Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Turning Tides

On Sunday we had fish and chips for tea. The menus and posters all said "Sustainable Icelandic Cod and Haddock" which surprised me since I didn't know the fish from Iceland was sustainable. A quick look online and I found lots of articles on the subject.

On the Marine Stewardship Council's website there are details of the Icelandic Responsible Fisheries Certification Programme (IFR) which certifies sustainable Icelandic fishing practices. It's great to see that this programme covers fishing vessels, processing plants as well as other stakeholders in the chain of production.

I also found an article on the Guardian website from yesterday talking about a sharp rise in the number of sustainable seafood products on sale in the UK. This is great news and I'm glad the majority of search result I had from "Icelandic fishing sustainability" were positive stories, maybe the tides are beginning to turn on sustainable fishing.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Searching for Rubbish

After last week's little experiment of tracking what rubbish I created in a single day I began to wonder where my recycling actually goes once it leaves my house. I thought my council website would be the place to go, but after searching through the many useful pages on what can be recycled in my area I was still none the wiser. It's strange because Preston council are really good at telling us which items are recyclable and they are very keen on increasing recycling levels; so I wonder why the end location is such a mystery.

A general internet search didn't reveal much more either, several councils do give details of where the recycling and rubbish end up (here, here and here) but unfortunately not Preston. Judging the range of articles on the subject others have noticed this lack of information too and I wonder if people would be more keen to recycle if they knew where and what their old cans, glasses and boxes moved on to next. I love the pencil cases made from old tyres and the fleeces made from old plastic bottles.

Does anyone know how I can find out about where my rubbish and recycling go? I'd be really interested to  learn more. Another interesting question is how much of our "recycling" is actually recycled. Does it all get reused or does some of it get sent to landfill? More researched needed I think.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Listening Closely

My walk along the canal on Friday was very noisy. Not from traffic or people but lots and lots of birdsong. I'm terrible at picking out which song is which bird. I know I heard blackbird and great tit but only because I saw them singing. I think I heard sparrows and a robin too, and there were many, many more.

It's great to hear so much birdsong and it's a good reminder that just because you don't see many birds doesn't mean they aren't there. I hope everyone's been doing the Big Garden Birdwatch, if you haven't yet you've still got time today! It's a pity you can't really count birds you hear (since you can't be sure they're in your garden).

While I was browsing the internet this week I stumbled upon several programmes giving a guide to farmland birdsong on  the Radio 4 archive. A little more searching found old series with a guide to garden birdsong and a guide to woodland birdsong. I also found a selection of birdsong clips which you can download as mp3s onto your phone of mp3player. These are a brilliant way of starting a birdsong education and I'm definitely going to try and learn a few more calls over the next few months.

You could even brighten up a boring commute by adding birdsong to your journey instead of listening to the car engine or other passengers on public transport. If you walk or cycle to work then make sure you listen out for birdsong on your journey. I know there are about three places on my cycle route which are hotspots for birdsong, even at 6:40am.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Weekend Birding

Today is the start of the RSPB's annual Big Garden Bird Watch (BGBW). Over the next two days thousands of people in homes, parks, and gardens will be taking an hour out of their busy life to just watch what comes by.

The RSPB ask that people watch their garden or local green space for one continuous hour and record which birds land or use the space, and how many of them arrive. It's important to only record the maximum number you see of each species all at once, not how many times you see that species (otherwise you might count one bird twice!). But with the RSPB's website for identifying birds it's very easy and a great chance to find out what's about in your local area.

Whilst at university I dutifully did the BGBW every year and, almost always, saw absolutely nothing for the whole hour even though I regularly saw lots of birds on my window feeders at other times. While it's a bit dull for the watcher no sightings is still really important for the RSPB's records. The BGBW is one of very few surveys that records thousands and thousands of data point across the UK, and this gives an annual picture of how garden birds are doing in different areas. Over the last 34 years that it's been running you can trace species that have gone up, and gone down, but in individual areas not just on a national scale. That's why this is such a great event to get involved with.

So, fill up your feeders and get your pen and paper ready. For more information and to register go to the Big Garden Bird Watch website. I'll let you know how I did next week. Happy watching!

Friday, 27 January 2012

Bits and Pieces

I love seasonal food but there's only so much leek I can eat so this week we made our veg order a bit different.  We ordered potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions, a squash and a few other things for the same price as our normal box; so it's a nice change. And this time I remembered to order some Spanish clementines as well as my British apples. Now the fridge and cupboards are all stocked up with local veg again.

