Saturday, 31 March 2012


At work there's a new, healthy vending machine. Instead of chocolate bars and crisps it has milk, fruit juices, smoothies and other things.

I've been working my way through a few of them. So far I've had dried apple crisps and a Nakd Cocoa Orange bar, which is quickly becoming my favourite work snack. It's gluten, wheat and dairy free and so it's vegan too. I don't know why but being vegan always makes food sound healthier. This bar does look quite healthy, it counts as one of your five daily portions of fruit and veg. It's made from 40% raw dates, 40% raw cashews, 14% raw raisins and 5% cocoa with a hint of orange and chocolate flavour. All the ingredients are cold pressed together, so it hasn't even been cooked.

There's lot of talk about nature on the packet, with a picture of a bee and comments like "nature is nicer" and ""nature loves you". There's even a link to the Animal Aid website on the back of the packet. It feels like this product should be eco-friendly as well as healthy for you, but is it? It's true that being vegan uses less resources as you don't use up land growing or keeping animals for food. But other than that I can't see any green credentials. There's no sign of where the food's grown (just that the bar is made in Britain), how it's transported or whether it promotes sustainable farming and production. 

It's easy to think that good for you means good for the environment but many healthy foods carry a big carbon footprint. Salads grown abroad in greenhouses, then flown back to our shops to keep them fresh for example. But that doesn't mean that all healthy foods are bad for the environment. Eating organic, local foods means you'll east seasonally (so get lots of variation in your diet), you won't be consuming pesticides and chemicals left on the food from farming and the food will be fresh, because it doesn't have to travel as far to get to you. No matter what the branding or marketing of a product, just because it looks wholesome and nice doesn't mean its good for the environment, unless it has certified credentials that can be check. Don't fall into the branding trap.

I think I'll still be buying the Nakd cocoa orange bars at work, but I'll try to keep in mind that healthy doesn't always mean green from now on.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Hot Air

We don't have a tumble drier in our house and it's the first time I've ever not had one.  Tumble driers aren't essential, but it's one of those little things that makes life a bit easier. A much greener option is to dry clothes outside or inside on hangers or lines. At university I tried very hard to dry my clothes this way, but there are only so many places you can hang t-shirts, jumpers and trousers in a room, and there's very little space left to sleep or work once you've used them all. So instead I made sure I waited until I had big loads, or shared a drier with friends, so that we saved money and electricity. 

Now, without a drier as a back up for those moments when you really need that top dry right now, I plan my washing much further in advance. In winter it takes a few days for things to dry inside so you have to keep up with what needs to be clean next week, not tomorrow.  This winter where the drying rack lives has changed almost every day in our house. Sometimes by the radiator in the living room behind the sofa (but not when people come round as it takes up too much room), sometimes by the front door (again not when anyone might want to go out or come in), sometimes it's in the kitchen (but not when we need to move around to cook) and sometimes it ends up in the bedroom (but not often as then the room gets all damp and clammy).

 Because of all this you'll understand why the first week I can dry clothes outside is quite so exciting. I've had clothes on the line every day and they're dry in only a few hours. This, more than anything else, is why I am loving the hot sunny weather this week. 

It's not just me that's enjoying the sunshine either. For the first time ever yesterday I saw blackbirds in our yard, taking our garden bird species up to two. There have also been lots of hoverflies, bees and other insects flying across the walls. With the new season finally here suddenly everyone is very busy buzzing around and looking for food. It's great. Hopefully this weekend I'll make it down to the canal (I haven't been in weeks!) and see how spring is coming along there too.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Filling the cupboards

After what seems like ages (but is probably only a month) I've got a new veg box and another meat box

I'm always happiest with a full kitchen and I'm looking forward to spending at least some of the weekend cooking up meals to freeze for later on.

In my veg box this week there are

  • Potatoes UK
  • Carrots UK
  • Onions UK
  • Purple Sprouting Broccoli UK
  • Salad Pack IT/UK 
  • Mushrooms UK
  • Butternut Squash ZA
With the hot weather continuing I'm looking forward to that salad pack and I'm pleased that everything is UK grown except the salad (Italy and UK) and the squash (South Africa). As well as my normal apples and bananas I've also got some peppers which have been shipped in from Spain or Italy as this has a lower carbon footprint than growing them in heated greenhouses here in the UK. I always forget that UK grown doesn't always mean the greenest option.

To go with all these lovely greens I've got some nice meat too. Rather than a set box I've picked a few essentials to make big bulk meals with ready for the freezer and then easy dinners later on. The meat I chose was:
  • 350g beef cubed steak (This was great as a stew last time and made so many meals!)
  • 350g bacon
  • 300g diced chicken
  • 4 lamb and mint burgers (I'm hopeful for more bbq weather)
  • 450g chipolatas (Great with everything, bread, pasta, rice or potatoes)
Like normal this should last two of us two to three weeks and we'll buy essentials like milk, cheese and bread as well. But for just over £40 and delivery free that's not bad for a completely organic almost all UK grown full larder. 

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Birthday Greens

Being green isn't easy but neither is living with a green obsessive like me! Over the years family, friends and housemates have regularly put up with comments on correct recycling procedures,  refusal to throw things away because "they might be useful later" or "I can make something out of it" and my absent minded turning off of lights, even when people are still in the room. So, on my birthday, I just want to say thank you to everyone who puts up with me!

Even if you're the greenest of green (and I'm certainly not) you can't control other people. So while you might search for that elusive eco-friendly card or proudly wrap a new birthday present with last years paper others might not appreciate the sentiment. When it comes to gifts and birthdays it's important to keep things in perspective. You don't have to spend loads on glitter and plastic covered wrapping paper but unless it's your nearest and dearest who understand your quirks I'd leave the 3rd time used paper in the recycling.

When it comes to receiving presents and cards the same is true. Any gift or card is wonderful to receive and as much as I'm told e-cards are greener, it's just nowhere near as nice. It's interesting to see how eco-friendly cards are creeping into the mainstream. A few years ago I had to really search for any, and they were mostly green and with plants on but now there's a huge range of lovely cards on offer. This year I've had FSC cards from people I'm sure didn't buy them intentionally, but as in previous years I notice some cards from friends which have clearly been searched out to match my love of the environment. Others have been from local artists who promote nature and conservation while a few have been home made. 

