Friday, 29 June 2012


Food waste is a huge issue in the UK. An average family spends about £50 on food waste each month so anything that can help us reduce waste is a good idea.

Whether it's food waste collection bins from our council, to make sure any food we do waste is composted and recycled. It also helps us reduce our waste by making us notice how much we throw away. I've definitely started using things up more carefully now I can see all the waste we make.

The runner up in this year's The Apprentice was promoting a new idea to avoid food waste. His new website, Whisk, lets you plan your meal for the week (or longer), links you straight to the shops and calculates how much of which ingredients you'll need, and let's you buy it from the cheapest store. So, you can reduce food waste by buying the right amounts and planning to do with your leftovers. There's even a section to help find recipes for what you have left at the end.

It's not perfect, I'd love to be able to buy from veg boxes and local producers on the website too. But anything that makes shopping, cooking and reducing food waste easier must be good. What do you think

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Art Of Doing Nothing

When I go to bed at night I like to put the house to bed too. Close the curtains (if they're not already closed), turn off the lights, close the doors and leave things ready for the morning. And so, when I fall asleep, the house is quiet and still, or at least that is how it feels to me.

In reality the house is still buzzing. Upstairs things are quite good; my phone charger is unplugged unless it's in use, the lights are all off but my radio must be on some sort of standby as I can turn it on with a remote when I wake up. Downstairs things aren't as serene. In the kitchen the fridge and freezer both buzz throughout the night. Even though they're both A rated it still uses energy, but it's infeasible to turn these off overnight. The living room is the main culprit of night time energy use. The television, PlayStation and sometimes DVD player too are all on standby. I hate this about our television, that it is so hard to easily turn off completely. We plan to have a rearrange next week and  get an extension cable so that all the different machines can be switched on and off separately. Also in the living room is the internet and phone lines, again running throughout the night. I've no idea if you should turn these off at night. And as hard as we try, sometime laptops are left charging or a phone is left plugged in. 

So, when I think about it, my quiet, peaceful home is gobbling up energy almost as much as when I'm awake using it. It's this sort of background energy use that could be stopped so easily and start making a big impact if everyone stopped it. If we turned off all appliances that are on standby overnight then surely we'd be saving about 10 hours of our daily energy and that's got to add up. If everyone in the country did this I bet you'd see a difference in the national grid numbers. It's not even something we'd be missing, when I'm asleep it doesn't matter to me whether the TVs on standby or off, but it would probably make a difference to my bills.

So when you fall asleep, think about the rest of your house. Is it quiet and peaceful, ready for a good nights rest or is it buzzing and flashing through the night?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Green Flushes

At an Eco Open Day on Saturday I picked up some great freebies. Several were for reducing food waste; a rice cup and a spaghetti measurer (both made of plastic so not really sure how green they are!). There were also some energy efficient light bulbs and a free fabric bag.  But the best thing I got for free was a Save A Flush, very similar to the more familiar Hippo, which is placed inside the toilet cistern to reduce the amount of water used to flush the toilet.

I've been meaning to get one of these for the house for months so was really pleased to find one for free. Despite the heavy rain in the North West this week it's still important to save water and not waste this precious resource. Reducing the amount of water our toilets use is a really easy way to do this, it doesn't affect day to day living but still helps the environment. Even if you buy one of these products it only costs a pound or two, so there's really no excuse not to. If you don't fancy buying a product for this a brick works just as well apparently, and then you're not using up plastic (which mine is made from again) and it's even better for the planet.

