Be a starling in 2017

Exactly a year  ago I wrote a post using the quote from John Taylor below (you can see his original post on Facebook here). As I wrote then, it summarises exactly and succinctly my outlook and the outlook I try to encourage in others…

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Be a starling

I work as a Climate Change Advisor in Suffolk, UK. It fascinates me how people react to documentaries and films on climate change, and what motivates people to act. I’ve seen a lot of messages saying that it is all too much and it makes them depressed. Something that helped me was an analogy I first heard from Systems and Feedback Thinker, David Wasdell. The point he made and that I want to emphasise is this. How we define a problem determines how we react to it. Climate change, we are told is a BIG problem. A favourite analogy among politicians and commenters is that it is like an oil tanker. It is a vast problem with it’s own inertia and a long turning circle. The trouble is, this image creates a psychological disconnect when it comes to individual action. How is me changing a light bulb going to turn this ship around?
But this is not how I see climate change. For me, it is like a murmuration of starlings. It looks big, but look closer and you will see it is really made up of thousands and thousands of smaller individual actions and choices. It is how I heat my house, the type of car you drive, the air conditioning in that office on my street, on everyone’s street. There is no single control room driving this ship, Climate Change is an emergent property of all our individual actions.
And compared to an oil tanker, change in a flock is agile and swift. Yes, please care about the bigger picture, but if you act in the areas that you directly influence, you have the power to be the bird that turns. So do something in your life today, and be proud and tell people about it. The birds around you will see and follow suit, and soon that change will ripple through out the whole flock. If you think of climate change like this, a global response can begin with you.

 

John Taylor @coppicejt

So, re-reading it today, I thought I’d share some of those “individual actions” that all make a difference. I wandered around the house this morning a took these six photographs of some of the little things that I do…

All the above have helped to reduce the amount of packaging, especially plastic packaging, that I am responsible for, as well as reducing the volume of goods transported around the country. All of these things are now part of my everyday life, and not something that I think much about, but each one makes a difference and helps in environmental terms. Every choice you make in life is important – you are important – so do your bit and shout about it from the rooftops (oh and follow John on Twitter).

Thanks again to John for allowing me to share his words.

Happy Birthday Demark Farm

This year marks the 30th birthday of my favourite local conservation charity: Denmark Farm Conservation Centre. So, yesterday we went there to celebrate…

As well as the birthday party, there was the official opening of the new Wildlife Discovery Room, which has views over the reserve, links to nest box cameras, and footage from the trail cameras that have been recording wildlife in secret around the reserve in recent weeks (all under the supervision of Mr Snail). Our local MP, Ben Lake, came along to officially open the new facility. He’s actually younger than Denmark Farm and visited with his primary school to make nest boxes and plant trees when he was about eight. Over the years, many children have visited the site and it’s good to hear that they remember it fondly once they are adults – some even visiting with their own children now.

All the people who attended the celebration – staff members and volunteers old and new – seemed to have a good time, and we were also joined by some of the wildlife:

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Be a starling

Yesterday I read a post on Facebook (you can see the original here) that I want to share with you. This, written by John Taylor, summarises exactly and succinctly what I feel and the message that I try to get across…

imgp1009

Be a starling

I work as a Climate Change Advisor in Suffolk, UK. It fascinates me how people react to documentaries and films on climate change, and what motivates people to act. I’ve seen a lot of messages saying that it is all too much and it makes them depressed. Something that helped me was an analogy I first heard from Systems and Feedback Thinker, David Wasdell. The point he made and that I want to emphasise is this. How we define a problem determines how we react to it. Climate change, we are told is a BIG problem. A favourite analogy among politicians and commenters is that it is like an oil tanker. It is a vast problem with it’s own inertia and a long turning circle. The trouble is, this image creates a psychological disconnect when it comes to individual action. How is me changing a light bulb going to turn this ship around?
But this is not how I see climate change. For me, it is like a murmuration of starlings. It looks big, but look closer and you will see it is really made up of thousands and thousands of smaller individual actions and choices. It is how I heat my house, the type of car you drive, the air conditioning in that office on my street, on everyone’s street. There is no single control room driving this ship, Climate Change is an emergent property of all our individual actions.
And compared to an oil tanker, change in a flock is agile and swift. Yes, please care about the bigger picture, but if you act in the areas that you directly influence, you have the power to be the bird that turns. So do something in your life today, and be proud and tell people about it. The birds around you will see and follow suit, and soon that change will ripple through out the whole flock. If you think of climate change like this, a global response can begin with you.