My favourite birthday greenness is definitely the decorative wrapping on a nice bottle from friends this year. Made from recycled paper found in the office  it's lovely and can easily be recycled or reused afterwards too! I would put a picture up but the camera wont let me at the moment, hopefully I will alter on. 

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sunshine Smile

Sunshine is great. It's a natural mood booster, helps set our internal clock and gives us lots of lovely vitamin D. Without it our world would be a freezing, empty rock but with it we have our green planet.

It's been shown that five minutes of exercise in a green space boosts mental health hugely. So, with lighter evenings and Earth Hour coming up  next weekend why not get away from technology and spend some time outside enjoying nature or just green spaces. And watch that smile grow on your face.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Easy Water

This summer water looks set to be a top environmental priority in the UK. I've already done a couple of blogs on it this year and every day there seem to be new stories, policies and opinions on drought, how to save water and where it should be used.

Last Thursday was World Water Day and the Guardian published a set of photo's to mark the occasion. You can see the pictures here and looking at them my main thought is how easy water is in the UK. 

Even with hosepipe bans across the country I doubt we'll reach a stage where we run out of fresh drinking water this summer. We hardly notice water in our day to day lives. So far today I've had a shower, washed up, had a drink, used the washing machine, boiled some for a cup of tea and watered the garden. That's all in four hours and I didn't need to think about how I would get the water, where it came from, whether it would be clean or if I needed to save it for later in the day.

My generation has grown up with television images of African droughts, with adverts from charities who build wells and the knowledge of the long walks some people make even for dirty, unsafe water. But because we've grown up with it it's easy to let it wash over us, as just part of the background noise. One quote which always sticks with me is from George Orwell who said that the ultimate obscenity would be when one half of the world could watch the other half starving to death on television. The world reached that point in the mid 80s, before I was even born. Now we've moved a step further, one half of the world have turned off the TV, not because they can't bear to watch (although that must be partly it, out of sight, out of mind) but because they've seen it all before and it's not news anymore.

It's too easy to forget how lucky we are and how easy water is for us. At the very least we must value this gift of fresh, clean, life giving water and make sure we do everything we can not to waste it or misuse it. Whether that's having shorter showers, only washing clothes and dishes when we have a full load or actively giving to water charities to help others find out how good clean water tastes and feels.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

In the Garden

It's amazing how much of a difference a bit of lawn and some trees can make to the wildlife you see in the garden. In Preston, more than one sparrow is a success but after a week at my parent's house I'm reminded how varied garden wildlife can be!

Many bird feeders will be back in cupboards now that spring is here but the full feeders outside are busy with goldfinches, sparrows, starlings, pigeons and a very regular friendly robin. A good reminder that there are still hungry birds around.

I've also rediscovered the joys of conservatory birdwatching. The flock of sparrows happily preen and hop around in the bushes seemingly oblivious to the people sat meters away on the other side of the glass walls. A brilliant way to watch nature in the warm and much more interesting than going to a zoo. I happily sit for ages absorbed in the tiny world of sparrow society.

With all the small bird in the garden it's not surprising that there's a healthy number of raptor sightings above it too. This week we've seen several red kites (now a regular sighting after reintroductions locally), a buzzard and even several visits from a sparrow hawk. I haven't seen any of them catch anything but I'm sure that they do. It's good to see food chains thriving and nature in its most natural form (except for the not so natural gardens-they're not exactly wild or unplanned).

Back to Preston I look forward to watching out for my sparrows but I'll miss seeing so much wildlife on the lawn and in the trees. It just shows what a difference different habitats make to the wildlife you see.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Lovely Ladies

Has anyone else noticed lots of ladybirds this week? Everywhere I've been over the last seven days seems to have been crawling with the little red and black creatures!

I noticed one crawling through the grass, which was moved to safety, just before the lawn was mowed on Tuesday. Outside Kettering station yesterday I counted over ten within a metre of me on gravel, walls and the buddleia bushes growing on some rubble by the tracks. Everywhere I looked there were more, all very active crawling across the ground. Today I've seen lots around the garden on trees, bushes, in the lawn and on the paths. 

I haven't looked closely enough to see what type there all were but I'm going to try to remember from now on. That way I can join in the UK Ladybird Survey and log all my sighting here. It's great to get involved in surveys as they are very useful for future conservation projects, you get to help with actual science and it's interesting to take a closer look at what you've seen.

Ladybirds are actually beetles (and apparently not bugs) and live right around the world. Less common names for them are God's cow, ladycock, lady cow and lady fly. Ladybirds are brilliant for the garden as they eat lots of aphids which might want to eat favourite plants. So welcome these lovely creatures to your garden, and later in the year consider making a bug hotel, creating a lovely place for insects like ladybirds to shelter. 

Ladybird by Greyson Orlando, via Wiki Commons

Friday, 23 March 2012

The Nature of Harming

Yesterday I talked about whether the government were doing anything good for the environment and in the past I've talked about bad game keepers who illegally kill wildlife but which do you think does more harm to nature? Maybe you think another organisation has done even more damage than either of these?

Have a look at my Dad's website and vote in the Nature of Harming Awards.  Once you have you can discover what everyone else thought too.

I've voted, but I'll only tell you who I picked once the voting gets past 900. It's almost there so get your friends to vote too!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Money Worries

With the dust from yesterday's budget settling there's quite a lot of talk about how it matches up to the claims of "greenest government ever" from Mr Cameron several years ago. The chancellor said that " Environmentally sustainable must always be fiscally sustainable" which sounds quite reasonable but has he tried his best to green his budget and our economy or forgotten about the environment completely?

Renewable, clean energy will be given the same priority as roads and broadband with a push for investment into green energy. On the other hand no new funds were offered by the government for this and the government want to encourage gas investment too.

Planning reforms are still a hot topic with Mr Osborne failing to define "sustainable development" in the new NPPF. He champions cutting red tape in the planning system, apparently assuming that any regulation is bad even if it protects habitats, species, people or anything else that we might want to keep. Another very worrying development is the apparent U-turn on airport development policy. Despite pledging in 2010 to cancel the third runway at Heathrow and refusing permission for expansion at Gatwick and Stansted Mr Osborne now says "we must confront the lack of airport capacity in south-east England".