Friday, 22 June 2012

On the Tracks

I had to travel to Liverpool on Monday. When I mentioned this to a friend they asked if I was driving or getting the train and this threw me a little. I hadn't ever considered driving there, it just didn't occur to me. The train takes 50 minutes, plus a 30 minute walk to the station, and driving takes about 53 minutes (according to the internet). So driving is quicker, but then you have to find somewhere to park and these times are only if traffic is fine. As much as we love to complain about train times they are pretty good at arriving on time nowadays.
The main upside of train travel for me is that you can get stuff done while moving. If you're in charge of a vehicle you need to be concentrating on that but if you're on a train you can do lots of things. You might get some paperwork done, catch up on phone calls, write a blog, even just stare out of the window at the passing view, you can even have a nap! These are just some of my normal train activities, but I love that feelings of getting stuff done while on the move and stepping off a train with your to-do list shorter than when you set off.

On my journey to Liverpool on Monday I did some paperwork, but I also kept an eye on what was passing by the window. The first thing to catch my interest was a train passing the other way. Carriage after carriage of freight all with the same writing on the side: LESS CO2 RAIL. Seeing the familiar font and colour scheme it was easy to realise this is Tesco moving stock around the country. It's great to see them promoting carbon reduction and trying to find ways to save energy and probably save money too. But I always wonder with these companies how much of their green initiatives is just  for good PR, on the other hand, do I really care what motivates them, as long as the change happens?

On the train back I was reminded how good trains actually are for wildlife watching. I saw two sets of duckings on various canals and a jay sat in a tree; the railway banks were covered with wildflowers like foxgloves, rose bay willow herb and buddleias and I even caught sight of a male kestrel coasting over a dual carriageway. I didn't see any of it for long, but I don't think I've seen a kestrel from above before and I've seen very few other ducklings this year.

A less natural sight was the sparkling up ahead of huge piles of glass, sorted into colours. The recycling centre glimmered as the train shot passed. It really is a beautiful sight seeing tons of broken glass and nice to know that we're creating new from old. Nowadays everyone recycles glass, I can just about remember taking glass to a recycling centre before curbside collections were the norm. This green habit has entered the countries psyche and hopefully others will too. Perhaps  renewable energy will be the next one. The railway's already there with wind turbines at almost all it's stations on the line between Preston and Birmingham. 

So, a simple journey on a train has reminded me of lots of different green ideas. How we travel, where our food comes from, the wildlife all around up and both recycling our waste and generating clean energy. Not bad for a 100 minute journey, and I got some work done too!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Results from Rio

The news coming out from the Rio summit at the moment is that world leaders are backing an agreement which  "reaffirms" the commitments made 20 years ago.

I suppose an agreement of any sort is good news but many European leaders are unhappy with the lack of ambition from the agreement. I don't know the details yet but I really hope there is more than just affirming promises of twenty years ago. Twenty years ago I was just learning to walk and talk, back in the 70s global environmental policy seemed to be doing the same thing. Hopefully we've made some progress in 20 years, we'll have to wait and see over the next few days if we have.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Spinning Wheels

With the weather turning nicer (a bit!) it's a great time to get outside and explore your local area. Whether it's a nature reserve close by to discover the local wildlife or venturing into your urban neighbourhood to find secret areas and special places you've never seen before it's great to find something new close to home.

In Preston yesterday there was a free cycle ride around the city organised by the Skyride project, jointly run by British Cycling and Sky. With no official start or end time or place you could pop in for as long or as short a time as you wanted and there were lots of activities for both cyclists and walkers around the route. If I hadn't been at work all day I would definitely been there. 

To discover how you can get involved in this project, and find some great cycle routes in your area take a look at the website here. Or even just explore on your own somewhere new close to home!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Flying High

Seeing a Red Kite from my parent’s house is an almost daily occurrence but after four days without one I was beginning to think I’d return to Preston disappointed. In fact as I got on the train I was resigned to waiting until the next visit to see one of these beautiful birds. But as I watched the countryside fly by I saw, meters from the train, a Kite hovering over the fields hunting, forked tail in clear view so there was no mistaking what it was – fantastic!