 

John Taylor @coppicejt

Every choice you make in life is important – you are important – so do your bit and shout about it from the rooftops (oh and follow John on Twitter).

Thanks to John for allowing me to share his words.

Water, water

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Rivers are over-topping their banks

It’s been a bit wet in the UK recently. When we compared our rainfall data for 2014 with that for this year, we saw that we’ve had approximately 50% more in November and more than 60% more in December (and it’s not quite over yet).

We are lucky in that we live on a hill and, although water flows through our garden from the field behind, it doesn’t hang around for long. In addition, our raised beds and raised chicken area act like sponges, and then drain gradually once the rain stops. Others are not so fortunate. Those living in the bottom of valleys are on the receiving end of all the water that has drained off the land further up the catchment. And so in recent days there is news of flooding in such locations.

It seems that we have suffered much more severe floods in recent years than previously and the media is keen to apportion blame… councils allowing developers to build on floodplains for example or upland livestock farming. But it’s a complicated picture and there are lots of reasons behind the current situation. Which means there isn’t a magic bullet – we can’t do one single thing to solve the problem.

Perhaps the first thing to consider is that this is about changing climate. By putting a blanket of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gasses) around our planet, we are trapping energy in our atmosphere. The result is the increase in storms and severe weather events. You will see many claims in the media that our changing climate is not the result of human activity. These often come from such renowned “experts” as Nigel Lawson, with his degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and James Delingpole, with his degree in English Literature. If you are interested to see the credentials of those in the public eye who are sceptical about climate change, check out the DeSmog disinformation database. In contrast, the people actually undertaking scientific research about climate change overwhelmingly agree that it’s happening and that it’s anthropogenic. Indeed, according to NASA:

Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.

So, that’s something to bear in mind.

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The local supermarket car park will soon be awash

But, back to the floods themselves… There are several things that we need to do. We need to remember that floodplains serve a particular purpose in a river catchment, and that is not providing flat land for housing! Apart from anything else, floodplains are where rivers should be able to overflow; where the water spreads out, slows down and deposits the soil particles that it’s carrying before it reaches the sea. Floodplains should be the place where we catch the fertility of the land before allowing it to be washed away, and where, as a result, we can farm productively in the drier months. Channelling water so that it moves rapidly through this part of the catchment means that the energy is not dissipated and any nutrients will disappear out to sea.

Further up river catchments we also need to slow down the movement of water. We need to develop a landscape that holds water – upland bogs and grazed diverse grasslands are good for this – and where water is intercepted by trees and shrubs. We don’t need a smooth landscape where water just flows off – we need diverse topography, with pools, banks along contours, a mixture of vegetation types and a well-developed soil. Upland woodlands slow the movement of water, from the moment it falls. Leaves, twigs and branches intercept rain and increase the time it takes for that water to reach the surface. Tree roots make the ground more permeable, and this increases infiltration. Plus, the organic nature of deciduous woodland soils means they act like a sponge and hold large amounts of water.

Anywhere in the catchment, we can make a difference to the water-holding capacity of soil. You are doing this if you add compost to the beds in your garden. In addition, any organic matter incorporated into the soil (whether in a tiny garden or on a large farm) is acting as a sink for carbon and thus reducing net greenhouse gas emissions. These are really good reasons to compost waste and to treat any organic matter as a resource not a problem to be disposed of… not to mention increasing soil fertility and therefore allowing you to grow better crops, which photosynthesise and thus also reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Another benefit, is that increasing the water-holding capacity of soils reduces the impact of droughts – something we have also encountered recently. Adding organic matter, therefore, is a win-win situation.

