Hoe, hoe, hoe it’s magic! The joy of a japanese razor hoe.

Oh the joy of weeding! As fast as you get rid of them 5 foot high thistles appear from nowhere and all the rain has meant that the garden seems to be turning into a jungle, with giant fox gloves, poppies and holly hocks (yet to flower). At least we are not having to water anything and the apple trees are enjoying the extra moisture.

Our soil takes a lot of the pleasure out of gardening – it’s heavy clay and whilst it’s very fertile and great to work with when ‘improved’ it is usually either baked solid or clumped together in an impenetrable mass. I usually sigh enviously on Gardener’s World as Monty Don, effortlessly turns over the soil. However, a wonderful little razor hoe from the Worm that Turned is turning me into the gardening equivalent of Edward Scissorhands – it feels just like an extension of my arm as I joyfully slice through the weeds and chop through the clay soil with ease. I can’t say I relish the task of weeding – it’s relentless – but at least with this little tool I’m more enthusiastic about attacking it.

Open Spaces still vital

It’s good to see that the Open Spaces Society is still championing the cause of green spaces across England and Wales as it has done since 1865.  With changes to the planning system, it good to see that open spaces aren’t forgotten.  They have just announced the short-list of their first-ever Open Space Award. Four community based projects are in the running for the Award which will be announced at the Open Spaces Society AGM on 10th July. They have launched the accolade to celebrate the grass-roots work being done by many small groups to boost their open spaces for the enjoyment of local people.

The shortlisted entries are:

  • Royd Regeneration in Mytholmroyd, Calderdale:  for its work to refurbish the neglected Mytholmroyd Memorial Garden.
  • The Bishop’s Meadow Trust at Farnham in Surrey: where local people set up a charity to buy an under-threat local meadow and ensure it remained a community asset for generations to come.
  • Full Frontal in, Rochester, Kent: where neighbours united to improve the look of their streets with a community gardening project that began on their doorsteps.
  • Our Green Space Project in Cumbria: where five communities were helped to rejuvenate and protect their green space for the future.

All the projects have been been visited by judges from Open Spaces Society who will decide the winner based on the efforts by communities to enhance and safeguard their local open spaces and to ensure long-lasting benefits for the surrounding communities.

Chairman of Open Spaces Society’s trustees and a member of the judging panel Tim Crowther said: “As judges we were looking for projects which were strongly rooted in securing long term benefits for local communities; were the result of ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top-down’ activity; and of course promote the Open Spaces Society’s objectives.

“All the nominations showed evidence of these criteria to some degree. The schemes we have shortlisted are all very different and we, the judges, really enjoyed visiting the sites and meeting those inspired people who have driven the projects forward.

Mr Crowther added that the task of  deciding the shortlist was a tough one. “The entries we didn’t shortlist were providing real benefits for local communities. There’s a lot of good work going on around the country and we’ll be highlighting these projects and sharing their great stories on our website,” he added.

Vice-chair and fellow trustee Jean Macdonald, came up with the idea and hopes it will become an annual event.  As the default tends to be favouring  a ‘build our way out of recession at all costs” approach the role of champions for Open Spaces has never been more crucial.

Get recycling those plastic bottles

Some staggering news on the amount of plastic bottles used in the UK everyday has come from WRAP, the government funded organisation charged with improving resource efficiency and minimising waste.  15 million plastic bottles in the UK alone from soft drinks and olive oil to shampoo and bleach.

So WRAP are urging us, in all this warm (may not be on Sunday!) weather making us reach for a bottle of something cool and refreshing?  Whether at London’s sporting events, the local Jubilee celebration or watching the spectacles from home, to spare a thought for the humble plastic bottle…

The positive news is that just under half of all of the bottles used (but as many as three quarters of plastic milk bottles) end up making it through the recycling process. This is over 20 times more than we were managing in 2000, but advances in technology now mean that ALL sizes and shapes of bottle can be turned fences, bags, flooring, fleeces…or even more bottles! 

WRAP suggests that as we’re watching Euro 2012 or the Olympics from home this summer, consider this – if each of us in the UK recycled just one extra plastic bottle each year, we could power 71,000 plasma screen TVs from the energy saved.  They want us to get washing, squashing and recycling our plastic bottles today.  Better still avoid buying too many plastic bottles in first place;  try a bar of soap, and water from the tap.  

