Category Archives: Norfolk

Stop the Western Link – more MP correspondence

I thought I’d share the response from my MP, Jerome Mayhew, to the email I sent him last Friday off the back of his newsletter. It was a little bit infuriating, and didn’t really address a lot of the points from my email, but credit where credit’s due to responding in a timely fashion.

If you are able to contribute to the most excellent Legal challenge to the Western Link and other new roads in Norfolk, please check out Dr Andrew Boswell’s page here. Andrew has worked very hard on this, and any donations are greatly appreciated: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/stop-road-building-wrecking-climate-nature/

I’ve also included my response to Mr Mayhew’s response, further down this post, as I felt I had to challenge his claim that the Norwich Western Link will reduce carbon emissions. Firstly, here are some daffodils from my lunchtime walk, just to ease us in. There are a couple of ‘quiz’ photos later on.

Daffodils - a sunny disposition
Daffodils – a sunny disposition

Mr Mayhew’s email from 06 March 2023:

Dear Mr Harvey,

Thank you for your email.

Voter ID:

Voter ID is a policy that has been implemented by many countries across the world. It is pretty standard, including in parts of the European Union. In 2010, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe carried out a review of the elections in the United Kingdom at that point and it was clear that there was a weakness in our system around ensuring that identification was provided.

You ask about oyster cards and over 60 passes. It is extremely simple to answer that question. I would encourage you to go and look at the eligibility for 18-year-old Oyster cards and at the eligibility for 60+ Oyster cards. They are different. The eligibility for the 60+ card involves significantly more requirements, including a passport or a driving licence.

Having sat on the Bill Committee during the Election Bill’s Committee Stage I followed the progress of the Elections Act 2022 closely, so do please forgive me for the length of my reply. The Elections Act 2022 was introduced to the House of Commons in July 2021 and received Royal Assent on 28 April 2022.

Voter ID is not new. Northern Ireland has required paper ID at polling stations since 1985, and photo ID since 2003. It has proved to be effective at tackling fraud and has not curtailed election turnout. Identification to vote has been backed by the Electoral Commission and international election watchdogs. At present, it is harder to take out a library book or collect a parcel at a post office than it is to vote in someone else’s name. As in Northern Ireland, where electoral participation has not been curtailed, a free Voter Card will be available, for those voters who do not hold one of the approved forms of photo identification, when the scheme is rolled out across Great Britain. Under the Government’s proposals, anyone without an ID will be able to apply for a new free one – meaning that not a single voter will be disenfranchised.

In pilot schemes in 2019 and 2018, the overwhelming majority of people cast their vote without a problem and the success of the pilots proves that this is a reasonable and proportionate measure to take, and there was no notable adverse effect on turnout. Under the Government’s proposals, anyone without an ID will be able to apply for a new free one – meaning that not a single voter will be disenfranchised

Research has found that 98 per cent of the population as a whole and 99 per cent of those from ethnic minorities have some form of photo identification. Again anyone without an ID will be able to apply for a new free one – meaning that not a single voter will be disenfranchised.

The Act sets out a wide range of photo ID which can be used to vote at the polling station. This includes a UK passport or a passport issued by an EEA state or a Commonwealth country. A driving licence or provisional driving licence granted in Great Britain or Northern Ireland will also be accepted. Expired forms of identification will also be accepted as long as the photograph is a good enough likeness.

You can find a full list of the accepted identification documents here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/voter-identification-at-polling-stations-and-the-new-voter-card/protecting-the-integrity-of-our-elections-voter-identification-at-polling-stations-and-the-new-voter-card#annex-a-list-of-identity-documents-that-will-be-accepted.

Again, anyone who does not possess one of these forms of photo ID will be able to apply for free for a Voter Authority Certificate from their local authority – either online, by post or in person. Both our local district councils, North Norfolk and Broadland, have already put information up on their websites advising how to apply for a free ID card: https://www.north-norfolk.gov.uk/tasks/electoral-services/elections-act-2022/ andhttps://www.southnorfolkandbroadland.gov.uk/news/article/277/residents-need-photo-id-to-vote-at-elections-in-may.

Sir Eric, now Lord, Pickles’ independent review into electoral fraud raised a number of concerns and made recommendations on the role of the Electoral Commission and the current system of its oversight. The Pickles report also drew attention to the corruption that took place in the Tower Hamlets elections in 2014. It is for these reasons that the Government is placing a greater emphasis on the need to tackle and prevent electoral fraud. Additionally, the Pickles report criticised that the Electoral Commission gave Tower Hamlets a gold-star rating for electoral integrity in its inspection reports before the 2014 elections. It also noted that after the 2015 election court case, the Electoral Commission’s corporate plan and annual report both made no substantive reference to this major case or learning the lessons from it. Only last year the Electoral Commission was criticised for failing to provide any clear guidance on so-called ‘family voting’ – the unacceptable practice of men directing women how to vote inside polling stations in Tower Hamlets.

Norwich Western Link:

When you take into account the emissions associated with the construction of the Norwich Western Link, together with the reduction in emissions from vehicles that will use the route once built, modelling shows that there is likely to be an overall reduction in carbon emissions. A climate resilience assessment will also be prepared to look at current and future climatic factors, such as temperature, storms, wind, and rainfall and how that might impact the Norwich Western Link. The carbon assessment based on the proposals that will be put forward in the planning application will be included in the planning application documents.

We also need physical access to markets. I disagree with the CPRE about the NWL. We have created, essentially, an orbital route around Norwich, but rather like the situation with the M25 and the Thames, we have decided not to build the bridge. It is very damaging to connectivity, particularly for the north-east of the county getting access to the physical markets in the rest of the country. A consultation was undertaken and, taking that into account, the best route was reached. It deals with a huge amount of rat-running and links north Norfolk to the rest of the country.

As for the number of people contacting me to oppose the NWL, so far this year you are the only constituent to write to be to object. Whereas when I am out on the doorstep knocking on people’s doors the support is overwhelming,

I am afraid we are going to have to agree to disagree as I strongly support the NWL and will not be with drawing my support.

Ambulances:

When we look at queues in A&E we all generally think it is the front door of the hospital that is the problem i.e. getting people into A&E—but when I spoke to the Chief Executive of the Norfolk and Norwich, he told me that it is overwhelmingly the back door that is the problem, by which I mean people leaving the hospital. Consequently, this means ambulances are left waiting at hospitals for a bed to become available for their patient in the back. This is a point I have raised in Parliament, which you can see here: https://www.jeromemayhew.org.uk/news/contribution-debate-ambulance-waiting-times.

The Chancellor made a number of spending commitments at the Autumn Statement to put the adult social care system in England on a stronger financial footing and improve the quality of and access to care for many of the most vulnerable in our society. The Government will make available up to £2.8 billion in 2023-24 in England and £4.7 billion in 2024-25 to help support adult social care and discharge. This includes £1 billion of new grant funding in 2023-24 and £1.7 billion in 2024-25, further flexibility for local authorities on council tax and, having heard the concerns of local government, delaying the rollout of adult social care charging reform until October 2025.

£600 million will be distributed in 2023-24 and £1 billion in 2024-25 through the Better Care Fund to get people out of hospital on time into care settings, freeing up NHS beds for those that need them. A further £1.3 billion in 2023-24 and £1.9 billion in 2024-25 will be distributed to local authorities through the Social Care Grant for adult and children’s social care. Finally, £400 million in 2023-24 and £680 million in 2024-25 will be distributed through a grant ringfenced for adult social care which will also help to support discharge.

More locally I met the Chief Executive of the East of England Ambulance Service earlier this year and he told me that he is recruiting more clinicians in 999 control rooms so they can better triage patients and make sure they get the right support at the right time to patients in a clinically prioritised manner, particularly for cases which are more difficult to triage such as falls and to pass patients who perhaps do not need an ambulance to alternative services which can better meet their needs. Additionally, our local ambulance service is:

  • Getting more ambulances on the road through additional recruitment, they now have 10% more ambulances on the road today than they did in October 2022.
  • Working with NHS community services such as SWIFT to pass over clinically appropriate calls to them, and working with them to increase their capacity so that they can take patients and respond in a timely way to them.
  • They are also changing they train their call handlers to make sure they can give better support and advice to patients when they call 999.

The East of England Ambulance has also opened a new handover unit at the James Paget Hospital and have taken over some space at the NNUH to help look after patients before they can be transferred into A&E departments.

Yours sincerely,

Jerome Mayhew MP

Photo break – some blossom, but I’m still trying to work out what tree it is; Sycamore? Lime? Please can someone put me out of my misery?

