GF Blog 23 – Week 26

28th July

Lawns, should we give ‘em up? –  weeds lead into a report on the Colorado River, touching on a Veggie Shed idea & ‘Cloud Seeding’; correspondence on Bees and ULEZ; & finally another EV report (Yawn)

What a contrast with 2022! The report for UK weather in July predicts that some parts will have received almost double the normal rainfall! That’s not great for holiday makers, but so good for reservoirs and gardens, and no doubt has helped my lawn areas to survive looking a lush green. But, on the downside, every patch is also invaded by tons of flourishing weeds and I am endlessly engaged in pulling them, whilst the ground is soft.

Gut Reactions!?

Is it just me? There are some weeds I simply cannot abide and others I don’t seem to mind at all! The baddies are ragwort, docks, nettles, thistles, plantain and dandelions. First and last of those are the 2 with yellow flowers, not unattractive, so why am I fine with some yellow heads sprinkled over and not others?

I immediately pulled the one on my roadside bank!
Feel happy with those little yellow ones but can’t stand the big leaves of dandelions. Hacked ‘em out!
It’s the fleshy leaves again plus the heads of Plantain; dug up tons this week.

Looking at my own pics, I think it is to do with the larger leaves; also it goes back to my farm childhood, when my Dad treated all the ones listed below as a sinful aberration. I can almost hear his voice ‘time to pull those Docks and Dashels (thistles)’ he would say. To my surprise, these weeds are still a sin!

Here is the Government website, with info from Natural England, endorsed by Alun Michael, MP who is Minister for the HORSE! Can you believe it?  

Some harmful weeds are poisonous to animals or can damage crops if they spread. Harmful weeds are:

  • common ragwort
  • spear thistle
  • broad-leaved dock
  • curled dock
  • creeping field thistle      

Stop harmful weeds spreading to agricultural land

You can have harmful weeds growing on your land, but you should stop them spreading on to agricultural land that’s used:

  • for grazing
  • to produce forage, like silage and hay
  • to grow crops

You may have to pay back costs associated with clearing the weeds if you do not clear them yourself when Natural England asks you to.

There is a PDF Code of Practice to follow. And instructions to report welfare concerns

If you’re a member of the public and you see harmful weeds growing where horses, ponies or livestock are grazing, you can report this to the:

I feel conflicted on that, knowing full well I saw a field for horses, at the weekend, that should be reported. They had simply cut down and left heads all over the ground. Not at all the right procedure, but I am not wanting to make an enemy of that particular owner.  EEK!

UPDATE – BETTER NEWS SATURDAY Just met one of the horse owners, had a good chat. A few days ago a tractor and rake collected all the cut stalks and removed them. I was so pleased.

Anyway, what else could they have done? Presumably Herbicides, which I am not greatly in favour of either.

Last week we were dealing with insecticide sprays (and by the way, thanks very much to Lin for her thoughts in the Comments box about Neonics, sugar beet production and obesity. I shall be picking up on that theme again in due course). What about the sprays for Invasive weeds? I found this …

In deciding which chemical to use, it will be helpful to refer to the Environmental Information sheets that are being produced for all pesticide products under the Voluntary Initiative, a programme of measures agreed with Government by the pesticide industry, to minimise the environmental impact of pesticides. Further details can be found on the Voluntary Initiative website:

V.I.  AIM to minimise the environmental impact of PPP use and related farming practices on water and biodiversity

What are PPPs? plant protection products

How do they achieve the aim? Through operating Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for Sustainable Farming, which apparently includes

  • Improved stewardship of PPP’s, specifically insecticides, to reduce the risk to bees and other pollinators through appropriate use of IPM linking to Government National Pollinator Strategy

As this didn’t come up in the reports about bees last week and I have never heard of it, are they having much impact? Seems not. The words are warm but I find the organisation appears to be totally led by the supplying sector. This flyer for a recent event shows sponsorship by Anglian Water plus BASF, which is the largest producer of chemicals in the world!

Green and Lovely Lawns = Watering

This brings me to latest thoughts about lawns more widely, around the world. I am reading a large and quite fascinating but horrific book ‘The Last Drop’ by Tim Smedley, who has travelled widely around the world to find out where the 1st true ‘Day Zero’ will happen … that’s the day when a town, city or community will have to operate without any fresh water supply at all. What are the danger zones and who is taking action to protect them?

Jordan, Sub Saharan Africa, India & Pakistan, China and Vietnam, Mid and South West USA, South America, even parts of the UK … the list of locations at serious risk is incredible. Yet so few appear to be taking any action.  I have much more to read yet, but a big factor seems to be attitudes to LAWNS! Any place that allows massive sprinkler systems and luscious lawns needs to be woken up. Dry countries simply do not have enough water to waste in that fashion anymore.

