Tag Archives: Norfolk

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.

Wild plants and flowers – Part 1

Over the last couple of months I’ve been able to get out a bit more, either before the lockdown started on my bushcraft course, or for my daily exercise regime now we’re having to practice social distancing. I’m grateful that whilst Coronavirus has brought hardship and grief to many, at least it came along in springtime, and with good weather to boot. I am enjoying walking or cycling through the Norfolk countryside, exploring hedgerows and copses, fields and Broads.

As well as birds and mammals getting busy with nest building, courtship and young, insects are buzzing and plants are growing. Since starting to learn about wild plants I’ve been amazed at the number of different types one can find in a small area. Different habitats can hold a multitude of different species; sunlight hitting a cleared woodland ride can cause dormant seed banks to germinate into colour, soggy marshland paths produce verdant green borders, and the hedgerows of Norfolk country lanes are just alive with plant life, in turn providing food and homes for animals and birds.

This year more hedgerows and road borders are being spared the chop and left to grow, leading to what seems to be an even greater abundance of springtime life. When I come upon a roadside verge that has been mowed, or a hedgerow that’s been flailed, I really notice the difference; sterile, smells empty, no colour, less buzzing and birds. It’d be great if Councils left far more of these areas to grow, and if people could leave at least a corner of their gardens to go wild, all providing vital habitat for plants and animals who are otherwise up against it.

As there are just so many plants to cover I’ve decided to split my blog into a few posts. I’ll cover ten or so species each time and see how far I get. Most species will be native to the UK, but they’ll be the odd non-native that slips in just because they’re interesting or have a pretty flower, or because I didn’t realise they were non-native. The definition of a native species seems to vary, but in general it’s a species which has evolved and is self-sustaining in a region, and which has not been introduced; although it could have arrived and colonised an area by natural non-human based means. To count as native the plant species needs to have been present in an area since ‘historical times’. Unfortunately I need another definition for ‘historical times’ at this point, as for example Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa), whilst widespread in the UK, is technically non-native as the Romans introduced it; good food source and building material.

I’ve already included a picture of Daffodils (Narcissus), of which there must be hundreds if not thousands of different species. Their brilliance in early spring can drag you out of the winter doldrums, and they also have a number of different medicinal properties which I won’t go into right now (colds, burns, wounds). If I do mention any medicinal properties please don’t take my word as gospel; do your own research and don’t believe everything you read. I’m pretty sure none of the plants I cover will cure COVID19.

I probably should have thought about how I was going to order this a bit more, rather than just going through my photos including them as they come. But that didn’t happen so here goes.

I’ll start off with the beautiful Wood Anenome ( Anemone nemorosa). I have to credit the second of the pictures below to the Wildife Trust website, as I needed another photo after realising the one I took a month and a half ago was from behind; not my greatest photography moment. The Wood anenome flowers from March through to May, although I think they’re about done this year. It has 6 or 7 petals (actually sepals) that can be purple streaked, surrounding yellow anthers. It’s low growing with slightly feathery leaves. I don’t know of any modern medicinal properties and think it’s probably quite toxic if you were to eat it. I always feel like Spring is firmly on its way when these appear.

The Wood anenome is an ancient woodland indicator species (AWI). An AWI is a plant species which is slow spreading, rather than a pioneer species that spreads by windblown seeds. They flower early before the tree canopy blocks out the sunlight, and are generally shade tolerant. Their rate of spread by natural means is limited to about a foot a year (if that), mostly via roots and bulbs, so when you see a carpet of bluebells, or a sea of Wood anenomes, you know they’ve been there for a long time. The definition of an Ancient Woodland is where there has been continuous tree cover since AD 1600; we have very little of it left in the UK, and projects such as HS2 definitely aren’t helping. If you’re in a wood and you see an AWI such as Wood anenome it’s a good sign the woodland has been there for a long time, and deserves respect and protection. One side note; the trees in an ancient woodland could still look young if it’s an area of coppice that has been managed for centuries, such as a traditional hazel coppice, so you won’t always see ancient Ent like looking veterans.

Next up is Jack-by-the-hedge, or Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), which flowers from April to June. The footpaths and hedgerows around me are full of this at the moment, but it can be found in woodland too. It’s a native biennial, biennial meaning it’s life-cycle goes across two years; it’ll flower in its second year. Perennial plants differ from biennials in that they live for more than 2 years, and can flower every year (not always though).

Jack-by-the-hedge

Jack-by-the-hedge or Garlic Mustard

I really like Jack-by-the-hedge. The leaves have a strong garlic taste, and can be eaten raw or boiled. You can eat the seeds that come later in the year which are also garlicky. Definitely a contender for Ransoms, otherwise known as wild garlic, which I’ll cover later or in another post depending on when my photo comes up!

