Monday, 9 December 2013

December Bits and Pieces

It's been a very busy few weeks, so busy that last Monday passed me by without even noticing that I hadn't written a blog, but now I'm back and here are a few things that have been worthy of note in this green life over the last week or two.

During a quick (and sadly rare) visit to the local Waitrose I discovered that they are still selling UK grown strawberries. This amazed me and although the berries were quite small they smelt delicious. After a quick internet  search I found this fantastic page on strawberries on the BBC Food website. It turns out that

Traditionally, part of the strawberry's appeal is that its short, six-week season, from early June until mid-August, coincides with the brief, long-awaited British summer. These days, however, the British strawberry season extends from mid-April until mid-December, thanks to the increased use of plastic polytunnels, which provide the berries with a warmer, more protected environment - and a much longer growing season. 
When do you think of strawberries? It's true that I'd put them in June and July and sometimes August. I can't believe I've lived 24 years without realising you could have UK grown strawberries near Christmas. But as the article says, the traditional season is only extended because of plastic polytunnels, and (I would imagine) heating in those polytunnels. I'm always a little confused over which is worse, flying food to the UK where it is naturally in season or growing in locally but using lots of energy to make it work. I was so confused that I gave up, and put the strawberries back on the shelf.


Electricity has been in the news a lot recently too and it's been hard keeping up. On the BBC website alone there have been articles here, here, here and here. There's quite a useful page on how green taxes are broken down but I'm still a little confused. From what I've heard on the news it appears that the government has cut green taxes which in turn has reduced the average household bill by £50 a year, so just less than £1 a week. It also means that projects which helped the poorest people save money by improving energy efficiently and general sustainability projects which help to make future energy production more secure. To me, this seems like a short term publicity win for a long term real life loss. But then, maybe for some families that extra £1 a week means the world of difference. If so, I'd rather pay an extra £2 a week and help then AND have green projects continue.

And finally....

Staying of the subject of heating I've found a new green way to keep warm at night. Rather than putting the heating on in the bedroom I often have a hot water bottle in bed to keep my feet warm. But I've found that a 2L empty coke bottle filled with hot water works just as well as a rubber, specially bought hot water bottle. In fact, I've also started using recycled water too, since still-hot bath water seems to keep me warm enough without having to boil the kettle. So there's a new green idea for keeping heating costs down and recycling both plastic bottles and bath water. I wonder what surprises the next week will bring.

Monday, 25 November 2013

50 Years

Last week there were lots of fiftieth anniversaries. Fifty years since the deaths of JFK, C. S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley and fifty years since the first Doctor Who episode. All this happened twice my lifetime ago. Today, much is still the same as it was then, but there have been changes.

Compared to fifty years ago my childhood had less skylarks than my parents' did, less fields to play in and more cars; but also more access to knowledge, more sights of far away lands and unimagined creatures. Today there are more nature reserves, but is this because we value our nature more or because these are the only islands we have left in our world where nature can remain? We have so much more of almost everything than fifty years ago. More people, more televisions, more food (for some of the world), more hunger (for other bits of the world), more knowledge, more travel, more communication. But you can't just have more, we still only have twenty four hours in each day, what have we given up for all of this more? Recent studies  indicate that over the last fifty years the proportion children playing in natural spaces has dropped by as much as seventy five percent. So for every four children running around in fields, rivers, beaches and woods when Doctor Who first aired there is now only one child today.

I expect JFK and Huxley have somehow affected my life, perhaps by affecting my parents lives (they were in primary school all that time ago), but I am certain that C. S. Lewis and Doctor Who have helped to shape who I am today. Both the Narnia series and Doctor Who tell stories of escaping to another world, full of wonder and adventure and where battles can be fought and won and where hard decisions for good must be made. These are elements from any good children's story. In fifty years time I want my future children and grandchildren to have these stories too. I want them to wonder at worlds far beyond our reach and imagine what dangerous adventures they might go on in the future. But I don't want that wonder to just come from a screen or a book. I don't want to tell them tales of why the hedgehogs disappeared or explain what a tree house was.

Whenever we imagine the future, we want to imagine it brighter, cleaner, safer and better for our children. That's the image that I hear people talk about when they talk about JFK's potential legacy. It would have been better if....

But the future we give to our children is whatever we can manage to make it. It's not something to be imagined it's something to be made. My children will run around in fields, they will see creatures they have never imagined and they will reach for the stars, because I will show them how and because my parents showed me how. But if we don't try, if we don't open the doors to the fields, or take the time to show them a daisy, a hedgehog or a skylark, how will they learn?

We are the children which the past produced, whether it was fifty or ten years ago. Our children stories have taught us to fight for good, to make hard decisions for a better  future and take ownership of our lives. All we have to do is make those stories reality, fight for the best bits of life and our planet and protect them. If we can do that, then who knows how good the next fifty years might be?

Monday, 18 November 2013

Finally Feeding

Six weeks after I first put up my new bird feeders I was beginning to lose hope that the local birds would ever find them. I moved them a fortnight ago to a different window because the large flock of local sparrows congregates in a hedge in front of our flat, rather than at the back where the feeders had first been.

Even the meal worm feeder which had been successful last spring wasn't attracting any hungry insectivores and was still completely full.



But then, a few days ago at breakfast we saw movement at the window. A magpie hovered against the window, picked up some meal worms and then darted back out of view! I never knew magpies could hover, but apparently they can. Over the last few days (while I've been away) the magpies have returned again and again, learning that the window sill can be sat upon to feed and so we don't get the entertainment of hovering anymore.  Now the feeders empty and I need to fill it up again, which I've very happy to do!



It's wonderful to see the feeders providing a use now the weather has turned colder, and I love magpies. If I were abroad and saw large black and white birds I'd probably stop to enjoy the exotic sight, here in the UK I still think they look exotic and I love watching them figure out where food is hidden on the roofs opposite our flat. Now I can have an ever closer view of these fascinating creatures.

Hopefully the regular visits from magpies will encourage the other local birds to check out the seed feeder, which is only a few feet away but is still as full as ever. We'll have to wait and see.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Gifts That Keep On Giving

Lat week I talked about giving bulbs for Christmas presents. Often these lovely presents flower beautifully and then die off and get composted. It's normal for these bulbs to be designed as one use only, but sometimes they can surprise. 

This cyclamen was bought for me as a present about 3 years ago. It looked lovely the first Christmas I had it, and then it was put in our garden in Preston, and forgotten, for about 15 months. It was rediscovered when we moved last year and although there were no leaves or flowers it made the journey down south with us. Since then it's been living on our kitchen windowsill and in the last few months leaves have appeared and then, slowly flowers too. It's been flowering for about a month now and it's still going strong, hopefully at least until Christmas. So who knows, those bulbs you plan this year and give to friends might give them years of enjoyment, surprise and pleasure, there aren't many gifts that can do that.


Monday, 4 November 2013

50 Days

I'm not sure where October went but we're now 50 days away from Christmas and it's time to start thinking about presents. I'm not particularly well organised with gifts but if you want to give things that are eco friendly or home made you do need to plan ahead a bit. Since starting this blog I've been quite successful in my green gifts; previous blogs are here and here.

The most important thing with presents (whether green or not) is that they're wanted. There's no point giving an organic cook book to someone who hates cooking just as there's no point giving a gift day at a race track to someone who doesn't drive on principle. Gifts should be something people want or need, and the green part should be an added extra, just like I buy washing up liquid and if I can find an eco-friendly type it's an added bonus. It shouldn't be a way of showing off green credentials!

