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 (], 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 (], 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.

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

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

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.