The Nuttery at The National Trust’s Washington Old Hall south of Gateshead was a fantastic discovery that brightened my day. Amongst the nut orchard are wildflowers, bee hives, a pond, education projects and wonderful people. Amazingly the garden and Nuttery are free to visit, so if you are anywhere nearby it’s a great place to restore your energy with peace and beauty. I spoke with the gardener Ellaine and some of the volunteers about the Nuttery and how they came to be involved.
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.
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.
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”.
Did you know that the National Trust is the second biggest landowner after the Ministry of Defense? I didn’t. Why would an incomeless environmentalist like me decide to become a member of the National Trust?
I did not realise that the National Trust does a large amount of work to protect the environment, it turns out it’s not all about posh manor houses. When the National Trust staff kindly told us about the ambitious work happening at Wicken Fen, it was enough to stir me to part with the little money I have to support what they are doing.
Fens are wetlands that are fed by mineral rich waters. Wicken Fen is the oldest National Trust reserve in the country and one of the most important wetland habitats in Europe. Walking through the landscape of the fens the rivers are a lot higher than the surrounding land. Weird. You might think that perhaps they were built up that way? It turns out to be the other way around. When the fen ditches were dug and the land drained, the layers of organic matter that had been laid down over thousands of years were exposed to oxygen. With the oxygen the carbon started to break down and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Another surprise. It turns out that draining wetland is very bad for our climate as well as removing habitat. But what the National Trust have planned gave me a lift of excitement.
Most organisations and politicians seem to think a few years ahead, maybe a decade ahead, but the National Trust have a hundred year plan to restore fenland around Wicken Fen. By gradually buying up the land, they will restore this vital habitat, lock up carbon and protect it for the benefit of all.
At the Willow and Wetlands visitors center they farm willow for artists charcoal and a range of willow products that replace non-biodegradable options with a natural fiber. They also have a museum and education area all with free admission!
Beautiful biodegradable coffins
The artisans at work.
Since arriving in Devon I’ve been delighted by the variety of species. Because England has lost 97% of it’s wildflower habitat since 1940 in many places verges and hedgerows are often the last refuge for plants and the species that feed on them.
During the walk from Totnes to Denbury we looked at how the hedgerows have changed. Laying a hedge (cutting the side and bending it down) is now a rare event, with most hedges maintained by cutting the sides and tops. In this short video, Matthew explains the curious sight of bent hedges.
If you are looking for a snack, you may find primrose flowers which I was surprised to learn taste rather like rose turkish delight. Moreish. Or if you are looking for something to boost the flavour in your cooking, try wild garlic which is out in force at the moment.
The first days in Totnes have been incredible, pictures and videos will be up soon but here’s a taster of this amazing town.
These days Totnes is usually best know as the home of Transition – a process for moving your community towards a positive future away from fossil fuels. Transition Network now includes groups around the world and their website is a fantastic resource of “how to”s and inspiration.
Oddly the first thing I noticed on the way to Steph Bradley’s beautiful cottage are that the verges in the areas around Totnes have a wider range of plant species than I’m used to – Devon council has taken the enlightened step of not cutting them and leaving them for the bees and other life.
The town itself is a beautiful tourist location with a castle, dozens of independent traders, gurgling river, rare breeds farm and steam train. I like to do a ‘smile test’ in places and see how many people smile back and how long it takes them. Totnes is a big 9\10 on my totally random measure – most are already smiling at you!
Rob Burbea resident Buddist meditation teacher at Gaia House shared some of his thoughts on meditation and climate change as well as introducing us to DANCE (Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement). It is wonderful for me when I see a spiritual respect for our existence being translated into how we live in the world. More on this wonderful aspect will be in the documentary of the Buzz Tour.
The people and organisations of Totnes have engaged with positive change to such an extent that despite the towns small size there are several environmental event going on every day! The South Devon Green Living magazine Reconnect is an astonishing collection of news and views, many of the achievements right here in Totnes.
One event we were able to attend was the Community Conversation organised by Schumacher College. With key words like ‘Exploration’, ‘Transformation’ and ‘Subversive thinking’ groups made a collage on the theme, discussing the issues it raised. Schumacher College offers courses on sustainable living by using active participatory learning – doing rather than listening. Their courses focus on three systemic areas of our society – economics, design and food. If you are thinking you need some learning to help you move forward, their courses would be a great choice.
The Community Conversation draws allies together and one of the interesting people I met was Josh from Network of Wellbeing where they support putting wellbeing into practice.
Lush threw us a fundraiser in Oxford this weekend, raising £57 for us with sales of their Charity Pots.
Then we visited bike co-op Broken Spoke, and set out along the beautiful canal and Port Meadow and passed the ruins of Godstow Nunnery.
We passed Wytham Woods a Site of Special Scientific Interest where the habitat is being preserved.
In total the four of us walked about 35km, mostly on the second day which was a good long practice!