Kites may be a regular sight in Northamptonshire now-a-days but  it’s not always been that way.  This beautiful bird was extinct in England and Scotland over 100 years ago, with only a small stronghold left in northern Wales.  I remember being taken to view them on a family holiday in the 90s and being reminded repeatedly how lucky we were to see them and how we wouldn’t see these birds anywhere at home.

In fact, this wasn’t exactly true. The RSPB had started a reintroduction programme for the Kites in Scotland and southern England in 1989 and in 1995, very soon after our trip to Wales, the RSPB started the second phase of their reintroduction programme only a few miles from our home, and over the years the range of these first birds, and their decedents, has spread to cover the whole of our local area. So, while 20 years ago a Red Kite sighting would have been unbelievable now you’re more likely to see one over the garden than a blue tit in the garden.

As the Kite's range spreads across the UK more and more people are being able to enjoy this magnificent bird. Hopefully other birds of prey will see the same success in future years.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A Little Patch Of Green

Whenever I return to my parents rural, family home I am reminded how powerful gardens are for wildlife. On the terrace street in Preston where we live almost all our back yards are concrete and the only greenery is the small park at the end of the road. We are lucky really, because Preston has many large parks and the close by railway line is surrounded by trees, a vital piece of habitat for a sparrow or goldfinch.

But compare the wildlife we see in the city with what you get in rural Northamptonshire and there's a huge difference. Last night we had a hedgehog encounter on the front doorstep, while sat in the kitchen I can hear flocks of sparrows (to be fair I hear these in Preston too but less so) on the roof and the deluge of other birdsong I cannot hope to identify is distracting. It's also the buttercups, daisies and clover in the lawn that makes a different. In fact the lawn itself is a refreshing change, to look out of the window and see mostly green is lovely.

That's just one garden. And if it was alone in a sea of concrete is would have much less wildlife than it does now. The reason it is so full of life is that it is surrounded by other similar gardens and the network of green spreads across the town, and countryside, creating passageways for nature to flow along. Nature reserves are trying to do a similar thing by linking up and creating habitat corridors across the country so that species can move from one area to the next and so that they have wide ranges to live on, not just an isolated island. This will only become more important as climate change sets in and species are pushed north out of their current ranges and look for pathways to new, cooler habitats.

There are many nature reserves in the country, and they do amazing things but the area made up from gardens and yards and parks and school fields is much, much bigger. If everyone gave 10% of their garden up to be a wildlife haven just think of the networks that could be created across the land. If every farmer and other landowner got involved too and gave 1% of their land up for wildlife the networks could spread even further.

Farmers are being rewarded for helping wildlife through agri-environmental schemes, although not as much as they should be rewarded and organisations like the RSPB are trying to change how farmers are funded by governments to promote wildlife. So hopefully those farming stars who protect wildlife so well already will be  thanked more in the future and encourage others to follow their lead.

Even a small change can make a difference in your garden. We're trying to turn our patch of concrete a little greener, with added hanging bird table and water bowl, climbing bean plants and hanging baskets with trailing flowers. It feels nicer to be in, and we're definitely seeing more wildlife. No butterflies yet but bees and  sparrows (and slugs and snails- still wildlife if not always wanted) are regular visitors and as the season moves on we look forward to our first crop of home grown food.  A space for wildlife, for bbqs, for growing food and for enjoying fresh air, not bad for a 4m x 4m piece of grey concrete. What can you do with your patch of land?

Monday, 11 June 2012

Food Rubbish

In our area the council provide starch based bags for our food waste to go into, ready to be put out on recycling days. We had a big roll of them when I moved into the house in September and we are just getting to the end of it now. 

Each week the bag looks pretty small and, unless we've used lots of veg up, I'm quite surprised how little food we throw away. But thinking about all of the bags added up, that's quite a lot of waste that's been composted rather than sent to landfill. If I estimate that each week we thrown away a kilogram of food waste then that's almost 40kg's we've taken out of the rubbish pile. 