I really don't think we do. I would much rather money was spent on other transport links please, such as making rail travel more sustainable both financially and environmentally or improving local bus routes so that the vulnerable car-less public can get to essential services.

On the plus side transport-wise the increase in the environmental tax on flights did go ahead, rising 8% this year and staying on track to have risen 50% by 2016. There are also some very positive investment into rail travel, including to the Manchester Preston line. It's nice to hear about local investment but I think that route works quite well already!

There were a few green finance points too with a reminder that the first green investment bank has been created and there will be a carbon floor price form April 2013 but the chancellor seems to be backing away from taxing companies for their energy use, another sign of attempting to boost economic growth at any cost. Apparently taxing companies for their carbon use (an attempt to reduce the countries carbon emissions to meet global legal commitments) is "cumbersome, beurocratic and imposes an unnecessary cost on business". Well if that's how you feel about stopping climate change then I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.

The reaction from environmental groups cannot be described as furious, more like resigned disappointment and frustration as after several years of our "greenest government ever" hopes were not high before the budget was released for any surprise green policies. If this is greenest government ever I worry what the next one will be like! Interestingly a poll earlier in the week revealed that only 2% of people believe the government are living up to their green claims. I wonder if the government ministers are in that 2% at the moment? End of year report: Could Try Harder.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Buzzing Around

Today I was reminded how important it is to really look at nature when you're outside, otherwise you won't know what you've missed.  A cup of tea outside in my parents garden was lovely, and I was enjoying the sunshine, flowers and new buds without paying much attention to any of it really until just before going back inside someone pointed out a bee buzzing around the ivy on the fence.

At home in Preston I would have smiled, enjoyed it and gone back inside with no idea what type of bee it was; but being at my parents means there is a field guide to everything on hand and within a minute we had Bumblebees (3rd Edition) open and were discussing possible options.

We quite quickly decided that what we could see was a Bombus hypnorum, more commonly know as a Tree Bee. It's quite distinct with a white bottom, orange/red head and upper part and black lower body. After a bit more reading we discovered that it is an introduced (either by accident or on purpose) species and has been recorded in the UK since 2001. During the last 11 years it has spread across the country and is now commonly found throughout south east and central England. It is native to mainland Europe and has a wide range including parts of Arctic Russia!

Bombus hypnorum by André Karwath, via Wikimedia Commons
It seems likely that the bee we saw was a queen as they are the first to emerge in February and early March with others appearing throughout spring. With a range of habitats from woodland to gardens and scrubby grasslands this species is very adaptable but currently seems to be living in harmony with other native bee species. 

It's amazing what you can find and learn in only a few minutes if you really pay attention to the world around you. I would have walked straight passed the bee if it hadn't been pointed out to me. And the bee seemed quite oblivious to us too, buzzing around the ivy and enjoying the warm sunshine. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for the nature around me more in future!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

It's Finally Here!

Spring is probably the most awaited of all seasons. Very few people long for the cold winter nights or the first leaves falling in autumn but I don't know anyone who doesn't smile at the first warm sunny day or lambs and flowers in the fields. But when does spring start?

I've been saying it's almost here and it's about here for weeks. Some might say the start of the year, the 1st January, was the start of spring, more often people say the 1st of March but today is the vernal equinox (more correctly the equilux as we mean the day closest to not the moment of equal day and night) and is when spring truly arrives for me.

From today the days will be longer than the nights and we really have escaped the darkness of winter and are rushing towards the summer months of light. And today has so far been a beautiful spring day with daffodils dancing in the warm morning sunlight and birds enjoying the feeders outside.

It's important to notice and mark the changes in season since, as much as we try to remove ourselves from the natural cycle of the year, it still has a huge effect on our lives. Some suffer from SAD during the winter months with severe mood changes, many others will react to the seasons to a lesser extent but it's hard to deny that as the days grow longer and our little patch of the world warms up again moods begin to lift and smiles are easier to find. I love watching the season change, and look forward to seeing the foods I get in my boxes reflect the warming land over the next few weeks.

In the UK we have lost many of our older spring traditions or moved them a few weeks later to Easter but other cultures around the world still celebrate the start of the season of growth. In Japan there is a national holiday and the Persian new year still corresponds to this time with  a 13 day festival still celebrated by many.

Recently I've caught a few episodes of Orbit on BBC 2 which traces the Earth's journey through the year as it travels around the world. It's fascinating so have a look! It's easy to think that the seasons have little effect on our lives today; we can buy foods from anywhere at any time, we can wear T-shirts all year round (as long as we stay indoors) and we have lights so that we don't have to wake and sleep depending on when it's daylight. But the seasons still have a huge effect on many weather events and on our day-to-day lives, and I think that's a great thing. We should celebrate every season as it comes and goes and take an active part in our worlds journey, because it's truly amazing.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Watering the Garden or Saving Wildlife?

It may just be because I've only lived in Preston since September, and so during the winter, but I can safely say it has been the wettest place I've lived in. Until this year I had no idea how different living in the East or West of the country was from each other. But lots of rain means green, luscious fields and almost never having to water the garden, so it's not all bad. 
Other parts of the country are not so lucky however and we've been hearing lots of news about hosepipe bans and drought conditions even before spring has really arrived. The last two years have been some of the driest on record and the effects are beginning to show for both humans and wildlife.
For us the effects are widespread and often hidden within industry and prices. There are direct impacts such as hosepipe bans which fine people for non-essential water use-although you can still water plants with a watering can, just not using a hosepipe! But there are indirect ones too such as potato prices increasing and a shortage of water for other agricultural needs. These are negative impacts but we are unlikely to run out of water, because our authorities will plan and protect this vital resource, but what about the wildlife that share this island with us? What will the impact be for them?
The UK is home to vitally important wetland habitats which are of special scientific interest but the wider wildlife will suffer as drought conditions spread over the summer. With less water in rivers, reservoirs and ponds many animals will find it hard to get a drink and many are likely to die unless rain comes.
Today conservation groups have been given hope as the Environment Agency recognised this threat to  our wildlife and offered help, through more flexible regulations of water use for key wetlands. 
The Environment Agency, the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB have all said that as well as relaxing some regulations it is important for us to do our bit at home too. By reducing our water use we can make sure there is more left in rivers, streams and ponds as home use has a direct impact on the water available for wildlife. Nature has an amazing ability to bounce back, but only if it has the resources to do so. As we see more and greater effects of climate change in our yearly cycles we must do all that we can to give nature and wildlife a strong chance of surviving and flourishing in the future.
So, turn off that tap, make sure washing machines have full loads and think whether you need to fill the kettle right up before boiling it. Otherwise we might be seeing forest fires, thousands of dying amphibians and Ratty (water voles) unable to find a save home from predators, let alone enough water for messing around in boats, as levels drop lower than ever before this summer.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Mums the Word

