Category Archives: Environment

Harlow Carr Gardens – The Visit

The approach to Harlow Carr was interesting as the satnav told us to take a different route to that indicated by the brown signs. It was an interesting, and narrow route. I will follow the signs next time and suspect I will have a less strenuous drive.

There is a lot of building going on in the area, and there is a large set of roadworks at the entrance to the gardens. Despite this we didn’t have to queue for long and were soon in the car park, dodging doddery pedestrians and trying to find a space.

I think I’ve already mentioned that most of the pensionable population of Yorkshire was out in the garden. Many of them were playing slow-motion Russian Roulette in the car park whilst others formed an orderly queue at Bettys.

That still left a surprising number to fill the garden paths. Fortunately, although the unkindness of the passing years has rendered me less mobile, it has made it easier for me to formate with pensioners. I was even able to hold a few up as I paused for photography.

There are some compensations to getting old.

We only saw about quarter of the gardens. There was a big bed of heathers as we walked in. It was good winter colour, one of the things I was looking for, but not something likely to be making an appearence in our garden.

There are some great vistas in the garden which, again, aren’t likely to be repeated at our house. You need distance for vistas and that isn’t something you can buy at the garden centre.

We looked at the alpine house because Julia is looking at a cactus/succulent/alpine project this year. I suspect the Mencap version will be slightly less polished than the RHS version.

I had taken a few photos by this time, including a wicker worm and a moving sycamore sculpture.

I won’t take you through the rest of the day in such detail – just give a quick list. Spring flowers, rhubarb, dogwood, kitchen garden, scones, toilets, mosaic display, sulphur springs, foliage beds, garden centre, bookshop, afternoon tea at Bettys.

We missed the lake, the library, the arboretum, the education garden and probably some other things we don’t know about.

To be honest, my search for new winter ideas didn’t meet with much success – I already knew you could plant bulbs and shrubs and leave large areas of bare soil.

It was a very enjoyable day despite this and I’m looking forwards to the spring visit, though I might try taking a flask and sandwiches next time. That way I can save money and take up an entire bench whilst pensioners tut their way past looking for somewhere to sit.

I’m a member. I can go as many times as I like without it costing more. I’m feeling quite smug.



Book Review – 50 Ways to Make Your House and Garden Greener

50 Ways to Make Your House and Garden Greener

by Sian Berry

Paperback: 128 pages

Publisher: Kyle Cathie; 1st edition (10 Jan. 2008)

ISBN-10: 1856267725

ISBN-13: 978-1856267724

I bought this book last year. It was brand new and 50p. This tends to suggest that after eight years they are struggling to get rid of the first print run, despite the author having an impressive record in the area.

I can’t think why, because as a quick run-down of ways to make a difference to global warming it can;t really be bettered. It has its fair share of  expensive things to do, but set against that there are plenty of cheap things to try.

As the author says:”Follow the tips you can, and don’t feel guilty about the ones you can’t.”

Put lids on pans when cooking, don’t leave your phone on charge overnight and leave an untidy corner for wildlife in the garden.

Clearly I find one of those tips easier to follow than the others, though I rarely charge the phone overnight and normally use a lid on the pan.

That’s the tone of the book – plenty of sensible reminders and small steps. There are also more tips than the 50 in the title – many of the 50 tips are subdivided into smaller points.

An interesting and highly recommended read, and you won’t often hear me saying that about a book on being green.


Had a good morning in the garden this morning helping Julia out. The group put up a shade shelter yesterday using the existing posts and a bit of camo netting. They will now be able to eat their lunch without the fear of sunburn or aerial reconnaissance.

A few final touches were required, and that’s where I came in. It’s good to feel useful, even if it was my height rather than my design skills that were needed – as you can see from the photos, it’s a bit of a stretch for one of us.

Julia did some painting and other bits while I took photos and swept the tearoom floor. That’s my place in this marriage.

One of the ongoing jobs is to make the entrance to the garden a bit more colourful and inviting. There was a decrepit barbecue in one of the sheds, with lots of rust and a selection of holes in the bottom. With a bit of vision (think “drainage” holes) and some surplus paint it is now a bright and cheerful herb planter.

The morning was, apart from the company, a bit dull. This was an impression that was further reinforced when I drove past Trent Bridge at 12.15 – they had the lights on for the Test Match. I’d hate to think of the bill for that lot.

Toilet rolls – blessing, or curse of modern society?

