Month: May 2021

How Green Was My Wagner? by Clare Colvin

That you can love the music while disliking the man is a maxim more often applied to Richard Wagner than to any other great composer.   His life was a restless journey of crisis, quarrels and betrayals as he forged ahead in a new musical direction, rejecting the grand Italianate arias of 19th century opera.  Wives, patrons, producers, and fellow musicians, were all subsumed to the irresistible force of his creative genius.   His stormy relations with  his most lavish patron, “mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria were legendary.   Wagner was notorious for his anti-semitism, too.  He published pamphlets attacking established Jewish composers such as Giacomo Meyerbeer, who had generously helped with introductions when the struggling young newcomer  had attempted to break into the world of Paris opera.   It wasn’t Meyerbeer’s fault that Paris proved unreceptive, yet Wagner’s later triumphs never softened his ire over the early setback. Richard Wagner died in 1883 but his anti-semitism – though not overtly expressed in his music – found favour with Adolf Hitler, who claimed Wagner as the Third Reich’s favourite composer.   This was the most difficult piece of baggage to shed in the immediate postwar years.  The Wagner festival at Bayreuth, run largely by the Wagner family, appealed solely  to a niche audience.  Wagner’s music had to wait the better part of a century to win popular acclaim.  The lengthiest of his works – 18 hours of four full length operas collectively known as Der Ring des Nibelungen or The Ring Cycle finally achieved a dazzling breakthrough in 1976 when French film and theatre director Patrice Chéreau  transformed the gods of Nordic legend into bourgeois capitalist men and women of the late 19th century industrial era.   Wotan was seen as the guilty head of family, whose descent from law-maker to law-breaker led to global catastrophe.  Wagner’s epic, in Chéreau’s production, was eventually taken out of the claustrophobic opera box of Bayreuth and filmed for television worldwide, increasing audiences by hundreds of thousands. More recently, in the ever growing concern over climate change, another aspect of Wagner is revealed, that of Green prophet.   Who would have thought of Wagner as the David Attenborough of the 19th century?   Yet if ever there was a musical warning about climate crisis, it comes from the Ring Cycle like a strident alarm.  The floods and fire of Götterdämmerung are nothing less than a forecast of the future.

The Rhinemaidens in Act III, Scene 1
Photo credit: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

At San Francisco Opera, director Francesca Zambello and designer Michael Yeargan’s recent Zoom Ring Cycle Festival streamed the production that they had first created there on stage in 2018. In addition to the Zoom streaming, there have been a series of webinars where discussions ranged through present day concerns, from feminism to racism and climate crisis.  The operas, ostensibly set during and after the Gold Rush of the American West, were also named “the Green Ring.”  The directing/design team had worked on the productions for a period of ten years before the pandemic, and it seemed as if the drama that was enacted in the rehearsal room was being mirrored by real life events. “During those years it was as if the present day world was telling us what the Ring Cycle was about,” said Yeargan.  “We went through a whole process that was like being in a living newspaper.” Wotan’s spear is an illustration of Wagner’s profound feeling for nature.  Before the beginning of the first opera Das Rheingold the chief god has hacked down a branch from the world great ash tree and carved law-giving runes on the shaft that give him authority over men and gods. By the final opera Götterdämmerung – the Twilight of the Gods – the breaking of the branch is denounced as an act of vandalism by the shadowy Norns as they try to undo the tangled ropes of destiny.  The life-giving well has run dry, the ash tree is cut down by Valhalla’s heroes for firewood, and the  balance of nature sabotaged –  evoking thoughts of despoiled Brazilian rain forests in the present day mind. It’s a long way from the purity of Das Rheingold’s crystalline river and its gleaming gold before the drama is set in motion by the dwarf Alberich stealing the gold and crafting the fatal ring.  By the time the hero Siegfried arrives, the Rhinemaidens’ pristine robes are grimy as they gather discarded refuse and bottles into bin bags –  an obvious image perhaps but why not remind us that there is a  vast sea of plastic afloat in the Pacific Ocean?  In his role as spokesman for the “woke” generation Richard Wagner might have approved.

Photograph by Victoria Carew-Hunt

Clare Colvin is an acclaimed novelist and short-story writer, whose fiction focuses on themes of history, music and art. Her first novel A Fatal Season (Duckworth, 1996), a cautionary tale about the perils of role-playing, was set in the London theatre in the mid-1980s. Her second Masque of the Gonzagas (Arcadia, 1999) was set in 17th-century Mantua and Venice at the time of Claudio Monteverdi, the composer of early opera. It has been translated into five European languages and is now published as an ebook. Her third novel The Mirror Makers (Hutchinson/Arrow, 2003), for which she received an Arts Council writers’ award, was set in the court of King Louis XIV during the building of Versailles.  Colvin’s short stories have been published in anthologies, including Constable’s Winter’s Tales and Robson’s Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories, by Duckworth and Serpent’s Tail, as well as in literary magazines. She was runner-up in the V.S. Pritchett short-story awards in 2012 for her short story ‘Sehr Schon’ and in 2014 for ‘The Scattering’. She has taught creative writing, specialising in short stories and novels, at Goldsmiths and Birkbeck colleges. Clare Colvin also works as a journalist, opera critic and arts feature-writer.   She was opera critic for the Sunday Express from 2006 for 15 years, and now writes as a freelance on opera and the arts.