Pedalling down country lanes at the moment I’ve seen a number of fine examples of the next entry, Greater Periwinkle (Vinca major). As suspected this plant was introduced to the UK, and can now be found throughout southern England. I’ve seen it in hedgerows where it trails and climbs, putting out these amazing purple flowers. I don’t think it has any particular uses, although maybe you could use the trailing stems to make rudimentary cordage.

Greater Periwinkle

Greater Periwinkle – amazing purple flower

There are a lot of small white flowering plants around at the moment, and it’s easy to get them mixed up.  This next one could easily be confused with Greater Stitchwort, I reckon anyway, but is in fact Field Chickweed, or Field Mouse-ear Chickweed (Cerastium arvense). I’m finding this along field edges at the moment, as well as roadsides. It’s a perennial, flowering from April to August, and is edible, although I’ve never eaten it and apparently you might want to cook it because of the texture. Pretty distinctive 5 sets of paired petals and yellow anthers.

Field Chickweed

Field Chickweed or Field Mouse-ear Chickweed (Cerastium arvense)

On the subject of when plants are appearing and flowering in Springtime, it’s worth talking about how things seem to be happening earlier and earlier every year as average temperatures increase due to climate change. I was introduced the concept of Phenology by a conservation scientist recently.

Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate, as well as habitat factors.

What I hadn’t thought about before, but now seems blindingly obvious, is the impact plants emerging, flowering and going to seed at different times, due to climate change, will have on other species that might rely on that plant. If for example plants are starting to grow earlier in the year, then caterpillars that feed on those plants may appear earlier. The problem is that they may be around before the bird nesting season, meaning a species of bird that relies on that caterpillar for feeding its young may now be caught short on food supplies. That’s just one example and I’m sure there are loads of other worrying changes of a similar nature that will impact our flora and fauna. Thank you to Dr Charlie Gardner, conservation scientist, for that info; I hope I got it right!

Climate change impact lesson over, back to plants. Here’s another one the Romans introduced because it’s a good food source. Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum), or hedge parsley, is a biennial, flowering from April to June, and there’s absolutely loads of it on the road edges and footpaths around me. I think it might be regarded as a bit of an invasive pest of a plant, and it certainly has quite a strong smell when there’s lots of it together. You can eat all of it which is handy; the leaves can make a white sauce or can be used as a herb, the younger stems cooked like asparagus, the roots make an alternative to parsnips and the flower buds can be eaten in salads. I’ve yet to try any but it’s on my to do list, I just get a bit nervous around the Umbellifer family, of which Alexanders is a member, as several of them can kill you very easily. Best not to get them mixed up really, and I’ll cover some of the poisonous ones on a future blog post.

Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) is another common plant I find in Norfolk, and throughout the UK. It used to be called Ranunculus ficaria but the Latin name has changed now, just to confuse matters. It’s a member of the buttercup family, as one might guess from the bright yellow flowers, and has other names such as pilewort. It also has quite distinctive heart shaped leaves. The name pilewort comes from its traditional medicinal use where the bulbous roots were used to make an infusion to treat haemorrhoids. The roots look a bit like haemorrhoids, which perhaps where the idea came from, but I have no idea as to their effectiveness; limited I suspect. It flowers from March to May, is a perennial, and can be seen carpeting banks and beside footpaths.

Lesser Celandine

Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna)

The photograph below isn’t perhaps the best example of the next entry, Red Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), which is the first of several nettles I’ll include. This one doesn’t sting, flowers from March to October, and is again pretty common throughout the UK on verges, waste ground and field edges. I believe it does have uses in herbal medicine due to its astringent and diuretic properties, as well as being anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, so you could use it for a wound wash or to make a poultice; nature is pretty funky when it comes to keeping wounds clean and helping them heal. It’s really not hard to find this if you go out for a wander.

Red Deadnettle

Red Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum)

Another Ancient Woodland Indicator species can be found in our native Common Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). This is a favourite of many, including me, not just for the colour that carpets woodland before the tree canopy closes, but also for the heady perfume they emit; such a lovely scent. It’s a perennial flowering from April to June, and is illegal to pick. I think it might be under threat from the Spanish Bluebell which was introduced and is escaping into the same habitat as our bluebell. When walking in the woods it’s good to take care to not step on bluebell leaves which are easily damaged; these plants take a long time to spread! Usage wise I think you can make glue from the sap and mushed up bulbs, but it really doesn’t seem like a good idea. They are also poisonous to eat, so let’s just leave them alone and admire their purple amazingness and heady scent.

I’m not really sure of the exact species in my next photo, but it’s a Horsetail of some description. It was in a marshy bit of ground so could be a Marsh Horsetail (Equisetum palustre), or one of several other types, maybe Equisetum arvense. I don’t think gardeners like it very much as apparently it’s invasive and doesn’t flower, but I liked the vibrant green of it, and the intriguing shape and structure. I don’t know if it has any medicinal properties.

Horsetail

Horsetail (Equisetum sp.)

