Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Heart vs Head

I have two dream cars. I can't afford either of them any time soon but I like them fore very different reasons.

My head says a small, electric car would be great. I could enjoy not having road tax or congestion charges as well as knowing I'm not contributing to carbon emissions when I drive. So the Smart EV sounds like the perfect car.

On the other hand I dream of living in the middle of the countryside and driving around off road in a Land Rover. They're built like Mechano sets so you can fix them yourself almost always and they're good for taking lots of people somewhere- so if you want to car share you can fit lots of people in!
But it does use lots of fuel and unless you are driving off road lots it's hard to justify it as necessary.

So, it comes down to head or heart. Do you go for the car which is better for the environment, does everything you need it to and probably saves money or the one which looks cool, can be fixed easily but you don't really need. I'll have quite a while to think this through before I can afford either though.

Monday, 28 May 2012

B for....

Over the past few days there have been two big nature stories both concerning species beginning with the letter B. One is a story of hope and the other not so much....

 Defra have anounced plans to reduce buzzards numbers for the protection of pheasant numbers. This will be done by taking adult birds into captivity and destroying nests at a cost of £375,000.

The native buzzards are currently protected under wildlife laws because their numbers had been very low. But thanks to the hard work of conservationists and these legal measures their numbers have risen in recent years. In fact, buzzards are of one of the few birds of prey that lots of people tell me they like. So many people are shocked and angered that after all this hard work their numbers may be reduced to protect a non-native, captively bred and then released birds. especially since the phesants are being breleased for shooting anyway, so if they don't die and become a meal for buzzards they will probably die and be a meal for humans anyway.

This worrying turn in government policies raises yet more questions about how wildlife friendly and sustainable the governmetn really is. And at a time of massive financial difficulty, is spending almost £400,000 to protect phesant shoots a good use of the money?

Today was the first reintroduction of the Short-haired bumble bee back into the UK after becoming extinct in 1984. Previously widespread across the south of England this native bee's only stronghold is now a small area in Sweeden. With the release of about 100 queens to an area close to the RSPB's Dungeness reserve it is hoped that southern fields will be full of buzzing again. This project highlights the importance of partnerships within conservation. Whether it's teh different NGOs such as the RSPB, Natural England and others or the work of landowners and farmers in the area who ahev created huge areas of wildflowers which will encourage and support the new visitors. Hopefully a very big sucess story in years to come.

So there we have it. One native species back from teh brink of extinction being threatened again and another returning after a 27 year gap. Let hope that when the Short-haired bumble bee is at full strength again in the UK the government wont decide there are too many and cut it back again.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Green Gardening

On a visit to the garden centre today I was surprised and pleased to find lots of eco friendly products.

After a bit of searching we found the peat free compost. Amongst lots of other types there was only one without but it did turn out to cost less than the others. A nice surprise to find the green option being the cheap option too! If you haven't switched to peat free compost yet why not join the National Trust and Kew Gardens who have been using peat free compost for a couple of years now. Peat is one the the UK's most important habitats and due to its extensive farming in the past is now sadly one of our rarest.

I also happened upon some organic peas ready to plant out. What could be better, organic peas ready to plant out and then in a few months ready with free food to eat, all for under £2! Another nice cheap green option.

And after all this garden shopping I spent the day filling the yard with greenery. Another good day spent away from laptops and out in the fresh air enjoying wildlife. The sparrow chicks on our street have now fledged and are discovering our feeder. They're not as confident as their parents yet, but they're definitely enjoying the water bowl in this hot heat.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Green In The News

This week the news has been full of environment stories. Whether it's yesterday's release of the new Energy Bill or the creation of new robo-fish searching the oceans for pollution.

Writing this blog in advance I don't know what the new Energy Bill will contain. From the rumours in the papers it looks like a big push for "clean" energy will result in a push for new nuclear power. I still can't make my mind up about nuclear, if it goes wrong it can go very wrong, but then conventional power stations are causing huge damage to our world too, it's just over a longer period and with consequences further in the future through climate change.