Mysterious blossom, maybe an Acer? Still trying to work it out
Mysterious blossom, maybe an Acer? Still trying to work it out

Rather than analyse Mr Mayhew’s points, and the way he really didn’t answer my question on ambulance response times. Here’ my reply to him.

Dear Mr Mayhew,

Thank you as always for your prompt and detailed reply. I hope you’ll forgive the length of my response, however there’s a lot to cover.

On voter ID I still think this disadvantages the young, and those not able to afford a passport. Plus I don’t think the changes are necessary given we have very low electoral fraud. I guess we’ll see what the voting demographics look like in May and beyond.

With regards to ambulances, your response is interesting, but that wasn’t my question. I was challenging the claim that the Norwich Western Link (NWL) will cut 20 mins of ambulance response times, as this appears very spurious for the reasons I stated.

I want to provide a more detailed response to your explanation of how the NWL will reduce carbon emissions. I just don’t think this is true, and at a time when we’re facing increased drought, wildfires and harvest failures just in Norfolk, not to mention the impacts of the climate crisis world-wide, we have to start facing up to reality. It simply isn’t fair to be burdening the younger generation with environmental debt, as well as the increased risk of severe impacts from climate change, because we want to build new roads for the benefit and profit of a few.

I believe the modelling you’re referring to has been done by the County Council, to show a drop in emissions. I wonder if this makes an assumption that vehicles will be converting to electric? If so, that really isn’t relevant in terms of emissions reduction from building the road. When we look at the carbon cost from building the road, along with the increased number of cars from induced traffic, emissions can only go up. This coupled with the ecological cost means it’s inexcusable to be considering building new roads at this juncture; a conclusion the Welsh Government recently reached themselves.

We’re in a climate and ecological emergency, our house is literally on fire. Antonio Guterres has told us we’re on the highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator. We have reports from IPCC, the International Energy Association, the Government’s own Climate Change Committee and thousands of climate scientists saying we need to cut emissions now, and preserve nature; we’re the most nature denuded country in Europe and we want to irreparably damage a site of special scientific interest and a conservation area (The Wensum Valley)? Feels like the wrong thing to do to me. The UN says we have to halve emissions in the next decade to meet our obligations from the Paris agreement, and UK/Norfolk targets. 

More detail below.

Emissions from Construction

The planned Western Link Road has an estimated carbon cost of 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. When combined with the other carbon costs from road building in Norfolk in 2024 and 2025, we get to a figure of 250,000 tonnes. That’s 7% of the Norfolk Local Transport Plan carbon budget for those years meaning that unless cuts were made elsewhere (very unlikely) Norfolk won’t meet it’s targets, which would also impact the UK’s overall target. This is without taking into account the carbon that would be released from destroying semi-ancient woodland, and soil structure/plants/animals which sequester huge amounts of carbon. All that concrete, steel and tarmac comes at a cost.

Emissions from traffic

As I mentioned in my original email, increasing road capacity increases the number of cars on the roads, as proven by induced traffic effect studies. The Western Link, if built, will do exactly this. This traffic will emit more carbon dioxide until it is all electrified, which probably won’t be until at least 2050. The increased emissions will contribute to taking us beyond Norfolk and UK’s carbon budget. Traffic modelling by the council has shown that carbon emissions in the area from the road won’t reduce in line with Government projections for the Net Zero Strategy, as well as projections in the Local Transport Plan.

Wildlife

The Wensum Valley is the last green corridor into Norwich. I think of it as the lungs of the city. The corridor allows wildlife to move around and nature to thrive. The Government is targeting 2042 to halt the decline in our wildlife populations, in the Environment Act, and NWL isn’t compatible with this.  The Wensum Valley is a rare and protected landscape, with many endangered species including the Barbastelle Bat. It really needs to be conserved to meet our targets, and for the sakes of current and future generations.

Net Zero Strategy and the Legal Implications

Finally a note on the Net Zero Strategy. The building of this road will impact the UK’s Net Zero Target, which is already too far into the future to stop many of the severe impacts from climate change. I do not believe the council has properly assessed this impact, or the impact from other road building in Norfolk. I believe there is already a legal challenge about this. The High Court, in 2022, already told us the Net Zero Strategy is at risk. The Climate Change Committee is saying the same thing. We need to be looking at the cumulative impact on emissions, as well as other environmental factors, of building this road, per the Infrastructure Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017. 

There are already lawsuits being brought against Governments and Fossil Fuel Companies across the Globe for inaction on the climate crisis, and for deliberately making things worse; we have a duty to not sell ourselves and future generations down the river. This generation risks being labelled as climate criminals, and facing lawsuits for inaction or culpability in the disruption and deaths of thousands locally, and millions worldwide.

Conclusions

This may sounds dramatic, but the climate crisis is happening now. Millions are being impacted and are dying right now; 1 person every 36 seconds in East Africa due to famine and drought caused by the climate crisis. 33 million people displaced in Pakistan due to flooding. Over 3,000 deaths cause by the heatwave in the UK last year alone.

Inaction on the climate and ecological crisis, as well as greenwashing, false accounting for carbon emissions, putting profit before planet and people is really impacting many people’s, including myself, mental and physical health. It seems completely hopeless when the evidence is ignored and we press ahead with ecocidal road schemes, as well as new oil, gas and now coal projects in the UK. The impacts from the climate and ecological emergency are increasing at an alarming rate, with more wildfires, drought, famine, floods and extreme weather, as well as increased risks in this country from diseases, ocean acidification, and rising ocean levels – if the Thwaites Glacier goes then that’s London and many other coastal cities around the world at risk or submerged, leading to the displacement of millions.

I know you’re likely to say we’re world leading at cutting emissions, and that we have a plan to get to net zero by 2050. 2050 is too late, and we’re not world leading, especially when we’re opening new coal mines, building new roads, and aiming to grant over 100 new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea. Our carbon accounting also doesn’t include emissions from goods we import from overseas, plus the shipping or aviation costs. We need to take into account our historic emissions; we’re world leading on that having started the industrial revolution. We simply don’t have any carbon budget left if we want to give developing countries a chance to catch up, or do we just not care about them? And the argument about China and the US needing to do more, whilst valid, doesn’t really take into account individual carbon footprints; the average UK person’s carbon footprint is massively higher than most people’s in the Global South.

Locally, rather that investing in new roads including the NWL, please can we invest in public and active transport (active transport would help the NHS too by making people healthier), as well as conserving and regenerating nature. Let’s invest in renewables and make Norfolk and East Anglia truly UK leading, and possibly world leading, on renewable energy, sustainability, responsible farming practices and Green technology. That would be something to be very proud of.

I hope some of this has been useful, and as before I would welcome the opportunity to speak to you about this at on of your surgeries.

I look forward to hearing back from you.

Yours sincerely,

James Harvey

I really don’t know if I’ll get a reply to this, we’ll see. In closing here’s a deer track I found in the woods the other day. I’d seen Red Deer, Roe Deer and Muntjac Deer that day. Which do you think made this track? I think Roe Deer as it was in a deer couch.

Deer track - probably Roe
Deer track – probably Roe, but let me know what you think

Letter to my MP – March 2023

In this month’s letter to my MP I address his update on Voter ID, and his claims on the benefits of the proposed Western Link Road.

On voter ID, remember to register and get a photo ID if you want to vote in person, and don’t already have one. Mr Mayhew says:

Local Elections for Broadland District Council and North Norfolk District Council are fast approaching.  With photo ID now required to vote in UK elections, it’s the right time to ensure you’ve got everything you need to vote on Thursday 4th May. Don’t have photo ID?  There are options:

On the Western Link, he claims:

‘I was very pleased to meet Norfolk County Council’s Western Link Team. The missing link road is one of issues most frequently raised with me. It is vital that we build this road to stop the terrible rat running that villages currently endure, reduce traffic emissions, improve access to markets for swathes of Norfolk businesses and knocks twenty minutes off ambulance response times to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.’

Here’s my letter to Jerome Mayhew MP, I am looking forward to his reply.

Dear Mr Mayhew,

Thank you for your latest newsletter, an interesting read as always.

I’m writing in response to your updates on the Western Link Road, and Voter ID.

To address the latter first. We have never had a problem with electoral fraud in this country. This seems like a deliberate ploy by the Conservatives to exclude young voters, further alienating them, as they are less likely to vote for your Party. Why is it that student cards are not an acceptable form of ID, but bus passes for the over 60’s are? This is yet another erosion of our rights in this country, which when coupled with the PCSC Act and Public Order Bill is leaving us in a scary place (1930’s Germany-like).

