Category Archives: UK

Tree Survey – NDR – initial visit

Today was one of those glorious Autumn days, cold and bright, with a lovely fresh smell in the air. For a while now I’ve been wondering how many trees the council planted alongside the new dual carriageway near me have actually survived, so I thought I go take a look. Short answer from the small survey of 216 trees on one particular stretch: 16% have died.

The Northern Distributor Road (NDR) has been open for a few years now, and had lots of trees planted alongside it to try to restore the damage done by the road. We’re supposed to call it the Broadland Northway now; I think this is probably an effort by Norfolk County Council to disguise the fact that its purpose is to open up the countryside to more development, distributing traffic to new parts of the county.

Unfortunately, many of the trees planted have died due to the extreme weather we’ve been having. It’s just been too hot and dry, and they haven’t been watered sufficiently. A plethora of plastic tree guards now stand empty in many places, grave markers for the saplings that have sadly perished. It was good to see so many other plants growing in the verge alongside the road, however I’m sure Yarrow shouldn’t be flowering at this time of year; I guess that’s because of how warm it’s been.

My plant ID skills aren’t brilliant, but I saw Comfrey, Yarrow, Ribwort and Greater Plantain, as well as thistles, Red Campion, Hogweed, Common Mugwort in abundance, Oxeye Daisies and Buttercups. There were loads of other species however I’ll have to take along a guide to ID them next time. Roadside verges can contain lots of biodiversity, I’ve seen hares feeding alongside the cycle path, kestrels hunting, and lots of insects in the summer. However, I don’t think the verges really make up for the swathe of destruction caused when the road was built.

Today was an exploratory visit. I counted trees on a hundred metre stretch not far from the Plumsteads, noting down species as well as dead or missing trees. I concentrated on the eastern side of the bank built up next to the dual carriageway, which is more shaded. The western side looked to have more empty tree guards, however it’ll need a return visit to confirm this. Results of this initial exploratory survey below.

SpeciesCountPecentage
Dead/missing3516.20%
Hawthorn4922.69%
Field Maple5625.93%
Oak (English)2310.65%
Dog Rose73.24%
Cherry73.24%
Dogwood62.78%
Apple31.39%
Blackthorn2612.04%
Spindle41.85%



Total216
TREE SURVEY 25 NOV 2022

Here’s a pie chart of the results.

Field Maple came our top, followed by Hawthorn, however it was good to see other species mixed in such as Cherry, Spindle, a good number of English Oaks, Dogwood and Blackthorn. Lots of good species for wildlife to use. Unfortunately 16% of the tree guards were either standing empty, or had dead saplings inside them. I suspect the percentage is in fact a bit higher than this as some tree guards have either been removed or have blown away. I think the western side of the bank will have a bigger percentage of dead trees, and I know other stretches have been impacted to a greater or lesser degree. I’ll have to get out and do other surveys in different locations.

I believe around 6,000 trees were cut down to build the NDR, a road that cost £205m to build. It was reported in October last year that around 3,500 of the trees planted to replace those lost when the road was built have died. Norfolk County Council pledged to plant 5 trees for every 1 they cut down, 30,000 in total. They must be a long way off this target, especially as many more trees and shrubs, lots of them replacement replacements, perished during the heatwave this summer.

It’s frustrating that Norfolk County Council think you can just replace mature trees and habitat, destroyed to make way for road building, with saplings that will take decades to do anything meaningful in terms of carbon sequestration. It will also take centuries for the soil to recover, species to translocate, and for any sort of mature woodland landscape to settle back in. The Council are planning the same with the Northern Distributor Road; it just doesn’t add up when we’re in a climate and ecological emergency, not to mention the impact it has on local communities, flood mitigation, and local wildlife. It’s also frustrating to see so many empty plastic tree guards littering parts of the landscape next to the NDR.

I hope to get out for further surveys over the coming weeks so I can report back findings to Broadland Green Party, who will be able to raise this with Broadland District Council. Tree ID gets a bit trickier as they lose their leaves, so I’ll have to put my winter buds knowledge to use.

No pictures of Gideon on this blog post I’m afraid, he’s hiding somewhere after having an argument with one of the neighbour’s cats. I’ll leave you with some pictures of a glorious Norfolk sunset from the other evening.

I’d rather be in the woods

I really would rather be in the woods, engaged in bushcraft training, foraging, learning about plants, animals and trees. Helping others learn about them too. That would be great. The year long bushcraft course I finished last year with the Woodcraft School, which was actually two years long due to the pandemic, was brilliant. I want to be sitting around a campfire with mates swapping tales after a hard days graft. But I just don’t feel I can at the moment.

Me and my camp
Me and my camp

I think I’m having one of those days where everything feels a little bleak, hard work, headachy, not to mention frustrating and emotionally taxing. October was pretty intense on the protest front, helping to support Just Stop Oil as we took action in London. November is turning out to be similar. Not that I could think of doing anything else at the moment, the crisis being so urgent.

