorrow, have a very merry green day!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Green Spring

We haven't even reached Christmas yet but this week I've had several emails about green meetings and conferences in February.

The first was an invite and timetable for the local Wildlife Watch Leaders conference. There are several interesting workshops and it should be a great way to meet other Watch leaders and learn some good activities for when my group gets set up and started (hopefully sometime in the new year).

The second were several emails for the Green Party Spring Conference in Liverpool (24th-27th February). I haven't seen a timetable for this yet but I'm quite excited about it. I've never been to a Party conference before and it's great that my first one is so close to home, so it won't be too scary hopefully!
I'm looking forward to meeting other Green Party members and hearing about some national campaigns and topics. It should be a great few days really getting to grips with what the Green Party is, stands for and aims to achieve in the next few years.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Gift of Giving

Well the days might be getting longer now but it doesn't feel noticeable quite yet! Our winter solstice party was lovely yesterday and full of home cooked food and warming drinks. I've finally given out some of my home made presents so I can blog about them now without ruining the surprise!

I love giving many little presents rather than one big gift so I settled on a selection of home made goodies for my friends in little crocheted baskets. The baskets did take a while but it was worth it seeing the final result. I used green gardeners twine for the boxes because it's a bit firmer than wool and stand up better-and it's lots cheaper! With a red wool handle sewn on they looked very festive.

Inside the baskets I had home made gingerbread biscuits, felt Christmas Tree decorations, a pot of home planted crocus bulbs and a mini bottle of (European) wine and some mulling spice mix I'd  mixed up so that they can each have a glass of mulled wine later in the festive season.

This goody bag took quite a lot of time, effort and planning but not much money at all, maybe just over a fiver, but I know it will bring smiles straight away (the gingerbread is yummy) and further in the new year as the bulbs begin to grow, and finally in future years when the decorations are put up. It's nice to know that a present will last longer than February, except the gingerbread of course.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Darkest Night

For me the 21st of December is almost as important as the 25th later in the week. Today is the winter solstice, the longest night and shortest day. This day was celebrated by many cultures in the past, celebrating the victory of the sun over the darkness as the days begin to get longer again and we move towards spring.

On the solstice we normally invite friends over and have our Christmas presents then so we can all open them together instead of waiting to open them when none of us are together on Christmas day. It's great to catch up with old friends and newer ones as well as finding the perfect mix for mulled wine and cider recipes!

While we're all cosy in our house with a fire, food and friends the wildlife outside is just beginning the yearly battle with the cold. While it's going to start getting lighter and we'll have longer days it isn't going to get warmer but colder over the next few weeks. Some animals, like hedgehogs, hibernate but others, like robins, stick it out looking for scraps of food to keep them going throughout winter. 

Finding food is hard, especially when there's snow on the ground and with frozen ponds water get scarce too. Making sure there's food out for the birds and a bucket of water for animals to reach is an great way to help the wildlife in your garden, and what could be nicer than seeing a robin on Christmas day and watching the wildlife in the garden to pass the time as the days lengthen again. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Here and There

If we both wrote down a list of "garden birds" I'm pretty sure we'd write a lot of the same birds down. I always think of the Blue Tit, Robin, Blackbird and Starling. Then there are Collared Dove and Goldfinch which I always saw in my parents' garden when I was younger but often seem to forget now. 

But the range of garden birds differs so much depending on where you are and what sort of garden you have. The list of birds I'd write are basically the ones I was always shown as a child from the kitchen window, and I almost never remember sparrow, which is now the only bird I see in our little yard in Preston. 

In my parents garden, or form their house windows, recent sightings have been Black Cap and a large flock of Starlings all fighting to eat spare apples from a nearby tree. Even Red Kites are a common occurrence. But their garden is long and green and full of yummy worms and berries that wildlife love, although the large cat population keeps the birds on their toes. With regular visits form robins and blackbirds no-one pays any notice to these birds but if I saw either in our garden in Preston I'd probably do a whole blog about it! But there aren't that many sparrows so my regular little flock of 6 would be very exciting for my parents garden.