Renewables should be the answer but only if they have the same chances and are on a level playing field with other energy producers. Many are now saying that the new Energy Bill won't do that, and that through the new support system smaller companies (most often renewable suppliers) will be penalised because of the more complex system. I hope it doesn't but the government definitely doesn't look like its really pushing to encourage a boom in renewables, which would surely help grow the green economy they keen talking about.

In other news the north Spanish seas have a new inhabitant: the robo-fish. These 1.5m robots have been created by a consortium of universities and businesses and will measure the levels of pollutants in the seas. Able to hunt out sources of contamination and feed the information back to shore these autonomous machines are hoped to be the new front line in the war against water pollution. Ships will no longer be able to come into port, pollute and then carry on without a trace. The robots aren't cheap at around £20,000 each but as more are produced the cost will drop and this new project is still expected to reduce the cost of preventing and removing pollution from the seas.

Finally, this headline caught my attention too:  Asian unicorn at risk of extinction from poaching, WWF warns. Click the link to find out more!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Veg Box News

Last week something brilliant happened, something I've been waiting for for 5 years. Finally, Riverford have started selling a veg and meat box.

This means that I got a pork joint, mince, and some steaks as well as my cucumber, onions, carrots, potatoes, peppers, salad pack and my first asparagus of the year.

While having a whole meat box is good sometimes, it's nice to be able to pick up just a few bits with my veg each week. So I can still have some veggie days and some meat days without having to make a separate trip to the shops or storing lots of meat in the freezer.

You can even get a fruit, meant and veg box now. Brilliant for simple shopping, and if you're not too fussy you can let them pick what goes into the box! Why not try it this week?
Mini vegbox + meat

Friday, 18 May 2012

Home Grown

This year I've been taking my first real steps into gardening in our very tiny back yard. I'm learning to use all the available space including walls, pots on the ground and even inside on window sills. There are successes and failures but overall it's been good so far with lots of surprises along the way!

The cornflowers I sowed months ago don't appear to have sprouted anywhere which is a bit disappointing and the slugs have finished off all the sprouting sunflowers but orange and purple walls flowers are in full bloom still after weeks and weeks of colour already. Looking back at the photo's of when we first planted them it's amazing how much they've grown in the last few months.

My three real projects out of the flower bed are the sweepeas, the bread beans and the chilli plants.

The sweetpeas seem to be coping outside in the hanging basket although they're not growing as fast as when they were inside. Being high up on the wall means they get lots of sun and avoid the slugs so they're doing well, putting out tendrils to climb further before blooming later in the year (hopefully!).

The broad beans looked like a lost cause a few weeks ago as the tiny shoots were ravaged by hungry slugs right down to the soil level. But after returning them to a table hope has been rewarded as we now have lots of small plants pushing up into the sunlight. I really need to buy some canes for them to start growing up soon. I've been told they need quite deep soil and the pots are only about half a foot tall so they might do less well later in the season, but we'll see how things go. I'd love to have some home grown beans to cook, fingers crossed.

Our chillies are some of our oldest plants. Sowed back in September these have survived the winter and are now shooting into life, one even has pretty white flowers. They're staying put on the window sill where we can water them and keep them warm. But with three strong plants I think our own chillies for cooking look like a possibility, I just don't know how long you have to wait until they start to bear fruit.

So those are my garden highlights at the moments, as well as the sparrows which are getting more and more confident on the feeder. I still haven't found that nest though.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A Day Without Screens

Yesterday was a day for relaxing (it was a day off rather than a day avoiding work!) and it was great. A while ago I wrote about avoiding the computer and getting outside more and I certainly managed to find lots of things to do without the computer or television yesterday.

In the morning (after putting out the rubbish and food recycling) we headed for the town of Clitheroe to look around and explore. I'd never been before but it's lovely. We climbed up to the castle and looked out across the surround hills. This year is the 400th anniversary of the Pendle witch trials so it was interesting to be able to see Pendle Hill clearly.

Below the castle there's Lancashire's only labyrinth, thoughtfully in the shape of a tree. I'm sure it's a lovely green tree in the middle of winter.