Photographs of San Francisco Opera ‘Green Ring’ provided by Teresa Concepcion (SFO Communications)

Burping Cows And Charcoal Biscuits by Ethan Hawes and Laura Sykes

Many years go by (I am now 72). I, like all of us, became concerned about the climate crisis, ozone layer etc. An important factor, apparently, is methane and other gases burped by cows. Last summer, I had a sudden ‘Eureka’ moment. I woke up at 2 a.m., convinced that I had come up with a solution to the problem of global warming. All we had to do is to make charcoal biscuits for cows in sufficient quantities, persuade cows in sufficient numbers to eat the biscuits, and lo and behold, harmony should be restored. I enlisted the help of a nephew as research assistant, and he found that several people had got there before me (Dash!, but I was also rather amazed to have been on the right track).

Coffee Room (now dining room) designed by Charles Barry at The Travellers Club
Photograph © The Travellers Club London, who gave kind permission for its reproduction to illustrate this article.

The ‘medicinal’ properties of charcoal are said to have been known as early as the third century, but a more recent learned article on the subject by Dr. Gerhard K. Heilig appeared in 1994 : “The greenhouse gas methane (CH4): Sources and sinks, the impact of population growth, possible interventions.
Methane (CH4) is one of the trace gases in the atmosphere that is considered to play a major role in what is called the “greenhouse effect.” There are six major sources of atmospheric methane: emission from anaerobic decomposition in (1) natural wetlands; (2) paddy rice fields; (3) emission from livestock production systems (including intrinsic fermentation and animal waste); (4) biomass burning (including forest fires, charcoal combustion, and firewood burning); (5) anaerobic decomposition of organic waste in landfills; and (6) fossil methane emission during the exploration and transport of fossil fuels. Obviously, human activities play a major role in increasing methane emissions from most of these sources. Especially the worldwide expansion of paddy rice cultivation, livestock production and fossil fuel exploration have increased the methane concentration in the atmosphere. Several data sets help estimate atmospheric methane concentration up to 160,000 years back. Major sources and sinks of present-day methane emission and their relative contribution to the global methane balance demonstrate great uncertainties in the identification and quantification of individual sources and sinks. Most recent methane projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for 2025 and 2100 are discussed and used to estimate the contribution of population growth to future methane emission. Finally the paper discusses options and restrictions of reducing anthropogenic methane emissions to the atmosphere. Heilig, G.K. The greenhouse gas methane (CH4): Sources and sinks, the impact of population growth, possible interventions. Popul Environ 16, 109–137 (1994).
The importance of tackling methane has become more apparent in the past decade and a half. After a plateau which began in 1999, concentrations of the gas in the atmosphere started rising again in 2007, a trend that continues to this day. At the moment, more than 300m tonnes are emitted every year as a consequence of human activity, and that rate is growing. As a result, methane concentrations are now more than two-and-a-half times what they were before the Industrial Revolution, and are rising faster than allowed for in all but the most pessimistic climate projections for the 21st century…… Besides leaky wells and pipelines, and gassy coal mines, methane is also emitted by belching cattle, rice paddies, forest fires, slash-and-burn agriculture, rubbish dumps, wastewater-treatment plants, cars and lorries, and natural ecosystems such as swamps, rivers and lakes….The lion’s share of agricultural methane, though, comes from ruminant livestock—cows and sheep, mainly. Such husbandry generates 79% of the sector’s contribution…This is now being investigated experimentally, to see if changing what the animals eat can damp down methanogenic activity. The Economist, 3 April 2021 This article appeared in the Science & technology section of the print edition under the headline “The other greenhouse gas” For more coverage of climate change, visit The Economist’s climate-change hub
  In the Antipodes, Mikki Cusack wrote for ‘Future Planet‘ on 7 February 2020:
The cowpats that these particular beetles are burying are not ordinary cowpats. On this farm near Manjimup in south-west Australia, they are rich in a substance called biochar – essentially charcoal produced through a slow-bake process – that has been added to the cattle’s feed. This black, coal-like substance is leading a quiet revolution in this pocket of rural Australia, in an effort to reduce the cows’ methane emissions and to sink more carbon into the soil.
Greta Thunberg takes us in ‘A Year to Change the World’ Episode 3 (28.0-34.0 min) to Denmark, where she visits a team who are experimenting on cattle feed in an effort to reduce methane emissions. We are not told what this secret additive might be, but the existing examples above would suggest that it might well contain carbon? It’s both a humbling and an exciting experience to have ‘dreamed’ this idea, when it turns out to be already in practice by professionals in the field. It was not like Kekulé’s dream about the structure of Benzene, since he was a scientist, but it does perhaps show that any one of us, the ‘general public’, might have a role to play in how we deal with the climate crisis. Maybe..?

Further Reading

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has a useful Overview of Greenhouse Gases, which sets the threat posed by methane in relation to other gases.

The Government of Western Australia has also produced an almost jargon-free summary of the use of feed additives in reducing methane emissions in cattle.