So, whilst we can’t stop the flooding right now, we can manage our land better to reduce problems in the future. And we can all do this – plant a tree, make compost, build a garden bed, collect rainwater to flush the toilet or water your house plants. Every action helps and together we can make a difference.

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Over the banks but not over the bridge

 

 

Danger! Carnivores!

Because glazing of the limery is not complete, if has turned into a trap for flies – despite the huge hole in the door, the flies only seem to be able to get in and not to get out. On the other hand, butterflies and damselflies seem able to exit without a problem. One of the builders noticed the current fly infestation and asked whether I might get some carnivorous plants. It wasn’t something I had planned to do, but I thought it was a good idea. So, without further ado I searched the internet, placed an order and today the limery has seven new occupants:

Dionaea muscipula - Venus flytrap

Dionaea muscipula – Venus flytrap

Dionaea muscipula 'Akai Ryu' - Venus flytrap 'Red Dragon'

Dionaea muscipula ‘Akai Ryu’ – Venus flytrap ‘Red Dragon’

Drosera capensis - Cape sundew and Drosera capensis alba - white Cape sundew

Drosera capensis – Cape sundew and Drosera capensis alba – white Cape sundew

Utricularia bisquamata 'Betty's Bay'

Utricularia bisquamata ‘Betty’s Bay’

Sarracenia purpurea venosa

Sarracenia purpurea venosa

Nepenthes ventricosa x talangensis

Nepenthes ventricosa x talangensis

One of the sundews has already caught a fly (look closely at the one on the right and you’ll see it), but they have a long way to go yet…

We have glass in the roof (but not the door) and lots and lots of flies

We have glass in the roof (but not the door) and lots and lots of flies

I’m so excited at the prospect of growing these (and other) unusual plants.

 

 

 

Festive magic

You never know what you might find when you’re out for a walk…

I think they may all be new records for Denmark Farm!

And so, I wish you festive magic in the coming days!

A frivolous pastime?

Today, for one reason and another (I’ll spare you the details), I have been wondering whether all the time and energy that so many of us put into the creative crafts is well spent. In particular, I have been thinking about the place of countryside crafts in environmental education.

I do understand that, by many, crafts are considered the preserve of ladies of a certain age with plenty of money and time on their hands. To a certain extent this is true… just as everyone who goes fishing is a working class man and all football fans are young blokes who drink lager. Perhaps I am just being defensive about an activity that I love, but I genuinely do see craft (countryside or otherwise) as a valuable way to spend my time.

Demonstrating the qualities of the wool of different sheep breeds on a felt making course

Demonstrating the qualities of the wool of different sheep breeds on a felt making course

At Denmark Farm we run a whole range of courses at a whole range of levels: from felting for beginners to Phase 1 Survey for professional ecologists; from basketry to bat identification; from food growing to field survey techniques. We train all sorts of people to do all sorts of things, but I would be hard pressed to rank our educational activities in order of importance. A stool-making course does not train someone in woodland management, but by having consumers who demand locally produced wood for furniture-making, we are developing a ‘market’ that might lead to the preservation, or indeed planting, of more woods. Our felting courses emphasise the value of using British wools and understanding the qualities of the wool of different breeds of sheep. Since different species and breeds of livestock deliver different conservation outcomes because of, for example, grazing preference, bite site and hoofprint size, the availability of a variety of animals is key in delivering a range of biodiversity objectives.