Wood Spurge is another AWI species, and pretty common in Southern England and Wales. It’s a perennial flowering from March to May, with yellow-green disc like flowering structures making it easy to recognise. As with other AWI’s it spreads slowly via underground rhizomes, creeping long the forest floor. The milky white latex sap from Wood Spurge is poisonous, and used to be used to burn off warts. Take care if you try this as leaving the sap on for too long can make your skin permanently photo-sensitve.

Wood Spurge

Wood Spurge (Euphoria amygdaloides)

I think that’s my ten species for this post, with Daffodils included as a bonus. There are hundreds of plants I could cover, but I’ll concentrate on the ones I can find locally, and also the ones that are featured on my bushcraft course. There are around 30 I need to learn the Latin names for, as well as their uses, so I’ll feed those into future posts if I can find them. There are just so many cool plants out there like Wood Sorrel, Foxgloves, Primroses, Bugle, Herb Robert and Pignuts, to name but a few.

If you spot any plants I’ve misidentified please let me know. I’m using a variety of books including the excellent Wild Flowers of Britain by Roger Phillips, as well as an App on my phone called ‘Picture This’ ,which doesn’t always give the right answer but often points me in the right direction.

More plants and flowers next week, possibly interspersed with an alternative offering should I be inspired to write something else.

Stay frosty 🙂

A wander down country ways

Another week done and it’s suddenly Easter! I’ve fallen into a new routine and try to get out once a day for a walk or a bike ride, around work stuff. Dunno how long the lockdown is going to go on for, but feels like a few weeks at least. Was hoping to get down to my parents for Easter, but obviously that’s not going to be possible. At least I can still stay in touch with family via FaceTime etc. Happy Easter everyone!

One of my excursions this week ended up at Salhouse Church, where I sat under Yew tree for a bit. I wrote a poem about the Yew, a tree that has a lot of mythology associated with it. If you fall asleep under them you can end up having very strange dreams, especially when there’s pollen in the air.

Yew Tree at Salhouse Church

Yew Tree at Salhouse Church

A wander down country ways,
To ease the stress of strangest days,
I stumble on a church and grounds,
Yew trees gather close around,

These guardians of ancient sites,
Witnesses to age old rites,
Dare I climb its spiky limbs,
As evening comes and daylight dims,

Instead I sit and breathe in deep,
Will Yew tree pollen make me sleep,
And bring with it the strangest dreams,
Not everything is at is seems,

A gateway to deathly halls,
Its poison touch darkness calls,
But life and rebirth it can bring,
Something good to make one sing,

I didn’t climb this mystic tree,
Respectful of its solemn key,
I’ll find another trunk to climb,
And come back here another time.

I’ve been exploring a few new trails on my bike rides, finding new hidden gems I wasn’t aware of.

I’m not sure I’d be able to stay sane if I wasn’t able to get outside once a day. The good weather is definitely helping too.

Norfolk has a lot of churches, a testament to its rich farming past. Landowners competed for prestige by building churches, some of them quite large in relatively small villages.

For some reason I always convert church photos to black and white, seems to work quite well. As a counter here are some Bluebells from down by Salhouse Broad, which have started to come out in the woodlands round me; useful ancient woodland indicator species.

As usual it’s beautiful down by Salhouse Broad at the moment, especially given it’s relatively quiet, with plenty of room to maintain social distancing rules. Very grateful to have it on my doorstep.

I’ve been trying to get to grips with learning new plant species.  Hedgerows are crowded with new growth, flowers and colours. There are at least 4 species of nettle I’ve seen (dead nettles), as well as lesser celandine, stitchwort, chickweed, Alexanders; I think I’ll do a separate blog post for wild flowers and plants, which will help me learn their names, especially the Latin ones!

It’s great cycling at the moment, a real pleasure with so few cars on the road. I’m really hoping that when we get back to ‘normal’ people choose to use their cars less, maybe work from home more. It would do wonders for the environment, and hopefully mean people have more time to enjoy the important things in life. Less cars also means less road kill, which has been very noticeable over the last few weeks. Nature is definitely breathing a sigh of relief with verges left to grow, and animals and birds spared being hit by traffic.

I’ve been trying to get a bit of track and sign practice in too, as I’ll be assessed on it later this year. It’s got trickier this week as the ground is harder (not rained for a while), and given I only have a brief window of opportunity each day I can’t explore as much as I’d like to. I found a nice Muntjac deer print (think it is anyway), and the remains of a pigeon which I reckon was taken by a bird of prey. Also found a bearded lizard in my herb garden! (they might be pets though)

I’ll finish with a picture from Wroxham Bridge, showing a very quiet river. Last Easter Wroxham was packed with visitors, but today there’s practically tumbleweed blowing down the high street. Oh, and here are some cat pics too – current house guests leaving fur everywhere whilst enjoying finding new places to sleep.

Adios for now.

Is it my imagination?

Is it my imagination, or are the birds louder, the insects more buzzy and does the air taste sweeter? Out on my bike for my once-a-day exercise break, I glory in the lack of background noise from traffic, the roads and skies quietened by necessity.