WRAP have provided the following gems of information:

Plastic Factoids

  1. The first plastic bottle was sold in 1947 – it celebrated its Diamond Jubilee five years before Queen Elizabeth!

  2. Any plastic bottle can be recycled now – just wash & squash them.

  3. The flag planted on the moon by Neil Armstrong in 1969 was made of Nylon.

  4. Plastic is the most used material in the world, and has been for 35 years.

  5. Recycling 1 tonne of plastic bottles saves 1.5 tonnes of carbon emissions.

  6. It only takes 25 two-litre plastic bottles to make an adult-sized fleece.

  7. Recycling just one plastic bottle saves enough energy to power a 60W light bulb for six hours.

  8. We now recycle 20 times more plastic than we did back in 2000.

  9. Over 90% of our local authorities now offer collection facilities for plastic bottles, either from your kerbside or recycling centres.

  10. If all of us in the UK recycled just one extra plastic bottle every year, we could power over 71,000 plasma screen TVs infinitely using the energy saved.

Holiday in the UK is a green choice

At last the temperature has risen and the sun is out, and thoughts of a trip to the beach in the UK instead of jetting of to the sun enter our heads.  A change of scenery can be great to lift the mood and England has some stunning beaches, Wales some glorious coastline as does Scotland and Ireland and the beaches in the Channel Islands are some of the best to be found.  Taking a holiday in the UK, and not flying abroad, is a far greener option.  Camping – either in taking your own tent, or more up market glamping in a yurt, tepee or camping pod is a great way to lessen the impact of your holiday.  There are so many styles of self-catering accommodation to choose from many of which are listed on the EcoHolidayShop from cottages in Cornwall to log cabins in the Lake District, this website lists lots of holiday properties that have green credentials, many of which are part of the Green Tourism Business Scheme, which accredits properties working to be eco-friendly.  For a wider choice of UK based holiday cottages or log cabins Cottage World has a whole host of properties to choose from.

If you have a dog lots of places let you take your pet and that saves on kennel fees too, although as well a choosing a pet-friendly accommodation, if it’s near the beach, it’s worth checking that the beach allows dogs too. Some beaches don’t allow dogs during the summer months, however I was amazed how many beaches in Cornwall allowed dogs on them even in the middle of August!

Another advantage of a UK holiday, if you’re into cycling, is that you can take your bike with you, and that enables you to explore a wider area, without the use of a car.  There are lots of cycle routes around including some great off-road trails and forest cycle paths that are family-friendly.  And whilst walking might not sound that exciting, it is a great way to get to know an area. What could be better than an exhilarating walk along a coastal footpath finishing at a pub for lunch?

Fish and chips by a harbour, rock-pooling with the kids, canoeing along a river, surfing the waves, swimming in a loch or lake, fishing off the peer: simple pleasures worth experiencing.  We are fortunate to have so much variety of holidays to choose from. As well as camping or caravanning holidays, staying in a cottage or log cabin can be a green choice, or how about a canal holiday? or sleeping under the stars in a shepherd’s hut? Whatever you choose, even if it’s just for this year, taking a holiday in Britain, not only helps the UK economy but is also better for the environment.

Come on in – water’s lovely (and Clean)

It’s Good news if you’re planning a beach holiday in the UK or Europe this summer as 92.1 % of bathing waters in the European Union now meet the minimum water quality standards set by the Bathing Water Directive. Included in this is the Serpentine Lake in London, host to several Olympics events, including the Open Water Marathon Swim and the swimming section of the triathlon.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) and the European Commission have just published their annual Bathing Water Report of, which describes water quality in more than 22,000 bathing sites at beaches, rivers and lakes across Europe last year.

Janez Poto_nik, Environment Commissioner, said: “I am pleased to note that the quality of Europe’s bathing waters generally remains high, and has improved since last year. A clear majority of Europeans are concerned about water quality issues, and want more information on this. We must therefore continue our work to ensure our waters are appropriate for all legitimate uses – from bathing to drinking – and that the overall aquatic ecosystem is in good health.”

Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, said: “The quality of water at beaches and other bathing spots is one of the most important environmental concerns of European citizens. But in several countries there is still a problem with pollution from agriculture and sewage, so we need to see more efforts to ensure safe and clean water for the public.”

The report discovered that 77.1 % of sites had excellent quality, i.e. complying with the most stringent guide values, an improvement of 3.5 percentage points on last year’s data. Some 93.1 % of coastal bathing waters were classified as ‘sufficient’, or complying with the less stringent mandatory values – a 1 % increase. Less than 2 % of bathing waters were non-compliant.

