The joy of finding what you weren’t looking for

When you order a book on Amazon they give less money to the producer, they also pay no UK tax and the money ends up in the US. When you visit a local independent bookstore you can discover books you never knew you were looking for (as well as get Harry Potter). Five leaves is one of those places, with comfy stools dotted around inviting you to sit and explore. The shop staff pride themselves on making available a wider range of ideas and high quality books than a standard chain store.

 

 

Veggies and vegans

Veggies is a vegan catering and campaign social enterprise based in Nottingham that provides delicious food at events like Glastonbury whilst promoting a better future for the environment and people. I spoke with Chris about their work and what it means to him to be vegan.

 

 

Restoring the mill

Visiting Greens Mill is an insight into the past, and a way of putting Nottingham into context. When the mill was built the only two buildings visible from the top were the palace and the church, now the city extends up to and around the mill. Graham showed me the ingenious ways that we used to mill, and the workings of the now restored and functioning mill.

 

 

 

 

 

Frack Free Nottinghamshire

Gregg told me about the mobilisation of Nottinghamshire people to protect land from Fracking. Fracking is a process where high pressure water, sand and toxic chemicals are injected into the ground to split it and release gas. Frack Free Nottinghamshire is just one of many groups all over the country. To find out if there is a group near you and where companies in your area want to frack check out Frack Off. As well as local groups all over the country people, there are a number of national campaigns and protests.

This summer will see the second Reclaim the Power camp, a six day gathering where people can make friends, learn about positive solutions and take action against extreme energy. The current government is aggressively pro-fracking and offers subsidies for local areas to permit it, but there are a large number of environmental concerns about the process. With climate change no longer in doubt moving to further exploit fossil fuels would be a harmful idea anyway, but extreme energy extraction by fracking also carries long term environmental consequences that will remain long after the companies have moved on. From methane leakage, water contamination, toxic effluent, micro tremors and damaged land the number of harmful effects mount up. The recent move by the government to change trespassing laws would allow companies to frack underneath peoples land even without their permission, so anti-fracking community groups have a key role to play in speaking up for the environment.

Earth shelters and retrofitting

The more thermal mass (weight that can absorb heat) a building has, the more it will average out the temperature around it. For example, in a cave underground in England the temperature is an average of the yearly temperatures – around 10 degrees C. An earth shelter takes advantage of this by having the building partially buried in the earth or with earth mounds up the sides.

Earth shelters are just one of the types of buildings that Idp Search architects produce but as well as new builds they crucially also do retrofitting – altering an existing building to make it less wasteful. One project they have been using is called Greening the Box. You can see an example of their work which is in High Wycombe.

Recovering from trauma

The tasks of restoring ourselves and our environment are intimately linked. To be resilient in a changing future we need emotional and environmental resilience. At their home in West Norfolk Ben and Sophie and doing just that, building resilience. Their home incorporates many aspects of self-sufficiency that you might see elsewhere, but what they then do is open up their home as a restoration space for survivours of torture.

It is genuinely impossible for me to imagine the strength that survivours of torture find every day. After escaping from their situation, to seek asylum in the UK they are processed in a second round of suffering within our system. These highly traumatised people are housed in often horrendous conditions and in order to get any food they must use a pre-paid card which will only work in certain shops such as Tesco. So if there is no Tesco near where you are put, you have no way to pay for a bus to get to one, often as well as language difficulties, leaving you open to further exploitation.

The value of providing a safe space in a family home where groups can visit with a therapist is enormous, often life changing for people who have been to hell and back. Their work has only been going a few years so they hope they will be able to find the funding to continue, but I wish them every success and have the deepest respect for what they have accomplished.

Saving nature for the future

Part of the essential work being done for a better future is to conserve wildlife and species. That way when we are able to change the system of our society to one that is less destructive, there will still be species left to return. Norfolk Wildlife Trust is protecting many such precious habitat areas which are vital refuges in this country. In Foxley Wood I saw some of the semi-natural habitat they are maintaining to encourage different species.

A major consideration is this islands role as a support for migratory species and no where is that more obvious than with our wetland birds. Cley Marshes was the first Wildlife Trust reserve in England and the trust’s recent purchase of a further part of land is ensuring that the area will be a reliable haven for birds for many years to come.

The new visitors center means that many people who couldn’t get out on to the reserve can now view birds from the long windows, learn about the habitat, all whilst enjoying a coffee from the cafe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Community owned businesses

There have been quite a few community owned businesses during the tour so far, and I love it every time we find one. Rocklands Community Shop is a wonderful example. The way a community business works is that shares are sold to members of the community, local people staff it and often will volunteer there too. I’ve seen community pubs, a wind turbine and shops but really there’s no reason why you couldn’t use the business model for all sorts of things, whatever the community needs. The great advantage is that the money spent in the shop stays in the community. Normally when you shop at a chain store a large chunk of the money leaves the community to be paid to the head office and on to the parent company, gradually bleeding the resources from the town. If you buy at somewhere like Starbucks or Amazon almost all the money leaves your community and goes to the US, thus avoiding paying any UK tax. Community businesses are a great way to help each other stay strong.

The Conservation Volunteers

Years ago at university I knew I wanted to volunteer to protect the environment in my spare time, and the first place I turned was The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) previously BTCV. The volunteers go out to do conservation work, meet friends and keep fit. I asked Debbie what it’s meant to work for them in Norwich and how she managed to make the change from her previous work in banking.

