Sunday, May 24, 2009

Counting Bees

Have you ever tried counting bees? Not an easy job as they move from plant to plant. However somebody from Birmingham University is trying to count them in Birmingham and has included our allotments.

It a good job that we have still some left to count. In a recent pamphlet written by Jonathon Porritt he says “As regards pollination, scientist have estimated that if we had to do by hand what is currently done for us free by bees, bugs, birds and bats, the annual cost would be well in excess of half a trillion dollars. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? But in the province of Szechuan in China, that is exactly what they are having to do right now. Having wiped out most of their beneficial insects through the over application of pesticides, they are now having to collect pollen by hand and apply it (using feather dusters) by hand to keep alive their hugely valuable orchards.

Here in this country our bees are struggling to survive. The numbers are falling rapidly but nobody knows why. Chemicals or a virus may be the problem. The Coop as a precautionary measure have eliminated pesticides from all their farms.

We must also remember that some bees do not only pollinate but produce that lovely golden colour runny honey. We used to keep bees and the jars and jars they produced for us were wonderful.

So next time you see bees around plants in your garden be thankful that they are doing the work not you.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

18 May 2009

Dear Northfield Ecocenturion

Thank you for your letter about solar power. I appreciate your taking the time to get in touch to raise this issue with me.

I just wanted to let you know that I have signed the Early Day Motion urging the Government to ensure that the potential for solar electricity is supported in the Renewable Energy Stratergy. This motion has now been signed by 224 MPs and I enclose a copy for your information.

If I can be of further assistance on this, or any other matter, please do not hesitate to get in touch again.

Yours sincerely

Richard Burden MP
Birmingham Northfield

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


It's 8am on an overcast Sunday morning in May
But the Friends of Manor Farm Park are already congregating by the old barn
They've come to enjoy a gentle stroll around the park
To listen to the birdsong and identify the birds
Fortunately for me there are some good pairs of ears amongst us
Almost straight away a distant song thrush announces its presence
Mimicing an insistent telephone then bursting into melodious voice
As we near a patch of woodland a shrill wren and a fluty blackbird launch into song
Now a faraway chaffinch approaches the crease like a swing bowler
To everyone's delight a sharp-eyed companion spots a greater-spotted woodpecker
Clinging improbably to the side of a tree next to the road
But it's interesting how many more birds we can hear than see
We turn into the Long Meadow and someone picks out the distinctive call of a chiff chaff
A great tit is added to the list
We come across a few interesting plants too
Wild garlic and red campion nestle under the trees by the brook
Altogether our master of ceremonies Tony notes down 21 species in just an hour or so!
Finally by the lake we spot a static heron beadily eyeing the still water
A couple of attentive Canada Geese parents shepherd their little brood of yellow goslings on a picnic

I'll need a lot more practice before I can hope to lead a walk like this
But one day I'd love to try it!

Friday, May 15, 2009


To reverse the old cliche: 'Money is time'
It follows that an expensive lifestyle will eat into your time
While those able to make do with less
Can free up time for worthwhile pursuits other than paid employment
Until quite recently I earnt a good wage
But spent 60 hours a week trapped in the office
I was comfortably off
But not surprisingly painfully short of leisure time & energy
These days I choose to work fewer hours and earn much less
But interestingly I find I need less too
For now time is on my side...

Time for family and friends
Time to make new acquaintances
Time to read
Time to take stock
Time to reflect on how I live
Time for regular exercise
Time to cultivate compassion for others
Time for interests
Time for creativity
Time to reconnect with nature
Time to garden
Time to campaign for change
Time to walk or cycle to where I want to go
Time to shop around for good food and drink
Time to care
Time to volunteer my time
Time to stop and chat
Time to stop and smell the roses
Time to count my blessings
But I'm not sure if I could live for a year on just a pound a day!

Where are the stars?

No I don’t mean the film stars or the TV stars , I mean the ones that twinkle. Those of us who live in urban areas forget what the sky really looks like when the stars can be clearly seen. If you go out into the wilderness of parts of Wales or Scotland on a clear night you suddenly realise how full the sky is of stars and how magnificent it can look.
The reason we don’t often see it like this is because of light pollution. Street lights, security lights and floodlights all throw light into the air and mask the heavens. We seem intent on having more and more night time lights as we get obsessed with security.
I was therefore appalled when the chief planning officer of Birmingham suggested that we light up Spaghetti Junction so it can be seen in space. This is the man whose department is supposed to be ensuring that light pollution is controlled and kept to a reasonable level. Environmental Protection UK suggests that if people think they are affected by light pollution, they should complain to the local authority who are legally required to investigated it. Here in Birmingham the pollution may well be the local authority if Clive Dutton gets his way.
It is not clear whether we should be worried or not. At a recent street hustings in Harborne the Council Leader, Mike Whitby was challenged about the Spaghetti Junction scheme and he gave an assurance that it was not council policy and would not happen. A senior Lib Dem Councillor, Alistair Dow gave a similar answer when challenged at the same event. Both the councillors seemed to be embarrassed that a senior council employee had made the suggestion in the first place.
Perhaps we all need to reinforce the Councillors views by telling them ours.
In Esthers Blog she is already doing this.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Tricky times

Those of you who have done some gardening before will know that this time of the year is always tricky. In the last few weeks we’ve sown seeds in pots, germinated them in the airing cupboard and nurtured them on the windowsill, conservatory and greenhouse.