On the Western Link. Your newsletter claims this is one of the most frequently raised issues with you; I wonder if you count the number of people that are against it in your tally? I know I have corresponded on this with you before, but why is it so vital we build this road given the damage it’s going to do? Rat running in villages is not pleasant, but set against ecological destruction, environmental damage, increased emissions we can’t afford and the impacts these will have in terms of increased floods, wildfires, and harvest failures in Norfolk, I’d take rat running; I live in the countryside and have to contend with some of this myself.

On the rat-running front, there are other avenues that can be explored, such as camera controlled gates (they have these in Trowse now).

You say the road will reduce emissions, how exactly? Building the road will blow Norfolk’s carbon budget for a start, and it is proven that increasing the number of roads increases the amount of cars/traffic, and thus emissions. I did a quick internet search and found this study on it, from the Government website – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/induced-travel-demand-an-evidence-review . There are plenty of other studies out there, however the evidence is that road capacity improvements increase traffic – induced travel demand.

You also claim the road will increase access to markets for swathes of Norfolk businesses. Which markets and which businesses? As this CPRE report states, new roads do not equal economic benefit – https://www.cpre.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/TheZendZofZtheZroad.pdf

This report also backs up the induced traffic effect I referred to earlier.

Moving on to ambulance response times. I think a more pressing concern is the wait times ambulances have to offload patients when they get to the N&N, which I hope have improved after recent issues. The NHS is massively underfunded and under constant attack by the Government, who seem intent on privatising it. Your claim that it will reduce ambulance response times by 20 minutes is spurious, as surely it won’t really make any difference for much of Norwich, where ambulances will still need to travel into the City. I don’t think we have a problem with ambulance response times (see – http://www.ambulanceresponsetimes.co.uk/), I think it’s more a fundamental problem with a lack of support for our doctors, nurses, and hospital infrastructure, and what happens when ambulances reach hospitals.

So, we’ve debunked the emissions point, as well as the economic benefits, and addressed the ambulance response times point. In addition this road was going to cost £64m a mile if it goes ahead, probably more now. We’re in a cost of living crisis and Norfolk County Council are slashing public services, including welfare, people are going hungry, homeless and can’t afford heating. Wouldn’t it be better to spend this money on public and active transport, as well as welfare services? Investing in public transport and reducing personal car ownership is really where we need to go in terms of reducing congestion and emissions; I really liked the £2 cap on bus fares recently. The cost could also severely damage the county council’s finances if government funding is not secured; less likely now Liz Truss is no longer PM.

Please consider withdrawing your support for this road. It’s going to destroy ancient woodland, rare chalk stream habitat, endangered Barbastelle bat colonies, and pollute the local landscape. It will increase traffic and emissions because that’s what new roads do. The road is also a blatant move to open up the Norfolk countryside to more development and destruction, for the profit of a few.

I look forward to hearing from you, and would welcome an opportunity to discuss in person at one of your surgeries, if possible?

Yours sincerely,

James Harvey

I’d encourage everyone to write to your MP on issues you feel strongly about. With the right to protest being eroded we need to make our views known. If you’re unable to get out on the streets then at least write a quick email.

Here are a few recent pictures of Gideon, cos he didn’t want to be left out.

And a couple of things I dug up from my garden recently, which were most excellent. Looking forward to planting more vegetables this year, especially with supermarket shortages and prices going up.

Thanks Dad for the leek seedlings!

Happy Halloween and a wander in the Wensum Valley

Happy Halloween to one and all. The thing that scares me most this Halloween is how hot it is for October. Doesn’t bode well for more extreme weather events, and what it could be like next Spring/Summer. It’s terrifying how little the Government is doing about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Just lies and false accounting. Sunak won’t even go to COP27. Meanwhile temperatures are forever creeping up and up.

Average temperature increase since 1880.

Before I get on to my wanderings in the Wensum Valley yesterday, I went for a dusk walk round Salhouse on Friday evening, mildly spooky, and weird to be walking around in just a t-shirt.

I love Salhouse Church and the Yew Trees around it. They are covered in berries this year, best not to eat them though. The big skies of Norfolk also offer some great sunsets and night skies.

On to the Wensum Valley where I went for a long walk yesterday. Has to be said it was quite damp, but it’s always regenerative to be in such a special place. I meandered round some of the areas that will be destroyed if the planned Western Link road goes ahead, ploughing through wetland, areas of ancient woodland, and very rare chalk stream habitat. This diverse and ancient landscape, the last green corridor into Norwich, needs to be protected. There’s an endangered super-colony of Barbastelle Bats that make their home there; might be the only super-colony of its sort in the UK.

I made a short film of my visit. The sound of the River Wensum babbling it’s way to Norwich was very calming. There was also a guest pig appearance.

Norfolk County Council are championing the link road, which will compromise the rare chalk stream habitat and the species that live there, as well as increase carbon emissions and pollution. It will also open the countryside up to yet more development. Surely public money should instead be spent on public and active transport, and to help people with the cost of living crisis. Norfolk County Council really need to move with the times and get over their addiction to road building and unsustainable growth.

More info and join the Stop the Western Link campaign here – https://www.stopthewensumlink.co.uk/

And please support the legal campaign here, any donations would really help – https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/stop-road-building-wrecking-climate-nature/

Seals and Sunsets

The title of this blog post might end up being slightly misleading, that remains to be seen. I’m not entirely sure where it’s gonna go. Best if I start off with some pictures of Gideon, in reclining mode.

The egg box is currently one of his favourite things. He sometimes sleeps on it, which looks very uncomfortable if you ask me. He is very ‘playful’ at the moment, just this morning ambushing me from behind the sofa and savaging my leg; note to self, shorts not always a good idea.

Newsflash just in from BBC – ‘Met police chef Cressida Dick to step down’. Earlier today she said she had no intention of stepping down, so the writing was on the wall really. Maybe now they can appoint someone who will really sort out the institutional racism and misogyny within the police force. I did say I didn’t know where this blog post was going to go didn’t I?

There have been some beautiful sunsets in Norfolk recently. It’s been nice taking a break from work to go and watch them. This one was particularly startling, with an amazing sequence of colours over the course of a few minutes.

Norfolk really does have big skies, which is especially evident when you visit the coast. I popped up to see the seals recently at Horsey Gap, with a couple of friends. Aside from seals, windswept sand dunes, and endless horizon, I just love the sound of the sea and being next to it. I think that’s one the things I loved so much about my Bike around Britain cycle tour in 2013; being next to the sea everyday.

Horsey Gap – sound of the sea

Horsey Gap is home to a massive seal colony, consisting of Atlantic Grey Seals and Common Seals. There must be thousands of them, with thousands of seal pups born every year. Sadly many of them perish before reaching adulthood, but they’re a delight to witness.

When walking down the Norfolk East Coast it’s easy to see how just a small sea level rise could result in massive flooding. It’s so flat behind the dunes, which if breached could see sea water covering vast stretches. I guess it was all under-water once, and probably will be again in the not too distant future.

Did I mention there might be quite a lot of pictures of seals? It’s worth it though, they’re so wonderful to see. The wardens are really good too, able to give you loads of information whilst also keeping the seals safe.

The wardens are very good at keeping people away from the seals, especially those who might otherwise think it’s a good idea to try to pet them, or get a selfie. I am told that if the mother can smell a human on her pup, she may well abandon them, so whilst I’d thoroughly recommend going to see them, best not to get too close.

I took pictures using my old Cannon 550D with a zoom lens, but I think the ones I got on my phone might have actually been better. The Cannon pictures just don’t seem to have picked up the colours as well as the phone. Here are some last ones of mother and pup.

We walked all the way down to Winterton, had some chips and a hot chocolate, and then walked back. I was sad to see the cafe at Winterton is no longer there, due to coastal erosion, however there was a very good circle of food vans which met requirements.

Other stuff that’s been happening. We had a great turnout for the protest versus the proposed Western Link Road. The road will cut through rare chalk stream habitat, endangered Barbastelle bat colonies, and destroy a swathe of precious Norfolk countryside; the last natural corridor into Norwich and its green lungs.

The protest was organised by Norwich Extinction Rebellion, and attended by loads of local groups including Stop the Wensum Link, the Wensum Valley Alliance, Norwich Friends of the Earth, Green New Deal, Green Party and Labour Party councillors and Clive Lewis MP, Trade Union reps and many others. It was so heartening to see so many people come together to oppose an ecocidal road scheme, one that will increase emissions, traffic and pollution, whilst also opening the countryside up to more development. We should be investing the £200m+ it’ll cost for the 4 miles of road into green sustainable transport (buses) and active transport (cycling infrastructure), instead of investing in ultimately our own demise.