Sometimes I pedal down to the Broad, not too far from my house, to enjoy the peace that water brings. I’m alone there aside from a few dog walkers; usually it’d be packed with picnickers and boats.

It’s fun poking about, looking at the tracks and signs animals have left. I’ve yet to find Otter footprints, but have seen signs of their feeding. I’m sure there must be a badger set somewhere close by, but as yet it alludes me.

Spring flowers are bursting into life, which is helping me learn to identify new species. The flowers and warmer weather no doubt account for the large clouds of insects I pedal through, although I wonder if the cleaner air and reduced traffic are also playing a part in their increased numbers. Insects are such a vital foundation for trophic cascades and ecosystems, it would be wonderful to see their numbers recover. I sat and watched a bumble bee buzzing round the Broad for several minutes the other day.

As well as Salhouse Broad I sometimes cycle down to the River Bure, opposite the Ferry Inn on the other side of the water in Horning. There’s no one drinking and eating outside the pub, aside from gaggles of ducks and the odd swan.

On the home front I need to get out in the garden more, but remain pretty occupied with work. Did manage to get a bit of bread braking done, and was very happy to find Hedgehog scat in my garden; I think one might be visiting my pond at night.

Things are a little busier in my house than normal as I’m now playing host to 2 cats, 2 bearded-lizards, and an additional human who have all joined me for the ‘Lockdown’.  The cats like finding places to lounge in the sunshine, and seem content. It’s good to have house guests, as although I’m always happy in my own company, I’ll probably start to go slightly mad if this goes on for several months. I’ve also fixed up my big off road touring bike to explore local trails, and been carving spoons to practice my bushcraft skills; the course has been paused for obvious reasons, but will hopefully continue come Autumn.

As well as keeping on top of my natural history study, it’s been fun to try to improve my photography skills. I’m conscious I’m lucky to live where I do, and am able to get out on my own into the countryside and nature. There’s a  very low risk of bumping into anyone else, and if I do it’s easy to maintain several metres distance. I’m trying to post up a few photos on my Instagram and/or Twitter accounts from my daily exercise jaunts.

The Broad still has the greatest draw for me, although the Mallards do not obey social distancing rules.

It won’t be long until the Bluebells are out, carpeting the woods round here in colour. Definitely something to look forward to.

For the time being the Daffodils, Marsh Marigolds, Lesser Celandine, Stitchwort, Dead Nettles, Wood Anemones and countless other plant species I don’t know the names of are bringing colour to the landscape. Also, going on a walk can be quite a slow process now, as I keep having to stop to try and ID plants or animal tracks; Fallow deer example below I think.

A bit further on from Salhouse Broad is Ranworth Broad, another beautiful spot currently devoid of most humans. There are waterfowl aplenty to be seen, and I’ve spotted an elusive Kingfisher flitting about a couple of times; the brilliant blur of colour as it flashes past.

 

When I’m out in the countryside it feels like being out in a time warp. There are so few human based sounds and sights compared to normal, it sometimes feels like it could be a hundred years ago, or more. Nature seems to be thriving and I can’t help thinking it’s doing us all good (‘all’ being all inhabitants of this planet) to slow down a bit, COVID19 impacts notwithstanding. I’m hoping that we, as a species, can learn from this crisis. Maybe we can stop our relentless pursuit of economic growth, and destruction of the planet, slow down, appreciate what we have, and lead a more harmonious existence; one that might preserve the Earth for generations yet to come.

I’ll end with a bit of film from the Broad, which is mainly to showcase the birds singing.

Stay safe and sane.

Lockdown – so it begins

Due to being immersed on my Bushcraft course as well as XR stuff, and with work also keeping me busy, I’ve really not had a lot of time to keep my blog up-to-date recently. I think I’ll have the opportunity to keep it more current over the next few months now that, as of tonight, we’ve entered lockdown in the UK. As well as updating on what I’ve been doing on my course, I think it’ll be good to keep a journal of how events unfold with the CoronaVirus and COVID19.

I’ve been working from home for about a week now, having loaded my car with my office chair and desktop setup, and trundled it all back to my house. Whilst it’s good to have the face-to-face contact and banter with team mates in the workplace, which I’m going to miss, I can work pretty efficiently at home; in some instances more efficiently! I am also already pretty well stocked-up with supplies, due to being a bit of a prepper by nature.  At least the lockdown Boris announced tonight might stop some of the panic buying going on; bit worried I’m going to run out of essentials like wine, and sausages. In seriousness I wonder what counts as ‘essentials’? To some people it appears to be toilet roll, which seems slightly ridiculous given you’re at home and there are alternatives, such as having a wash. I believe the Romans used to use a communal sponge on a stick, soaked in vinegar…nice…not sure I have a sponge actually.