Back at home I started on a new crotchet project using my new book 75 Birds and Butterflies to Knit and Crotchet. It's a brilliant combination of wildlife and crafts, what could be better! I've already made three sweetpea flowers and a nettle leaf but it will take me a while to get good enough to attempt the blue tit. But for those days when it's too cold and wet to venture outside it's a fun way to bring nature inside.

  75 Birds and Butterflies to Knit & Crochet

So, lots a great activities without a computer in sight! Hopefully lots more days like this to come.

Monday, 14 May 2012


Recently I've been enjoying the sight of birds rushing in and out of gaps in rooves and walls in our street. I think some starlings are nesting 4 doors down and across from our garden there are definitely some sparrow nests under gutters. It's amazing when you stop and look at how many birds  are flying around, busily preparing for new arrivals or tending to young already hatched.

Before I moved to Preston I'd enjoyed years of watching sparrows nest on the wall opposite my bedroom window. Seeing how they carried dry grass into the same hole each year and then hearing tiny, chirping when the eggs hatched. In Prston the sparrows are still loving the new feeder and are in our garden hourly picking out seeds or sipping from the small dish of water we've put on the table; but this year I had no nest hopes for our garden.

That was until last night when we found two tiny blue eggshells speckled with brown on the floor by the back wall of the house. Since sparrows are the only visitors to the garden I checked what their eggs look like and the description matches ours perfectly. I don't know where the nest might be, whether the eggshells have been pushed out after a sucessful brood or an unsucessful attempt but it's very exciting to see them.

I will have a good look round when I get home today and hopefully have a sparrow nest update later in the week!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Mystery Solved

In a break in the rain yesterday I finally managed to get down to the canal for a walk, the first time in months. Last time there were a few buds on the trees but now everything is covered in green. There's lots of birdsong around but other than occasional flickers in the branches you can't catch sight of the birds.

As I walked along the bank I found that the mysterious shoots (see below) that I saw on my last visit are in fact bluebells! And now the bank is a sea of blue and after the rain the smell is fantastic. I'm glad I found out what they were and I'll recognise them next year for certain.

The canal and streams are full to the brim too after all the rain we've had. Judging from a weather forecast I saw last week Lancashire seems to be one of the few areas which hasn't had severe flood warnings or droughts this year, just predictably wet.

The canal looks lovely in its spring greenery, and hopefully I'll be back down  there again soon to see how the season progresses.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012


Yesterday I heard my first cuckoo of the year, and according to old legend this heralds the start of spring. Well, I think the cuckoos are a bit late for the start of spring. Folk law normally gives the first week of April (often the 7th) as the date of the cuckoo's first call, so it was about a month late yesterday. Myths about this bird being the forbearer of storms however seemed more accurate as hours after hearing it I was stood on top of Coniston Old Man in horizontal sheet hail. But that might have had more to do with being high up in the clouds than this lovely bird further down the mountainside.

Cuckoos are only around in the UK for a few months, which is probably why they are so closely linked to the coming of spring. By July and August they'll be heading back to Africa for the rest of the year. Over the last twelve months there's been a very high profile research project by the BTO to find out a bit more about where cuckoos go when they're not in the UK. The project is important not just because cuckoos are one of the migrants we know least about but also because they are a Red Listed species, they've halved in numbers during my lifetime.

The project used radio trackers attached to five cuckoos to discover the migration route and stop of points from the UK down to Africa, and back again. So far two have returned and the project hopes to continue this year, spreading to Scottish and Welsh birds too.

To find out more about this amazing project have a look here,  and keep your ears open for that iconic sound. It might even be one of the very special BTO birds!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Anything About?

The title of this blog is an often heard phrase from bird watchers on encountering one another. The "anything" that they're seeking depends on whose asking though. When a visitor walks in and asks "anything about?" you need to decide what they're interested in, and do it fast! Are they hardened birders looking for rarities, or are they visiting the area and want to see the local speciality, maybe they're just discovering the wonders of nature and will love to be shown the coot's nest a few meters away. Whichever it is you can easily put people off by getting the wrong one. Telling one person that there was a great grey shrike earlier could be as off putting and confusing for a new birder as telling a veteran that there are some lovely ducklings would be insulting. It all depends on what you're looking for, but at least if you're asking what's about then you are looking.