Mothers' Day is one of those days that can push green thoughts to the back of your mind. I forgot to check but I doubt our flowers were UK grown and the chocolate we bought wasn't Fairtrade-so a bit of a  failure for a green Mothers' Day.  But there's always next year to improve!

Sunday lunch was a bit more of a success with pork raised within 15 miles of my parents house and organic veg from Riverford (but a different farm from our deliveries in Preston).  So both local and organic food giving us a delicious family meal.

Spring time, with the warming weather, is the time when lots of new mothers are found in nature with lambs, chicks and other new lives all beginning as far from the harsh winter as possible. An excellent time to celebrate brilliant Mums.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A Day at the Races

Yesterday I was at the Cheltenham Festival, watching Synchronised win the Gold Cup. It was the first time I'd been to the festival and it was definitely an experience! There was lots and lots of tweed in a huge range of outfits, some very sensible warm long coats and other, less sensible looking, mini skirts and hats.

The horses weren't the only animals we were watching yesterday either. On the way to the course we saw two red kites, many buzzards, a raven and lots of other birds-all leaping into action as spring arrives. Signs of the changing season were all around and I was right to think things would be a bit further on down south. Lambs were frolicking in the fields-looking quite grown up already- and daffodils were blooming everywhere!

One thing that did surprise me throughout the whole day was the occasional encounters with ethical food. We stopped on our way to the course for sausage/bacon baps and hot drinks (they were delicious) and I was surprised to see that the van in the lay-by was serving organic white bread and Co-op Fairtrade hot chocolate. It's not something you'd expect to see in a little side-of-road pull in. I didn't expect to see the organic food van at the races either, selling burgers and drinks and many other things. It looks like green living is creeping into our lives bit by bit without us noticing. The organic food van at the races wasn't any less busy than any others either so people must be happy to buy it too, which is great to see!

Racing isn't the only sport that's embracing ethical eating practices. Forest Green Rovers (who else could it have been!) are living up to their name under new Chairman Dale Vince with vegetarian only food inside the stadium and a partnership with Ecotricity to green the whole club from an organic pitch to players only eating vegetarian meals. This partnership looks truly inspirational and hopefully will help to inspire people to take green actions in their lives too. And maybe it will show people that going veggie doesn't mean having less nutrients or less exciting foods, if a football team can win on a veggie diet it must be good enough for the rest of us!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Is It Spring Yet?

We're halfway through March now and it's still feeling quite cold and wet in Preston. But even with the rain and clouds we're well into the start of spring.

Snowdrops are almost done and the road verges are full of daffodils and crocuses. There are loads of different types of daffodils around and it's lovely to have some flowering early and some only just opening up now. I'm heading down south this weekend and I'm sure the flowers will be well ahead of those up here. Spring travels at about 16 miles a day apparently, so I should be seeing flowers almost two weeks ahead of where they are now this weekend-exciting! I always forget how long spring and autumn are. From February onwards you're noticing signs of changing seasons and you keep finding new things until late May and early June! There aren't many lambs here yet (although I have seen a few) and sparrow chicks probably won't turn up for another few months but these are important signs of spring too-it's not all about flowers!

The canal is beginning to look more spring-like as well with green shoots on trees and coming up from the soil, it'll still be a while before we've shaken winter off completely though.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

A Good News Story

A good news story for birds of prey today. The number of poisoning incidents in Scotland last year that involved birds of prey fell by more than half last year. This is brilliant news as the less illegal killing there is the better
In 2011 there were 10 poisoning incidents which results in 16 dead birds, compared to 22 incidents and 28 deaths the previous year. This is a welcome decline but still more is needed. Hopefully this is the start of a downward trend in illegal killings of our brilliant wildlife.
The record high in bird poisoning was back in 2006 with 34 deaths, this new figure from 2011 is more than a 50% drop and a drop of 42% from 2010. The fall has also occurred during a time when the Scottish science laboratories were testing more intensively than normal, so the results really should reflect the actual facts on the ground and in the fields.
This news is brilliant, but it's still important to remember that there are people who should be protecting nature who are actually harming it. Seven buzzards, four red kites and a golden eagle were among the deaths in 2011, lets hope the numbers keep going down as the RSPB, police, Scottish government and other organisations work together to stop wildlife crime.

Red Kite

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Super Markets?

As much as I'd love to shop exclusively at local, Fairtrade, organic, free range farm shops the reality is that more often than not I'm in a chain of supermarket buying my food and household items.

Supermarkets are often portrayed as the evil monsters in the consumer story but are they really that bad? They have such great marketing power than when used for good it can change markets around the world and change industries, benefiting thousands. But like superheroes and villains it all depends on whether they accept the great responsibility that comes with great power.

I've found, and have been reading with interest, a few different articles on different aspects of supermarkets ethical and environmental credentials and policies. Whether it's giving leftover products to charities, working in partnership with organisations, having ethical credentials or sorting out their in-house greenery there are a lot of opinions and a lot of different policies from all the different supermarkets. They're not all completely bad, but none of them are perfect either. A bit like people really, and it's probably wise to remember we're not greener than green all the time, before judging others!

Here are the articles I've found so far:

Supermarkets giving old products to charities-here

Tesco working with the RSPB-here and here

Plastic bags (horrible things!) and the Prime Minister's thoughts- here

General green credentials of the supermarkets- here

If you find anything else on supermarkets I'd love to hear about it, just leave a comment below.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Green-y Yellow

On Saturday delegates at the Liberal Democrats Spring Conference  passed a motion expressing regret that a firm commitment to green policies is still not consistently embedded throughout government. They made the commitment to strengthen green policies further and break through Mr Osborne's anti-green stance. 

