Lockdown Life and Nature Update:

Hello there!

I am aware it’s been 4 months since my last post, but bloody hell what a few months it’s been! I hope that wherever you are you’re keeping safe and well. I won’t go on to say about how unprecedented the times that we are living through are etc, because I know we are all sick-to-death of reading the phrase in our emails…

I wanted to write this post to give an update on what I’ve been up to over lockdown. Firstly, due to the Coronavirus preventing me from carrying out the annual Thames fish surveys this year, I was instead tasked with creating a podcast by my manager. At first I thought “shit”, but after a few glasses of wine, I decided to give podcast hosting a go. I mean, why not? It’s not like I have a slightly dodgy lisp and sometimes sound like Michael Caine (I do.)

The result of a frantic May and June was Talk of the ThamesA shiny new podcast series where I interview key people from around the Thames Estuary discussing subjects ranging from wildlife migration, to archaeology and flood mitigation. My first guest was the absolute legend of a man, Chris Baines. Chris has a fabulous career in wildlife gardening, presenting, and nature conservation and he was brilliant fun to work with. I was so nervous working with Chris, an experienced presenter and wildlife communicator and then there was me… A bit of a knob who wouldn’t use my new binoculars until I had had a shower and made cup of tea so I could truly savour the moment…

If you are interested in all things Thames, please do check out the first three episodes that are available now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and various other podcast directories:

I also have a fabulous line-up of future speakers, so it’s worth keeping an eye on this page!

Moving on to other news; During lockdown and when the exercise rules had been relaxed,  I really felt the need to spend as much time outdoors as possible (who didn’t?) I craved that anxiety release of lying in a grass field, swallows darting above me, the smell of wildflowers surrounding me and being totally at ease amongst nature. I know I’m not the only one who has suffered with anxiety over the past couple of months. There has been so much uncertainty and this has highlighted to everyone the importance of our green and blue natural spaces as a safe haven, a place to go to and spend time with wildlife.

If you’re in a more urban area, nature is still there. In the parks, in the trees lining the streets, in the empty rain-filled jam jar you left lying on the outside window sill. Taking pleasure in the smallest of critters can do such wonders for our mental health, if we only take the time to stop and look for it. For many, lockdown gave us that time.

Lastly; I have spent so much time on the allotment which since the beginning of lockdown has become my absolute pride and joy. I wanted to do my best to work with and garden alongside nature and subsequently implemented a small sunken pond and a bird feeding station. So far I’ve harvested carrots, curly kale, runner beans and not to mention Barry Marrilow!

I feel I’ve blabbered enough now and I’m aware you’re probably gagging for a cup of tea, so I will say my goodbye. Stay safe and enjoy the wildlife wherever you are!

Building a Bug Hotel; Wildlife Gardening

Bored during the COVID-19 lockdown? Why not try your hand at building a Bug Hotel for your garden. If you don’t have any tools present – no matter! You can build one with no equipment and using just a few old bricks. Some good fillers for your hotel include: moss, pinecones, twigs, bamboo and dried leaf matter. Go on … You’ll certainly produce some micro smiles!

Women’s Environmental Network; Environmenstrual Campaign

I’m hugely excited to be working with the Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) and City to Sea as an Environmenstrual Ambassador! I will be bringing period education to groups, schools and communities around London. So if you want to know more about plastic free periods get in touch! It’s time for period action. #RethinkPeriods

Through my work as an ambassador for Environmenstrual I’m aiming to make healthy, eco-friendly menstrual products the norm through education and taking action via:

  1. Raising awareness that conventional single use period products contain plastic and other harmful chemicals
  2. Encouraging women, girls and people who menstruate to try  reusable menstrual products or to use organic plastic-free disposable options
  3. Mainstreaming the conversation about periods and breaking down the taboo 
  4. Educating people on how flushing menstrual products can cause sewer blockages and pollute rivers, lakes, seas and beaches
  5. Calling on mainstream period products manufacturers to remove plastic and chemicals from their products

The Environmenstrual campaign is also helping to tackle period poverty. Sadly 10% of girls in the UK cannot afford menstrual products. Thanks to some inspirational campaigning (Free Periods Campaign) schools and colleges can NOW order free period products for their students through a new government scheme.

Being able to access free period products in school can have a huge impact on a young person’s ability to participate in their education and therefore reach their full potential. For some, this new scheme may mean the difference between attending school or staying at home when they have their period.