As well as our veg box arrival yesterday I visited Brockholes nature reserve again. This time (Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safari will be pleased to hear) I saw large flocks of chaffinches, some great tits, a swan and several other U.K. native birds. But just as I was leaving I noticed a small-ish bird of prey in a tree. I was driving at the time so didn't get a good look, all I saw was a spotty front. I thought that might be enough because my first impression was it wasn't a kestrel but having looked online I can't tell what it was! I must get better at bird ID, but whatever it was it was very pretty when it flew off.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

A Day of Rubbish

It's easy to think about the big environmental problems and feel like there's nothing one little person can do but eventually the green pennies add up to green pounds. It's been a while since I looked at my day-to-day actions and how I can green them, today I kept track of all the rubbish I created, what from and whether I really needed to. 

I had an early shift at work so a quick breakfast of porridge and a yoghurt at 6:20am was a good start. With a drink of orange juice this left rubbish of the yoghurt pot, the bag the porridge came in and the orange juice carton (typical that today was the day the carton got finished!). The foil top to the yoghurt was recyclable, but the rest was for the bin, because we don't have tetra pack recycling in Preston. I've been using up an impulse buy of those portioned up porridge packs but soon I should be back to cardboard packaging which can be recycled. 

At work no more rubbish until lunch time. I'd brought a packed lunch in a reusable box so no waste packaging there. Except when I made the lunch the bread was in a plastic and cardboard wrapper, the sandwich filler was in a glass jar and the fruit I took was wrapped in plastic when I bought it from the shop. Often I make my own bread and then I only need to recycle the mix's paper packet. Also my normal fruit comes from Riverford in paper bags which can be used to put food waste in for composting, I'd just run out so had to buy some from the local Co-op. Planning ahead could avoid this so I need to make sure I plan my fruit to avoid wasting packaging. The glass and cardboard can be recycled but there was still a lot of plastic for the bin. I did remember to take my fruit rubbish home for the green waste bin though, as there's no composting at work.

Once I got home I had another yoghurt (more plastic and foil) and then later reheated leftover lasagne from last night. This is great because I didn't need to cook anything, reheating for a few minutes in the microwave is a lot greener than cooking a whole new meal. But the salad which went with my dinner made more plastic waste and if I'm strict I should include half of the rubbish from making the lasagne in the first place. So one tin can and some more plastic from the meat. 

Another yoghurt (I'm a bit addicted at the moment!) later and my total day of rubbish is a few bits of foil, glass and cardboard recycling but quite a lot of plastic that got binned. I normally think I'm careful about packaging when I shop but there's still a lot of unrecyclable plastic being created. Maybe there just aren't any options which avoid this plastic but I'm sure I can get my rubbish down and recycling up more. If we all threw away one less piece of plastic a day the UK population would be throwing away 22.6 billion less bits of plastic a year, and that doesn't sound that small to me.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Surfing for Good

Last week I looked at a few environmental campaigns you could support to get a feel good buzz after Blue Monday. It's important for charities to have support for their campaigns with letter writing and petition signing, but without money coming in there'll be no way to fund these projects. While many people donate to charities this is often one of the first things to go when austerity hits. So if you're feeling the pinch but still want to give what can you do? Today I'm looking at a few websites that let you give to charity, without you having to part with you own hard earned cash.

I can't remember how our family discovered FreeRice but we quickly became addicted. This website tests (and teaches) English vocab, other languages, geography and even some science with simple multiple choice questions. Each time you answer a question right the site will donate 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme, 10 grains on its own isn't very much but it adds up quickly and in its first ten months the site donated over 42 billion grains of rice. Have a go, and see how addictive it is, at www.freerice.com

Most of us use search engines all day, every day. What was that actor's name? Where do clown fish live in the world? Who was number one on the day I was born? It's amazing the amount of information at our fingertips by just clicking a button. And just clicking is all you need to do to give to charity using the EveryClick website. This site is a search engine powered by Yahoo and every time you search through it they donate to charity. You can also use a specific charity's EveryClick page, like this one for BirdLife International. Just go to www.everyclick.com to start your searching.

That's two sites that let you give without actually giving, but there are also "click through" websites that donate to charity when you use them to shop. A couple of examples are here and here.

I'm sure there are lots more out there. If anyone knows any good ones I'd love to hear about them!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Getting in Touch

What's the name of your Member of Parliament? According to some online sources only 53% of people can name theirs. Mine used to be Phil Hope (Labour) in the Corby and East Northamptonshire constituency, after the last election it changed to Louise Mensch (Conservative). Whilst at university I was in Roberta Blackman-Woods (Labour) constituency and now in Preston Mark Hendrick (Labour) is my representative.