Their leader is spreading the green message too, mentioning "green" 11 times in his conference speech. He said that:
A sustainable economy, one that protects the environment. Tackling climate change, green jobs for the future, green apprenticeships and a Green Deal to cut energy bills. 
Some say we have to choose between boosting growth and being green. What a load of rubbish. Going for growth means going green. The race is on to lead the world in clean energy. The new economic powerhouses - China, India, Brazil - are competing. 
So the choice for the UK is simple: wake up, or end up playing catch up. Going green is not a luxury for the good times. It is the best road out of the bad times. 
Our party is the green party of government. We have always been a green party. And let me tell you this: we always will be a green party because we need an economy fit for the future to pull us out of this economic downturn.

This sounds brilliant and hopefully shows that at least half of the government realises how central the environment should be to all policies. It doesn't have to be the only factor, but it must be part of the answer.

Mr Clegg is also leading the Uk delegation to the Rio20+ conference in June. I still think it would have been better if we sent our Prime Minister, but at least we're sending someone who understands the issues that need to be discussed!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Green Fingers

Instead of a walk by the canal today we decided to give the garden a bit of a spring clean and clear out. Our "garden" is really only a small back yard but even tiny spaces can be enjoyed by humans and wildlife.

During our tidy up we found an amazing amount of wildlife amongst the soil and rocks. There were worms, slugs, snails and even a few caterpillars and some centipedes. We also found some beetles and grubs which I've no idea what they are. We tried hard not to kill anything, but to move it to a new safe home or left safely alone. I expect some of the bugs that have been unearthed will become food for the sparrows next door but that's nature. Birds are often seen as pests in gardens but they eat a huge range of insects and this helps to keep the plants healthy. Finding a balance between the perfect garden and a wildlife friendly one doesn't have to be a struggle.

I was pleased to see that lots of the plants I bought have been grown in the UK, and also pleased to see that B&Q label their products clearly so you can see which are grown here and which are not. It's another  thing you don't often think about, well I don't, whether plants have been shipped in from other countries to fill our gardens.

So here is my flowerbed now, full of yellows and blues.

 I've planted some cornflower seeds at the back which, when they flower, will encourage bees and butterflies into the garden and hopefully I'll soon buy a buddleia, full of lovely smelling flowers and great for wildlife.

I'm looking forward to seeing what wildlife visitors my garden has over the next few months as spring kicks in, and I'm sure you'll be hearing about it all very soon!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

14 Days Later...

Well it's the last day of Fairtrade Fortnight. After 14 days of global promotion, events, stalls, talks, purchases and donations the message of the fair trade movement has been spread even further across the world and into our local communities. Thousands of people have got involved, whether it's celebrities, school children or office workers we've all made a difference and taken a step for Fairtrade.

Looking at the Fairtrade website it's amazing to see all the different steps people and groups have been making over the past two weeks. Human vending machines, concerts, school research projects and lots more have helped to educate people about the reasons why fair trade is so fantastic, as it protects the environment, producers rights to a fair wage and the communities around the world that they live in.

This Fairtrade Fortnight I challenged myself more than normal. Each day I've learnt about a new Fairtrade product and how it helps farmers, craft people or miners, and how the Fairtrade premium from these products helps the environment and communities. I also learnt a lot about where some of my staple products come from and the brilliant companies that are changing the way industry thinks about trading and producing.
I've also bought 14 Fairtrade products, one for each day. Here's a quick recap:
  1. 99 Tea from the Co-op
  2. Cadbury's Dairy Milk bar
  3. Tate and Lyle Caster Sugar
  4. Cadbury's Drinking Chocolate
  5. Bananas from my Riverford veg box
  6. Ubuntu Cola from the students union shop
  7. Red wine from South Africa from the Co-op
  8. Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream
  9.  Co-op Orange and Spice Dark Chocolate
  10. Bananas from Co-op 
  11. Brown Rice from Sainsbury's
  12. Brown Sugar from Saisnbury's
  13. T-shirt from Sainsbury's
  14. And my buy today was two pairs of earrings from Manumit in their Fairtrade Fortnight sale. 
Not bad as I only repeat bought one thing, and the bananas were really yummy! I've really enjoyed finding new products to buy, and it's made me think about how I shop a bit more which is good.  I'll definitely try to buy my rice from Sainsbury's more often now, and I will look out for Fairtrade cola and clothes.

According to the Fairtrade website there have been over 39,000 steps taken for Fairtrade this fortnight, which is fantastic. They are aiming for 1,500,000 steps by the end of the campaign, so if you haven't added yours don't forget to, and if you haven't taken a step do it now! It might be one small step for you, like buying a Fairtrade chocolate bar, but together we'll be taking a huge step towards a Fairer world.

I hope you've enjoyed my Fairtrade blogs. Next week back to normal trying to find ways to green my life and exploring green issues. But just because it's over don't forget to keep buying Fairtrade products, shopping's always better with that ethical feel good factor!

Finally, if nothing else, go and Like the Fairtrade Facebook page and Follow them on Twitter, grow the revolution and join in the fun.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Bigger and Better?

Do bigger shops have more Fairtrade options? I ventured further afield than my usual Co-op on Thursday to Sainsbury's in search of more Fairtrade products. I was hoping that a bigger shop would have more variety and I think it did, but not as much as I'd hoped.

The best buy was a £6 Fairtrade cotton T-shirt (my buy for today in advance!) which just goes to show that you don't need to spent lots to guarantee a fair price for producers. There wasn't just one top though, there was a big range with different lengths, styles and colours to pick from.

I also bought my brown sugar which I mentioned yesterday and some brown rice for my Thursday product as I couldn't find any Fairtrade fruit juices even though I searched the shop. It was great to have a choice of several different Fairtrade sugar brands and it's nice to know that staples like rice can be Fairtrade too. I was really disappointed that there wasn't any Fairtrade fruit juice, especially since Fruit Passion say they sell to Sainsbury's but maybe they were just out of stock after a very successful Fairtrade Fortnight!