A Field’s Eye View by Judy McDowell

Hi. I’m a field. Green and muddy. I’m quite down-trodden actually, because this year a herd of cows lives here. So, the lovely grass that covered me in early spring has become a bit flattened and in places blended into the mire. Sometimes my grass grows quite well, and I get left in peace. That’s when I’m being fallow. It’s peaceful then. It’s often peaceful in the winter, but I must admit I’m half asleep. I can’t function properly with the lack of sunlight, and it’s too cold for me. My grass can’t grow, and I don’t get many visitors. Some years I grow a vegetable crop. I quite like that. I get visited by quite a few birds and insects. I love those sorts of visitors. In fact, what I like best is the hedgerow around the edge of me. My edge hedge. I would love to have that all over me. All year round there are little animals and insects and other crawling, slithering and flying creature in that part of me. And I grow different things in it. Mostly new leaves come in the spring, some of my leaves change colour in the autumn, some stay all year round. I have flowers and berries and I feel so pretty, and useful. I’ve got some quite nice neighbours: all fields. They tell me that further over, part of another farm, some fields are all hedgerow-like; and some even grow trees, enough so they don’t look like fields at all. Apparently, when we grow lots of plants, we give off oxygen, and that’s good for all animals, even those humans who decide our fate. But if we’re just full of animals, they breathe in the oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. That’s good for our plants; but when there aren’t many plants it just goes to waste and floats up into the air and causes problems. I know this is embarrassing, but seeing as I’m being honest here, when we have loads of cows stomping all over us, they do a lot of farting too, and that’s stinky. It gives off methane, and that just gets stuck in the air with the unused carbon dioxide. Apparently, the farmer who owns the fields where they’ve covered them in hedgerow and trees and things, says as well as being nice, and socially so much better for us fields, it’s better for the weather to be like that. All this using carbon dioxide and giving out oxygen, as well as fewer cow farts, helps stop it raining ridiculously hard sometimes, then being too dry at other times. If more fields were allowed to do it, we could have less of that really hot sunshine that bakes a clay field like me, so that when it does rain, I can’t soak up the water, and it lies about on me and is ever so uncomfortable. Some of it flows off past other fields and gets on the road. I’ve heard people’s houses even get the water inside them. Well, seems like it serves them right for not growing better stuff in us fields! Don’t get me wrong, I like cows. Some of them are really sweet, and it’s kind of tickling and soothing when they eat my grass. But sometimes when the grass hasn’t managed to grow very long, it pulls a bit and feels uncomfortable. Then, of course, when I’m allowed to grow vegetables, it’s usually for the cows to eat during the winter, so I’m quite a cow-giver. Yes, I’m sure now. What I’d really like to be is a hedgerow field. Oh, maybe there could be a patch for pretty wildflowers to grow, even another patch for some vegetables. And some fruit trees. The field next to me said that the bigger the variety of plants, the more different types of creatures visit or live on us. I’d quite like some more rabbits to come and nibble on me. They are gentle and don’t squash me at all. Hedgehogs would be good too. They like my, well, hedge! And birds like berries and seeds and insects, so if I were covered in all sorts of stuff, lots of birds would come and nest in me and eat the things I grow. Oh, it would be so lovely. They sing so sweetly. But I suppose it’s not likely to happen. Apparently, the cows come here so that either the farmer can take the milk out of them for people to drink, or make into yoghurt or cheese and stuff, or they eat the cows themselves. Oh, yuk, fancy being a cow. You just live a bit then get eaten. Not just the grass on your surface, your whole self. Anyway, it’s because people keep wanting to eat cows that I have to be rotated: fallow, grow veg, get trampled on by a whole herd of cows. Sigh. I wish there was a way I could change people’s minds, so they didn’t want to eat cows. Judy McDowell, on Twitter as @jcm247. ” Into politics, environment, wildlife, psychology, early learning, coffee, archaeology, evolution, family + other pets, soaps, sarcasm”.

Hot Off The Press – May 2021

Men looking at ticker tape in broker’s office: “The Golden House” by Charles Dudley Warner, Harper’s magazine, (Sept. 1894)


You may have seen the Netflix documentary ‘Seaspiracy‘ about the environmental damage done by the deep sea fishing industry, which premiered in March.
It has been much discussed, more so since some of its conclusions have been questioned by scientists. (Wikipedia has a good summary of its critical reception). The Guardian of 31 March says it “pours doubt on the idea of sustainable fishing, shines a spotlight on the aquaculture industry and introduces the notion of ‘blood shrimp’, seafood tainted with slave labour and human rights abuses”. If you haven’t yet seen it, we encourage you to do so, and also to read some of the critical reaction. This is partly because the subject is important in itself, but also because of the difficulty in writing about risks to a healthy environment in general. If one overstates the risks, or is tempted to write lurid descriptions of the threats and predicted outcomes, one evokes a strong counter-reaction, so strong very often that it threatens to negate the actual threat warning altogether.