In the past I've written to all of them on different environmental issues. I wrote to and had responses from Phil Hope quite regularly, we didn't always agree on issues but it did feel like he cared. I only contacted Roberta Blackman-Woods a few times but her responses were always positive and she seemed clued up on the issues. Louise Mensch didn't endear herself to me when she ran her election campaign with phrases like (not exactly quoted!) "I'll save our countryside, I won't vote for wind farms". This type of rhetoric doesn't fill me with hope for a greener Northamptonshire. Her replies always focused on Conservative policy, not answering my actual question but at least she replied.

A few weeks ago I emailed my current MP Mark Hendrick asking him to support Caroline Lucas' Early Day Motion on Biofuelsit says that they're not as great as some people think and that they're taking money away from other renewable technologies. He has now replied agreeing with this, but his six line reply (to my 34 line email) very conspicuously doesn't mention whether he will support the Early Day Motion or not. I looked it up and he hasn't signed it yet. Maybe he will soon, if not I'll be emailing again asking why and also why he ignored my request for an email reply rather than post so that paper would be saved...

Why not get in touch with your MP here, they work for you after all.

Monday, 23 January 2012

City Life

It's definitely not just the countryside that has exciting wildlife. My first look into my friends garden in Leicester this morning revealed a fox running and jumping over the fence. A few minutes later I looked again and there it was curled up at the end of the garden. It stayed long enough for me to take a couple of blurry pictures and then ran back over the fence.

The fox didn't look very healthy really. Lots of bald patches and a ropey tail but apparently its a regular in the garden. It can't be a very nice life digging through bins for food in a big city, but maybe it's easier than catching food in the country.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Watching the Seasons

I didn't quite manage a walk this week as we're visiting friends and family down south but I did manage a photo of the canal from the start of my walk before we left for the weekend.

It's amazing how much the view has changed over the seasons so far. It was definitely rainy rather than icy this week but still very wintry. Below are three pictures of the canal from early September, late November and this week.

I'm surprised by how much the colour changes because it's only the leaves that are missing. It'll be a while until new buds come through but I'm keeping an eye out so I can record it on the Woodland Trusts Nature's Calendar

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Starry Starry Night

This week has seen a lot of press coverage on astronomy with the BBC's Stargazing Live programmes. It's not exactly a wildlife or environment specific subject but it does encourage people to get outside and into nature, which can only be a good thing.

Anyone who looks up at the sky in a city knows that light pollution block out most of the stars, even on a clear night. On Monday night we walked to the local park and spent some time looking up at the sky. The more you look the more you see out there. But it's nothing compared to the number of stars you can see out in the country. It's only then that you realise how much light pollution there is in towns and cities.

Whether it's day or night it's great to get outside and into the fresh air. Look up this weekend and be inspired. And while you're doing that look down and around and see if you can see any nocturnal wildlife too, let yourself be inspired to save the beautiful environment that is the only one we've found so far.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Pedal Power

I had hoped the novelty of cycling to work would last a little longer than a week, but pedalling against the wind on a bitterly cold night yesterday wasn't that much fun. Getting home under my own steam and keeping warm from pedalling rather than freezing walking home or feeling bad about driving is still pretty good though.

There was a brief lighting failure when my back light fell off on my first ride (never to be found again) but a trip to Halfords later all was well. I was surprised how quick cycling is, my 45 minute walk has turned into a 17 minute cycle which is great on early mornings and late evenings. There's also the benefit of still seeing wildlife rather than driving right past it all. I've cycled past blackbirds and wrens in the dark mornings, squirrels and robins during the day but no hedgehogs in the park yet. I'm keeping my eyes peeled though.

So my verdict on cycling, even with the ice and bitter weather, is that it's still the best way to get to work. It's quick, clean and still quite fun.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

True or False?

What's the fastest animal in the world? Well if you include cars, planes and space rockets then it's definitely humans. But under our own steam we're a lot slower, even the fastest 100m sprint ever recorded only reaches about 40km/h.

Others in the animal kingdom would leave Usain Bolt standing though. Whilst I was volunteering with the Wildlife Trust yesterday, a group of 8 year olds were asked "True or false, the cheetah is the fastest animal in the world?" Most children said true, a few thought it might be a trick question and dithered, none of them came up with another animal they thought went faster.

So were they right? The cheetah is very fast over short distances and can reach 120km/h at top speed but its not quite the fastest. In fact its a UK animal which wins the gold. Reaching over 325km/h the peregrine falcon    is incredibly quick. These top speeds are reached when in free-fall swooping down from cliffs or the sky to catch prey.

And where can you go to see these incredible racers? Well quite a lot of places if you know where to look, peregrines are residents across Scotland and Wales and are found around the edges of Ireland and England. They're not just rural birds either. Their natural habitat is high cliffs and as far as they are concerned that's exactly what tower blocks are. You'll find them hanging around on top of the Tate in London as well as in central Manchester and other large cities. We even think we saw one in Preston a few weeks ago! Probably my best wildlife sighting in the city so far.