Cyprus, Croatia, Malta and Greece had excellent reports on their bathing water sites, all with more than 90 % of bathing water sites meeting the most stringent guide values (excellent quality), and the remainder complying with the mandatory values. At the opposite end of the scale, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Latvia, Luxemburg and Belgium had relatively low proportions of sites meeting the strict guide values, especially as regards inland waters.

Water quality at Europe’s most popular summer destinations was generally good – with more than 90 % of bathing water sites meeting the mandatory values. Spain, Italy and Portugal had more than 80 % of sites with excellent water quality.

The overall quality of bathing waters in the EU has markedly improved since 1990. The number of coastal bathing waters not complying with the Bathing Water Directive’s, standards for which were set in the 2006, fell from 9.2 % of sites in 1990 to 1.5 % in 2011. The number of inland bathing areas not complying with mandatory values decreased from 11.9 % in 1990 to 2.4 % in 2011, which is among the lowest percentages to date.

Laboratories analysed levels of certain types of bacteria, including intestinal enterococci and Escherichia coli bacteria, which may indicate the presence of pollution, mainly from sewage or livestock waste. Sites are classified as compliant with mandatory values, compliant with the more stringent guidelines, or non-compliant.

If you are holidaying in the UK or in Europe and you want to check out the water quality, you can by visiting the Water Information System for Europe (WISE) site. The site allows users to download data and check interactive maps. It also has the ability for people to  report the state of their local water using the Eye on Earth website.

Building communities – can all the factors be designed in?

It might sound like an idealistic vision to create affordable, energy–efficient houses, built around the principle of creating communities. Kevin McCloud gave  it a go in The Triangle in Swindon, and found it not to be that easy. Communities grow over time and need the means to include neighbouring residents. It is however, good news that the government has announced it will shortly be launching a new £30 million fund to provide short-term finance for self-build projects. It could be an opportunity to create well designed, energy-efficient, sustainably constructed, affordable homes.  So much of the mass housing that is built, woefully lacks any of those things – our construction industry seems stuck in the dark ages – unable to adapt to anything other than bricks and mortar!

There are a few bright stars on the horizon, and if Kevin McCloud can shake off the image that good design costs lots of money and only achievable for ‘Grand Designs’, we might be able to raise the standard of new buildings in the UK.  We don’t need, pastiche, twiddly bits or architectural ‘gob ons’.  We need imaginative design, built sustainably, so that people can live sustainably. The CANTEL Project wants to do that; a planned series of modern communities where neighbours and community are always at heart. The project is the vision of Julian Thompson, who explains more about what residents can expect.

“We plan to build brand new neighbourhoods that are safe, supportive, relaxing and friendly. Nowadays Facebook and Twitter are how many people communicate, whilst many of them don’t even know their neighbours names. These virtual communities aren’t helping people; we aim to give people the real thing, neighbourhoods with friends and neighbours, people who you can really connect with.” Thompson explains.

He continues, “Of course, affordability is also a key requirement, it’s madness that for over 15 years the average couple still can’t afford an average home in the UK. We’re not looking to make a profit, we’re looking to build homes and neighbourhoods for people to enjoy life in, and that includes me and my family.  Lower prices mean smaller mortgages which means more disposable income to enjoy life with.  Every home will be built to be as energy efficient as possible so that future energy bills won’t be an issue.”

Thompson and the team at The CANTEL Project have plans for developments to be located within commuting distance of London, Southampton, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Swindon and Stafford.

Each neighbourhood is planned to boast around 40 energy efficient homes built around communal facilities including allotments, a small community hall and a children’s play area. With homes ranging from one-bedroom flats to 4-bedroom houses, accommodation will come in shapes and sizes suited to all budgets.

Finding sites will be the challenge – development, whether well designed and energy efficient or not, has an impact, all development does. Trafffic generation is often the main concern.  And such developments need to take account of existing residents. Green field sites are cheaper to develop but are likely to have the most negative impact. Brown field sites should be considered first and the government should still be encouraging this.

Fancy a spin? ALL-ENERGY 2012 showcases hydrogen and other low carbon vehicles

Low carbon vehicles are featuring heavily at this years All-Energy 2012 conference taking place in Aberdeen on the 23-24 May.  From hydrogen powered to electric and hybrids the low carbon vehicle market is growing. Of these perhaps a hydrogen refuelling system, with an electric charging point not far away, is the most important development.  As well as this there are 580 exhibiting companies from up to 20 countries at the show, and well over 300 speakers in the world-class conference – featuring hydrogen, fuel cells and sustainable transport.