My lad went on holiday to Portugal last week, and so did a girlfriend, Lorraine, with her teenage daughter. Last Drop tells me that ¾ of Spain is at risk of desertification and much of Portugal, Southern Italy and Cyprus. Centuries old olive groves are withering away.

So, is this being discussed in Portugal? Not with tourists, for sure. Lorraine told me a few interesting facts, based on what she saw in a coastal holiday resort:-

  • Barely any lawns to be seen, no use of sprinklers
  • No obvious drinking of tap water, certainly by any visitors. Can only guess it isn’t potable
  • Enormous quantities of plastic bottles
  • But a few promising methods to manage those bottles, we could learn from

I agree with Lorraine, we could do with loads of similar cages for our Cornish beaches and beauty spots, but then I wonder what we could make from the recycling process? Having just started to research grey water harvesting, at the request of a potential Climate Action group client, I was not encouraged by the massive price tags on commercial systems. Anyway, they were enormous. Then I identified the little collapsible bag idea, from Tectake. If bottles have the right qualities to be made into grey-water storage vessels like these, and we can run courses to help people install and make best use of them, that would be a great little CIRCULAR ECONOMY!  I feel a few conversations coming up, with recycling companies and Tectake.

Another possibility for the rainwater would be to build something like a compact wine rack, for lots of small bottles, turn it so the bottles stand up and use them for growing vegs! This is not a million miles from the concept of FuturFarm Hydroponics, called a Veggie Shed, for schools. I am excited to have made contact with them and know they are willing to help with developing a Water Wednesday Workshop for Harvest Half Term. 😊

More from the Last Drop

The chapter I am currently reading examines the Colorado River in America, where major-scale human intervention began way back in 1935, when the Hoover Dam was built. Behind the dam in Nevada is situated Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the USA, feeding all of the following states in amounts that were deemed correct at the time. However, it has been shown without doubt the figures used were incorrect, based on a few years of unusually high rainfall. The total they set was 15 million AFs or acre-feet (one acre covered by one foot depth of water), whereas the more realistic amount would have been 13M AF.

Long before the dam was made, in 1922, a legal agreement called Colorado River Compact had dictated that the 4 upper states would receive half of the water, leaving the other half for the lower 3.

For some bizarre reason, it was not central government but individual areas in the north – the Boulder Canyon Project, north of Denver Co, and Upper Colorado River Project – who set the limits for lower down the system e.g. Arizona at 2.8M AF, Nevada at the merest 300,000 and California at 4.4M. The upper states opted for a different method, using percentages but the lower ones just had to abide by those AF amounts. This is a recipe for very great friction between the haves and have nots in future, as this table tries to illustrate

STATE ofAllocationCurrent situation
Colorado51.75 per centFallen significantly
Utah23 %Fallen significantly
Wyoming14%Fallen significantly
New Mexico11.25Fallen significantly
Arizona2.8MDangerously low, depleted system
Nevada300,000Sorely tested by Las Vegas, but new controls work well
California4.4MRunning to Zero, no new customers allowed, farms cut off Hydro electric systems barely viable  

The effect of a warming climate has multiple impacts, but most obvious are reduction in snow at source in the Rocky Mountains and faster evaporation throughout the entire system. Add to this extreme over-use (irrigation of mega food crops and lawns in Arizona sucks up 80%, and the rest, their domestic 20%, results from average per person consumption in USA of 380L a day, compared with 120 in Europe!).

At this point my normal thing would be to find you pics online, but indulge me please. These first ones are from a train trip that I made through the Rockies and down the west coast in 1985 at the end of 2 years working and studying in Colorado. What memories they have brought back!

Mountain stream and lakes in the foothills
Farm crops, potatoes in Idaho and lettuces in California

In late Spring 2022 water in Lake Mead fell below the first exit level, causing huge panic. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California put out a statement ‘We don’t have enough water to meet the demands of the 6 million people in our areas’ and they had no solution. Nevada was fine, they just opened an emergency pipe, temporarily (see how this came about below). Arizona was in utter panic, seeing the following ghastly result unfolding in many places as empty aquifers collapsed, opening huge fissures in the ground. This emergency central government could not ignore.  


As with all natural systems under pressure of climate change and over demand, we need both little, local adaptations of residents and business operations and ambitious large-scale scientific responses.

Little, local can be highly effective. Education has been key to helping Nevada reduce water use by 23 per cent since 2002, despite increased population of 750,000. They also have been ultra pro-active, by installing a new 3rd exit pipe for their supply out of Lake Mead. Previously their intakes were 320m and 305m. Now they have added the 3rd emergency pipe right at the bottom of the lake going into a new tunnel. They will be able to drain the very last drops, long after other states have run dry!

