Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Unto thine own self be true.

I've been thinking a lot recently about the myriad views people have about what's wrong with the world - and all the differing opinions we have about what our priorities 'should be' when it comes to awareness raising and/or engaging in direct action to effect change.

There are so many pressing issues that I cannot begin to list them all. They include (in no particular order) deforestation, climate change & peak oil, bee decline, loss of biodiversity, social and economic injustice, animal welfare, the banking system, the power of the multinationals, soil degradation, GMOs, pesticides, pollution…..the list goes on.

Having run around like a headless chicken for many years trying to help raise awareness of most of the above, I decided a few years ago to try and focus on the issues I personally feel most passionate about. This doesn't mean I don't care about the others, or that I think they are less important or pressing than those that I choose to focus on.... it just means I believe I can be more effective with my time and energy if I follow my own heart rather than someone else's heart. I also believe I can be more effective if I work in my own way, with my own skills.

We have all been gifted different skills, personalities, abilities and world views, so it stands to reason that we are going to have different ways of doing things. This is just wonderful because it means that, collectively, we can appeal to a much wider range of people. However it means also we will not always agree with each other!

Some of us are politically minded, some are not. Some put their trust in science; others in spiritual or 'alternative' practices.  Some are only just waking up to the fact that there are problems to be dealt with whilst others have been campaigning for decades. There are those who choose to 'be the change' by quietly living low impact lives and there are activists who are prepared to face injury and even death for what they believe needs to change. In fact, we probably have as many different ways of 'thinking' and 'behaving' as there are issues to be dealt with. To my mind this is a positive thing.

However, I have noticed recently that some groups, organisations and individuals spend a great deal of valuable time and energy trying to persuade others that 'their' way is the 'best' way, or the 'only' way. Or... that their 'issue' is the most important issue.

Surely this is counter productive? I don't think there is a 'best' way, or an 'only' way, or a 'most important' issue. There are many ways to effect change and many important things that need to change - and they are all equally important.


We are all just tiny little cogs in a huge giant wheel and it has NEVER been more important for us to work alongside each other..... to co-operate, to communicate, to support, to respect and honour our differences and to stop picking holes in each others belief systems. It's time for us to drop both individual and organisational ego. This is not a competition and there is absolutely no place for ego if we are to make headway.

So, whoever you are, and however you choose to 'Be The Change', remember that you are a wonderfully unique and amazing being…..so please, keep on doing what you do in your own special way!

Thank you for all that you do

B xxx

Monday, 12 December 2011

Balancing/nurturing Spirit and Soul

I contemplate a great deal the difference between 'spirit' and 'soul'. I used to think these two words meant exactly the same thing - but have more recently come to see them as two quite different, albeit interconnected, aspects of 'being'.

As this is a conclusion I have only fully come to realise, recognise and understand through the experience of living in my own skin, I thought the easiest way to explain it would be to personalise it. Although what I write here is very personal, I'm hoping it might just resonate with others who are in a similar place to me....

Being Human/Human Being

For most of my life I have been aware that as well as having multi faceted personalities, human beings are also composed of, and operate on, a number of different energetic levels.  It's easy to recognise and understand the physical, mental and emotional aspects of being human - and I known how important it is to keep these aspects as balanced as possible. However, I have often struggled to understand why my inner self (soul, spirit, essence?) seems to be pulling me in so many different directions. This has never been more apparent to me than during the last ten years or so - a time during which I have made a commitment to dedicate my time and energy to help raise awareness of the important environmental, ethical and ecological issues facing planet Earth and its inhabitants at this moment in time.

I imagined, rather naively, that once I had made this commitment, the way forward would be obvious. But it hasn't been. In fact quite the opposite; I have found myself absolutely torn between...

'getting out there to learn and share as much as I can, with as many people as possible, about how they/we can all be the change'

and...

'staying quietly at home, living the lowest impact life I possibly can, and 'being the change' all by myself'.

As there is no reason why these two ways shouldn't be mutually inclusive I have attempted to follow both paths at the same time. But this has not made for an easy life. It has at best caused some degree of inner conflict (not to mention confusion) and at times has resulted in me feeling I am in danger of losing my sense of direction. Which is not good!

So what have I got wrong - and what's it all got to do with spirit and soul???


Being a Busy Bee

Until recently I have spent most of my waking hours traveling from A to B, meeting people, doing talks (mostly about bees!), campaigning, writing articles and blog posts, sharing information on social networks and generally buzzing with energy and the extraordinary life force that comes with knowing you are following your chosen path. This is all fine on one level, because I absolutely LOVE doing what I do, but it's not really sustainable. It leaves me little time for friends and family, even less time for myself, and is, ironically, pulling me away from the very path I write and talk about. I know that if I don't find a way to bring some balance back to my life I'm in serious danger of losing touch with all that I hold sacred.

Off-Grid Sundays

A few years ago, in an attempt to find a way to recharge my batteries and stay in touch with that which nurtures and sustains me, I came up with the idea of going 'Off-grid' on Sundays. I've written a few blog posts about this so won't go into any detail about it in this post, but basically it means that from Saturday evenings till Monday mornings I try to 'switch off' - both literally and figuratively.

The idea is that after spending 24 hours or so without using electricity, gas, car, mobile, computer, car money etc - and having used this time to immerse myself in nature, I'm ready to start afresh all over again on Monday morning. And it works!


Wake-up calls

It is typical of human beings that we don't always notice ourselves losing our balance. Our bodies give us warning signs (sleepless nights, headaches, lowered immune systems etc) but we have become past masters at ignoring and overriding these signals.

For the last five years or so I have been promising myself a little break, but I never actually get around to taking one.  As I've already mentioned, I absolutely love what I do so it doesn't feel like work, as such - BUT - I am extremely aware that I'm treading a very thin line and that if something new, difficult or unexpected is added to the pot, I could easily fall over.

So, bearing all this in mind, and given the fact that this is a great time of year for reflection and inner spring cleaning, I recently took some time out from 'doing' and spent it instead just 'being.' I had no preconceived idea what I would do with this time out and, as it happened, I spent most of it sleeping. But, with rest comes clarity and, for me, this clarification came in the form of an awareness of the difference between spirit and soul....


SPIRIT

My spirit is full of passion, joy, anger, rhythm, life, wonder... It is the spirit of an activist, a communicator, an explorer, an adventurer and a pioneer. It wants to be free, to be wild... to walk the hills, to dance on the moon, to swim amongst the stars, to play, to sing, to love, to laugh... and to stand, arms outstretched, on the highest mountain top in the world and ROOOAAAAAR for the Earth!

For reasons unknown to me, my spirit has lain dormant for most of my life... hiding in the shadows whilst life's ups and downs have formed my human self into what I am today. Since it has made itself known though, it will not be repressed and fills me with boundless energy so that I, in my human form, may fulfil its aims.

I can hear my spirit speak as I write this blog post. It says.....

 "Tell how I shine! Explain how I hold the key - AM the key - to the most amazing, vast, untapped source of energy in the universe and how - if you allow me - I will shine my light so brightly that the darkness will be no more!"