In addition, simply engaging individuals with activities that link them to the value of the countryside and associated natural resources is important. Sadly, many of us are distanced from the natural world and never realise the connections between it and, for example, our food production. Recently, the impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on bees has been in the news. Such insecticides, their manufacturers claim, are good for agricultural production. However, we now know of their devastating impact on pollinating insects and the knock-on effect of this on crops has severe implications for the production of food plants that rely on insect pollinators. By drawing people into the countryside in which all these interactions take place, we can introduce them to the issues and engender an interest and understanding. It is hard to feel invested in a system if you are completely disconnected from it.

Creating something useful

Creating something useful

Furthermore, by offering training in crafts, we build resilient communities in which individuals have the ability to deliver some of their own needs – whether that is producing charcoal, making clothes, encouraging pollinators by building a bee house or, even, earning a living. Encouraging creativity is valuable in itself. Once you know you can make a basket, what else might you be encouraged to try? Creating is a powerful activity and one thing can certainly lead to another. If we are always spoon-fed – with our food coming in a plastic package and our clothes on a hanger – we may never explore our potential to take control of the goods and products we rely on.

My experience of craft classes is that they are remarkably co-operative. Participants help each other, find shared experiences, make friendships and take new ideas forward. Sometimes the outcome is as simple as increased confidence and support, sometimes it’s the formation of a new community or a group project. It may even be something more dynamic – the phenomenon of craftivism is growing and can make powerful political statements as well delivering all sorts of practical benefits.

And finally, I cannot help but feel that the world is a better place with beautifully made things in it: items made with care and love, to be treasured and not simply discarded on a whim.

So, let’s get creative

At the beginning of this week, the IPCC issued its latest report on climate change. There is now overwhelming scientific evidence that human beings are having a significant effect on the earth’s climate as a result of various greenhouse gasses. We can all expect the effects to become more noticeable over time. What are we to do? The key is reducing our use of fossil fuels (and thus greenhouse gas emissions) and this is something that we can all contribute to.

Chris Field, co-chair of the IPCC working group says this:

We definitely face challenges, but understanding those challenges and tackling them creatively can make climate-change adaptation an important way to help build a more vibrant world in the near-term and beyond.

And that’s what we need to do, to be creative and to understand that we can each take a little bit of responsibility and make a difference. Over the nearly two years that I have been writing this blog, I’ve discussed all sorts of small steps that I (and others) have taken to lead a life that is a little bit greener and, therefore, contributes a little bit less to climate change and destruction of the planet in other ways.

So, I thought that now would be a good time to list some of the creative things that I’ve been doing that help…

First, in our house, we try to mend things rather than throwing them away as soon as something goes wrong. So, this is our solar-powered wind-up radio in its current (much repaired) incarnation:

Solar, wind-up radio in its latest incarnation... still going strong

Our eco-radio

And (much as I dislike it) I do darn things:

And the finished job... not too bad and it should last a while longer

Darned slipper sock

Recently, the base plate on our old Dyson vacuum clearer broke, but we managed to get a replacement secondhand one, so that should survive a bit longer:

Mr Snail attaching the new base plate onto our original DC01

Mr Snail attaching the new base plate onto our original DC01

Second, we try to cut down our food miles by growing our own (remember we only have a little garden behind a modern bungalow):

Some of the outputs

All from our garden

and by buying from local producers like:

All produce comes from the farm

Blaen Camel farm shop

A busy market day

Lampeter people’s market

Beautiful restoration inside the mill

The local water mill

And preserving food so that we don’t waste any surplus:

Potted up and coolng

Storing the apple harvest

We have reduced our use of petrochemicals and fossil fuels by using products that contain natural ingredients:

No need to think about shampoo for a while now

Buying natural and in bulk

Increasing our use of renewables:

Our solar panels

Our solar panels

A roaring success for boiling water!

Boiling water using wood from our willow hedge

Cutting down on the heating bills:

Curtains on a track or rail

Curtains provide good insulation

I love the colours in this yarn

Stylish ways to keep warm

Fingerless mittens in action

Fingerless mittens in action for warm hands

And reducing our use of plastics:

The finished bag

Homemade cotton shopping bag from scrap fabric

We’ve also enjoyed some repurposing:

Esme emerging from the 'woodland' laying box

An old cat litter tray now used as a laying box

Potatoes growing in old dumpy bags

Potatoes growing in old dumpy bags

Five varieties of Capsicums sown

Toilet roll middles as biodegradable pots

Curtains will probably be a more stylish option for insulation!