Slowly, slowly realisation is dawning. A US restoration study sets out multiple options, including a vast increase in de-salination for California. But the most advanced and futuristic is ‘Cloud Seeding’. Rather than write it up, take a look at this excellent report on film:-

Further correspondence

The fury over ULEZ has continued unabated this past 7 days, concluding with two very opposite and confusing sources. Our London correspondent, Carole, kindly spent some time putting together a report to show that air pollution is not at all as the Labour Mayor would have us believe. She bases this on local residents who have undertaken their own exercise, recording levels of particulates: –

Citizen Science and air pollution

Following the results of the Uxbridge by-election, it is generally agreed that the reason Labour did not take the seat is due to the proposed expansion of the ULEZ by Sadiq Khan. The Ultra Low Emission Zone, was set up to reduce air pollution by vehicles in London. All very worthy you might think but is the situation really so bad that this is required?

One of the worst forms of air pollution is that from PM 2.5. These are particles which are less than 2.5 microns in diameter that can penetrate deep into lungs and have been linked with heart disease. Generally speaking, PM 2.5 pollution has reduced over the last half century, due to fewer coal fires and cleaner vehicles.

A study by consultancy firm Emissions Analytics concludes that modern petrol engines are so efficient that they are responsible for only a tiny proportion of overall PM 2.5 pollution — nearly 2,000 times as much comes from vehicle brakes and tyres.

So, what exactly is going on with PM 2.5 in London? Should we be worried? Is the ULEZ justified? Some intrepid citizens have bought their own PM 2.5 monitors and this is what they found:

Shazhad Sheikh, for example, purchased an ELITech Air Monitoring device and used it in his living room, on the streets of central & suburban London and in underground stations. The device measures particulates (PM 2.5 and PM10) which are known to be air pollutants that are the most hazardous to health and the results were most interesting – see his article and videos here:   PLEASE NOTE, THIS DID NOT PLAY FOR ME. MAYBE SOMEONE HAS BLOCKED HIS CONTENT?

Air quality for PM 2.5 is rated ‘good’ (the healthiest score) when there are fewer than 12 µg/m3. He stood on busy Finchley Road and the monitor read 2.9, whilst on the Euston Road, one of the busiest roads in London, it read 2.6. In summary he found that air quality on the streets of central London was well within limits labelled as ‘good’ by the machine.

Of course, that could have been a result of ULEZ policy, as the ULEZ has been operating in central London since 2019, so he also went out to the suburbs, to the proposed new ULEZ zone, to see if there was a problem that merited the expansion. On the busy Kingsby Road, near where he lives, PM 2.5 was 5.1 – again well within the ‘good’ level of 12. He even put his monitor right by the exhaust of his classic BMW 325i car from the 1980s – a car which is not ULEZ compliant. The monitor read 2.5!

Findings were similar for PM10 pollution (particles <10 microns but larger than 2.5 microns). All on-street readings were in the ‘good’ zone.

In other words, there is no justification based on particulate pollution to extend the ULEZ zone to punish vehicular traffic. There just isn’t a problem!

There was a very different outcome however when he used his monitor around and inside tube stations: As he descended the escalator at Oxford Circus, the level of PM 2.5 leapt up to 29.3, classified as ‘moderate’. Then when he got to the platform and the train came in on the Victoria Line, the level went up to 116 i.e. it entered the ‘unhealthy’ zone. It was a similar picture at all the stations, from Green Park to Kingsby – the level of PM 2.5 pollution rapidly escalated out of the ‘good’ zone and not by a small amount. From 3 µg/m3 on the street to 116 in the underground is a huge jump.

Another person, Roger Lawson, who has purchased a similar monitor and tested it in and near his home in Chislehurst (in the London Borough of Bromley – another candidate for the proposed ULEZ extension) also found unexpected results. In his home office he got readings of 4.9 for PM 2.5 (small particulates) and 5.7 in his living room. Outside in his back garden the reading was 1.4. Another indicator, the overall AQI (Air Quality Index) read 18, 24 and 5 respectively. Anything less than 50 for the AQI qualifies as ‘good’, the best category. 

On Chislehurst High Street, normally a congested road, and near the bus stop next to the Hornbrook House Car Park the PM 2.5 reading was 1.4.

In fact, the overall AQI results were all under 30 and the PM 2.5 levels were tiny, which suggests there is no significant health hazard in the open air of Chislehurst’s roads. The national standards are for PM 2.5 particulates of less than 20 µg/m3, so he concludes that there is no concern whatsoever about living in the suburbs of Bromley and the need to expand the ULEZ to cover the London suburbs is simply not justified.