SOUL


My soul is quieter than my spirit....much, much quieter. It yearns for peace, solitude, a sense of place and a deeper connection with the earth. It is my anchor; utterly steadfast and constant as it nurtures and sustains me whilst it, in turn, seeks to be nurtured and sustained by nature and by source. In line with what I recognise to be the most basic needs of my soul, I have been drawn to spend more and more time outside in nature. When I am at one with nature I quickly become lost in time, invisible to the world and completely absorbed in the moment. It feels like I have come 'home'.

Sensing, at last, that I have 'Come Home' is the most amazing feeling for me. Having spent my entire life moving from home to home, never living in the same place for longer than four years, and mostly for less than two -  I have never before had such a sense of 'place'. The problem recently though, has been that it feels so wonderful to have this newfound sense of place that I find it increasingly difficult to come back to the world of campaigning....


Honouring both

So, you see, I have been torn between my soul's deep, primal craving to just 'be' and my spirit's burning, driven desire to 'do'.  At times it has sometimes felt like I'm two different people living in the same body, but now that I understand - I have regained my inner peace once more and know exactly what I must do.

It's simple.... I must nurture my soul because it is the core of my very being - and - I must nurture my spirit because it is the essence of who I am.  Most importantly I must make enough time to honour the needs of both in equal measures.

So, as the new year gallops towards us with all its magnificent unknowns, I know that by honouring and fulfilling the needs of both 'spirit' and 'soul' - in equal measures - I will reinforce my inner strength and be ready to take on whatever the universe has in mind for me!

I hope, whoever you are, that you also find your own peace and strength to sustain you through these incredibly challenging times - and that our souls/spirits/beings/selves all meet as one to rise to those challenges.

I just want to add that what I have written here is personal to me and my own world view. I know that many people believe there is no such thing as 'soul' or 'spirit' and I fully respect their/your views

With much love,
Brigit xxx


Update. Dec 2014, 3 years after I wrote this blog post:  Until earlier this year the Off-Grid Sunday routine worked beautifully for me on every level, but I needed a bit of a 're-think' for a number of practical reasons.

1.  I am increasingly getting bookings to deliver workshops on Sundays.

2.  I am fortunate enough to be in a wonderful, loving new relationship and am no longer living on my own. I don't feel it is right to ask someone else to live by my precepts when they have family who they need to see and communicate with on Sundays.

3. My father died earlier this year and I am now responsible for caring for my mother who is elderly and disabled. I don't live in the same house as my mother, so wouldn't want to switch my phone off in case she needed me.

However….. as Sundays are no longer completely my own, I find time during the week to switch off and connect with the wild world instead. I am also increasingly taking whole chunks of time out to refresh and revitalise. I still struggle to get the balance right. I guess that's because I'm human :)





Thursday, 8 December 2011

YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE....

Nearly thirty years ago, whilst driving home from visiting friends in Oxfordshire, I noticed a huge articulated lorry parked at the side of the road alongside a dozen or so long, flat, sinister looking buildings, at the edge of what looked like a 'farm'. It was a very hot day so my windows were open and I remember being quite overwhelmed by a smell unlike anything I had noticed before in the open countryside.  My curiosity was further raised when I became aware that the lorry was packed high with slatted boxes containing something making a lot of noise.

The lorry engine was running but as there was no sign of the driver, I pulled up and got out of the car to have a look. I was absolutely shocked when I realised that the boxes contained thousands of creatures that I knew to be chickens, but which didn't look like any 'chickens' I'd ever seen before.

The image that remains ingrained in my memory is one of thousands of poor, sorry looking hens looking like they had already been plucked ready for someone to cook. Their combs were as pale as their white, featherless skins and many of them were covered in growths and open sores.

Whilst I was still standing looking at them the lorry driver came out of the 'farm' so I asked him what was wrong with the chickens (I assumed they must have some kind of disease to be looking the way they did). "Nowt wrong with them" he replied. "other than the fact that they're past their best. They're off to be slaughtered now."

Still in shock, and unable to get my head around what I was seeing and hearing, I asked a few more questions to try and get a grasp of the situation. I soon came to understand that these chickens were what we refer to as 'ex-battery hens' and that having spent a year living in cramped, dark conditions, laying eggs for the Great British Public, they had now been written off as 'unviable' and packed into these crates to be picked up and taken away to be slaughtered.

I had a cardboard box in the boot of my car so I asked the lorry driver if I could take some of the hens home with me. He agreed that, so long as I didn't tell anyone where I'd got them from, I could take three.


This was my first experience of rescuing ex-battery hens...but it certainly wasn't my last. The pleasure our family had from watching Felicity, Flora and Freda (these were the names we gave our first three girls) blossom into fully feathered hens - each with her own personality - was immeasurable. They soon learned how to flap their wings, scratch in the grass for food and dig dust baths to cleanse themselves...and they came running to the back door every time it was opened o the off chance that there might be some left over cake, bread, or, best of all, spaghetti! The thing that always grips me most about ex-battery hens though, is that after having suffered so horribly at the hands of other human beings, they are still completely and utterly trusting of whoever rescues them. Extraordinary creatures!

I've lost count now of how many ex-batts our family rescued over the years....and therein lies a big problem. In thirty years you'd have thought things might have changed - it's not as though there haven't been countless awareness raising campaigns - but sadly, the miserable conditions that these and other factory farmed animals are reared in have barely improved at all. Shame on us.

I am in awe of the fact that my reason for writing this blog, nearly thirty years after having rescued those first three ex-battery hens, is that millions of hens in the EU still live in cages.

We are told that conditions are improving....and that new legislation that came into effect on 1st January 2012 should ensure better welfare in the EU for battery hens. However, the issue is far more complex than it first appears...

Ignoring the fact that these 'improved' conditions are nowhere NEAR adequate for the basic needs of a living creature...there is also a danger that the costs of implementing the changes will be so huge that farmers in the EU who have made the switch to 'enriched' cages are now likely to have their eggs out-priced by eggs from countries outside the EU where the conditions hens are kept in are, heaven forbid, even worse. Bizzarely, there is going to be very little in the way of 'enforcement' from the powers-that-be to stop this from happening (link to government document explaining why they can't enforce this below)

So what can we do to help?

Well, first of all, and most urgently, you could rescue some ex-battery hens.  If you think you can re-home a few hens PLEASE contact the 'BRITISH HEN WELFARE TRUST' - link below

The other thing you can do is to buy eggs only if you are absolutely sure that they have come from organic free-range flocks. This will cost you more, but it is the right thing to do and is the only way we can send a clear message out to supermarkets, producers and governments that we will not tolerate current animal welfare standards.

If you have no space to house hens, perhaps you could make a donation to the 'Battery Hen Welfare Trust' or 'Compassion in World Farming'.....

And buy Jo Barlow's wonderful book  'A Beginners Guide to Caring for Ex-Batts'

One last thing. I know times are tough and that most of us are feeling the pinch, but if you are still able to afford the odd bottle of wine, or beer, with your meal - then you are able to afford to spend a few more pennies buying meat, eggs and dairy from a source where higher welfare standards have been met.

IF YOU KNOW ANYONE WHO COULD GIVE SOME EX BATTERY HENS A HOME PLEASE CONTACT THE  BRITISH HEN WELFARE TRUST  FOR FURTHER INFORMATION......

British Hen Welfare Trust - http://www.bhwt.org.uk/cms/



Many thanks for reading, and even more thanks for acting.