So, my verdict of Fairtrade in a big supermarket? Not bad but must try harder. There were lots of Fairtrade chocolates, teas and coffees but I could only find two Fairtrade fruits-bananas and pineapple. The rice and sugar own brands were nice as I haven't seen these in many shops before. I was disappointed that there wasn't any Fairtrade jewellery and I'd probably have bought some if there had been. Sainsbury's clearly understand the importance of Fairtrade, it would be nice to have just a few more products please.

Friday, 9 March 2012

The Gold Standard

You've bought yourself a pair of lovely, expensive gold earrings and you feel great. But do you know where that gold came from, or how the workers who dug it from the ground were paid or treated?

The prospect of unethical mining takes the shine off gold products. As with any product it's hard to be sure that the original producers were paid a fair price, especially if they are small scale and have to compete with bigger companies-often by reducing prices to an unsustainable level. But thankfully there is now a solution, Fairtrade and Fairmined certified gold.
Since Valentine's Day last year Fairtrade and Fairmined gold has been on sale and is the world's first independent ethical certification system for gold. Like the other Fairtrade products I've been learning about over the last weeks this certification  guarantees miners a fair price (at least 95% of the London Bullion Market Association's fixing at the FOB export point) and get a premium to put back into their community. For Ecological Gold, that which is extracted without chemicals, there is a higher premium, supporting mining methods that reduce the damage done to the environment. The Fairtrade and Fairmined certification aims to reduce dependence on chemicals in general too.
There are a few other benefits too. Certified mines must have developed democratic and accountable organisations and formalised all operations, they must be using safe working practices including managing toxic chemicals and must respect the environment and workers (including women).

Fairtrade and Fairmined gold is mined from small-scale mines. It  is particularly important to help these miners improve standards because there are over 6 times as many accidents in small scale mines as the big industrial ones. 
It's another step away from bananas and towards a fair world. If you want some more information of Fairtrade and Fairmined gold just look here on the Fairtrade website-it's also the place to find where you can buy some of this lovely gold. And finally, how can you tell if your gold is Fairtrade? Simple, look carefully and you'll find the Fairtrade and Fairmined stamp on the inside of every piece. 

And the Results Are In...

Just over a month since the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch and the results are in. Over half a million people took part (another record year for participants-it always seems to be!), with more than 10.2 million birds seen ranging across 70 species. This years big news story is how well small birds are doing after several really harsh winters-a great success story for garden birds!

The sparrow was the most common bird with an average of 4.16 birds seen, however only 64.5% of gardens actually had sparrows. The bird in the most gardens (95.2%) was the blue tit with robin close behind.

There were also some more unusual success stories with Goldcrest and Waxwing having particularly good years. I'm very envious of all the people who saw these as I didn't see either all winter.

With spring edging closer it's tempting to stop putting food out for birds but they definitely need our support still. Cold snaps and lack of wild food can limit the breeding season so it's vital that feeders are kept full and water baths topped up over the next few months.

My Fairtrade buy of the day was some brown sugar from the Sainsbury's own brand Fairtrade range. I'm beginning to think almost all Fairtrade products are bad for me, except the fruit of course!

Check back later for a 24 carat blog on a top of the range Fairtrade product that's changing a whole industry. Can you guess what it is yet? 

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Wildlife Crime

The UK is home to the fastest animal in the world, the peregrine falcon. This magnificent creature, like all the UK's birds of prey, are protected by law to ensure they will remain a part of our varied and exciting wildlife in years to come. Even though this protection has been in place for over 50 years now a small minority still insist on ignoring the law and killing these fantastic creatures.

These crimes are not as rare as they should be, which is why the RSPB ran their Bird of Prey campaign a few years ago to promote the issues, but thankfully more and more people are being brought to justice because of this increased publicity.

Yesterday Andrew Hutchinson was fined £350 and told to pay £1,500 to train a new peregrine after being convicted of killing Naph, of the the birds which protects the Scottish parliament building. See here for the full story.

Hopefully, as these prosecutions are publicised widely people will begin to realise that ignoring the law isn't acceptable, and the consequences will be enough to deter people from these cruel acts, often much worse than the shooting in the above case.

A blast from my (not so distant) past today. Having spent 6 months drinking the Co-op's own brand orange juice each morning I'd forgotten the exciting range of Fairtrade fruit juices available. Fruit Passion is a brand that frequents my family home on Sunday mornings and it's a nice reminder that Fairtrade doesn't have to involved chocolate! Fruit Passion has two ranges, orange juice and orange, pineapple and passion fruit juice; both easily meet the Fairtrade certification by being not 1% but 100%  Fairtrade-fantastic.

Another great thing about it is that it is available from lots of main street shops such as Waitrose, Sainsbury's and the Co-op, although not my little Co-op.

My product of the day will hopefully be some Fairtrade fruitjuice from Sainsbury's, but if not I'm going to see what unusual Fairtrade products I can pick up in Sainsbury's as I'm running out of Fairtrade products from our little corner Co-op!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Watching From Above

It's not often easy to see the direct impact our lives have on our environment. Each small action doesn't feel like much but with lots of people together they're visible from the sky. This image shows the Southern USA (with Florida in the bottom right) at night. The cities are clear as the bright spots connected by lines of light, the highways between them. How many of these lights have been left on without thinking?Satellite Eye on Earth: US South at night

Here's another interesting picture form above, this time off the Pacific coast of America. We're used to seeing the condensation lines behind planes but I hadn't ever thought about other vehicles. This picture shows the lines of cloud created as sips travel across the ocean. These are formed when water vapour condense onto small particles, these are found in the ships emmisions as small aerosol particles.

Satellite Eye on Earth: Ships trails

Both these pictures were found on the Guardian's website here, and there are lots more and lots more info on them there too. Have a look!

Fairtrade product of the day is a classic food staple, up there in my top ten favourite foods; it's rice. On the Fairtrade website there are 30 products under the heading of rice and as well as the normal, slightly more expensive, typical ethical brands there are a few from the high-street. Sainsbury's has organic, fairtrade basmati rice which I might try out before the end of the week.

Product of the day was some more Fairtrade bananas but this time from the Co-op, rather than Riverford.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Green Soap

How often do you wash your hands, five, seven, maybe more, times a day? Each time you'll probably use some type of soap. But have you ever thought of the environmental impact that soap is having?