It's amazing how it all adds up. I couldn't estimate our recycling in weight but both big boxes are normally full every fortnight when we put them out. In contract we probably only fill one bin bag every fortnight, maybe every week if we're cooking lots. 

But really we should be trying to reduce all our waste, not just change from throwing away to recycling and composting. Now that most of us are recycling as a habit, the nest step is to avoid packaging and waste as a habit too. But it is hard. I'm not sure where you can buy meat without plastic packaging, and you have to try hard to avoid plastic on most other foods too. 

But that's the aim for the future. To keep recycling more and composting more (at least if we compost more, more nutrients can go back into the soil) and wherever possible not use any packaging at all. Just think how little waste was created during WWII, and people were probably healthier and fitter than they are now then too. Definitely food for thought.

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Bees Knees

I've been a little obsessed with bees recently. Having spent a day stood next to a bee keepers' group at a show I now want a hive of my own, but the centre of Preston is not an ideal setting for the novice bee keeper, so maybe it'll have to wait a few years. 

Bees seem to be a recurring topic at the moment; whether it's short-haired bumble bee reintroduction or statistics on how a loss of bees will affect food prices. With over 250 species of bee in the UK there are many fascinating facts such as a bees wings flap 200 times a second, each worker honey bee produces around 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime and bees have 5 eyes (thee "normal" and two compound).

A quick internet search shows lots of other brilliant facts and good places to learn more about these amazing creatures. Why not try here, here, here and here. Also, if, like me, you long for a hive of your own but can't have one right now why not sponsor a bee hive for a year? For £30 you can support bees local to you, learn more about them and also get some great free gifts too! Get a buzz by doing something good for the planet and the bees, no sting attached.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Make Your Nature Count

Children are natural explorers. Curious and eager to absorb new knowledge they revel in discovering the world. 

Over the past few days I've been at several events where children have been learning about the nature and wildlife around them. It's fantastic to see the enthusiasm they have for the natural world, whether it's learning what a hen harrier is, hunting down wildlife in a park or just being glued to wildlife magazines. Unlike adults, every single child has automatically assumed that wildlife is a vital resource to be protected. They find it hard to understand why people are cutting down a tigers home, or why  people would need to be convinced to protect and value the wildlife in the UK.

Encouraging that deeply rooted awe in nature, and basic respect that children seem to have is essential if the next generation of politicians, scientists and journalists are to protect our natural world. So, if you're looking for something to entertain the children this half term why not try the RSPB's Make Your Nature Count. And if you don't have children to entertain? Well, why not rediscover that childish glee when you sit and watch the magical, secret world of your garden unfold and take part in some science too.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Good News for Buzzards

In the last week the government has been making quite a lot of turn arounds on unpopular policies. There have been at least three U-turns on budget policies but the one I find weirdest (and best) is the reversal of Defra's new plans for buzzard control. 

Only last week the government released it's new plans to capture adult buzzards and destroy buzzard nests to protect the small percentage of the non native, captive bred pheasants that are killed and eaten each year. In the current economic climate spending £375,000 to protect a relatively small industry seems slightly strange and conservation groups were at first stunned and then very angry about the proposals. But it wasn't just the NGOs that were set in motion, thousands of members of the public have sign petitions and make their voices heard in angry against the new proposals.

And we have been heard as on Wednesday the government backed down and said that 
Nests won't be destroyed and adult buzzards won't be taken into captivity around shooting estates..

This is fantastic news and I hope the government will spend that spare £375,000 on helping the almost extinct Hen Harrier recover. Independent government funded studies have shown that the English uplands could support at least 300 pairs of breeding hen harriers but last year there were only 4 successful nests and this year there has only been one pair attempting to nest. None has started nesting in the forest of Bowland, the hen harriers stronghold for decades. The government has committed itself to prevent any further man mad extinctions on our shores, but they are getting very very close to failing at this. Let's hope, like for the buzzard, the future is brighter for hen harriers.