Eco-soundings

Eco-soundings – our environmental news round-up

WELCOME to our round-up of eco and environmental news from the Fine Times Recorder. We feel that there is a real need in this area to have somewhere people who are interested can find out about groups working on sustainability projects, general news on green issues, events, news, exhibitions, Transition Town projects, etc.

We will welcome news, events and short articles from anyone involved in community groups or their own individual projects. Contact us by email info@nulltheftr.co.uk or by Twitter, @yourFTR

 

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918 Coffee Co goes global

AN environmentally aware Gillingham business, 918 Coffee Co, has won a major international award in the Green World campaign to find the greenest companies, councils and communities.

The Green World Awards represent the pinnacle of green achievement for companies, governments and organsations around the globe. Justin and Chanel Cornelius competed against more than 500 other nominations for the Environmental Best Practice award.

The award will be presented in the RTA Auditorium in Dubai on 11th December.

The world consumes approx 2.25 billion cups of coffee everyday, from which approximately 500,000 tonnes of coffee grounds waste are sent to landfill each year in the UK alone.

Justin Cornelius, co-founder and chief executive of 918 Coffee, invented, designed and built the world’s first coffee eco-roaster. This pioneering technology reduces greenhouse gas emissions and creates zero waste, through a carbon reducing roasting process. To keep the carbon impact neutral, collection of the used coffee, cups and empty bags is made at the point of delivery, therefore enabling 918 Coffee to never have an empty vehicle on the road.

The Green Apple Awards began in 1994 and have become established as the country’s major recognition for environmental endeavour among companies, councils, communities, governments and countries. The awards are supported by the Environment Agency, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Chartered Institution for Wastes Management and other independent bodies.


 

 

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Festival’s plastic beach theme

BOURNEMOUTH’s always inventive Arts by the Sea Festival offers some wild and witty watery adventures alongside a serious message at this year’s festival, from 14th to 21st October.

The festival, now in its seventh year, has chosen the theme of Plastic Beach, to highlight the serious environmental concerns about plastic pollution in the oceans.

The message is being put across, across a colourful line-up that ranges from fantastic fantasy fish to wild water and light projections, mesmerising mermaids to a myriad of music and performance.

The Plastic Beach theme takes a serious look at how the synthetic quality of modern life has made its mark in the seas. Over the last 30 years, millions of tons of plastic have entered the oceans. Global production of plastic now stands at 288 million tonnes per year, of which ten per cent ends up in the ocean.

Oil, radioactive waste, chemical sewage and most visibly plastics, have found their way into the oceans and stomachs of marine life.

Among the events that pick up on this theme is Davy Jones, the Deep Sea Fish, a deep-sea fish on a trike, who comes from the sea to flounder through the streets and gardens of Bournemouth –literally and metaphorically he is a fish out of water.

He speaks of the mysteries of the seas in the form of music and bubbles, squirting water at passers-by and playing Deep Sea Radio through his gills.

Created by Rag and Bone, a company of artists, makers, musicians, performers, storytellers, dreamers, inventors and researchers who are create vivid, memorable outdoor performance, Davy Jones is on Saturday 14th at various day times..

Throughout the opening weekend, 14th and 15th October, spectacular sea creatures will roam through the Lower Gardens, captivating audiences. Wherever you look, Arts by the Sea will be making you smile, laugh, and hopefully think a little about your own plastic footprints in the oceans …

More information at www.artsbythesea.co.uk

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Swift sculpture to celebrate Princesshay birthday

ENVIRONMENTAL artist Naomi Hart has been commissioned to create a flock of swifts to fly over Bedford Square, Exeter, for eight weeks from the beginning of September, to mark the tenth birthday of the Princesshay development.

The thousands of swooping swifts have been created by Naomi from recycled plastic bottles collected from Princesshay stores and restaurants. The swifts will be joined together by copper wire, recycled from old Princesshay electrical cables, giving the illusion of the birds in flight.

The piece will demonstrate how a built environment can help nature to thrive as well as coexist. Swifts, who spend nearly their whole lives flying and even sleep in the air, use buildings to nest in, so everyone can help make space for them and give them a home.

The long distance migrants have shared our buildings for over 2,000 years but are now in trouble. The UK lost 39 % of its swifts between 1995 and 2011.

Naomi Hart said; “I am really excited to be working on this project with Princesshay. My work currently focuses on environmental issues as well as a broad theme of ‘migration’ and I feel that this new sculpture will help to capture the aerial display of swifts.

“It’s great to see that Exeter has already started to help maintain their habitat via the Swift Tower [a 26 foot high tower on the Paris Street roundabout] and I hope that this sculpture will create further awareness of these amazing birds.”

Princesshay is working in partnership with the RSPB and hopes that the art will have a strong educational message.

Tony Whitehead, RSPB South West communications Manager said: “The RSPB is really looking forward to this project, both seeing the realisation of the sculpture and supporting Princesshay to become swift friendly by encouraging the birds to nest on their property. City centre developments can all do their bit to help reverse the historical declines of this much-loved bird.”

Princesshay’s centre director, Wayne Pearce says: “We hope that the sculpture will encourage shoppers to reflect on the importance of nature and our environment. This feels like a natural extension of the work we are continuing to do in supporting our urban bee population.”

The City Bee Project began in 2012. Now home to over 100,000 bees, Princesshay’s rooftop garden, created for honey bees high above the shopping centre, forms part of the company’s wider biodiversity strategy.

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Wellbeing through nature

WE live in uncertain and often frightening times. How can we stay happy and fulfilled in our life and work in the midst of change? What can we learn from nature and strengthen our resilience to survive the daily pressures and demands?

Writer and environmentalist Alan Heeks has been exploring these questions and has created an ecological retreat at Hazel Hill near Salisbury where there is a workshop day on Monday 11th September from 9.30am to 4.30pm.

Wellbeing Through Nature – renewing self-care will be led by Alan Heeks and Jane Sanders, offering some distinctive approaches and practical responses to the daily challenges of work and life.

Alan, who founded the Magdalen Farm organic growing and education centre on the Dorset-Devon border, has been exploring resilience with people and nature for many years. He has led many groups on this theme, drawing on experience of resilient natural systems from creating the organic farm and setting up Hazel Hill. He has also written two books on resilience (for more information visit www.alanheeks.com)

Jane Sanders: has over 25 years experience in working with a mindfulness based approach to wellbeing with groups and individuals, and has also incorporated  ecology and the wisdom of natural systems into her work in many different settings.

Hazel Hill is a magical 70-acre wood seven miles from Salisbury, with a great diversity of wildflowers, trees and fungi, providing a variety of landscapes and habitats. The retreat centre at the wood consists of beautiful off-grid wooden buildings, campfires and open spaces, offering scope for people to deepen their connection with nature and learn about living renewably.

 

Community energy – power to the people


THOUSANDS of community energy projects have been started in the UK since 2008, many of them in the West Country – and they are not just a  response to environmental concerns and a desire to save money.

Gordon Cowtan’s new book* explores the concept and the reality of community energy, how it works in different parts of the country, how to get a project going in your area and the broad benefits which come to participants and the community.

“Communities can cut both their costs and their carbon emissions by starting their own energy projects,” says Gordon Cowtan, a co-founder of the Fintry Development Trust, based just north of Glasgow, which negotiated a ground-breaking agreement with a local wind farm to include a turbine for the village in its plans.

“Community energy is often seen as simply communities putting up wind turbines or building hydroelectric schemes,” he says, “but there is a lot more going on in the range of activities that community energy groups are involved with and the effect and importance these activities can have.”

He begins with brief profiles of some well-established projects, including one on the Hebridean isle of Gigha, where three secondhand Vestas V27 wind turbines were put up in 2003 and are now bringing £100,000 per year to the small but growing community.

At the other end of the scale, Repowering London has undertaken a number of projects, including working with local authorities and community groups to reduce CO2 emissions, tackle fuel poverty and educate residents about fuel efficiency. It has also helped to form three solar co-operatives in the Brixton area.

The benefits of community energy schemes are demonstrated with Gigha and Fintry using income generated from their wind turbines to support other activities in their communities. Other projects have helped to reduce the amount local people have to spend on fuel bills. “One of the great things about community energy is that it can be the gift that keeps giving,” says the author.

Community energy matters, he says, “because it has the capacity to help address a number of the biggest issues we face as a society – issues like energy use, fuel poverty, sustainability and climate change.”

With sections that look at the history of community energy, government policy, the various types of renewable energy schemes (biomass, wind turbines, solar, etc), case studies and financial models, this is an indispensable guide for anyone interested in starting a community energy project in their own area.

The book is inspirational, but it is also realistic. “The hard truth is that most community energy projects still fail,” says Cowtan who looks at the reasons for failure, the practical problems, having the right location, local politics, and the unpredictability of government policy.

But from where we are now, with climate change an ever more pressing problem – and the deplorable actions of the clown in the White House – it is desperately important that we all do what we can, and if you can get a committed group together, have the right location, can put the finance together and can gather support from your wider community, you can make it happen, and bring multiple benefits to your town or village – and to our beautiful fragile planet.

Community Energy: A Guide to Community-Based Renewable Energy Projects by Gordon Cowtan, is published by Green Books.

 

 

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A Plastic Ocean on screen at Wimborne

IF you are worried about what happens to all those plastic bags and bottles and sprays and netting that Other People just throw away – and you are one of the people who tries to reuse and recycle plastic when you can – you will want to see a new feature-length documentary being screened in Dorset for the first time at Queen Elizabeth School, Wimborne on Friday 5th May.

Officially released earlier this year, A Plastic Ocean  shows an international team of adventurers, researchers, and ocean ambassadors on a mission around the globe to uncover the shocking truth about what is lurking beneath the surface of our seemingly pristine oceans.