Bee xxx


What our government are doing to stop the import of eggs from dubious origins outside the EU (not much) - http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-vote-office/8-DEFRA-EU-ban-on-keeping-of-hens-in-conventional-cages.pdf

British Hen Welfare Trust - http://www.bhwt.org.uk/cms/

The Life of a Battery Hen - http://www.viddler.com/explore/euthanasiabrigade/videos/2/

My friend Jo Barlow's lovely blog abut Life With Ex-battery hens - http://lifewiththeexbatts.wordpress.com/

Compassion in World Farming charity - http://www.ciwf.org.uk/

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Reconnecting.....

The world is in a big mess, but whilst we run around like headless chickens trying to 'fix' it, we very rarely take the time to look at the root of the problem which is, I believe, 'disconnection'.  We have become SO disconnected from ourselves, from each other and from the natural world - that we don't even recognise the damage we're doing.....let alone take responsibility for it!

We seem to have become conditioned, on a global scale, to search for 'quick fixes' - but quick fixes never work in the long term. They don't work in personal relationships so how can they possibly be expected to work on issues as massive and on-going as declining biodiversity, climate change, deforestation, food security, pollution, waste.....the list goes on.  It's really no use papering over the cracks if we don't simultaneously address the root of the problem - i.e disconnection.

Addressing this disconnection is not something that someone else can do for us. It needs to start within - and then spiral out (nature loves spirals!) till it encompasses and envelops all of our relationships; our relationships with ourselves, with each other and with the natural world. There are no barriers to this process other than the ones you put up yourself by saying 'I can't'. You can!!! It really is SO simple; all you need to do is think in terms of changing your habits. The only thing that limits us is our habits.

TODAY IS THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Make it count! Perhaps you could make a list of all the resources you use each day and decide to spend just one day a week cutting some of them out. Then, use the time that you gain from (for instance) not using the computer, to go for a walk.  Take some long, slow, deep breaths; embrace the elements; listen to the sounds around you and know that you are a part of all that you see, hear and feel....not apart from it. Stop and look closely at what's around you...maybe squat down and count the amount of different grasses and flowers you can see from where you are. Do you recognise them? Can you name any of them? Do you know if they are edible or have medicinal properties? Plants are amazing and have a way of sucking you into their world so that time stands still and before you know it you have reconnected - albeit just for a few moments - with nature.

I've had people call me puritanical, fanatical & dickensian because I try to spend one day a week (usually Sunday) without electricity, gas, oil, computer, mobile phone, car & money - but what I have re-gained from switching off on these cannot be measured.

As an 'army child', my family were constantly on the move. This had its downsides, but one of the upsides is that my brothers and I constantly had new environments and habitats to explore. My childhood was full of mini 'adventures' - I made friends with the trees and flowers that inhabited these spaces as well as the birds and insects and I never once thought of myself as separate from them in any way.

At some stage during my early adult life I lost this connection - and for a few years (those in which I spent more time indoors than out) I struggled with myriad health problems. It wasn't a good time.

Choosing to spend at least one day a week in the slow lane helped me begin the reconnection process and I will never again know what it is to be 'alone'.  Whilst I am immersed in nature I loose all track of time and nothing matters other than the moment.

I have learned to recognise different sights and sounds; to know which bees or birds I might spot in which environments; and to tread more lightly so that I don't disturb the inhabitants of the hills, woodlands and river banks where I walk. I still make mistakes, but I'm learning from them. Just last week I was trying to video an amazingly active bumblebee nest on the banks of the river Severn, but in my excitement I sat too close to the nest and realised afterwards that I had disturbed the bees' landmarks and interfered with their flight path. I'll be more respectful next time.

Reconnection takes time - it isn't something you can hurry but it is imperative that we begin the process ASAP both individually and collectively. It doesn't matter where you start; getting to know yourself, the people around you and the environment you live in are all interconnected - so one will lead automatically to another. You may fancy plunging in at the deep end by going out and sleeping in a bivi bag under the stars....or you may decide to go and sit on a bench in the local park for half an hour. It doesn't matter how you/we do it....what matters is that we recognise that we are all a part of this amazing planet that nurtures and sustains us and that we start treating ourselves, each other and all other life with love and respect.

I hope this makes sense; it's difficult trying to express something so huge in a blog.

Wishing you a beautiful sunshine filled day...whoever you are and whatever you do! xxx

P.S…..

Make a Nature Mandala; I did! - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXsr-Gu15Sk
Listen to Lolo Williams. He tells it as it is - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnJQjtvngqA





Thursday, 22 September 2011

WOODLAND ADVENTURE (part 1)

I've just returned home from an amazing outdoor adventure with two very special friends. My clothes and hair smell of woodsmoke and citronella, but I'm in absolutely no rush to wash it out because whilst it lingers I can make believe I'm still camping under a starlit sky, in a small woodland, in the wilds of Kent.

Although I was only away for a couple of days, and we didn't really 'go' anywhere or 'do' anything as such, the time we spent together was so full of exciting sights and magical happenings that I could probably write a whole book about all the wonderful things we saw, heard and experienced over the course of just one single weekend.

Actually, I am in the process of writing a book. It's all about my 'journey back to nature' and is an attempt to share some of what I'm learning as I spend more and more time rediscovering my relationship with the natural world. My blog is a little taster of how it will read so I hope very much that its readable/informative....otherwise I'm back to the drawing board!

"A friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and one of the best things you can be" - Douglas Pagels

When your friends live in different areas of the country and you're all busy with your own individual lives it can be quite difficult to arrange 'get togethers'.  Carol,  Anne-Christine and myself have been trying to arrange a get together for well over a year, so when Carol suggested we meet in mid-September to spend a weekend in a woodland, away from the hustle bustle of everyday life, Anne-Christine and I both jumped at the chance. We packed plenty of warm clothes, blankets, waterproofs, cake and, of course, my kelly kettle - and off we headed.

After negotiating the M50, M5, M4, M25 and M20 (so many motorways!) we finally reached the part of the journey that included directions like "pass the pub on your left" "take the right hand fork after the postbox" and "follow the track past the little pond till you reach the white gate."

It's amazing, at this stage, how all your thoughts and senses change from being in the heightened and stressful state of "I must stay alert and concentrate on the traffic otherwise I'll have an accident" to the more relaxed and enjoyable state of "Wow, this countryside is just amazing!"  "I never realised before that Kent was this beautiful" and "Goodness me, I don't think I've ever seen so many Sweet Chestnut trees in one place...."


Kent is, indeed, a very beautiful county and once we left the major trunk roads we were able to slow down and take in our surroundings. The closer we came to our destination, the narrower the roads became and the more we were able to notice and admire the local flora and fauna. When you're on a motorway you are barely able to take in the cloud formations, let alone the surrounding landscape, but when you're travelling at less than 20mph along a country lane, you start to notice and recognise the different trees, flowers and grasses growing in the hedgerows; have time to admire the kestrel hovering above the side of the road (always facing into the wind); exchange a friendly nod with the rider exercising her horse and even manage to identify the odd bumblebee or two.  It's like being on a different planet.

Shoes off 

When we finally arrived at our destination the very first thing I did was throw my shoes off so I could walk barefoot on the grass. There's something basic and primeval about walking barefoot - and something very odd about the fact that we spend so much time with our shoes on even when we don't need them for protection. The feeling of your skin touching the surface of the earth is one of the most amazing and instant ways to reconnect with the land - and it's something I don't do often enough.

