Friday, 31 August 2012

Kitchen Wildlife

There has been an unusual visitor to our kitchen this week. Over the last few days we've found four or five medium sized bright green caterpillars on plants by the window, including our chilli plants.  They've also been found on cookery equipment and since no new plants have been brought into the house recently (not even lettuce) we haven't a clue where they're coming from.

While I don't mind caterpillars, in fact I think they're very cool, I don't really think the kitchen is a safe or sensible habitat so those that have been discovered have been released into the garden. There was even one that had started to form a chrysalis and so we cut the stem of the plant it was on and gentle moved it into some bushes in the garden. I hope that was the right thing to do!

If anyone has any explanations to the little creatures' origins I'd love to hear, or if anyone can guess at what type they might be - I didn't manage a picture unfortunately.  Has anyone else noticed a sudden emergence of caterpillars?

In other news, after last weekends kingfisher sightings I was surprised and pleased to find myself in the right place at the right time on a visit to Exeter this week. Sitting on the banks of the river we saw a glimpse of blue and a flash of orange and then, after a few patient minutes waiting with baited breath, we were rewarded and we saw a kingfisher flying along the other bank and even heard it's squeaky call. Brilliant!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Right Place At The Right Time

I haven't been for a walk along the canal for months, hopefully I will again soon as I haven't seen it since spring! But lots of the times I have walked along there I've thought that it's the perfect spot for a kingfisher, and still never seen one.

Often with nature you just have to be in the right place at the right time. At the weekend my partner walked along the canal and saw his first kingfisher. Apparently it was a very good view as it flew down the canal and you could see the flash of blue for quite a long way. Now I'm itching to get back onto the canal to see if I can spot it too, although I'm not really any more likely to see one now than the other times I've visited.

The unpredictability of nature is part of it's charm. You can go to the same patch week after week and with the changing seasons and different weather (recently its more like the different forms of rain!) every trip will be unique. There will always be the familiar regulars (for the canal mallards, coots and sparrows) but also chance encounters with the less well known or less common (long tailed tits, swans and goldfinches). Then occasionally you have the real show stoppers, sometimes because of their bright colours (kingfishers) but often just because it's so out of place on a visit (waxwings and buzzards). I guess that's one of the reasons people get hooked on wildlife watching, every trips different and there's always a hope that this visit will bring   the new species and the best view of a kingfisher. You have to keep watching to be in for a chance, and just resign yourself to the much more common response of "oh if only you'd been here ten minute earlier, there was a...".

Friday, 24 August 2012

Green in the Public Eye

Being green isn't easy, but, other than on this blog, no-one gets to comment  on whether I'm doing it right or wrong, if I'm being green enough or pointing out my many un-green failures. Politicians are in the lime light a lot, and if they do something particularly un-green on a slow news day it will get discussed. But if you're a politician, and you've set yourself the task of being a particularly green one then your whole life will be analysed, every action's carbon levels discussed and monitored.

At university I remember hearing the hustings (pre-vote questioning) for one of the college's Environment Rep. Durham is not a big city and can easily be walked across in 45 minutes. If you want to travel further there are buses and trains very close by so very few students have cars, unless they do sport or activities which mean they need to carry lots of kit around. So, when someone asked "what car do you drive?" it was almost a joke questions. But the two candidates answers set the tone for the voting later. One said "I don't need to drive in Durham and if I have to I borrow my parents car at home". The other ".... a Land Rover". I have no idea if the second girl had a particular reason for her car, she might have had a very good one, but as often happens it's not the fine details that are remembered just the headline.

Similarly, with the current Green Party Leadership elections I doubt many who aren't closely involved will remember much about Pippa Bartolotti other than her quote:

'Yes I drive a Jaguar – but why should that stop me leading the Green Party?'

One the plus side, she's got more public coverage than her opponents, but this isn't really the sort of coverage you want to have when running for leader of the greenest political party. I hope this election doesn't become a single issue one, particularly because the Green Party isn't just about the environment. It's about social justice, about running the country better and working as a community to make the UK better. But for many on the outside the green-ness (lower case g) of the candidates will still be important, as it should be for all politicians really. 