So I’ve got tinned food, some flour, some stuff in the freezer, salad growing in the garden, other seedlings sprouting, plenty of other bits and bobs to graze on. I’ve also got a warm and comfortable house, the internet, a TV, my guitar, spoons to whittle, loads of books to read, study to do, and a garden to rejuvenate. In some ways this is a bit of a relief as it’ll give me a chance to catch up on some of the stuff I’ve not got close to doing recently. Who knows, I might lose some weight too, as long as I continue to get in one bike ride a day; although my touring bike saddle post broke the other day, so only got my Trek 1120 off-road tourer, with it’s fat tyres – will be fun though!

Compared with other parts of the world the majority of us are going to be pretty comfortable during this lockdown, as long as we’re sensible. COVID19 is a serious disease, no doubt, however other parts of the world have serious threats to lives going on all the time and they cope; war, diseases that can be far worse, famine, drought, climate change impacts such as super-storms and mass migration. Reckon we’ve got it pretty easy by comparison, although I know it’s going to be comparatively hard for many, and there will be a lot of grief doing the rounds. COVID19 is a bit of a leveller really; it doesn’t care about privilege, status, how much money you have (although of course those with more money are more likely to survive), colour or creed. I’m also hopeful that some of the changes we are seeing start to happen, such as less unnecessary travel, working from home, more home grown produce, and communities really working together, become the norm. The world could certainly be a better place for it; air quality is already improving everywhere, although I’m a bit worried we’re going to see temperatures spike due to a reduction in global dimming.

I’ll attempt to keep this blog going with regular updates and reflections, and I’ll post up some of the stuff I’ve been doing on my bushcraft course over the last few months. It’s been amazing so far, learning more about trees and plants, natural medicine, tree-felling, fire starting, track and sign, crafting, shelter building, outdoor food and water, deer management and butchery. Lots that might be useful over the coming months perhaps!

I’m also pondering setting up a YouTube channel to do a bit of VLOG’ing, but not sure about that yet. I could record me playing my guitar a bit I guess, might be fun, or might make your ears bleed. Or produce a few short lectures on stuff I’ve learnt. I’ll ponder some more.

To end today here are some photos from a couple of walks in the outdoors from the weekend. Nature continues its rebirth as Spring gathers momentum, carrying on regardless.

The above were all down by Salhouse Broad, which is a 25 minute walk from my house. I hope to continue to get down there for a bit of regular exercise, whilst observing social distancing rules. It’s one of my favourite places locally and a brilliant place to sit quietly and reflect, immersed in nature; an angry wren was telling me off on Saturday though (small bird angry syndome). Some more pics from there below; I’m experimenting with different ways of displaying them.

On Sunday I nipped the woods to help with some coppicing work, it being the last chance we’ll get this year as all the trees are starting to leaf now, and birds will be nesting soon. The coppicing is helping with some re-wilding work in West Norfolk. I hope to get back there later this year to see what plants have germinated from the previously shaded dormant seed banks, and to see what other wildlife may have moved in.

Finally, my tomato seedlings are coming on well. As usual I’m probably going to end up with far too many tomatoes, but that won’t be a bad thing I reckon; will feed them to the neighbours!

Tomato plants growing fast now

Tomato plants growing fast now

Take care everyone. And please send wine if you have spare 🙂 (essentials only)

Rebellion Reflections – October 2019

I’ve been delaying writing this ever since getting back from London. I’m still not entirely sure what I’m going to write, or what’s going to come out after spending two weeks on the streets of our capital. Along with thousands of other activists I was trying to bring more attention to the climate crisis, and to catalyse the changes we need to make to avert catastrophe. Climate Breakdown is a very real and present threat, and I still don’t think the majority realise this, or have properly processed the fact that we can’t go on as we are. Business as usual just ploughs on like a runaway train, air travel keeps going up, we’re chopping down forests at even faster rates all around the globe, or they’re on fire,  the oceans are dying from over-fishing, and CO2 emissions continue to go up year on year. We have so little time left to alter our trajectory I often feel we’ve left it too late, and the task is impossible. It comes back to the same thing though; we’ve got to try, haven’t we?

Red Brigade at Vauxhall Gardens

Red Brigade at Vauxhall Gardens

I joined Extinction Rebellion (XR) a year ago when it first started up as a chapter in Norwich, and remain convinced that its motives and methods, along with other similarly aligned organisations, offer the best chance for bringing about change. I go through periods of doubt, questioning myself and XR’s tactics, after all I’ve only been an activist for a year. What do I know compared to people who have been doing this for decades? Without doubt we need to learn from our mistakes, reflect on our successes, and come up with new ideas, methods, and ways of reaching beyond our current member base and boundaries. In the space of a year we’ve achieved so much in terms of raising the profile of the climate and ecological emergency. In a year, in tandem with other movements such as the Youth Climate Strikes, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, as well as the phenomenal efforts of Greta Thunberg, we’ve seen more happen than in the last 30 or 40 years of waiting for politicians to do something. Following traditional tactics such as writing to your MP just hasn’t worked; politicians continue to fail us.