Great press coverage and opposition is definitely growing versus the road, with Norwich City Council recently coming out against it. Norfolk County Council and institutions like the University of East Anglia just need to catch up a bit.

You can sign a petition against the road here – https://www.change.org/p/stop-the-wensum-link-road

But why not also get involved in an opposition group too; let me know if you want to learn more.

Ok, nearly there. I really will try to do blog posts more often so I don’t deluge you with updates.

Have you heard to the Nationality and Borders Bill, currently going through Parliament? It will criminalise refugees and asylum seekers, and allow the Government to strip people with dual-nationality of their UK citizenship without warning (clause 9). It’s pretty awful, and another step towards authoritarianism and fascism. I joined a protest in Norwich against it last Saturday, as I don’t want to see more people fleeing for their lives drown in boats crossing the channel, or get persecuted for just wanting a better life for their children. Especially when it comes to climate refugees, of which there are already thousands and will be millions. The UK is historically and currently responsible for this, and we need to help.

It feels like the Government is trying to dehumanise refugees by calling them illegal immigrants, and painting them as a burden and threat. Refugees rebuilt cities like Hamburg after the second world war, and have brought so much to this country already. They deserve a chance like anyone else.

I think that brings us about up to date. A few bullet points to round us off:

  • Still doing physio on my knee after falling off climbing wall in November, and awaiting operation to build new ligaments. Luckily I can still cycle and walking is fine
  • Planning a cycle tour for later this year – I fancy Cornwall
  • Also might be going to Scotland for a bit for some walking, will probably get lost
  • Don’t just think about how wrong things are sometimes, try and do something about it. There are tonnes of groups to get involved with, and Extinction Rebellion are taking to the streets in April on another effort change things
  • Anxiety and depression are a thing, friends are amazing. Keep on keeping on
  • Gideon wants me to let him in, so I’d better go

Stay safe and and hope to see you soon…

2022 – Here we go…again

Happy New Year, here’s to hopefully a less contagious 2022! Or at least less in the way of lockdowns and bad decisions by the powers that be. Maybe I should just stick with less contagious and hope for the best.

Gideon had a good Christmas despite me having to abandon him for a few days; he was well looked after by a friend whilst I escaped to my parents (thanks Adam). I don’t think he would have got on very well with my brother’s dog, given previous experience of him chasing canines around.

Now it’s getting colder he’s decided staying inside with blankets is probably for the best. I can’t say I blame him.

I had a good Christmas break down at my parents’ house in East Sussex, with my brother and sister-in-law’s family too. Great to be able to get together after last year’s shenanigans. Got out for some lovely walks on the beach down in Bexhill, and ate too much.

I’m generally not a big fan of Christmas. I really hate all the commercialism and pressure to buy stuff. It brings back memories of people no longer with us like Lucy. I can’t believe it’ll be 10 years since she passed away this February. Lots of happy memories of Christmas’ with her but that makes it harder when it comes round again somehow. Still, this was a good one and had lots of fun playing with my niece and nephew; just waiting for reports of what my niece has broken with the catapult I bought her. Naughty presents are what Uncles are for…right? I’m not playing Monopoly against my nephew again though, too many hotels on Mayfair for my liking, and I kept ending up in jail, which as an Extinction Rebellion person does not bode well.

In between Christmas and New Year I managed a few days of not doing very much, aside from more eating, and reading books, pretty good really. Did get out for a few nice walks including down to Salhouse Broad.

It’s really peaceful and regenerative down there at this time of year, without all the boats and bustle. Always seem to bump into someone I know as well – was good to see Nigel, an ex-colleague from work now with longer hair and living the dream playing in bands and whatnot.

I’ve got a bit of a broken knee at the moment due to falling off a climbing wall in November. Some ligaments that are quite important aren’t there anymore, and need to be rebuilt from bits of my hamstring later this year. Means I can’t climb or do Kendo, but can still walk about, albeit with one of those huge knee brace things. I can still cycle. Cycling is in fact encouraged as apparently I need (I was going to do a bad knee pun then but resisted) to have thighs like Chris Hoy’s before the operation. This could be challenging. As always I am thoroughly impressed with the NHS and how hard they work, and enjoyed the MRI scan. They weren’t very complimentary of the Government and how they’ve handled COVID, unsurprisingly.

Before going back to work I went for a walk round the Wensum Valley, to look at the proposed route for the Western Link Road. The road will destroy large swathes of beautiful and massively important Norfolk Countryside.

The Wensum Valley is a Special Area of Conservation with ancient woodland, rare chalk stream habitat, endangered barbastelle bat colonies and diverse flora and fauna. It would be a travesty if the link road went ahead.

Building the road will devastate rare habitat, plant and animal species, and increase traffic and emissions. We simply can’t afford to carry on with schemes like this whilst we’re in the middle of a climate and ecological emergency. It would be far better if the Council invested in a joined up green public transport plan, including cycling infrastructure, instead of opening up the countryside to more development and cutting 5 or 10 minutes off a journey. The Wensum Valley is the last natural corridor into Norwich, it needs to be saved.

The good news is that the EDP reported today that Norwich City Council no longer back the road, great news in fact – thank you! Just need Norfolk County Council to catch up now. More on that story here – https://www.edp24.co.uk/news/local-council/norwich-western-link-city-council-rejection-8600434

I really do dream of the day when politicians start taking the climate and ecological emergency seriously. Maybe 2022 will be the year for it after last year’s disappointing COP26. Here’s the proposed route for the link road – if you’re Norfolk based please write to your MP and/or councillor to tell them to oppose it, and you can always join the Stop the Wensum Link campaign (or XR Norwich).

Whilst you’re at it please ask them to oppose the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which could stop you protesting about anything, and will send this country sliding further info authoritarianism. Have a look at the Netpol site for more info.

What else does 2022 have in store? More Extinction Rebellion stuff for me, it feels more important than ever to be out on the streets demanding change, for ourselves as well as the sake of future generations. With wildfires and floods raging round the planet, Antarctic ice melt getting really scary, emissions still going up and the Global South really suffering we need action now, not by 2050. I know this means big lifestyle changes, but surely that’s better than loads of people dying and society breaking down? Maybe see you out rebelling for life later this year – message me if you want to get involved.

I am also hoping for a bit of a gradual career change in 2022. I passed my level 4 Bushcraft course last year, which took two years due to COVID. I am really proud of the achievement and would love to teach stuff to others. Stay tuned for more on that soon. And I can’t recommend The Woodcraft School enough.

And I want to do more cycle touring again. Formulating plans for that too.

Have you watched ‘Don’t Look Up? And if so what did you think? I thought it was brilliant commentary on how politicians and the media don’t take the climate and eco crisis seriously, and how society reacts to it. This was reinforced by much of the media and critics slating it, cos they really don’t get it.

All the best for 2022, and Happy Birthday to Sheila and Susan who are both very young again imminently.

Open letter to Jerome Mayhew MP

It’s been over a year since I posted on my blog. No excuses really, it’s just been a hectic, rollercoaster 18 months. I’m hoping to post a bit more from now on, on a variety of topics.

I’ve achieved some cool stuff since I last wrote anything. I passed my Level 4 Bushcraft Course (more on Bushcraft plans soon hopefully), finished some work projects, have done loads of climbing, and have been busy with lots of Extinction Rebellion stuff. Despite the pandemic messing lots of things around life goes on, exciting stuff still happens, and friends and family are always there when you need them; have really appreciated support from friends this year, through a few difficult periods.

Oh, and I adopted a rescue cat who keeps me company now I’m working from home permanently. His name is Gideon. He is a menace, but I love him.

What has motivated me to write something again? Local politics mostly. I got annoyed with Councillors talking nonsense and not answering questions, and then with my local MP on a variety of subjects. I thought I’d share the letter I sent him this evening, as I’m sure many of his constituents feel the same way. I also think people need to know more about the disastrous Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will shortly be enacted into Law and seriously restrict our liberties.

Please read on if you’re interested – I’ve tried not to rant too much!

Dear Jerome Mayhew MP,

I am writing to you after you deleted my and several other concerned constituents’ comments from your Facebook page. I will also be forwarding this to members of the Norwich press, inviting them to publish this as an open letter.

On 12 December, you posted on Facebook reflecting on your achievements over the last two years, since you were elected, and on how you’ve stayed true to your commitments. I and many others have commented, politely, challenging some of these views. All of our comments have been deleted. I find this both undemocratic, cowardly, and as one of your constituents a failure on your part to address my concerns.