Visitors will see the two Hyundai Fuel Cell SUVs, powered by ITM Power’s HFuel Here on-site hydrogen generation and refuelling system, given  its UK-show launch. Also at All-Energy will be the Honda Jazz Hybrid; Peugeot iON; Honda CR-Z Hybrid; Honda Insight Hybrid; Mitsubishi iMiEV; Nissan Leaf; Tesla Roadster; Renault Twizy; Renault Kangoo; Vauxhall Ampera; and a Zeroed Commercial Vehicle. Microcab’s new Microcab H2EV will be on the Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (SHFCA) stand (powered by hydrogen, courtesy of Logan Energy) and other hybrids include the Toyota Auris and Prius.

Event Manager, Jamie Thompson of Reed Exhibitions, explained that “Some of the vehicles, including the Hyundai SUVs will be available to try out in the All-Energy Ride & Drive area,” and “The Low Carbon Vehicle Zone provides an excellent opportunity for fleet managers and individuals to find out about the benefits of low carbon vehicles; with the conference providing up to the minute information”.

“What a marvellous event we have for visitors and exhibitors alike,” Jamie adds. “…some fascinating and highly relevant associated events; and our incomparable Giant Networking Evening – all designed with one thought in mind, getting buyers and sellers, specifiers, suppliers and developers all under one roof to share their aims, objectives – and business opportunities. We are looking forward to two extremely busy and highly stimulating days, and news of some highly positive outcomes.” Registration for all elements of All-Energy is free of charge for all with a business/professional interest in renewable energy (no entry to anyone under the age of 16).

To start things at All-Energy off, the Lord Provost of the City of Aberdeen – Lord Provost George Adam will welcome everyone, followed by keynote addresses delivered by Alex Salmond MSP, the First Minister of Scotland; Charles Hendry MP, Minister of State for Energy, DECC; Keith Anderson, Chief Corporate Officer, Scottish Power; and David Gartside a Board Member of the Health and Safety Executive. Three speakers – David Blunt CVO, Director Public Policy UK and EU Institutions, Gamesa Wind UK; Huub den Rooijen, Head of Offshore Wind, The Crown Estate, and Dr Graham Cooley, Chief Executive, ITM Power will give ‘quick-fire’ addresses to set the show firmly on the road to success in this session chaired by Jeremy Cresswell, Chairman of Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group, and Editor of the Press & Journal’s ‘Energy’.

There is plenty more to keep you occupied as there are then seven parallel streams, encompassing 48 equally relevant sessions on every source of renewable energy and on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead; and an equally busy two days in the on-floor seminar areas where Offshore Maintenance and Smart Energy (the All-Energy take on energy efficiency, energy management, microgeneration and onsite renewables) take place in the centre of dedicated exhibit areas.

There is a conference session devoted to hydrogen and fuel cells, Hydrogen to the fore, sustainable transport and energy storage (including a session on nanotechnology) speak for themselves; a special lunch time session featuring Bert De Colvenaer, Executive Director of the Fuel Cells & Hydrogen Joint Undertaking who has made traveled from Brussels to speak on: “Towards the deployment of fuel cell and hydrogen technology”

For more details and a full All-Energy 2012 Conference programme see www.all-energy.co.uk

Look after the little fishies too

A recent report from the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force called for the need for fisheries managers to pay more careful attention to the “special vulnerabilities of forage fish and the cascading effects of forage fishing on predators”. The Little Fish, Big Impact report published in April 2012 is by a group of 13 preeminent scientists formed to provide practical advice on sustainable management.

The focus on conservation of fish numbers usually is on the larger varieties. This report highlights the need for attention to be given to small to medium-sized fish species that include sardines, anchovies, herring and menhaden. This direct catch of forage fish makes up more than a third of the world’s marine fish catch and has been a contributory factor in the collapse of some forage fish populations. This study provides the most comprehensive global analysis of forage fish management to date, the Task Force found that conventional management does not always help forage fish because it does not adequately account for their wide population swings and high catchability. The critical role of forage fish as food for marine mammals, seabirds, and commercially important fish such as salmon, tuna and cod.