I spent yesterday at Witton Country Park and over 6 hours standing in one spot under the (mostly) blue skies I managed to find 12 species of bird, 4 insects and 1 mammal without trying very hard and without binoculars or a telescope. I wonder how many people who walked past me noticed them too. Many families were passing on the way to the animal cages at the visitor centre, where you can see chipmunks and parakeets. I heard one little girl pass by saying "lets go look at the birds!" as she rushed past a chaffinch meters from her feeding on a wall at eye level.

On World Dawn Chorus Day the air was suitably full of birdsong, although I was there much later than dawn. I can't pick out many bird calls but it was great to hear the sounds of so much wildlife in the nearby trees. When I spoke to families they seemed surprised at how much wildlife was around them, and I hope they looked and listened a littler harder once they moved on. If we don't notice the wildlife around us that we all take for granted, who knows if we'll notice when it starts to disappear and if we'll be able to act in time to save it. Birds like the sky lark, house sparrow and cuckoo are all species which were common in the past but now need our help to come back from a steep decline.

I guess the point is that we should always be asking if there's "anything about" and the answer will almost always be yes. It might not be colourful or rare, but we should enjoy it and value it now. Because if we don't the answer in the future might be no.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Rise and Shine

When I think of 4.30am I think of silence and darkness. But that's not what I found when I woke up and couldn't sleep a few nights ago. It was just getting light and the air was filled with bird song. It's amazing how noisy it can be when almost everyone's sleeping. I couldn't really identify any particular species but it was lovely to hear so many birds around. Since we only normally see sparrows it's good to know that there are others out there.

I've met lots of people who have been out on dawn chorus walks this week. They all said how good it was. I haven't been on one yet this year, but my sleepless night is tempting to me. Maybe I'll get out early in the next few weeks to be up with the lark and listening to the birds wake up, that is if I can resist the warmth of my own bed.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012


Putting a glass bottle in a rubbish bin would never occur to me. In fact I don't think I could bring myself to unless someone's life was at risk (what a weird situation that would be...). But then I am the girl who took a  university term's worth of plastic bottles home on the train to recycle at Christmas; because there were no plastic recycling facilities at the time and sometimes I forgot to refuse the water bottle in my lunch pack.

I accept I am probably not an average example of the populations recycling habits but I am curious what is. I would be surprised to meet anyone who doesn't recycle glass bottles because it is so much part of our culture now. But I know lots of people don't recycle their food waste in our area, even though bins, bags and collections are organised by the council. Yesterday morning there were five food waste bins outside waiting for collection, on a street of maybe 15 houses. 

It's all about habits. We all know how hard it is to break a bad habit, but it's just as hard to break a good one. So we need to start making good, green habits. After a week of consciously recycling food waste I bet you'll start doing it without thinking, and soon you'll start getting grumpy when you're somewhere without food recycling.

I've tried to find out how much waste is recycled in Preston, but the only figures I can find are a few years old; they were about 32% if you're interested. I would be really interested in what other peoples habits are. I'm really bad at recycling some things; like batteries. I don't bin them, but I rarely get round to finding out where I can recycle them, resulting in large battery collections being found around the house. I'm sure some people have battery recycling habits and don't even think about it anymore. 

What do you always recycle, and what do you wish you did?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Hungry Sparrows Update

I spent most of yesterday anxiously watching the new bird table to see if anything would land on it. But nothing did, almost certainly because it takes a little while for wildlife to get used to new things. This I know well but it didn't stop me peering out every five minutes!

This morning I'd almost forgotten about it but when I looked up while washing the dishes I found three sparrows hopping around and eating the seeds I'd put out onto the table. Just lovely to watch, and watch I did for about 5 minutes. They got bored of their new toy quite soon and returned to hopping around the ground (and my flower bed) pecking at everything looking for food. But they seemed to be picking things off the plants rather than eating them so I'm pleased I'm getting some natural pest control. 

As the days pass I hope the birds will get more comfortable on the new feeder, and stay for longer. I counted five sparrows today, three female and two males but hopefully I'll be able to reveal more species soon!