Over the years some of my green gifts have been a bit hit and miss, but others have been a big success. I've been surprised by how many comments I receive through January and February about bulbs that I've given to friends and family. During those dark months it's nice to watch something grow, it remind me of the coming spring. So bulbs are something that I keep on giving, but with different plants each year. This is a present that can be planned last minute but the sooner you plant bulbs the sooner they'll flower and planting at the right time will help strong healthy growth. I'll be looking for bulbs (which are actually quite cheap) over the next few weeks and planting them up individually for family and friends before the start of December. A good money saver is to buy packs of bulbs and then pot them up yourself in decorated jam jars or recycled flower pots rather than buying the post bulb and vase/pot packs.

If plants don't do it for your friends and families why not have a hunt for local produce. Whether it's creating a mini hamper of jams, breads and cheese from the farmers market or buying a calendar from a local artist local often means unique and I definitely have more fun discovering unusual handmade items in little local shops than trawling through the high street. This gift idea works really well if you're travelling to visit people over the festive season. Our local supermarkets sell locally brewed ales and popping in to bulk buy for a variety of male relatives just before the long drive north saves hours of stress trying to pick a suitable pair of socks for each! They get interesting beers they enjoy and couldn't find near them; and I can give the same gift year after year as the local specialities change over time.

There's always the option of home made gifts which I have done a lot of in the past. The problem with this is you need to make sure you can create quality, but also that is likely to take a lot of time. I'm still deciding what to make or buy this year but I really like the look of these hand made notebooks. I often get notebooks from friends as gifts (and give them quite often too) and I always use them. It looks like a fun project which can be personalised easily to suite different tastes.

The last ideas I'm planning on trying this year is the themed goodie bag. Whether it's a kit of baking equipment or a selection of puzzles and games; collecting up lots of different little gifts to suit an individual's interests  is a fun way of making an original present. Presentation is everything so whether it's separately wrapping ten little gifts for a niece or pilling lots of goodies into a hamper and wrapping with a bow for a parent changing the wrapping to fit the receiver is part of the fun. It also means you can combine second hand objects with newly bought one to make up a much loved selection that will give enjoyment for months rather than minutes.

So those are my ideas so far. I'm sure by December I'll be rushing around the ships looking for last minute gifts still but if I can find a few well thought out eco friendly  gifts for those who will enjoy them I'll be happy. And still, there are 50 days left to go after all.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Autumn Feasts

This week has been full of autumn leaves, pumpkins and roast vegetables. It's feeling very autumnal in our Exeter flat!

The week started off with me watching a squirrel in Exeter city centre eating chestnuts and mushrooms in a park. I've never seen a squirrel eat mushrooms before, but it seemed to be picking the head off and leaving the stalk. The chestnuts were being buried all over the place under leaves, in holes in trees and straight into the ground. I wonder how many other people stopped to watch the squirrel in the middle of town before rushing on with their shopping.

It wasn't just the squirrel that was enjoying the bounties of the season. I've been to three different pumpkin celebrations this week. The one I'd been looking forward to for the longest was Riverford's Wash Farm Pumpkin Day last Saturday. As well as yummy local organic food and lots of pumpkins there was the first Big Worm Dig. What a brilliant idea! Worms are so important for growing crops and keeping our environment in good condition, but we don't know much about them. So this mass participation science study should help us understand more about these amazing creatures. Did you know there are 27 different species of earthworm in the UK? I didn't.

In timely fashion I had my first Devon Riverford veg box this week too. Peppers, squash, potatoes, apples and cherry tomatoes arrived full of flavour along with organic British cheddar and mozzarella which are both quickly disappearing from the fridge.

With autumn closing in we've started having roast dinners once a week too. This week's chicken made six portions of yummy food. Two roast dinners, two cold chicken and potatoes salad meals and a fantastic dish full of chicken, rice and cheese sauce; my favourite. Per person, per potion only £1 for the meat, which isn't bad really. I love making meals go further and seeing how far one joint of meat can stretch is a real challenge but it's fun!

While I've been enjoying lots of yummy foods inside the local birds must be enjoying the harvest that's out in the fields because they still haven't touched either of my new bird feeders. I'm sure once the hedges are bare and all the berries and seeds have gone they'll be back though.

bird feeders


Monday, 21 October 2013

Happy Wagging Tails

From my sofa I can see across the roofs of the flats opposite and it's amazing the amount of life that thrives on them. In any given day there might be three different types of gull, jackdaws, magpies, blue tits, sparrows or, my favourite, grey wagtails hopping around on the moss looking for food.

David Baird [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
These gorgeous (gorgeous is the only word) little birds like to be near water, and since the river is only on the other side of the rooftops it's no surprise we see two or three regularly hopping around on the skyline. Even at dusk their outline with long bobbing tail is unmistakable.

Watching them pick through moss and dirt looking for insects is fascinating and they seem to find quite a lot up there. I've never lived somewhere where I can watch this species from home before and I love it. It reminds me how close we are to the water's edge but also how colourful British birds can be. It may be grey on top but the beautiful yellow tummy and bright yellow and black tail feathers and stunning. Even the grey is a very pretty grey colour!

These lovely birds have kept me entertain over berakfast, lunch and dinner all summer, and they've had pretty good meals too by the looks of it. I hope the nice warm rooftops (much warmer than surrounding soil) will keep them full all winter and I hope I can keep watching their little tails wag along the roofs!

By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK (Grey Wagtail 2  Uploaded by Magnus Manske) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 14 October 2013

Green Weddings 1: Saving The Date

Finally, here is the first of my green wedding blogs and I thought it would make sense to start with the first thing your guest will see from your wedding, the save the date or invite. So that's what this blog is all about; how to tell people about your special day without completely destroying the planet.

Now if you're anything like me as soon as you got engaged you will have started telling people. And when you picked a definite date you'll probably have told the most important people (parents, best man, bridesmaids etc) at once, but telling people the date, time and venue formally is important too. Partly because telling someone when your wedding is and actually inviting them are very different but also because sending out save the dates or invites gives people the details written down, so they have them to check nearer the time.

If you wanted to have the greenest of green wedding, the best way to invite people is probably by phone or email. A nice way to do this is by sending out your own save the date and invite ecards. There are many sites that help you to do this and can set up an RSVP system to help you collect all the responses back again.

But there are a few problems with this. Some people still don't have email, and many people don't feel an ecard is as formal as a posted card or letter. Personally, I just don't find it as fun as sending out cards. Realistically, as long as you're not inviting thousands of people, the amount of paper that goes into save the dates and invites is going to be minimal compared to everything else you're buying or using on the day. Some people prefer to cut down on paper use by just sending invites. This can work well, especially if you've told most people the date in person, by phone or email in advance anyway. If you choose to send out both save the dates and invites then looking at the size of your paper can be a good idea.

For a save the date you're probably going to need your names, the date and maybe the location, that's all. So it doesn't need to be a huge piece of paper. I've received some really gorgeous save the dates that were smaller than a book of stamps. They're cute, small enough to pop into a diary or pin to a calendar so you don't lose it and don't use lots of unnecessary paper or card.  The policy of only using the materials that you really need to is a good one for all stationary materials. Less is going to be greener, cheaper and probably look better most of the time. Don't cover your invites with metres and metres of ribbon, use a bit and keep it simple. You'll look at them for hours while making them, the people you send them too will at most look at them for minutes.