It is estimated that 8 million tonnes of plastic waste enter the seas every year and it’s accumulating. Large pieces of plastic break-up into smaller pieces called micro-plastic. Discarded “ghost” fishing nets drift through oceans snaring everything in their path. Disposable wrap, bottles and packaging used on average for just 12 minutes will last a lifetime, even longer, littering the seabed, surface and coast.

A Plastic Ocean brings to light the consequences of our global disposable lifestyle. We thought we could use plastic and throw it away with negligible impact to humans and animals. That turns out to be untrue. The result will astound viewers – just as it did the adventurers, who captured never-before-seen images of marine life, plastic pollution and its ultimate consequences for human health.

More than just a movie, this event forms part of a global wave of change; bringing together like-minded people from across society with an interest in sustainability. After the film the audience are invited to participate in a discussion with local experts about the issues raised.

The foyer area will be taken over by sponsor stalls, campaign groups and businesses showcasing the excellent work being done in the region. The ethical Sound Kitchen cafe will be serving delicious hot and cold vegan food with cinema snacks and a bar.

Organiser Lee Hadaway of Wimborne based Ecotainment! says: “We are proud to be bringing this film to Dorset, our beautiful coastal county, with 88 miles of heritage coastline to protect. With the support of our event partners we are inspiring people to reduce their plastic footprint, live healthier and happier lifestyles and helping to combat the tide of ocean plastic. The oceans are the basis for all life on earth and by harming the oceans we are also harming ourselves”

For tickets and more information visit  www.creativedynamo.net/tickets and Wimborne Tourist Information Centre. Bournemouth University is sponsoring the event.

 

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First electric vehicle charge point for Dorchester

THE first electric charging point in Dorchester has been installed at Poundbury Gardens. Electric and hybrid vehicles can now be recharged outside the Engine Room cafe at the garden centre.

The Rolec Securicharge charge point has been fitted by Futurum Renewable Energy Systems Ltd, a government approved installer of domestic and commercial charge points.

Mike Burks, managing director of The Gardens Group, says:“We are continually looking at initiatives to make what we do a little greener, as we believe that these measures can have a huge impact on our local community and the wider landscape, so we are thrilled to have the electric vehicle charger point installed here at Poundbury Gardens.

“We have a lot of environmentally conscious customers, who will be delighted with the new installation and we also hope that it inspires others to think about their own impact on the environment and consider the small changes that they could make.”

Tokens for a one-hour charge can be bought at Poundbury Gardens, just off Queen Mother Square in Poundbury.

Pictured are, from left, Jon Nash, assistant manager at Poundbury Gardens, Mike Burks and Poundbury Gardens manager Lucy Simpson, with the new charge point

 

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Renewable energy campaigner Keith Wheaton-Green returns to FTR’s Eco-soundings with a new occasional series.

 

Can you see the stars?

A RECURRING theme in the neighbourhood plan consultation of parishioners in my village in Dorset is a view of the night sky.

When asked what they liked about the village, there were more comments about the lack of light pollution than on any other topic. It seems we rural folk really appreciate the lack of street lights and other lighting so that we can look up on a clear night and see the Milky Way, the occasional satellite passing over – and if we are really lucky – a shooting star.

When I look up from my garden, I can see the constellations clearly and – with a bit of focus – the Milky Way. Looking south from my back garden across open countryside I can see a vague orange glow peeping over the hill to the south east from Blandford 12 miles away and to the south west from Dorchester 20 miles away. Street lighting is so pervasive and light travels well.

There is very little habitation between us and the hill but unfortunately I do not look into a sea of blackness. There are farms and a school. Every one of them seems to have a bright orange sodium lamp. There may be less than 20 in view but the impact is to dim the night sky. I would certainly prefer not to see this light pollution, especially as I don’t understand the purpose of this “always on” lighting. Yes, driving past them, you see that many of them are not even switched off during the day. Do cows, chickens and pigs really need outdoor lighting?

I believe many people mistakenly believe that well-lit spaces are more secure from burglars and vandalism. But actually, having a premises lit up like a Christmas tree is of great assistance to a potential miscreant. They can see exactly where they need to go and how they should proceed to keep out of sight.

If it was completely dark, they would either need a torch or they would be bumping into things. Either way, they would identify their position to anyone nearby. I have been told by the police that there is no correlation between lighting and crime. Outdoor lighting does not prevent crime!

Infra-red sensors provide much better security and can be purchased for about the same as a new outdoor light. They work on the heat given out by a potential trouble maker and can be directed at the likely entry point just as a light would be.

There is an attitude of live and let live in rural areas and it would be wrong to demonise owners of property for their lighting habits. However, I hope that through articles like this, people can be made more aware of the impact of even a solitary outdoor light in countryside.

People are irritated when they see litter on the roadside at the base of our hedgerows; the result of a “couldn’t care less” attitude from a passing driver. I gather from my fellow parishioners that similar irritation is caused by light pollution. Do you have an outdoor light you could switch off?

Keith Wheaton-Green

Batteries with everything

AN argument regularly trotted out by the anti-wind turbine lobby has been that the intermittency of renewables rendered them virtually useless; (they conveniently forgot that generation intermittency is dwarfed by consumption intermittency). Well, that argument is being blown out of the water by the deployment of huge battery banks to soak up some of the peak midday electricity generation and sell it from the battery for a high price during periods of peak demand.

With the end of subsidies for solar power, it is surprising how quickly solar farm developers have found a viable business model to allow the continued installation of new solar farms. Adding battery storage to a solar farm to access additional, lucrative income streams means a project can be profitable without subsidy.

I discovered the importance of this emerging technology at a photovoltaics and energy storage exhibition and seminar at the NEC near Birmingham last October. All the major players were there – battery providers, solar farm developers and electricity generation aggregators. I learnt that lithium ion battery technology is now at the point where MWh scale battery banks inside person height cabinets are available “off the self.” They can respond to grid imbalances in milliseconds and can replace dirty diesel and gas generators. These are the expensive “spinning reserve” so loved by the anti-wind lobby that currently do the “heavy lifting” when millions of households boil a kettle during the X Factor commercial break.

During 2016 numerous MW scale battery storage installations were planned, across the UK, some co-located with PV farms but many standing alone. Large commercial and public sector consumers with space for a container-sized battery bank are planning to invest so they can buy electricity when it’s cheap and sell or use it when it’s expensive.

Grid balancing to meet fluctuating demand has been a large part of our electricity bills because it has been particularly difficult using large centralised nuclear and coal fired generators. Three huge pumped storage hydro-electric generators buried within mountains in Wales and Scotland help, but our increasingly distributed generation from wind, tide and solar needs distributed fast response grid balancing.

Batteries of all sizes will provide this, from domestic Tesla Powerwalls and commercial scale batteries behind the meter to reduce import from the grid, to strategically placed multi megawatt battery banks to smooth grid voltages and reduce demand from large centralised generating stations. Even electric cars are seen by our district network operators as electricity assets because their batteries could be used for brief but strategically important periods of grid balancing while they are plugged in and charging.

This is going to fundamentally alter the way the grid works. John Pettigrew, chief executive at National Grid, said recently: “Our engineers say that 2015 was the last year we operated the system in the way it has operated for the past 50,” he says. “The way we are operating now is fundamentally different.” Control of flows through the grid is becoming as important as actual generation. Western Power Distribution have said that they will not invest in grid reinforcement – they predict lower volumes of electricity sloshing around the grid because so much of it will be generated much closer to the consumer (much of it generated by the consumer!)

So precisely when wind turbines and solar farms generate their electricity now becomes irrelevant and we can look forward to a smart grid, efficiently fine-tuned and lower national grid charges. I wonder when the anti-wind brigade will finally shut up for fear of sounding obviously stupid.

 


Bridport goes green for spring

BRIDPORT will be going green for two weeks from Friday 24th March to Saturday 8th April with the town’s first Green Fortnight, organised by Transition Town Bridport.

The aim is to celebrate Bridport’s local shops and products and to inspire local people towards a more sustainable lifestyle and to reduce their carbon footprint.

Transition Town Bridport will be working with other groups, businesses and individuals in the town to promote a greener and more sustainable local economy. Bridport Town Council is supporting the Green Fortnight and will turn the town clock face green for the duration of the event.

One of Green Fortnight’s organisers Sarah West says: “Bridport is lucky to have a high street full of greengrocers, butchers, bakers and local businesses.  One of our key messages will be that we want people to ‘Buy Local’. This helps keep money and jobs in the local area and reduces the mileage that goods have to travel from production to shoppers, which in turn reduces the carbon impact.

As well as the campaign to promote local shops and products there will be events including a talk by Green MEP Molly Scott-Cato (pictured), who is also a director of Transition Towns Stroud, a screening of the film Before the Flood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and a Green Quiz.

Some local schools will also be participating in the fortnight through projects related to the re-use and recycling of everyday items including clothing.

Sarah West says: “The era of cheap energy, abundant oil and mineral resources is over and the impact of climate change is already being felt around the world. Here in Bridport we can show others how a more sustainable of way life can be good for the local economy, make us more resilient and help lessen the effects of climate change”.

If any local community groups would like to hold an event that would be relevant to the Green Fortnight please get in touch. Transition Town Bridport will also welcome enquiries from any businesses who would be interested in sponsorship..

Bridport has been a Transition Town since 2009. Transition Towns are a non- political organisation that was originally set up in Totnes and has now spread to 50 countries worldwide. The aim is to devise ways of  meeting environmental challenges by involving the whole community in taking more responsibility for our own future and having a more fulfilling life while achieving this.

For more information visit www.transitiontownbridport.co.uk and to contact Sarah West, email admin@transitiontownbridport

 

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Surveying Dorset’s wild plants

DORSET people interested in wild plants and flowers are invited to take part in the National Plant Monitoring Scheme, which is helping scientists to understand what is happening to different habitats across the UK.