There can be no doubt that non-violent civil disobedience has been successful up until now, but is that and mass arrests the be and end all of Extinction Rebellion, or do we have more in our repertoire? I think we do and we will learn, evolve and adapt in the same way wider society, government and business need to in order to survive.

So what to write in this blog? It might be a long one, just to warn you. I’ve already restarted it 3 times and that’s after only 2 paragraphs. I’ll try and give you a bit of a record of my journey through the October Rebellion, combined with my thoughts on what we’ve learned, and what we might do next. Writing this is as much about me processing my own thoughts as it is about relating things to readers. My opinions and conclusions are my own, and I welcome any constructive comments and criticism that will further develop my thinking. XR tries to be an inclusive movement welcoming everyone and all parts of everyone, but if you’re in the mood for trolling please look elsewhere.

As you may have gathered from the above photos I decided to cycle down to London. It’s been a while since I did a long ride, and I needed some head space between finishing work and joining the Rebellion. My touring bike needed quite a lot of work, and given I seem to have no spare time I employed the services of the Norwich Cycle Medic (http://www.cyclemedicnorwich.co.uk) to build new wheels and give everything an overhaul; very satisfied with the work done.

XR members receive lots of criticism from people for using cars, buses or even trains to get to London to join the protests. Frankly this criticism is tiring and nonsense most of the time, made by people who really don’t understand the relative scale of the problem. We have to work with what we’ve got, and at the moment that’s an infrastructure and transport system that is largely carbon based. Should we all just do nothing and wait at home for the axe to fall? One has to use the tools that are available, and until we can bring about the changes needed that involves fossil fuelled transport. The emissions generated from the relatively small number of people travelling to London, or from the traffic delays caused by the protests, are negligible when compared to everything else, and I feel are completely justified. Many of us, including me, don’t fly anymore, and try and minimise car use wherever possible, therefore a bus trip to London to protest really is minimal in the grander scheme of things. Focus should instead be on frequent flyers, especially on people who have to fly excessively for business, when meetings can be held effectively by virtual means these days.

On that note one of the best realisations, for me, from the October Rebellion, is that ‘we are all hypocrites‘. I loved this when I heard it. We are all part of the system, and all contribute to the problem. We need to accept this and move on. It can’t be any other way given what we have available to us. As someone who is acutely aware of the challenges we face I try to minimise my carbon footprint, alongside my ecological impact from other factors, but I still very much contribute to the problem. Until we have systemic change this will continue to be the case. And we need to be aware that our footprint in the UK is huge compared with that in many other countries; our rate of CO2 emissions massively outweigh that of poorer countries.

Global CO2 emissions by wealth

Global CO2 emissions by wealth

So when we attract the inevitable criticism telling us to go and protest in China, or the US, as ‘their emissions are so much higher and our’s are a drop in the ocean in comparison’, one needs to remember the above chart; we’re in that top 10%. Sure, China’s emissions might be high, but they manufacture a lot of the goods we feel the need to constantly buy, and then there’s the transport impact of those goods, our holidays, throw-away lifestyles etc. Our emissions are still huge compared with poorer countries, due to our lifestyles and the system we have to work within; throwaway culture, fast fashion, diet, habits and hobbies, excessive consumption in buying things we want but don’t need, marketing driving all this. Again, it comes down to needing systemic change, and for everyone to realise this. There’s also the fact that historically the UK, ever since the agricultural and industrial revolutions (which we led), has had centuries of high emissions to build our infrastructure, business, and lifestyles. Other countries are still trying to catch up, so given our historic footprint shouldn’t we do even more to curb our emissions, and limit our expenditure of the remaining carbon budget? I could go on, but let’s get back to London.

It took me two days to pedal to London, covering about 155 miles. It could have been about 10 miles shorter but I forgot about the MOD firing ranges in Thetford Forest and had to backtrack a bit, plus take a few unintended off-road routes. I only fell off my bike once, into a Hawthorn hedge – bit prickly. I overnighted in Cambourne with my brother and his family, before the final leg to Marble Arch, getting drenched as showers hit on Sunday morning. It was pleasant using canal paths for the final stretches, thus avoiding most of the traffic and air pollution. My heart leapt upon arriving at Marble Arch, where I’d camped for the April Rebellion, and upon seeing all the Rebels gathered for the opening ceremony; good to meet up with Ben too, an old friend I hadn’t seen for some time – really appreciated the catch-up. I rendezvous’d with the rest of the Norwich and Norfolk team, who came down in two coaches (excellent turnout), before spending the night in my bivvy bag in Hyde Park.

I should probably explain what we had planned, and the roles I’d volunteered for the October Rebellion. Groups came from all over the country, and we split up by region to occupy several different sites around Westminster. The aim was to bring the City to a halt by blocking the key routes in and out, and to a degree we were successful, at least initially. We wanted to target government, business and institutions, those that need to lead on systemic change. I took on the role of affinity group coordinator (we had several affinity groups formed of Norwich and Norfolk Rebels), and was one of the Reactive point people for our location, which mainly involved comms between the site and rebel support functions. I dabbled in a bit of media and messaging, including a lot of live-streaming and social media updates, and was one of the facilitators for site meetings; I do like some of the XR techniques for managing large meetings, and would like to use them in my day job!