It's good to remember that different birds suit different habitats, even if they fall under one group name like "garden birds". It means we remember that a good year for some might be a bad year for others and that they'll need different things to help them in the winter. My peanuts are becoming more popular now that the birds want more fat for the winter but old apple cores and bread are the favourites in my parents garden. Just like you wouldn't buy everyone you know the same Christmas present, the birds in our gardens all need a little thought and planning to help them through the winter.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Christmas Specials

With Christmas comes the inevitable flurry of Christmas specials and classic repeats on the TV and radio. At 8pm on Friday Saving Species are having their Christmas special. Hosted by Bristol University, panellists will discuss the global population and the issues this raises for conserving resources and species as well as whether realistically we can do anything about it. With audience questions and a panel discussion the programme looks to be interesting and a bit of a change from the festive music and repeated topics of what to cook, what to buy and what to do that I'll be listening to the rest of the week.

Also did you know that over Christmas 83 square kilometres of wrapping paper will end up in bins across the UK? I'm going to make sure I use as little tape as possible when wrapping and try to open my presents carefully so I can hopefully reuse the paper next year. It's rubbish that most wrapping paper can't be recycled.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Christmas Top Ten

According to the top ten winter garden birds are:

  1. Robin
  2. Blue Tit
  3. Blackbird
  4. Great Tit
  5. Chaffinch
  6. Green Finch
  7. Dunnock
  8. Collared Dove
  9. Coal Tit
  10. House Sparrow
I wonder how many of these I'll see over the next few weeks. Are there any that you think should be on the list that aren't? I don't often see Dunnock or Chaffinch but that might just be my area.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Christmas Recycling

Last week our living room was described as looking like "a Christmas Bomb had gone off". Along with a Christmas tree we have foil/plastic decorations hanging from the walls and rows of plastic stars around the door; so I can see what they mean.

You might be worried and shocked that I have so many plastic decorations but none of them have been bought by us and none of them are new. The foil/plastic colourful banners and stars are all salvaged from my old primary school who were throwing things out years ago and the decorations got rescued to my parents house and stored away, until I rediscovered them this autumn. The only new decorations for our tree are a set of lights (which will be carefully stored and reused for many years) and two pieces of tinsel. I'm sure there must be a more ecofriendly alternative to tinsel but I can't find it online and I currently can't imagine giving up tinsel yet.

There are other ways to recycle at Christmas. All those bottles, cans and cardboard boxes definitely need to go into the recycling box over the festive holidays-it'll give you a good incentive for cutting back your vices in January when you see it all piled up too! Food can be recycled and with lots of leftovers there's no end of new meals you can create from old. I'm sure we'll be having turkey curry, cheesy turkey, turkey sandwiches and turkey stir fry all in the week between Christmas and New Year.

Unwanted presents can be regifted (not straight away! give it a few months) but remember who gave you the present in the first place to avoid awkward moments later in the year. You could even use recycled wrapping paper (either reusing last years or buying new which is made from recycled paper) to surround your beautiful presents.

Finally don't forget if you have a real tree to compost or recycle it after Christmas so that all that leafy goodness goes back into the earth.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Early Mornings Aren't Easy

When I started this blog I said I'd write about my green successes and failures and this week there has been a lot of driving and not so much walking. I only managed one day when I didn't use the car at all and most of my journeys have been in Preston City. I've been working earlies and getting up an extra 45 minutes early so that you can walk across town in the rain and gale force winds is not a tempting thought at 5am. 

My work is two miles away, so I'm not quite breaking the "don't drive journeys under two miles" rule but it's really not that far. My excuse is that by driving I have an extra 90 minutes in the day and at this time of year that's vital time for cooking, making presents or just general household chores but I bet if I was this busy in the summer I'd still walk. With no more work (just volunteering from home) until the new year I'm sure I'll be better at resisting the temptation to drive to the shops than I have been driving to work but one of my new year's resolutions will definitely be to sort my bike out so that I can cycle rather than walk or drive in January.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

A Windy Walk

I had my last walk along the canal for a while yesterday. I'm always amazed by how much the temperature changes from season to season. At this time of year I can't imagine stepping outside without a coat, scarf and warm boots but in the summer I can't imagine being cold enough to need anything more than sandals, jeans and a t-shirt.

Having previously lived in Durham for four years I am still getting used to how rainy and windy the west of the country is. At least it makes you notice the changing seasons! Luckily yesterday wasn't rainy as I stepped out into the wintry, blowy afternoon and wandered along to the canal.  The leaves are all gone now but it's not cold enough for ice on the canal yet. There are still lots of birds around, and with bare branches they're easier to see. There are a few berries left but I hope people fill their bird feeders over Christmas because there doesn't seem to be that much food along the canal.