The scheme has been running for two survey seasons and more than  900 volunteers have signed up to9 take part in the surveys. Volunteers are supported by materials which are sent to them, online resources and free training courses.

This scheme is a partnership between Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Plantlife and is backed by the government.

Volunteers are recruited and supported to survey five plots in a kilometre square close to where they live. The plots will be surveyed twice a year. The kilometre squares to monitor have been identified by stratified random sampling. The plants have been chosen as indicators of the health of individual habitats.

Across Dorset there are still 16 squares available to survey. For more information visit www.npms.org.uk

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ecoSolsburyPark and ride would “scar the landscape”

A PROPOSED park and ride scheme on water meadows to the east of Bath would “scar the landscape … and mar the wonderful views experienced from Solsbury Hill,” a National Trust spokesman told Bath councillors.

Tom Boden, Bath generall manager for the National Trust, told the Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) council cabinet that the Trust could not support plans for park and ride for 800 to 1,200 cars.

He said:” We are aware of the impact of traffic and pollution within the city itself. However, we are also concerned that a large scale park and ride development on Bathampton Meadows would cause significant harm.

‘Whether for 800 or 1200 cars, it is clear that this scale of development would scar the landscape for many years into the future, and would mar the wonderful views experienced from Solsbury Hill, which is part of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”

Solsbury Hill, which inspired musician Peter Gabriel to compose a piece called Solsbury Hill in 1980 and A Quiet Moment on his 2011 album New Blood, is cared for by the Trust.

Tom Boden said: “Any solutions to the city’s traffic and environment problems should recognise the sensitive environment at the edge of the city and its limited capacity to accommodate large scale development.”

Pictured: The view across the Bathampton meadows and valley from Solsbury Hill.
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Minister announces Stonehenge tunnel3--Stonehenge_aerial

TRANSPORT Secretary Chris Grayling has announced that a tunnel is to be built to take the A303 past Stonehenge, to help to reduce the notorious traffic bottleneck on one of the major routes to the West Country.

The tunnel would be 1.8 miles long, and would form part of a £2 billion programme for road improvements to the region, including dualling the congested single carriageway between Ilchester and Sparkford and the road from the A303 to Taunton to link to the motorway system.

A statement from the National Trust, which with English Heritages manages the World Heritage site, says: “We are looking at the detail of the consultation document and potential tunnel scheme, and will be providing our responses in due course. We encourage others to take part in the public consultation and have their say.

“If it is designed well, Historic England, the National Trust and English Heritage all firmly believe that a tunnel of the right length and location will deliver a scheme worthy of this world-famous place. The current A303 with its busy traffic ruins the setting of many prehistoric monuments and stops people from exploring a large part of the World Heritage Site. A tunnel would reunite the Stonehenge landscape and bring huge benefits, improving our understanding and enjoyment of the Stonehenge monument and the surrounding countryside.”

ecoStonehengeBut the Stonehenge proposal is controversial. English Heritage and the National Trust, which are custodians of the World Heritage site, have backed the idea of the tunnel, but historians Dan Snow and Tom Holland are among those who are fiercely opposed to the scheme.

Snow, the president of the Council for British Archaeology, compared the proposals to vandals destroying ancient artefacts. He said:“We have recently started to realise that the standing stones are just a beginning. They sit at the heart of the world’s most significant and best-preserved stone-age landscape. The government’s plans endanger this unique site.”

The Stonehenge proposals also include a bypass for the Winterbourne Stoke and improvements to existing junctions between the A303 and the intersecting A345 and A360 north-south roads.

Consultation on the plans runs to 5th March and the preferred route will be announced later this year.

There will be a series of public exhibitions:

The Manor Barn, Manor House, Winterbourne Stoke, Saturday, 14th January (11am–5pm);
Antrobus House, Amesbury, Wednesday, 18th January (2–8pm);
Shrewton village hall, Friday, 20th January (5–9pm);
Avon Valley College, Durrington, Saturday 21st January (11am–5pm);
Larkhill Primary School, Tuesday, 24th January (5–9pm);
The Manor Barn, Winterbourne Stoke, Friday, 27th January (2–8pm);
Salisbury Guildhall, Saturday 28th January (11am–5pm);
Grove Building, Mere, Saturday 4th February (11am–5pm);
Society of Antiquaries, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, Monday 6th February (2–8pm);
Antrobus House, Amesbury, Wednesday, 8th February (2–-8pm)

 

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ecobiomassGreener heating at Stourhead House

THE National Trust’s Stourhead House has a new greener heating system. It previously took 33,000 litres of oil to heat the Palladian house each year. Now the energy needs are provided by two woodchip boilers, saving thousands of pounds a year on heating bills and 90 tonnes of C02 emissions.

The new biomass system will be fuelled by locally sourced, sustainably grown wood supplied and chipped ready for use by local suppliers.

Tamsin Holmes, environmental practices coordinator, said “The switch to biomass for Stourhead House is a major part of our whole property ambition to stop using oil as an energy source.

“Nationally, the Trust has a target to generate 50 per cent of its in-hand energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.  The switch to woodchip in Stourhead House will contribute 1 per cent towards the national target.”

The biomass boilers  have been installed in the renovated Pumphouse behind Stourhead House. A new woodchip store has been built behind the Pumphouse, designed to be sympathetic to the original building, and to blend in with its surroundings.

Emily Blanshard, house and collections manager said: “Being able to heat the house and preserve the collection using a renewable local source is a fantastic step towards a sustainable future for Stourhead and the removal of the old oil-fired boilers from the basement of the mansion will have a huge effect on the conservation of the treasured furniture and paintings”

Pictured: The first big delivery for installation of biomass boiler at Stourhead ©National Trust, Tamsin Holmes

 

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For the love of trees and woodlandsecotrees2 ecotrees

CHRISTMAS is probably the time of year when most people think about trees – so what better time to learn more about trees and woodlands and discover why they are so important in our culture, our history and our lives.

A new anthology, Arboreal, published by West Dorset-based Little Toller Books, and edited by Little Toller director Adrian Cooper, is a collection of writing about the importance of trees and woods in the landscape.

Described by Booker Prize-winner Hilary Mantel as “an anthology for all green men, women and children,” the collection celebrates the good things happening in woodlands around the country today and explores the history, literature, folk culture and meaning of trees and woodlands.

With contributions from about 40 writers, it includes essays by practitioners in woodland architecture, art, education or forestry, and contributions by authors attuned to the literature and ecology of woods.

A Little Toller spokesperson says: “We hope to show why these undervalued landscapes are so important and how they could become a more vibrant part of our lives again.”

The origins of this book and its ethos have roots in the work of Common Ground, the environmental arts charity which is now run by Adrian and Gracie Cooper of Little Toller,

Common Ground’s Trees, Woods and the Green Man project started to explore the natural and cultural value of trees in 1986, and worked to widen popular concern and practical caring for trees in town and country, mainly through collaborations with artists, sculptors, illustrators, poets, cartoonists, playwrights and writers.

Common Ground, founded by Sue Clifford and Angela King, who live at Shaftesbury, initiated several touring exhibitions – The Tree of Life with the South Bank Centre, Out of the Wood with the Crafts Council, and Andy Goldsworthy’s Leaves at the Natural History Museum. Publications dedicated to trees and woods included In a Nutshell, a practical guide to tree care, Trees be Company, an anthology of poetry, and PULP!, a newspaper all about trees, published after the storm of 1987.

Arboreal is dedicated to Oliver Rackham, the outstanding botanical and landscape writer of this generation, who died in February 2015. Contributors include: Richard Mabey, Germaine Greer, Paul Kingsnorth, Ali Smith, Alan Garner, Sara Maitland, Fiona Reynolds and Helen Dunmore.

Arboreal is available from Little Toller Books; www.littletoller.co.uk

 

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ecostonehengeSeed-sowing at Stonehenge

NATIONAL Trust staff and volunteers are sowing seeds by hand in the Stonehenge landscape in one of Europe’s largest grassland reversion projects, and marking the 30th anniversary of Stonehenge as a World Heritage Site.

The National Trust owns and cares for more than 2100 acres of the World Heritage Site, a place rich in natural and human history with hundreds of globally important archaeological sites. Since 2000, the Trust has been working to restore the landscape by sowing seeds harvested from nearby Salisbury Plain by machine and by hand and working with its tenant farmers to graze the land.

Keith Steggall, the Stonehenge landscape ranger, says:
“The locally sourced seeds will help to restore the chalk grassland landscape our ancestors would have known at the time of Stonehenge. In recent years the land was farmed to grow crops, but by harvesting and sowing the seeds and working with our tenant farmers to manage the land through grazing, we are succeeding in both protecting the historic monuments and bringing back the grassland landscape.

“The chalk grassland landscape took thousands of years to develop and so it will take decades for it to completely recover. We’ve managed to attract many species of insects, birds and mammals including key species such as the Marbled White Butterfly, Brown Hare and birds such as the Skylark and Meadow Pipit and things are only going to improve over time.”

Photo: National Trust / Steven Haywood

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Green Apple Award for 918 Coffee Coecogreenapple

GILLINGHAM’s multi-award-winning 918 Coffee Co has won a Green Apple environmental award for their pioneereing Coffe-Eco System.

Justin and Chanel Cornelius were up against more than 500 other nominees in the Green Apple category for Environmental Best Practice, in the international awards which recognise the greenest companies, councils and communities.

They will be presented with their trophy and certificate at a glittering presentation ceremony in the Houses of Parliament, on 11th November.

The Green Apple Award has led to them being invited to have their winning paper published in The Green Book, the international reference book on environmental best practice. They could also progress to represent the country in the Green World Awards, and the European Business Awards for the Environment.