Have you perhaps been taking classes from Cllr Wilby on not answering questions? He did spectacularly badly at addressing a question on the NDR recently. Or perhaps you agree with Broadland District Tory Councillors, including Cllr Fisher, that there’s no need to declare a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary?

I shall repeat the comments I raised on Facebook, and would welcome a response.

You claim to be enhancing our local environment, however this is at odds with both your support for the Western Link Road, as well as you and your family’s involvement in the proposed Thorpe Woodlands housing development.

The Western Link Road will destroy ancient woodland, rare chalk stream habitat, endangered Barbastelle bat colonies, and pollute the local landscape. It will increase traffic and emissions because that’s what new roads do. The road is also a blatant move to open up the Norfolk countryside to more development and destruction, for the profit of a few.

Surely public money would be far better invested in green public transport and cycling infrastructure? At a time when more people are working from home, and we need to reduce private car ownership to reduce emissions, it seems crazy to be promoting more car usage.

Turning now to the Thorpe Woodlands housing development. This woodland, a County Wildlife Site, is a remnant of ancient woodland, containing as it does ancient woodland indicator species. It acts as a carbon sink and a refuge for animals and plants to regenerate from, whilst the surrounding countryside is gobbled up by developers. It is very probable that it also acts as a flood defence, absorbing a lot of surface water, for the homes in Dussindale and Thorpe St. Andrew.

You and your family sold this woodland, no doubt for a tidy profit, to developers. This was against the wishes of local residents, many of whom grew up playing in the woods. Broadland District Council refused planning permission. However, the applicants appealed to the central Planning Inspectorate, who overturned local democracy and granted permission. Yet another example of local democracy being ignored for the profit of a small minority, even though Broadland council said the land wasn’t needed for housing.

In the midst of a biodiversity crisis, when the UK has the lowest forest coverage in Europe (13% versus around 38% in the EU), we really need to preserve our remaining woodlands and wild places, habitats and biodiversity. Planting new trees simply cannot make up for established woodland being destroyed; birds and bats can’t nest in saplings surrounded by plastic tubes, trees that will probably die anyway if many of those planted around the NDR are anything to go by.

It appears you are not being entirely successful in protecting the countryside and environment in Norfolk, and certainly not ‘listening to residents’ on this matter.

I’d also like to raise the matter of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC BIll), which is now going through its third reading in the House of Lords. This Bill, which you support, recently had last minute clauses introduced that will mean up to 51 weeks in prison for any sort of protest activity. It also persecutes Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, making their way of life illegal. It’s an attack on freedom of speech, as well as our right to peaceful protest, a right that has won the British people so much over the centuries.

The PCSC Bill, along with the Nationality and Borders Bill (Anti-Refugee Bill), are attacks on civil liberties, freedom, democracy and refugees seeking asylum. The Government is seeking to quash any dissenting voices, to silence anyone that disagrees with them. Protest by its very nature will cause an annoyance and disturb someone. We must heed warnings from history, from the 1930s as countries slid into authoritarianism and fascism after introducing similar and more stringent laws. Can you really, with good conscience, support these Bills, which have been widely condemned by organisations such as Amnesty International?

I appreciate you have been working hard to try to build a ‘Better Broadland’, however not being open to criticism or answering questions from concerned members of the public comes across badly. With the Government increasingly under fire on COVID, having one rule for them and one for everyone else, it must be time to start listening to and engaging with your constituents who have different views, rather than ignoring them.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Your sincerely,

James Harvey

Salhouse

Norwich

That’s all for today. I’ll let you know if I get a reply, and hope to write more soon anyway.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Norfolk – life in the slow lane (in a good way)

Norfolk. UK. It can be an odd place. There are the obvious jokes that seem to apply to any county that isn’t close to a huge metropolis, or which is agriculturally focussed. After 25 odd years of living here I still find the lack of serious hills a bit boring at times; having grown up in East Sussex with the South Downs, Norfolk can seem a bit flat until you get to the North coast.

It’s a beautiful county though; huge skies and horizons, the Norfolk Broads, the coastline and endless beaches, the picturesque little villages you stumble upon where time still seems to run more slowly than the rest of the world. The people are friendly and hospitable, and not hesitant about sharing a story or two, in fact it can be hard to get away if you engage them in conversation.

Today I went on a slow bike ride around a bit of the the Norfolk Broads, around Neastishead and Irstead, not far from Wroxham. I was deliberately pedalling slowly, just looking at everything, and pausing frequently. There were children playing in the country lanes, neighbours chatting on village greens and staithes (in a mostly socially distant manner) over a glass of cider (ok, can of scrumpy maybe). Nature was thriving everywhere with birds singing, mice foraging, lambs gambolling and even a glimpse of an Otter. And the plants, mighty Oaks and water loving Alder, hundreds of different wildflowers I can’t even begin to name, all buzzing with insect life.

What’s my point? I was just wondering why people feel the such a compulsion to holiday abroad, getting on a plane, flying to a concrete hotel complex somewhere in the world, with a sterile beach and swimming pool, food they ultimately complain about, with accompanying travel stress and carbon footprint. We have all this on our doorstep. Norfolk isn’t unique in having loads of places to explore and things to do. Coming out of lockdown why don’t we all fly less and visit the wonders on our own doorstep? I’m certain local businesses would appreciate it for a start, and connecting with nature in our local area is so good for folks.

I really enjoyed my slow bike ride today, and wander round Alder Fen Broad, then Barton Broad. Highly recommend visiting them; although maybe just leave Alder Fen Broad alone as it’s lovely and quiet, a bit of a hidden gem; so many Dragon Flies!

Exploring hidden pathways is fun, and did anyone else read Swallows and Amazons as a child?

I’ve really got to get myself a canoe. Sometimes paddling beats pedalling.

Anyone know the story behind the statue above Irstead Church doorway? Some kind of Broads Serpent maybe? I love how a ride round your local area can inspire your imagination.

Barton Broad offers another chance to see an example of car woodland; not much of this around anymore.

It’s been fun exploring my local area whilst I’ve been on holiday. I’m back to work next week, but hoping to work a bit less and get out a bit more!

Finally, for my Extinction Rebellion friends: Next Rebellion announced today, 01 September, Parliament Square in London if you’ve not got a local rebellion. Coincides with Parliament reopening. With Boris saying ‘Build Build Build’ (all the wrong ‘builds’ too), and 4C temp rises now predicted, it’s time to Rebel For Life; We want to Live!

Extinction Rebellion – where are we at?

Hi – this is a reflective post on Extinction Rebellion, with whom I’ve been involved for about a year and a half now, if not longer; recently time is starting to blur a bit. It will most likely be of interest to active rebels, but I’d invite anyone to read it and comment, as it’s useful to hear other opinions. I originally started writing it in a response to a post on social media, but apparently it’s a bit too long to fit in the comments!

Extinction Rebellion…Oct 2018 to June 2020

It was such a relief to me when Extinction Rebellion (XR) started in Norwich. Turning up at that first meeting in October 2018 to find there were lots of people like me, very concerned about the environment and ecology, and the path that we’re still on; 4oC temp rises, mass extinction, societal breakdown, mass migration and war, famine, drought, ecocide etc.

At the time the above were my main concerns, and still feature right up there on my worry list. Thinking about the future and what’s going to happen to everyone (humans, animals, plants, planet) genuinely does stop me from sleeping, and often makes me think everything pointless, because I’m not sure there’s anything we can do to stop this runaway train (unintentional link to HS2 there). There’s just not the willingness politically, or amongst business leaders, or amongst most of society in the UK to make the drastic changes we so desperately need. People don’t want to give up there comfortable, high-consumption, cosy and safe lifestyles; and by people I do mean most people in the western world. I totally acknowledge this is a challenge for me too!

I still think most people, even if they now know climate change is real, don’t really get the implications, or the impacts already being felt by the Global South and indigenous populations. Yeah, there were those fires in Australia, and didn’t South Africa run out of water, and what about those orang-utans (etc etc), but at the end of the day I can worry about that a bit then go back to my cosy lifestyle, as it’s not on my doorstep.

It’s not on my doorstep yet anyway. It will be soon but people don’t want their bubble broken, or to be taken outside of their comfort zone. It’s damned scary. Blissful ignorance is…well…blissful.