By January I expect the canal will be solid with ice-it has been the last few years- but for now it's a good source of water for wildlife in the area. People often remember to put food out for the birds in their garden but forget that water is vital too. Looking at the contrast between my first canal photo and my most recent one I look forward to seeing how much the view will change over the next season.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

December- Getting Off The Seasonal Treadmill

Once again it's got to half way through the month before I get round to reading the December section of How Green Are My Wellies? by Anna Shepard. With the last chapter of the book we are reminded that Christmas isn't all about consumerism and that you can still been environmentally minded and have a fun happy Christmas.

Anna addresses the tricky Christmas Tree question and does a bit better than me by finding not only a British tree but also a potted tree, so it can be used again. I have no idea where our tree was grown, but it's something to aim for for next year. We also got our Christmas Tree recycling information from the council this week, so we'll be ready to compost it once the new year comes.

Anna also talks about how, after a disastrous episode on the tube one Christmas, she's taken to giving homemade or eco friendly small gifts. She points out that the thought really is the thing that counts and it's often a relief not to get a hugely extravagant gift;  as this often turns Christmas Day into a competition for who's spent the most money.

Reading this has calmed my frantic Christmas frazzled mind a bit. Christmas isn't about being stressed, it should be about sharing quality time with loved ones and enjoying warm rooms and good food and drink. After a busy week and a busier one ahead I was beginning to get drawn into the panic of the festive season. Instead I will take a breath, write a to-do list, and get on with cooking and crocheting my planned gifts-without worrying that people will think I'm being stingy and with the happy knowledge that I've put time and love into the gifts for those I care about without a huge environmental impact.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Promise Promises

Promises are sometimes hard to keep. We make them with good intentions but sometimes we're just not able to follow through. But promises are easy to make if we know we can just back out of them and avoid the consequences of doing so.

Only a couple of weeks ago I talked about how almost everyone has ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Today the map on that blog has become a lot less green. Last night Canada announced it would be withdrawing from the legally binding agreement to cut carbon emissions and meet targets set for 2012. You'd think a legally binding agreement would have some penalty for withdrawing but apparently not. Canada's annual emissions have risen by about a third since 1990 and didn't look likely to fall sharply before the deadline in 2012. There are penalties for not meeting the targets and by pulling out of the agreement Canada avoids this. It also allows them to continue to protect their valuable oil industry which they hope will boost their economy over the next few decades.

Canada's withdrawal has hit the headlines here, here and here but will probably fall into the background in the next few days. What won't go away, and what Canada can't avoid by abandoning its Kyoto promises, is that without a global reduction in carbon emissions and a lifestyle/mindset change for many developed countries climate change will increase to a point where famine, floods, droughts and mass migration will almost undoubtedly lead to wars and conflict; as well as the loss of thousands of precious species and resources.

It's terrible news that Canada has abandoned its promises but is it better to make a promise and back out, make a promise, try and fail or not make that promise at all?

Monday, 12 December 2011

Education, Education, Education

It's really nice how many environment projects there are around even in these difficult economic times. Today I learnt all about the different environment education activities that are happening within the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside.

There are so many it was hard to follow everything but it's great to hear passionate people talk about their work with young people and communities to raise awareness and educate on environment and wildlife topics. From toddler groups taking their first steps on nature reserves and school visits to help make vegetable patches and wildlife gardens through to survival skills and habitat management workshops there's something for all ages and abilities. I'm really looking forward to getting more involved with some of these projects in the new year and also in helping with my local Wildlife Watch group.

For now I've enjoyed my first visit to the Brockholes nature reserve just outside Preston. It's quite bare at the moment but as we move into the new year it will begin to flourish. Today you could definitely feel the bitter wind and cold weather but it's still nice to get outside and have a bit of a walk. I even saw a pheasant and some  Canada geese,  not exactly rare species but I don't often see them in central Preston!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Winter Warmers

And blog number two for today....

With only a fortnight before Christmas I'm trying to use up all the food in the house before we head back to our family homes. Although it's been several weeks since our last veg box we've still got loads left so today's a day for turning the oven on high and roasting all the leftover squash, potatoes, parsnips and carrots I can find as well as a free range chicken.

