Shop local, be happier.

Terry's grocers

Terry’s Greengrocers, Upchurch. Gone but not forgotten

I was bought low a few weeks ago when I found out my beloved greengrocer, Terry’s of Upchurch, were closing. I can honestly say that my cycle through the lanes to the neighbouring village to shop there had been a highlight of every week. Not only was the cycle healthy and I felt I was ticking many green boxes by not taking the car and shopping local but I got to know the shopkeepers.

Each week we had a chat and a laugh and, for someone who works for themselves, such contact can be a highly useful support system. The food was excellent too. Local fruit and veg, sometimes so local that Terry went and pulled it out of his garden and I received it sprinkled in dirt with snails still chomping on it. I loved this, far rather a few snails than something sprayed in chemicals, clinically wrapped in cellophane and imported from a far flung outpost.

I was so so sad to see this shop, which had existed in the village for 40 years, close. Tina told me how the mums used to come to collect their kids from school and queue for their veg, now they jumped into 4×4’s and headed for the supermarket. Terry’s health was bad, it was hard work to get the food back from the market, long hours, no holiday, little financial reward. There son didn’t want to take over and so they were retiring and shutting up.

For weeks I have had a hole where this shop had been. The greengrocer in my own town had long since closed and the local farm shop, where I had once gone, had given over it’s shelf space to luxury jam and biscuits with actual real ingredients reduced to a small and highly expensive selection.

Then today I saw a sign. I must have passed it many times but it pointed an arrow to local veg and free range eggs. I followed the arrow, down a country lane and there it was. Grange Farm Shop. Inside was a great selection of local, free range veg, loose and not tied in annoying bundles of ten or sealed in yet more plastic. The greengrocer took my order. He had a chat, he threw in a free comice pair which he said I should try. I can cycle along the river to get there. Goodbye ASDA, TESCO and all other supermarket plastic wrapped veggies, my life is a little brighter once more.

Support your local veggie shop. You wont regret it.

Advertisements
A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – October 2018

A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – October 2018

Redshank

Redshank will only survive on farmland if we get our agricultural subsidy system right. 

At the beginning of October responsibility for Countryside Stewardship payments was transferred from Natural England to the Rural Payments Agency, in a move which sadly further undermines Natural England’s viability.

The recent ‘People’s Manifesto for Wildlife’ branded Natural England, ‘unfit for purpose,’ a sad indictment of an organisation, which was once seen within the industry, as a bastion of expertise and good judgment.

 
Many of the remaining staff still have that expertise but much of their power and any independent thought has been stripped away. The loss of Countryside Stewardship administration is seen as punishment for late payments to farmers but as Natural England have been subject to funding and staff cuts then it’s hardly surprising that mistakes and delays have occurred. Natural England are unfortunately being used as a political football in the debate about the future of our agriculture subsidies.

 
The Agricultural Bill, making its way through parliament, is central to decisions over where our public money goes. What should we pay farmers to do? Should we subsidise them to grow food or should the market pay for this? Should supermarkets be forced to pay a fair price to farmers and, if so, are we prepared to pay higher prices for our food? Should we reward farmers for providing ‘public goods,’ the things which benefit us all; good soils, clean air and water, biodiversity and countryside access?

 
Away from Westminster and out on the fields it is a time of frustration and confusion. No one knows at this moment quite who’s in charge and where the money’s coming from. Farmers and, for that matter, self employed consultants, tend to be self sufficient and flexible types and therefore we will look for ways around these problems. Many farmers in North Kent are more than willing to make changes to their land to benefit wildlife and I aim to harness this enthusiasm by planning a programme of rill and scrape restoration on farms across the area.

re-profiling rill 2017

Funding is needed to restore our wetlands.

Creating new wetland areas is the next step which will allow more birds to successfully breed on our farmland and ultimately mean that the money we currently pay farmers to manage their land for wildlife is not wasted. Without this extra work then many of our farms, currently receiving breeding wader stewardship payments, will never reach their potential. If grants are currently not available from the government then we will just have to look for outside sources of funding.

 
In the meantime work continues to move ahead with plans to work with hovercraft and jet ski users to reduce disturbance to breeding and wintering birds on the Medway and Swale estuary. The project has received support from Birdwise North Kent and the RSPB and we are now firming up a project proposal prior to seeking funding.