The Green Apple Awards, founded in 1994, are the UK’s major recognition for environmental endeavour among companies, councils, communities and countries. They are organised by The Green Organisation, an international, independent, non-political, non-profit dedicated to environmental best practice around the world.

With their award-winning eco-roast system, 918 Coffee Co offers a completed closed-loop solution to the foodservice industry, including a full PE lined paper cup recycling process.

Justin Cornelius, the company’s co-founder and chief executive, says: “The Coffe-Eco System offers an end of life coffee solution for the used coffee grounds, cups and bags. We are a sustainable coffee roastery and we wanted to reduce the negative impact that the coffee industry has on the planet.

“We continue to work tirelessly to spread the word of this pioneering system. We have invested heavily into making it a reality for everyone to enjoy, partnering with other companies such as Simply Cups and the Green Earth Appeal to expand the ability and expertise of the system.

“We already have many customers benefitting from the Coffe-Eco System and for every customer that joins the system we plant 10 trees in their name.”

The world consumes around 2.25 billion cups of coffee every day. It is estimated that approximately 500,000 tonnes of coffee grounds waste is sent to landfill each year in the UK alone.

Justin invented, designed and built the world’s first coffee eco-roaster, using a carbon-reducing technology to create power from used coffee grounds, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating zero waste. The system also involves  a closed-loop solution for 100 per cent recycling of used paper cups, which are transformed into new products, such as stationery, trays, decorative items. The third phase of the system is the 100 per cent recycling of the used valved coffee bags into furniture.

Company co-founder Chanel Cornelius, who is responsible for compliance and sustainability, says there are many people and companies keen to be involved but who do not know where to start.

“We have learned that if we take control of the process and reuse and recycle the items ourselves, the adoption of this system is much greater. While there is a thirst for this technology, there is a need to keep control and not rely solely on the consumer to recycle. This way we lead the process rather than demonstrate it for others to adopt.
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“The recognition this prestigious award will bring will help us to expand and grow the system further. We are already looking into expanding the system to include used plastic water cups.”

For more information on the eco coffee system, visit www.918coffee.com

Pictured with their Green Apple Award are Justin (right) and Chanel (left) Cornelius, with some of the 918 team, Liam Searle, Olivia Dennett and Henry Bartholomew.

 

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ecobeesLuxury hotel opens in Ferndown

A LUXURY hotel in a glorious garden setting was officially declared open when Dorset Wildlife Trust unveiled Knoll Gardens’ new bee hotel to provide accommodation for solitary bees and many other insects.

The bee hotel was built off-site by DWT staff and volunteers and installed as part of Knoll Gardens Foundation’s ongoing work to research and promote wildlife friendly gardening. The unveiling took place on the same day as volunteers from DWT and Knoll undertook the latest garden wildlife survey as part of the DWT Great Heath Project.

Knoll’s bee hotel will provide much-needed homes for solitary bees, whose numbers have been in decline in recent years through loss of habitat and safe nesting sites. While they do not produce honey or wax, they carry out a vital role in pollinating flowers, crops and trees, and are considerably more proficient than the better known honey bee.

There are around 250 species of solitary bee in Britain, many of which live in our gardens. As the name suggests, they live alone, building individual nests in tunnels or holes in the ground. The new hotel will provide them, and many other insects, with instant accommodation.

Nicky Hoar of Dorset Wildlife Trust, says: “We know from our wildlife surveys here that the gardens are home to many bees and other insects, so this is a great place to not only provide them with a little extra help but also to showcase what all of us can do in our gardens on a smaller scale.”

Neil Lucas, a trustee of Knoll Gardens Foundation says: “Dorset Wildlife Trust has supported us on a number of garden wildlife projects, including an annual garden survey. With its help we are now building a real picture of the wildlife to be found in the garden at Knoll and beginning to understand how best to support both resident and visiting birds and animals.

“Knoll Gardens Foundation exists to help gardeners reduce the environmental impact of their plots and increase their appeal to wildlife. The more we can learn about the way our local flora and fauna interact the better placed we will be to help other gardeners across the country.”

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In the third of his occasional articles, Keith Wheaton-Green asks: 

What is the real purpose of drastic feed in tariff reduction?

ecoFeedinMOST of us expect the government to govern to improve the lives of the whole population. When governments are not doing so, they must still issue statements that look as if they are.

And so it was when Amber Rudd, the Minister for Energy and Climate Change, said, in justification of a proposed dramatic reduction in renewable electricity feed-in tariffs: “We need to keep bills as low as possible for hardworking families and businesses while reducing our emissions in the most cost-effective way.”

The reality is that our government is intent on preventing the renewables industry from competing effectively with a new subsidised Hinckley nuclear power station, a new subsidised fracking industry and the remaining – hard to extract (and supported by recently announced generous tax breaks) – off-shore oil and gas fields to bring electricity prices down.

Whose interests is the government protecting? I can’t believe it is the interests of the whole UK population. Renewable electricity, once the generation equipment is installed, is almost free. Wind, sun and moving water cost nothing and the cost of equipment maintenance is minimal. Yes, there is the ongoing cost of feed-in tariff to encourage householders and businesses to install – this currently adds £45 a year to each household bill, but most of the bill is made up of fossil fuel costs.

A coal or gas fired power station always pays for fuel, whereas with renewables the cost of subsidy comes down eventually to zero. The impression is given by government ministers that FITs are coming out of government spending, thus allowing them to link slashing FITs to the need for austerity. Ministers also suggest that renewables are adding large amounts to consumer bills. Neither is true. The 3 per cent of household energy bills that pay for the feed-in tariff is actually an excellent investment in reducing future bills. The subsidy for Hinkley C ties consumers to high electricity prices for the next 30 years.

Since the introduction of the feed-in tariff in 2009, renewables – particularly photovoltaics – have grown quickly to provide 22.3% of UK electricity in the first quarter of 2015, 2700 installation companies and 112,000 jobs. The proposed rapid FITs cuts of 40 per cent for wind and hydro and 90 per cent for PV puts the industry, those jobs and the ability to recover in the future all in serious jeopardy.

Householders will not feel it worthwhile to install PV until prices drop by a further £800 for a 4kW system (which will not happen for a few years yet); new small hydro and wind schemes will not seem worthwhile, especially given the difficulty and expense of getting planning and environmental permissions. Businesses will go to the wall and thousands will lose their jobs.

The renewables industry is as keen as the government to get to a subsidy-free future but sudden unpredictable changes are extremely damaging and unfair.

Amber Rudd has previously expressed understanding and enthusiasm for renewables and community-owned renewables in particular. There is no preferential treatment for community renewables in the current proposals and it is evident that George Osborne has overruled Amber Rudd. His enthusiasm for fracking is obvious.

When announcing encouragement for fracking, Osborne stated: “This new tax regime, which I want to make the most generous for shale in the world, will contribute to that. I want Britain to be a leader of the shale gas revolution – because it has the potential to create thousands of new jobs and keep energy bills low for millions of people.”

But renewables have a greater capacity to deliver geographically distributed jobs, climate change mitigation and eventual lower electricity prices.

The inevitable future is a multiplicity of small widely distributed clean renewable generators with far less demand on the inefficient high voltage national grid. PV will be attached to most buildings and wind turbines of all sizes will be far more common. Demand will be smoothed with battery storage and base load will be covered from tidal lagoons around our coast. Crucially, this will achieve lower prices and no carbon emissions.

Given the climate change imperative, we should be getting there as soon as possible. So why on earth is our government slowing this down and guaranteeing high electricity prices for longer?

Pictured: Solar panels at Milldown School, Blandford, a Dorset Community Energy installation.

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Greener energy for Barrington Court

ecoBarringtonONE of Somerset’s most beautiful Tudor manor houses, which was restored from ruin by the sugar magnate Colonel Abram ‘Arthur’ Lyle’s family, has been given a fresh burst of energy thanks to a new greener heating system.

Barrington Court near Ilminster, which is looked after by the National Trust, was using more than 34,000 litres of oil each year to heat the property. Now the 17th-century manor will be powered by sustainably and locally sourced wood.

The property was one of the first to be taken over by the Trust in 1907, then leased to and restored by the Lyle family of Tate & Lyle in the 1920s. The three formal gardens which visitors can enjoy today are inspired by the great early 20th century horticulturalist Gertrude Jekyll.

Barrington Court’s new biomass boiler system, installed by Somerset based  Dunster Biomass Heating, will save the National Trust £10,000 per year on energy bills and remove 94 tonnes of CO2 emissions – the equivalent to filling 94 hot air balloons.

The successful completion of the project marks another key milestone in the National Trust’s £33 million investment programme in renewable energy, supported by the charity’s green energy partner Good Energy.

As part of the eight-month project the mansion’s aging oil powered boilers, aged 20 and 28 years, have been replaced with two cleaner, renewable energy systems.  The new biomass boilers will provide hot water and heat to Barrington’s Court House as well as the restaurant, offices, residential flats and holiday cottage at Strode House.

Sarah Jack, National Trust project manager for the installation, said: “It was always going to be a challenge installing two boilers and their flues into a beautiful and historic setting such as Barrington Court but we are all pleased with the outcome. Coaxing the aged and complex plumbing in the mansions to accept the newcomers has turned out to be one of the biggest hurdles and it was a great day for us all when we said goodbye to the old oil boilers.”

The wood pellets that now provide the estate’s heat come from UK sources and are supplied by a local distributor.

Pictured: Barrington Court’s visitor experience manager Keri Phillips outside the biomass boiler; © Malcolm Anderson / National Trust

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ecoChangeCinema goes solar at the Shelley

CHECK out the latest in eco-cinema at Bournemouth’s historic Shelley Theatre, where This Changes Everything, a film inspired by Naomi Klein’s impassioned book about climate change, will be shown on 9th June.

