Monday, 24 September 2012

One Year On

I’ve always loved wildlife and I was lucky enough to grow up in a pretty green-minded family but I can pinpoint the exact moment when I really “got” environmentalism. It was after a family visit to the RSPB Titchwell reserve in Norfolk when I was 17 and I’d picked up Your Step-By-Step Guide To Climate Bliss, a very small book about climate change produced by the icount group. There were loads of easy ways to lower your carbon footprint (grabbing a jumper rather than turning on the heating, cooking with the lid on and even sharing a shower!) and also a campaigning ask, to send off the back cover which was a postcard to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him to stop climate change by creating a new law. It was the first time I realised that I could actual do something to affect this thing “climate change” that was on the news and in sciences lessons and there were so many easy things that you could do to make the world better. The book was short, simple and entertaining and within minutes of buying it I was hooked, and by the end of the two hour journey home I was planning a petition signing at my local market the next week.

Since then I’ve been lucky enough to get involved in many, many different projects. I’ve remade paths after floods on nature reserves, I’ve sorted post in campaigns offices, I was even lucky enough to be the RSPB representative for handing in that icount petition I signed, visiting the cabinet office and meeting Tony Blair. My MP got to know my name as I sent e-petitions to tell him about issues and ask what he would do to represent me, and I learnt how complicated environmental issues, laws and policies are, as well as how many little things we can do to help in our everyday lives.

But as with many new things as time goes by the momentum is lost and you do less and less. That’s one of the reasons I started this blog, a whole year ago now, as a way to motivate me to refocus on what impact my life is having, and how I can make a better, not worse, impact on the world. It’s definitely made me think more about green issues, and notice the world around me more. I’ve tried cleaning with vinegar, started getting a local, organic veg box, learnt all about cycling safety and taken a closer look at my local wildlife. It’s had an impact on friends and family too with comments about recent posts or suggestions for future blogs. I can’t believe it’s been a year since I started, but already I can see myself slipping out of habits and losing momentum again. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the problems facing the world and even easier to think that one small person can’t make a difference. But as the quote goes

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.

Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

and all I really needed was a injection of motivation again to lift my spirits and that’s just what I got this week from another green book. Advice from parents is often very good advice (sometimes grudgingly and annoyingly)  but it doesn't often come in the form of print. Proudly reading my Dad’s new book  Fighting for Birds I enjoyed often-told family stories and hearing his thoughts on conservation issues but the Climate Chapter really hit home. Again I had a moment when I realised the only thing that will create a better future climate is us, doing something, and the only thing that's stopping us (as a world population) is our own inaction. When I think about it like that I feel really excited about writing to my MP, MEPs and councillors, motivated to try new green ideas and guilt tripped into avoiding bad consumer choices.

So, fully motivated again, I've set myself a few new green challenges:

  • Have at least one veggie day a week. (The boyfriend's joining in this one too)
  • Break the habit of driving to the local shop. It's close enough to walk and I could do with the exercise!
  • Write to my MP regularly asking about green policies and issues. Because you can't presume someone else will be explaining or highlighting them.
Let's see how the next year goes!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Fruity Fields

We all know local food is good for the environment as it has less far to travel form the field to your door and so less carbon is used in the process. But better than local food is local, organic(-ish?), free food. At this time of year the hedges are full of fruits and berries and a 30 second walk to the end of a family friends' field found me surrounded by blackberries, haws, rose hips and elderberries.  

I'm not a field kitchen professional and I'm not really sure what you can use most of these for so I stuck to blackberry harvesting which to be honest kept me and the boyfriend busy picking for quite long enough! After a while two large bowls were mostly full and we walked back to the house, slightly scrapped and prickled but happy with over 1kg of easily picked fruit. 

If you have a chance over the next few weeks, go blackberrying. There's honestly no better way to spend time on a fine day in autumn (except maybe collection conkers). You can take a whole afternoon and a picnic with friends or a few minutes grabbing as many as possible before adding them to ice cream or making a smoothie at home. You don't even need to be in the country, I remember last year picking just enough blackberries from hedges on rough ground in Preston to make a crumble with some apples from a local friend, but I think country berries away from roads taste much nicer and juicier. And don't forget to look at the wildlife around you while you're picking! Today we saw a buzzard, heard songbirds in the hedges and made friends with a (not very wild) horse. Just being outside is a joy at this time of year, so take a few seconds to rest from the picking and enjoy the view.