It's brilliant having such exciting wildlife right on our doorstep in this country. I wish more school children knew that the fastest animal in the world doesn't need a plane journey or a zoo to be found, just a bit of local knowledge and some patience.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Hiding in the Hedges

A recent conversation with someone revealed that apparently there have only been about 5 sightings of hedgehogs recorded in my area recently. Now I haven't recorded any and neither have several friends but we've all seen them around our streets at night. The gap between what's recorded and what's actually out these is clearly a problem.

In the last 50 years the hedgehog population in the UK fell from 30 million to an estimated 1.5 million. That's a big drop! Now the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and People's Trust for Endangered Species are calling for a new climate survey of these prickly mammals to find out if their hibernation is being affected by climate change.

For more information see here, here and here.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Rainy Days and Mondays

Yesterday was Blue Monday, supposedly the most depressing day of the year. The way they calculate this is very dodgy, and in reality yesterday was probably no more or less depressing than the days surrounding it, but the rainy, cold, post Christmas wait for the first pay day of the year is definitely not filling people with cheer.

This slump in public spirits is partly explained by the desire for action, as with so many hopeful New Year resolutions which will have already been broken by now. When we do something to make things better, getting fit, saving up, learning a new skill, we feel better in ourselves and what could be better than saving the planet for the next generation? So for a quick mood boost after a possibly depressing yesterday I've found some online environment petitions to sign. Have a go and see how you feel, you might just find an inner activist within you! You'll definitely end the day knowing you've spoken out for nature and supported some amazing campaigns.

  • Vicarious liability for raptor persecution in England. When gamekeepers are convicted of the illegal killing of birds of prey little emphasis is put on the role the landowner or employer has in this terrible crime against nature. This petition aims to mirror the recent law in Scotland addressing the issue.
  • Petition Fish. The Wildlife Trust is pushing the government to stick to it's promises of Marine Protected Areas which it made law back in 2009. All wildlife needs protecting, even if it's offshore and out of normal sign. 
  • Veto the Forest Code. Greenpeace are doing a bit of angry tree hugging here. The new Forest Code in Brazil leaves huge amounts of forest open to new destruction. This petition reminds the Brazilian President how important the Amazon is to all people and the huge responsibility she has as one of it's main guardians.
  • Join the Rebellion. Another one from Greenpeace, Volkswagen have regularly opposed key environmental laws. Watch the video, join the rebellion and use the force to overthrown the darkside! (Look it up on Youtube for some brilliant videos)
  • Final Demand. Friends of the Earth are campaigning to protect clean energy suppliers and are urging an investigation in the Big Six energy companies. They want affordable, clean energy for the whole of the UK and they want it now.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Tracking the Seasons

Lots of the green things I do are linked to the changing seasons. I buy a veg box partly because I want local, organic, sustainable food and partly because I like to see the changes in what veg is growing as I move through the year. I wait with anticipation for the first of the parsnips or asparagus or UK lettuce.
I go for my weekly walk along the canal because it's good for me but also because I like to get outside and see how the world is changing each week. Looking for blackberries, ice, birds nesting or flowers is exciting and makes me feel connected to nature.

People who have been enjoying and keeping track of wildlife for many, many years will tell you that this years bluebells are out early or that the spring migration is later than normal. These facts are interesting in themselves but they're also important for science and conservation. Knowing how the seasons are changing can give us vital clues into how climate change might be affecting our wildlife and whether there are ways we can help to protect important species.

You might think it's just experts who can do this sort of thing, or people with years of records but you'd be wrong. The Woodland Trust have set up Nature's Calendar which is a survey tracking the first events of each season for different species. There is one for spring and one for autumn and they want as many people as possible from around the UK to tell them what wildlife they're seeing in their local area. The website has identification charts, a list of species they want to know about and what events you should be looking out for. You can also look at their results for previous years and see how the seasons are changing.

Judging from their charts I should be looking for snowdrops (saw my first one yesterday!), hazels budding and maybe even some frog spawn soon. I should be listening for rocks and song thrushes singing for the first time too. Have a look at the website and then get outside and see what you can see. I'm going to be taking the recording sheet with me on my walks from now on so I'll let you all know what the seasons are doing in Preston!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Wintry Walk

Setting off for my walk today I was expecting it to be cold but sunny. I thought it would be bright and might feel quite like spring and it did until we actually reached the canal.

The paths along the canal were still frosty, the gardens were covered with frost and I even saw a couple of snow drops in flower. It definitely felt like winter!