Build a Better World 2021 – Fund Raising Through Music

June 5th 2021 marks the 46th anniversary of World Environment Day 2021. and we are doing our bit to help restore our planet and to build a better world by releasing Better World. In 2020 award winning UK song-writer Colin Gordon-Farleigh and Nashville based singer and writer Sandy Smolen got together and wrote the lyrics and music for Better World. It is a song about how we need to build a better world for the future and how we all have our part to play in doing this. All those involved in creating the track have volunteered to donate their worldwide royalties from Better World when played on streaming services such as iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon, Spotify and the rest, for at least 12 months. So instead of asking people for donations, we are simply asking your help to let us donate the maximum amount of money by playing and sharing the song. Our initial target is one million plays. In the next few weeks, before the song is released on 5th June, we are now asking people to suggest the charities we should be donating to. The list we have gathered so far is below and we expect to choose five from the most popular suggestions. The final selection will be announced on 28th May.”
Better World Excerpt Sung by Cindy Hall – Sheer Joy Music
Follow them on Twitter @betterworldsong!

source: Richard Irwin

Environmental Threat to Ancient Woodland in Buckinghamshire

“Jones’ Hill Wood is a beautiful ancient woodland in Buckinghamshire that has to date been successfully defended from destruction by HS2 through the actions of Earth Protectors, ecologists, lawyers, environmental groups, locals and politicians. The battle for this ancient woodland continues as we also expand our collaborative strategy to protect other areas of natural beauty under threat by HS2. The tawny owls, red kites, families of badgers, and plethora of other flora and fauna that call Jones’ Hill Wood home all have a right to life…”

source: Gaia Facebook

Sole plus point of Brexit?

I expect you know Fiona Harvey, Environmental Correspondent for The Guardian. If you don’t, her articles are an excellent place for a start-the-day briefing on what is happening in the green world.

Writing about the environment full-time since 2004. Seen a lot of environment since then“, is her pithy career summary.

Animals are to be formally recognised as sentient beings in UK law for the first time, in a victory for animal welfare campaigners, as the government set out a suite of animal welfare measures including halting most live animal exports and banning the import of hunting trophies. The reforms will be introduced through a series of bills, including an animal sentience bill, and will cover farm animals and pets in the UK, and include protections for animals abroad, through bans on ivory and shark fins, and a potential ban on foie gras.” source: Guardian, 12 May 2021, Fiona Harvey, @fionaharvey

Another very good source to visit regularly is EcoWatch.

“EcoWatch is a community of experts publishing quality, science-based content on environmental issues, causes, and solutions for a healthier planet and life.” The website has two columns: one a news ‘tickertape’ and the other a live update of articles. Top of the list as I write is ‘Overwhelming’ Evidence Facebook Is Failing to Tackle Climate Misinformation‘ by Rich Collett-White:
Facebook is “fuelling climate misinformation” through its failure to get to grips with misleading content, according to a new report that calls on companies to boycott the platform until significant action is taken. Campaign group Stop Funding Heat, which produced the report, warns that the problem is likely to escalate in the coming months as the next major UN climate summit, COP26, approaches and wants to see action taken against “repeat offenders.”

30 Things You Can Do If You’re Feeling Helpless About Climate Change“.

Nearly two years ago Jennifer Nini wrote a brilliant piece for Eco-Warrior Princess with ideas which still hold good,
Reduce your waste by packing a zero waste kit and taking it with you everywhere you go, to work, to school and everywhere in between. Check out this list for zero waste travel tips… Keep sharing green lifestyle posts like this on social media and engage in reasonable discussions with people that aren’t based on extreme ideology. Don’t be an an annoying, know-it-all, “I’m right and you’re dumb” greenie because it just turns people off – no one likes an ‘eco’ -basher. To learn how to be an effective advocate for the environment, read our article on the do’s and don’ts of advocacy. Eco-Warrior Princess

Jane Goodall

A Living Covid Memorial: Let Us Plant Trees! (Based on an idea by Caroline Voaden)

Caroline Voaden tweeted on 4 May·” Covid memorialhow about we plant a new forest instead of building something out of stone? A living tree for every person who has died. A place to sit, reflect, breathe… A place that truly reflects where we are right now. What a wonderful idea! And let us go global with this idea – it could build international solidarity based on the twin very real concerns that everyone on this planet shares: remembering those who died in this world-wide epidemic and minimising climate change. We could try to have one big forest in each country – or perhaps an arboretum where we grow at least one of every native species? Or, and this particularly appeals to me, we could think globally, but act locally. In cities, towns and even villages, trees could be dotted around in small groups without needing to be in an actual park. Trees of one kind can work very successfully embedded into pavements, like the plane trees in Queens Gate, London. They are pollarded in winter, when the flats need every bit of light, and come into leaf in summer. In general, though conifers of course have their place, it is more environmentally friendly to plant broad-leaved trees than conifers. Returning to Caroline Voaden’s tweet, there is something which appeals to the imagination about planting new life as part of our homage to (and memorialising of) those that have died. And people of some religions (Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism for example) believe in reincarnation/rebirth, though few believe that trees are included in this cycle. Nevertheless, people of all faiths and none do sometimes scatter the ashes of someone they love over a favourite rose bush, say, so that the ashes nourish and become part of the living rose. I think Mary Oliver puts it better than I possibly could in her poem, ‘Wild Geese’ *” “…Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers…” *still subject to copyright – follow hyperlink for full text
Sourced from Caroline Voaden’s website Caroline Voaden , who tweets as @CarolineVoaden, is a Liberal Democrat politician and international journalist, who served as leader of the LibDems in the European Parliament, following her election as Member of the European Parliament for the South West England and Gibraltar constituency in 2019. …
Caroline was widowed at 34 in 2003, and subsequently became chair of a national charity that supports young widowed men and women – WAY, Widowed and Young. She is only too aware of the long-term effects such an event can have on the whole wider family, from bereavement support and benefits, to lone parenthood and mental health issues. Caroline has written a book about her experience, ‘If there’s anything I can do…’. See Caroline’s page on amazon here