Cambridge in Transition

Our first visit to Cambridge was a beautiful amble which critically for me, included an icecream. Strangely similar to Oxford in some of it’s beautiful old college architecture, yet the buildings of Cambridge are generally lower, not more than two stories. The river Cam runs through Cambridge and young men will try to persuade you to come on a punt along the river (a low long boat that you push along with a pole).

The Transition group in Cambridge is thriving, with many different groups and events. We were fortunate enough to spend time with many different people involved with Transition in Cambridge, but it was Anna who really brought it alive. She walked out to meet us as we came in to town and she was full pelt on different projects. Just that weekend was the fantastic Repair Cafe where people could bring all sorts of items to be repaired.

The Cambridge Hub meanwhile provides a focus where students can get help to protect the environment and take positive action for society.

Cambridge Carbon Footprint (CCF) is another active and hugely influential group of people for change in Cambridge.

The places of refuge

When walking the country you might wonder, how do we find somewhere safe to camp? Or how do we find help?

Almost every village still has a church and a pub, and as a traveller I’m really coming to appreciate the refuge they offer. Going to the local village pub is a great way to get information and calling up the local church warden helps you find somewhere safe to camp. Churches also shelter you from the rain whilst libraries welcome you to sit, use the computer and get information. They want nothing from you, only your presence. One of the things I’ve noticed which is so important is the availability of toilets and public drinking fountains. Many places have gotten rid of them, which means that you have to go into a commercial space, like a café, and if you’re not buying something you may not be welcome. To have free public access to the most basic things like a toilet, water and a shelter make the difference between feeling part of society and safe, or excluded and insecure. As water, toilets, shelter are all privatised and the government is trying to privatise our healthcare, are we saying that we want those without the ability to pay to cease to exist? Simple things are enough to make you feel welcome, accepted, valid.

 

Using agri-environment schemes to help protect the environment

After an Open Farm Sunday, Julie was frazzled. Over 1000 people had come to view and enjoy Cavick House Farm and it’s animals, yet when I came seeking shelter for the night she kindly let me camp, and in the morning shared their story with me.



In the outskirts of Dereham I visited Nick, a farmer and conservation enthusiast. In the course of our chats he told me about dozens of plants and insects. The range of plants on the land was clearly a great joy and interest for him, and it was wonderful to have him as my guide.


A green hub and a green house

The greenhouse in Norwich is a café, a bookstore, a gallery, a house, a shop and an information hub. The dappled shade in the courtyard garden is provided by clever solar panels. Above the shop lives one of the original 12 students, who 20 year on, is still running the space to provide an example of positive solutions. The flat is one of Englands Superhomes, which are very energy efficient and serve as an example to help others. The Greenhouse is a particularly useful example because it is a listed building which they had to retrofit. The vast majority of the UK housing stock would need to be retrofitted to make them more sustainable, we won’t be able to build new houses, as it would release far far more carbon. There are currently more houses in the UK than we need, the difficulty is a large number of them have been bought as investments and are vacant. The centre of London is a sad example of this. So we can’t keep building on the little nature habitat land we have left to feed the ever more hungry monster of the housing market. Retrofitting is therefore a vital part of the culture change we need to be able to lower our carbon emissions. As to how we change our culture to avoid our homes being at the whim of the investment market, we’ll leave that for later… 😉

I demand that you do not go to Norfolk (I want it all for myself)

I know that you should avoid comparisons in many ways, but I can’t help it, I love Norfolk! As a small child I visited the Norfolk Broads once but all I remember is a little of the beautiful lakes and rivers seen from a little rented houseboat, and the mooring fees man that I thought was the milkman. I didn’t really have any other impression of Norfolk. What I’ve been finding is a delight. The incredibly friendly people, the many reserves and environmental treasures, and Norwich which is a walkable size but with so many things to enjoy.

Most of us have heard of the Broads, large expanses of water which were man made by centuries of peat extraction. Norfolk is one of the only areas to have avoided the destructive influence of a major motorway, it hasn’t become a commuter belt. Instead, organisations like the Norfolk Wildlife Trust have been preserving some of our most precious habitat in the country. Over the next few days I’ll be walking through just a few of the 50 reserves managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

 

 

 

Heathland

Healthland is a type of habitat with heather and low scrub plants. In Suffolk we walked through the gorgeous ‘Dead Mans Grave’ and heathland areas managed with light grazing by Natural England. A motorbike came across the heath and afterwards we could hear the distressed sheep bleating. We realised that two of the lambs had made a run for it from the motorbike and ended up on the wrong side of the fence, now unable to find their way back. Sama and I then had the very amusing and tricky job of herding them back. When the last one finally crossed the gate threshold back to it’s mum it did a little jump for joy. As someone once told me “lambs have more than their fair share of cute”.

A change in the flight pattern of the RSPB

In the Bedforshire town of Sandy we found a great bird habitat reserve, but we also found the headquarters of the RSPB (yes, we really are that lucky/disorganised that we didn’t plan it that way). Like perhaps many people I viewed the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) as focused only on birds, but what the reserve manager explained to me was that to protect the birds, you have to protect the habitat. Without the whole ecosystem, the birds don’t stand a chance. Sounds similar to the situation of my favourite upright primates…

The RSPB’s message has now changed to ‘Saving Nature’ to better reflect the work they’ve been doing for years. As someone who doesn’t know their bitterns from their sandpipers, but fervently wishes for the survival of them all, the broader systemic focus catches my interest. The RSPB is one of the biggest landowners in the UK and provides the habitat for over 80% of our threatened and endangered birds. They also have over a million members, so when they speak, people listen. Say it loud, say it proud RSPB, it’s time to save nature.