Like many others I’ve taken holiday from my day job to support the Just Stop Oil protests, and am often busy in the evenings and at weekends doing similar. It’s tiring, but what else can we do in the face of a Government that simply won’t do what’s needed? These ordinary people from all walks of life are some of the kindest, most compassionate and self-sacrificing people I’ve ever met. It’s a privilege to work with them, learn from them, cry with them and do whatever I can to help get their stories and message out there.

The UK Government want to open up over 100 new oil and gas projects, when all the science is saying we can’t afford the climate wrecking emissions from doing so. Just Stop Oil are demanding no new oil and gas licenses are granted, and that we transition to renewable energy. We have enough oil and gas reserves to keep us going for years, we don’t need to open up new ones that take decades to come online, are 9 times more expensive than renewables, and won’t do anything to help with the cost of living crisis or our energy security.

People around the world, especially in the Global South, are dying right now because of floods, droughts, fires and famine. A report from Oxfam in May this year said it was likely one person is dying from hunger every 48 seconds in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. It’s only got worse since May. Thirty three million people have been displaced from their homes in Pakistan due to flooding, and now disease is rife. The list of climate related disasters goes on.

On the home front we’re protected from the worst impacts, however the summer heatwave where temperatures went over 40C for the first time saw over 3,000 excess deaths. The London fire service had their busiest period since the blitz due to fires caused by these temperatures, and sixty homes round the country were lost as a direct result. Harvests are failing both where I live in East Anglia, and around the world, which is going to drive food prices up even further and will mean even more people go hungry.

You don’t have to believe Extinction Rebellion or Just Stop Oil when we tell you just how serious the crisis is. Thousands of scientists are screaming it from the rooftops. Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, said this week we’re on course for Climate Hell. The International Energy Association and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are saying we can’t have any new oil and gas projects. Sir David King, ex-chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government says we have 2 or 3 years left to act to slash green house gas emissions. Saint David Attenborough is saying the same. We need to act now or we face societal collapse.

I am so scared about not only what’s going to happen to me as I grow older, but for my niece and nephew; will they have a chance to grow as old as I am? I’m 47, they are 9 and 11. It’s the same for all my friends’ children. I just feel like I have to do something to give them a chance at a survivable future, and hopefully one they can thrive in. I know this sounds awful, but it’s the truth, one that’s not being talked about enough.

The protests by Just Stop Oil on the M25 this week have rightly sparked outrage amongst the general public. Traffic has ground to a halt meaning people can’t get to work, have missed funerals, may have missed or been late for hospital or doctors appointments. It’s terrible that it’s come to this. The people taking this action know they are going to be hated, but don’t think they have any other recourse. Everything else has been tried: writing petitions, talking to MPs, writing letters, standing on a pavement with a placard or going on a march. Civil resistance is all we have left. Actions have included blockading fuel depots and disrupting oil refineries, road blocks in London, disruptive actions outside Downing Street and other Government departments. Soup and cake has been thrown at artworks, not damaging them, but causing media uproar and public backlash from some quarters.

These actions create the tension required for discussion to happen, for the climate crisis and the action needed to mitigate it – we can’t stop it – to get into the media and for the Government to take notice. Our criminal Government could stop the Just Stop Oil actions right now by agreeing to not allow any new oil and gas projects. It’s a straightforward demand that all the experts are saying needs to happen, right now. Sunak is at COP27 saying action needs to be taken, the crisis is urgent and we need to hit our targets, but it’s all nonsense. He and his party are doing the opposite of what’s needed and falsely accounting UK carbon emissions to make us look good. COP 27, like COP26, is full of fossil fuel lobbyists and I hold out very little hope it will result in any concrete commitments for change. Meanwhile year on year the situation gets more and more dire, people are suffering and dying, and our futures are going up in smoke.

I do understand why many of the public are getting angry about the civil resistance taking place. It’s really shit, however I’m also getting pretty frustrated with how misdirected that anger is. This isn’t a popularity contest, however the Government are being negligent and are far more deserving of your ire. I learned this week that hundreds of lawyers wrote to the Government to say that if average temperatures rise 1.5C above pre-industrial averages we will lose the rule of law. They are talking about societal breakdown. The UN said last week that there’s no credible path to keeping temperates below +1.5C. The Government’s continued inaction on the climate crisis, and continued support of the fossil fuel industry, is therefore criminal. They are still subsidising oil and gas companies to the tune of £236 million pounds a week, when instead they could be investing this money into renewables and helping with the cost of living crisis. The ‘windfall tax’ they’ve imposed on energy company profits has massive loopholes, allowing the likes of BP and Shell to offset profits versus new development costs. BP and Shell are making billions of pounds, profits for a really small minority, whilst the majority suffer.