Every day 27,000 trees are used to meet our need for toilet roll. That’s 9,855,000 a year. I’m not quite sure how many mature trees you get to the acre or how old a tree is when you harvest it, but the total amount of resources consumed must be huge.

About 75% of the world’s population does not use toilet paper.

According to figures from 2007, each person in the UK uses 17.6 kilos of toilet paper per year. The Americans only use 15.7 kilos. Consumption is forecast to rise by 40% by 2017 thanks to innovative marketing techniques. That’s a lot of trees.

I’m not surprised that it hasn’t become a major subject for discussion because the very thought of alternatives makes me shudder. I’ll quite happily discuss, and use, composting toilets (because it’s a massive waste of drinking water to use it in toilets) but I’m not so keen on doing without paper.

Faced with the choice of doing without toilet paper or a car  I’m not sure what I’d decide. It would be inconvenient to do without either but without a car the worst that can happen is that you have to walk. Or possibly share a bus with a drunk, a dozen school kids and a woman with facial piercings. Without toilet paper you undermine the whole basis of my life.

However, when I pause to think I have to admit that I’m in the first generation of my family who has always had access to proper toilet roll and it doesn’t seem to have done my forebears any harm. The Romans were reasonably successful and they only had sponges on sticks. Even the Vikings, though not great house guests, were fairly successful at looting and pillaging, and they, I’m reliably informed, used moss in place of toilet roll. (Yes, those trips to Hadrian’s Wall  and the Jorvik Centre definitely paid off).

Back in the 60s, there was a lot of Izal about. My grandparents had it, public buildings had it and even in the 70s I remember visiting a nurses’ home that had Izal printed with “Property of the National Health Service” in pale blue. If you do remember it, stop shuddering. If you don’t remember it, it made great tracing paper.

It’s a wide-ranging subject, with the Chinese leading the way, first with paper in the 10th Century then with specially made toilet paper in the 14th Century. One British maker, G.W.Atkins & Co, claimed to have royal warrants dating back to 1817. The Americans followed in the mid-19th Century.


In the 1930s one manufacturer was advertising that his paper was “now splinter free” . Makes you think, doesn’t it?

I think that’s enough now. There’s only so much thinking you can do about toilet roll.




Hitler and the Avocets

“I cannot help thinking that if only Hitler had been an ornithologist he would have put off the war until the autumn migration was over.”

Manchester Guardian”Country Diaries” September 1939

I suppose most readers will already have a view on Hitler, and that it is unlikely to be based on the impact he had on European ornithology. However, as the quote shows, people are able to view major historic events and see them from a very different point of view. They may even find the energy to write to the papers about it.

It also shows that the consequences of major events can be far-reaching and quite significant, even if they don’t involve battles and the fall of governments.

In the case of the Second World War this included bombing my mother, training a new generation of naturalists, and flooding large parts of eastern England to defend against possible invasion.

Another, better known, example features the struggle with malaria. In the war this involved the wonder chemical DDT, which continued to be used in great quantities after the war as the answer to many problems. The inventor even got a Nobel Prize in 1948  “for his discovery of the high efficiency of DDT as a contact poison against several arthropods”. It was also highly effective at reducing the viability of birds’ eggs and nearly wiped several species out in the UK.

However, back to the flooded lands. As luck would have it, a party of Avocets drifted across the sea from Holland in 1947, and found conditions that suited them for breeding. At Havergate Island the army had accidentally breached the sea wall during training and at Minsmere the coastal area had been deliberately flooded as a defence against German landings.




At that point they had been extinct as breeders in the UK since 1842 due to the pressure from hunting, egg collectors and taxidermists. It seems to be a factor in the decline of rare birds, such as the Passenger Pigeon and Great Auk, that the rarer they became the more desirable the few survivors became to egg and skin collectors.

Gradually the Avocets consolidated their position, becoming the symbol of the RSPB along the way. From four pairs in 1947 we now have 1,500 pairs according to the latest figures.

For another example of how WW2 is contributing to wildlife, see this link.

I found this whilst looking up DDT. The mind boggles.

Thanks to Rodney Read and the Chatburn Village website for the well researched story of the bombing.

My Plastic Footprint

I’m feeling uncomfortable in more ways than the obvious one at the moment. Apart from the feeling of discomfort in the bladder area I have a feeling of guilt about Julia running round fetching and carrying for me. On top of that I’ve just been calculating the amount of plastic waste I’m going to produce before my return to hospital.