It's hard being green, but I think it's even harder being green in the public eye. I'm glad there's no-one watching when I make the occasional lazy drive to the shops rather than walking, or when I spend 7 minutes not 4 in the shower on a cold winter morning. And so, because it's hard even when you're not being watched I'm going to try and cut politicians some slack when they occasionally slip into un-green moments because no-ones perfect and we could all do better. And that's worth remembering about myself before others.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Green Walls

The home improvements continue here in Preston. We're onto wallpapering (I say we, so far I haven't done any yet - but I will!) and we've been surprised how eco friendly it can be.

We've been using naturplus  which was one of the cheaper wallpapers but it's also really green too! It's made completely of recycled paper, and doesn't contain any plastics or vinyls. It's hypo-allergenic too  which  is reassuring after all the dust we've been creating with other work.

Naturplus Papers

It's lovely to find eco products that are similar in price (or cheaper!) than conventional ones and also right next to each other on the shelves, rather than off in some separate green section. Another sign that being green is becoming more and more mainstream. 

Monday, 20 August 2012

Green to Red

The last two days have been a good representation of how the weathers been this whole summer. Staring off warm, then lots of rain, then scorching heat with rain possible later. While it's been a bit mad weather for us humans (and lots of animals) it seems like it's done some of the plants in our garden good.

The beans are beginning to look good and there are lots on the stem and hopefully more will follow as there are flowers still blooming.

Also, finally, the chilli's are beginning to turn red. It's been almost 10 months since they were planted but hopefully it's been worth the wait. I'm glad we waited to see if they'd change colour rather than just picking them. 

That's all the garden updates for today. Maybe we'll get round to eating some of this lovely food soon!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Recycling for All the Family

How far would you go to recycle your waste? Making recycling easier has been a huge help in getting more people to recycle. If you have to travel to a recycling centre you might not bother, but if the recycling bin is next to the normal waste bin you are much more  likely to use it.

Whenever I move house it takes a few months to get used to the new recycling system. Whether it's recycling new things (like plastic trays in Durham) or not recycling something I always have before (tetra-packs). Once I've figured it all out I start trying to buy products that only fit what I can recycle. So now I buy orange juice in plastic or glass bottles rather than tetra-packs so that I reduce waste and increase recycling. Some things are very hard to avoid, plastic trays for example. We can't recycle them in our area but there aren't many alternatives when buying meat and other products.

Occasionally I can't stand throwing some things away that I know can be recycled elsewhere and I'm not the only one. For example in my first term at university I saved up plastic water bottles (eventually I managed to stop the dinner staff putting bottles in my lunch) and packed them all into my rucksack to take home, where plastic could be recycled. More recently I have taken tetra-packs to my parents who can recycle it too.

This week I've been the recipient of some recycling for the first time. When visiting family arrived they had brought recycling from their holiday, but also from other family members they had visited in different areas. So the dog food tins, plastic bottles and cardboard was recycled here and then the plastic trays will continue south to be recycled somewhere else. This all works, but only if you're making the journey anyway.

How far have you gone for recycling or do you have other ways of dealing with unwanted rubbish?

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Isles of Wonder

That opening ceremony of the Isles of Wonder was amazing but now the "greenest Olympics ever" have finished many will be assessing that claim and judging the results by more than the fireworks. I'll be one of  them too, but not for a few days yet - watch this space.

I was interested to watch the opening ceremony not just because it was very exciting but also to see what the  organisers feel makes us distinct from other nations. There were lots of green fields and countryside at the start, but I didn't notice any wildlife in the show. Being fair, it would have been very hard to include life wildlife, but it's interesting to note that the countryside is central to our national self-image but perhaps the creatures that frequent it are not.