Back to the frustration. As a spokesperson for JSO (Just Stop Oil) you hear and see all the criticism, either during interviews or online on social media platforms, or in the media. Here are several of the common topics, with my comments:

  • You’re all hypocrites, you drove to those actions, you wear clothes made from oil products, eat food that uses oil, have a mobile phone etc
    • Yes, it’s true, we’re hypocrites. We can’t be anything else in the current system. We can recycle as much as we like, stop flying, go vegan, but we still exist in a system where not using oil and gas is impossible. Taking action or being noticed whilst campaigning for change, and not using fossil fuels, is impossible. What should we do, go and live in a cave and wear a hemp sack? Doing nothing isn’t an option. We’re not saying stop using oil and gas tomorrow, we’re saying no new oil and gas projects. We need a just transition to a new way of living.
  • The traffic delays are causing loads of pollution and green house gas emissions. You’re making the crisis worse by your actions.
    • Ok. Deep breath. The increased emissions/pollution from delays pale into complete insignificance versus the emissions caused by continued fossil fuel exploration, construction, increased overall car use, and the continued and increasing production of all the things we’re told we need and have to buy, but don’t really need. This argument is so tiring, and doesn’t make sense. People could also just turn their engines off if they’re in a traffic jam.
  • You’re losing public support. You need public support. You’re damaging the cause.
    • There’s no evidence to suggest JSO actions are damaging the environmental cause. In a recent poll 66% of respondents supported direct action on the climate and ecological crisis. People may dislike this style of civil resistance, but it get’s results. People are talking about the issue. The media are publishing articles and interviewing us every day; they wouldn’t if we just stood on the roadside with a placard. Previous movements that used civil disobience to get results were loathed at the time, like the Suffragettes. Martin Luther King was the most hated man in America. The LGBTQ+ community had to fight for the rights they have today. They got results from taking direct action, results which everyone recognises today were the desperately needed.
  • Go and protest in China or the US, they’re the big polluters. The UK is responsible for less than 1% of emissions. Us cutting emission won’t do anything. Stop disrupting our lives.
    • One, the 1% stat doesn’t really take into account all our emissions, such as those from the production and transportation of all the goods we consume that a manufactured abroad. Two, this doesn’t account for our historical emissions – we’re a world leader on that since the industrial revolution, and have a responsibility to acknowledge an act. Three, we need to set an example, we can be world leaders at that, and on green tech and a green transition. We really do have a responsibility to face up to our colonial past and the exploitation of the Global South for profit. So we’ll continue to take action in the UK against our criminal Government and the oil and gas industry.
  • You’re delaying ambulances. People are dying because of the actions you’re taking. People can’t get to hospital appointments etc.
    • Yes, it’s really terrible when any delays like this take place, or if ill people get caught up in disruption. I hate it. Worth noting that the South East ambulance service recently said no ambulances had been delayed as a result of protests. JSO and XR also have a blue light policy and always let emergency vehicles through road blocks. It’s still awful if anyone is delayed, but 1000’s round the world are dying right now due to the climate crisis, our futures are at stake, and the Government is doing the opposite of what’s required. What else can we do?
  • You’re nothing but a cult, full of brain-washed idiots!
    • I like this one, it’s quite new. If we’re a cult, we’re a cult that is supported by thousands of scientists, and scientific bodies, the UN Secretary General, the IEA, IPCC, and 1000’s of ordinary people who work as teachers, doctors, nurses, carpenters, students or retired folks. Strange sort of cult really, campaigning to preserve life

There are no doubt lots of other examples. Maybe mention them in the comments and we can discuss further.

I just want to touch on the media’s role in all this. They are complicit in the crisis and just aren’t telling the truth, or giving the public the facts they deserve and need to know. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but just how little people are aware of how dire the situation, and how they haven’t really emotionally connected with it, is still amazes me. The 1.5C target being blown means nothing to so many folks, and I’m not surprised given how little attention the media give the climate and ecological crisis. Reporters don’t challenge oil and gas execs enough, and certainly don’t hold the Government sufficiently to account. Mainstream media is controlled by billionaire oligarchs with an interest in maintaining the status quo, at the expense of everyone else. The media have a duty to report the truth, the same way that we have a duty to rise up versus a morally corrupt and criminally negligent government.

It’s really hard sometimes. I get why people feel the way they do, the anger and frustration, the hatred, I wish people could look beyond the disruption to the reasons for it, and who is ultimately responsible. I was encouraged today to hear people stuck in traffic saying they get it, and support the direct action being taken. I hope this marks a shift in public perception. I hope people spare a thought for those now on remand or serving prison sentences for the action they’ve taken to try to save lives. We’ll see.

One thing for certain, we’ve just got to keep on taking action, and trying new forms of civil resistance to bring about change. Do something and have a chance at a survivable future. Do nothing and perish. Not really a choice there.

Please consider joining Just Stop Oil or Extinction Rebellion out on the streets, or any other organisation taking non-violent direct action. There’s lots of ways to get involved, and plenty of support.

I’d really rather be in the woods though.