Further along the canal was completely frozen over in pretty, hexagon feather patterns. It wasn't very thick but it shows how cold it is when things are still icy at 2pm.

There were lots of birds around again and we got very close to some long tailed tits fluttering around in the branches above. It was then that we heard a woodpecker drumming in the middle distance! I've never really noticed this before but definitely a sign of spring like I mentioned in my last Twelve Days of Christmas blog. A lovely wintry walk full of wildlife.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Green Fingers

After my lettuce success a few months ago the kitchen windowsill is full of plants again.  We rescued a chive plant from the garden which was missing presumed dead and is now thriving again, ready to go into salads and dips. The chilli plants that I planted along with the lettuce have been re-potted as they get bigger and a mystery basil has appeared with them, no idea where from!

I also planted some crocus bulbs before Christmas to give as presents and I kept a few for the house. They've just started to sprout and I'm looking forward to see what colours they turn out to be soon. My house mate's amaryllis is growing very fast too.

It's not exactly self-sufficiency but it's a start! Hopefully one day, with a bigger garden, we'll manage more than just salads.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Slimming for Spring

It's that time again where I dip into How Green Are My Wellies by Anna Shephard. January is the time for slimming but not just your body, your bin and your stuff too. It's a time for clearing out old things to charity shops, regifting less wanted presents (but don't give them back to the original owners!) and slimming down food waste after Christmas to make sure we're not just wasting food.

Since moving to Preston I've enjoyed only having to empty the main bin once a week but it's time I starting looking at how often I have to empty the green food waste bin too. It goes to recycling and composting but it's still important to reduce all our waste, and make the most efficient use of resources as possible.

Really that's the key behind almost all environmental ideas. Not over buying on new clothes when you have ones at homes, planning what meals you'll cook so that you can buy just enough without binning any and only using the fossil fuels you need. It's good old fashioned thriftyness, something we can all relate to in the current economic climate.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Getting the Wheels Turning

I've finally made some progress with my trip to work. It takes 45 minutes to walk, ten minutes to drive and I estimate about 25 minuets to cycle. Over the weekend I bought front and back bike lights and I've taken the florescent yellow reflective jacket out of the car ready to wear on dark mornings and evenings.

 Today is my first day cycling to work. Thankfully it's not on busy roads but through local streets and across a park. Also at 6:30am I'm unlikely to see that many cars around! By cycling I can avoid the long walk but still get to work under  my own steam without resorting to the warmth of the car. I'm hoping it isn't raining but if it is at least I'll be outside for less time and have my big yellow coat to protect me.

There are lots of cycling schemes promoting biking to work such as this and this. I've also found a useful list of tops tips for cycling to work here and there are so many articles on cycling that I don't even know where to start. There's also a slightly worrying article linking cycling to work with heart attacks, but I won't read it until I'm safely home for the weekend.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Fishy Tales

Yesterday, while I was visiting a Wildlife Trust site I picked up a leaflet from their Petition Fish campaign stand. This campaign pushes for the UK governments to maintain momentum during the creation of the first Marine Protected Areas, which should occur sometime this year. In 2009 the Marine Act was passed but since then worrying signs have raised concerns that any protected areas won't be quite protected enough.

The Trust's petition calls for protected areas which are

  • in the right places; where real nature conservation is needed
  • supporting recovery from past declines; not just keeping things at the same level
  • well managed with adequate regulations and control.
So far Petition Fish has had over 9,000 actions, go to the Wildlife Trust's website to add your voice, I have.

Back to that leaflet I picked up. It was the Pocket Good Fish Guide produced by the Marine Conservation Society. This clear, colour coded leaflet gives an extensive guide to eating fish sustainably, it even tells you for each species where in the world it's ok to eat them from. For example, Mackerel is a good fish to eat from anywhere, Bluefin Tuna should always be avoided but Salmon should be avoided if caught in the wild Atlantic, thought carefully about if farmed in the Atlantic and happily eaten if from the Pacific or if organically farmed in the Atlantic.

You don't want to be carrying an A4 leaflet around while out shopping so there's a push out card telling you the best and the worst fish to buy. So you can just pop it in your wallet, ready for the shops!

On a similarly fishy note, Nicholas Milton has recently released his Top Ten Environmental Heros and Top Ten Environmental Villains of 2011. Fish friend Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is in the heros list at number two for his Big Fish Fight earlier in the year. There are some other interesting names on both lists so check them out.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Cost of Green

In an interview in the Telegraph yesterday the President of the Nation Farmers Union Peter Kendall  talked about the economy, food, farming and the environment. All thing's he should know about.