Go Peat-Free To Protect The Planet! by Josie Parr

Winter ice coats Lochan na h-Achlaise lake on the vast peat bog moorland of Rannoch Moor, with the snow-capped Black Mountains in the distance. Joe Dunckley. Shutterstock

Peat has been a major ingredient of the compost used in gardening for many years. This peat is dug out of wild places, damaging some of the last remaining peatlands in the UK and overseas. This process also releases carbon into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change. Sadly, about 94% of the UK’s lowland peat bogs have been destroyed or damaged, and a wealth of wildlife has disappeared along with it. This vital habitat isn’t easily replaced. Peat-free growing media, including compost and soil conditioners, are increasingly available: however, many products still use peat as their organic ingredient. Even ‘low peat’ products, those that claim to be from ‘sustainable sources’ and the soil in potted plants, can still contain a high proportion of peat. Top tips on going peat free
  • Check all purchases – specifically labelled peat free compost is available, you may need to shop around to find it. However peat’s not just in the bagged soil that we buy. It’s also used for many of our potted plants and shrubs, or the soil ‘plugs’ or ‘pellets’ that often come in gift boxes or similar, that you add water to to hydrate. Check labels for peat-based materials, and make sure that peat is not a component of potted house plants or indoor potting mix too.
  • Be vocal – the more we ask for peat-free options, the more likely stores will stock it. Help demonstrate consumer demand for peat free options by asking your local retailer what’s available.
  • Use alternatives – there are a number of peat-free alternatives; all providing different conditions for growing. The best thing to use will depend on what you want to grow and the existing soil you have in your garden. You may want to research and experiment with
    • – Bark chippings
    • – Coir
    • – Wood fibre
    • – Composting.
Bogology – the Science of Peatlands and past Climate Change  


Whilst peatlands cover just 3% of the world’s surface, they contain nearly a third of all organic carbon on earth. In fact, they’re second only to ocean deposits as the world’s most important stores of carbon. It might also surprise you to know that they contain twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests put together! It is remarkable then, that peatlands have until fairly recently received relatively little attention in the discussion of how best to tackle the issue of future climate change. Peatlands are very efficient at absorbing carbon from the carbon cycle and locking it away – a process called sequestration. In fact, in their natural state, most peat bogs function as carbon ‘sinks’ meaning that they absorb and store more carbon than they release. This is important as it prevents this carbon from entering the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, two of the major greenhouse gasses (GHGs) and contributors to climate change. from ‘Bogology – The Future’
RSPB Scotland are campaigning for the Scottish government to restore bog habitats:
Peatlands have the potential to be a natural solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They hold a vast stock of carbon in their soils and can add more by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. But this natural carbon capture and storage ability can only happen if peatland habitats are healthy and functioning. To get to that state many areas of degraded and damaged peatland, which are currently losing carbon, need to be restored. RSPB Scotland has called for peatland restoration for many years, recognising them as a fantastic habitat for some of our rarest wildlife.
In addition to knowledge, money and political commitment the right policies need to be in place to make restoration happen. The National Trust has an almost jargon-free pdf on the importance of peat
Peat is of great importance to our planet:
  • as a carbon store – peat holds more carbon than the combined forests of Britain, France and Germany
  • for wildlife – many scarce species inhabit peatlands
  • for water management – peat holds up to 20 times its own weight in water
  • for archaeology – peat preserves a record of past vegetation, landscapes and people


Call To Action

Finally, at home and in your garden, please help The Wildlife Trusts to keep peat in the ground where it belongs:
Ban the use of peat in horticulture and all growing media by 2023. Peat bogs and moors are extremely important in the fight against the climate emergency; sequestering carbon better than many natural landscapes, reducing flooding and are great for biodiversity.The plan to stop peat use by 2030 is too late, and needs to be brought forward. Peat imports should cease. Peat bogs and moors are extremely important in the fight against the climate emergency; sequestering carbon better than many natural landscapes, reducing flooding and are great for biodiversity.The plan to stop peat use by 2030 is too late, and needs to be brought forward. Peat imports should cease. Please consider signing this petition to Parliament, with an URGENT deadline of 3 June 2021

Learn to Love your Worms by Caroline Hoyes

Image from Shutterstock

         “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel, and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it ”

   George Monbiot, The Guardian 24 Mar 2015, quoting ‘a Sanskrit text’.