I just realised that as the police are starting to arrest reporters and film-makers covering protests, and to arrest ordinary folks on charges of conspiracy when they haven’t actually done anything, there’s even a risk I could be arrested for writing a blog post like this. The Public Order Bill currently going through the House of Lords is terrifying, and a subject for another blog post. If you don’t hear from me for a while you know why (only semi joking).

Picture of Gideon by way of goodbye for now. I asked him about COP27. He pondered for a bit, but reckons there isn’t much hope, especially as humans seem to be interested in cat pictures more than the reality of the climate crisis. Not that he’s complaining, he’s quite vain. Then he went to sleep.

Scientists – why bother listening to them?

This morning I ascertained that pyramid tea bags are easier to throw into a mug at a distance of 2 metres, than the standard round tea bags. I feel I’ve done some important science.

I wish decision makers, the courts and big business would listen to scientists more. It feels like they should do, rather than paying too much attention to the likes of Rupert Murdoch and his minions, or fossil fuel company lobbyists. Shell just announced grotesque profits of £8.1bn in the last quarter.

Meanwhile we have a cost of living crisis and a climate crisis. People are dying from famine and drought in Africa, and 33 million people have been displaced in Pakistan due to floods. Harvest failures around the world, heatwaves, wild fires, permafrost melt, extreme weather, ocean death, the list goes on. People will die from the cold in the UK this winter as they can’t afford to heat their homes, and others can’t afford to buy food. The London fire brigade had their busiest period since the Second World War this summer due to wildfires; 60 people lost their homes in the UK.

All this is being driven by our continued reliance on fossil fuels, which is being driven by these massive energy companies (BP, Shell, Exxon, Gazprom etc) and their greed, plus a complicit Government. Our futures and our children’s futures are at stake, as well as much of life on Earth. Large regions of the planet are likely to become uninhabitable during my lifetime, and the target to contain global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial averages is blown; the UN have said today that there is no credible path in place to meet this. Billions of people are going to have to move – mass migration – resulting in war for remaining resources and the rise of the far right. It’s already happening.

More reports from climate scientists out yesterday; they, the IPCC, Antonio Guterres, Sir David Attenborough, Sir David King, they’re all screaming from the rooftops that we need to slash emissions now, but they’re being ignored in favour of growth and profit. Check out the lancet if you want more info – https://www.thelancet.com/countdown-health-climate. This ongoing mantra that economic growth is good is false. It’s killing us.

But yeah, why should we listen to scientists? Why listen to people that really know their stuff and are shouting into the void about how dire the situation is? They’re desperate, grief stricken, in tears a lot of the time. They’re telling the truth, but our criminal Government aren’t listening. Even worse a lot of the scientific papers or statements by the IPCC (Inter Governmental Panel of Climate Change) don’t tell us exactly how bad it is, as they’re peer reviewed to ensure mass consensus on what’s published, and often dumbed down due to pressure from oil and gas industry lobbyists. If you want to avoid becoming overly depressed about it avoid having a pint down the pub with a climate scientist.

COP27 starts on 06 November. I’m not holding out any hope for anything concrete to come out of it in terms of legally binding cuts in emissions. They’ll be a tonne of green washing, and once again I expect the largest delegation will be from fossil fuel companies sowing misdirection and scepticism about what is scientific fact – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-63316362

When ordinary concerned individuals, including scientists, protest about Government inaction and their complicity in the destruction of our futures, they get chastised and locked up, called selfish, told they’re damaging their cause. Protest and non-violent civil disobedience is our last port of call in demanding change. We’ve known how bad things are for 30 or 40 years, but writing letters, signing petitions, and talking to politicians hasn’t changed anything. We know a direct action form of protest works, it got people the vote, including women via the Suffragettes, and the Chartists (working class rights). It worked for the American civil rights movement, and the Indian independence movement. It can work for the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced.

The Government want to bring in the Public Order Bill to silence freedom of speech and stop protests. There are measures in the Bill that will turn us into a police state similar to Iran, Russia or Syria. Tracking devices on people regarded as potential trouble makers, bans from protesting, curfews; even if you haven’t attended a protest before. I find this both terrifying and enraging. How have we let things come to this? Suella Braverman wants to bring in laws that will slide us into fascism. She dreams of putting refugees on plane flights to Rwanda for god’s sake.

So yeah, maybe more people need to listen to scientists. We’ve got a few years to turn things round, or we face societal collapse.

Here’s a short film I put together of ordinary people from the East of England taking direct action outside the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy last week. Brave and eloquent individuals doing all they can to demand change.

Looking forward to the Norwich beer festival later. Argh. Cognitive dissonance. Maybe I’ll try and write a blog post on that next.

Just Stop Oil – Shoreditch 15 Oct 2022

Short (ish) film I made of Just Stop Oil supporters from East of England taking action in Shoreditch on 15 October.

Their demand – No new oil and gas projects. We have 8 years of oil and gas reserves, which is enough to transition to renewable energy which is 9 times cheaper and far quicker to build. Mean while companies like BP and Shell make billions at our expense.

