Monday, 12 May 2014

A Swift Break

As some of you may have noticed there haven't been many posts recently. Between wedding planning and work commitments the summer is only going to get busier and so this blog will resume  once I have free time again in mid  September with stories of a green summer, DIY weddings and tales of autumn wildlife.

In my few hours spare I've been enjoying our local open air (solar heated) swimming pool and hearing my first swifts of the year screaming overhead. I'll be back in September once the swifts have gone, so for now why not get off the computer and go out and enjoy the amazing wildlife we have this summer. Have a great summer everyone.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Busy Baking

This week I've been so busy that I almost forgot to blog, and I'm still busy so it's a short one today. Bread tastes best when it's home made and that's what's filled my time today. It may taste better but it takes a lot longer than a trip to the shops.

Here's my first attempt at bread rolls. Only 4 out of 6 survived to the photo but the first two were delicious!

Monday, 31 March 2014

Two by two

I haven't seen the new Noah film but the adverts have made me notice all the animals that are pairing up after this winter's floods.

From our flat I've seen goldfinches, blackbirds, robins, great tits, wrens and dunnocks singing and finding mates as well as the usual flock of noisy house sparrows. The most interesting thing this week has been the resident blue tits (who are using our feeder and nesting nearby) furiously fighting off a pair of long tailed tits that were visiting the feeders opposite us. For such small birds all four were fighting with huge energy and noise.

It's that noisy time of year. Nature is looking for mates and it's often a matter of life and death. Thankfully us humans can just sir back and watch. My new bat detector is ready on the windowsill. Soon I'll know which species the local bats are. That will be another species to add to the huge list of residents on our street along with the bees, butterflies, swans and other birds, foxes and of course the humans.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Still Drinking Local

This week has been full of sunshine which is a nice change from the rest of the winter.

And a sunny March afternoon was the perfect setting for wine tasting on the rivet Dart. We visited Sharpham Vineyard to test out red, white and rosé English wines; all of which I would happily drink again.

While British wines are still higher in price than your cheapest European or new world wines they compared well with mid range options from overseas. With almost any speciality, locally produced product there is a premium for buying close to home from small independent growers. But it's a premium that I think is worthwhile.

The whites we tasted were a lovely range of flavours from dry elderflower and gooseberry notes to deep creamy vanillas. I learnt lots about how the vineyard adapts its vintages from year to year, and how depending on the weather whether grapes end up being used for red or rosé wines.

This tasting was also wedding preparation as we're trying to source as much local produce as possible to feed our guests this summer. The Summer Red was a particular favourite and since affordable English red's are an unusual find we stocked up. I just hope the bottles make it until the wedding, they're very tempting sitting in the kitchen!

As well as local wine we we're surprised to find delicious local cheeses to taste on site too. The staff were very knowledgeable and the price of a (gold) tasting which included three wines and two cheeses at £9 per person was very good value for a great afternoons entertainment. Especially if your party pick different wines to taste! We managed to end up swapping between us and trying about six wines in the end.

So with the warm weather hopefully here to stay there are many reasons to look up your local vines and try a bottle from near you. You may be pleasantly surprised!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Drinking Local

Buying locally cuts down on food miles, we all know that. But I rarely think about buying local for drinks other than beer, cider and fruit juices. What about my morning tea or (occasional) evening glass of wine?

Tea and wine aren't often thought of as English products. Most people still haven't ever tried an English wine despite there being loads of good vineyards across the UK. There's even one in Yorkshire! For tea I've recently discovered that it's being grown in Cornwall. This Cornish tea is as tasty as any other I've tried and perhaps is a sign of our changing climate.

Next week I'll be blogging more about Devonian vineyards but for now I'm off to find one of them for a tasting to try it out!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Train Of Though

On Saturday I travelled a long way by train. Seven hours from the sunny south west up into the north east; old friends, veggie pasta bake and laughing until it hurts are worth it.

For once the train was cheaper, and probably faster, than driving. I do love it when the green choice is the cheap choice. I couldn't have had a 2 hour sleep mid journey and I wouldn't have seen half as much of the country if I had driven.

Through the somerset levels a quiet came over the carriage as we all watched the waters, still covering most of the visible land, either side of the train. It may not be in the news at the moment but the impact of sever weather is still being felt. We must get better at water policy and planning for flooding. In the future we're likely to see more not less of this.