He said that with the economy "on it's knees" consumers who are already "massively squeezed" will not be willing to pay more for free range or local foods.

I only do paid work for two days a week while I volunteer for environment groups the other three days. On this pay I manage to buy organic local veg, British fruit and milk and free range and British meat as much as supermarkets allow me to. It's true that, at least for meat, this is the most expensive way to buy food. Last weekend we had a discussion while out shopping, trying to decide between the chicken bits that were £2 or the free range chicken bits that were £4. We decided that it was worth having less chicken and paying more if we could be sure it hadn't been kept in a tiny cage in the dark all its life. This was an active decision to pay more for better quality food.

I'm not trying to support a family on my two days a week, and I know there are many more squeezed than me, but I managed this type of shopping the whole time I was at university when living on £5k a year which is less than a lot of people who don't buy ethically. I'm probably in the minority but please don't try and tell me how I'll shop Mr Kendall, you clearly don't know me.

The article also says that a recent poll shows 4 out of 5 adults believe farmers have a duty to look after the landscape for future generations. This is a great statistic but we all have this moral responsibility, whether directly by how we use the land or indirectly by showing our support for ethical, sustainable farming practices. I wonder how many of those people are voting with their feet and actively buying ethical food products, if 4 out of 5 people only bought free range and local foods we'd have a revolution on our hands!

In the poll 78% of people asked want farmers to get more support to make farming more environmentally sustainable, like leaving land fallow for birds (an obligation to have set-aside was removed in 2008). This is good news since the CAP funding for farmers is under review and the government are looking at whether farmers should get more incentives for environmental farming. I hope they see this poll too.

Peter Kendall also said that

If our biodiversity is the same in 30 years time then that is a fair achievement but if our food production is the same that is a problem.
We may need to increase food production, although there is so much food waste and obesity currently that I'm sure we use more food than we need. But I find it worrying that the public voice of farmers shows such blatant disregard and lack of responsibility for the land and wildlife that we all have an responsibility to protect.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Tidying Up

Today I went for my first walk along the canal since the New Year. I'm still going to aim to go at least once a week as it's a brilliant way to see how the seasons are changing and probably the best place for wildlife close to home. I left the house with a headache this morning but after five minutes out in the fresh air it had almost completely gone- it's amazing what just being outside can do.
As I got down to the canal today I noticed three things; first that I could see a huge amount of litter along the path, banks and in the canal. It's horrible to see such disregard for our local green spots. My second observation was that, despite the rubbish, there were lots of birds out and about singing in the trees and hedges as well as visible hopping around the banks. The usual suspects of mallard, moor hen, black headed gull, sparrow and pigeon were there but there were some other surprising treats too. There were many blackbirds still (like before Christmas) but also chaffinch, wren and lots of long tailed tits. The long tailed tits were lovely and seemed very confident hopping around in the branches above my head. Hopping around enough in fact that it was impossible to photograph them with my very basic skills with a camera. The litter however was easier to capture. Here are a few examples of what I saw:

I said I noticed three things, and the third explained why the first two were so prominent. Along the canal the grass, hedges and bushes have all been trimmed back and tidied up. Being winter most of the leaves have gone from the trees and bushes but this tidying made the path seem even more bare and barren. The birds had nowhere to hide, which was great for me as I could watch them hopping around the bank but bad for them as they had no shelter. The trimming also revealed hidden pockets of rubbish that are normally hidden by overgrown brambles. I am told by older and wiser sources that hedge trimming at this time of year is good for the wildlife in the long run. The birds have already had all the berries from the trees, haven't started nesting yet and with no leaves on them anyway you're not losing that much cover or protection. I just wish that as much effort went into clearing up the litter-which can be a real danger to wildlife-as goes into tidying up the brambles and grass on the paths.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

All Week Roast

The first proper Sunday of the year  (last week we were still having leftovers from Christmas!) and I'm trying to stick to one (of many) New Year resolutions for the environment. In previous blogs I've talked about the benefits of cooking a big joint of meat at the weekend and then using the leftovers through the week. Here are a few good reasons just to remind you:
  • Uses less energy- no need to heat the oven up again during the week as you've already cooked the meat
  • Uses less time- just boil a few veg and you're ready to eat
  • Uses less money- buying one joint of meat and then splitting it over the week is probably cheaper than buying lots of different types of meat for different days.
  • Uses less food- if you're trying to make the joint last for as many meals as possible you won't be tempted to eat it all at once. So it's probably a bit healthier for the waistline!
Today I cooked a joint of beef in the slow cooker and it's been filling the house with yummy smells all day. But now the meat's cooked, the potatoes are roasting and the veg is ready on the hob. There is so much gravy from the slow cooking that we'll be able to have it all week too (it's my favourite part of a roast dinner, the gravy).