As well as how much paper you use, it's worth considering what type of paper you use. I wouldn't buy non-FSC standard paper for toilet roll, kitchen paper, printer paper or a notebook so why should paper for my invites be any different? The tricky thing here is that it's likely to cost more and cutting down on the price of paper might mean a couple more bottles of wine at your meal. There are some very pretty recycled papers available now. Just check out The Natural Wedding Company for some ideas. It's easily become one of my favourite sites since getting engaged.

One final way to reduce your invites carbon footprint is to think about the postage. If you're sending card to close friends and family who already know the date, can delivery wait until you seem them next? Hand delivering a card gives a personal touch and saves the cost and carbon of posting the cards. Also, for RSVPs why not ask for email or phone replies rather than postal ones. It saves you (or your guests) the cost of another letter and if done by email lets you put replies straight into any wedding spreadsheets you may have.

So, those are my thoughts of greening your save the dates and invites. But none of that is very inspirational. It can get very depressing thinking of all the little choices between FSC paper or recycled paper, ecards or posted invites; all on top of the regular wedding stresses. So before I finish, here are a few of my favourite green save the date and invites that I've found online. Let them inspire you to a greener wedding!

Save the date with flowers! Send out save the dates and invites printed on paper that contains flower seeds. Guests can plant the paper after use and be reminded of your wedding as the flowers grow.
From botanicalpaperworks.com

Give the personal touch with a DIY card! Who needs posh paper and complicated designs. This gorgeous invite gives a real feel for what they rest of the wedding will be like. It's simple, green and beautifully homemade. IT shouldn't cost the earth or take up tons of time to make either.

From blog on thenaturalweddingcompany.co.uk

Go local to your venue!  Why not buy British. There are lots of eco-friendly wedding invite companies right here in the UK. Look up the one nearest your venue, the happy couple or the majority of your guests and pick that one. You'll be safe in the knowledge that the invites haven't had to travel hundreds of miles just to get to you. The picture below comes from the website of Rachel Thompson who is based in Cambridge.


Festival themed invites from rachelthompsondesign.co.uk/

Monday, 7 October 2013

Change The Record

 I want us to be the greenest government ever

Is what Prime Minister David Cameron said on the 14th May 2010; over three years ago now. I've blogged about it before and I'll probably blog about it in the future too. This one sentence was probably the most hopeful thing I heard in that whole week, which for me was full of third year university mathematics exams. It was reiterated  in January this year with the government's mid-term review where they said


We are committed to being the greenest government ever


Now, if you want something badly enough, and try hard enough then you can almost always achieve it. Exceptions include my ambition, aged four, to be a ballet dancing, fire fighting paleontologist (when you look at the European Working Time Directive there just simple aren't enough hours in the day). Being the greenest government ever seems possible though. Not necessarily likely or easy but possible. If a government wanted it badly enough, and tried hard enough, they could be just that. It may wreck the economy, be unpopular and  prevent reelection but it would be possible. If you completely and utterly believe it to be the right thing to do and you're ready to work hard for it you could become the greenest government ever.

So, three years after that sentence it is probably time to decide whether Mr Cameron doesn't want it badly enough, or whether he just didn't try hard enough; or is it a mix of both?

A couple of weeks ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released it's most recent report into the Earth's changing climate, its probable causes and potential consequences. The key results quoted by the media were the 95% certainty that human action was the major reason for climate change and that things will be getting rougher in the future; and much rougher if we don't do something about it.

The UK likes to lead on many things. We lead on military power, healthcare, pop music, sports (sometimes) but apparently not climate change anymore. The Chancellor seems to have forgotten that he's aiming to be the greenest government ever because recently George Osborne said that he was committed to a steady and reliable energy supply for Britain at the lowest price, in line with international climate action and yet he added that 

I don’t want us to be the only people out there in front of the rest of the world. I certainly think we shouldn’t be further ahead of our partners in Europe.

Now, to be fair to Mr Osborne, I don't want the UK to be the only people out there in front acting on climate change either. I want everyone to be out there, acting together to prevent the worst and develop strategies to cope with the changing climate we are already seeing around us. I want everyone to be reaching forward as far as they possible can, I want competition and I want the UK to lead.

Surely we can't have the greenest government ever if they're not leading the international community into action? Except maybe we can. In my opinion we don't have it yet but being the greenest government wouldn't mean being the perfect green government, it just means being a little better than anyone else has been before. As far as I remember the last Labour government (with quite a lot of pushing from NGOs) did manage some good stuff for climate change, such as the climate change bill, which some Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs helped to bring about. But I don't remember them as shining knights coming to the rescue of all environmental and biodiversity problems. So all this government had to do, was be a tiny bit better than the last lot. They have so far utterly failed in my opinion. The repeated and unconcealed dislike from senior Tory MPs for almost all environment and nature issues is depressing. It seems to be cheaper, quicker, easier at any cost as long as it isn't economic.

I am 24 years old. At the start of 2100 I might still be alive (if I eat my greens) aged 110. Impressive, but not impossible by modern living standards. 2100 is the year the IPCC make their longest term predictions for. I can understand that for policy makers in their 50s this might seem a long way off, especially if you're looking to an election in a couple of years time. But for my generation, and anyone younger, climate change is going to affect us, as well as our children. It is our future and our present. If things go badly, it could be one of the largest impacts on my whole life. I want to have politicians who think longer term than the next election, not only when it comes to defense or healthcare but for the environment too because when we change our climate we can't just do a u-turn on policy to make it better. I want politicians who make promises that they care enough about and work hard enough for that we actually get results and not just reconfirmed promises three years down the line. I want to be able to show my children and grandchildren and great grandchildren butterflies and eels and puffins and not tell them distant memories of a world full of natural wonder, I want those memories to be theirs too. 

If you want it badly enough, and work hard enough, you can achieve almost anything. I'm not really interested in whether it's because they don't care or wont work hard enough to be the greenest government ever. Whichever it is the problem is still there. I once helped to hand in a climate change petition to Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street and sit with other young people and talk to him about climate change.  When an 8 year old asked why he wasn't stopping climate change he said something about tricky economics, and international trade and China being a bigger emitter than the UK anyway. The 8 year old looked a bit confused (understandably) and just replied saying "but if we don't stop climate change there wont be an economy to worry about". It's not quite that simple, but it nearly is. I wonder what our politicians will say to their children and grandchildren if asked whether if was because they didn't care enough or didn't try hard enough to be the greenest government ever when we really needed one.




Monday, 30 September 2013

Seeds and Fields

There's no denying that it's autumn now. Darker mornings when I wake up, leaves changing colour on the trees and lots of fields beginning to be ploughed all point towards the coming cold winter months.

But ploughed fields weren't always a sign of autumn. Before the amazing creation of winter wheat and the intensification of farming fields were left at stubble for the winter, and ploughed and sown with seeds in the new year, as temperatures got warm enough for crops to grow again. This slower pace of farming meant that during the winter fields were full of spilt grain and had lots of places for insects to hide over winter in the stubble. In fact, what was left sounds almost like a giant field of bird food and the birds loved it.

Now, with more efficient farming methods the stubbled is ploughed as soon as possible in most places; I saw quite a lot of ploughing in August. For many species, including the amazing Devon cirl buntings, this has been part (not often all) of the reason for massive declines.  For some species straight after ploughing is a time of pleanty with gulls and other insectivores enjoying the many little animals that are pushed to the surface of the newly turned soil.