After we'd hugged and greeted each other - and the land - we spent a little time exploring our immediate surroundings. Carol, who is a seasoned bushcrafter and leader of wild food forays, had already set up camp at the edge of the field near a small woodland that is often used for bushcraft meets. The setting was just perfect.

In the woodland, behind the tent, there was a clearing amongst the trees where the bushcraft folk had built a fire pit and a number of different outdoor cooking structures. There was also a covered area in case it rained, and firewood aplenty provided by the previous night's high winds.

From the entrance to our tent we looked down towards a field full of recently cut hay bales, a couple of old farm buildings and a small apple orchard. The view to our left was almost 'otherworldly' as it meandered up a gentle slope to the brow of a hill where someone had pitched a couple of tipis on the horizon. I love tipis!



On the opposite side of the field was a well established hedgerow, and Carol, who had already tuned in to the local sights, sounds and smells, called our attention to the call of a great spotted woodpecker as it broke cover and bounced from one part of the hedge to another. It felt like we were being welcomed with open arms and we knew, as you often do when you give yourself up completely to the natural flow of all things wild and wonderful, that we were being accepted unconditionally into the magical realm of nature. Nature has a constancy often lacking in the world of humans. She is always there for us; nurturing, sustaining and blessing us with as many of her bounties and secrets as we care to receive.

Trees, trees, trees

After gathering sufficient wood to keep us going till the next day, we headed off on a walk to see what we could find for supper. It was mid September, a time of great abundance, so we were hoping to find an assortment of edible fungi, some edible leaves and maybe some hazel nuts if the squirrels hadn't eaten them all.  Carol had already spotted a damson tree so laden with fruit that one of it's branches had broken, so pudding was going to be easy picking; and the hedgerows were dripping with haws, blackberries and rosehips to help balance the sourness of the damsons with a little sweetness.

As we walked along the footpath at the edge of the field I couldn't help noticing how many oak trees there were in the hedgerows. It was also interesting to notice that even where the hedges had been taken out in some of the fields to make way for heavy farming machinery, many of the mature oaks had been left standing....and they were all absolutely laden with acorns.

There are quite a few different species of oak growing in the English countryside, including Turkey Oak, Holm Oak and Red Oak, but our two native oak species are 'Sessile' and 'Pendunculate'. The easiest way to tell these two oaks apart is by looking at how the acorns and leaves are attached to the branches. On the Pendunculate  (think 'pendulous') the acorns hang from long stalks and the leaves have short stems, whilst on the Sessile the acorns grow on very short stalks and the leaves on longer ones.

Acorns are rich in nutrients and an extremely useful source of protein and can be used to make an acorn meal for baking or (as was common during the second world war) a coffee substitute. However, as they contain large amounts of tannin that needs to be removed by lengthy soaking, they wouldn't be suitable for supper that day.

The oaks we saw may well have been laden with acorns, but we were very concerned to see signs of a disease that has recently begun to threaten both of our native British oaks. Acute Oak Decline (AOD) is a bacterial infection whose symptoms include 'extensive stem bleeding' which takes the form of a dark fluid seeping from small cracks in the bark and running down the tree trunk. AOD can kill an infected tree in just a few years.  It would be an absolute tragedy if we were to loose our mature oaks to this disease - so I hope very much that its causes are discovered soon and that whatever funding is necessary to understand the cause(s) and to combat this disease is forthcoming.

On a more positive note on the 'tree front', there are huge quantities of healthy looking Sweet Chestnuts growing everywhere in the Kent landscape. From a foraging point of view it was too early for us to harvest the chestnuts, but it looked like there'd be a bumper crop later this autumn. Carol explained that one of features of traditional houses in Kent is 'timber cladding'. As sweet chestnut provides a perfect timber for weatherboarding (as well as being one of the best timbers for fencing) I imaging that would explain the prolific planting of this species of tree in Kent. Great pickings for wild food foragers later this autumn!

When you meet with friends you haven't seen for a long time it's inevitable that you will become distracted from what you're supposed to be doing. In our case, our 'foraging for supper walk' had turned into a wonderful exchange of information about all things tree related. With Carol's knowledge of wild food, Anne-Christine's knowledge of wild medicine (she is training as a medical herbalist) and my own interest in ecology and the Celtic Tree Ogham, we soon realised that we had been walking for well over an hour and hadn't gathered a single leaf, fruit or nut for our supper. Time to refocus!

To be continued.............

Links

Harvesting wild acorns - http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles2/clay79.html
The Celtic Tree Ogham - http://www.glenniekindred.co.uk/books/treeogham.htm
Acute Oak Decline - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10089581 
Oak - http://www.treesforlife.org.uk/forest/species/oak.html 

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

EXTINCT IS FOREVER

I've just been reading Mark Avery's blog http://networkedblogs.com/mjtX3 titled 'Gone and forgotten' in which he comments on the recent headline 'Farmland birds in Europe fall to lowest levels'. He says "We should be raging that things have got so bad" - and so we should - we should be ROAAAAARING!

But why has the news about farmland birds falling to their lowest levels not been splashed all over our national newspapers? Why is the steep and alarming decline of our once rich and diverse wildlife not being reported in ernest by every single journalist and reporter, in every single newspaper, and on every single radio program and TV channel? Is it, as Mark suggests, because it's not really 'news'? Have we perhaps become so human centric and disconnected, that the extinction of the odd thousand or so species of flora and fauna doesn't register with us other than as a passing thought of "Oh, that's a shame.....I'll miss seeing that plant/flower/bird/insect around......it was rather beautiful and I used to enjoy watching it/listening to it sing when I was little.  Ah well.....life goes on I suppose......"

Yes, life goes on, but it becomes more fragile and more uncertain year by year, day by day, and hour by hour. The amazing, beautiful creatures and plants that we share this planet with are inextricably linked to our own survival. Everything on this planet is joined together, in mutually beneficial ways, in one giant interconnected web. We ignore the demise of other beings - whether they be plants, birds, mammals, invertebrates, fungi or micro-organisms in the soil - at our peril.

Silent Spring

It seems we have learned very little from the warnings given to us by Rachel Carson over forty years ago when she wrote her book 'Silent Spring'. Biodiversity loss is, as she forecast, now spiralling out of control; but still the human race manages to block out the implications of the destruction we wreak upon the planet and its other inhabitants.

It's not as though the damage is intangible; it is clear for all to see. However, although we bestow rights galore upon other human beings to help protect the weak and vulnerable - and have laws and legislation up the yin yang to protect ancient monuments and historic buildings, it amazes me that one has ever though to 'list' the planet or it's non-human inhabitants. The roof on a four hundred year farmhouse in Cornwall enjoys more protection (and has more people working on its behalf to save it from - heaven forbid - being repaired with recycled materials) than most of our endangered wildlife has from their habitat being bulldozed over to make way for more trunk roads and urban sprawl!

I know, I'm having a bit of a rant but seriously....the way we behave beggars belief. If we carry on destroying and degrading what little healthy habitat there is left, we will loose not only our farmland birds, but along with them our pollinators, soil fertility, trees and fresh water. If this happens we'll all die anyway. What use will our human-centric laws and legislation be to us then?