It’s going to be six weeks before I return. That’s 42 days.

For those of you not familiar with the equipment involved, it starts with a Foley catheter. Don’t read the link unless you have a real thirst for knowledge, it’s just a catheter that stays in place because they blow up a small balloon on the end to keep it in place.

Definitely don’t read it if you currently have one inserted as I’ve just scared myself to death by reading all the possible problems.

They can also, it seems, be used to stop nosebleeds. The mind boggles.

The catheter is plugged into a leg bag.

It is secured to my leg by Velcro straps, which is a skill in itself. Secure it too far down and you can get quite a twinge when you stand up. If I could find an emoticon showing a man with massive googly eyes and drops of sweat I would use it now. That’s how it feels. I now secure it as close to knee level as possible.

You can get one with a longer tube, but giving one to the man who is six feet two would be too simple.

The whole point of the procedure, from my point of view, is to get a decent night’s sleep so I don’t really want to be getting up all the time to empty it. This is where the night bag comes in. It’s four times the size and you can get about 7 hours out of it before that sense of urgency alerts you to the need for emptying.

The night bag has several feet of tubing attached. I haven’t measured it yet, but it’s long enough to trail across the floor at night and get tangled in Julia’s feet.

To attach the night bag you merely connect the tube to the tap of the leg bag and open the tap. To remove it you close the tap and disconnect. Remember to leave the soft tube on the leg bag. Simple. Even an idiot can do it. Most of the time. I’ve only had one emergency sock change so far, and one trip to root through the bin for the connector…

Anyway, plastic waste.

You use a leg bag for a week, so I’ll need six, which seems a bit of a waste. However, I don’t want an infection to build up so I’ll do as I’m told.

You have to throw the night bag and tube away every day.  That’s 42 bags and about 50 yards of tubing.

I think you could open up the top of the night bags to make flower pouches. They already have eyelets for hanging and a drain hole.

However, Julia says no.

I’m sure there’s a way to repurpose the tubing too, but she isn’t keen.

So that’s 42 night bags, 50 yards of tubing and six day bags.

That’s not the end of the story, as they come in packs of one leg bag and five night bags. I need nine packs, in plastic outers, and at a ratio of 7:1 will have six surplus bags – three leg and three night. I’ll be interested to see if they have a system for taking them back into stock.

To be fair, the NHS is making big efforts in recycling and if I were to get an infection by reusing equipment I would moan at great length. You know I would.

However, I still feel bad about all this plastic.

We also have three pairs of crutches from various rugby injuries because they won’t take them back, but that’s a different story…





Orton Mere

I just realised that although I said I was going to start on the Ely visit next, I still have to finish off the visit to Peterborough. The subject is Orton Mere.

If you travel south on the Great North Road (or A1 as it is now less interestingly known) you turn left at Alwalton and carry on a few miles until you come to a set of traffic lights. On the right is the village of Orton Longueville and on the left is Orton Mere. The village is a lot more interesting than you would think from the Wikipedia entry, though maybe that’s just my view. My childhood memories are, I suppose, of limited interest – probably limited to me and a few of my contemporaries.

For now, turn left and go down the hill to the car park. There are now several  ponds, a flyover and a golf course. In my day there was just the one pond. Where the flyover now towers above you, there used to be tanks where effluent from the British Sugar factory was piped – I’m not quite clear on the process as we rarely went there due to the high sides, scrub and quicksand-like nature of some of the tanks. The golf course was just water meadow.

The reed beds, I recall, used to support a large population of Reed Buntings.

We didn’t use the name Orton Mere, it was “the pond near the Staunch”, and I only heard the name in the 1980s when they started to develop it. The name Orton Mere seems to be used for the wider area these days, as in this news article. Whenever there’s a drowning, and there have been a few over the years, Orton Staunch seems to be known as Orton Mere. (I added this 12.05.20 after revisiting the post and finding that the news article link now goes to a Sheffield Wednesday related page rather than news of a rescue from drowning – I have left it all as it was but removed the hyperlink.)

We used to have rafts down at the pond, which was less reed-fringed in those days and had shallower beaches. Someone had made them from railway sleepers and they just stayed there to be used by generations of kids. My mum used to go mad with me for doing it, as I couldn’t swim in those days. The poles which went with the rafts were about a foot shorter than the depth of the pond, and sometimes called for interesting contortions, with hands underwater, to get back to shore, so she may have had a point.