Throughout the journey I saw deer, buzzards, daffodils and newborn lambs. You can't mistake the season. I'm getting soft in the south and while it may be march and officially spring now getting off the train up north didn't feel warm at all!

I saw a white horse carved onto a hillside I'd never seem before, a rainbow and there seemed to be more stubble fields left unploughed this year compared to normal. Maybe another sign of the wet weather as almost every field on my journey had at least one flooded corner.

Mostly I enjoyed the journey because it was time spent thinking and watching. Just like a long woodland walk I saw the beauty of our countryside, some wildlife and had nothing else to do. It was relaxing. I arrived feeling fresh and rested rather than tense and tired which is what the drive would have done.

Others may not agree but for me it's a lovely way to spend a day. Hurrah for train travel!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Chic(k) Homes

We've just seen the end of national nestbox week (14th - 20th February). But as I sit in bed listening to a noisy crowd of house sparrows rioting as they decide who will nest where in the eaves this year  I wonder what they'd make of the stylist nest boxes that are being auctioned at London Fashion Week. The 11 boxes have been dreamed up by prominent designers and proceeds will go towards creating more homes for nature through the RSPB's work. The money will definitely create more homes, and in a more traditional style than the boxes but I wonder who the lucky blue tits or sparrows will be to have such high culture homes for their new families. Bidding is still open so go to the website before noon today to take a look. Click here for chick chic.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Flowing Fast

There's been a huge amount of water around the South West recently. Thankfully Exeter has been lucky and the city's flood defenses have held. The river is still high though with the weir and flood overflow near our flat still pretty much full. So, this week I thought I'd share a few pictures of the power of water.

The river Exe high against nearby gardens

Foamy waters beneath the weir, whose normal drop of a few feet between water levels has become only a few inches

A small wood that is slowly rising out of the flood waters again, we saw a little egret happily fishing and some snow drops reaching up out of the pools

The flood channel, doing exactly what it should

A weir in wet times, a nice path across the grass in dry ones. It's amazing how weather can change the local area

Monday, 10 February 2014

All Aflutter

It's cold and wet in Devon at the moment. But today, for a while, the sun was shining and it felt like spring. Flowers are beginning to open and I've seen quite a few bees and insects out and about even in this horrendous weather we've been having. I haven't seen any butterflies yet though.

Even thought it's only February butterflies will be appearing soon. Peacock butterflies hibernate over the winter, sticking it out through the cold weather until spring arrives. There was an interesting programme on these amazing creatures on Radio4 this weekend. Living World is on at 6:30am on Sundays and so I haven't come across it before. But I'll definitely be catching up on this episode over the next few days and am very pleased that Butterfly Conservation popped it into their February edition of their e-newsletter all aflutter.

Also in the newsletter was an appeal for donations to the Match Pot Appeal.  Almost two decades ago a tax on landfill operators was introduced to encourage recycling and waste production. This money is then used to support environmental projects which I think is a brilliant idea. For charities to be eligible they have to raise 10% of the funds for a project themselves, then the rest is donated from the fund and this is what Butterfly Conservation need help with. A one off donation of £1 will mean £10 goes towards saving amazing places for butterflies and moths.

While reading the newsletter I was multitasking by booking an Aquafit class for tomorrow at my local pool. The class costs £5 and gives me an hour of fun and exercise. But that £5  could be turned into £50 (£62.50 with gift aid) and would mean some really amazing things for butterflies and moths. So I decided that I could afford to buy butterflies an Aquafit class too (or the equivalent cost) to help their populations return to better health. I might even get some exercise running around looking at them next summer too.

What could you give nature this Valentines day? It really needs our love at the moment. Take a look at the Match Pot Appeal here

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Change The World For A Fiver

A few years ago a friend at university gave me a book. It wasn't a particularly thick book but it was a brilliant book. Created by the we are what we do  organisation (they also create the I'm not a plastic bag campaign!)  Change The World For A Fiver contains 50 easy actions that will make you happy and make the world better.

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Over the years I've rediscovered this book again and again and it always makes me smile. There are lots of days when the news is filled with so many problems that it's easy to think there is just to much to fix, but this book reminds me that everything we do has an impact and can make a difference.

 I'm determined to try all 50 actions this year but let's start with the first 10 for now (I've got all year!). So what have I already done and what have I got left to do? Here we go...