We are, quite rightly, shocked when acts of human genocide are reported in the news, but the damage we are wreaking on non-human life on earth is also a crime. It is, in fact, nothing short of 'ecocide'.

Biodiversity 'Price tags'

A small minority of creatures have made bigger headlines than others. These tend to be creatures to which we can attach a 'price tag' in terms of how important they are to our economy.  Thankfully, for bees and other pollinators, someone has come up with a figure that says they're worth £££billion to the economy, so urgent steps are being taken to investigate their decline. Tens of millions of pounds are being paid to scientific establishments to conduct research to try and discover what's causing the decline in the bee population. The irony however, is that these £££millions could have been spent on creating desperately needed habitat. Given the fact that habitat loss (along with pesticide use) is without doubt the main reasons for declining bee numbers, this would have made far more sense.

The Cause

This is not rocket science; the answer to the problem is staring us in the face. It's us. The human race. We are responsible for the decline in pollinators and for most other species loss and the sooner we accept this responsibility on both an individual and collective level, the better.

We all love blaming someone else for the problems. It's always the fault of the government, intensive farming practices, supermarkets, multinationals, local councils etc..... but at the end of the day it is our choices that can and will make the difference. We are 'the consumer' and 'the consumer' is all powerful!

I know there is no, one, single solution - but if people took a little time out (no excuses about 'not having the time'.....this is really important!) and increased their awareness about what goes on in the food industry I believe they might be shocked into action. Knowledge is enormously empowering....and once you know what is happening out there, not only to our wildlife but also to our small farmers and producers, you would insist on clearer labelling, demand to know more about the provenance of the food you buy and refuse to be a part of the ongoing problem.

Where do we start?

There are many ways to make a difference and they don't have to cost us more.  If we stopped buying processed food, cooked more with fresh ingredients, switched to organic, grew our own fruit & veg (or a few herbs on the window sill) and/or set up food co-operatives to ordered bulk staples from whole food suppliers we would make an enormous difference. All it takes is shifting a little from an "I can't" attitude to an "I can"

There is loads information out there on the internet (I'll pop a few links at the end of this blog) but one of the best places to start getting a grasp of the problems with our food industry is by reading a wonderful book called 'Not on the Label' by Felicity Lawrence. It's a real eye opener.

So, come on world....instead of being responsible for Earth's sixth mass extinction, let's turn things around. There is a bright shining light at the end of the tunnel; we just need to get our act together....get informed....and rediscover our power.

Some useful links


Food Inc film - http://www.sbs.com.au/films/movie/4897/Food-Inc.
Dirt! The Movie - http://dotsub.com/view/964efb4b-c3d2-4901-bb22-5e8dcf9d1e63 
The Soil Associationhttp://www.soilassociation.org/ 
'Eradicating Ecocide' - http://www.thisisecocide.com/  


Monday, 8 August 2011

ROADSIDE VERGES - WILDLIFE HAVENS OR DESERTS?

I wrote a few months ago about how frustrated I get whenever I see beautiful, wildlife rich habitats being strimmed indiscriminately by local councils  http://bit.ly/pBP1nU  and I've been doing a little research since then to see what I can find out about strimming & mowing policies for roadside verges, parks, open spaces etc.

I fully understand that certain roadside verges on major trunk roads need to be kept short(ish) for traffic safety reasons. Elsewhere however, and especially in areas where the reasons for cutting them are purely 'aesthetic' (often because members of the public have complained about an area looking 'untidy'),  I feel I must speak out against what I believe results in a short sighted and unnecessary loss of biodiversity.  

However, there's absolutely no point in me banging on about "how awful it is that our beautiful native wildflowers are being chopped down before they've had a chance to set seed" - or stamping my feet in frustration about "the knock on effect that this is having on our already endangered pollinators" - if I'm just ranting in an internet blog rather than speaking to the people who can actually effect change (i.e. the policy makers) and making an effort to understand where they're coming from.

But who exactly are the policy makers???

When I first started looking into this I naively thought there might be a single person or department responsible for all the verges and open spaces in any one county. I hoped there might be a 'policy' somewhere which, in light of all the evidence pointing to loss of habitat being a major factor in the decline in bee numbers, could be rewritten.  This, of course, is not the case. In fact the issue is far more complicated than I ever imagined.

'Who' is responsible for 'what'?


After a little digging and delving on the internet and a few fruitless telephone calls to various council 'hubs' - "Sorry madam, we can't give out the work numbers of council employees because members of the public might try to contact them"!!! - I finally managed to speak with a lovely 'Biodiversity Action Plan Manager' who helped me understand a little more about the way the system works. So, I feel I'm a little closer now to understanding 'who' is responsible for 'what' when it comes to the UKs verges - and other open spaces.  Please don't take my word on what I have written below though, because it all seems to vary so much from county to county and what I've learned is only based upon a very limited amount of research.

I'll start with the major motorway and trunk roads because they seem fairly straight forward. These are the responsibility The Highways Agency whose maintenance policies are set out here - http://bit.ly/q1coI8   . The 'management' of these roads is sometimes contracted out to the County Councils whose counties they run through.

Once you move away from the major trunk roads, to the 'A' roads, the responsibility for maintenance falls to the County, City or Local Authority in which that road is located. Here's a random example of how this works which explains the system far better than I can  http://bit.ly/p6jm8a  

Unfortunately this is where it starts to get complicated because the verges alongside any given roadside, or pavement, are often partly the responsibility the local authority and partly the responsibility of the County Council... and sometimes the joint responsibility of both!  In Warndon Parish Council in the city of Worcester, for instance, the city council's responsibility is to cut the grass within one-and-a-half metres of the footpath - but the rest is Worcestershire County Council's responsibility.


As well as roadside verges there are also 'parks and open spaces'. The authorities responsible for these areas (which include spaces as diverse as sports pitches, ponds, parks, cemeteries and play areas - to the hanging baskets and floral displays you see in town and city centres) could be either District Councils, Parish Councils or Housing Associations.

Here's an example of 'who' is responsible for 'what' in Tower Hamlets (I found it useful to read examples of how different authorities operate at different levels so hope you will too) - http://bit.ly/p661y3  

Hope I haven't lost you yet! Please hang on in there.....


As you can see, it's already quite difficult to get to the bottom of whose responsibility it actually is to decide on the grass cutting policies for any given space; but it gets even more challenging now.  Once the policy has been decided (i.e. how often/ how short etc)  the job of actually 'managing' the grass (or hedge) cutting is then contracted out to local farmers, garden centres, landscape gardeners or any other body or individual who possesses the equipment (truck, tractor, strimmer, mower, scythe (?!) .....) to do the job.

These contracts are agreed/renewed every 3 - 5 years so you can imagine how difficult it is at any given moment in time to find out exactly 'who' is cutting 'what', 'when' and 'where'. The logistics of introducing and implementing new policies don't bear thinking about!

Anyway, enough of the 'who' does 'what' for now and on to the 'whys' and 'wherefores'....

'Where have all the flowers gone?


I have wonderful childhood memories of my father taking me and my brothers for walks on Sunday afternoons in the '60s. We moved house quite often, so our walks covered many different areas of the UK, but the one that sticks out in my mind most visually is the one that ended with us walking back along a bit of the main road from Oxford to Swindon, where we stopped to pick wild flowers for my mother just before we turned back into the road where we lived.