With the sprouts and cabbage that are still in the fridge tonight's dinner will be huge, but anything leftover will be turned into soups or leftover meals in the rest of the week. I love cooking one big joint at the weekend because it makes cooking for the rest of the week so easy.

I try not to use the oven too often as it takes a lot of energy to heat it up and if you're only cooking a small thing this seems like a waste. So today everything's going in so that all that heat is used efficiently. Often, if I am just cooking a small thing in the oven I'll make a cake or bread as well so that it's worth the energy used. It also keeps the kitchen nice and warm so afterwards I'll be able to sit at the table and finish those all important Christmas presents I've been putting off making without even turning the heating on.

A veg box is a great way to take the hassle out of Christmas dinner too as you can order all your veg straight to your home and know it's organic, local and very very fresh. Why not have a look at the Riverford website, I know from experience that Christmas dinner with veg from them tastes delicious!

Winter Visitors

Internet problems meant there was no blog yesterday so here is the first of two today to make up for it!

With winter comes a host of migrant birds and which birds arrive depends a bit on the wind direction and where you live in the country.
File:Waxwing DTAB.jpg
One of the best known migrants is the waxwing and I always look forward to seeing them in the winter. Last year was a very good year for seeing waxwings and they got to most bits of the country, even Preston! They live in the forests of northern Europe (in North Scandinavia and Russia) throughout the year and a few turn up on the east coast of the UK most winters. When berry supplies are particularly low large numbers travel long distances away from their normal habitat which is why so many turned up not just on the east coast but right across the country last year.

I haven't heard about many waxwing sightings yet this year, although I'm sure there have been some along the east coast. I know Chris Packham seemed disappointed that there hadn't been many sightings sent into Autumn Watch when I watched it a few weeks ago. In the waxwing boom that was last winter I saw a flock of waxwings in Preston in January which being almost on the west coast is pretty good going. I doubt I'll see any before I head back to the family home for Christmas but I'll keep looking- it seems their favourite haunts are supermarket car parks so keep your eyes peeled when you do your Christmas shopping!

If you want to find out a bit more about waxwings check out here and for up to date waxwing info look here.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Book of Green

Today I've been having a bit of a winter clear out and tidy up. It's good to get the house tidy and in order before filling it with decorations and, a little later, nice new presents. During my tidying I found lots of environment and conservation leaflets I've collected from various places over the last few months and it's given me a new sense of enthusiasm.

In particular, I rediscovered the Book of Green which I found in the Beautiful Planet cafe in Preston. This little book is free and is an "eco-living directory" full of companies and products that are ethical or environmentally friendly. The book comes out once a year and has been running since 2006; it's also online here.

Looking through, the book is split up into sections including Food and Drink, Travel and Leisure, Green Child and  Business Services.  It's a great resource to flick through for ideas and having it all collected together makes it easier to fight the urge to just take the easy option when buying things and forget the environmental impacts (both direct and indirect).

The clothing and jewellery pages are filling my mind with thoughts of post-Christmas shopping while the Eco-builds section makes me think wistfully of future dream homes full of eco-friendly gagets and powered by renewable energy. It's going to be a good source of ideas for Christmas presents for friends and family too, although I'm still busy with crafting home made gifts most evenings-hopefully they'll be done before the big day!

Why not have a look at the Book of Green online and see if it sparks and ideas for last minute presents for you?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Tweet Tweet

File:Troglodytes troglodytes -fence-8a.jpgThe Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) is the only wren that you will see in the UK and this little bird has always held a special place in my heart. Sacred to the Druids the wren was considered "supreme among all the birds" and in folklore it was believed that the Fairy Queen would take the form of a Wren, often known as Jenny Wren in nursery rhymes. This connection with my name is probably why I'm so fond of wrens, as I can remember being called Jenny Wren by family and getting cards with wrens on all my life. 

The RSPB's website says that "for such a small bird it has a remarkably loud voice". At 5ft 11"  small isn't a word that's been used to describe me recently but family often point out that my frequent, loud chatter means I punch above my weight when it comes to getting my voice heard, quite like the wren.

Starting this blog meant my online voice got lots louder too and I've been chattering here almost every day for two and a half months now. I hoped that writing about the environment and nature every day would make me think more about my impact on the world and help me make my life more sustainable and greener; and I think it has.