 

Thames Litter Surveys

It’s a big moment.. Saturday marked the first ever Estuary Edges litter survey on the Thames Estuary. But what does this mean? Well my dear Londoners, strap in.

If you haven’t read any of my previous posts, you wont know that I am the Thames Estuary Edges Officer. Estuary Edges are a series of works initiated by the Environment Agency in the ‘90s that aims to replace brick, concrete and metal tidal walls with natural habitat such as reeds to encourage biodiversity and SuDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems) along the River Thames. These precious green infrastructure sites had never before been monitored for their ecological value, or for how litter interacts with the reeds. This is where my role comes in (hair swish..)

Thames21 (a charity that focuses on educating the public on litter pollution), volunteers and myself completed the first litter survey of 2020 at Battersea Estuary Edges site. For all the nerds out there; we used 1 x 1m quadrats along a transect line that spread across the whole site. The plastics were then categorised by size e.g. macro and micro plastics.

This survey programme will assess types of litter at the Estuary Edges reedbeds, influencing future designs to prevent litter collecting at the sites. We hope this research will encourage more Thames waterside developers to implement these biodiverse habitats!

BBC Radio 4 Costing the Earth

It was an absolute honour and lifelong dream to be interviewed for BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth back in the summer for an episode aired in November called Thames Revival.

Within the episode I speak about my current project Estuary Edges, which aims to replace brick, concrete and metal tidal walls with natural habitat to encourage biodiversity and SuDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems) along the River Thames.

I also talk about the fact that if we replenish and revive habitat in urban areas, nature will return!

Have a listen to the episode here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0009zcg

The rather lovely producer took this photo of my colleagues and I to use as the thumbnail for the episode on the BBC website. Put it this way; we all had to run to the toilet after wetting ourselves laughing seeing this photo for the first time. Have a laugh for yourself at what appears to be the new crew in town.

Album out Monday…

Costing the Earth

Protecting Devon from Development

I haven’t written anything in far too long… I have a backlog of posts to finish writing and frankly I’m ashamed of myself.

Anyway.

This is a bit of a depressing post (but with a small hint of positivity and a big dollop of importance) I’m afraid so strap in and make a cup of tea. Let’s get cracking.

I recently returned home to Devon to spend Christmas with my family. But driving around some of my favourite local places (Dartmouth, Totnes and Dartington) highlighted the current mass of development of unaffordable houses around the areas. I hate this. Every time I’ve been home across the last 6 months, I return to see more trees cut down, more hedgerows out of action and more green land being prepared for vast new housing estates. I believe we need the right quality homes in the right locations at the right price points, genuinely affordable to young people and low income families, but after completing comprehensive research on the matter, it’s obvious that a majority of the development on local Devon greenfield sites is inappropriate; not priced affordably for local people.

The frustrating fact is that Campaign to Protect Rural England’s (CPRE) annual State of Brownfield report shows that there is enough suitable brownfield land available in England for more than 1 million homes across over 18,000 sites. Yet developers choose the lush green sites because it’s cheaper.

As an environmentalist, I am seriously concerned about the threat of such development to wildlife and the lack of regulations surrounding this. The farmland I played in as a child (situated behind my grandmothers house in Totnes), has now been converted into luxury dwellings and during my walk around the new estate, I noticed that there is a considerable lack of greenery to support the biodiversity that once thrived on the land previous to the building.

I just don’t understand why it’s not a top priority for councils to make these estates (if we have to have them..) green! After all, we are currently in a mass extinction. I’m talking about planting up the areas in-between houses with insect friendly flowers, shrubs and trees. Using the small green triangles of land that separate areas of the estate to benefit nature and the environment. It would cost next to nothing (literally) and could be used to educate the new community on the importance of these spaces for the local wildlife. But no.. instead they’ll plant some tranquil looking, non-native species, grass that does bugger all for wildlife and will look shabby and bleak in a couple of years.

This all climaxed in my mind about a month ago, when I decided I had to do something about it. I’m sick of seeing precious greenspace developed for profit with no regard to the wildlife that inhabits there.

Subsequently, I contacted my local MP (and managed to keep my language grandma friendly!) to ask if they could lobby their fellow members of parliament to make a change and tighten the surrounding laws. After I received a pretty beat-around-the-bush reply (however I did appreciate the reply), I then decided to email the Minister of State for Housing, The Rt Hon. Esther McVey MP. I then proceeded to pester the local Councillor for Totnes, and the South Hams Council general enquiry service. Have I exhausted my efforts? Absol-bloody not. I’ve only just started.