So today it's roast, tomorrow meat pie, Tuesday a veggie break with macaroni cheese, Wednesday cold meat and veg, Thursday if there's any left maybe a stir fry or curry and by Friday if we've been thrifty enough we'll have cold meat and mash with veg. I'm not sure the joint will last that long, but even if it does today, tomorrow and Wednesday that will still be 6 meal portions and I'll be able to use leftover gravy to spice up vegetable soups too. For a tenner I think that's quite good really if you're determined to eat meat, and the beef is British!

I'm hoping to cook a big joint each week and see how long I can make it last, getting creative with leftovers and learning new recipes as the year goes by. You might think the same meat every day would get boring, but if you eat meat 3-4  times a week and are veggie the rest it's surprising how varied the meals can be. Cheese sauce, a pasta bolognese, or a curry can all have the same meal in and taste completely different.

Another good trick is while the oven's hot cook as much as you can, to make the most of the heat. So maybe now's the time to bake some bread...

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Delivery Time

With a new year comes a new veg box from the Riverford box company. My friendly delivery man David managed to call during a brief 30 minutes of sunshine on Thursday, I hope he didn't get too rained on during his rounds. 

This weeks box contained classic January UK veg including carrots, potatoes and leeks. A few Spanish imports of cherry tomatoes, ramiro peppers and broccoli brightened things up, giving a bit of variety, but I can never decide if this irritates me or not. It's lovely to have peppers and tomatoes in January (especially knowing they're organic and shipped rather than flown across) but when you buy a veg box to get a sense of the seasons it seems almost counter productive. It does however make meals easier. I'm the only one eating the green veg so if we got just that it would take me weeks and weeks to get through. 

January is great for some veg, such as kale, potatoes and cabbage but it's definitely not a very fruity season. After the deluge of oranges, satsumas and other citrus fruits over Christmas January feels a bit boring. I always thought oranges must be out of season and flown across the world for Christmas but according to the Riverford website they get their oranges from Spain between October and April, so I know what I'm buying in my next box. Although it's still Spanish and not as local as my UK apples I got this week.

As well as maybe getting some Spanish oranges next time I'm considering another addition to my regular order. Riverford offer meat boxes as well as their veg ones. The cheapest one is about £30 but you do seem to get a lot from it; a stock pack, beef pot roast (1kg), pork belly joint (700g), beef diced (400g), 4-6 lamb chops and chicken quarters. The website says this should last two adults about a fortnight, which for us is probably about right as we only have meat about 4 times a week. 

The convenience of getting all our veg and meat delivered is quite tempting especially because you couldn't get it as locally or all organic in the supermarket. What I'd really love is a local farm shop somewhere close to Preston but I haven't found one yet, maybe I'm not looking hard enough.

Friday, 6 January 2012

100th Blog!

Amazingly this is my 100th post. I'm quite impressed that (allowing for computer failures) I've kept to my aim of blogging every day. We've gone from early autumn through to mid winter and by my 200th post we'll be well into spring again.

Last night was twelfth night and, following tradition, we took all our decorations down to avoid bad luck in the house. The tree has lasted well and doesn't look half as bald as I thought it would a month after we brought it inside. Clearing Christmas out feels quite refreshing and reminds me we're almost half way through winter now.

I couldn't say I enjoy the cold winter months, but the excuse to snuggle up in blankets and stay inside cooking wholesome meals is quite nice. Other than a few hours of snow in mid December we've only had rain and lots of wind this season. After several years of very snowy winters I feel like I'm still waiting for winter to kick in with white all around, but maybe we just won't get any this year. Already there are signs we're crawling out of the darkness as the days begin to lengthen and some bulbs I planted before Christmas are beginning to sprout tiny green stalks. I'm looking forward to the next season, but that's always the case, with new vegetables in my veg box, the change in the wildlife we see and a change in how wrapped up I have to get before going outside!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Twelve Drummers Drumming

It's definitely not spring yet (I've only just change the background picture on the Blog for winter!) but soon Great Spotted Woodpeckers will be heard drumming away in forests and woodland all over the UK. It's amazing how diverse nature's musicians are.

These birds have a range of calls and when looking for a mate they use hollow trees as drums and peck away creating a distinctive drumming sound. You can listen to examples of this here and here. These birds eat insects, nuts and seeds and will make holes by pecking into trees to get at insects under the bark. This also makes a drumming sound although slower and more like a hammer than their calls for a mate.

Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been known to peck at timber houses for food as well as occasionally eating other birds eggs. To help them when clinging to trees woodpeckers have two toes facing forwards and two facing backwards, this gives a secure grip when hopping about in high branches.