It has also made me think and learn about issues I wouldn't have done otherwise, I never used to trawl the environment sections of news websites or become hooked on environment and conservation radio programmes!

 The third thing I wanted from writing my blog was to get my voice and ideas out onto the internet and it's great to see how many people have looked at my page each day. But like the wren I want my voice to get even louder, as there are lots of other birds singing in the woods! So I've joined Twitter. I've only just started and would love some followers so please follow me @jennifercavery.

I'd love to know what you think of my blog, or if there's a topic you'd like me to write about so please comment or get in touch on twitter!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Fairy Lights

As I walked home from work yesterday I enjoyed looking at all the fairy lights in peoples windows and round doors. There were a few Christmas Trees up but I'm sure there will be more over the next few weeks. I'm looking forward to seeing them.

A while ago I blogged about turning the lights off in rooms you're not using. Christmas lights are tricky because you want to leave them on so people can see them but it wastes energy if you're leaving lights on when no-ones there. My solution is to include them in my "putting the house to bed" routine. As we walk round the house at night turning lights off and closing doors to keep the heat in the Christmas Tree lights go out too, and then in the morning they go back on for breakfast. Then if we go out they're turned off and when we come back they go back on. It means a lot of turning on and off but I can appreciate the lights without feeling guilty about using lots of electricity.

I'm off to a Christmas party this afternoon. I doubt there will be any Fairtrade wine but the food should be quite environment-guilt free as the restaurant's website says it uses the "finest locally sourced products" whenever possible. I'm not going veggie, which would probably be more environmentally friendly but it's good to know the turkey's probably local!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Birds of Prey

Birds of prey are beautiful creatures and they should be protected. In fact, many of them are protected by law.
When people are prosecuted for killing birds of prey often the land owners, who should be stopping their employees killing the birds are left unpunished. In Scotland the laws have been changed  so that all responsible are held to the law.

I've signed this petition asking for the laws to be changed in England too. If you love the beautiful birds of prey such as Red Kite and Buzzard please sign it too!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Deck the Halls

The weeks before Christmas are always a slightly stressful time but if you start considering the ethical and environmental side of everything it gets even more complicated. It's often a time when forgetting green habits from the rest of the year is very tempting, such as sourcing ethical products and looking for local sustainable goods.
This weekend we bought and decorated our Christmas Tree. The great environmental Christmas Tree debate rages every year: Is an artificial tree or a real tree better for the environment?

There are lots of different arguments and things to consider such as where the real trees are grown, how long you keep the fake tree and how you dispose of either of them. I think real is better but here are a few pros and cons for you to think about:


  • Young trees capture carbon dioxide as they grow so growing lots of young trees each year mean taking carbon out of the environment which is good
  • You need to try and find local trees from sustainable forests so that you minimise transport emissions and also make sure that more trees will be planted next year.
  • When deposing of your tree composting is good as it then goes back into nature and provides nutrients for other plants but burning uses a sustainable fuel (wood) which may be better than coal or oil.
  • Made of plastic (PVC) which requires large amounts of energy to produce and also creates nasty by products such as lead which can pollute the natural environment. 
  • The average lifetime of a fake tree is actually only 6 years, people tend to throw them away after that. And when they get thrown away they will remain on rubbish heaps for hundreds of years before the metal and plastic decompose.
  • Most fake trees are made in the far east and so the transportation costs and emissions from them are huge.
Some tips I've found on the internet for buying your trees are:

  • Try to find an organic or sustainably-managed producer, preferably local
  • If you have the garden space, consider a living tree with roots so you can plant it out in the New Year
  • Try not to not use preservative sprays to stop needle fall. If that's a problem buy one of the varieties that holds it's needles for longer, and keep it as cool as possible over the holiday. Trees that have been recently cut down in the UK will hold their needles better than imported varieties cut down weeks before so they can be shipped here in time.
  • If you have purchased a cut tree then make sure you take it to your recycling centre in the New Year, most local councils run schemes now (and many Scouts groups organise collection points). Alternatively shred it yourself and use as mulch or pathing.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

It's Cold Outside

In a brief gap in the rain I got out for my weekly walk today. It was my first walk in December and it's got very cold this week hailing almost every day.