1. Decline plastic bags whenever possible

This is already an obsession for me. Normally I remember to bring old bags with me, but I have been seen walking out of supermarkets with pockets full to bursting and arms laden whilst insisting a bag isn't needed. I politely refused a bag today in fact, in Boots, and the lady gave me a big smile when I did; maybe she hates plastic bags too.

On average every person in the UK uses 134 plastic bags each year and each bag can take up to 500 years to decay. There's no sensible reason not to really.

2. Read a story with a child

This is tricky since I don't know any children locally. But I'm sure I can find someone who wants to hear a story. It's one to work on over the next few months.

Reading with children is fantastic. They learn to read and discover amazing stories, you feel warm and fuzzy and won't stop smiling for hours.

3. Fit at least one energy saving light bulb

When we moved into our flat we made sure all the bulbs were energy saving. Did you know over a bulb's lifetime an energy efficient one could save you up to £65 compared to a normal one? Then there's all the good it does for the planet too...

4. Learn basic first aid

Unfortunately I can't "do" this one this year as I already know first aid. But I can refresh my knowledge regularly.

Helping a stranger in trouble is a powerful feeling; knowing how to put your housemate in the recovery position when they suddenly collapse is ever better. Statistically you're more likely to perform first aid on someone you know than a stranger so get learning and get your friends learning too. You might need each other one day!

5. Smile and smile back

I smile a lot in the job I do. Sometimes I smile so much that I come home and my checks ache. But it's worth it.

Smiling actually releases chemicals inside you that make you feel good too. It's cheaper and safer than alcohol or drugs so give it a try. Why not smile at the next person who serves you at a till in a shop, you never know who needs a smile to cheer up their day.

6.Take public transport when you can

I think I do this most of the time. I always look at train routes before driving somewhere (sometimes it's impossible though!) and the buses around Exeter are great.

A double-decker bus carries the same number of people as 40 cars, and you can practice smiling at people or read to a child while you're travelling!

7. Plant a tree

I need to think about this one. Included on this page of the book is a packet of Scots Pine seeds so you can grow your own Christmas Tree. But we have no outdoor space so I'm not sure how big our tree would get. Maybe I should try it anyway and if it gets too big I can give it to a friend as a gift.

Each tree planted will provide oxygen for two people for the rest of their lives, that's pretty good for a tiny seed.

8. Have a bath with someone you love

I have done this in the literal sense, but being almost 6ft baths aren't always long enough for me on my own, let alone with someone else. So instead, in the same spirit, we regularly share a bath but one after another. It saves water, saves time and saves us heating two baths rather than just one.

Sharing a shower is even more water efficient because a two minute shower uses less water than a bath.  So share a shower too, but make sure you don't linger...

9. If it says 30mph, do 30mph

I agree completely with this. We've all seen the advert. At 35mph you are twice as like to kill someone if you hit them than at 30mph. Also, it's the law. I can't complain about people breaking environmental laws (that I care about) if I ignore other laws myself.

10. Turn your thermostat down by 1 degree

I don't have a thermostat as all our heating comes from electric radiators in each room of our flat. But in most of the rooms we don't have the heating on at all. In the living room we only have it on when it's essential; and when we're already covered in woolly jumpers. But maybe it's time to turn it to 5 rather 6 six when we do have it on.

If you do have a thermostat and you turn it down a degree you can save about £25 a year. What else could you spend that on...

So it's looking pretty good for the first ten, I need to find a child to read with and plant a tree. Both of those sound quite exciting. How many of these do you do regularly? Are there any that have slipped off your done list? We'll see how the nest ten look in the not to distant future. For now, I'm off to find some soil.

Monday, 27 January 2014

The White Stuff

With a new year comes new resolutions, quite a lot of which relate to food. Eating less of it, eating better things, making more from scratch and thinking about how what we consume affects the planet. 

Last year I tried to kick start myself into having at least one veggie day a week. It worked quite well, but I don't think it made me eat more healthily. Evening meals of macaroni cheese or home made pizza are delicious (even if I say so myself) but swapping lean meats like chicken for dairy products like cheese probably won't make me any leaner. 

But the reason for trying to cut back on meat was mainly for environmental reasons not the health benefits. According to the Vegetarian Society's website eating less meat will reduce my carbon footprint, save water, save land and protect the seas. Sounds pretty good! At the moment, I'm having roughly 2 veggie days a week, which isn't fantastic in green terms but is better than nothing. However, is my switch from meat to dairy products really any better for the environment?

