September, 2013

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South East

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  • Turning up the heat

    The summer sun is fading as the year grows old. And darker days are drawing near... Yes it's War of the Worlds time as we slip away from the summer sun, and the climate turns colder. This is just a seasonal thing, but imagine if it was part of trend. Global experts say we're already overdrawn at the climate bank and other experts say they've calculated our worlds end.

    No doubt the experts will continue to debate the validity of their arguments, spurred on by the media pretending to represent the voice of reasoned debate. It's all hot, or cold air. The reality is that we are already losing upto 60 % of our UK wildlife ... YES SIXTY PER CENT

    We're an endlessly creative species and I'm certain we can all find ways to soften urban landscapes by growing atmosphere enhancing plants;which have the added benefit of supporting wildlife, capturing water, scrubbing pollution from the air we breathe and moderating air temperatures. Nature's amazing and so are we.

    Edwina Pitcher is a volunteer working with communities and schools at our Wild about Hampstead Heath project in London, helping them discover and enjoy the world on the City of London Corporation owned Heath. She's taking time out to walk some 600 kilometres from Lisbon in Portugal to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. It's one of the many pilgrim routes leading to the Galician Cathedral, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Here, in the first of what we're hoping will be a couple of instalments, is her wild adventure:A shady spot on the walk

     

    "I have begun to walk across Portugal, beginning at Lisbon and finishing at Santiago da Compostela. It is of course the Caminho

    It's a long way from London and the wildlife of Hampstead Heath, where I have been observing and enjoying the owls, bats and beetles under the wings of the RSPB folk in the park there there. Hopefully I can bring the same curiosity for wildlife I found, surprisingly, in the middle of London, back to you from the Caminho here.

    The route itself, weaving through wilder borderlands between villas, serves to connect communities as well as, on a larger scale, countries. Early on it becomes clear this track is for feet to follow, the way mostly deviates into older tracks, roman roads and scrublands. You come close to habitats removed from the drone and lights of traffic.  Rabbit paths lace over the tracks.

    Where's that rabbit's white tailed rear?And if you enjoy wildlife as much as I do I hope you will continue to read my posts to you from this journey. 
     
    Now, one thing I should make clear, the caminho here pairs you down to the essentials: food, water and rest. You travel light. There's no need for a map. The way is so well marked. There is need to worryover where you are heading, leaving your mind free to consider the big questions in life. You can give yourself up to the road and I honestly don't think many other long distance paths allow for this degree of presence and focus on your journey.A ready made snail kebab

    So while you become pretty atuned to spotting the yellow signage, you also become alert to the natural sights around you. 

    I have seen water snakes and turtles in the Tejo river; an owl as I climbed late one evening into Santarém; wayside snails that climb and live on tips of grass and birds who skim lakes to dip for evening water.

    The landscape here is teeming with creatures and all you need to do is walk. I am pulling on my boots and about to stride onwards, I hope you will follow."

    The Tejo river

    Hopefully Edwina will find time to update us on her walk. Wherever you are, you'll be surprised at how many different plants and creatures you can identify... and those that you can't, simply enjoy and remember them. It may be the last time you see them outside of a book.

  • Je Thames encore

    Stephanie Lawrence our Greater Thames engagement officer immersing herself in her job during August's Great London Swim,Poor old Father Thames. His beard is full of  stained scraps of tissue paper and other unmentionable solids.

    The Thames is a national treasure. A symbol of patriotic majesty and pride. That's the perception we'd all like to think was true. In reality, it's an open sewer, increasingly channeled by new housing and expanding infrastructure. A river can only take so much before it is compromised beyond repair. It's not yet too late to clean-up the naturally muddy brown tidal-waters, but time is ticking.

    Steph after her Thames' swim. "Now wash your hands" was her Mum's advice.Having considered all the evidence, the RSPB agrees with Thames Water. A new tunnelled super sewer is the only way to remove the tonnes of raw human sewage that spills or plops into the Thames. In an ideal world, we'd say go green and install fields of reeds and willow, soften London's landscape and filter off rainwater to reduce the pressure on the existing Victorian drains. But our Capital has developed in such a way that we have neither the physical space for natural sewage filtration of the scale required, nor the plumbing ability to untangle all the mis-connected and bodged sewage, storm and road drains. 

    This is one of those occassions where an engineering fix is needed and we acknowledge that. Our job is to ensure that the "fix" includes as much green infrastructure as possible and that the system will be as resilient and reliant as Joseph Bazalgette's nineteenth century brick-built sewers have proved.

    The gains from the super sewer are too great not to grasp. At present there's a mini-fleet of boats that pootle up and down pumping oxygen into the water. High nutrient levels exacerbate algal growths and fish stocks struggle to survive. Rowers, wild swimmers and other river users are at constant risk of a bucketful of diseases. Removing the sewage changes all this.

    Arguments against the plan say it's not necessary or focus on the disruption caused by the construction. A small number are concerned that air vents will be close to their homes. I want a healthy London. A Capital fit for the 22nd century and throbbing with life, enriched by beauty and where the air is fresh and clean to breathe. The super sewer is part of that vision. 

    If you share our vision, show your support by using our #jethames tag on Facebook or Twitter, or come and see us this coming weekend at the Thames Festival. We're down at Potters Fields and outside the Tate Modern.

  • Tree wishes for my birthday, make it four

    It's my birthday and it recently struck me as odd that we celebrate our birthdays in a rather selfish way. Why do I get the cards, friendly messages and yes, still some presents? Why isn't my Mum getting all this attention as the person who worked hardest this day all those years ago? Thanks Mum.

    We do often make the mistake of ignoring the person, things or actions that gave birth to the events we celebrate. The greatest unsung heroes of the world are in fact the bugs and slimes that are the basis for pretty much all life on earth. In fact, we fear or loathe those bugs. How many of us smile and cheer when we accidentally walk face-first through a web beautifully engineered in a doorway by one of the many spiders now very visble in gardens and parks? I'm guessing many a conversation centred on Friday's drastic change in the weather from sun-bleached 30 degree toastie-ness to cooler, wetter conditions. But I bet lawns and plants sighed with relief, while trees untangled their stressed twigs, shook out their leafy hair and roared with joy at the sky.

    Don't imagine, just look - image copied off the internet

    Nature is all about change and interconnectedness. You can't remove one element without impacting on others. Yet, some still see the natural world as some sort of global pick-up sticks game, yanking out badgers here, channelling rivers there, or even changing the rules and introducing a complex system of increasing their piles of sticks by nicking some from another set; calling it off-setting.

    As it's my birthday, I'm going to list some presents but these are the sort we can all share:

    • Write to your MP about the current Lobbying Bill asking them to scrap it. In its current form, it would make it hard, almost impossible, to campaign for things like the outlawing of DDT or the introduction of Marine Laws. Health, education and poverty charities will have the same problem. 
    • Join us in pursuing energy sources and policies that reduce greenhouse gases and our dependency on carbon
    • Get outdoors and enjoy yourself - wherever you can and however you can. Maybe go meet TV's Mike Dilger at South Woodford this coming Tuesday  
    • Plant some seeds and grow some flowers for your Mum. It will be much nicer than cut flowers and is far better for butterflies, birds and oh yeah... spiders too.