Following the first night in Hyde Park we assembled and made our way to St. James’ Park (only got slightly lost) to take our objective; the ‘Love Rebellion’ site, named with the aim of providing space for regeneration, music and outreach. There were a few hundred of us, all East of England and Midlands groups. We stepped off the road. We rebelled for life. We took our site.

What happened next? It would take several blogs to relate events from the two weeks. I’ll try to be succinct (hah). As well as holding our respective sites around the City of Westminster there were lots of actions planned, with aim of putting pressure on the Government, financial sector, big business, defence industry, oil and gas industry, judicial system etc to highlight the Climate Crisis and bring about change. We always knew it was going to be tough, with the police having been briefed to take a harder stance against us after the April Rebellion. I think they must have been specifically briefed to not be as friendly, not to smile, intimidate us where possible, and keep interaction to a minimum aside from when trying to move us on our make arrests. They are however, only human, and being constantly around us were constantly in receipt of messages on the Climate Crisis. So many of them support us, but also have to do their job. We know a few have quit and since joined us, and several retired officers, some senior ranking, are now amongst our number. Policing us is an almost impossible task given cuts and the numbers involved. Officers were drafted in from all over the country; we had conversations with individuals from Wales, Manchester, East Anglia and beyond, and when they had the chance many expressed support. A few were in tears during some of our actions, after observing the numbers willing to be arrested, hearing the messages, and witnessing the Red Brigade.

Being in St. James’ Park we weren’t far from several other sites, including Trafalgar Square which became a focal point after several other locations fell. The ‘Burning Earth’ site was a wonder to behold, from the Hearse that blocked the road, to all the artwork, tents, assemblies and rebels.

I should mention the kitchens that fed us for much of the two weeks. They were amazing, and alongside the efforts of Hare Krishna kept our energy levels and morale up. The police were constantly trying to confiscate our infrastructure, however the kitchens kept going, springing up at new sites when we were forced to move, and churning out thousands of vegetarian and vegan meals over the two weeks; some tireless efforts by certain individuals, with much gratitude. Thanks should also be given to all the food donations made both my locals, but also from afar. It’s amazing when a Deliveroo rider turns up at a roadblock with 3 vegan pizzas, ordered by someone from the other side of the country with instructions to deliver them to hungry rebels; not specific individuals, just deliver to whoever is on the roadblock. Also, thanks to Ian who turned up post work and brought me a delicious Vegan burger – much appreciated. I also mentioned Hare Krishna; they fed us loads in April, and did the same in October, pedalling vast amounts of food around London – and it tasted great! Saying that I still managed to lose half a stone on the ‘Extinction Rebellion Diet Plan’, amazing what two weeks of rebelling will do for your waistline.

One learning about kit. We need to be cleverer about delivering kit to locations. It was too easy for the police to identify our vans, stop them, and confiscate items and infrastructure. We could drop kit at other points and walk it in, or split the loads more. The police confiscating stuff did backfire on them at one point when they took possession of much of the disabled infrastructure; ramps, toilets etc. Not their best PR moment, and putting at risk many of our disabled members.

In case it’s not clear many of the rebels present, especially those who travelled, opted to camp in London. This meant tent villages sprang up at our various sites, including on roads, alongside the bigger infrastructure. This got tricky when we had to move stuff quickly or the police started to confiscate items, with people losing or misplacing belongings, and some cold and uncomfortable nights for some; although we did bring in spare tents and sleeping bags. We still have a massive pile of lost property!

St. James’ Park was a brilliant site, and hub for so much activity, especially as we were joined by the Global Justice crew bringing with them more diversity and education on the challenges faced by populations around the world in the face of climate breakdown. I learned a lot about Global South versus the Global North, and again how privileged we are in the country. Privilege is something we all need to acknowledge to one degree or another. I’m grateful that I have the right to protest in this country, and to not be beaten up and imprisoned for it. I also acknowledge that I’m a middle-classed white male, with money in the bank and access to free healthcare, as well as a host of other benefits not available to others which I often take for granted. I’m not a victim of the institutional racism that impacts many people and other protest movements. I’m far less likely to be stopped and searched than a black or brown person. At the moment I’m unlikely to ever go hungry, lack water, suffer disease, or face the threat of violence motivated by competition for resources becoming more scarce due to climate breakdown; war will become increasingly driven by the climate crisis.

