Tuesday, 25 June 2013


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.