This blog is a celebration of the nature in the South East and highlights ways you can get involved and explore nature in the region. If you've got news of the South East’s nature that you'd like to share, please contact the RSPB South East office on 01273 775333 or email SERComms@rspb.org.uk
Comfort food is what’s required as the temperatures drop and the days shorten. My body craves warm, saucy foods or soups with root veg’ rather than flame-seared barbecue bites and salad.
Most of my food comes from local stores. The little supermarkets that stay open late into the night every day of the week. They have colourful, raked displays of fruit & veg piled-high outside. Inside they’re like an Aladdin’s cave; with trays of Turkish delight, bowls of spices and bunches of herbs. Polish sausages, parmesan and Thai chillies sit alongside lemon grass, olives, curry leaves and pots of houmous or spicy salsa dips.
Several of these shops recently started stocking fair trade goods and organic milk, eggs and top end oils and vinegars. They now accept card payments and have cash machines. They diversified as big chain supermarkets opened-up nearby. The global range of food available in my corner stores is frankly staggering. For a country boy who grew-up believing the occasional Satsuma at Christmas was exotic, and I don’t consider myself old, it is a brave new world.
To an economist, this is a good example of the free market improving choice.
I’m lucky enough to still be able to afford a bit of choice, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult. As a typical middle-class boy and a conservationist, I strive to do the right thing. I automatically favour locally or UK grown seasonal stuff over alternatives that have been shipped around the world. The hierarchy for meat buying has UK, organic, free-range at the top, followed by UK free-range, with desire tailing off rapidly after that point.
My shopping is a minefield of self-imposed contradictions and compromises. What I’m generally aiming for is to pay a fair price for a good product where the producer will get a good return. It’s no longer enough. Ethical choices are being removed from me by the rising costs of living.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this predicament and fear the long term impact will be the demise of the small producers who take pride in the quality of not just their produce, but also the processes of their industry. It’s these small businesses that, more often than not, are the custodians of our countryside and the environment upon which we and all nature depend.
There is currently a vital lifeline for these rural businesses. The Government’s consulting on how to allocate some £2 billion a year of public money. The decision they make now will shape our countryside through to 2020. Something in the heart of our environment is sick and the symptoms include the loss of almost two thirds of our wildlife. We cannot allow this sickness to spread.
A £14 billion injection of cash won’t cure all, but even an economist will agree that it will be a damn sight more effective than me buying a kilo of British mince beef, and that’s why I’m asking you to write to (email) Owen Paterson, urging him to push that money towards those small and struggling rural communities that underpin our conflicted urban lifestyles, support wildlife and safely manage the ecosystems that give us safe food, water and air.