I spend many of my blogs on how green issues are central to all aspects of our lives, if you think about it long enough. It's not just the weekly recycling, it's remembering to buy the recyclable products in the first place too.

I travelled from Leeds back to Preston yesterday (hence the lateness of this blog) and I was amazed at the amount of interesting topics that I saw pass my window as we travelled. Heather in bloom on some moorland reminded me of the lack of hen harriers there, and the importance of preserving species and the work needed between conservationists and the shooting community. Solar panels on houses show which people have taken the leap to produce their own power. Magpies and wood pigeons frequented the railway banks and in their natural habitat looked lovely. I wish I could show them to all the people who say they are terrible pests. Even inside the train, when I looked down at the back of my book, I realised it was FSC certified paper and buying it had supported the Woodland Trust. 

There were many moments that made me wonder, and there were lots of wondrous things to discover on my journey. To be honest I was surprised and slightly in awe of all the things that grabbed my attention. It was (unexpectedly) a fantastic journey and for me that showed the Isles of Wonder, and the magic within them, much better than any opening ceremony. And it's a good reminder that wildlife never needs an opening ceremony with fanfare and trumpets, it's there, waiting patiently to be discovered. 

Friday, 10 August 2012

Clown of the Sea

This week I've been running several marine themed events and I've learnt lots of facts about amazing puffins so I thought I'd share a few with you all.

Young puffins are known as pufflings

Puffins nest in burrows raising one chick each year

Normally catching 5-10 sandeels at a time the record for a catch is 62 fish!

Puffins mate with the same partner year on year and also use the same burrow

At the start of the breeding season puffins moult and become flightless for a short while

Between 26 and 29 cm tall puffins are shorter than most people expect

Puffins have a very odd call, similar to a cow moo-ing.
(If you don't believe me check here)

Unfortunately puffins are having a hard time at the moment. Due to sea level temperature rises over recent years their main food, sandeels, have moved north following their own died of plankton. This means puffins are having to fly further and try harder to catch their food. This is particularly a problem during the breeding season and a drop in breeding success is now being seen. For more information about puffins and how you can help them, check out the RSPB website. 

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


I'm back looking at the McDonalds alphabet today and we're up to...

E ... is for the energy we're saving each year in our restaurants. 

Saving energy is one of those green activities which makes financial sense as well as environmental sense. It would have been nice to know the figures of how much energy they saved every year.

F ... is for all our free-range eggs.

I presume this means that McDonald's only use free-range eggs. That's fantastic and a great example of where big business can really make a change. If all big businesses switched to just free-range thing of the difference that would be made. I wonder if their meat is free range too.

G ... is for green. We recycle used cooking oil into bio-diesel for our trucks.  

I don't know much about bio-diesel. But reusing cooking oil (which has got to be one of McDonald's biggest waste sources!) is really good news, and I presume must be more green in the tanks of the truck too. Well done!

H ... is for the hours we spend each day training our staff -16,800 on average.
Always good to know staff are being trained regularly and progressively but I'm not sure this should be celebrated an huge amount. I'd expect McDonald's to be training staff, that's kinda their responsibility. Perhaps they mean training in a non-McDonalds role, so helping to raise education levels. If so, much better and much more impressive and still the number is quite impressive anyway.

We're not even half way through the alphabet yet! But we'll take a little break before getting onto ingredients, jobs and football.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Parents Know Best

Parents can be embarrassing, it is in their nature whether intentional (as I am certain is often the case) or accidental. But the occasional reminder of past follies or childhood stories are worth it for all the good parents provide. Without my parents strong encouragement I wonder if I would be so passionate about wildlife today. I would like to think so, but I have no way of being certain. 

Thankfully, now that I am passed the teenage years I cope better with any embarrassment my parents chose to send my way and while both shared equally in my nature education my dad seems to have been an influence in many other people's too. Starting out on my own environmental career I'm already used to people telling me that my dad has taught them something, or made them think differently about a subject. For more than half my life (bet that makes him feel old!) he was Director of Conservation for the RSPB and this has given him even more opportunities to do good and be embarrassing.