When you really start thinking about it even a mundane thing like soap has lots of impacts to consider. How much water do you use, is the soap tested on animals, is it vegetarian certified, what is it made of, how will the soap affect the environment when it leave your house in the dirty water? And probably most important for this week, do the producers of the soap ingredients get a fair deal in the purchase chain?

Now, I've watched Kirstie Allsopp making soap on TV and it doesn't seem too hard. But I'm sure the professionals will do it better than me, and buying it from a shop is definitely quicker. But how can I be sure that my soap isn't destroying the environment?

It's a tricky question because there are lots of ingredients to consider, not just one single producer to pay fairly. The main ingredients that can be un-fairly traded seem to be the essential oils and butters used. So far I've found one company that sells Fairtrade soap but they sell their products in Waitrose, Oxfam, and Traidcraft as well as on Ethical Superstore so they're easily available. This company, the Visionary Soap Company, go above and beyond the bare minimum required to be Fairtrade certified. Instead of 2-5% certified ingredients (the minimum required) the products range from 19-99% certified ingredients with their soaps averaging 60% certified. What a fantastic achievement! As with most Fairtrade products they are a little more expensive than the standard brands but you get much more exciting "flavours" like cinnamon-orange-clove and lemon-grass as well as unscented bars for delicate hands.

Another company which is pushing the boundaries for ethical cosmetics is Lush. At the moment they only have one Fairtrade product, their Fairtrade Foot Lotion, but they are passionate about minimising their negative impact and ensuring their products are as green as possible. Minimising packaging is central to their work,  they recycle any unavoidable packaging, and never use any ingredient that has been tested on animals. They also use organic natural ingredients, giving each product a sell by date so that you know when it's at its best. To find out more about what Lush are doing have a look here.

Fairtrade buy of the day is some co-op own brand orange spiced dark chocolate, my favourite. But maybe I'll try one of the others later in the week too!

Monday, 5 March 2012

All In Love Is Fair?

Over the weekend a friend asked me what the best ways to save water are. We had been talking about the current drought conditions across the UK and my previous blog about water imports and exports across the globe. It's an important question. As with almost all green issues a lot could be made better if every household did as much as possible themselves. Here are a few of my top tips for saving water at home.

  • Take a shower rather than a bath, and make sure that shower is fast. Less than 4 minutes is supposed to use less than a bath. A shorter shower means more time in bed too!
  • Make sure you only use the washing machine when you have a whole load of washing. Don't just wash one T-shirt at a time!
  • Only fill the kettle as much as you need. Almost all kettles have a measure on the side so you can see how many cups full it is. The kettle will boil quicker and you'll use less electricity too.
  • Never leave the tap running while you brush your teeth. All that clean fresh water running down the sink? Pointless and wasteful. 
  • Use leftover washing up water to rise out recyclables. They don't need to be crystal clean, just not have any food waste left on them so don't bother using fresh water to clean them.
For lot and lots more tips of water conservation have a look at the BBC's A to Z of water saving tips  or   this other website 100 ways to conserve water.

Over the last few days I've been looking into Fairtrade products that aren't your typical food or drink products. Just like other producers, rubber farmers don't always get a fair deal when they sell their crops, and through the Fairtrade movement there's now a range of Fairtrade rubber products including rubber gloves, elastic bands, wellies and shoes. But there's one rubber product that was always guaranteed to catch student's attention when we ran Fairtrade events at university and it's not surprising as its a bit unusual. Fairtrade condoms have a surprisingly large range with Waitrose stocking Fairsquared and Amnesty International selling Sheer Caress. Not all's fair in love, but at least your protection can be!

My Fairtrade buy of the day? A tub of Ben and Jerry's icecream. One more great reason to indulge, I love that almost all Fairtrade products are yummy!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Beautifully Fair

As we saw with clothes yesterday there's more to Fairtrade than just food and drink. Over the last few years the range of Fairtrade jewellery has exploded both in variety of styles and in price range. If you want a Fairtrade wedding ring, you can get it, or just a few pairs of earrings for stocking Christmas presents for a couple of pounds.

The story of how Fairtrade certification is helping is similar for all producers. A fair wage, more security and a helping hand with developing the local community. It's important to remember that this helps both farmers and those people who make a living by creating items, such as jewellery, who need secure buyers to continue their livelihoods.

So instead of a case study telling you about a particular farm or co-operative here's a selection of the lovely Fairtrade jewellery that's out there. Be tempted and buy some, you'll feel great every time you wear it and, trust me, you won't be able to stop yourself telling everyone it's Fairtrade too!

Fair Trade crochet silver flower necklace     
Oxfam £29.99  bit expensive but so lovely too!
Traidcraft £4.00 great way to brighten up an outfit.

Limited Edition - Fairtrade Fortnight Bracelet main image
Made £10.00 limited edition Fairtrade Fortnight bracelet.
Specially designed for 2012.
Temple Beads Earrings A
Just Trade £6.00

C264 Vintage teal & cream flower bead earrings - Click Image to Close
Manumit £3.00 complete bargain!

Songs Anew

Over the last 50 years farmland birds have seen a steep decline in this country, and one bird in particular is often cited as an obvious example, the skylark. Since the early 80s the UK population has more than halved, loosing over one and a half million pairs. This staggering loss is mainly due to changes in farming practices and the loss of breeding habitat.

I've grown up hearing adults say how they miss hearing the song of the skylark but I can probably count on one hand the number of times I remember hearing or seeing these birds. But times are a-changing once more, and skylarks are on the up in most areas of the country. This is great news and at least partly due to the skylark plot initiative from the RSPB which allows small patches of suitable breeding ground in large fields. As we got out of the car at Brockholes today the air was filled with the song of skylards, and we saw 5 or 6 flying around. It was brilliant to see so many of them and of the three twenty-something's out for our walk none of us had ever seen so many, or so close before. A brilliant wildlife moment, even if it's not so exciting for the older generation.

Fairtrade product of the day was some lovely Fairtrade wine from co-op, to go with our Sunday roast. They're beginning to think I only ever buy Fairtrade things - I wish!

Coming later today: a blog all about Fairtrade jewellery!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Rags to Riches, or back into poverty?