There are ten species and three main types of worm in England and earthworms even have their own British Appreciation Society. Each type has its own unique job to do to keep our soil healthy and they are named (in Greek) according to their place in the soil. First there are the speedy little dark wriggly red-headed ones (for the scientifically-minded Epigeic). These are roughly matchstick size and live in compost heaps, under plant pots and in leaf litter on the surface of the soil without burrows. Then there are the podgy, pale or greenish ones which often curl up if handled (endogeic), and eat soil while making horizontal networks of burrows in the top layers of the soil. Lastly, we have the big dark red- or black-headed worms roughly pencil-sized (Anecic), who make permanent unbranched burrows straight down for about 2 metres (taller than most of us!) These are the ones who produce worm casts and sometimes leave piles of  half-chewed leaves round their burrows. They lurk vertically to emerge at night to feed around the mouths of their burrows. Earthworms are essential for our survival because they enable plants to flourish. With only artificial fertilisers, soil eventually “dies”. Worms are vital for mixing the mineral and organic components in our soils as they drag plant matter down. They also aerate and drain the soil, and the big deep worms even help trees establish roots using their burrows. Some species of worms eat plant-killing nematodes. And last, but not least, the mucous they excrete (yuk) to enable their movement through the soil feeds the soil’s beneficial micro-organisms: the sort of stuff one buys in an expensive packet from the garden centre.

How we can help them:

Worms hate being dug up as it ruins their burrow systems and exposes them to predation, so deep-digging vegetable patches is no longer recommended. They go hungry if we tidy up all the leaves and use only artificial fertilisers, so start a compost heap, spreading it liberally on flower beds as a mulch in spring and letting some leaves stay on the lawn to overwinter. Farmers are increasingly doing less ploughing and more manuring. Worms love to eat broken eggshells so use them to deter slugs and leave them to rot down for the worms. Use a mulching lawn mower if you must mow and keep your grass as long as the mower will allow. Avoid pesticides, fungicides and chemical lawn treatments, which kill worms as well as everything else. Try not to compact soil when waterlogged by walking or driving on it as this kills the worms by squashing their burrows and on a large scale increases flooding.

Don’t buy worms to improve starved soil: they will die.

Keep feeding the soil and worms will arrive!

Editor’s note: Further to Caroline’s piece, you may like to look at the report of damage being done to our soil in general, and earthworms in particular, by pesticides in this story in The Guardian of 4 May 2021 about a report published in the journal ‘Frontiers in Environmental Science’:

For example, 84% of the tested parameters in earthworms were negatively affected by the most-common classes of insecticides. Some herbicides and fungicides also harmed earthworms. Donley said: “It’s not just one or two pesticides that are causing harm, the results are really very consistent across the whole class of chemical poisons.” A 2012 review showed that pesticides can also harm microbial life in soils.

A Greener, Friendlier, Post-Pandemic, Locally-Driven Recovery by Richard Kay

source: Shutterstock
The economy we experience is driven by the mechanism of currency which we use, and the means by which conventional exchanges are taxed. We might want economic life to be different, but efforts to reform piecemeal this deeply interconnected set of systems are resisted by the ways in which different parts are influenced by the whole. From the early 1990s, various community groups in the UK operated our own currencies, where exchanges of goods and services were accounted using group units of exchange. While these were used mainly for person-to-person transactions, it was difficult for local businesses and charities to be involved (though some were) and this, together with very small scale and minimum fixed overheads, limited our operations and impact. Local Exchange Trading Systems [ LETS ] groups, whose accounts were £ value equivalent, were inevitably limited by volunteer burnout, while Timebanks, which accounted the hours volunteered, were limited by the duration of grant-funding for organisers, who acted as brokers, maintained accounts, and vetted volunteers. The exceptional costs of the pandemic have largely been met through a massive programme of public borrowing, but financial markets will not indefinitely continue to lend to governments rapidly increasing their debt as a multiple of GDP at low interest. So it’s inevitable that local authorities will experience a conventional spending crunch, made worse through a loss of high street income. This proposal is to grant local authorities powers to issue a new and complementary kind of money, which operates on a different set of issuance and taxation rules, specifically designed for new small businesses with local customers, and to help local family enterprises gain back otherwise lost trade. This money will stay local as it will exist in digital form only, in accounts held by local authority departments (e.g. a community library or sports centre), local charities and individuals or partnerships resident in the local authority area. Use of this money will encourage holders of it to shop locally, and for shops accepting it to purchase goods and services with local preference, encouraging a greener, more circular economy. This will provide councils with an interest-free line of credit, to the extent local account holders accept this new money in exchange for local authority purchases, or as grants given in this form to community groups for carrying out activities which the council intends supporting. To encourage acceptance of its money, the council will accept it in payment of sports centre admission and memberships, library fees and in part payment of rents and council tax. A simpler means of taxation for this new kind of money compared to conventional income and VAT taxes is proposed.  Instead of extra sources of income and profits having to be accounted and declared as with taxation on conventional earnings, a percentage commission on each transaction will be paid directly to the council whenever this kind of money is transferred from one account holder to another. When a council department receives it or when money is paid into a local charity account, this commission will be waived. This policy will shift a very small proportion of taxation revenue initially from central to local government. It will give local voters a greater stake in how their local authority is run and how it manages its priorities. It will give local people who can earn and spend this kind of money a greater sense of belonging to and identification with their community. It will raise the profile of local family-run businesses serving people within their area, compared to much larger private corporate businesses which often compete ruthlessly and treat suppliers and employees unfairly. This will incentivise local authorities to rethink their decision making processes concerning purchasing and making grants to local groups. A local authority should be considered a network of different organisations as varied as recycling and waste collection are from parks and gardens, planning, local care homes, primary schools and libraries. The proposed kind of money will work better when its spending is decided in as decentralised a manner as possible within this network. Having transaction taxes for this new and complementary kind of money will provide an equivalent kind of filter to a firewall within a computer network, or a biological cell wall within a multi cell organism. Out of area trade will occur as now using conventional money. But currency exchangers won’t be able to undermine the new economic context due to the firewalling effect of transaction taxes in keeping this money local. As all units making up this type of currency will exist within accounts with a common account holder agreement, this agreement and contract can be adapted to restrict avoidance of local taxes due on transactions when legal ownership of currency units changes.
Richard Kay, who can be found on Twitter at @Richard18593976, is himself involved in a local currency scheme in ‘Middle England’. See “Done engineering, cyber & teaching. Now special local economy projects, walking and home made wine”.