Early autumn is a good time for most birds. The hedges are filled with berries, seeds are still on flower heads and branches, nuts are appearing and the last of summers insects are still humming around. But as the season moves on food will become scarce and that's why this is the perfect time of year to put up some bird feeders.

It doesn't matter how big or small your space, or whether you live in a city or the country, once you've provided the food, birds with come! I live in a first floor flat in Exeter, with no outside space, if I can find room for a bird feeder, surely everyone can. And just think what an incredible sight it would be if everyone did. It doesn't even have to be a bird feeder, it could be something for all that other wildlife out there. A bug hotel, a frog hibernation tunnel  or a hedgehog house,  you choose.

For me, with no outside space, it's really a bird feeder or nothing. I did put up a bird feeder last spring but an unfortunate incident with the window cleaner meant that it is no more. So after a very busy summer I've been treated to two new feeders. The first is a small tray that sticks to the window and can hold a handful of seeds. I'm using this for meal worms to attract insect eating birds like robins, wrens and maybe even wagtails since we're close to the river. The other feeder is an RSPB Starter bird seed feeder, hung on a hook that sticks to my window filled with sunflower hearts. I had one of these whilst at university and saw loads of different birds using it including nut hatch, blue tits, great tits and coat tits. Hopefully there  will be just as much interest in it this time. Sunflower hearts should appeal to most birds and so I'm going for the food that will attract the widest range of species.

After two days there's been no sign of visitors, but it has only been two days. Hopefully over the next few weeks birds will discover the feeders and enjoy this replacement stubble field in the middle of the city. The food is good for them in harsh seasons and it's great for me as I get to watch some lovely wildlife up close. If anyone has any garden wildlife stories or tips I'd love to hear them. For now, I'm off to sit and stare at the feeders in the hope I'll be around for the first visitor!







Monday, 23 September 2013

A Scilly Week

What a great place the Scillies are! After seven days working on the islands I'm back in Devon and blogging again. Whether rain or shine (and we definitely had both) the Isles of Scilly are an incredible landscape and seascape; full of wildlife. Getting the boat across the islands each morning was a brilliant way to commute. 

View from Bryher looking out towards Hell Bay

Along with all the great views when the sun was shining there were loads of butterflies, and even a couple of red underwing moths which sat still enough to be photographed!


 Other wildlife highlights were harbour porpoise, common and bottle nose dolphin, basking shark, Lapland bunting, dottrel and buff breasted sand piper.

Monday, 16 September 2013

A Scilly Journey

As you read this I will have traveled to the most southerly point of UK soil on which I have ever stood.  I am on the Isles of of Scilly. From where I write this, it will be a train journey, a walk, a boat journey, another walk and another boat journey before I get to my final destination on the islands. For somewhere so far away, it's actually very easy to get to without a car or aeroplane!

I've never been before, but I've heard lots about it. A warm, tropical climate, palm trees and white sandy beaches are what appears on the official visitor guide website. While it might be a tad cold for swimming in the blue waters that surround the islands (they are basically part of the Atlantic Ocean after all) I'm looking forward to discovering the scenery and wildlife both on and off shore.

I've been told more than once and by more than one person, that September and October on the Scillies are close to a birdwatchers paradise. Rare birds aplenty are blown onto the islands from as far away as America and the Southern oceans if the winds are right. Birds that would normally create a stir are counted as normal autumn species is this special corner of the UK. I expect there will be at least a few new species for me.

It's not rare birds that I'm getting excited about though. Growing up in Northamptonshire gives you a certain livelong excitement about the seaside. So living on a small island and getting the boat to work everyone morning for a week is going to be an adventure in itself. On the journey over, or back, from Penzance there will be the chance of dolphins, porpoises, whales, sharks, and countless "common" seabirds. Maybe even a jelly fish, sunfish or turtle!

I hope, as you read this, it will be sunshine and a heatwave on the islands (although this normally means less rare birds) and not a hurricane and Atlantic storms (which would be quite good for rare birds). By next week I'll be back in Devon on dry (safe) land and will be filling you in with all my scilly adventures.
Photo by Tom Corser www.tomcorser.com. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 England & Wales (UK) Licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/uk/deed.en_GB

Monday, 9 September 2013

Green Water

Whilst enjoying a meal out recently I noticed that the water we had ordered was a little different to the normal fizzy stuff you get in most restaurants. 

On the back of the bottle there's a description of how Belu are contributing all their profits for three years to WaterAir (minimum £300,000), helping over 20,000 people by providing access clean water. As well as the charitable positives the water is also carbon neutral by reducing environmental impacts as far as possible and offsetting everything else. 

I still think it's better to have tap water (it's already being cleaned for drinking so why spend extra energy and resources bottling mineral water) but if you do have to buy water when out, Belu seems to be a really good choice for people and the environment.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Green Weddings


Over the last two years I've blogged about my attempts to lead a green life. I've looked at whether you can be green on a budget, if you can be fashionable and green, if you can be a regular twenty something and still stick to your green convictions. I've had mixed results.

But in less than a year now I am getting married. So the new challenge is: can I balance my girly desire for a day of excessive fairytale celebrations with my dreams of a magical, green, ethical, day? And can I do it without breaking the bank?! What I have discovered over the last nine months since getting engaged is that weddings are complicated, but only if you let them be. Like any new project, there are so many choices and options and decisions that need to be made. Often, the easiest option isn't the greenest. Sometimes the greenest option isn't cheap, other times it is amazingly cheap. My own wedding plans are coming along nicely now and so far there seems to be a reasonable balance between greenness and what we actually want from our day. But while researching and planning and day dreaming I have discovered so many amazing green wedding ideas that I realised there are far too many for me to use them all, even if I could afford or fit them all in. So I have decided  to celebrate and share some of the ideas and thoughts of green weddings over the next twelve months through my blog. It won't be all I'm blogging about but since this blog is meant to describe my attempts to navigate the world and my life in a green way it seems only right to talk about weddings when that is what takes up a lot of my time these days!

Whether it's finding a local supplier for the catering or weighing up the pros and cons of making recycled  paper for wedding invites I'll be looking at weddings from every green angle I can find. If you have any suggestions for blog topics, are or know a green wedding supplier or have a particular green wedding questions why not get in touch with me by commenting here or sending me a tweet (@jennifercavery). I'd love to hear from you.


For now here is a taster (in pictures) of some of the topics I'm going to be covering:
www.ecostreet.com
www.pebblebed.co.uk
www.tree2mydoor.com

www.blisstree.com

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Swiftly Gone

It's been a proper summer this year. Hot days, thunder storms, and lots of sunshine. It seems only a week or so since I saw the first tower of swifts over the river near our flat. But in reality it has been months and I realised this week that I don't remember the last day I saw a single swift, let alone a tower of 40+. They have moved on; both adults and (hopefully many) young, towards warmer climates for the winter.

Other migrants are reappearing on our shores from further north and the evenings aren't quite as long, or warm, and they have been. More than that, or maybe because of all of the above, I can feel autumn settling in. It's a sense of movement, towards something different, a feeling of change that cannot be avoided.

At this time of year I have the urge to collect fruit and store away treats for the cold winter months. My mind turns to blackberry and apple crumble, collecting up warm blankets and looking for my winter boots. Even though the first crop of UK apples are a week or so from the shops and the blackberries could be left for another day or two as well I'm already beginning to prepare. What new warming soups can I discover? Where did I leave my gloves?