For example, there are few university students who have sat with friends watching their dad dancing on YouTube and getting over 24,000 views (that's some serious Dad dancing).

But if I ever want to know something about nature conservation, wildlife or the RSPB's work he can normally answer with a (he thinks) funny anecdote or a thought provoking question. And now he's written many of these thoughts and anecdotes down in his new book Fighting for Birds.  It is a very good book but having been a big Really Wild Show viewer when I was younger and a Spring/AutumWatch viewer now the coolest thing about the book is that there is a forward by Chris Packham. According to Mr Packham,’s a triumph, and if you have any real interest in the job of saving species and their habitats then it’s a tremendously rewarding ‘must read’.
So, if you're interested in saving species, want to find out what past conservation successes and failures have been and see what challenges the future holds for wildlife (or maybe you just want to know more about my dad) go and buy this book, and read it. Then buy it for a friend as a present.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Fast Food Facts

It's been a busy few weeks and I've been travelling around a lot and so, not inevitably but predictably, I've had quite a few fast food meals. In McDonald's I was looking at their new(ish) A-Z campaign which gives lots of facts about all the good things they do. Some do seem pretty good, others seem a bit aesthetic.

A  ... is for the lovely apples in our fruit bags
I suppose reminding people they don't just sell burgers, and sell healthy things too, is a good thing. But it would be nice to see that the apples were local, British, organic or at least sustainably farmed too.

B ... is for the 100% British and Irish beef in our burgers
This is good. Great to see local food being used. Amazing that this is a point that needs to be made really. Big companies should be supporting UK growers, and I hope that they're paying a good price to the farmers too, rather than pushing costs down to make a bigger profit.

C ... is for the chicken breast meat we only ever use
This is a pet hate of mine (I've blogged about it before) that all of an animal should be used if you're going to kill it for meat. If I'm going to eat the odds and ends and leftover bits of chicken I'd rather have it in a nice chicken nugget, tasting good and not looking like the odds and ends of a chicken. So I'd count this as a bad point for McDonalds.

D ... is for did you know 80% of our packaging comes from renewable sources?
No I didn't, but when I think about it there's a lot of paper and cardboard used. Plastic straws and plastic sauce pots as well as waxed drinks cartons are probably the only non-paper/cardboard used. This is great, but I'd be very interested to hear if they recycled it afterwards. Maybe that's something we'll find out as we move down the alphabet.

That's enough about Mcdonalds for now, but I'll be returning to talk about more of their alphabet in another blog. It's definitely interesting to see how many different aspects of sustainable living go into just one fast food meal.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

A Change of Colour

There's a lot of DIY going on in our house at the moment. I'm sure I could put more effort into finding eco-friendly paint but as with many green topics it all comes down to how much time you have and how much effort it involves.

I was pleasantly surprised however when reading the back of the paint can I was using. Under disposal it says you should never throw paint away, or pour it down the drain. Very good advice which protects the environment, who knows what's in that paint and whatever it is I'm sure it wont be the fishes favourite! It also  says you can contact your local authority to find a site which will dispose of your paint safely or, which is the bit I like best, it suggests passing leftover paint onto friends who might need it or taking it to a charity shop for resale.

Passing paint onto friends is a lovely idea, especially things like white gloss which most people will use at some point. Maybe it's time to start paint parties, like swapping parties. I'll definitely ask around friends and family before buying new paint next time, although In don't fancy the idea of mix and match off-white colours on one wall!

Paint in charity shops is an interesting idea. I can't say I've ever seen it, but then I've never been looking. I also have no idea if they'd accept it as a donation. Similarly with paint from friends the problem with second hand paint would be that you might not get the exact colour you wanted. But for things that you don't mind what colour it is, again I expect many off white things, it would probably work.

It's another part of life I hadn't ever really thought about before, but I'm sure while I'm painting walls over the next week where I get my paint and what I do with it afterwards will be on my mind.