Green How I Love You Green by Verdura

In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, said Tennyson in Locksley Hall v.10 Especially if you don’t understand Spanish, I invite you to listen to this rendition of Federico Garcia Lorca’s ‘Verde Que Te Quiero Verde’. (Although the English translation primly corrects this with a comma after the first ‘Verde’, the original has no such constraints on its flow). Lorca illustrates so beautifully with the sound of his words (not so much his meaning) why thoughts of ‘the young green corn divinely springing, the young green corn for ever singing‘ lift our spirits as we wait impatiently for Flora or Freya, the goddesses of spring, to overcome the dreariness of a long winter. And this year especially, as we have undergone the long, long winter of the plague. In Europe we tend to think of the first appearances of The Green Man as being medieval.


But there is a primordial force about the return of spring, both literally and metaphorically, which certainly predates Christianity. The twin gods of Dionysos and Bacchus are epitomised by the Bacchanalia which, no doubt, led to the worst excesses of the French Revolution, but nevertheless expressed unbounded joy, a U-rated version of which can be found in CS Lewis’s ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as he brings the statues to life after the permanent winter imposed by The White Witch:
Everywhere the statues were coming to life. The courtyard looked no longer like a museum; it looked more like a zoo. Creatures were running after Aslan and dancing round him till he was almost hidden in the crowd. Instead of all that deadly white the courtyard was now a blaze of colours; glossy chestnut sides of centaurs, indigo horns of unicorns, dazzling plumage of birds, reddy-brown of foxes, dogs and satyrs, yellow stockings and crimson hoods of dwarfs; and the birch-girls in silver, and the beech-girls in fresh, transparent green, and the larch-girls in green so bright that it was almost yellow. And instead of the deadly silence the whole place rang with the sound of happy roarings, brayings, yelpings, barkings, squealings, cooings, neighings, stampings, shouts, hurrahs, songs and laughter. Lucy looked and saw that Aslan had just breathed on the feet of the stone giant. “It’s all right!” shouted Aslan joyously. “Once the feet are put right, all the rest of him will follow.” The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe

Roman Green Man (c. 1st or 2nd Century CE) in Musée de Vésone, Périgueux, Dordogne, France (photo Julianna Lees)

Here is a Roman period Green Man found in the Dordogne (home of the Paleolithic civilisations of Lascaux etc). Could the Green Man possibly stretch back beyond the period of Asterix as far as Early Man? Between the 10th and 12th centuries, European foliate masks were fantastic, sometimes nightmarish inventions, but the 13th century re-interpreted the image in a naturalistic way, focussing on the lifelike quality of the carved leaves. It is said that the greatest concentrations of green men in European churches are near stretches of historic woodlands: it is almost as if, when the trees were chopped down to build, their spirit inhabitants insisted on taking up residence with ‘their’ timbers in the new home.
 “The Green Man probably arrived in the Christian Church as a part of a general sense of Spirit in Nature, an inheritance from the Pagan past which was doubtless more sub-conscious than deliberate. Green men are far too prominent in churches, at a time when heresy and non-conformity were fiercely punished, to have entered the church in a gesture of knowing respect to Pagan deities.. [Our] God is also the God of nature, there is some mysterious link between the pattern of death and resurrection which is at the heart of salvation and the dying to rise again, the winters before spring, that are patterned into nature herself…The God who made Spring could not be less than the gods we worshipped once in sacred groves…there is more, not less exuberance in him than in Pan and Bacchus. He is more than the Green Man but he is also everything the Green Man ever was.” [i] [i] The Green Man by The Revd Malcolm Guite, Anglican priest and poet based in Cambridge; see

Meanderings In The New Forest by Nathan Goldsmith

Walk One: Ashford -[Ashford]