I know in reality I only need to plan an extra layer of clothing or two and then really my winter life is little different to my summer one. But it feels like a bigger change than that. For most of nature it is still a huge change. Hedgehogs, dormice, bats, insects, butterflies and other creatures are preparing for the long winter's sleep. Plants are having one final flowering spurt before turning to seed. And like the swifts, many of our favourite summer birds are turning their wings southwards while winter favourites are beginning to search us out again.

But it's not something to be mourned. I miss the swifts, but I look forward to the first waxwing reports, the sight of holly berries and, lots later, the first snow drop in the depths of winter. I have been told I say it about every season, but now it is almost here, I know that autumn is my favourite. Or maybe, it's the sense of change I enjoy, the knowledge that soon there will be new sounds and smells and sights and tastes to mark the passing of time and the starting of a new season. Whatever the reason, I do not lament the end of summer, I relish it. Because without winter's long nights how would we appreciate the warm summer days?

Monday, 19 August 2013

The Best Things In Life...

After watching Kirsty's Fill Your House For Free over the last few weeks I was inspired to get in on the action. Seeing all those items of furniture that needed a new home and a little love made me think of the bookcase and bedside tables we've been looking for, and not being able to afford, for the last few months.

So I joined the Exeter Freecycle group. One good thing about living in a city is that there are lots of people, and it's amazing how much stuff those people have. Every day I get lots of emails telling me what people have that they don't need anymore. From baby clothes to packs of roofing tiles, old computer monitors to lawn mowers. So far there hasn't been anything I felt I really needed although I was very tempted by the offer of assorted jam jars. There's always a use for jam jars...

But it's not just online where you can find unloved furniture. Recently we visited a family member who's just moved into a new house. The previous owner had left most of the furniture and it is now filling up the garage. There were several bookcases, an interesting looking wooded trunk, old computer desks, tables and a chest of drawers. It was all is pretty good condition and before it got sent off to charity shops and car boot sales we went through it and found a good sized bookcase and two (almost) matching bedside tables with draws. I would guess buying all these from a charity shop would have taken considerable hours of searching and about £40 minimum. Getting them for free, and as a surprise on a chance visit was brilliant! So it just shows that you should always be on the look out for potentially useful things, and make sure you're car's as empty as possible when visiting friends and family!

But it shouldn't all be able getting rid of things and bringing new things home. It's great when an unwanted piece of furniture can become a wanted piece again, but looking at what you have at home already is a good idea too. A (not very old) shower puff/sponge has unraveled this week, but a quick search online gives many ways to reuse it. My plan is to try and crotchet it back into a sponge again. Then we don't need to buy a new one and we don't have to throw the old one away, and I'm kept entertained for a few hours trying to crotchet meshing. I'll let you know how it goes!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Fluttering By

Yesterday was the final day for the Big Butterfly Count.  Did you do it? I did. Admittedly I did leave it to the last minute, yesterday afternoon, and so I didn't get the best butterfly conditions; windy and cloudy, but at least it wasn't raining. at the time of writing this blog over 37,000 counts had been done!

This was the first year  I took part in this mass participation survey. I'm much more used to the RSPB's Big Garden Bird Watch   but thankfully unlike that annual event it didn't feel like all the wildlife had fled the area as soon as the clock started ticking for the count.

Since I don't have a garden I chose our street as my watch site. Looking from our window I could see all the front garden's along our road which are normally covered with butterflies, bees and other insects. Over the 15 minutes period I saw a large white butterfly in one clump of flowers and two small whites fluttering around together further down the street. I didn't see any moths though which the count also looks for.

Being only 15 minutes long means there isn't really any excuse not to do the count. Unless you're out of the country who wouldn't have 15 minutes somewhere in the three week period to look at the butterflies and moths around them? As with any local nature watch it's a fantastic opportunity to look at the wildlife that's right on your doorstep, and discover something new. I'll definitely be looking along our street a little closer now. Rather than just thinking "oh, another white butterfly" I'll be taking note of the size and colours to see if it's a large, small or even a green veined white. What wildlife have you noticed appearing around you this week?

Monday, 5 August 2013

Swimming in the Rain

This week I made a brilliant discovery. Topsham (a small village near Exeter) has an open air swimming pool heated by solar panels! So, I spent a happy hour swimming under a cloudy sky watching starlings, pigeons, gulls and swallows fly overhead. I forgot how much I love swimming in the rain, there's something very special about swimming outside.

I normally feel a bit guilty about how much energy is needed to heat swimming pools so this one, also run by lovely volunteers, is a welcome change. I even got the bus to the pool rather than driving.

If you fancy going even lower energy swimming (for pool heating, it will still use lots of your energy) you can try wild swimming. Something I haven't been brave enough to try yet, but the idea is very appealing. To find a place to swim and relax under the open sky near you why not check out the Wild Swimming website.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Green Catching Up

It's been a busy few weeks in the Green Life. Work has mainly consisted of music festivals (WOMAD and Chagstock) with a few village fetes thrown in for good measure. The aim? Explaining how fantastic the RSPB is and why people should support it by joining as members (and you all should, via me so I get the credit!).

But with work on the go, go, go I haven't really had time to catch up on two very interesting green-ish programmes that have started recently.

The first is Kirsty Allsopp's new series Fill Your House For Free. Showing people how to collect, upcycle and rescue furniture to fill their homes for next to nothing. It's not quite free once you've bought paint and hired tools but it is very cheap! the first episode (Tuesday 8pm Chanel 4)  was very interesting with a good mix of usable ideas and wacky TV stuff. I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the series.

The second is Monty Don's new series on Radio 4 called Shared Planet. I've only caught snippets of the programme which aims to explore the complex issues surrounding a growing human population and the pressures put on our wildlife and planet but it sounds great.

So, while I relax and recover from my festival adventures I'll be relaxing and catching up with these. Why not give them a listen/watch yourself?

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Size Does Matter

...when it comes to food waste.

I can cook meals for four but somehow meals for two or one end up always being meals for about one extra person. This is great if an unexpected guest arrives but otherwise, without a freezer, the extra leftover food becomes a bit of a waste.

Thankfully there are several ways to avoid this problem. The first is to measure things properly. My cooking style is definitely experimental when it comes to portion size. Add a bit of this, an extra handful of that, and suddenly a one person dish is a filling the biggest saucepan. So, I have fallen in love with one utensil in particular, my rice cup. I got it free last year at a green event and I use it religiously now. Before I used any small cup that came to hand and it worked almost as well.

Two cups of rice, 4 cups of boiling water and 6 minutes (stir) then four minutes in the microwave and you have perfect rice for two. For one person just halve all the quantities. No waste.


                                                             how much rice per serving




Another way of dealing with waste is to use it up rather than avoid it all together. I love meals that start as one thing and end as another. Leftover roast from a Sunday can turn into a stew on a Monday, chili on a Tuesday, Soup on a Wednesday and so on. Adding a few extra ingredients goes a long way. Leftover veg or rice and curry make the most delicious sandwich and wrap fillers that make Monday morning blues just disappear.


So that's my message for the week. Size matters. Whether it's the amount we eat, the amount we use or the amount we waste. Pick up a cup and take control.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Fluttering Away?

All the signs of summer are around this week. The smell of BBQ's, the sound of lawn mowers and lots and lots of butterflies. I remember seeing quite a few back at the start of April but since then these flying gems of colour seemed to be hiding, but not anymore.

I'm glad I've been seeing more butterflies because this weekend is the start of Butterfly Conservation's Big Butterfly Count. In its third year now this is the biggest butterfly survey in the world (I wonder how many butterfly counts exist?) and last year there were 223,000 butterflies and day-flying moths counted.