Steve Daniels, via Wikimedia Commons
[CC-BY-SA-2.0 (] 

There's no dress code for blackberry picking but for some reason I always feel like a red woolly jumper and  blue jeans are what I should be wearing, maybe it's from some childhood picture. The only really important thing is that you're wearing clothes that don't matter if they get stained by berry juice and preferably ones that are nettle and bramble resistant (it just means you get a few less stings and prickles if you're reaching into a bush for that perfect berry). My new coat stood up to the challenge and other than my hands I hardly got any  prickles this year. I'm quite cavalier with my picking and will happily brush aside nettles and reach into thorny   corners to get to the best of the crop, I only notice all the scratches once I'm home and I've found the best thing for those annoying little hurts is a bowl of warm to hot soapy water and a good soak. 

Picking blackberries is enjoyable enough that I almost forget I've got the added pleasure of cooking and eating them once I get home. There's so many things you can do with autumn fruit, summer pudding is one of my favourite but a nice simple blackberry and apple pie or crumble has got to come close to top too. If you're feeling a bit less traditional you can make smoothies, ice cream or if you can't wait for them to cook just eat them as they are!

So now, with the smell of sausages, mash and beans coming from the kitchen I'm off to cook the fruits of my labours for pudding, and then eat them!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Signs of Change

I really enjoy summer, but I'd never call it my favourite season. I never start a day thinking "It's lovely and warm today, but is this a spring day or a summer day? Can't wait for summer!" Maybe it's just because I'm enjoying spring and never notice the gradual change, maybe it's because there is often so much rain it is hard to tell where summer begins.

I greet the other seasons with great anticipation though, I look forward to winter with cold dark nights, festivities and snuggling up inside in the warm; spring with new sunshine warmth, finding buds and flowers opening and remembering what it's like not wearing a coat. This morning there was a chill in the air and with September already upon us I was thinking of jams, stews and walks through leaves and mist.

There's something about Autumn that fills me with excitement. Maybe it's some animal instinct to start preparing for the winter cold but I'm filled with an urge to bake and store up food and staying in becomes much more appealing than venturing out, even when it's not actually that cold outside. Autumn feels like a time for using up odds and ends in craft projects (maybe for Christmas presents) and creating meals out of leftovers. I don't know why it feels like a month for being thrifty, but it does.

There are signs outside that show the seasons are on the change too. Swallows and swifts are disappearing from the sky and geese are making triangles as they fly. Spiders are appearing in the house and although the leaves are still green on the trees it wont be long before they're turning too.

I'm making lots of train journeys this week so I'll be looking out for more signs of autumn. At home our crop of runner beans has finally ripened and we've picked a good handful while the flowers still blooming look likely to give us another later crop. There's nothing tastier than home grown, home cooked food!

September still feels like the start of a new year, even though I'm not heading back to college or university. But it's always a good time to set resolutions and start new challenges. This year I've signed up to be an RSPB Campaigns Champion volunteer and I'm looking forward to getting involved with campaigns and  contacting my local MP too. Why not start a new green hobby too as the year draws to a close.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Update Announcement

Sorry for the lack of blogs recently. 
Due to other personal commitments this blog will now be published weekly, on Mondays. 

Keep reading for blogs on when's  the best time to pick beans, signs of autumn and eco-friendly house moving.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Shuffle At The Top

It's a busy day for political news and quite a lot of it is (or can be) related to the environment.

The Green Party has elected it's new leader (Natalie Bennet) and deputy leader (Will Duckworth). Ms Bennet has quite an impressive CV; she can sheer a sheep as well as having the World Health Organisation and United Nations as previous employers. But I expect this role with be her most challenging yet. With  airport expansion plans again afoot, threats to the countryside and watering down of planning regulations on the horizon there are already battles being found on top of the many other key issues the Greens fight for including their No Cuts policies.

It will be interesting to see whether this change at the top affects how the party is seen by the media, or if they get more coverage now they have an MP and leader separately. Only time will tell but the more green (note lower case!) voices that are heard in politics the better I say.

Speaking of changes at the top the first cabinet reshuffle is expected from David Cameron in the next few hours. I wonder how many sleepless nights Mr Cameron has had thinking about who to have in the positions at Defra and Decc. Who would make the best informed choices to minimise climate change? Is there someone with expert knowledge on how to protect endangered species and keep the government's promise that no UK species will become extinct during this parliament? Maybe a new face with a background in renewable energy?

Or maybe the decision of who goes where will be based more on who needs rewarding, who needs putting down a place and who needs to be kept happy. I find it strange that the environment and farming positions aren't bigger deals, they control our food and our future air, water and resources and for any government thinking long term sustainability, whether it's economic or environmental, these subjects are key to any governments plans.

We'll have to wait to see what morning brings...