But when is the right time to plant them outside? The old stagers all used to have a date set in their minds for the last frost. It might be the wife’s birthday, the bank holiday, or just the middle of May. Global warming has thrown these traditions, old wives tales or good old fashion experience into confusion. Days have got warmer but we can still be caught out as I realised when I looked out of the window a few days ago to see hail (or was it snow) piled up in the garden.

This is the time of the year when many community groups have plant sales. Those who have spare plants bring them along and sell them to boast local funds. The prices are often much lower than the shops and the range much bigger. If you are a beginner pop in and pick up something to grow in your garden and you willingly be given advice as well. If you are experienced its amazing what you find that you may not have seen before.

Remember its all local.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Hannah's been riding her bike for over a year now
We decide it is high time to discard the stabilisers
And let her have a go at riding independently
After a few shaky sessions where that front wheel just won't do what it's told
Hannah suddenly nails the balancing act
And she's away - laughing and giggling as daddy struggles to keep up with her
It takes me back to childhood
That feeling of being alive and free as the wind brushed my face
And the ground beneath me passed by in a blur
I still get that feeling as a grown-up
And it makes me sad when I pass another queue of grim-faced motorists
Trapped in their sedentary metal boxes
Maybe they were happy care-free cyclists once too
Maybe they have a bike in the garage
Just waiting for a squirt of oil or a bit of air in the tryes
It strikes me what a big step this is for Hannah
I remember watching proudly as she first learnt to crawl
Then as she took her first tottering baby steps
And in a way this newly acquired skill and confidence is just as significant
It's another big milestone on the path to independence
From the tyranny of the car and the school run
More than that
It's healthy and exciting and fun
And I feel pleased as punch!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


'be the change you want to see in the world'
that's what gandhi said
i want respect for the awe and wonder of nature
i want tasty locally grown organic produce that hasn't polluted the ecosystem
i want an end to factory farming and the slaughter of innocent beasts
i want a cosy home powered by renewable energy
i want clean air
i want quiet local streets where my daughter can cycle in safety
i want conversations with my neighbours
i want an excellent public transport system
i don't want my wife having to wait long hours in draughty bus shelters
i want a comfortable efficient coach service to take me on longer journeys
i want an ethical banking system
which rewards honest endeavour and shuns greed
i want justice for the poor and disenfranchised
i want compassion for those less fortunate than myself
is all of this unrealistic and impractical?
let's make it happen - today

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Where Does the Rain Go

I recently fitted up a couple of water butts to collect water from a roof. The first day it rained both butts were nearly full giving us enough water to keep the plants happy for some time. If I had not put in these butts all this water would have run off down the drains and have quite quickly ended up in the River Rea. In times of heavy storms it is the water from our roofs and drives that cause the river to flood as it can’t cope with the water coming so quickly. This means that anything we can do to slow or stop the water getting to the river will reduce flooding. The water butt helps prevent flooding and gives us water for the plants. Likewise to make any paved area permeable so the water goes into the ground rather than into the drains also prevents flooding. Block paving is now available that assists the water to soak away. So when you pave over your front garden try and think how quickly the water will get to the river.

Friday, May 1, 2009


A couple of things have struck me about media coverage of the current swine flu pandemic. We have received regular updates about numbers of confirmed cases, details of cancelled holiday flights, Gordon Brown's latest reassurances about the readiness of the UK to tackle the illness. We have even learnt how many extra face masks the NHS have put on order. But as far as I know, very little seems to have been revealed about the causes of the outbreak. Why Mexico? Why now? Who are the victims and how did they become infected? One interesting story I did come across perhaps provides a clue. The pig farming industry is apparently objecting to the use of the name 'swine flu' as opposed to the less troublesome 'flu virus'.

The truth is unpalatable. Our seemingly insatiable appetite for cheap meat and the intensive way we rear pigs on factory farms is putting workers in the industry and the public at large at considerable risk, never mind the associated animal welfare issues. The Ecologist Film Unit has made a short film called Sick As A Pig, which sheds light on this murky state of affairs. As for me, I'll stick to my meat-free sausages, thanks.