Butterflies are amazing. Painted ladies take six generations to make a 9,000 mile migration from sub-Saharan Africa to the Arctic circle and some of them spend the summer fluttering around in our gardens here in the UK. All that travel, navigation and perseverance from a creature with a brain the size of a pin head. But like the rest of the nation's wildlife butterflies are facing stormy times ahead.

The State of Nature report revealed that 72% of the UK's butterflies had decreased in the past ten years with common "garden" species declining by 24%. What would a summer be without red admirals, orange tips and peacock butterflies floating around the flowers? The large blue has been helped by dedicated conservation projects and is on the way to recovery but the familiar small tortoiseshell has declined by 77% in the past decade. Now we know the damage that has already been done, hopefully new conservation projects will be able to turn the tide on the huge loss of wildlife that our country is facing.

Each of us can play our part. Small tortoiseshells can be helped by growing (or leaving!) nettles around the edges of gardens as this is a favored site for the species. Planting butterfly friendly flowers will encourage many species into your garden which is nice but also provides a vital safe haven in an often otherwise barren landscape for these incredible creatures. And of course you should do the Big Butterfly Count.  It only takes 15 minutes and it's another great excuse to spend some time enjoying wildlife in the sun (as if you needed one). So between now and 11th August go and see which butterflies are fluttering near you.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Shopping for Greens

Isn't summer brilliant? Long, hot, sunny days are great for picnics and parties, but also good news for anyone trying to grow vegetables and it's showing in our shops. Last summer's terrible weather hit crops hard across the country but this year the shelves are full of amazing UK grown crops.

With all this fabulous veg on offer I wanted to see how much of my weekly shop I could get from UK growers and I was pleasantly surprised. With any seasonal shopping menu's need to be able to adapt to what's on offer and what's best in season so I swapped my normal staple of apples (this time of year you can only get ones from South Africa or New Zealand) for Somerset strawberries and Scottish raspberries. I found UK  lettuce, peas, peppers, mushrooms and onions as well as adding English courgette to my basket instead of the unseasonal squash. I'll have to wait another month or two for them to be ripe enough for shops. Thanks to the late spring there is still British asparagus in the shops too, although I also found some being sold from abroad which seems odd when we have such a fantastic crop here.

With my fruit and veg  collected I headed round the rest of the shop to see what other British buys I could find. Cheese, bread, milk and eggs were all successes and a surprise buy of British meringues went perfectly with the seasonal fruit too. This really is the season of plenty.

With the food shop done, and so much wonderful veg available I decided to have a bit of a veggie week  since it's been ages since my last one. It's always nice to rediscover how versatile and, to be completely honest, yummy in season, British grown veg is without needing any meat to add to a meal. So, my menu this week looked something like this:

Sunday: Macaroni Cheese (possibly my favourite veggie meal ever, the best comfort food)
Monday: Mushroom stroganoff and rice
Tuesday: Falafel and British peppers in pitta breads
Wednesday: Spicy Vegetable Stew (Kidney beans,courgette potatoes, peppers, sweetcorn, onions, stock, spices)
Thursday: Asparagus and boiled eggs on toast
Friday:Spicey Vegetable Stew
Saturday:Asparagus and boiled eggs on toast

It's nowhere near a vegan week, but I was please how little cheese I used considering it's my normal fall pack veggie ingredient.

So if you haven't already, I challenge you to find something new, seasonal and British grown in the shops this week.  You might event discover a new favourtie or an old friend.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Sounds from the Sea

In May I wrote about the Tweet of the Day series on Radio 4. With over 40 tweets now available to listen to it is a fascinating collection, highlighting the huge diversity and wealth of the UK's birds. In particular I've enjoyed the many episodes which reveal the sounds of seabirds. 

As an island nation the UK is home to a huge array of marine wildlife; seabirds are some of the most noticeable, and I presume, noisiest on our shoreline. While some, like the gannet, are familiar favorites from Spring Watch and other natural history programmes others are less well known.  I had never even wondered what a Great Skua sounded like, let alone be able to guess. 

So, in case you haven't had a chance to hear them yet, have a listen to some of these amazing sounds from the sea. 

Cormorants are common on rocky shores and in winter gather in large roost of hundreds of birds.

Great Skuascommonly known as bonxies, two thirds of the global breeding population are found on Scottish islands.

Gannets  have a two meter wingspan and regularly dive up to 20 meters into the water.

Arctic Terns make a round trip of over 70 thousand kilometers as they migrate. They see more daylight than any other animal.

Manx Shearwaters nest around the UK, mostly on remote islands such as Skomer. Around 90% of the world's population breed in the UK.

Razorbills look beautiful with their smart black and white feathers, although their call is less attractive!

Puffins are one of the most colourful seabirds. Their calls sounds similar to cows moo-ing.

Kittiwakes get their name from their call, and have been nesting on the cliffs near to me at Exmouth.

Storm Petrels  just sound bizarre, purring away through the night. They appear to walk on water and are known as "Jesus Christ birds".

Guillemots  learnt to fly by jumping off high cliffs. The eggs are pear shaped to prevent them falling off the cliffs and guillemot nests are the smallest of any bird, only 5cm square. 

Shagswith their deep green plumage, are true seabirds compared to their black feathered relatives the cormorants. Shags make nests of seaweed and driftwood. 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Journeys

Someone called Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that

Life is a journey, not a destination

and while this may sound profound and poetic I would challenge anyone travelling on a cross country train from Durham to Preston, late at night on a wintry Friday, not to long for the destination and the journey's end. 

But I think it's true that journey's are underrated, even the journey from Durham to Preston which, in daylight, has some fantastic views while travelling through the Pennines. I've blogged about journeys before (here, here and here) and I've been thinking about, and going on, quite a few journey's recently (and there are several more to come soon). 

Last week I did something I've been wanting to try for quite a while, exploring the Exe by public transport. Exeter and the Exe Estuary are lucky to be supported by a very good transport system. There is a train line that runs all the way up one side of the estuary from Exmouth, to Exeter, and then all the way down the other side too. If I didn't live a 40 minute walk or two bus journeys from the nearest station I would travel on this lovely route much more often. But there are buses too and from our flat this is much easier. 

You can (and I did) get the bus from Exeter to Topsham, which is a lovely 15 minute journey. You can either spend it looking out for number 57 buses and guessing which estuary wildlife will be pictured on the side or feeling smugly green about not using your own car and also relieved that you don't have to find somewhere to park it when you arrive!

One of the best things about being car free in Topsham is that as well as exploring the east bank of the estuary you can hop onto one of two foot ferries which take you over to the other bank too. This was what I'd been looking forward to and I took the Topsham Passenger Ferry which is £1 each way and takes about a minute to do the crossing. The ferry man  is lovely, he told us all about his recent holiday scuba diving with manta rays, and the added bonus of a small group of signets was well worth the £1 anyway. 

Once across the river, you can wander along the west bank down to the Turf pub which is only accessible by foot, bike or boat and enjoy a pint of organic, locally produced Avocet Ale. What could be a better, greener, way to spend a summer afternoon? 

If you're tempted by a longer journey (and another pub) the easy walk through the RSPB Exminster Marshes reserve leads to the Swans Nest, and you should see plenty of dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies and birds. You might be lucky like we were and see a fox cub learning to hunt. 

After quenching your thirst again, you have a choice. Catch the bus back into Exeter from this side of the river, or  wander back down the road to the ferry crossing, have another short but lovely boat trip and get the bus back into Exeter from the other side.