But once you’re properly awake, you can’t go back to sleep. And that’s why it was such a relief to find a group of people in Norwich, and nationally, who wanted to try and do something about an issue that has been on my mind for years and years. I think many of us, even if it’s at an unconscious level, have known something is wrong all our lives. Here was a group of people that really understood the depth of the crisis and changes needed. To us it’s obvious why you shouldn’t build another airport or more roads, damage vital habitats to build a railway or more houses, or push an unfettered economic growth policy. It’s obvious the modern way of life and capitalism is ultimately killing us. It’s now more obvious how this links in with Social Justice. All of this still isn’t obvious to most people though, and I can’t really judge them on that; it’s a hard topic and not widely discussed or accepted.

I’ve was never involved with any kind of activism before XR, and I think that’s pretty representative of a lot of our membership, aside from some of our ‘leaders’ (hesitant about using the word leader, probably mean more founders). We’re just ‘normal’, run of the mill UK people, with ‘normal’ jobs and lifestyles. And yes, a lot of us are middle classed, and very privileged; I for one acknowledge that. Until recently I didn’t know much about other movements and struggles, and for example I still view organisations like Unions with distrust (but trying not to judge).

Sure, I was worried about the NHS, Brexit, human and animal rights, racism, fairness, and a host of other issues, but for me these all paled into insignificance versus the Climate Crisis and Ecocide. In the end these two things have made me an activist, and got me out onto the streets. I think this is still the case for lots of XR members; the climate and ecological crisis is the issue that trumps all other issues, as if we don’t solve that there won’t be anything else left to fix. I still believe that to an extent. And I think a lot of rebels still want us to focus on that, and feel we might be trying to bring too many other issues into scope.

However, since those early XR days, I’ve learnt loads thanks to talking to lots of other rebels; I could reel off a long list of names and talks I’ve been too, but you’ll probably know who I’m referring to if you move in those circles. XR has been a gateway to the world of activism and learning more about the issues we face locally, nationally and globally. One of the biggest areas of learning has been around Global/Social Justice, and how it’s all linked. We can’t fix the climate and eco crisis without addressing Global Justice. And by Global Justice I mean acknowledging and taking action to stop the exploitation of the Global South and indigenous populations, and to support them on the front-line of the climate crisis; they’re already dying in their thousands.

It also means acknowledging and doing more to combat racism and inequality in our own country, for the same reasons, and that includes within XR. We need everyone’s voices (I exclude racist and some other categories from ‘everyone’) and to engage with all communities, not to distance ourselves from them, or say we don’t need them; I have personally seen this happen. We also shouldn’t take actions without understanding the impact it can have on communities which one doesn’t originate from. More empathy, outreach and understanding needed.

What can we do to make XR better? What can we do to fix what could be viewed as a make or break few months? I don’t have all the answers and shouldn’t expect to; we need everyone’s help with that.

What don’t I want to see?

I don’t want to see current rebels, who joined for the same reasons I did, leaving because they think being middle classed and privileged means they’re no longer welcome, or because it means they don’t really have a right to protest. I think I need to acknowledge and use my privilege in a constructive manner, to hopefully to make things better. I also acknowledge the ‘not feeling welcome’ bit is how a lot of BAME/LGBTQ must feel all the time.

I don’t want to see XR paralysed by internal politics, especially at a national level. I don’t want to see us starting to rely on a hierarchy that will stop us from doing anything; we’re a self organising system with demands, principles and shared values. We shouldn’t be held back because suddenly one of our previously key members/leaders is doing something we find is at odds with those principles and values; let’s move on.

There are quite a lot of very self righteous people (I hope I’m not one of them) around at the moment who are getting too judgemental perhaps. Too many egos? Maybe XR is being used as a platform for other causes where it’s not really appropriate to do so?

I also really don’t want to lose the grass-roots rebels we have, that would diminish us. I feel that if you’re part of something you care about, and think it might be broken somewhere, then it’s better to try and at least fix it before leaving; if you think it’s worth your time and effort, and isn’t going to bring you too much stress or ill-health.

What do I want see?

I want to see the 4th demand (Social Justice) put in place as soon as possible, and don’t want to have to wait for months of endless talk and meetings for this to happen. I personally think if the majority approve it in local groups, they can just add it at a local level, and national can catch up.

I want to see our existing rebels get motivated and out on the streets again for the right kinds of actions; targeted actions versus government and corporations. Not actions that are going to adversely impact already stressed communities.

I want to see peaceful mass actions at a local level. Sure, we should go ahead with national actions and large scale well considered, well-messaged, and well-managed Rebellions, but local groups shouldn’t just wait for these to happen, or be reliant on central ‘leadership’.

I want to see more outreach and discussion with working class and BAME communities. I would love XR rebel numbers to grow from their ranks, but if that’s not possible please can we learn from them, act in harmony with them, and support each other? I am certain we can do this with the BLM movement.

I want to see more education and trainings to help people understand how the climate and eco crisis is inextricably linked to Global/Social Justice. This will surely help bring communities together; more integration and learning on both sides. We need more actions specifically on Global Justice, or XR rebels turning out to support actions organised by these movements.

I want middle class XR members to understand why it’s more difficult for working class, LGBTQ, and BAME communities to rebel, and to support them where they can so they feel they are able to, so we can create a united movement across society. I think this is starting to happen, but we have a long way to go still.

I want people not to be afraid to speak what’s on their mind, ask questions, challenge statements, enter in to discussion. It’s the only way we really learn.

I desperately want people to pause more often for self reflection and to think about what they’ve learned, whether they need to learn more, and whether that means they need to alter their trajectory at all. Really – Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes (empathy). We shouldn’t get paralysed by self reflection though; sometimes happens to me.

I want more people helping and doing stuff, rather than just talking about it, or criticising. I want less meetings and more actions.

I am probably wanting too much, and again acknowledge I am speaking from a privileged position, and that I still have lots to learn. Yep, I’m one of those middle aged, white, middle classed white blokes, but I don’t think that means I should just shut up; it does mean I should listen more though.

I move through periods when I think anything is possible, to periods of despair and grief, especially when I move outside my own echo chamber (but even whilst within it).

I’ve just got to carry on believing change is possible, and hoping we can work out how best to bring about that change as time goes on. But time is ticking, and frankly I’m increasingly anxious (or terrified ) about how little of it we have left to make the significant changes needed. Maybe only months, maybe years; those tipping points are looming. I am increasingly tempted to do what some have done, try and buy my own patch of land, somewhere remote, and prepare for the worst.

How do I feel better? By organising and participating in targeted non-violent direct action and positive outreach, centred around the climate and ecological crisis, as well as global justice. It feels right to me, when they’re the right sort of actions/outreach, and when they have some sort of impact. More of those sorts of actions, and I hope with an ever increasing number of Rebels, as well as cross-overs with other movements and communities.

Finally, a plea.

As we come out of lockdown I’m hoping we don’t go back to where we were prior to Coronavirus, and that we don’t let our government and business leaders take us back there by investing in the wrong areas, to drive more profit and growth for the benefit of a very small fraction of society. We new a new baseline to work from.

There are many positives to take from lockdown, such as being able to work from home, not needing to travel so much, consuming less in general, and how local communities have rallied around to help one-another.

I hope we can ‘Build Forward Better’, a green and sustainable future investing in the right things, which doesn’t include projects like HS2 (remember we can work for home), massive new road schemes, or housing developments on endangered biodiverse habitats.

I hope people realise that long term happiness and satisfaction is more about who you have around you, functioning communities, being able to play, being able to enjoy nature, being able to talk to your family and neighbours. It’s not so much about having to go on holiday abroad twice a year, or constantly buying new stuff you don’t really need at the expense of our environment, ecology and the Global South. Let’s stop sleep walking towards our own destruction.

We can be happy without all of that, in fact we can be happier than we are now, with less stress, mental and physical illness. We should be able to support one another across society to make this happen; a transition to a fair, sustainable, resilient, and green world.

Now stop reading my ramblings and go enjoy some nature, dance in the rain, play some music, talk to a neighbour, play a game, or just be in the moment for while.

Love and Rage.

Please stop scalping Mother Earth

I haven’t written to the Council for a bit, or to my MP, however after pedalling round my local country lanes over the last few days I felt motivated to write the below. I might also submit this to the local newspaper tomorrow to see if they’d life to print a version of it. I’m sharing it on my blog as I’m sure many of you will feel the same way. Here’s a nice photo before getting into the letter; let me know quick if you spot any typos!

Norfolk waterway

Norfolk waterway with willow trees and cow pasture

03 June 2020

Dear Sir/Madam,

I’m sure like me being able to enjoy Norfolk’s glorious countryside over the last few months has been of great solace during lock-down. We have an amazing variety of habitats, plants, mammals and birds, and I was delighted to see the Swallowtail butterflies when I cycled up to Hickling Broad the other day.