Do I think that my emails will make any sort of difference at all? No. But it makes me feel a lot better sending them and feeling like I’m doing something about it. After all, they can’t concrete over the whole of Devon… Can they?!

For more information visit: https://www.cpredevon.org.uk/campaigns/right-homes-right-place/

Plastic Free City London

Next to my job as the Estuary Edges Officer, I also go along to the City of London ‘Plastic Free City’ steering group committee meetings. Plastic Free City is an initiative where businesses, workers and residents based in the City of London can pledge (through Plastic Free City) to become plastic free and zero waste. It’s a fantastic group that has achieved a lot of good things, including installing refillable water stations across the city.

This morning I was up bright and early for a Plastic Free City London networking event at the incredible Rothschild & Co sky lounge. The pictures below are of the view! It was brilliant to see the new Lord Mayor of London, William Russell there.

I heard some truly inspirational talks by Greg Ritt, Group Environment Manager, Rothschild & Co, Grace Rawnsley, Head of Responsible Business, City of London Corporation, Carl Pratt, Founder, FuturePlanetRocks, Mel Fisher, Founderzerowastegoods.com and Alex Furey, Founder, zerowastemindset.com.

As I sat there hearing all these top speeches on how companies, including small start-ups, are waging to go plastic free (great news!), one thing I couldn’t help but notice was the sheer lack of diversity in the room.. But what really got to me was that the need for more diversity in the environmental sector was not mentioned once, not even in the panel Q&A. I found this somewhat disappointing in a room full of amazing people, with successful businesses, driving and promoting zero waste and low waste sustainable business models.

Still, a brilliant morning. It’s really great and to hear the energy behind making the City of London plastic free! Huge congratulations to all the wonderful businesses that turned up and are doing some top quality work on sustainability.

A quote by Mel Fisher this morning which I thought was particularly sad: “There are more pieces of plastic in the ocean than there are stars in the sky..”

Find out more here: https://www.plasticfreecity.london/

Estuary Edges Boat Trip

Over the past few weeks I have been busy organising a boat trip down the Tidal Thames to showcase Estuary Edges sites to waterside developers. We boarded the boat at Westminster and disembarked at Greenwich.

“What are the Estuary Edges sites?” I hear you cry.. Well strap in. You’re about to find out.

Replacing the harsh concrete, brick and metal tidal walls with lush green reed beds and a variety of habitats is what the Estuary Edges project is all about. Estuary Edges is a ‘how to’ guide on ecological design for softening these ‘edges’ to encourage wildlife into urban estuaries (fish, plants, invertebrates, birds – the list goes on). Sadly, within the Thames, only around 2% of the edges are natural. Increasing the habitat along the edges will have a significant positive ecological impact on plants, invertebrates, fish and birds.

The boat trip, I’m happy to announce, was a complete success! We had 50 people attend and the boat itself was gurt lush. We were even lucky enough to see a Grey Seal! I have a few upcoming meetings with developers who now have an interest in implementing these awesome habitats – yaaaaay! Blimey I love my job…

 

 

 

The Perfect ‘Hyde’ Away…

#LondonWildlifeChallenge

Picture this; You’ve finished work at the office. You’re tired. You’re in London and you need fresh air and a jolly good ‘earthing’. By which I mean ground yourself back to nature…. Nothing cheeky…. Naughty.

Well I may have your solution here; Hyde Park I truly believe is not hyped about enough. This is an utterly gorgeous spot, splat bang in the centre of London and a space where wildlife flocks to!

Within half an hour I had spotted Canada geese, Shag (cheeky..), Moorhen and Coot in the bird department (otherwise known as the lake). But the real head turner for me was seeing hundreds (maybe thousands, but you know… Didn’t stop to count!) of honey bees (Apis) busy buzzing around the lambs ear plant (Stachys byzantina) IN CENTRAL LONDON! I was so excited I had to sit down with a cup of tea…

The Royal Parks certainly look after this space and the wildlife appears to be extremely well catered for – which I just love and is so important with a third of all species currently in critical decline.

The walled garden is particularly lovely too, if scented flowers float your boat.

So go and check it out for yourself, if you haven’t already. I’m now beginning to see why London is this month becoming the first ever National Park City.

There we go! A positive post. B.E.A.Utiful.