In order to redress the balance the report recommends cutting catch rates in half in many ecosystems and doubling the minimum biomass of forage fish that must be left in the water, compared to conventional management targets. And further, even more stringent measures are advised when important biological information is missing. A summary of the report is available from the Scott Partnership working on behalf of the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force.

Sowing seeds for bees

Nature & More: sowing seeds for bees

Bees need our help and this european project is assisting them by distributing bags flower seeds.

Its excellent news that the international “Bees love organic” campaign finds overwhelming response

Sowing seeds for bees - cyclist sowing wildflowersMore than a thousand Dutch cyclists are currently transforming a 1000 kilometre long bicycle trail into a “bee trail”, by sowing organic flower seeds; 23 German organic wholesalers and retailers  are distributing 280,000 bags of flower seeds with their organic products; the Youth Initiative Program in Sweden created a flowering meadow as well as a short YouTube video featuring buzzing students. All these activities, large and small, are part of the international “Bees Love Organic” campaign that was recently launched by Nature & More. Nature & More, together with a number of NGO’s, is distributing 400,000 bags of organic flower seeds throughout Europe. The message: let’s start helping the bees, by sowing seeds and eating organic. The campaign will run through the summer of 2012.

It is alarming that beekeepers and researchers are reporting the worldwide drop of bee populations with increasing worry. In a scientific publication from 2007, A.M. Klein estimated that 35% of global food crops depend on pollinators; of which bees are the most prominent. So, statistically speaking, more than 2 billion people would have their existence immediately threatened, if the bees and other pollinators vanished off the earth. This spring, Science Magazine published two articles claiming that neonicotinoid pesticides are at least partly responsible for the infamous Colony Collapse Disorder.

Nature & More, a Dutch-based international distributor of organic fruits and vegetables with an estimated  100 Million USD turnover, decided to take positive action. Assisted by several environmental NGO’s, “The bees love organic ” campaign was established. One of its goals is to distribute 400,000 free bags of organic flower seeds for bees in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Sweden and the Czech Republic; which will create over 400.000 square meters of bee flower pasture. In the Netherlands, a  popular 1000 km long cycle track along farms and countryside called the “Potato trail” is being transformed into a “Bee  path”. More than a thousand consumers have already applied for the free flower seeds to sow along the track, like Olga from Amsterdam, who wrote: “What a great initiative! I love cycling and want to help save the bees from dying out. Please send me some of those seed bags.”

It would be great if an organic producer could do the same in the UK, as according to the “Bees love organic” campaign, bees have better survival chances with organic farming, not only because pesticides aren’t used, but also because organic farming increases biodiversity. Nature & More founder Volkert Engelsman: “Since the ’90’s of last century we have been trying to get across that “organic” means much more than not using chemical inputs. Farmers in Asia, America and Europewho work with us, recognize that the future of agriculture must lie in teaming up with nature, instead of fighting it. The bees are our allies, so let’s support them.”

More info: enter “BEE” at www.natureandmore.com

The forest schools experience

We often think that when it comes to education the Scandinavians can teach us a thing or two and the Forest Schools approach, an innovative way of teaching individuals using the outdoors as a “classroom” to enrich their learning experience, is one such example.  Since it was first pioneered, in the UK in 1994 by Bridgwater College in Somerset, taking the lead from Scandinavia, the forest school ethos has gained momentum and is fast becoming accepted as part of mainstream education.  It’s not about outdoor education in the traditional sense,  but about delivering the whole broad curriculum – maths, English, science,  history and all – within a woodland setting.

The philosophy of Forest Schools is to encourage and inspire individuals of any age through positive outdoor experiences.  And the positive experiences include encouraging them to take risks.  Lead by qualified leaders the sessions might include learning how to use a bow saw or whittle a piece of wood with a potato peeler, whilst learning about the Romans and how they lived and found food.

bluebells

Bluebells by Issi Lammas 2011

One school to embrace the approach is Hartpury Primary School.  They are fortunate to have extensive grounds in which to run Forest School sessions in, and also a local wood a short walk away. The are also lucky to have to the talents of Leigh Sladen as their Forest Schools Co-ordinator, rated as Outstanding by Ofsted.  The children get really absorbed in their tasks and learn skills that help boost their self-esteem, which in turn helps in their learning in other areas.

I think the approach has a lot going for it and offers so many possibilities – not just learning about nature or geography but the ability to inspire ideas from environmental art to story telling.