I am currently working from home, as are many people; those fortunate enough not to have been furloughed or made redundant, or our committed key workers who run the risk of catching COVID-19. I try to get out once a day for some exercise, which generally involves a bike ride or a walk around the Salhouse area. At the weekend I go on longer rides taking in many of the county’s country lanes, teeming with wildlife and bird song.

One of the upsides of lock-down is that I’ve been able to get out in my local area a bit more, to appreciate nature in all its glory as Spring turns to Summer. The hundreds of varieties of plants and wildflowers, the insects in their multitudes that feed on them, the birds and mammals eating the insects; a wonderful trophic cascade. A couple of week’s ago I spotted a Stoat bouncing down a lane, hunting along the hedgerow, a sight that filled my heart with joy. It was accompanied by the magnificent sound of Skylark’s song overhead.

In the last two weeks it all seems to have dramatically changed, leaving me very sad, and filled with considerable rage.

Now when I cycle down the same routes the roadside verges, once teeming with life, are quiet, shrunken and lifeless things. They have been shorn down to the bare minimum, often the naked earth, as if Mother Nature herself has been scalped. Gone are the wildflowers and plants, the brightly coloured beetles, the butterflies around the nettles, the birds finding food for their young. There is no sign of the Stoat; there’s nothing for it there anymore.

I don’t understand why this is done. I have checked the information on the Norfolk County Council website on the page linked to below:

https://www.norfolk.gov.uk/roads-and-transport/roads/road-maintenance/trees-hedges-and-grass-verges

It says that roadside verges are only cut for safety reasons and not appearance. They are cut to ensure visibility and safety at junctions. It also extols the virtues of ‘almost 10 miles’ of roadside nature reserves; 10 miles, out of the 1000’s of miles of roadside verges we have in the county.

Now I get the safety and junctions point, and to an extent the visibility bit on some stretches, but the cutting goes far above and beyond this. Most cutting, aside from in the very few designated roadside nature reserves, is extreme, leaving very little cover. I am guessing this is to reduce the frequency of cutting, or is just down to ignorance or lack of care for the habitat being destroyed. I guess it’s also possible the contractors doing this work are assessed and have to make sure it’s clear where they’ve cut, and that the council is getting their money’s worth. I imagine there is a whole governance and sign off process around it that’s miles distant from caring about the safety of the plants, mammals and birds whose homes are being destroyed, or the vitality of the habitat that brings so such joy and relief to walkers and cyclists alike.

It’s not just roadside verges. There are reports of park or common land where wildflower meadows that have been allowed to grow, being dramatically cut back, with nesting birds disturbed or killed. Local residents in those areas have been rightfully devastated and angry to find their little bit of nature gone; it’s really bad for people’s mental health.

It appears the temporary reprieve nature had in many parts of the county, due to lock-down, is over. The stay of execution has expired. Not only are roads getting busier again, packed with traffic with a corresponding increase in roadkill (I passed a beautiful grass snake half squashed near Ranworth the other day, and lets not even get into hedgehog deaths), but we have restarted our relentless pursuit of dominance over nature. It’s got to be controlled, cut, shaped, moulded and turned to our purpose.

I request we change the way we’re looking at this. Roadside verges and hedgerows provide some of the last remaining habitat in the UK for our native flora and fauna. We’ve simply got to realise we’re a part of nature, not apart from nature. By destroying it, and roadside verges are just one simple but effective example, we’re harming ourselves and future generations.

Instead of cutting nearly everything back, which seems to be the case in most places, why can’t we reverse the policy and only cut at real key points, such as at junctions as the Norfolk County Council’s website references. On straight stretches of road, with a clear line of sight, there really can’t be any excuse for cutting down to the bare earth. We’re in a climate and ecological emergency, and desperately need to protect our remaining biodiversity. Instead of just a handful of ‘roadside nature reserves’ why can’t we have just a handful of ‘roadside cutting zones’ with the new normal being verdant habitat for wildlife. Give the plants, mammals and nesting birds a chance.

I’d like to talk about a couple of other things, just to support this.

The UK has been hunted, developed and farmed to within an inch of its life for thousands of years. We have very few wild places left, and a massively reduced diversity of plants and animals. Very few bits of ancient woodland, or habitat that has reached its climax state, remain. We are highly critical of other parts of the world who are destroying their own perhaps more obviously biodiverse habitat, such as rainforest, for example for agricultural purposes. The poorer nations doing this are often doing so to provide goods and services for us. They’re doing now what we’ve done to our own country for centuries, and our own corporations are encouraging them to do so in the name of progress and economic growth.

We’re massively exploiting the Global South for things like food, precious minerals for our mobile phones, palm oil and fossil fuels, with profits mostly going to line the pockets of the elite in the Global North. We’re privileged hypocrites and most of the time we don’t even realise it. Can’t we spare our remaining bits of nature the chop, and try and set a bit of an example for other nations? This also links in with social and environmental justice, but that’s a topic for another day.

The Coronavirus originated in China, and it seems evident that anthropogenic (human based) pressure on natural habitats caused the outbreak. Human incursions (habitat destruction, pollution etc) into natural habitat, stressing natural systems and balances, caused this horrible virus to jump to humans, leaving us with a global pandemic and widespread tragedy and grief. I’m not saying that cutting verges and hedgerows will cause a similar outbreak, but it’s the same principle; destroying nature harms us in the long run, and we’ve got to learn to live alongside it and not try and tame it all the time.

I was really hoping that we could emerge from the pandemic with a new strategy for life, a refreshed system, with no going back to old harmful and destructive practices. I know many people are trying to change the way they live, with working from home becoming the new normal, and perhaps reduced consumption rates and associated emissions. Please can we do all we can to encourage this, including stopping the highly destructive practice of roadside verge and hedge cutting where it’s not needed? It may seem like a little thing, but all these small steps add up to something bigger.

And if we can get a new normal, with more working from home and much less traffic on the roads, we could scrap other environmentally and ecologically destructive projects such as the Wensum Link Road, or housing developments on County Wildlife Sites such as Thorpe Woodlands, or plans to expand Norwich airport. We desperately need to invest in a greener and more sustainable future, and to relieve ourselves of the suicidal notion that unfettered economic growth is either possible, a positive measure of success, or leads to happiness and satisfaction.

I humbly request that as a county we revisit the policy on grass verge cutting, as well as decisions made in a different era on developments that are no longer needed, and which don’t make any sense when we know we need to reduce emissions and protect biodiversity.

If we don’t act now, we wont leave anything for future generations. Please stop scalping Mother Earth.

Yours sincerely,

James Harvey

Salhouse resident

 

P.S. Photographic evidence of excessive roadside verge cutting available upon request

 

 

Wild plants and flowers part 2

Time for part 2 of my wild plants and flowers blog, where I attempt to identify the various species I find roundabout where I live in Norfolk. I think  there must be hundreds of different plant species out there at the moment, I keep seeing new ones every time I go out for a walk or cycle ride, so I’ll only cover a fraction of what’s on my doorstep.

Is this week 6 in lockdown? I can’t remember how long I’ve been working from home now but it’s starting to get a little dull with the lack of office banter. At least I’m mostly still getting out for my daily cycle or walk, although I did miss a couple of days last week due to it being a bit wet and just not having the motivation. I’ve said it before but I do feel very fortunate to have such wonderful countryside and scenery on my doorstep, even if Norfolk does lack any serious hills or big forests; the Broads make up for it!

I really like what some enthusiasts are doing at the moment; using chalk to label the names of plants they’re finding in villages, towns and cities across Europe. Brilliantly educational for people out on their daily exercise, especially children. I suspect there was a time when kids were just taught the names of wild plants, and what they can be used for, as a matter of course, but that knowledge has faded. Using chalk to label the plants, which will wash off harmlessly in the next shower, is a great idea; and yes strictly speaking it might be illegal, but so are the air pollution levels in many towns, or driving whilst using a mobile phone, or fly tipping, but people get away with that all the time. I think we can let a bit of educational and colourful graffiti that is bringing a bit of joy slip.

On Sunday I rode my bike up to the coast at Happisburgh because I wanted to see the sea. It was actually the sound of the waves hitting the shore that I wanted to hear, rather than seeing it. Pedalling the country lanes was lovely, the verges covered in plants and flowers, insects buzzing and kestrels hovering. I also saw a stoat hunting along a hedgerow with its distinctive black tipped tail, but too fast to photo.