 

Thames litter pick 1 pickers
Finally this month I also joined Belinda Lamb, Medway Swale Estuary Partnership Guardians of the Deep officer and RSPB volunteer, David Saunders on a litter pick on the Thames foreshore. The amount of plastic bottles on the beach was particularly shocking and a deposit return scheme can’t come soon enough. However the ultimate solution lies in using less plastic products in the first place.

Happiness is…. a wooden scrubbing brush!

bamboo scrubbing brushYes, sometimes happiness can be found in unlikely places. My recent litter pick on a Thames beach has made me all the more certain I want to purchase less plastic products. So I was delighted, on a cold, wet day, to find this wooden handled scrubbing brush in the aisle of B&M at £1.99. Hurrah, a cheap shop, offering a green choice. Yes, the bristles are still plastic but at least they are recycled. Now the hunt is on for a wooden floor mop.

What lies beneath.

Thames litter pick 1 pickersYesterday I joined other volunteers on the shore of the Thames by the RSPB Cliffe Pools reserve for a litter pick run by MSEP’s Guardians of The Deep.Project Officer and David Saunders a volunteer with the RSPB. When I worked for the RSPB I ran these litter picks myself so I am no stranger to picking up other people’s rubbish and feeling angered about it but, still I was shocked. It was a crystalline day, the Thames a looking glass, seals were hauled out on the far shore and starlings clattered in the scrub sprouting from the remains of the old explosive works. It was too beautiful to be faced with ugliness.

As I climbed over the sea wall I was greeted by hundreds and hundreds of plastic bottles, caught in eddies and carried to this remote bay on the tide. We all know it’s there. This plastic, floating around our waterways and despoiling the planet but to be suddenly faced with it is a different matter.

Thames litter pick 2 bottles

bottles litter the shore of the Thames

Further up river, crowds of people searched for the Beluga Whale which has been fishing in the Thames.  Some of these beluga people have become devotees, they are sleeping rough in parks, they prowl the river day and night for a glimpse. Humans are so kind to one animal out of place that they will cancel their firework parties for it and not appear to mind. We ARE a kind species. I will not be swayed from this, so how then can we, this kind species, be the same species that throws plastic bottles into the river?

it was all there, the detritus of human existence, toothbrushes, shampoos, flip flops, children’s toys. The source of this has to be river traffic on the Thames, Thrown overboard by sailors on container ships or dropped from private boats.

The volunteers worked hard picking this up, no matter how disgusting, they bagged it and ferried it away. Although our litter is never quite away. Much of this plastic cannot be recycled as it is considered contaminated, therefore it is buried or burnt. Neither option is desirable.

One solution is of course stopping it at source. Reversing our dependence on plastic, going back to paper and wood and things that will not be sitting on a beach in a hundred years time. Why are cotton buds now made of plastic? I remember a time when it wasn’t so. We will never be entirely free of plastic of course, not now, it is a wonder drug and we are all addicted but does it have to be like this? If it can be made to disintegrate then lets make it that way, Now, today.

Thames litter pick 2 micro plastic

micro plastic on the shore of the Thames

Worse even than the plastic bottles was the micro plastic, impossible to sift the tiny fragments from the natural flotsam and jetsam  of the shoreline. Among this debris were millions of nurdles, the basic component which our goods are made from.  These had been washed out of a factory from God knows where. This is the stuff that is being swallowed by fish, which in turn is being swallowed by the beluga which eventually ends up in our own bodies. They lay all over the beach tiny blue and white droplets. I longed for a giant Dyson Vacuum to suck it all up. Come on Mr Dyson, invent it please.

I will not despair, I will not. Among the litter pickers was Tyler, 14 years old. He had more enthusiasm for litter picking than anyone else. He invented a wooden shovel to scoop up the micro beads and bag them. He regaled me with plastic facts. He had downloaded a video of a storm petral with plastic in it’s gut, he told me and shows it to his friends at school.

He is hope and I will be hopeful, still.

Guardians of the Deep will be running litter picks throughout the autumn and winter. Find out more here.

https://guardiansofthedeep.org/gotd-events/

A Good Read – Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain.

