GF Blog 22 – Week 24

17th JUNE 2022  Summer time – from rural to urban, we have lots in common!

I have loads of lovely stories and pictures for you this week, but first an immediate notice.

MIDSUMMER’S DAY SPECIAL EVENT

From lunch time til tea time on Tuesday 21st we invite you to join us at LUXULYAN VILLAGE HALL.

This is an event about the past and future of LUXULYAN VALLEY, during which David and I will be running green awareness activities for young and old. We will also be discussing the plans for a Hydro and Mine Water research project – a partnership we hope to run in conjunction with University of Exeter in the autumn.

Please visit our FB page for more information and a better picture!

https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=the%20meadow%20barns

‘Summer time, and the livin’ is easy’ – so said George Gershwin in an opera tune, which I have loved to perform throughout my career as a musician. But unfortunately, in the summer of 22 very few inhabitants of planet earth are really ‘livin’ easy’. What with the effects of Covid, a war in Ukraine and relentless impacts of climate change, things are only likely to get trickier. This week, having travelled all across the south of England, I have kept returning to the question ‘how are people coping with the hardships and challenges here?’

EARLY MORNING RUNS

My first overnight stay was in Somerset, on the very edge of Shepton Mallet. So my run was through waving fields of corn and oil seed rape. Now, luckily I have never suffered from hay fever, but I am hearing from more and more friends that each year their symptoms are increasingly troublesome. With oil seed rape, it’s not so much that the pollen causes a problem but rather sensitivity to the volatile organic compounds (VOCs), produced by the flowering plant. Clearly, you can’t have a summertime that feels easy, if this happens to you. But will it become ever harder, as climate change progresses? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be yes!

Warming temperatures and increasing carbon dioxide in the air are contributing to longer and more intense pollen seasons, which can worsen allergy and asthma symptoms.

Find out more at https://healthy-house.co.uk/allergy-blog/rapeseed-allergy/

I love to jog for the Zen-like mind state it puts me in and part of that is the sounds of nature around me. I imagined that, arriving in South London, the sounds would be strikingly different from those I am accustomed to in Cornwall … but no! Both locations sit under a flight path, so the gentle hum of air craft was ‘aural backdrop’ to a symphony of different bird sounds. In Cornwall I love the mix of swallow and sky lark sounds, with chirping sparrows. But I haven’t heard a cuckoo since the locked down spring of 2020, which I believe is due to 2 main reasons. The ‘host’ birds, which cuckoos select to raise their young, are dunnocks, meadow pipits and reed warblers. I wondered if habitat loss has reduced their numbers, and found from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), that is the explanation for meadow pipits. But the more likely reason for decline is starvation during the long flight back to the Southern Hemisphere. From Cornwall the chosen route is via Spain, which is now so hot and dry that the birds cannot feed enough to power their flight. By contrast, cuckoo numbers in Wales and Scotland have increased, because they choose to travel through Italy on a route that serves them a rich diet of insects!

The Impostor Cuckoo

THE LONDON PARAKEETS

In Brockwell Park, Herne Hill, I eventually spied a couple of swallows soaring very high. Made me smile! But other than that, the sound-scape was altogether more raucous than at home – quite a lot of crows, caw-cawing plus the very distinctive sawing sound of green parakeets, which now are everywhere you look in London. There seems no hint that climate change will limit this expansion, however it is possible that the government may! They say ‘the non-native parakeet poses an ever-growing threat to native wildlife, including rare bats.’ Ministers are understood to be concerned about the parakeet’s rapid expansion over the last decade from their stronghold in London’s parks to the Home Counties, with populations now flourishing in Birmingham, Glasgow, Oxford, and Manchester. An environment/DEFRA representative said the government has conducted “discussions” about the first government-ordered cull of Ring-necked Parakeet in the UK, although “concrete plans” have not yet been made.

SUMMER WEATHER

Today I am glad to be home, as the temperature is predicted to reach 34 degrees in London. But tomorrow (Saturday) a forecast for Dartmoor tells us there could be ‘Thunderstorms in the area, Saturday morning until late. Storms could cause flash flooding (12 hours of rain, 17.7 mm precipitation). This rapid shift from extreme dry to deluge is set to become or new normal.

In the past week I have watched a number of different features on TV, about the effect of changing climate on fresh and tidal waters; this has led me to examine a report of the National Audit Office, dated back in 2014, and then to look at action taken since by our water companies.  

The total supply available for our consumption is forecast to drop by 7% by 2045 because of the climate crisis, with a 600m litre daily reduction in rainfall.

Parliament’s auditor predicted that 4bn litres of additional water supply will be needed each day by 2050 to counter this growing risk of drought. The author suggested, to ensure sustainable biodiversity can continue, we will need to scale back the amount of water taken out of England’s waterways and soils by 500m litres a day.

According to NAO figures, people on average use 143 litres of water every 24 hours. Gareth Davies, comptroller and auditor general of the NAO, criticised ministers in his report for failing to lead on the issue of water sustainability. He said personal water consumption had risen every year for the past 5 years and called on DEFRA to co-ordinate a national approach.