It was a 62km round trip on my bike, taking about two and a half hours. I want to start building up my cycling distances again in case I decide to do another long cycle tour once we’re out of lockdown. I’d really quite like to cycle round the coast of Britain again, which I first did in 2013. It was a wonderful trip, and I learnt so much about my own country; you can read about it on my Bike around Britain blog.

Before I get onto this week’s plants, here’s a short bit of film I took up at Happisburgh, in case you’d like to hear the sea too (and the wind).

On to plants.

The photo of this first one is from several week’s ago, and also contains a few other hedgerow species. Focussing on the plant in the middle with the arrow shaped leaves; Lords and Ladies, also known as Cuckoo Pint (Arum maculata). Some of the country lanes round me have banks crowded with it.

Lords and Ladies

Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum)

It’s got lots of other names, some of them quite evocative such as Jack in the pulpit, Devils and angels, Friar’s cowl and Adder’s root; these names might be down to the different plant parts looking like male and female genitalia. Later in the year it produces a fruiting stalk that grows up from the centre, with distinctive orange-red berries. You can see this around July/August and into Autumn. The flower, a cobra like hood, is nestled in amongst the leaves and is different again. It smells like rotting meat which attracts flies, which in turn pollinate the flower, pretty cool. I’ll try to get some photos of the different parts as they appear. Lords and ladies is poisonous as it contains oxalate acid crystals. These crystals are spiky and can irritate the tissue of your mouth and digestive track if swallowed. If you’re allergic to such things it could cause your throat to close up. I have tried a little bit and it’s definitely got a sharp and heated aftertaste, that builds with time; apparently the older you are the longer it takes to notice.

Lords and ladies is native to the UK, in England, Wales but not so much Scotland. It’s a perennial, and prefers the shaded areas. The plant contains large amounts of starch, so was used in washing for collars etc. I’m told that when the ‘gentry’ used to select their washerwomen they’d look for those with the sore red hands, as they’d be the hard workers; their hands were afflicted by the oxalate acid in the Lords and ladies.

Ground Ivy 1

Ground Ivy and interesting ladybird

I’ve included a couple of pics of this next one, Ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea). I like this first picture because of the interesting ladybird, and the pretty small purple flowers. Ground-ivy is another one of these plants that has multiple names, including Alehoof, Gill-over-the-ground, Catsfoot and Creeping charlie. I prefer Alehoof as before the introduction of hops Saxons used it to brew beer. It’s another native perennial and common throughout most of the UK, flowering from March to May.

Ground Ivy 2

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) – nice little purple flowers

I found this one in a graveyard, but it pops up all over the place and is considered an invasive weed by many. It’s actually a member of mint family, which you can tell by its square stem. I also don’t think anything that can be used to brew beer should count as invasive or a nuisance, although it can spread rapidly by runners or seed. I believe the leaves can be eaten in salads, but the plant might be toxic to livestock. Apparently it has lots of traditional herbal medicine uses, but I really don’t know if any of them are effective; treating eye inflammation, tinnitus, lung herb (bronchitis), as an astringent or a diuretic. I have a feeling a lot of uses were just made up, the old placebo effect.

 

 

I really want to cover wild garlic on this blog, also known as Ramsoms, however I’m learning there are probably several varieties.

Three-cornered garlic

Three-cornered garlic – Allium triquetrum

This photo I think is of Three-cornered garlic (Allium triquetrum), which is the same family as Ramsoms, and no doubt still counts; it certainly smells strongly of onions. I think this particular variety counts as an invasive species as it can smother out native species, meaning it’s illegal to plant it out in wild. If it is this then I’m seeing a lot of it on the banks of country lanes round me. For reference it flowers April to June and likes shady spots.

 

Wild Garlic - Ramsoms

Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) – broader leaves

The variety I wanted a photo of has broader leaves, and I found loads of it when I was down South last. This is what I regard as Ramsoms (Allium ursinum), and the two photos that follow are courtesy of the Wild Food UK website – https://www.wildfooduk.com/edible-wild-plants/wild-garlic/

 

Wild garlic flowers

Wild garlic flowers

This species is definitely native, and the flowers are quite different. It can be found over most of England and Wales, and Southern Scotland, in damp and shaded areas, especially woodland. It flowers from April to June. I love it for making pesto, and the whole plant is edible, however I would avoid digging up the bulbs so it can regrow. Garlic has a number of health benefits including treating high blood pressure and cholesterol. I’ve no doubt it has loads of other benefits too, including the obvious of keeping vampires away. I reckon you can use it pretty much anywhere you’d usually use garlic, so I think I’ll try adding some to guacamole next time I make it. Don’t get it confused with Lily of the Valley which looks similar but is poisonous; doesn’t smell anywhere near the same though.

Following the trauma of trying to work out which wild garlic is which, here’s something a little easier, and which again there is loads of around me at the moment.

White Deadnettle

White Deadnettle (Lamium album)

White Deadnettle (Lamium album) is very common alongside footpaths, hedge-banks and roadsides, but apparently gets rarer as you travel north. It’s a perennial and flowers from March to December. Like Red Deadnettle covered last time it won’t sting you. I’m told it can be eaten like spinach but I’ve not tried it. Herbal medicine wise it has been used to treat catarrh, and the flower used for treating sore throats and bronchitis. Apparently it might also be effective as a sedative.

Whilst it might have uses for humans, I think it’s of more use to the different varieties of insect I see feeding off it. Not mowing the roadside verges is definitely helping our insect friends thrive at the moment.

 

Yellow Archangel

Yellow Archangel (Lamium galeobdolon)

Here’s another Deadnettle, which I’d somehow failed to consciously notice before now, despite it being common in England and Wales. It’s a perennial flowering from May to June, although I saw it out in April this year; maybe another symptom of climate change and average temperatures going up. This one is called Yellow Archangel (Lamium galeobdolan), and I love the bright yellow hooded flowers. This example appeared to have slightly variegated leaves, which I don’t know if is usual or not; from the pictures I’ve seen I don’t think so. I believe you can eat the young leaves and shoots, and that the leaves taste slightly spicy. I might have to try making a tea or soup from it. All these plants seem to have multiple potential uses, and this one is again a diuretic and astringent, amongst other things.

Whist I’m doing ‘nettles’ I ought to cover the well known and often disliked Stinging Nettle (Urtica diocea), which I’ve no doubt most people can recognise.  This is common pretty much everywhere, and most definitely counts as a native perennial. It grows in woods, wasteland, gardens, field edges and footpaths, and is much loved by several species of butterflies, for their caterpillars. It’s definitely worth keeping a small patch in your garden, and not just for the insects. The small hollow hairs on the nettle leaves and stems are what sting, containing formic acid and histamine.

Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle (Urtica diocea)

Stinging Nettles are amazing plants as they have so many uses, and as they grow pretty much everywhere, and quickly, you can easily get hold of lots of them. They contain Vitamin B, as well as A, C and K, the aforementioned formic aid, minerals such calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and sodium. They  also contain between 19% and 21% protein, so they’re truly a superfood. I have made nettle soup from them, and thrown them in stews like spinach, you just have to remember to remove the hairs first by crushing and rolling them. That reminds me, I think you can use the pith from the inside of the stem to treat nettle stings, which could be handy, although you’ll probably sting yourself getting to the pith. Pretty much a superfood I reckon, and will be useful if the supermarket shelves go empty. It flowers from May to September.

Nettle cordage

Nettle cordage

One more use for the amazing nettle; you can make cordage out of it. Collect a load of stems, perhaps keeping the leaves for food, and split them down into long fibres by crushing the nodes, squishing the stem and separating, removing the pith. To make nettle string you dry the fibres for at least 20 minutes, then twist two lengths together in a twist and kink motion, which would be much easier to demonstrate than describe with words. Over the course of an evening round a campfire you can make quite long lengths of cordage that can be used for all sorts of things.

I think that’s your lot for today as I’ve noticed my word count has crept over 2000 and I don’t want people to fall asleep. I also want to save Umbellifers for next time, when I’ll perhaps cover the likes of Hemlock, and Hemlock Water Dropwort, both of which can kill you reasonably easily, although one is more painful than the other. And Hemlock is absolutely everywhere! That’s one of the reasons I don’t really like eating anything from that family, as I don’t want to get Cow Parsley mixed up with something that’s going to send me over the River Styx in a speed boat. I’ll see if I can find some Cow Parsley and Hogweed too though.

As before please don’t take any notes I’ve made concerning medicinal uses as gospel, as there are lots of different opinions out there, and different people are allergic to different things. Please do your own research.

I’ll leave you with a picture of a cat in a box, because cats love boxes for some reason, especially this one.

Cat in a box

Cat in a box – Boxus catus

Until next time, stay frosty.