Very proud of these people, my friends, taking non-violent direct action in a hostile environment to demand change. It has unfortunately come to this to draw attention to the crisis we’re in, as writing letters, signing petitions, and trying to talk to a more than useless Government doesn’t work.

Civil Resistance to this corrupt Government may be the only way we can ensure a survivable future.

Warning: Film contains some scenes of violence and swearing some may find uncomfortable.

#JustStopOil#KeepitintheGround#ClimateCrisis#EnoughisEnough#RiseUp#NoNewOil#ClimateJustice#ActNow#civildisobediance#OccupyWestminster

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.

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

 

 

January 2020 – Shelter and Water, Survival weekend

I was going to get another blog post out on the wild plants and flowers front, however time has been against me this week, so I thought I’d share an experience from January, from my Bushcraft course, when we weren’t in lockdown and I was learning lots. By the way, I didn’t just write this all this evening, it’s from my course log which is 50,000 words long and growing; such a fascinating subject and I’m finding the tuition from The Woodcraft School excellent.

I think it’s fair to say we were all excited, if a little apprehensive, about the January training session down at the Woodcraft School in West Sussex. Not only was it another chance to have a go at the 3 hour bow drill test, something that hadn’t gone too well in the wet conditions to date, it was also our simulated survival weekend. The objective was to recreate a scenario where we were out for a day hike, but something went wrong meaning we were stuck in woodland for 2 nights, or more. This also meant we had minimal kit with us; just enough to deal with emergency situations. Being January it was likely to be cold, and possibly wet, so this wasn’t going to be the same as a pleasant summertime jaunt to a verdant forest full of life. On top of surviving the 2 nights, we also needed to find and purify our own water, something you’d definitely need to do in the event of being stuck somewhere for a while. Given I was likely to get pretty hungry and need a lot energy, I made a huge pile of trail mix to take with me; I may have gone a little excessive on this, having enough to last a couple of weeks, but it tasted so good in the middle of a cold winter’s night.

Trail mix

Trail mix – might have made too much but damned tasty

Given we needed to look after ourselves there were a few key lessons to take on-board, before we were released into the wild. These included learning about what water is used for in the body, symptoms of dehydration and how to fix it, how to source and purify water, as well as how to recognise and deal with hypothermia (too cold) and hyperthermia (to hot), and research into shelter types.

I won’t inflict you with the pages of notes I made on this, however if you’re interested then I’m thinking of a few future blog posts on the subject, so stay tuned.

The brief was to simulate needing to survive after unexpected circumstances forced you to remain in a given location for an extended period of time; in this instance a broad-leaf forest with plenty of water, which was somewhat less challenging, or at least different to, being for example halfway up a mountain in the Alps. I think it’s safe to say we all approached the weekend with a certain amount of trepidation, trying to work out what kit we should take, how we were going to keep warm, and what food was best.

Exploring my woodland block

Exploring my woodland block

Given the brief we were only allowed to take a day sack with limited equipment and food, so sleeping bags were right out, as were tents and hammocks and tarps. No sleeping bag, or insulating sleeping mat, in January, oh good. We also needed to be able to source and purify our own water, make fire, build an adequate shelter, and cook basic food.

All the knowledge and skills we’d learned to date would come into play over the course of the weekend, so it was a good opportunity to put everything into practice, and grow in confidence in the outdoors. I hope to be able to lead groups in the wild in future, and this was definitely a stepping stone on that journey.

The aim was to be able to thrive and not just survive, and I like to think that by the end of the weekend, and after lots of learnings, I was getting there; just a shame I sat on the spoon I was carving.

What to take?

With a maximum capacity of 20 to 30 litres we were limited on what we could take. I opted to use an army surplus day/patrol pack to carry everything I needed, which was pretty full by the time I’d finished packing. I must have unpacked and repacked that bag a dozen times whilst deciding what to take, and probably still took too much kit, however if the weather conditions had been different, for example including rain or snow, I’d have perhaps needed the extra change of clothes and waterproof trousers.

Below is a brief summary of what I took with me

  • Army surplus patrol pack – about 30L
  • Outdoor trousers (tough) and clothing, plus spare set of clothing in dry sack, mutiple layers and dry socks , hat, buff, shemagh, hat
  • Waterproof jacket – Craghoppers; I’d have preferred ventile cotton or thick wool with ventile patches, which would be spark resistant, but will need to save up for that
  • Bushcraft knife and laplander saw
  • Paracord, sling and carabiner
  • Fire making kit including some tinder
  • Water bottle x 2 and collapsible water vessels x 2, Millbank bag (brown bag – expedition sized), puritabs (not used)
  • Life venture screw capped lid cup, which almost keeps your brew too hot
  • Zebra billy can, spork, cloth
  • Headtorch
  • First Aid Kit – only cut myself once, toothbrush
  • Food: Pasta and pesto sauce, chocolate, smoked sausage, dried apricots, trail mix – far too much trail mix as it happens, but you never know when you might have guests, couple of apples, tabasco sauce (always goes with me on cycle tours), cereal bars, dried oats and honey
  • Brew kit – herbal teas
  • Rab down jacket – in compression sack
  • Poncho (US army) – I could probably have done without this, but would have been invaluable if it’d rained
  • Emergency foil blanket (space blanket)
  • Toilet roll and hand sanitiser (gel)
  • Mobile phone and battery pack, notebook and pen

