Sunday, 21 July 2013

Lotties walk update

To update the previous post, Lotties walk storyboard is shown below and the story is here. These are real local habitats that are an easy walk from the school in the centre, and the wildlife has all been photographed at or very close to the locations by Des Ong.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Wildlife worries

I have got a huge stack of work to do that is covering my desk, but when my friend and teacher at the local primary school asked me if I wanted to go on ‘Lotties walk’ with the children, well, I couldn’t resist. It is such a uplifting activity to do something fun with....around fifty energetic 4 year olds ;)

‘Lotties walk’ is a story I wrote a couple of years ago based on a local walk with my dog Lottie. We live on the edge of town and there are some lovely green spaces and country walks, that I can take from home. This small area of farm and woodland is what remains of the local country estate, hemmed in by the M1 motorway, and the rapidly expanding towns and villages. The original grand house was left in such disrepair after being commandeered for the army in the war, that it was demolished and the rubble used to build the motorway. Some fantastic pieces of history still remain though, like the old gatehouse, an attractive tree-lined avenue to the folly and an obelisk.

As the surrounding areas have become more built up, the wildlife has been squeezed into a smaller area. I take walks around this area several times a week and I have seen all kinds of wildlife over the years including kingfishers, badgers, weasels, green and spotted woodpeckers, jays, herons, English partridges, bats, owls, kestrels, buzzards, dragonflies, butterflies and more. My other half is a wildlife photographer and has captured images of several of the local species, but mostly you just get a fleeting glimpse of them as you approach and you catch your breath in amazement.
The local primary school is so close that, when the teachers can make a space in a timetable full of targets (yes – even for 4 year olds!), they take the children out for adventures. This was my inspiration a couple of years ago. I was out walking my dog and we met the children along the path, so as a family project we put together a storyboard for the children with artwork and photos from hubby, pictures drawn by my children and the story based on our cheeky puppy, to make it fun. The story was told in class and the children got to draw their own maps and learn about some of the animals.

This year the teachers planned a picnic at the gatehouse, and invited Lottie to join them on the way. They read ‘Lotties walk’ before they set out, and the children were excited to meet Lottie. As you can imagine, it is an exhausting activity for the teachers and the parents that help, so we are very lucky that they are so devoted to giving the children such enjoyable experiences. Lottie behaved impeccably, despite 50 children all wanting to stroke her! The children remembered the animals in the story and saw butterflies, beetles and the foxes den.
A great ‘feel good’ day don’t you think? But all of the adults could only think of one thing - this is all going to change. Almost all the fields we walked past are to be developed. A new village is being built on the land with a planned 3,500 new homes for around 9,000 people, complete with a major road through the middle. It is just devastating. The small patches of woodland will remain in a sea of new houses, with their tiny handkerchief-sized gardens. How much of the ground area will be paved over? How little will remain for the wildlife?

There are even more issues than that, the approved incinerator close by, the increased flood risk, the increase in traffic and pollution, the strain on local resources to name just a few. But there will inevitably be a serious shrinking of habitats and wildlife.

This seems to be happening all over, and there must be numerous other local protests going on in other towns as I write this. I am concerned whether these houses are really necessary? Is this shortage of houses real? I haven’t noticed an increase in homeless people, and there seem to be plenty of houses for sale and others sitting empty. Maybe there are lots of people waiting for their own place on housing association lists, but with around a 30% target for affordable housing, which will be further from the town centre and facilities, who can afford the other 70%? It strikes me that it is a lack of affordable housing that is the problem, in other words over-inflated house prices.

The population of the Borough increased by 8% from 2001 to 2011, when the census showed there were 166,100 residents. If the population increases at the same 8% over the next 10 years the population will have increased by 13,288 people. There are roughly 2.5 people per household at present, so by my calculation 5,315 new homes would be required over 10 years. The number of new houses planned to be built for that period is 19,700. Why do we need nearly 4 times as many homes? These figures assume that young adults will be able to afford to leave home and buy their own place, but with high youth unemployment, lower wages and increased part-time workers is that realistic?

In addition the population estimates used are based on projections from fast out-of-date data (2011 data is only just starting to filter through, so already are 2 years behind). In the news today they mentioned that the birthrate in Europe appears to be linked to unemployment, so the higher unemployment is, the lower the birthrate drops. Last week’s article pointed out that we have a lot less elderly people than expected. In other words they didn’t live as long as predicted and life expectancy may no longer be increasing. In addition there has been an attempt to tighten up immigration, which is a major contributor to the increase in population for the UK. All these indicate that population growth estimates may well be over ambitious, and this isn’t surprising when they are linked to growth. To the government more workers leads to more industry, and more houses built, adding to the economy and growth. Maybe they have forgotten that it is a law of nature that nothing grows forever.

If these houses get built, will they end up like the ghost housing estates in Ireland, Spain, China and countless other countries around the World, where building work powered ahead to increase growth, regardless of whether the houses were really required?

Judge for yourselves whether I am just a Nimby (Not In My BackYard) or there are grounds to my concerns. I will admit that I am going to be sad for my family and the community if this development goes ahead. But more than that, it represents the continued and blind destruction of natural habitats going on everywhere. I think the recent RSPB advert says it best....