A day out wandering is nice, and the journey really is the main event. There's something special about traveling by public transport, I always feel there are so many options and potentials. you could go anywhere. The odd thing is that this is probably much truer by car, but I never feel the same way when driving myself. 

Yesterday I traveled up to Northamptonshire by car, because public transport took longer, costed more and meant you had to travel further. I wish it was easier to do the journey without the car. But I did enjoy counting buzzards as I went. I managed ten over the journey and happily saw two red kites just before the end. A kestrel was an unexpected sight too. This is one species where I do remember there being plenty in the past and fewer now. I'll be entering my sighting into the kestrel survey here so that my sighting can go towards helping solve the problems this lovely bird currently faces. I wonder if I'll see more ore less buzzards on the return trip, although since it will be via Symonds Yat I hope there will definitely be more peregrines. 

I suppose the quote at the start of this blog is meant to remind us to enjoy every moment we experience, to really take it all in rather than rushing to the next big milestone. I think that's important. But if we didn't have destinations to aim for, whether it's the next pub on route, a family reunion or the aim of bringing a species back from the brink our journeys would all become aimless wanderings and that doesn't seem very good either. So, enjoy the journey, and take as many stops as you can, but celebrate the milestones too because they mark the progress we've made, and give us a chance to look back at how far we've come. 


Monday, 24 June 2013

Blog Postponed

Due to other commitments this week's blog will be a day late. Check here tomorrow for more green tales.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Membership Money

Last week I was surprised to receive a nice cheque from the tax man as they'd taken too much of my money last year. My first thoughts were of new Fairtrade dresses but then I started to think how this unexpected money would be put to best use.

A chunk of it is going into the wedding fund but I've also decided to join three new nature charities so that my money helps look after the UK's wildlife. Definitely something that matters to me now and in the future and the good the money will do will last longer than any enjoyment I get from a new dress.

So, which charities to choose? I picked my local Wildlife Trust, because I've been meaning to join it for ages and I use their website to look up wildlife all the time. Next on my list was Buglife, because getting support for cute and cuddly wildlife is quite easy, but convincing people to protect beetles, bugs and creepy crawlies is much harder, but these animals are vital to sustain larger ecosystems and food chains. Finally, the Woodland Trust the UK's charity for protecting our woodlands. So many birds, insects, mammals, and plants rely on woodlands that protecting this key habitat is really important if we want the UK's wildlife to thrive. Also, I never want to live in a world where a walk through a bluebell wood isn't possible and supporting this charity will help to make sure that never happens. 

So, that takes my charity memberships up to 5. The RSPB, Plantlife, Buglife, Devon Wildlife Trust and the Woodland Trust. Much better than a dress, I'll get much more pleasure from wildlife than fashion so that's money well spent on my new memberships. If you've got a few tenners spare this month, why not spend it on something that will make you feel good all year, join a wildlife charity.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Festival Habits 2

It's been a busy few weeks. At the start of the month I was working at my second festival of the summer; Wychwood music festival at Cheltenham racecourse.

In comparison to the small local Exmouth festival Wychwood was very different. Big names such as Bill Bailey, Soul II Soul and The Human League  were playing on the main stage and rather than returning to warm comfy beds each night festival goers were mostly camping on site. The biggest difference I noticed though was the recycling. Where Exmouth had rubbish bins Wychwood had colour coded recycling bins for All Plastics, Cardboard and Paper, Food and Other Waste; and even All Metals. The other difference was that these bins (always sets of four with all recycling options available) were placed every few meters. So I doubt you were ever more than 10 meters from a recycling point, so no excuse not to recycle then!

This all seemed to work fantastically well. I could see people checking they were putting rubbish in the right bins, making an effort to get it right (with so many people  around you didn't want to be seen getting it wrong!) and generally it was just the done thing to recycle all that you can. I wonder if people recycle as carefully at home? Maybe people would be a lot more careful if they thought their neighbors were checking their bins. The only problem I could see with the system was that many of the products on sale at food and drink stands were a mix of products. Hot drinks were a mix of cardboard and plastic, so where did they go? It would be interesting to see if organsiers could plan recycling around what waste would be produced, or if they could make stall holders only provide products that matched available recycling facilities. But in general, it was the best waste management I've seen at an event. I seem to be getting a little obsessed with rubbish! I didn't spend the whole festival watching recycling bins!

The types of stall and visitors probably partly explains why everyone was so good at recycling. Many visitors were very keen on green issues, and many stall had an environmental theme. Washable nappies,  conservation charities, ethical clothing and Fairtrade and local food all featured around the festival. My favourite  (other than our RSPB stand of course!) was the British Ecological Society (BES) stand.

Themed around wildflower meadows the Sex & Bugs & Rock and Roll tent looked great and aimed to celebrate 100 years of the BES. With a daily festival bioblitz the stand was always buzzing and the staff and volunteers were full of enthusiasm for wildlife. You could watch a bee hive, find out what type of wildlife you are (I think I was a frog) and best of all find out how gross your festival kit was by being swabbed. At the RSPB stand we had been making festival headbands from unwanted fabrics (the most fun I've had recycling for a long time) and I'd been wearing mine for three days before I had it swabbed.Probably covered in sun cream, face paint, sweat and many other things I was surprised how little was growing on my petri dish which had been covered in whatever was on my headband. Some of the others are completely covered in patches of bacteria and growths.

You can have a look at mine (Green Life) and others on the website right here.

So, a great festival for recycling, a brilliant festival for wildlife (waking up to the sound of a Skylark singing was incredible) and a nice discovery that maybe I wasn't as grubby after three days of work as I felt.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The State Of Nature

On the 22nd May the State of Nature report was released by a coalition of 25 of the UK's conservation charities. The report which looks at how wildlife across the UK is faring, what is doing well, what is doing badly. It's the first time such a report has been created and while there are some success stories a lot of the content is bad news for wildlife in general.

Anyone who is out exploring nature regularly will have noticed some declines. Hearing a cuckoo is now a rare experience, seeing a hedgehog in your garden is unusual and surely no-one has missed the many news stories on the decline of the UK's bees. In fact, the report concludes that 60% of animal and plant species studied have declined in the past 50 years.

While only (!) 3,148 species were assessed out of the UK's 59,000 this stocktake will hopefully reveal clues as to the reasons behind declines but also behind successes. This will allow conservationists to develop plans to protect our most vulnerable species and to improve the prospects for nature all over the UK.

You can read all of the report here. I haven't managed all of it yet, but whether it's the incredible photo's that highlight the fantastic species, the graphs (I'll never stop being a mathematician!), or the report itself, if you're interested in wildlife then you will definitely find something fascinating inside.

The message is clear too. From lichen to ospreys, gannets to moles, the natural world is finding life harder than ever before, and a lot of it is because of humans. But there are some good news stories too, otters and red kites are on the up, partly because of humans doing good things. So that's the message of hope, things are tough, but we can and will do better, and by coming together nature will have better champions and face better times ahead.

Read the report, it's a great piece of science and a captivating read. But if you don't have time right now, check out the State of Nature video. If for no other reason than to remind yourself of how incredible and diverse the UK's wildlife is, and that it is everywhere.




Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Festival Habits

This weekend I was at the Exmouth Festival, a week long celebration of local music and culture. From what I saw it is a brilliant mix of local amateur groups, local professional bands and community activities. With the sunshine warming the air everyone had smiles on their faces and the park venue was covered with happy picnicking families all afternoon and well into the night.