Getting started

To simulate a survival situation we were all dropped off, individually, into our own block of woods away from our usual camping area. After a morning of being together with the group I was suddenly alone amongst chestnut and birch trees, with just the sound of birds for company; followed shortly by Sib shouting hello from about 100 metres away, breaking my wilderness reverie.

With several hours of daylight left, and enough drinking water to last me for a bit, my priority was to get a shelter built and gather fire wood; it was going to be a cold night with temperatures forecast to drop below freezing. The area of woods I was in had plenty of standing deadwood to use, in the form of Sweet Chestnut and some Silver Birch, so I set about cutting some down using my laplander, to create both firewood and material to build my shelter from.

Whilst a laplander saw is efficient and easy to carry, I did start to miss using a bow saw after about an hour of processing wood! I guess one wouldn’t usually take a bow saw on a day hike though. I soon had the basis of a shelter built, trying to position the opening away from the prevailing wind. I used forked pieces of wood up against trunks for the two side pieces, with a cross bar running between them. I also pegged the side poles at the end to stop them from slipping backwards. I chose a spot that had a bit of natural shelter due to the lay of the land, with sufficient trees to use for support, and no low overhanging live branches that would get singed by my fire. I was also mindful to remove any dangerous looking standing deadwood from the immediate vicinity lest it fall on me if it got windy.

Before building too much of the shelter I decided to build a raised bed, as it’s easier to do that without a roof being present. I constructed the raised bed using forked pieces of wood pushed into the ground, with poles running between the forks to make a platform about a foot off the ground. I needed some greenwood for this so coppiced some Hazel from a nearby ride edge, bringing it back to my camp. As well as making the forks and some of the poles, I also made a mallet and a couple of wedges for splitting wood, and used the brash to create a springy base-layer for my bed.

On reflection I think it might have been easier to use some bigger logs to lay the poles upon for my bed, rather than use forks of Hazel, although it did add to the springiness. I did consider making a V shaped bed, as I often sleep on my side; the V shape of the base creates a comfortable shape to sleep in. However this would have lost be valuable ground clearance and not allowed hot air from my fire to circulate under the bed. It’s nice to have a raised area to sit on next to the fire rather than the ground; a good whittling spot that avoids a wet posterior is essential!

Using the Hazel I also created a Whagon Stick pot hanger, which proved invaluable over the course of the weekend for boiling water and heating food; I was really chuffed with how well it worked.

With bed frame done I got to work finishing my shelter, or at least finishing it as much as I could on day 1. I covered the lean-to roof with more poles, using deadwood, and also wove in some more Hazel brash to create a layer leaves wouldn’t fall through; I needed to pile on about a foot of leaves to act as insulation.

I took a break mid-afternoon to go and source some water, and whilst on my wanderings decided to collect some Western Red Cedar boughs to make a better mattress for my bed. The boughs act as good insulation, especially when woven together so the ends don’t prod you during the night, and they smell nice, which I reckon leads to sweeter dreams.

With dusk approaching and plenty of firewood prepared I also though it prudent to get a fire going. I made a base from split chestnut, behind the beginnings of a reflector, and created a V-fire using a few feather sticks I’d prepared earlier and some silver birch bark. I initially positioned the fire about 3 feet from my bed, however by the second night it was considerably closer.

Finding and purifying water

I must admit finding water wasn’t too much of a challenge. It had been raining so much over the previous few months the water table was very high, and I didn’t have far to walk to find a spring. The water from the spring was very clear already, having filtered through sandy soil, however I thought I’d better pass it through my millbank bag to be on the safe side. I hung my millbank bag from the sling and carabiner I’d brought with me; I often carry a sling and carabiner or two with me as they’re useful for so many things, a habit from my more frequent climbing days.

Millbank bag and sling set up

Millbank bag and sling set up for filtering water

Interestingly I did follow the spring up the hill to see if I could find its source, or a better place to collect water from easily, and came upon what looked like old style septic tanks, or the settling tanks anyway, behind a house backing on to the woods. They were however several hundred metres uphill from the spring where I took my water from, so I figured the ground would have done most of the work for me by filtering out any nasties etc.

My millbank bag has a fairly slow flow rate, despite having run it through a rinse cycle in my washing machine at home a few times, however by constantly topping it up and collecting water in the small pan from my zebra billy can kit, I was able to collect a large amount of filtered water in one of my collapsible water vessels; I used the other one to collect unfiltered water. I remembered to let a decent amount of water run through the bag, down to the line, before I started to collect it, to make sure I was only getting filtered water and not drips off the outside.