There used to be a large tench in the pond during the 1980s, after Health and Safety had landscaped the pond and burned the rafts. I recall seeing its dorsal fin breaking the surface once and it was huge. I can’t remember what its reported weight was when it was caught, but it was a good size.

I’m not sure what a staunch actually is, but from what I’ve seen on the river it is a set of vertically acting gates that controls the flow of water. This sets up a series of currents and undertows, which is why a few people have drowned there over the years, and scours out channels down stream of the gates.  These used to attract large numbers of chub, which, according to Wikipedia, are easy to catch. This takes a bit of gloss off my memories of summer evenings spent catching good numbers of chub, but in time I’ll forget Wiki, whereas I will always remember the summer evenings.

The photographs show Orton Mere with no filter, Dramatic filter and Landscape filter. Even with no filter it looks the sort of place you’d find secretive fish and arms raising swords from the depths.

You can’t fish there now because the area is reserved for canoeists.

Looking for links I found this one relating to helping with  eel migration. I remember seeing the glass eels trying to make their way up the stream when I lived there, and had been thinking about them recently after reading an article about declining eel numbers. It’s nice to see something being done for them.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is an overcast day back in 1970. I was walking home from school when I noticed the police had closed off access down to the river. Two brothers from school had been canoeing during a games lesson and had drowned after getting into difficulties. This was in the days before risk assessment. We weren’t close, as I was only 11 and they were in their late teens, but we played rugby together. In those days all ages used to train together, and one or two of us even played in school matches with the big boys – unthinkable in these days. To be honest, the Bukowski brothers were very big boys compared to me, and scared the life out of me, though I tried to hide it.

So there you go. I suppose it’s a sign of getting old when your memories run to this length…




RIP 8,715 trees

We’ve just had a letter from our electricity supplier telling us how we could have saved money by signing up to a fixed-price deal or paying by monthly direct debit. It’s very kind of them to go to the trouble of doing this, though there is, of course, a suspicion at the back of my mind, that the letter isn’t really for our benefit.

A thought crosses my mind at this point. If they send one letter a year to their 33 million customers (I take this figure from Eon’s Wikipedia entry) and if each letter costs 50p (for ease of calculation) that costs £16.5 million. Sounds like a lot of money. They could do a lot with that money.


From 2006-10 their sponsorship of the FA Cup (including the Women’s and Youth Cups) cost them £40 million.  They spent money on other sports-related sponsorship too, but that’s the only one that has a figure attached on Wiki.

The question is, did this make them any money? I don’t know about you but “What sports do they sponsor?” isn’t top of my list when selecting an energy supplier.

Similarly, they spent around £28 million on supporting the Museum next to their corporate HQ over the years 1998 – 2014.

Again, it wouldn’t really influence me in my choice of supplier. I might feel good about indirectly supporting a museum, but it would come a long way after price and green credentials.

It may be that sponsorship pays its way. It may be that sponsorship is just a massive vanity project.

The only thing I do know for sure is that if they sent out one less letter per customer per year they could probably pay for all the sponsorship, and save 8,715 trees a year.


Woodland – Rufford Park

(I calculated the tree usage from this website).

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Birds at Frampton Marsh

As you can see from the title we went to Frampton Marsh on the Lincolnshire coast today. Unlike some of our previous visits to reserves, it was an excellent day.

Apart from the massive flock of Brent Geese that arrived as we were walking to one of the hides, we say Golden Plover by the thousand and so many Dunlin that the air actually hummed with the movement of their wings. At one time the sky was so full, with half a dozen flocks criss-crossing, I almost got a decent photo. Of course, with my normal level of skill, all I could produce is a view of a sky that looks like I have specks of dirt on my computer screen.

The day in general, was pretty good. The weather, after the troubles of Storm Doris, was mainly sunny and quite warm at times. We saw a good variety of birds, including a Merlin chasing a flock of Lapwing, a lone Barnacle Goose, three Ringed Plovers, a Curlew, two Black-tailed Godwits and a Snipe.

The telescope is working well after someone with a similar model of tripod showed me how to cure the wobble problem, and it helped find some of the better birds. With the day being so sunny it also gave us some great views of distant birds. I am, however, going to have to get a harness to carry it, as it’s a lot heavier than you’d think by the end of the day.

The Visitor Centre is a bit spartan, but it had a machine for tea and coffee, toilets and a cheery volunteer looking after it so what more do you want?