The New Forest is a home from home for me. Living in Southampton, I am lucky to have one of England’s most beautiful national parks on my doorstep. With the highest concentration of ancient woodland in Western Europe, coupled with its free-ranging ponies, donkeys and pigs, the New Forest feels like you have stumbled onto somebody’s farm – but are given a warm welcome. The New Forest extends over 140,000 acres and is steeped in British history. William the Conqueror proclaimed the New Forest as a royal forest in around 1079, to be used for royal hunts and foraging, and whilst that historic tradition might not be as popular in this modern-day, chefs and restaurant owners across the forest are keen to keep up their foraging duties for use in their cooking. I wonder if William the Conqueror ever considered that his entire aim for the forest would still be upheld almost 1,000 years later – and still be largely owned by the Crown. The ‘Nova Foresta’ is the only forest that the Domesday Book describes in high detail. Twelfth-century chroniclers alleged that William had created the forest by evicting the inhabitants of 36 parishes, though this is disputed by some, as the poor soil in areas suggests large agriculture would not have been suitable. Forest laws were eventually brought in to preserve the New Forest as a location for royal deer hunting, and interference with the king’s deer and its forage was punished. The inhabitants of the area (called commoners), however, had pre-existing rights of common: to send their horses and cattle (but only rarely sheep) out into the Forest to graze (common pasture), to gather fuelwood (estovers), to cut peat for fuel (turbary), to dig clay (marl), and to turn out pigs between September and November to eat fallen acorns and beechnuts (pannage or mast). There were also licences granted to gather bracken after Michaelmas Day (29 September) as litter for animals (fern). All of these, even today, are important parts of the forest’s ecology. It’s a talking point of the forest, the main reason as to why some visit, and why you should too (but please don’t feed the animals!).
Extract from Ordnance Survey map
I started my forest walk from Ashurst train station, which sits on the edge of the New Forest and borders a Southampton suburb. The path into the forest is adjacent to the station, and within five minutes you already feel immersed into these ancient woodlands and heath shrublands. Pass the village pubs, go through a gate, pass a red-brick cottage with a working farm about 200 yards up, and carry on directly down the rocky path until you see the white gate by the railway line. Once you do, go through the gate and over the railway line, and you’ll enter the iconic New Forest shrublands. (Just above Ashurst Campsite – for a reference point.) If traversing these shrublands, you must be careful. The New Forest has a wealth of wildlife, most notably birds such as curlews, redshanks, snipes and lapwings (all becoming rarer in the south of England) which nest in the ground around this time of year. Signs will mark out where you can and can’t go, but do keep your wits about you.
Many trails are signposted once you are onto the shrublands, so you’ll have lots of choices. I made a beeline for the pines in the very distance. The New Forest is an assault on the senses, and I love that. The colour of the alder, oak, ash and beech trees popped in the Spring sun, with blankets of detritus and leaves sitting beneath, offering a unique contrast. The sun warmed this blanket, releasing an earthy, woody smell – a beautiful reminder that tarmac is a while away, and just natural resources remain. Escaping from the hustle and bustle of the city as I often do (and which inspired me to share this walk with you), it did not take long for me to reconfigure, switching my mind from the worries of the modern world to giving attention to the soothing environment of the forest. Sounds of birds all around and the wind blowing gently through the trees is all you’ll hear, and travelling up the hills a little farther – where tree numbers reduce – things become even quieter.
It’s from there on the hills, above the wondrous landscape, you get a real idea of how vast the New Forest is. I had only walked for an hour but already felt like I was in the middle of nowhere – and I suppose I was. The nearest road – one running between Ashurst and Lyndhurst – was now a distant memory, along with the railway; both noisy manmade highways, forfeited in this part of the forest for the continuity of its beauty and stillness. At risk of sounding like Coco in ‘White Heat’, you ‘feel on top of the world’. It’s almost as if you’ve transcended our modern world entirely (or embodiments of them – noise, pollution, cars, trains, masses of other people), and long may spaces like these that give us those breaks continue. Coming down the same hillside I came up, slowly to take in my surroundings, I take a walk back almost diagonally to where I came from. This takes me through heavy parts of this ancient forest – a time for a beautiful panoramic, or a sit in contemplation – and I can see why William the Conqueror was so keen to make this a royal, protected forest. Working through the forest and turning back rather urgently from the path after being knee-deep in a bog, my destination is in sight.
I think a large part of the reason we come out to these places is that we need space for ourselves. We need to be still and reflect. Modern living – where we live close next to, or above of, each other; where we are connected constantly via social media, phones and emails; where we’re working hard amongst other people – is difficult. Places like the New Forest offer an escape from all of that. For some, though, that escape is far from comfortability. Because, for some, whilst they recognise how sacred and respected these spaces are, the hustle and bustle of city life, the ultra-connection to one another, is where they feel most comfortable. To be outside and in the middle of nowhere is an alien concept, a worrying one, but that’s OK. I hope that by people like me sharing these spaces and experiences whether that be via blog, magazine, or podcast, we can showcase the best parts of our outside world and communities, and leave others feeling welcomed in should they ever want to be. Nathan tweets at @NathCG1. He also blogs at In Common, (see also their Facebook page)

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