The solar cinema event, under the aegis of the organisation Green Screen, is a follow-up to the group’s debut sell-out science week last year.

Filmed over 211 shooting days in nine countries and five continents over four years, This Changes Everything is an epic attempt to re-imagine the vast challenge of climate change.

Directed by Avi Lewis, the film presents seven powerful portraits of communities on the front lines, from Montana’s Powder River Basin to the Alberta Tar Sands, from the coast of South India to Beijing.

Interwoven with these stories of struggle is Klein’s narration, connecting the carbon in the air with the economic system that put it there, building to her exciting idea that we can seize the existential crisis of climate change to transform our failed economic system into something radically better.

Individual stories woven into this powerful film include: Crystal, a young indigenous leader in Tar Sands country, fighting for access to a restricted military base in search of answers about an environmental disaster in progress; Montana goat ranchers Mike and Alexis who see their dreams coated in oil from a broken pipeline and respond by organising against fossil fuel extraction in the Powder River Basin, forming an alliance with the Northern Cheyenne tribe to bring solar power to the nearby reservation; Melachrini, a housewife in Northern Greece where economic crisis is being used to justify mining and drilling projects that threaten the mountains, seas and tourism economy; and Jyothi, in Andhra Pradesh, India, who battles along with her fellow villagers against a proposed coal-fired power plant that will destroy a life-giving wetland.

Unlike many works about the climate crisis, this is a film that tries to encourage rather than scare the audience into action.

After the screening, organisers Ecotainment and Bournemouth and Poole Greenpeace have invited representatives of the London-based campaigning group End Ecocide on Earth to host a discussion about the issues raised in the film.

There is also space for environmental groups to have a table or display stand to promote their causes.

 

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previewOctagonmiltonMilton Jones gigs for Mudford
TOP comedian and radio star Milton Jones is coming to Yeovil’s Octagon Theatre on Sunday 22nd May at  7.30pm with a show that will be raising funds for the Friends of Mudford Action group.

Best known for his appearances on Mock the Week, Live at the Apollo and his BBC Radio 4 shows including, Another Case of Milton Jones, Milton Jones is  an original and off-beat wordsmith, and one of the most popular stand-ups in the UK today.

He will be joined at the Octagon by Stuart Goldsmith, and rising star Liam Mullone.

The Friends of Mudford Action Group are based in one of the still-rural villages around Yeovil which feel (rightly) threatened by the amount of housing being planned for South Somerset’s major town, particularly the impact of the Abbey Manor plans for Primrose Lane. For more information please visit www.fomag.co.uk

For tickets to see Milton Jones – and help this local action group – visit www.octagon-theatre.co.uk
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ecoConsumerismIs consumerism dead?

IN a moment of utter boredom with the dismal TV schedule the other night I found myself way down the TV station list wallowing in nostalgia with 1980s game shows. There was Celebrity Squares, The Price is Right and Supermarket Sweep.

Those of you old enough will remember that it was all about winning desirable stuff (that most of us didn’t have enough of at the time). The prices were amazing! More than £400 for a 26-inch TV that extended dust gatheringly backwards as far as it was wide and £10,000-plus for a phallus shaped Ford Coupe with a boot that would hardly fit a couple of suitcases ,let alone a full complement of garden waste and other stuff to the recycling centre!

It reminded me that we really were enthralled by consumerism, the acquisition of household goods and economic growth. so that we could buy ever more stuff.

It strikes me that we have now mostly got all the stuff we need to fill a house, or could get hold of it cheaply second-hand, or even free through Freecycle. So we no longer get as excited by consumerism and economic growth. Perhaps we are even bored with it!

However, I don’t think politicians have caught up. Can our economy really continue to “grow” in the true sense of the word? Can we continue to use ever greater quantities of the earth’s natural resources to get richer and richer? This is the dream our mainstream political parties still seem to be selling.

Or should we be using different metrics than economic growth to measure our happiness and sense of well-being.? A modern flat screen TV is a much better device than the huge 1980/90s versions – it is also considerably cheaper and uses less energy and labour both in its production and use. This is true of almost everything from cars to washing machines.

Is the future about doing more with less? Living within our means and eliminating the UK deficit but feeling no poorer because we produce things and organise everything more efficiently? Can we use less energy, buy less “stuff”, use communications to work more efficiently from home – maybe even eat less – but feel no worse off?

What people care about now is not continual accumulation of wealth (apart from the important minority on the breadline who need help pulling themselves up) but the feeling of well-being that comes from having decent, secure housing, a reliable NHS, good family networks, good food and drink.

Maybe that’s why elections feel different now. The two main parties are still focused on the aspirations we had in the 20th century, but the electorate has moved on. We are now mainly worried about maintaining what we have in a world increasingly threatened by climate change and massive migratory pressure.

That self-proclaimed revolutionary Russell Brand summed up the feeling of many by saying simply “Give us something to vote FOR.” The parties we need are those that understand what is shaping our future (ie different energy sources, how and where we build our houses, making people healthier, more efficient work practices, inward migration, social cohesion etc) and their part in making it better than it might otherwise be.

We rural types have always been better than average at living within our means – husbanding scarce resources and managing the land so it is still fit to hand on to the next generation. We expect our politicians to demonstrate the same skill and understanding.

Keith Wheaton-Green


ecoBrigitBee2Buzz along to the Shaftesbury B(ee)nanza!

THERE’s a buzz in Shaftesbury these days, as the town council takes the first important steps towards “bee-friendly town” status. And to celebrate there will be a Bee and Butterfly Bonanza on Park Walk, on Saturday May 28, from 10am to 4pm.

The event, organised by the Bee Friendly Shaftesbury group and Dorset Wildlife Trust is the first of many planned to draw attention to the vital work of our pollinators – and the threats they face.

“Native wild bees and butterflies are declining in numbers and need our help,” says campaigner and Shaftesbury resident Brigit Strawbridge. “In Shaftesbury we are creating bee-friendly gardens and open spaces, as well as giving talks and providing information about the life cycles of these fascinating insects and how to meet their needs.

“Bees stand for Nature – by helping them, all wildlife will benefit and so will we.”

There will be stalls, talks, bee-loving plants, games, quizzes, seed-planting, guided bee walks, a bee map, yoga, local beekeepers, refreshments and activities for all ages.

Talks include: Brigit Strawbridge on Bumblebees, and Bee Decline, Briony Baxter of DWT on Wildlife Gardening and Robert Howard on Natural Beekeeping.

ecoBrigitBeeThe event is supported by Shaftesbury Abbey – whose beautiful herb garden will be open to visitors during the day for a suggested donation of £1.

“The highlight of the day,” says Brigit, “will be the Pollinator Parade at 2pm, led by local primary school children. We want to celebrate the colour and diversity of our beautiful pollinators, so whether you are a child or a grown up, do please come along dressed as your favourite pollinator (bee, butterfly, beetle, bat)  and bring a musical instrument if you have one. We’d like to create a big BUZZ!”

As well as planting nectar and pollen rich flowers – and creating/conserving habitat, Shaftesbury Town Council has taken an extra step to help protect pollinators. The council voted on  23rd February, to have a complete ban on the use of the herbicide Glyphosate on its land in sensitive areas for wildlife, where children play, where dogs are walked, and in important locations for tourists.

Shaftesbury is only the second town in the UK to ban Glyphosate. Glastonbury Town Council’s  voted to ban it in June 2015 following the World Health Organisation’s finding that it is a “probable” human carcinogen  as well as being harmful to honey bees and two species of earthworms. Glastonbury uses Foamstream, a hot-foam herbicide-free form of weed control, made by Weedingtech.

Bees and other pollinators are declining in number, species and range. According to the National Pollinator Strategy: “Of the 26 bumble bee species recorded in the UK 80 years ago, two are no longer present and another six are found in a much smaller area of the country.”

Butterflies are also in serious, long term and ongoing decline, says Butterfly Conservation: “The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2015 report [shows] 70 per cent of species declining in occurrence… and 57 per cent declining in abundance … since 1976”.

Pictured: Brigit Strawbridge; butterfly and bee on flowers, photo by Brigit Strawbridge.

 

 

ecoLewisAdventurer launches sustainability expedition
DORSET explorer Jason Lewis has announced his latest expedition, Micro Earths, in conjunction with publication of the final instalment of The Expedition trilogy, chronicling the first human-powered circumnavigation of the earth.

During his pioneering 13-year journey around the planet, Lewis survived a crocodile attack, blood poisoning, malaria, altitude sickness, two broken legs, and incarceration for suspected espionage.

However, his greatest challenge was adapting to the tiny boat he pedalled across the world’s oceans. At sea for months on end, he learnt how to conserve water, food, energy, and other essential resources to survive.

Having mastered living within this “closed system,” Lewis will now lead a series of expeditions to similar Micro Earths – small, isolated communities that not only survive but thrive within finite constraints.

The project mission is to unearth timeless examples of sustainability and share them online using a variety of distribution platforms and strategic partnerships. This universal knowledge, aimed at countries fulfilling their COP21 Paris Accord commitments to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, will centre around seven principles for a sustainable future.

“In the west, we’ve forgotten how to live sustainably,” said Lewis. “These self-reliant societies will teach us the life skills we need to ensure the Earth’s natural resources and humanity are here for many generations to come.”

The concluding volume of Lewis’ circumnavigation memoir, To the Brink, which provided the inspiration for Micro Earths, will be published simultaneously.

Tammie Stevens of BillyFish Books said, “When Jason Lewis turned down a six-figure advance to avoid a ghost written version of his amazing odyssey, it was our great privilege to bring his inspiring talent and unbelievable story to the world.”

Author Jason Lewis says: “The writing journey, like the physical one, has involved many years of my life, but it has brought into sharp focus where I am heading next.”