I don't think wild flowers were protected by law back in the early 60's and it certainly didn't occur to me as a child that I was picking anything rare or endangered. There was an absolute abundance of flowers and grasses; nowhere more so than on roadside verges. We would return home from our walks with bunches of flowers and grasses in every imaginable colour for my mother to put in little vases or empty jam jars.

That was nearly fifty years ago and our landscape has since changed quite drastically. The majority of our roadside verges are now wildlife deserts; devoid of flora and fauna. Our once abundant native flora, which overed large areas of countryside and proved ample habitat and foraging for wildlife, is hanging on by a thread.

Since the end of the second world war the UK has lost 97% of our wildflowers and grasslands, 40% of our heathland, 50% of our ancient woodland, 65% of our hedgerows, 75% of our actively coppiced woodland and 90% of our wetlands. The knock on effect on our invertebrates, small mammals and birds has, of course, been devastating.

So how has this happened in such a short time and where has it all gone?

The answer is that our once healthy and species rich landscape has been altered beyond recognition by the effects of industrialised agriculture. With its vast monoculture crops and deadly cocktails of pesticides, intensive farming is bringing us closer and closer to the scenario predicted by Rachel Carson over 50 years ago in her book 'Silent Spring'.  As if this is not enough, vast areas of what was once open countryside has been encroached upon by urban sprawl, motorways, industrial estates and out-of-town shopping centres.

So, what's left needs all the help it can get...NOW!

What can we do?


If we are to effect change we must work alongside local authorities and housing associations; communication and cooperation are vital.

I know what I'd like to see happen, but unless we can demonstrate to councils that introducing new management plans for roadside verges and other open spaces will save money, gain public support and increase biodiversity then it's simply not going to happen.

Unfortunately, if councils were simply to 'stop' strimming/mowing the verges, all that would happen is that most of them would revert to docks, couch grass, brambles, nettles and thistles. From my perspective this would be a vast improvement on the short grass verges that don't even offer safe havens in the form of wildlife corridors -but it would attract far too many negative comments from the general public.

Like it or not, council policies are often driven, or at least affected by a need for positive PR. If too many people complain about 'messy' verges, then the council are less likely to implement new policies in favour of increased biodiversity. Worcester City Council recently adopted a policy of leaving verges unmowed to save money and this was the unfortunate result.... http://bit.ly/oI6rCE 


So, the way forward is to find evidence and examples of towns, cities and counties in the UK who have implemented new wildlife friendly policies that have proved popular with local people and which have saved local authorities money! This information needs to be shared with key people within our own local authorities; preferably those who are already sympathetic to the idea of roadside verges being full of wildflowers.  I'm going to put my energies over the next few weeks and months into finding these examples..... and then.... maybe.... I might just have a fighting chance of persuading my own local town and county councils to review their existing policies.

PLEASE SIGN THIS PETITION......    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1002   to get the management of amenity grassland in the UK changed to reverse the massive decline in wild flowers. We need 100,000 by August 10th, so if you live anywhere in the UK. PLEASE SIGN UP!!!  




A little glimmer of hope


I just want to end this blog, which is already far too long, with something positive......

When I spoke to our local Biodiversity Action Plan manager last week, I discovered that there is a scheme in place to address the problem of loss of biodiversity on roadside verges. It is called the 'Protected Road Verges Project'.

In this project, county councils are working together with wildlife trusts and other conservation groups to protect and manage certain roadside verges. This is how it's working in Worcestershire - http://bit.ly/nAzMNN 


I know it's not much... but its a beginning :)



Useful links -

Wonderful Buzz About Bees website - http://www.buzzaboutbees.net/planting-wildflowers-helps-bees.html

Wildflower society -  http://www.thewildflowersociety.com/wfs_new_pages/1f_code_of_conduct.htm

More information about 'Protected Verge Project' - http://www.bsbi.org.uk/road_verges.html





Friday, 29 July 2011

NATURE KNOWS BEST!

It's funny how sometimes you don't make connections between one thing and another; then the penny drops and all of a sudden obstacles disperse before your very eyes and everything flows more freely.

I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts that I had been 'missing a trick' when it came to feeding myself on my Off-Grid Sundays.

Having sorted out ways to boil water and heat up food without using electricity or gas, the next thing I wanted to address was the actual food itself. It seemed a bit silly to be making such an effort trying to wean myself off the 'system' whilst still relying on that same system (shopping) for most of what I eat.

I am able to grow small amounts of fruit and vegetables in my tiny garden and on my shared allotment, but most of what I eat still comes from a shop. Ok, so it's a small, local, independent organic shop.... but it still involves food miles, a trip into Malvern, small amounts of packaging and of course 'money'!

WILD FOOD
For as long as I can remember I have been interested in using plants for medicine and to supplement my diet but I've never really thought of it as anything more than an 'interest'.  If I want a green salad, for instance, I grow as much as space permits, purchase what I can't grow myself from a local organic producer and then add the odd leaf of sorrel, chickweed or dandelion picked from the hill behind my house. But I have never made a concerted effort to try and feed myself on as much wild food as possible.

How on earth did I not put two and two together months ago and add 'foraged food' to the list of precepts I follow on Sundays?! Too focussed on the disparate elements of what I was trying to achieve instead of good old fashioned joined up thinking perhaps...

Anyway, since the penny finally dropped I have made every effort to gather as much food as possible from the wild and have especially enjoyed the enormous variety of leaves available within walking distance from my house. So far, I've eaten wild sorrel, wood sorrel, hairy bittercress, hawthorn, beech, lime, comfrey, rosebay willow, chickweed, dandelion, ramsons, stinging nettles and pennywort.... all freshly harvested, absolutely delicious and, of course, free.

UNEXPECTED BONUS
I haven't tried any fungi yet (apart from jews ears) and it's been too early for nuts and berries, so I'm nowhere near relying on wild food for my Off-grid Sundays, but there's been an unexpected bonus.... as well as enjoying all these new foraged greens, I'm learning more each day about all the incredible plants growing on the hills and woods around Malvern and I'm loving it!

The thing about foraging is that it makes you notice, and want to identify, every single little plant you come across - on the off chance that some part of it might be edible or useful in some way or another. This has opened the door into a whole new world for me; a world full of surprises that fill me every day with absolute wonder. I just love the fact that I can now recognise (and identify) so many plants I would previously have walked straight past without even registering. Not only this, but I have started to notice and understand some of the symbiotic relationships between certain trees and fungi which I never even knew existed before (the trees, the fungi AND the symbiotic relationships that is!)

It's all so fascinating that I wish I could spend every waking moment learning more about our amazing flora and fauna; I really can't believe how lucky I am to have discovered this whole new world on the other side of the little gate which leads from my patio onto the Malvern Hills.

DISCONNECTION AND RECONNECTION
I know I must sound like a long playing record that's got stuck, but I really do believe that most of the problems we are experiencing today are directly linked to our disconnection from the natural world. Since I started going off-grid on Sundays I've become so much more aware of my natural surroundings and my relationship with those surroundings, that I couldn't possibly knowingly cause any harm or damage to that which I now know I am a part of.