Cooking set up

Billy can and Whagon stick – water purification in progress

It was then just a matter of boiling water over my fire, using the zebra can and pot hanger, and either drinking it straight away as tea, or storing it in a water bottle. I’m pleased to say my system meant I had more that enough clean water throughout the weekend, including enough to wash the essentials with – face, pits and bits; warm water of course.

The First Night

As night fell the temperature dropped, and I hastily made some last adjustments to my shelter, piling more leaves on top as insulation. I reckoned I had enough firewood to see me through the night, intending to widen my fire into a long log fire to provide sufficient warmth. I hadn’t had time to build a large reflector yet, but was warm enough once I put on my down jacket as an additional layer, and lay down on my raised bed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. It was pretty much dark by 17.00, but that was far too early to go to bed, despite which I’d have needed more firewood if I intended to keep a long log fire going from then all the way through to the morning. I had my head torch so kept busy processing a bit more firewood from the dead chestnut and silver birch I’d felled earlier, starting to make some sides for my shelter, and then cooking some food a bit later on; pasta with pesto and a bit of smoked sausage, with tabasco sauce to spice things up a little, and plenty of tea.

Pasta and pesto

Pasta and pesto, with spork

I widened my fire into a long long fire before finally turning in, making sure I had plenty of wood within easy reach to add throughout the night. This included more kindling to get the fire going easily should it go out. I was comfy lying on my bed, electing to keep my shoes on as my feet were mostly warm in my boots. I used my poncho as a bit of a blanket but it didn’t work very well, as moisture built up underneath it. With the fire and shelter I was mostly warm enough.

I was a little nervous about the fire either going out if I fell asleep too deeply (I can sleep fairly deeply anywhere), or if it sparked and set fire to my shelter or firewood pile; I was burning mostly seasoned chestnut which spits enthusiastically. As a precaution I pegged a large log between me and the fire. As I had plenty of water I boiled a last lot before my first sleep cycle and transferred it to one of my water bottles. I placed this between my thighs to warm the blood in my femoral arteries, which proved a great way of staying warmer for a couple of hours. Had it been colder it would have also meant I’d have had non frozen water in the morning.

It was very peaceful lying in the woods, listening to the owls and gazing up at the stars. After a busy day of non-stop preparation it was great just to stop and switch off for a bit, with a full stomach and a little bit of chocolate as dessert. I considered how privileged I was to be in such a beautiful woodland, sleeping next to a fire in a similar manner to that my ancestors must have done for thousands of years.

I probably initially went to sleep about 22.00, for a couple of hours, then woke up and loaded more wood on to the fire. I then slept again in 1 to 2 hour intervals throughout the night, waking to add more firewood, or nip to the loo because I’d drunk too much tea; it was much colder away from my fire!

Day two – Camp improvements and Learnings

I awoke about 06.30 hours with my fire still glowing, and the woods just about starting to get lighter. I lay still for another 30 minutes, despite realising my feet were now pretty chilly and I needed the loo; my bed was pretty comfy and I was enjoying the dawn chorus.

Eventually the need for a hot drink, breakfast, and to warm my feet up with some activity got me out of bed, up and moving. I was feeling pretty happy about having made it through the first night without too much difficulty, and for having had just about enough firewood. I decided I needed more for tonight though, as it was likely to get a bit colder, and I could have burned more if I’d wanted warmer feet. As I was getting up a roe deer passed through the woods not far from my camp, disappearing up the hill; he or she didn’t seem too alarmed at my presence.

Camp complete with XR flag

Camp complete with XR flag

We were due to meet up as a group about 11.30, so I spent the morning preparing more firewood and water, as well as putting proper sides on my shelter. I’d forgotten about my space blanket so used that for one side, and started to weave a wall of hazel together on the other.

It was good to meet up with the rest of the group to see how they were doing, and encouraging to learn everyone had made it through the night without having to retreat to tents and sleeping bags. I think we were all fortunate that it hadn’t rained, which would have made things trickier, and meant I’d probably have needed more leaf litter on my roof or to incorporate the poncho. As well as a walk through the woods to learn some winter twig identification, we had a bit of a debrief on what we could do to improve our shelters and well-being. Some points below to remember:

  • For a long log fire make a big base out of logs to raise it off the ground. This creates a good long lasting bed of embers, and will initially protect any tree roots.
  • Make sure you have an adequate supply of feather sticks and kindling to get your fire going again if you need to; you don’t want to have to spend an hour doing it during the night when you’re cold and sleepy
  • Create ‘fire piles’ of wood to manage your long log fire through the night. You can easily pick these up and use the set to get your fire going again for your next sleep cycle. You should be able to sleep well for 3 hours before needing to redo your fire, although it may initially be a little hot to be close to
  • Think big on the fire, and adequately long to give your whole body warmth. And always get more firewood than you think you’re going to need; in general I think I was okay on this score
  • Close the ends of your shelter to stop drafts and trap hot air from the fire
  • Raise your bed so hot air can flow underneath it, and to give you a sit spot
  • Put a greenwood ‘banksmen’ (large log) in front of your fire to stop it rolling into your bed, and move your fire closer to your bed for warmth; people have died because they were just a couple of metres away from the warm zone of their fire
  • Use a reflector to reflect/radiate heat back into your shelter. You can just use logs for this, or incorporate a space blanket
  • Loosen you boots to keep your feet warmer. This traps a layer of air around your toes as heat; top tip and helped me the following night
  • Lean to shelters need to have a 45 degree angle, and not be too far off the ground
  • Orientate your shelter to the prevailing wind, and to take advantage of the sun rise
  • Remember hygiene – wash hands etc
  • Lip salve and hand moisturiser really are a boon to stop skin cracking; I’d remembered the lip salve
  • Rotate your sleep and activity through 3 hour blocks
  • Recognise what is wrong and act on it
  • Thrive not survive

I’d covered off several of the above points already, however once lessons were over I was keen to get back and perform some more enhancements to my shelter, whilst we still had some daylight. I built up the reflector for my long log fire using greenwood, and made sure it was secure by tying the staked poles together at their tops. I also set a large greenwood banksmen in front of my bed, moving the fire a little closer. I harvested a little more Western Red Cedar for my bed, and finished the sides of my shelter to shut out breezes. I also added some more leaf litter and trimmed down some of my shelter poles to stop them poking through it; prevents water running down them if it rains. By the time it was starting to get dark I was pretty happy with my set up for the night, although I could have kept on enhancing and adding features for days!

Me and my camp

Me and my camp

The Second Night

I had more firewood prepared than the previous evening, and wanted to try for a bigger fire throughout the night as it felt like it was going to be colder. This worked well however at one point my reflector did catch fire, and I had to hastily insert a new banksmen between it and the main blaze. I again feasted on pasta, pesto and smoked sausage, and munched my way through large quantities of trail mix.

Long log fire with reflector

Long log fire with reflector

It was definitely a colder night so I was glad of the bigger fire, although I did find it got a bit smokey at times, perhaps because some of the wood was a little damp, but also because the wind had slightly changed direction. I think I need to mix up my firewood a bit more in future, and try and use some oak or ash as well as chestnut and birch. The former burn long and hot, the latter bright and more briefly.

As I’d got most things done I settled down to try whittling a spoon for an hour or two, before my first sleep cycle. I also made a few extra hooks for my shelter, and an upright fork to put at the front to support the cross beam, which had more weight on it now.

I slept fairly well again on night two, and was definitely warmer with the improvements I’d made to the shelter; this was fortunate as it was definitely colder. I don’t think I managed a three hour chunk of sleep, but I got close, and my fire stayed alight throughout with regular restocking. I had plenty of wood left in the morning to get some breakfast going, and awoke feeling fairly refreshed to the sunrise and a beautiful dawn chorus.

Wintry sunrise - glorious

Wintry sunrise – glorious sights, sounds and smells

We made it!

I should mention toilet facilities for the weekend. Going for a wee isn’t really an issue, as long as you go far enough away from a water source; 100 metres or so. For number two’s it was a case of finding somewhere discrete and out of the way, digging a shallow hole, and using that. You don’t want to dig too deep as there won’t be organisms present to break down the faeces, but equally you don’t want anything too shallow that will leave a nasty surprise for someone; a ‘poo mine’. Toilet paper should be burned.

Listening to the birds sing

Listening to the birds sing

I’d made it through two nights in the woods without a sleeping bag, and was feeling hale and healthy. My shelter had worked and I’d learned more practical ways to thrive and not just survive. I got some water boiling for tea, and had a a quick wander to stretch my legs, noticing ice on the surface of my water collecting pan; must have been a chilly night away from the fire.

We had a few hours in the morning prior to the next dreaded bow drill test attempt, to relax and spend time at our camps. It was hard not to keep tinkering with improvements and thoughts on how to expand, or to start processing more firewood! I did a bit more spoon carving to pass the time.

Below are a few final pictures from my camp. Looking at them I could have added more leaf litter to the bottom end of my lean-to, and filled in some gaps, but I’m pleased with out it served me through the weekend.

Before leaving I removed any man made items from my shelter, including my bright Extinction Rebellion flag which had made it very easy to see where my camp was from a distance, and any artificial cordage (paracord); I’d used a couple of withies in other places. I made sure my fire was well and truly out, using my left over water, and packed my bags; I still had lots of trail mix left, and at the time of writing this it’s still going! All natural materials will be turned into habitat piles upon our next visit to the site in February. I’ll be interested to see how my shelter has faired in the meantime, and perhaps tempted for a quick snooze.

Oh, and I accidentally sat on my spoon, d’oh.