Jason Lewis is recognised by Guinness World Records as the first person to circumnavigate the earth using human power.  Notable past circumnavigation firsts include Ferdinand Magellan, who circumnavigated the world by sail in 1522, Wiley Post, the first to fly solo around the world in 1933, and Steve Fossett, who circled the world by hot air balloon in 2002.

 

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ecoDenialWhat state do you live in? Denial.*

We publish the first of an occasional series of articles commenting on current environmental issues, by Keith Wheaton-Green, a Dorset-based renewable energy expert.

SOMEONE in denial obviously can’t see the truth even when the evidence is all around them. I believe I have only been in denial once in my lifetime to date – when a loved one was dying but I refused to believe it even though everyone around me understood the truth. Obviously, denial has no impact on the inevitable. And so it is with climate change. It can be difficult to accept the truth when it affects cosy lives or  world views. Change, or the perception that things will change can be uncomfortable.

I saw this discomfort when – yet again – I attended a planning determination for a wind farm in Dorset, this time on the outskirts of Dorchester. The proposed six large (giant?) turbines would produce the annual equivalent of Dorchester’s electrical consumption. That British paranoia with wind was on show yet again. Fifty three of us speakers (for and against) were each given a firm maximum of three minutes. Everything and everyone was polite and professional. The surprise for me was the fact there appeared to be more speakers in support than against the turbines. I haven’t seen this before. Again and again, speakers were passionate and eloquent. People of all ages – even several living in sight of the turbines – expressed a desire to see beautiful turbines. Comments included “turbine installation is reversible, climate change is not, our selfishness is leaving a poisonous legacy to our children, this is the last turbine application in Dorset and our last opportunity to do the right thing, landscape impact of the turbines is dwarfed by the new residential developments of Poundbury and Charlton Down.”

I think the floods of the last three years, the fact that the 15 hottest years on record were during the last 16 years and the uncharacteristically warm, daffodil blooming December 2015 has led to the penny having dropped. Dorchester seems to have a surprising wealth of well-informed people.

However, the planning establishment are wedded to the concept of “landscape harm” and their professional opinion was that this outweighed the benefit of renewable energy generation. The case officer spent most of his presentation time explaining that harm, with only a passing mention of the scheme’s benefits. I would say he was in denial of the benefits and the degree of public support. He was not alone. One speaker erroneously stated that there had been no global warming since 2000 and that wind turbines saved no carbon emissions because of the back-up generation required. There were many other statements that were simply not true. Denial of reality to keep themselves in the cosy zone of their imagined reality.

Councillors had evidently already made up their minds and voted 6 to 3 to reject the application with little discussion. There is no prospect of an appeal to our wind turbine-hating government.

Our government is also evidently in denial. Despite David Cameron speaking with apparent passion in support of the firm targets to reduce carbon emissions in Paris, and his statement that Britain was “already leading the way in work to cut emissions,”  the current trajectory to reduce UK emissions is dire. Thanks to previous DECC ministers, Eds Milliband and Davey, we did indeed show leadership up until the election of our current government.

The introduction of the feed-in tariff in 2009 and the renewable heat incentive in 2011 led to impressive expansion in renewables. Wind now regularly supplies around 14 per cent of electrical demand (and is not as intermittent as you might think) and photovoltaics show up as a significant reduction of midday demand. However, the government cannot claim responsibility.

Here is a list of what they have done to halt our progress;

• Closed the Renewables Obligations 12 months early;
• Closed the Contracts for Difference (CfDs) to onshore wind (which aimed to support new investment in all forms of low-carbon generation and to offer price stabilization);
• Removed Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) pre-accreditation and implemented a wholesale review of FiT with expectation that it could be scrapped entirely;
• Changed  planning laws for renewable energy, making the rules significantly different from shale gas;
• Removed renewable electricity from the Climate Change Levy (CCL) exemption;
• Accepted that the whole of South West England has no grid access for renewable energy;
• Removed tax breaks for small community-led projects.

And no one can deny that.

* Bill Watterson, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes

 

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ecosolarschoolSolar PV system for Somerset school

THE Stanchester Academy, at Stoke-sub-Hamdon, is the latest school to9 benefit from free solar panels. South Somerset Community Energy (SSCES) and the school were delighted to hear that Ofgem has approved an application to fit a solar PV system to the school.

This follows the successful installation by the district’s community energy group of systems at Westfield Academy and Abbey Manor community centre in Yeovil.

The application was lodged on 30th September 2015, in a race against time before the deadline ran out for pre-accreditation of schemes by community energy groups.

SSCES, Stanchester Academy, and Solarsense, the installer, worked flat out over eight days to get the school’s agreement to participate, design a solar PV system, obtain a firm connection offer from Western Power Distribution, accept that in writing, and fill out a complex application. Ofgem has now agreed the application, which is valid for construction up to 29th September this year.

Jason Beardmore, principal of Stanchester Academy said: “We are happy to support an active voluntary group that already has a proven track record in fitting Westfield Academy in Yeovil, and we look forward to a reduction in our energy bills which we can use for the benefit of our pupils.”

John Clark, chairman of the not-for-profit SSCES and district councillor for Yeovil West said: “We look forward to a 20-year relationship beneficial to both parties. We will be able to claim the Feed-In Tariffs that were prevailing at the time of application: this will enable us to build up a community fund to relieve fuel poverty in South Somerset.”

The project is funded by a share offer offering 5 to 6% target annual interest and investors automatically become members of the society and manage it.

For more information about South Somerset Community Energy visit www.SSCom.Energy
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ecobedbugLyme’s young green team have Big Ideas

LYME Regis Youth Theatre scored a hit with their National Theatre Connections production of Bedbug The Musical – delighting audiences with a show which will go on to a regional performance at Bath Theatre Royal.

The young performers also won top prize in The Big Ideas competition, organised by Communities Living Sustainably (CLS) in Dorset. This was a project to encourage eco-friendly and sustainable projects by young people.

The youth theatre group, directed by Marine Theatre artistic director Clemmie Reynolds, set themselves the challenge of staging the musical, based on a 1929 satire  by Vladimir Mayakovsky, without buying anything. They wanted to make the production as eco-friendly as possible and achieved this by minimising the use of energy in the performance and reusing props and costumes they found in the theatre and under the stage.

The other finalists were Gillingham Youth Club, members who organised a Give And Take Day, to encourage people to reuse and recycle rather than throw things away or spend money unnecessarily.

The two projects were filmed by Lyme Regis based film-maker Justin Owen and the film was screened at the final CLS event at Bridport Arts Centre.

The award was presented by the evening’s guest speaker, Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Town movement and author of The Power of Just Doing Stuff and many other books.

 

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ecoCoffee

Waitrose deal for 918 Coffee Co and Eden Project range

GILLINGHAM-based 918 Coffee Co and Cornwall’s Eden Project have secured a deal with leading supermarket chain Waitrose that will see all  UK stores nationwide featuring 918’s Eco-Roast range of coffees from March 2016.

The environmental attraction and Justin and Chanel Cornelius of 918 Coffee Co have worked together to launch five Eco-Roast coffee blends – Central American, South American, Far Eastern, East African and Italian, inspired by Eden’s famous Rainforest and Mediterranean Biomes.

Credited with inventing the world’s first coffee-powered coffee bean roaster, 918 Coffee launched the new system on 18th September.  The pioneering technology reduces greenhouse gas emissions and creates a zero-waste, carbon-neutral roasting process resulting in a much reduced carbon footprint for the coffee.

All five blends that will be sold at Waitrose are either Rainforest Alliance (RFA) certified or Fair Trade certified. The 918 packs also have an informative taste profile of the main characteristics of each blend.

For Justin and Chanel the endorsement by the Eden Project and the Waitrose deal represent a great achievement after substantial investment and two and a half years hard work on the Eco- Roast project.

Tracey Smith, Eden Project commercial manager, says it is a natural fit to work with the innovative 918 Coffee business: “Eden is always searching for sustainable solutions and clever uses for waste streams. Our Rainforest Biome is the world’s largest greenhouse and in it we grow coffee as an exhibit.”

Chanel Cornelius says:  “Coffee is the world’s second largest commodity, second only to oil and is responsible for more than 1.8 million tonnes of carbon emissions produced in the UK alone. Our Eco Roast technology makes substantial reductions in the roasting, packaging and disposal parts of the process.  Whether you are an individual who enjoys delicious coffee, a coffee shop or a blue chip corporation, both you and the planet will benefit from using our trademarked Coffe-Eco System.”

 

 

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PVecoBauerLeaf Works at Exeter

A NEW exhibition by the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World features the work of the German-born artist Susanna Bauer, and is on show at the Innovation Centre at the University of Exeter until 26th May.

Leaf Works pays homage to nature as well as holding up a mirror to the viewer. Mainly constructed with dry leaves and cotton yarn, the pieces hold a fine balance of fragility and strength reflecting individual stories and connections.

Susanna Bauer uses what is small and fragile to express what is universal and enduring in our co-existence with each other and the natural world. She works with the everyday, inconspicuous details of our natural surroundings.

Fallen leaves are surrounded with a skilfully crocheted halo of cotton yarn, others are coaxed into finely constructed three-dimensional shapes while entire branches and leaves find a new life and expression.

PVecoBauer2Meanwhile another exhibition inspired by the CCANW project, Soil Culture – Young Shoots is at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery at Honiton until 9th April.

Without soil there would be no life. Healthy soils are not only essential for the production of our food, timber and fibres but are vital to our global eco-system. That is why CCANW commissioned 13 artists to explore it for the United Nations International Year of Soils 2015.

The artists’ residencies took place in the South West and London  An exhibition of the resulting work, bringing  to life the science behind soil, as well as celebrates its beauty, has been seen at Hauser & Wirth, Somerset and the Eden Project, Cornwall, before coming to Honiton.