Does that make sense? It's quite difficult to explain in a blog, but what I'm trying to say is that everything we do to nature we do to ourselves. We and nature are one. We cannot continue to control, dominate, exploit and destroy that which nurtures and sustains us without destroying ourselves too.  The symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, or flowers and bees is a perfect example of nature in balance. However, we humans have become so far removed from the natural world that we no longer understand 'balance'. We don't even notice the destruction we are causing. We walk (or drive) around in our own little bubbles and are oblivious to what is going on around us on both micro and macro levels.

The solution? Reconnection with nature.

Why? Because when we remember that we are 'a part of' nature instead of 'apart from' her we will want to heal that which we have hurt and the destruction will stop.

How? Get outside and spend quality time with nature! Take your shoes off, feel the earth beneath your feet, the wind in your hair, the rain on your skin and the sun on your back. Breath in the fresh air, smell some wild honeysuckle, chew some sorrel, hug a tree (and I mean really hug it!). Lie in the grass with your eyes closed and listen to the birds, the bees, the leaves, the wind.... and reconnect!

If you take the time to get back in touch with Mother Earth she will respond and your life will never be the same again :)

Love and hugs from me to whoever reads this blog xxxx


P.S....Huge thanks to a very special lady.....my friend Carol.... for all your inspiration and for sharing everything you know with me and anyone else who has an interest in learning about wild food.


Useful links....

Natural Bushcraft; great site and lovely friendly forum - http://www.naturalbushcraft.co.uk/

Super forager and friend Fergus Drennan - http://www.wildmanwildfood.com/

Everything about nettles - http://www.nettlesoup.info/index.htm

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Time to ROAR FOR THE EARTH!!!

I didn’t sleep much last night. The plight of the indigenous people of Brazil whose lives will be turned upside down by the building of the Belo Monte Dam is breaking my heart - and I’m finding it difficult to know how to digest and process the knowledge that whilst I’m living my safe and comfortable existence on the Malvern Hills, preparing a talk about bees for a local garden festival this weekend, these people (and others around the world) are fighting for their home, their land, their culture, their future....

Everything in me wants to travel to Brazil so that I can stand in solidarity with the people of the Amazonian rainforest whose land (an area the size of Wales) will be flooded to facilitate the monstrous and insatiable greed of those who already have ‘enough’.  My soul is crying out to join with the souls of my fellow human beings to help make their voices heard so that this terrible thing will not happen - and I would gladly exchange my comfortable little home and all my material belongings tomorrow for news that the dam is not going to be built after all.



This is not the only issue I feel strongly about. There are so many ‘wrongs’ we need to put ‘right’ that I find it difficult sometimes to know which way to turn and which campaign to put my energies into. I am deeply concerned about the oceans, trees, food poverty & GM crops, climate change, bees and loss of biodiversity to name but a few – and I want to help everything and everyone who is suffering. But I can’t.

So how do I reconcile these thoughts and get out of bed in the morning? What can I do? Are my efforts making any difference or is it all a complete waste of time?

The answer I keep coming back to is that I am not alone and that together we can make a difference.  It’s ok to feel the pain, the fear, the desperation and the horror. It’s ok to acknowledge our weaknesses, our limitations, our fragility and our humanity - in fact these feelings are all part of the process that brings about real, lasting change. 

Having accepted and acknowledged that this is where we are, it is easier to begin the journey forward. It’s not going to be an easy journey, but it’s our journey. It must surely be no accident that we have been born into one of the most challenging times in human history; a time where great changes are needed to bring us back into kilt with Mother Earth; a time where each and every one of us has a role to play – no matter how small and insignificant that role may seem. 

So, it’s time for us to look within and search for that spark of light that we all have but which some of us have not yet discovered or are afraid to tap into. What is your passion? What makes you feel most alive and energises you? What turns your light on.......?

The most important thing for us to accept is that we cannot/must not attach ourselves to the ‘outcome’ or the ‘destination’.  This is very difficult for us human beings because we usually like to plan our journeys around a destination, but what we’re facing now is far beyond any journey we have ever undertaken before. This is humanity’s collective journey and maybe 'life-as-we-know-it' needs to break down completely before we can build a new paradigm. It’s time for the great turning, so choose your cause (or causes) replace fear, anger and frustration with love, joy and optimism - and do whatever you can to help because together we can and will make a difference.

As my inspirational friend Hen says.....it's time for us to ROAR FOR THE EARTH!!!!


Some beautiful and inspiring words from the Hopi Elders - http://www.spiritofmaat.com/messages/oct28/hopi.htm

I will be a humming bird - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGMW6YWjMxw

The Great Turning; Joanna Macy - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwlXTAT8rLk




Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Challenges, Solutions and Reduced Utility Bills

Five months on.....
I'm into my 5th month of spending Sundays 'off-grid' now, and as it gets easier I’ve noticed it’s having a knock on effect in how I do things for the rest of the week. I’ve always taken as much care as possible to keep my energy use to a minimum but it’s very easy to rest on your laurels. You can always reduce further if you want to; it’s just down to making new choices and changing a few old habits.

Over winter, my main challenge was keeping warm. This wasn't too difficult as I’m fortunate enough to have a wood burner. Upstairs is a bit chilly sometimes, but it’s nothing you can't sort out with a hot water bottle or two - and so much healthier than gas central heating! In fact, since I’ve become more used to using the wood burner as my primary heat source, my habits have changed and my overall gas consumption has been massively reduced; I still use gas central heating occasionally, but nowhere near as much as I used to.

My electricity usage has reduced too... so much so that when I got my recent bill from 'Good Energy', it turned out that the £7 direct debit I’ve been paying for the last year has left me in credit... I have overpaid so much that my monthly direct debit has been adjusted this year to just £1 a month!!!

Reducing my utility bills is great, but the thing I’ve enjoyed most over winter has been learning how to cook on/in the wood burner. Although mine's only a small burner there's still enough space to boil a kettle, cook soup/casseroles and bake a few potatoes. It’s involved a bit of 'trial and error' to get the potatoes just right, but it was worth persevering as they knock spots off anything baked in a conventional oven. I seem to get the best results when I wrap them in a double layer of silver foil (reuse same piece each time), pop them around the edge of the logs amongst the embers, and turn them frequently. They come out with crispy jackets and lovely fluffy insides....

Cooking and boiling water on the wood burner when it’s already lit really is a ‘no-brainer’ and I can’t believe, in retrospect, that I used to use the oven or electric kettle when I had a free source of heat just crying out to be multi-tasked. I occasionally forget and boil water in the kettle whilst the wood burner is lit, but not often.

Ooh! I should also point out, before I forget, that I struggled at first with lots of burned casseroles and soups. My saucepans were designed for use on gas or electric hobs and are far too thin-bottomed to cope with heat that can’t be turned down to ‘simmer’ at the flick of a switch. I can’t afford to invest in new heavy based pans especially for my wood burner, so have solved the problem with a ‘heat diffuser’. It cost me around £6 and stops whatever I’m cooking from getting burned. Link at bottom of blog

Warmer weather challenges
More recently the weather has been far too warm for me to need any space heating in the house and this has presented some new challenges; namely how to cook or make a cup of tea when I can't justify lighting the wood burner! I know, I could just go without tea, but I’m a firm believer in the adage 'where there's a will there's a way'....

