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.

You’re Kidney Me?

There is literally nothing nature related in this post at all. Bit weird.

Today is my birthday. How do I feel about it? Bit depressed to be honest. I’m not being ungrateful – I’ve got the best group of friends around me and my parents phoned me up and all, but…

This is my first birthday I’ve spent mostly on my own and in London (*violins play). Birthday’s just aren’t as exciting when you get older, are they. Does not getting excited about my birthday mean that I’m getting old? Have I officially got to start cooing at babies, wearing trousers that come up to my neck (with a belt) and drive with my car seat so far forward that my knees are driven into my chin? Furthermore; make jam and actually enjoy an episode of Gardeners World?…

Maybe.

It hasn’t been a brilliant build-up to my birthday either. Over the past month I’ve been in and out of hospital. Not fun at all. Turns out you cant just ignore symptoms of a UTI because if you do, they swiftly turn into a kidney infection and here I am… Yes it does hurt. Nothing some strong antibiotics and some (bloody great) pain killers won’t sort out though. Whilst sat waiting in A&E last night (after I keeled over whilst carrying out fish surveys in the river Thames – cue fish puns), I got asked to be in the new series of Channel 4’s 24 hours in A&E. So not only was I crippled over in pain, clutching my right kidney, I was also microphoned-up and filmed for peoples entertainment… Weeeell, someone may as well get some enjoyment out of my pain, aye?

So all in all… Life has truly gone off the scale at the moment. Privileged pain, oh I’m aware of that.. But fucking weird nonetheless.

Cheers to potpourri, Homes Under the Hammer and kidneys. I’m officially 23… (And we laaaaughed and laaaaughed)

Bloody well get on with it, Tooby.

 

Well That SuDS…

This is a bold move. Writing a blog post on a topic that (no doubt) most people would rather cut off their private parts and boil them for dinner, than read about. But hold on. Sheees-ah turning this around. There’s even a drop of romance in here for you… Cheeky.

SuDS, although you may have never of heard of them, are important. Just trust me please. SuDS, or sustainable urban drainage systems, refers to the green land (or lack of!) that is able to soak up surface water. Surface water is becoming an increasing problem. We have concreted over so much natural land that would normally soak up rainfall and excess water (through natural permeable surfaces, a process called infiltration) and now we’ve now got an influx of the volume of surface water.

To put it plainly, we’ve fucked it. But don’t fear, this isn’t necessarily a gloomy topic and I will prove this to you later on. Strap in.

Natural infiltration is limited in our urban areas, where many (once natural) surfaces are now smothered by buildings and paving. Instead, drainage networks divert surface water to local watercourses (rivers, estuaries etc). This can cause adverse effects such as downstream flooding and a decline in river water quality that is caused when sewers are overwhelmed by surface water, resulting in an over spill of raw sewage water into rivers.

Sustainable drainage systems aim to alleviate these problems by storing or re-using surface water at source, by decreasing flow rates to watercourses and by improving water quality – pretty cool stuff huh?

Now to slip in a cheeky bit of romance into the mix. This steamy stuff will get your attention… (Oop, naaaughty).

I’m referring back to when I was talking about sewers being overwhelmed and spilling untreated sewage into our rivers, messing up the water quality. A good example of where this issue is currently being solved is good old London. The Tideway Tunnel (also known as the super sewer) is a new 25 km tunnel being built underneath the Thames which will collect the excess water and prevent the tens of millions of tonnes of pollution that currently pollute London’s river every year. I am proud to say that I am currently dating a young man who works for this company (on the sustainability team) and although I would never admit it to his face (duh?), I think what he does is pretty darn cool. In fact I think he’s the best thing since sliced bread. Period. Yes, you read that right. I’m dating someone. SuD me sideways…

Steering away from my emotions and back to SuDS.

So how do these bad boy drainage systems work then? Allow me to enlighten you. SuDS use a sequence of measures that work together and form a management train. They control flow velocity (attenuate) and remove pollutants as the surface water flows through the system. They also provide natural contours to store water and can be used to allow water to soak (infiltrate) into the ground or evaporated from surface water and lost or transpired from vegetation (evapo-transpiration).

In conclusion; SuDS are often regarded as a sequence of management practices, control structures and strategies. They are designed to efficiently and sustainably drain surface water, while minimising pollution and managing the impact on water quality of local water bodies. This is becoming increasingly important in areas where infrastructure is shooting up all over the place. We need more green infrastructure such as SuDS to be implemented into policy in order for built up areas to cope with surface water and to protect our TraC (transitional and coastal) waters and tributaries.

Some example of SuDS:

Close your mouth, dear.

References:

https://www.bgs.ac.uk/research/engineeringGeology/urbanGeoscience/suds/what.html