If you are local or not and want to add your support to stopping this development please look here for ways you can help. The deadline is the 22nd July.



Thursday, 4 July 2013

Reducing by re-using

Back in May I wrote some posts about reducing ‘stuff’, all the items that we purchase and accumulate in our lives that are often very energy and resource intensive. I kept a photo-log for a month of everything that we bought or were given and it really added up to quite a long list. So I am trying to cut back on the stuff that we accumulate, and particularly making sure that the things we spend money on are really necessary.

A brilliant way to reduce stuff is to re-use items that you already have or that other people no longer want and even turn them into something useful. The photo is of Stripes, a local hand-crafted teddy made from a sock. I wish I could say that I had made him, but we found him on a stall at the school fair, made by one of the creative mums. There are countless other examples, like the Morsbag group, who teach people how to turn leftover material into a useful and re-usable cloth shopping bag, using the old hand-cranked sewing machines. Let me know if there are any other good examples you know about?

Plastic packaging tubs from takeaways, ice cream, ready meals or drinks, were something I would always keep as they are useful for storing food or small toys, for packed lunches and as plant pots. Having read Jo’s post on All the Blue Day and the links, explaining more about the damage that plastic does to our health and the environment, I want to reduce the amount of plastic we use. I was gobsmacked to see how much of our food arrives and is stored in plastic. Removing plastic completely seems such a tough task.

Up to that point I loved my re-used, plastic storage tubs. They are lightweight and stackable, they look very smart in my cupboards and as they are clear you can see at a glance if you are running low on something. Alongside the plastic tubs I have some re-used small nutella jars, which have plastic lids. They aren’t quite so bad because the food is not in contact with the plastic, though the lid will still be off-gassing chemicals.

What I really didn’t want to do was to buy new stuff, made with lots of energy and resources, to replace my re-used plastic tubs. I mean it feels bad enough that I will be throwing perfectly useful plastic containers into the recycle bin (and do I really trust that it will all be recycled?). I raided my collection of jars saved for storing homemade produce, and found these small pasta sauce jars, which work well for storing small amounts of food and have a metal lid.

These empty passata jars are ok for fine-grained items like oatbran, that can be poured out. The almond flakes would be better in a wider mouthed jar though. 

I also bought a couple of Kilner jars to try. At £2 each it seemed a bit of a waste to just use them for storage rather than preserving, but they really look good and hold more.

This is how they look in place. As the jars were larger, there wasn’t as much space, so I had to take out 4 tubs of food and find another home for them. The smaller jars don’t seem as safe being stacked because they are heavier and the metal lids are slippery. At least this gave me a good idea of what I needed to look for as a replacement. So on Sunday morning I headed to the large local carboot sale to see what I could find. It is basically a large field where people park up with a boot full of unwanted stuff that they can sell. It is a good place to find a bargain as many people just want to get rid of their junk and will sell for a few pennies.
The first Sunday the weather wasn’t good, so there weren’t many people selling. This was the best I could find on the container front after searching through every stall. I spent a grand total of £1.50 . I wanted more small tins for tea caddies, but I will have to keep looking. You may be wondering what the white egg shaped thing is for....I am still wondering too. It just caught my eye and was an impulse buy at 20 pence!

I also spent a whole £2 on this Pullman blanket, which is very large and warm and will make an ideal additional camping blanket, to keep us warm when there is frost J

The following Sunday was warm and sunny and the field was completely packed with carbooters. I was selling too this time, but still got to have a scout around and was far more successful. I spent a grand total of £3 for this lot, with the enamel casserole tin being the expensive impulse buy for 80p. I just thought it looks really nice when Jamie Oliver serves food in enamelware. The bargain was the pretty jug for 10p. The cliptop jars are a lot thicker, bigger and heavier than the other jars I am using, so they don’t really fit with the rest. As they look so nice I will keep them out on a shelf with nuts or healthy snacks in. This kind of secondhand shopping really doesn’t work if you like everything to match though L

Next I went shopping in town and started by buying these lovely bottles in M&S. The shop opposite was selling the same Kilner bottles empty for £4.75 each, but with the drinks inside it was £5 for all three in M&S. It is new stuff that I am only buying for the bottles, but at least it will be re-used over and over again.

M&S also had some rather lovely jars for spices. They were very simple and lightweight, using a lot less glass than my Schwartz spice jars, plus they have a metal lid, rather than plastic. The wide opening means you can get a teaspoon in, and will make them easier to refill too. I will slowly get more of these. I also found some candles for only 59p each in a bargain shop, which are inside a small Mason jar. They smell lovely and the ‘emergency preparedness’ side of me can never get enough candles. It may take a while before I get to use the jars though. 

So I have made a start to exchange the plastic in my home for alternative materials. I will continue searching for tea caddies for my tea bags and I am planning to call in at the fish and chip shop to see if I can get some larger glass jars. I would also like to learn how to do wickerwork baskets, which may be an alternative to plastic storage tubs for shoes and toys. If you have any good storage ideas or have found an innovative way to re-use your packaging then I would love to hear about it.