There were still signs of autumn on the canal with mushrooms and fungi as well as red berries on some bushes. I'm sure all this outdoor food will be appreciated by the animals as winter closes in properly.


There were the usual birds but also lots of blackbirds which I don't always see. Last week I saw my first wren on the canal too, which was lovely. Another interesting sight was that of solar panels and a wind turbine on top of a canal boat which was moored on the banks. 

Saturday, 3 December 2011


Whilst stuck in a traffic jam next to our local park today we saw an interesting bit of animal behaviour.

A squirrel was sat by a young tree with a nut in it's mouth (nothing too strange yet!). As we watched it appeared to be looking back and forth at the traffic, and when there was a gap it ventured to the edge of the road and took a few furtive steps out. It slowly moved forwards until it was almost on the centre lines and then stopped. A car moving towards it slowed right down so as to avoid hitting it and for a few seconds the squirrel starred at the car, deciding what to do. It then ran back to the original side of the road, even though the cars on our side were completely stopped and it would have been safe to cross.

I've no idea why it was trying to cross the road, maybe to hide its nut, or why it decided running back was safer than going forwards, maybe because it had already tested that but of road. But it was a good reminder than interesting nature  can be found all around us if only we look, even in the centre of cities.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Counting the Days

The start of December has arrived and whilst the 1st was a very busy day I've managed to put up the advent calendar and candle by the end of day two!

For me Christmas is a time for traditions. Gatherings of old friends, singing familiar songs and getting out the well loved decorations that have accumulated over the years. There are some traditions others might wish I let go. For example, each year I proudly hang my home made glitter bell decoration in the middle of our tree. The fact that it is now 20 years old (made by me aged 2) and very obviously a squashed egg box cup covered in PVA and (almost all fallen off) glitter doesn't occur to me but perhaps it's time that one stayed in the box.

Other traditions such as the beautiful cloth advent calendars me and my brother were given when little should definitely continue, even if we're not there to open them each day. This is my first advent not spent at home or in university accommodation so new traditions are being created. Instead of a throw away cardboard, plastic and chocolate advent calendar I'm using  a cardboard fold out one from last year. Like our cloth ones at home a reusable cardboard calendar saves money, time and resources by avoiding buying new every 12 months. Saying that I was very tempted by the sprout one offered by Riverford, my veg box suppliers.

I think less people have advent candles at home than have advent calendars. Now out of university fire regulations I'm very happy to have a candle again. It's also a good excuse to have a little time each day when you don't use electricity. Whether it's sitting in the candle light relaxing with friends or lighting it to avoid putting the lights on for just a few more minutes at dusk.

Noticing and marking the seasons is important as it means we take notice of the world around us and hopefully think about our impact on that world. Advent's a good time for this as we watch the nights draw in and soon, always surprisingly soon, we'll be reaching the longest night.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

We're all in it together... almost

Yesterday I talked about the ongoing climate talks in Durban and I mentioned the Kyoto Protocol. I was looking at this on Wikipedia and found an interesting image:

This picture shows the varying participation in the Kyoto Protocol by countries around the world in 2010. Green indicates countries that have ratified the treaty, with dark green representing Annex I and II countries. These are countries which are registered as industrialised or in transition to industrialisation and countries which are developed and support developing nations. Grey shows countries which have not yet decided whether to ratify and brown shows those countries which do not intend to ratify.

Now, I was quite impressed with how many countries have ratified. The world is still facing serious environmental problems but at least most countries have agreed to acknowledge the problems and try to fix them. It's quit clear which of the world powers is kicking it's heels in and refusing to play though. From what I can see the main reason the U.S.A. won't ratify (and I suppose it's good that they haven't withdrawn from the protocol either) is because they want developing countries to be required to minimise emissions too. The concern is that developed countries will be harmed economically as they must make the most changes while less developed nations are left free to increase their emissions and economies.

The way I see it though is that we've caused the damage so we should sort it out! If you went to a meal with friends and one of them ate almost all the food you wouldn't be expecting to pay equally for it would you? Neither would you be pleased if that friend told you that you both had to diet because they'd eaten too much. It's important that developing countries develop in a sustainable way, and learn from our mistakes by investing in sustainable energy, avoiding wasteful consumerism and protecting important natural habitats. We all have to face the consequences of man made climate and it's the developing countries that will be hit worst with floods, severe weather and famine to come.