Picture Susanna Bauer at work; and one of the works in the Leaf Works exhibition – Magnolia leaves, cotton yarn and wood.
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Working party to challenge Dinah’s Hollow plans

SHAFTESBURY town councillors have agreed to set up a joint working party with Melbury and Cann Parish Council to challenge the highways authority on its plans for Dinah’s Hollow. The town council agreed to set up the working party to draw up questions for Dorset County Council, including details of the authority’s interpretation of the risk assessment and a full account of the strategy for the A350 corridor, to show how proposed tree works can be justified.

North Dorset District Council’s development management committee has approved an application by the highway authority to fell and “coppice to the ground” more than 200 trees on either side of Dinah’s Hollow, despite strong pleas from Shaftesbury Tree Group and the parish council.

Shaftesbury town clerk Stephen Holley says: “There would need to be a very good reason to justify this draconian action, which would effectively destroy a centuries-old holloway, currently protected by a Woodland Preservation Order, and situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).”

Mr Holley says: “Shaftesbury Town Council does not believe that this work would contribute to a sustainable north-south route through this part of Dorset. We therefore urge DCC not to proceed with this plan until their strategy for the future has been established.

Shaftesbury Town Council’s planning and highways committee has asked DCC highways officers to come to Shaftesbury to talk about roads in this area, with particular emphasis on the A350/C13 corridor. We would like to add Dinah’s Hollow to the agenda.

“In the meantime, we need to ask why the £4 million ‘remodelling’ of this rural lane is so urgent. The reason given in the risk assessment report is that the steep banks of the cutting are at imminent risk of collapse. We quite understand that, after the Beaminster Tunnel disaster of a few years ago, DCC is acutely aware of its responsibility to avoid a second similar event, and we whole-heartedly support that stance.

“However, the road is either safe enough to carry traffic or it isn’t. If judged unsafe, we would support DCC in keeping it closed. If it is safe, then we believe that the present mitigation scheme can, and should, continue until an encompassing solution can be found.”

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ecofoodbridEducation and incentives – a recipe for a healthy diet

BETTER public education and incentives all along the food chain are absolutely vital to driving the cultural change required to achieve the vision of sustainable farming and eating for everyone.

This was the unanimous conclusion of the 100-plus delegates at the Square Meal Debate, a ground-breaking event, convened by Communities Living Sustainably (CLS) in Dorset at Kingston Maurward College.

The delegates represented the widest spectrum of people concerned about or involved in farming, good food for all, public health and wildlife conservation. The event was designed to push diet, public health and farming into the public eye locally and to call for better collaboration, leadership and political will.

Linda Hull, the CLS food co-ordinator, says: “In 2016 we need to secure commitments from key partners to build on the foundations laid by CLS for joined up thinking about food policy and public education in Dorset. Square Meal showed just how much interest, enthusiasm and need there is for collaborative working. The trick now will be to turn this energy into action.”

Anyone interested in joining the Square Meal in Dorset campaign can contact Linda by email  linda@nullda21.org.uk or ring 07834 561219

 

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ecoCCANWNew year, new home for CCANW

THE Centre for  Contemporary Art and the Natural World (CCANW) has moved to Dartington, near Totnes.

The arts and ecology organisation has accepted an invitation from Schumacher College to move its main office and library from the University of Exeter campus to Dartington from 1st January 2016.

CCANW will be joined by the resources of RANE (Research in Art, Nature and Environment) from Falmouth University. Adding to Schumacher’s new and existing learning initiatives, this will create a hub for Arts and Ecology of International significance.

From the spring, in the lead-up to Schumacher launching a new MA/MFA in Arts and Ecology in September 2017, CCANW will be helping to support a programme including residential short courses, lectures and talks, conferences and symposia and artist-led events. For more information, visit www.schumachercollege.ac.uk

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Ten Million sculptures shines on Golden Cap

A SCULPTURE entitled Ten Million, by artist Zac Greening, has been installed on the top of the National Trust’s Golden Cap, West Dorset, highlighting the issue of pollution around our coast.

Zac’s inspiration comes principally from nature, which he calls “the ultimate sculptress.” He works in a wide range of media from discarded plastic bottles to organic matter. Ten Million has been created in response to a recent study that found we pollute our oceans with roughly ten million metric tonnes of plastic each year.

The light cube has been created from more than 250 up-cycled plastic bottles and symbolises only one of these cubic metres. It will be in place until early January, and will be daily illuminated from late afternoon until around 9pm.

The installation is part of the National Trust’s 2015 Coastal Festival and also ties in with the Litter Free Coast and Sea campaign along the Dorset and East Devon coast which the National Trust supports and is involved in.

Helen Mann, the National Trust’s General Manager for West and North Dorset says: “Each year National Trust rangers and volunteers collect many tons of plastic bottles off our beaches. Hosting the Ten Million artwork here on Golden Cap is an innovative way to help highlight the issues of plastic pollution in our seas and around our coast.”

Golden Cap is the highest point on England’s south coast with breath-taking views from Lyme Regis to Portland Bill, and is part of the Jurassic Coast – England’s only natural World Heritage Site.

The nearest parking for access to view the installation is at Langdon Hill, just off the A35 between Chideock and Morcombelake.

 

 

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Designing your eco-home

A NEW book from Green Books by author and professor of architecture Christopher Day sets out the key principles of designing an eco-home, working with the place and situation of the home, and not relying on technology and high-tech materials.

There is an introduction by Prince Charles, who writes: “It seems to me that when we work with Nature, rather than in opposition to her, we can find inventive solutions that blend the best of ancient knowledge with modern needs.”

Christopher Day draws on his own extensive experience to explain the key principles of eco-home design, common-sense methods to create a pleasant, comfortable and healthy home, all illustrated with beautifully simple hand-drawn illustrations.

There are case studies, and advice and guidelines that make this a book that will be an important handbook for anyone designing or building their own eco-home as well as for professional builders, architects, surveyors and developers. If you are buying an existing house and want to make it more eco-friendly, this book also shows how to work out how easy it will be to remedy the problems of an existing building.

Compared to a conventional house, an eco-home will be more comfortable thermally, cheaper to keep warm or cool, healthier and more resilient to extreme weather and power disruptions. It also encourages people to think of whole-of-life care, and includes guidance on designing a home that is wheelchair friendly.

Christopher Day studied architecture and sculpture and has been committed to eco-architecture and an ecological lifestyle since the 1970s. He was Visiting Professor in Architecture at Queen’s University of Belfast and has received four design awards, including a Prince of Wales Award, for his work on eco-houses and Steiner schools.

The Eco-Home Design Guide is published by Green Books at the end of October.

 

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Fracking group formed in Warminster

CONCERN about possible fracking proposals in Wiltshire and Salisbury Plain led to a public meeting at Warminster Civic Centre called by the new Warminster anti-fracking community group.

More than 130 people came to the meeting, called to raise public awareness about the impact of fracking. They were shown a film, Voices from the Gas Field by Ian Crane, a former executive in the oil and gas industry .

*Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well.

Warminster Against Fracking has a Facebook page and for more information visit the website: frack-off.org.uk/local-group/kwiff-keep-wiltshire-frack-free/

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ecoNavitusMixed reaction to Navitus Bay Wind Park decision

THE West Country’s Green MEP Dr Molly Scott Cato has described the decision to refuse the Navitus Bay Wind Park off the Dorset coast as “another example of the government’s ideological obsession against renewable energy” – but the National Trust, local Conservative MPs and the leader of the group campaigning against Navitus Bay all welcome the planning refusal.

Lord Bourne, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change announced that development consent had been refused for the proposed £3.5 billion wind farm, with 121 turbines 10 miles off the Dorset coast.

Environmentalists including Dr Scott Catohave voiced their concerns about the rejection of what they saw as an important renewable energy development. Supporters have consistently stressed the benefits of renewable energy as well as the jobs that would be created constructing and maintaining the turbines.

Opponents , who are delighted and relieved at the decision, had claimed that the Navitus Bay scheme would “desecrate” the Jurassic Coast and harm tourism in the area. Research from Bournemouth Borough Council had suggested the wind farm could cost the area 5,000 jobs and £6.3bn in tourism revenue.

The scheme would have generated enough renewable electricity to power 700,000 homes and Molly Scott Cato rejects the idea that it would damage the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site. She says: “The rising sea levels and storm surges associated with climate change are a far greater threat to this wonderful coastline. Projects like Navitus help to reduce the carbon emissions responsible for changing the planet’s climate.”

She also rejects the idea that the project would threaten the area’s tourism industry, pointing out it would have secured many new jobs: “Surveys have concluded that the vast majority of businesses expect their business to increase or remain stable, while three quarters believed Navitus Bay would have little or no impact on their business prospects. Furthermore, research I commissioned earlier this year concluded that a renewable energy revolution in Dorset could create 15,000 quality jobs in the county; Navitus Bay would have provided a significant contribution to these new jobs.”

Ian Wilson, assistant director of operations for the National Trust in the South West, says the Trust believes it was the wrong proposal for this location: “We commissioned our own study and found the wind park would negatively impact on these important landscapes and seascapes of nearby coastlines. Our objection was because of the impact on the beautiful coastlines of East Dorset and the Isle of Wight, including well-loved sites such as the Needles on the Isle of Wight, and Old Harry Rocks on Purbeck.”

He said that despite its stance on the Navitus Bay development, the National Trust remains committed to renewable energy that works in the location it is built. “We believe strongly in the need to grow renewable energy generation and wean ourselves off fossil fuels, but it has to be in the right place at the right scale.

“The National Trust believes that offshore wind should make an important contribution to the country’s renewable energy targets, but it has to be in the right place at the right scale. The National Trust has set its own target to generate 50 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2020, including wind where appropriate.”