Curtains would probably be a more stylish option for insulation, but oven mitts did the trick temporarily!

And just, generally getting creative with waste:

Hexipuffs for a quilt... made from sock wool oddments

Hexipuffs for a quilt… made from sock wool oddments

A camping toilet, for discreet and civilised nitrogen collection.

A camping toilet, for discreet and civilised nitrogen collection

Apple scraps, fermenting naturally as you can see from the bubbles on the surface

Apple scraps, fermenting naturally to make vinegar

And, of course, sharing

The route to so many interesting people.

… by blogging…

... but what is my teaching worth?

… teaching…

Brooklyn Blackout Cake - too fiddly to make every day!

… and, of course, over coffee and cake…

Woollen woods 1

A couple of months ago, I came across the woollen woods project:

…an enchanting outdoor art installation, created as part of Eden Arts’ CANOPY project. The exhibit features hundreds of woodland themed woollen artworks; all made using 100% wool, in support of ‘The Campaign for Wool’… After the success of the first exhibition we are now inviting people to make artworks for a 2014 Woollen Woods installation at National Trust property Sizergh.

Group of three Boletus

Group of three Boletus

Last Saturday, whilst needing something to occupy my over-active brain at 2:30 in the morning, I decided to make my contribution. The result was a group of three Boletus fungi. And so on Sunday I downloaded the submission form so that I could send them off. Alas – they are not eligible! All the pieces of work have to be mounted in the trees  rather than on the ground, and I have made a species that definitely occupies the woodland floor. So, those fungi will have to have a different home. Obviously 2:30am is not the best time to make decisions!

Woolly Ramalina fraxinea on willow

Woolly Ramalina fraxinea on willow

I still want to contribute something to the project, so last night I did a bit of free-form crochet and created this lichen (it’s supposed to be Ramalina fraxinea). Next I’m planning to make some Graphis scripta (a white lichen with what looks like black writing on it) before moving on to bracket fungi, which really do grow on trees. Amusingly, the word ‘crochet’ in French means ‘square bracket’ so there is something strangely pleasing to me about making crochet bracket fungus!

Beside the sea

Recent storms here in west Wales have exposed all sorts of interesting things along the coast, from tank tracks and evidence of peat cutting in the exposed peat on the beach at Tywyn, to the foundations of the old bath house revealed when part of the promenade collapsed in Aberystwyth.

On Thursday I took the learners attending my ecology course to see another of the features revealed by the storm… the submerged forest at Ynyslas. The stumps of the trees here have been radio-carbon dated and are about 6000 years old. They were drowned when the site they were growing on became wetter and a peat bog formed – preserving the stumps and fallen trees. Subsequently the sea level rose and and the site disappeared under the sandy beach. There are usually a few of the stumps visible poking out from the sand, but at the moment a vast area has been uncovered, providing a rare opportunity to see this amazing preserved ecosystem.

Whenever it is exposed like this it gets a little more eroded, but soon, the sand will cover it again and it will be hidden from view. If you are in west Wales, it really is worth a visit in the next few weeks.

There is a vast stretch of peat on the beach

There is a vast stretch of peat on the beach

Tree stumps emerge from the peat

Tree stumps emerge from the peat

You can see an amazing amount of detail

You can see an amazing amount of detail

Quite fine root systems are visible

Quite fine root systems are visible

Branches and trunks lie where they fell, embedded in peat that is now eroding

Branches and trunks lie where they fell, embedded in peat that is now eroding

Not only is this a fascinating piece of history...

Not only is this a fascinating piece of history…

... it's beautiful too

… it’s beautiful too

 

 

 

 

 

 

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