The Living Mountain
When I was 22 I went to the Cairngorms in the company of a fell runner. Thank the Lord I was only 22, as he took me up the mountain at a fair lick and declared I looked much healthier when I arrived puffing and red faced on the summit. Now I want to go again thanks to reading The Living Mountain.
Nan Shepherd knew these mountains with an intimacy normally reserved for indigenous tribesmen. She describes every element of the mountain with exquisite attention to detail, the taste of the air, the feel of heather under bare feet, the forming of ice in a mountain stream.
Do not think though that this makes the book dry and fact ridden, anything but. Her love affair with the mountain and it’s people comes through in every line. There is such delicacy of prose here that you stop and re read a line for the shear beauty of it.

 

I find it hard to imagine a man writing this book. That is not to say that men cannot be great nature writers, just that I feel they would see the mountain differently, walk it differently, as a summit to climb, as a thing to be conquered. They maybe would not take the time to see and feel as she did about each flower and change of light.
The more I read this book the more I began to think that, if Nan Shepherd were alive today, I would be encouraging her to take other women out into the mountains. There is something hugely liberating about reading about a women who walks alone in the wilderness and doesn’t once feel afraid. If this was somehow easier to do in the 1940’s when she wrote this book, than it is now, then we have gone backwards as a society.
As a women who also walks alone in the countryside and doesn’t feel afraid then maybe it is for me to take up that mantel and lead other women into the hills and say, ‘look, this is for you too.’
The historical nature of this book is also part of the fascination. Shepherd writes of a world of downed fighter planes in lonely gullies, of old women living in bothies, of the felling of the Caledonian forest. This book more than any I have possibly ever read transports you into it’s landscape. You can read this on a packed underground train and miss your stop as you walk the summits and skinny dip in the lochs and sit by a peat fire in a lonely mountain hut.
I would rate The Living Mountain alongside The Peregrine as the best that nature writing can be. This is a book to keep and savour again and again and underline the passages and visit them when you are down and the world has gone dark and you are in bed alone and need to be up among the mountains with Nan.

Inspirational Words from the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife.

dawn Bedlam's bottom

It’s not over til it’s over. Get out there and do something to change things

We desperately need more conservationists who are independent thinkers. Who ‘do’ rather than witlessly ‘discuss’. Those individuals, who find ways around obstacles with a devilish glee, set examples of lives which are truly worthwhile. Lives for and on behalf of nature’

Half way through reading the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife, something I recommend that everyone who cares about nature and the countryside here or abroad does. I  have found my new mantra for living in these words by Derek Gow an ecologist who I have had the pleasure of working with. Well said Derek.

 

 

The times they are a changing, but I, it seems, am not.

girl on swingWhen I was a little girl I sat on the swing in my parents garden and composed a letter to Margaret Thatcher. In it I laid out my solutions to end the Falklands War and stop unemployment.

I had worked out that these were the major issues of the day from watching the 6 O’clock News, which was almost a religious ritual in my parents house as we were forced to maintain absolute silence during it. In return for my advice, I wished Mrs Thatcher to give me the British Isles, which I would then turn into a nature reserve.

I don’t think I had worked out the finer details of my scheme or where the population would go but I was sure these things could be cleared up over a debate or two. I wrote my letter and my dad suggested I post it to Chequers, as it was the summer holidays and he thought that was where she would be. Unsurprisingly, Mrs Thatcher never replied.

Today, thirty something years later, I am at it again. Writing to a member of the House of Lords who I met earlier in the year to ask for a meeting with Michael Gove so I can discuss reform of Environmental Stewardship and the Agricultural Bill.

This time I have formulated my ideas based on years of working with farmers and stewardship in North Kent and am not asking to be given the country in return…. or maybe I am. Agricultural land makes up about 77% of the British Isles and if that 77% worked not only to grow food but to contribute to clean water, healthy soils, public access and increased biodiversity then maybe I could get the countrywide nature reserve I desired all those years ago.

Still, I am laughing at myself, as I send it, at my belief that I have the answer and those in power should listen. I am still, in many ways, that little girl on the swing and I still stand back and cheer her on.