When I arrived early the next morning (some of us were working the bank holiday!) I was quite shocked to see the park absolutely covered in litter. I expected some rubbish but not the huge amount of plastic bags, beer bottles, plastic bottles and other debris strewn around on the grass. I was so shocked I took a picture.



It amazes me that even with many well placed bins around at the festival so many people had just dumped their litter. Especially because most visitors lived only streets away and could have easily taken their rubbish home. Local people who wanted to enjoy a quiet morning stroll or jog through their favourite park must have been disappointed and if it were my local green spot it would definitely put me off supporting another festival. Thankfully, a lovely group of festival volunteers quickly appear and with incredible  speed and efficiency cleared away all the rubbish, replaced bin liners, tidied flower borders and checked the whole site was safe for another day's fun in the sun.

Three things struck me about the festival and it's rubbish. The first was how fantastic the volunteers were. Many had been at the festival the night before, with little sleep in between, and I doubt many were thanked by visitors as all the clearing up was done well before anyone else arrived. But they still turned up with smiles and cleaned up their park, and it was lovely to see the pride local people took in caring for their local area and the effort they go to in making this annual event a success.

The second thing I noticed was there were no recycling bins on site, only general waste ones. Since people didn't seem to manage to take their rubbish to any bin I don't know if recycling bins would have helped but I do hate the idea of so much rubbish just going to landfill. What I hope happened is that all the waste (mostly glass, plastic and cardboard) was sorted somewhere else, and will be recycled back into the system anyway. Having recycling bins might not have encouraged more people to dispose of their waste, but it would have been a good opportunity to raise awareness of recycling in the local community.

The last thing I noticed was that people seem to forget their normal habits when out and about. many families that visited the festival during the day took their rubbish home, perhaps people lots of people could see what they did and how they left the grass for other picnickers. But when it turned to evening people just didn't seem to bother. I would be amazed if all those festival goers just threw rubbish on the floor normally, in fact I bet most of them recycle, so why didn't they clean up after themselves at the festival? Maybe it's something to do with other people being in charge, and the assumption that other people will tidy up afterwards too. Whatever the reason it makes me sad that so many local people are happy to just dump their rubbish for someone else to deal with in their lovely local park.

I'm going to lots of festivals this summer, and I'll be interested to see whether people clear up after themselves, if there is recycling and what the atmosphere is like. It also means that my blog might be a little less regular than normal, but I hope you'll keep reading and enjoying them when they appear!

Monday, 27 May 2013

A Quick Look Back


Due to the bank holiday (and a very busy work schedule) a new blog will appear here on Tuesday the 28th May. 

But while you wait, why not have a look at some of my previous blogs from this time of year?


Check out this, this, this or this.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Stories For Our Not So Distant Future



A few weeks ago I received an invitation to the launch of Beacons: Stories for our not so distant future; a new collection of short stories themed around climate change. I was disappointed when I couldn't make it because it sounds like a fantastic evening's entertainment. The launch is in fact tomorrow at 6:30pm in the Piccadilly Waterstone's in London. Authors will be reading extracts and discussing the book and I'm sure the free event and refreshments will be full of interesting conversations about all the environmental issues facing our world.

The book has already had good reviews and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on a copy soon, especially because royalties will be donated to the Stop Climate Chaos fund, one of my favourite causes.

The series of short stories looks at where we are today and where we might be heading. Topics cover everything from the practical effects of our meat consumption rate, climate refugees and changing landscapes to more abstract ideas such as the bond between nature and man or the effect that climate change may have on our society.

I already have a whole shelf-full of books on the environment, but not one of them is fiction. So, between my wildlife memoirs, climate change textbooks and ethical shopping guides there is definitely space for this gem. As some of the reviews have already said, there are many worrying impacts that climate change may have on our world in the century to come and climate literature allows us to explore, discuss and imagine what our world may be facing in the future. it is through such discussion that we may be better prepared to act upon whatever it is that our not so distant future holds in store.

So, if you're in London tomorrow pop along to the Piccadilly Waterstone's at 6:30pm and take a look. And if you go, let me know how it went,  I'll be very sorry to miss it.



A Lovely Weekend

This weekend I had an exciting trip up to Symonds Yat in Gloucestershire. Sometimes I really, really love my job especially on weekends when I get to stand in the sunshine and show visitors amazing wildlife. But I'm a little exhausted by all that wildlife, so, this is just a quick blog about some of the fantastic things I've seen in the last few days, and a longer blog will follow later in the day.


The highlight for me has to be hearing my first cuckoo of the year at about 11am on Saturday morning.  Brilliant to hear them again and always amazing to think they've flown all the way from Africa.

The stars of the show were the peregrines flying around their nest and showing off catching pigeons throughout the weekend, but mainly just sitting and chilling out on the rock face. Fasted animals in the world you know!

A kingfisher was seen distantly below in a tree by the winding river and the marvels of telescopes meant we could all see it very clearly and it stuck around for ages, before some canoeists accidentally scared it off.

Other highlights were the nuthatches nesting, the roe deer grazing in the fields below and the buzzards circling above. The sunshine helped keep spirits up too!

Definitely a good weekend and I was lucky enough to be at Symonds Yat at the best time of year with bluebells out and warblers singing in the trees. If you have a spare day in the nest few weeks, take a trip up (or down, or across to) the fantastic Forest of Dean!



Blog number two of the day coming later....


Monday, 13 May 2013

Tweets at Dawn

This week was the start of Radio 4's Tweet of the Day series. Having missed international dawn chorus day a few weeks ago (5th May) I have been enjoying these daily ventures into the world of birdsong, although I admit I tend to listen on iplayer in the evenings rather than live at 6am.

The first five episodes heard David Attenborough narrating the calls of the cuckoo, song thrush, swift, wood warbler and the first of a two part-er on the nightingale. Despite being only 90 seconds long each episode manages to be both relaxed and very informative giving a welcome break from the busyness of the day. If I were awake at 6am it would be a lovely way to start my mornings!

If you haven't managed to catch them yet, here are the links to the episodes so far (well worth a listen!) and a few facts that particularly caught my ear.

Cuckoo: In the past people thought that cuckoos transformed into sparrow hawks when summer was done, and then spent the winter in this form until spring came and they changed back.

Song Thrush:  Each call is repeated twice by the song thrush, making it an easy song to identify in the noisy dawn chorus.

Swift: Travelling up to 500 miles a day to feed; a large part of a swift's daily diet is spiders floating through the air on threads of silk!

Wood Warbler: The call of this bird sounds very like "a spinning coin on a marble slab". Males will watch an area of woodland to check for ground mammals before building a nest on the woodland floor.

Nightingale: Despite their name, nightingales will sing during the day as well as at night. Like the cuckoo and swift, nightingales are summer migrants travelling yearly from Africa.

By the time this blog goes live the second part of the nightingale's story will be up online, and I look forward to hearing it when I wake up. Birdsong is one of my favourite sounds. I've heard all five birds featured so far in the series, I hear song thrush and swifts quite often close to home while hearing a cuckoo or nightingale is always a memorable moment. Wood warbler is one I'd rarely notice although I must hear it throughout the spring and summer, but maybe I'll notice it's call a bit more from now on.

I'm looking forward to hearing grey herons, shags, garden warblers and redshanks, among others, over the coming weeks and knowing that there will be a few moments of birdsong in my day for the next year (even if I never set foot outside) is already putting a smile on my face and a spring in my step. What about you?