South Dorset Conservative MP Richard Drax says that the Navitus Bay project was “too big, too close and threatened the very existence of England’s only natural Unesco World Heritage Site.”

He recognises the need for renewable energy sources for the future and describes the importance of offshore wind generation, but says the Navitus Bay plan would have been “wilfully destructive,” close to the sensitive Dorset coastline.

Pictured is an artist’s impression of the wind farm from the beach (from the Navitus Bay website).

 

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All holloways lead to Shaftesbury

SHAFTESBURY describes itself as “an ancient Saxon hilltop town” but recent archaeological digs and research suggest it is far older. Sue Clifford, co-founder and former director of the environmental arts charity Common Ground, set out the importance of Shaftesbury’s setting and the number of ancient tracks and hollow ways (or hollows or holloways) that lead up to the town, when she addressed a meeting of Dorset County Council’s Cabinet.

The focus of the meeting was the fate of Dinah’s Hollow, on the C13 road south of Shaftesbury towards Blandford. It is has been closed for many months because of fears of a landslip and proposals to “improve” the situation involve widening the narrow lane, sculpting the steep banks back to “stabilised” slopes and removing the 1,700 trees.

Sue, who lives near Shaftesbury, joined the parish councillors and other local residents who presented a petition against the £4 million work (which they describe as “environmental vandalism”). She set out the case for preserving Dinah’s Hollow and the unique importance of Shaftesbury and its ancient routes. Here’s what she said:

Dinah’s Hollow is a sunken-lane turned high road – an intimate “green tunnel” – shady in summer, filigree in winter.

Already recognized under a Woodland Tree Preservation Order within the Cranborne Chase AONB, the trees of Dinah’s Hollow are many and mixed. From Scot’s Pine (with buzzard’s nest), oak, ash, beech to field maple. The presence of ground species such as Bluebell, Dog’s Mercury, and Moschatel suggest it is ancient woodland.

This is important, for much of its richness is unseen. Ancient soils are filled with mycorrhizal fungi with their myriad connections between the trees and plants. A self-maintaining equilibrium has been reached supporting bees, beetles, butterflies and their dependents from birds to bats to badgers. We are only now beginning to understand the ecological role of these remnant roadside reserves capable of re-energising contiguous land.

Clear felling will deprive birds, for example, of foraging, nesting, living space. Removal of these free, protective layers will mean speedy run off and rapid infiltration which brings saturation and slippage. It will ruin the landscape. Why destabilize a sustainable natural system?

Dinah’s Hollow is one of more than ten hollow ways rising through greensand. As DCCs own ecological survey states “ Shaftesbury… has more roads radiating from it than any other town in Dorset.” That the town should be approached from all directions by such well-worn tracks suggests it as a destination and though-route of importance and antiquity.

It is well known that in the ninth and later centuries the immediate association was with the powerful Abbey on the hill – as the name Melbury Abbas bears witness. BUT there is a deeper history.

Some of us believe Shaftesbury may be unique in England as a continuously-settled hilltop town. One string of evidence comes from a recent dig in Shaftesbury, revealing the remains of a Bronze Age timber circle possibly dating to 1880 BC. In other words people have been striving to climb up through the greensand for over 3,600 years. Eminent archaeologists Julian Richards and Dr Alex Langlands believe that these holloways are pre-historic.

Dinah’s Hollow is a work of nature and culture: the identity of Melbury Abbas is much dependent on this detail and patina – stories, histories and natural histories which overlay and intertwine, giving it a particularity all its own. AND it is part of the local distinctiveness of holloways that mark Shaftesbury out as unique.

You have been there – it is rich, ancient, beautiful (and currently serene). How will you, as custodians, justify the crude brutalization of this place, at great cost, to solve an unproven problem?

Note: The holloways, some less well defined than others, going anti clockwise, are: A350 north down Hartmoor Hill   through Kingsettle Wood, the road towards Motcombe, footpath called Dark Lane  up to Ivy Cross, Tout Hill, St John’s Hill, footpath out of Breach Common, towards Causeway Farm (A30), road towards Todber near Edwards Farm, road towards Manston B3091 between St James’ and St James’ Common , path on Shooters Hill, Great Lane, French Mill Lane north of Three Ways, Dinah’s Hollow, the drove/bridleway above the Zig Zag B3081 (there are 13 ancient tracks, including 10 roads, not counting Gold Hill, plus  footpaths/bridleways and east wending tracks towards the Donheads and Wincombe and Semley).

For a picture of the serene and closed Dinah’s Hollow, see the Out and About section of this website.
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Gardening – a prescription for improved health

MORE and more GPs and healthcare professionals are “prescribing” gardening to improve their patients’ health. The health and wellbeing benefits of gardening and growing food are increasingly being recognised and this is leading to a rise in the number of projects being commissioned by the NHS.

Similarly there is an increasing number of charities and healthcare organisations who want gardening and food growing to be seen as a key activity for public health, general health and social care. Many of these projects engage people at risk of ill health and in areas of high social deprivation, providing physical and mental health benefits as well as helping to reduce social isolation.

Professor Jeremy Levy, director of education and quality at Health Education North West London says: “Investing and supporting food growing and gardening as part of our health service is a cost-effective way to improve health as well as prevent ill health.”

This topic will be discussed by healthcare professionals at a conference, “Prescribing Gardening – making green care a natural part of the health service,” on Wednesday 27th May in London. The event at Phoenix High School Farm on the White City estate, will enable the conference delegates to see and taste for themselves the benefits of food growing for people who given a “green prescription.” The school farm is one of Hammersmith Community Garden Association’s therapeutic gardening projects.

The conference is part of the Growing Health project run by Sustain and Garden Organic. To book visit prescribinggardening.eventbrite.co.uk

 

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Feed your eyes on healthy soil

WHAT do the late Kenneth Williams, California’s great central valley and your eyesight have in common? It is not a trick question – and the answer lies in the soil.

One of the all-time greats of radio was Kenneth Horne, who led the comedy teams on Beyond Our Ken and the later and even more popular Round The Horne. And one of the best-loved characters on the show was Kenneth Williams’ countryman Arthur Fallowfield, who had a rich Dorset accent, and a catch-phrase: “The answer lies in the soil.” Fallowfield was based on the farming journalist and broadcaster Ralph Wightman, who was a regular contributor to Any Questions? Dropping his familiar camp voice, Williams/Fallowfield replied to every question with the deeply thought “well, I think, the answer … “

He was right of course. Buried in most great humour are seeds of truth and 60 or so years on, the catch-phrase is still often quoted and is truer than it ever was. If we don’t look after this planet’s soil, we won’t have land left to grow our food. And if that sounds apocalyptic, you should try driving down I-5, the interstate that runs from north to south of California, along the great central valley.

The fruit-basket of the USA, California’s vast fertile valley with its endless orchards of almonds and peaches, its vineyards and its vast garlic, artichoke, salad and vegetable fields, is slowly turning into a dust bowl.

And all the way along the interstate from Los Angeles north to Sacramento are the signs, some hand-written, some on big hoardings, with farmers and growers blaming the government for creating the dust bowl. “Farm water cut = higher food cost,” “No water = higher food cost : No jobs = higher food cost,” “Congress-created dust bowl,” and “Stop the Congress-created dust bowl.” All around are dying trees, barren fields with the soil blown away. If you have read Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, or seen the Oscar-winning 1940 film of this tragic story of the Oklahoma dust bowl and the fate of the Okies who trekked to the “Golden State” for a better life, you may have some idea of the grim reality of a parched and dying landscape.

What we saw, as interested visitors who care passionately about food and farming, were the results of climate change (lack of rainfall, lack of snow feeding the rivers), the failure of monoculture on a grand scale (this is Rachel Carson’s “silent spring” writ large – there are no birds on the wire or in the trees), the results of a water supply system which allows unfettered abstraction rights to the owners of the land above the watercourses and natural subterranean reservoirs, short-sighted federal government too susceptible to lobbyists for big business and a conservative farming community that has closed its mind to genuine alternative ways of working.

On a previous visit, to South Dakota, we met a farming family, one of whom is a bee-keeper on a big scale, and who takes his hives over to California for several months of the year to pollenate the orchards, particularly the almonds. This year, we saw his and other bee-keepers’ hives dotted around those orchards that still looked healthy, albeit on bare soil. The only birds we saw were on the few rare orchards or fields where organic farming is practised and where the soil has a level of protection from the depredations of rain-less wind and fierce sun.

Within the last month a report has flagged up warnings of the worst drought in 1,000 years in the American South West – comparable to the drought that killed off the native American tribes around the time of our Norman Conquest. There is a commission in California looking at this vast problem, but it is bogged down in the conflicting and irreconcilable demands and needs of the various parties and vested interests – farmers and fishermen, industry, the leisure and entertainment sector (theme parks, golf courses and the like), domestic use, etc.

The inexorable depletion of the soil – by monoculture and drought – is not only happening in California. It is just that it is on a larger and more dramatic scale in the state which feeds most of America. If the Californian fruit, nut and vegetable crops fail, the prices of food everywhere will rise steeply.

And it’s not just an economic crisis – it affects our lives and our health, including our eyesight. Eating a diet rich in many vitamins and minerals can help to reduce the risk of the incurable condition known as Macular Degeneration. A highly trained opthalmologist in Somerset told me recently that our diets increasingly lack these nutrients because they are no longer present in many fruits and vegetables grown in vast monocultures where the soil is exhausted by repeated applications of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

Our health is inextricably linked to the health of the planet. And the answer …

Fanny Charles

20th March 2015

For further reading: Graham Harvey, The Carbon Fields (published by GrassRoots 2009), Dr Vandana Shiva, The Violence of the Green Revolution (Zed Books).