There are four species of woodpecker in the UK and the Great Spotter Woodpecker is the most common. The best way to differentiate it from the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is that the Great Spotted have a red flush of colour underneath the tail which none of the other UK species have. It is easy to differentiate from the Green Woodpecker (the other common breeding UK species) as the Greater and Lesser Spotted species are both black, white and red, not green!

So, here ends my Twelve Days of Christmas blogs. I hope you've enjoyed them. Tomorrow we'll be back to my everyday green adventures in the Preston area with recycling after Christmas, finally fixing my bike (?) and getting involved in more local and not-so-local environmental projects and activities. Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Eleven Pipers Piping

We had up to 27 Lords a leaping yesterday and I'm going to allow a bit more leniency with the numbers today as there are 13 not 11 pipers piping.

Back in November I briefly talked about the 13 spoon-billed sandpipers which have been flown over to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Slimbridge. There are thought to be less than 100 pairs left in the wild so these new captive birds may be the start of a vital new breeding programme which, one day, may lead to an improvement in wild numbers of these beautiful birds.

The birds will be settled in well now and are on view to visitors of the reserve via a CCTV link with a daily live feed which can be viewed in the cinema at the reserve with commentary.

To hear what the pipers sound like (not much like pipes really!), and to find out more about the project to save these wonderful birds please take a look at the videos below, both found on Youtube :

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Ten Lords a Leaping

In the New Years Honours list there are 27 new lords, maybe more than ten of them will be leaping with joy about it.

Next to each name there is a short description of career or reason for the honour. In these descriptions, in over 90 pages of names, environment appears fourteen times, conservation seven times, nature once and sustainability once. Of those with environment in their job or service description there was one knighthood (Prof Robert Watson Chief Scientist at DEFRA), two CBEs, four OBEs and seven MBEs. Lots of the names work at DEFRA or the Environment Agency but many don't give details just saying "For services to the environment". Whatever these people are doing, whether it's in small community projects, working as wardens of nature reserves or working within the system to improve environmental legislation it's brilliant to see them in the list. Well done!

Monday, 2 January 2012

Nine Ladies Dancing

Ladies dancing doesn't immediately make me think of any environment topics but it does make me think of ladybirds and birds. When you put "ladybirds dancing" into a search engine one of the first links is this.

In the first days of January though ladybirds will hopefully all be curled up hibernating, maybe in some nice bug hotels like these on the Buglife website.

The Guardian website is also talking about dancing birds this week. Here they show birds of paradise dancing, it's not quite nine but still very pretty. Have a look, being reminded of the beautiful species in the world has definitely inspired me to think up some green new year's resolutions for the coming weeks and hopefully longer!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Eight Maids a Milking

The milk industry has moved on from milk maids and fully thrown itself into the 21st century with equipment that makes some sci-fi movies look outdated but many are questioning whether economic or environmental sustainability is possible on modern dairy farms.

Several years ago the milk trade body DairyCo released a report detailing the average price of milk and the amounts made by both farmers and supermarkets. In the year 2007/2008 the average price of a four pint pack of milk from a supermarket was £1.45; supermarkets passed £1.07 onto processors, who then passed 58p onto farmers. Just under half the total price going to farmers doesn't seem bad considering all the work that goes into the processing, marketing and delivery to shops; that is until you realise it costs the farmer 61p on average to produce those four pints of milk in the first place. So, on average, in 2007/2008 farmers lost 3p for every four pints of milk they produced, surely this isn't sustainable? Not all farms are making a loss but many dairy farms have been going out of business in the UK as milk from abroad is produced at a lower cost allowing it to be imported at a lower price to the supermarkets. Since 2007/2008 we've had the credit crunch and supermarkets have been pushing prices down and I wonder who is taking the hit as milk prices drop even lower. This reminds me of a quote from the brilliant television series the West Wing where, during an argument about farmers being victimised because food prices are dropping, a character points out that "when life expectancy goes up, that's not victimising undertakers." It's true that farmers sometimes seem to get special exceptions but it's not  really a like-for-like comparison.  If the population went down there'd be less demand for farmers products, but what we're talking about is the price of food dropping below what it actually costs to make it, and I'm pretty sure undertakers would stop digging graves if they were actually losing money each time they did it.

So what can be done? Unless the markets start to pay higher prices for milk either change jobs or make your dairy more cost efficient. Unfortunately making a process cost efficient can often mean bad news for the environment. Fertilisers, methane and ammonia emissions and intensive land use all have an impact on the environment. Recent studies have shown that variations in practices leads to a large difference in carbon footprint. Perhaps by looking at best practices farmers can become more environmentally friendly and more economically sustainable.