All week I've been talking about food and drink but there's so much more to Fairtrade than that. Cotton is the most used natural fibre in the world, but farmers in West Africa are stuck in poverty because cotton prices are kept low by government subsidised cotton farms in the US and EU.

Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali are known as the Cotton 4 and rely on cotton more than anything else for their export revenues, they are among the least developed countries in the world with an average GDP per capita of $637. They produce cotton cheaper than anywhere else on the planet, but despite this competitive advantage still don't see the benefits of fair free trade because of other countries subsidising their own products.

But Fairtrade is helping. By buying clothes that have the Fairtrade mark you know that your cotton pays real workers a living wage and helps them plan for now, next year and even further ahead.

Fairtrade clothes have hit the high-street bit by bit in recent years and you can now find Fairtrade clothing in most major supermarkets too. If you can't find any, ask the shop assistants and find out why not! There are lots of other outlets and online shops too, herehere, here, here and here. While Fairtrade is definitely more expensive than Primark there's a good reason-you're actually paying people enough to keep working and providing for their whole families and improve their lives rather than the lowest price the shops can pay.

Want to find out more about Fairtrade clothes and cotton? Have a look at this brilliant blog I discovered today during my researching. One day maybe wearing clothes that have been fairly traded won't be unusual at all.

And my product of the day? A surprise buy, after learning all about Fairtrade cola the other day I stumbled upon it in the Preston Students Union shop, the first time I've paid less than a pound (61p) for a can of coke in years. And I might never have noticed it if it hadn't been for Fairtrade Fortnight!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Bananas About Bananas

I promised a special blog dedicated to bananas, the Fairtrade poster product and here it is.

Bananas must be up there with tea, coffee and chocolate in the list of things most associated with Fairtrade. So much so that in 2009 they were the main focus for the whole Fairtrade Fortnight campaign with the tagline "Go Bananas for Fairtrade!"

I bought my Fairtrade bananas from Riverford this week. They're grown by a co-operative of small scale farmers in Banelino, Dominican Republic who share equipment and growing knowledge so that they can compete with the large private plantations. For each 18kg box of bananas an extra $1 goes directly back into the local area and is used create schools and health facilities as well as improving the co-operatives farms. In Banelino, this money is also used to run one of only two schools for children with special needs in the country.

The Riverford website tells the yellow fruit's story from shoot to shops:

A new banana farm is established with the planting of small shoots that look a bit like a leek, from which the banana ‘tree’ grows (the trunk is actually made from adapted leaves). After six months, the plant produces a huge, extraordinary-looking flower. The fruits emerge up what then becomes the banana stem, and 10-12 weeks later, they are ready for harvesting. Once cut, the stems are loaded onto hooks and hand-pulled to shared washing and packing stations. Peculiar trains of lime-green fruit shunt and clack through the humid groves through much of the day; certainly different from pulling leeks in drizzly Devon!
After being packed into boxes on the farms, the bananas travel north to the port at Monte Cristi. After a nine day voyage to Portsmouth they are taken to the Fyffes ripening rooms in Basingstoke, before reaching us at the Riverford farms. 

Meat and Two Veg

With the first day of March came a lovely sunny day, feeling more like summer than spring or winter really, and also our new meat and veg boxes. 

This week was our biggest order yet, instead of a set meat box I just ordered enough to be over the minimum spend of £25, it was fun choosing between all the different products! We also had our ususla veg box and a few fruity extras.

The parcel I retrieved from the yard when I got home yesterday contained:

  • Big joint of pork
  • 8 chipolata sausages
  • Beef chunks for stewing#
  • Butternut Squash
  • Potatoes
  • Onions (Lots)
  • Carrots (Lots)
  • Peppers
  • Spring Greens
  • Sweede
  • Tomatoes
  • Apples
  • Fairtrade bananas (My Fairtrade buy of the day)
Lots of yummy organic ingredients to turn into great meals for the week ahead.
I haven't had time to research Fairtrade bananas yet but I'll post another blog later on the day especially for this extra special Fairtrade fruit.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Welsh Blooms

Somehow we've reached March already, although I'm sure it was New Year's Day only about a week ago. Today is St David's Day, and some would say it marks the start of spring, although I'm tempted to wait until the equinox in a few weeks time.

St David lived in the 6th century and was a Welsh Bishop. He travelled lots, visiting Jerusalem and Rome as well as setting up churches in France, England, Ireland and Wales. One of his most famous habits was his vegetarianism.

In modern culture we have more meat in our diets than ever before in history and the impact on our environment is showing with deforestation for beef ranches, grain being fed to animals rather than people and huge amounts of water and energy going into producing low cost meat. It's great to buy organic or local foods but if we keep eating meat every day we cannot live sustainably. So why not go veggie for St David's day and cook a meal with leeks in (St David's symbol) ? Or make a longer commitment by signing up to Meat Free Mondays, the campaign to go veggie at least one day a week. There are so many delicious vegetables and recipes out there that we should be celebrating, get creative and see what you can do when you free yourself from the meat-and-two-veg mindset.

St David's day is often celebrated by wearing badges of leeks or daffodils, the two welsh national symbols. The UK is the biggest grower of cut flower daffodils in the world and if you see them in shops they'll probably have been grown in our fields but there is a huge industry of imported flowers too.

Kenya's flower industry is growing 20% every year and thirty percent of all flowers grown in the country are exported to the UK. Around 55,000 people are directly employed by this industry while 2 million rely on it for their income. With more than half of Kenya's population living in poverty the flower industry has an important role in improving these statistics.

Since 2004 Fairtrade Kenyan flowers have been on in the UK and this certification provides decent wages, working conditions, the right to a trade union, no child labour and a safe and healthy working environment. As with all Fairtrade products prices include a premium of 10% which is used to support local communities, retraining projects and investments projects in local areas. The range of Fairtrade flowers on sale in the UK now has 75 licensed products including roses, lillies, carnations, lisianthus, ruscus and sunflowers. Over 83 million stems were sold back in 2007 which brings enormous help and support to those farmers and communities.

And finally my Fairtrade buy of the day is another Cadbury's product (bit of a chocolatey week!), it's the Fairtrade Drinking Chocolate. Mmmmm.