Consider also that the majority of vehicular particulate pollution on our roads, such as it is, comes from tyres and brakes – features of every vehicle – and you can see that the devastating attack on those with older cars, who are likely to be the poorest members of society, is very unfair. With their older, non-compliant cars, they must pay £12.50 per day to enter the zone.

Of course, this analysis does not cover other pollutants such as nitrous oxides, ozone and, of course, CO2. Perhaps we will review those another day, but based on particulate pollution, it is clear that the London mayor’s advocacy for public transport such as the underground, is pushing people into unhealthy environments rather than the clean, fresh air of our streets. Meanwhile he is driven around in a bullet-proof, armoured car because walking, cycling and public transport are unable to provide the level of security he needs. I am very pleased that the coalition of 5 local councils is challenging him in court.

And the result was

The words of Cllr Baroness O’Neill of Bexley OBE, Leader of the London Borough of Bexley, sum up the coalition response:-

I’m extremely disappointed at the outcome of the judicial review and the impact it will have on our residents and businesses. They have told us time and time again how worried they were about ULEZ which was why we took this action on their behalf… This is especially true for Bexley because of our lack of transport links.  

I’m sure that jobs and businesses will also feel the effect as less out of borough residents will want to come to work or shop in Bexley because of this new charge.   

I know from speaking to carers who have to travel in and out of the borough to visit family members on a regular basis that they will be one of the groups who will suffer most.   

I’d like to thank the coalition members for all the hard work they have put into this battle – I know they are as saddened today as I am. I now call on the Mayor to do the right thing by outer London and delay the implementation.” 

How can we resolve this? The best I have had so far, is today’s WATO World at One, with an invited contribution from Professor Frank Kelly, of University College London..

Kelly has studied the statistics and says there is no doubt about the reductions in 2 kinds of emissions since ULEZ part 1 began, in Central London in 2019. Nitreous Oxide or NOX is down 47%, particulates a less spectacular 30%. He was also asked about short and long term health outcomes. Short term they have seen reductions in hospitalisations for asthma etc. Long term outcomes can only be predicted by a comparison between cities that have implemented similar measures and setting their health data against one with no ‘Clean Up’. He tells us, we can see the right outcomes.

I really want to say a Big THANK YOU to Carole for the time she has put in already. Based on the above, I hope she might do a little more checking with regard to NOX, as that does seem to need more attention.

Lithium battery safety, another warning

E-bike battery fires prompt call for better regulation

Although it is hard to prove, at least 8 people may have died this year from fires linked to e-bike charging.

Currently, manufacturers can self-declare that e-bike and e-scooter batteries meet safety standards. But campaigners Electrical Safety First says the batteries should require third-party approval before sale.

This BBC film feature shows woefully inadequate chargers, very scary multiple explosions, the inadequacy of remedies and much more. But it is a good step forward, as multiple organisations are calling for regulation.

And this week one more TV report on EVs

As if the recent Panorama 60 minutes were not enough, the BBC’s Climate Correspondent, Justin Rowlatt, embarked on another hour designed to help us decide if we can or should get on board, buying or leasing an electric car. I found it disappointing to be honest, as it mostly repeated things I already knew. The classic cars, converted, certainly looked fun to drive but the only new things I learned were in the sections about alternatives – a) synthetic fuels and b) hydrogen.

The synthetic fuel they presented combines Hydrogen (extracted from water, as shown in the picture) with CO2, captured from the atmosphere. There was the merest skip-over reference to the technology, which – when I looked it up – I found dates back over a century and is very clever!. It is called the Fischer Tropsch process, after the 2 German scientists who invented it. Sorry, I have run out of time to find a more user-friendly source about it than dear old Wiki. Good luck reading, as the science is quite dense! But not to be dismissed as an option, I suggest.–Tropsch_process

Making Hydrogen
How the synthetic fuel looks

Hydrogen is further along in its development. Toyota already offer a car of this type, the Mirai –

Instead of being powered by electricity stored in a battery, hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles produce their electricity through a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen in a fuel cell stack. Refuelling their hydrogen tanks from a pump takes less than five minutes, and once on the road, you’ll enjoy smooth zero tailpipe emission journeys.

But the drawback is it takes lots of electricity to make the hydrogen and cars come low down in the priority list for such power, after aviation, shipping and heavy goods vehicles.

In frustration yesterday I wrote to Justin Rowlatt, asking why he had ignored Hydrogen Treated Vegetable oils (HVO) and the Sweden story, where cars already enter a filling station and go away happy with a new fuel, after no more than 10 minutes. So far, he has not replied!

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