As long as I'm consuming animal products the animals still need to be grown, fed and given water to survive. It's common knowledge that animals use more land than plants to grow, and lots more water too. According to vegetarian author John Robbins it takes 60, 108, 168 and 229 pounds of water to produce one pound of potatoes, wheat, maize and rice respectively. A pound of beef needs more than 20,000 pounds of water and to produce one litre of milk it takes nearly 1,000 litres of water. That's a lot.

So, should I be cutting out dairy products, or even all animals products too?

I'm not ready to go vegan or fully veggie yet, but for the environment I can see that we need to eat less meat and probably consume less dairy too. But it doesn't have to be one after another, I don't have to tackle full vegetarianism before I can move onto cutting back on other animal products.

So that's the new aim, keep up two veggie days a week, but start to cut back on milk, cheese, butter and eggs as well. 

In some ways this is quite easy. Nice healthy salads for lunch rather than my normal boring cheese sandwiches actually feel like an improvement tastewise as well as for health and the green credentials; while cooking vegetable soup on cold January evenings is warming as well as healthy (it's amazing how few calories mushrooms and celery have!). 

Breakfasts is where it gets harder. A nice bowl of British grown oats with some dried fruit and milk is a great start to my day and it keeps me full right up until lunchtime salad. But what about that milk? 

Over the last week I've been trying out soya milk (sweetened and unsweetened). So far, it's a success. It adds a nutty taste to my cereal (oats really don't taste very exciting) and while I was very wary about using it in tea it turns out to taste different, but good. I've bought a carton of almond milk too, to try out over the next week or so. We were surprised to find similar levels of calcium in soya milk compared to cows milk too, even if artificially added it still gives you what you need.

So, cutting back on dairy as well as meat might not be too hard after all. Keeping away from cheese and butter will definitely be healthier too! But there's still a niggling doubt about soya, and that's the rainforests.

I've always heard that rainforests are cut down to grow soya for milk and other products. I'm careful about what else I buy if it affects the rainforests, so does swapping to soya milk really do more good than bad? I'm not sure yet. But a vegan friend pointed out last summer that there is far more rainforest cut down for meat than there currently is for soya farms. Whatever we eat has to be grown somewhere and hopefully soya will need less land to grow than dairy milk. 

Cutting back completely is obviously the best solution, but a diet of UK grown organic veg and pulses doesn't fill me with excitement. So for now its one veggie day and one vegan day a week with less cheese and butter, and soya over dairy milk whenever I can. We'll see how it goes!

Monday, 20 January 2014

Spring In My Step

Even though it's still January it's beginning to feel a lot like spring already. A bright sunny walk along the Exe floodplain on Sunday morning gave some beautiful views, sights of kingfisher, even buds and flowers on the trees. 

With the hawthorn coming into bud (even before it has leaves) it's not surprising there are catkins all over the place too. I love the range of colours they appear in, purple right through to greeny yellow; covering the trees like leftover fairy lights.

 As well as all this new growth there's the reliable gorse still in flower. Looking bright and cheerful these flowers can be used to make a delicious ice cream.

With all this wonderful seasonal change it's time to get outside and rediscover nature. This weekend is a fantastic time to do it too with the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch happening all across the UK. Count the wildlife that's counting on you and help to give nature a home this year. It only takes an hour and will definitely bring a smile to your face as you spend an hour watching nature. I can't think of a better way to spend the weekend!

Monday, 13 January 2014

Starting Anew

Amazingly, it's been over a month since my last blog. Life got in the way.

So, after a somewhat extended Christmas break, I'm back. Over the next few weeks there will be more blogs on green weddings, on the green worries when buying a new car, on my continued struggles with shopping and cooking without waste or green guilt, on a computer free fortnight and on all the other green topics that are buzzing around my head.

2014 has been a good year for wildlife spotting so far. On a drive through the midlands yesterday evening I saw red kites soaring, hares hopping and foxes creeping through fields. It was magical. This morning whilst hanging some washing up (a pleasure I don't get in Exeter) I enjoyed birdsong all around me. Blackbirds seem to be everywhere and robins are signing from the treetops.

I had lots of lovely new things for Christmas, but I'm not sure anyone of them make me smile quite as much as nature.