I was pleased to find that both water companies – mine in the South West, & the one for Carole in London, provide clear and succinct pointers for users, who are motivated to reduce their consumption. South West Water just emailed all customers with their summer 5 litres challenge – If every one of our customers saved just 5 litres of water a day, that would total 10 million litres saved! Good for your pockets (if you’re on a meter) and the environment.

https://www.southwestwater.co.uk/save-water/top-tips/

The other major water-related report of last week came from researchers at the University of East Anglia, published in the peer-review journal Oceans and Coastal Management. Their topic was rising sea-levels and how they will impact coastal communities of the UK.

Sea level rise will put about 200,000 coastal properties in England at risk within 30 years. These are the homes that may not end up being saved by measures such as seawalls and other coastal defences, because it would cost too much.

The study comes after warnings last week from the head of the Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan, that many homes would be impossible or un-economic to save, and whole communities would have to move inland, which he called “the hardest of all inconvenient truths”.

Author of the University report, Paul Sayers, states tough decisions will have to be made about what (areas) it is realistic to protect. “These are the places we are going to hold, and these are the places we’re not going to hold,” so we need that honest debate around how we’re going to do that and support communities where they are affected.”

The map below shows that all of Cornwall is vulnerable; also the Somerset levels that I just visited. In their case, a project is already underway to plan and adapt for the future – www.adaptingthelevels.com/about

Adapting The Levels is part of a larger EU Climate Adaptation project called Co-Adapt. This involves 12 partners spanning 4 countries; UK, France, the Netherlands and Belgium. To make all of these as effective as possible the partner organisations are working across the international borders to share knowledge and experience. Sounds like a plan!

This willingness to be pro-active and embrace change, seems to me the only solution for diminishing the stresses ahead. I doubt it can make the ‘livin’ easy’ but it could make it ‘easier’.

Getting to Grips with the ULEZ

For a country bumpkin, the Ultra-Low Emission Zones encountered in cities can be quite challenging. If only I had an EV, but at least my little Honda Jazz is compliant for now. On top of ULEZ there are various other acronyms to know – such as LTN (Low Traffic Neighbourhood) and Bus Gates, each of which confused me more than the last! So what are they all about?  

A bus gate is a short section of street in which only buses and other authorised vehicles can go through. There are warning signs of the bus lane or bus gate restriction ahead, and again, at the point where the restriction starts. But the friend I was visiting (Carole who you know from her previous blog contribution), was caught and charged a big fine, because the Bus Gate signage was so poor.

Even greater confusion has been caused by the implementation of 2 way cycle routes within previously ‘normal’ but wide roads. These may also be known as Cycle Ways, Cycle Superhighways, Quietways and possibly lots more titles. But in all cases, they seem to be a disaster! To check how the one in Herne Hill was functioning, I took the liberty of interviewing a Lollipop Lady, close to a school. I could see for myself that – on a lovely June morning – plenty of people were using the lane, to cycle in both directions. But it caused tricky situations at every junction with a side road. Then there were cyclists who still chose to use the road (there is no compulsion to go in the new dedicated lane) and many parents of younger children who rode scooters on the pavements and were a nightmare for me to navigate.

Mrs Lollipop Lady said ‘I have been doing this for 12 years and never worried about my safety, but now I fear for my life! Look see how the big 4 x 4s are backing up because they cannot get through to the junction, and they cannot deliver their children to the school?’ As she pointed I was able to view this big black monster vehicle perform a 3 point turn on the actual Zebra crossing. But then there was no way back for them. Chaos ensued!! Picture 1 below shows how the lovely wide street has been carved up; Picture 2, blue car position indicates where the big black car did a turn-around.

Lovely Lollipop Lady!

ANOTHER ULEZ and CYCLE ROUTE in the green city of Brighton & Hove

From London I took a train to the South Coast for a day excursion. It’s by no means my first visit to Brighton and I was looking forward to updating my knowledge of the yellow E-buses (which I loved when they were first introduced) and their off-shore wind farm.

With my son I wandered the entire length of the sea front, from Hove to the Marina. I soon noticed another of those dual cycle lanes and could tell that the 1st attempt had been painted over! The council began by putting it within the normal pedestrian area, but it caused so much trouble and potential for accidents that now it has been moved into the road, where once again, poor old motorists are struggling to cope. Really, I have to say, until there is a simple, affordable alternative to the motor car for all (you know, a wind and solar powered individual helicopter or something), this type of punishment is neither fair nor safe!

Public transport continues to evolve here:-

We now have 54 Enviro400 ER hybrid electric buses with geo-fenced zero emission electric only operation through the city’s Low Emission Zone delivering 3,000,000 passenger journeys and 244,000 miles of zero emission bus travel every year.

A further development of the Bus Gates concept, ‘geo-fencing’ creates a virtual geographic boundary around an area by means of GPS or RFID technology, enabling software to trigger a response when a mobile device enters or leaves the area. My son seemed pretty positive about this system, but he isn’t an owner or driver of a car, or it may have been another story!

We gazed at the distant wind turbines and marvelled that they are capable of supplying the power needs of half of East Sussex! But my greatest joy was riding the 1883 Volk’s electric railway along the Esplanade, the oldest operational electric railway in the world! A simple system uses power at 50 V DC, supplied to the small car via the two running narrow gauge rails. The history and technology is explained in a series of small displays, before you ride. Fascinating stuff!

Dynamo from the 1st design
B & W image taken in 1980 by Dr. Neil Clifton, CC BY-SA 2.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14344450

So, I am sure that’s enough for now. Hope you enjoy it. And also hope to see some of you on Tuesday 21st.

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