So, given the fact that I hadn’t had a cuppa on a Sunday for over 4 weeks, you can imagine how excited I was when my son, James, gave me a 'Kelly Kettle' for my birthday. The Kelly Kettle is an amazing invention - and is exactly what I need to boil water for tea and to wash dishes (and myself) during the warmer months. Instead of trying to explain what it is or how it works in this blog, I've made a little video about it here...... 


What next? 
Having sorted out a way to boil water, the next thing I want to address is the food I eat on my off-grid days. It seems a bit silly to be making such an effort trying to wean myself off the 'system' whilst still relying on that same system (shopping) for most of what I eat.

I have a tiny garden and a shared allotment so already grow as much as space permits - then buy whatever else I need from small, organic food shops in Malvern and Ledbury.  

But I've been missing a trick.....


Back soon! 


Here's a link to the Kelly Kettle people http://www.kellykettle.com/

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Frustrated with local council

I'm feeling a bit frustrated with local government policies and bureaucracy in general at the moment.

Last week, I went for a lovely walk along the banks of the River Severn just outside Worcester. It was a beautiful sunny day and I felt blessed to have such a habitat rich environment on my doorstep. It supports such an amazing range of flora and fauna and I notice something new every single time I walk there.

On this particular day I saw at least 5 different species of bumblebee, numerous different solitary mining bees and more honey bees than I ever see on the nearby Malvern Hills. So...definitely an important habitat for bees!


There were dozens of wild flowers coming into bloom; including Comfrey, Jacob's Ladder, Lady's Smock and White Campion - and the Willows (too many different varieties to list here) were alive with the sound of bird song. As well as the Woodpeckers, Robins, Blackbirds and Great Tits I usually see or hear when I'm walking this path, I also heard Black Caps, White Throats, Chiff Chaffs and Willow Warblers. But the icing on the cake was spotting this stunning butterfly (above) who kept perfectly still for at least ten minutes whilst I photographed her from every possible angle. I had no idea at the time what species she was, but was absolutely enchanted by her. I discovered later that she was a female Orange Tip and that the Cuckoo Flower  she was sitting on (sometimes known as Lady's Smock) is one of her favourite sources of food.

I came home brimming over with the joys of nature and spent a few happy hours thumbing through my bird/butterfly/wild flower books trying to identify everything I'd seen and heard.

The very next day I heard that the council had come along and strimmed the verges alongside the river path and that the little patch of Lady's Smock where the Orange Tip had been feeding, along with many of the other wild flowers I'd seen, had been completely wiped out.

Ok, so the council have a duty to maintain this public footpath for human access, but where's the balance? Why no moderation? Do the council not recognise the ecological importance of this particular habitat? Perhaps I'm missing something, but it seems to me that the majority of the area they strimmed was set well back from the footpath and was causing absolutely no problems whatsoever to human walkers. It's not as if this was an area overgrown with brambles and nettles; it was a beautiful wildlife rich verge - and now it is no more.

The grasses and wild flowers will of course grow back, but as soon as they do they will be strimmed again. In the mean time, food will be more scarce for local fauna.

We have lost 97% of our grassland and wild flower meadows since the 1940s so surely we should be protecting what little remains rather than strimming it to within an inch of it's existence...

I'm going to contact Worcsestershire Council to see if I can find out more about their 'strimming' policy, but in the mean time here are a few useful links for anyone who wants to know more about our ever diminishing grasslands, wildflowers and butterflies ....

The Grassland Trust - http://www.grasslands-trust.org/

Buglife - http://www.buglife.org.uk/


Butterfly identification - http://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/index.php



Friday, 1 April 2011

Challenging times...time to wake up!

We live in extremely challenging times, and many of those who put all their energies and efforts into trying to turn things around are beginning to feel exhausted. There are so many sad and horrific things happening in the world that it's hard sometimes to know how to deal with it all - let alone stay positive.

I was chatting with a friend yesterday about this. We were discussing a blog we had both read, written by Mark Boyle - who puts his whole heart and soul into 'walking his talk'. Mark was writing about the difficulties he's been experiencing recently trying to make sense of what he sees going on around him in the English countryside. Wherever he looks, instead of seeing nature in all it's beauty, he sees the damage and destruction caused by mankind as we encroach more and more upon the natural world in our efforts to "kill everything that we think wants a piece of the human pie".

I can completely identify with Mark's sentiments. There are times when I sit on the hills, or in the woods, surrounded by so much natural beauty that my heart could burst with joy, only to be jolted back to reality when I remember in a flash that it is all under threat. I struggle so much so understand why the majority of people living on this planet are oblivious to the fact that they/we are destroying the very things that sustain and nurture us. How can we be so blind???!!!

Instead of competing with the incredible and diverse flora and fauna we are lucky enough to share the earth with, we should be putting our efforts into living alongside nature; co-operating with her; compromising; and establishing symbiotic relationships. Surely that's what co-habiting is all about? But the human race, for all it's so called intelligence, doesn't seem to have understood these very basic and natural laws of survival. Rather than live in harmony alongside nature, we prefer to 'control', to 'use', to 'harness', to 'rule', to 'own'. So, as masters of all we survey, we plunder and pollute the earth's resources as though they were put there entirely for our own use and as if they were in limitless supply. Now, even though the consequences of our actions are staring us in the face, we completely ignore the warning signs. Bizzare and dangerous behaviour.

It's exhausting just thinking about the amount of problems in the world. It's not only the environmental and ecological issues that we need to face and deal with, but also the unprecedented scale of social injustice. I read yesterday that of the 6 billion people living on this planet, over 1 billion are hungry. That's one in six.... and that's just the hunger issue ....never mind all the atrocities that less fortunate beings than ourselves are forced to deal with. How on earth do you decide where to start when there is so much to do? Maybe it's not such a surprise that the majority of us more 'fortunate' beings are still in denial. It takes courage to face up to what's happening in the world and it's much easier to switch off and carry on with 'business as normal'.

Unfortunately, nothing will change if we keep burying our heads in the sand. Facing up to what's going on is imperative if we are to effect change. It's not going to be an easy ride, but I truly believe the universe will support us if we wake up and have the courage to say "enough".  It's time to stand up and be counted, to face the music, to go cold turkey, or whatever it takes to be part of the change.

You don't need to take it all in at once... just open your eyes a little more each day and start looking around to see where you could begin to make changes. Get out some time this week for a walk in nature and allow yourself to be filled with awe by her abundance. Also, allow yourself to feel sad about what we've done to the planet, because out of this sadness will come the will to change. It's ok to be sad....to cry or to weep even. There's a movement known as 'Deep Ecology' that is all about feeling the pain of the earth and coming through the other side.  I'll put a link about it below....

This is a great and wonderful time to be alive! We would not have been put on this planet at this time if we were not able to deal with what life is throwing at us. This is the time of 'The Great Turning' and we all have a part to play .... no matter how small that part might be.

Wishing you a day full of wonderment and positive energy.

B xxx

Here's a beautiful message from the Hopi Elders to inspire you;
'We are the ones we have been waiting for' - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrPDQeNo52M&feature=related


Mark's blog - http://www.justfortheloveofit.org/blog

Deep Ecology - http://www.joannamacy.net/deepecology/deep-ecology-links.html

Today I woke up - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XzKDou7FCU