That’s not to say the latter points won’t happen in this country during my lifetime. I think think there’s a high risk they will as the impacts of the climate crisis escalate and are felt closer to home. At the moment if a harvest fails in one part of the world, which happens all the time, we can afford to buy food from somewhere else, but what happens when harvests fail across multiple locations at the same time, and we can’t buy our way out of the problem? The ‘Just in Time’ supply and demand chain will come unstuck at some point, and we will be impacted. I think this will happen a lot sooner that we think, and with terrifying consequences. What wouldn’t you do to provide food for your family when the supermarket shelves are empty and your children are hungry? We’re ill-prepared for such an eventuality, and it will hit us hard, with social contracts and community bonds breaking down. It’s one of the reasons I increasingly take a prepping approach to life.

But back to the privilege point; yes, I’m privileged, but should that mean I shouldn’t protest, absolutely not, I just need to learn and have my eyes opened to it. In fact wouldn’t it be selfish and neglectful not to use my privileged status and influence to protest? I need to think about this more and speak with people wiser than I.

At this point I’ll include a short film of the ‘Roo Rebellion’ turning up at one of the roadblocks next to St. James’ Park. Needless to say the sight and sound of a group of antipodeans dressed in kangaroo costumes, bouncing round the street, did a lot to lift and relax the mood. The police present couldn’t keep straight faces, despite their orders.

Despite all our efforts Love Rebellion site fell at the end of week 1, and we were forced to relocate. The police had orders to evict us ahead of the Queen’s Speech in Parliament, and apparently couldn’t let us remain due to the bomb threat risk. They needed to search the site, not because they thought XR had bombs, more that others might do and be using XR as cover.

There was so much colour and vibrancy at our site, from the artwork to the music and samba bands, the rebels themselves and the structures we built. We had a shift system set up to cover the roadblocks and actions, with the Swallowtails Affinity Group I was in covering the first night; that was a long night, rewarded by the appearance of an urban fox in the early hours of the morning. The camaraderie was outstanding, despite the rain and constant attention from police helicopters; the search lights irritated one lady to such an extent she took her clothes off and lay in the road. The police were trying to intimidate and stress us out.

We also had an excellent organisational and decision making system set up, with a council formed of point people from each team, as well as ‘random rebels’. The council was fed information, questions and requests from the Peoples’ Assemblies which took place on a daily basis. I wish we’d had more time to get it all up and running properly and really bed in but alas, we had to move. One learning is to do more prior to a large scale Rebellions to ensure rebels are aware of the structure, site groups, decision making processes etc. There were perhaps too many comms prior to October and key messages were lost.

We evacuated St. James’ Park over the course of an afternoon, trying to get our tents and kit out without it being confiscated, and over to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in the London Borough of Lambeth. There were stirring scenes as Rebels linked arms to protect the kitchen, singing songs in defiance or instructions to move on or face arrest. We quickly hired vans, packed up, and prepared to move; my bike ended up with a lot on it! It was quite an exciting walk/ride over to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, with the police refusing to allow Rebels to cross the bridge. I merged in with a larger group of cyclists commuting from work, and made it across. Lambeth Council had said we could stay in their park as long as we didn’t cause any local disruption, and were respectful to residents etc. We were and are very grateful to them and residents for accommodating us, and also to the local cafes which we took advantage of several times; it rained, a lot. The gardens also had a piece of work planned to plant insect friendly bulbs towards the end of our stay, so we made sure we cleared the areas they needed to get to. It was nice to see a message thanking us for leaving the site clean and litter free – they said they wished all their visitors were like us.

Where am I up to? So much happened and I’m missing lots out, especially around the sense of camaraderie and the emotions that run through you as you see friends getting arrested, or when support turns up in the form of a samba band at an action that was looking flakey. We were in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens for several days, during which time I also spent a couple of nights with a friend from school and his family (thanks John and Emma). It was great to take a break, grab a shower, and spend a bit of time playing with their kids; it is after all their future which is in jeopardy. The Vauxhall base gave us somewhere to launch actions from, combined with the other remaining sites still holding out around London; mostly Trafalgar Square at this point.

As with April the Norwich and Norfolk groups were active throughout the two weeks. We took part in several actions, including a protest outside a Government Oil and Gas summit – they were discussing how to encourage investment into an industry that is killing out planet. Perhaps the Andaz Hotel should reconsider hosting such events?

On the people being arrested front. It’s quite hard seeing your friends being taken away by police, especially when you’re not willing to be arrested yourself, as was the case for me; too many complications with my job at present. You’re left with feelings of guilt for not being with them and not putting your freedom on the line, and also concern for their wellbeing. I do worry that some people put themselves forward to be arrested without fully understanding the consequences; this could really impact their future career prospects, affect their mental health, affect relationships, and have repercussions they aren’t aware of. There is also a risk of glamourising being arrested, or making it seem like it’s expected of you, will boost your credibility or is cool.  Whatever anyone says I don’t believe it’s a pleasant experience, comfortable, risk free, or something to aspire to. Most people do really think before putting themselves forward to be arrested though, it’s not a decision taken lightly.

The Climate Crisis will however impact us all, and being arrested now for causing minor disruption has got to be worth it if it has a chance of stopping the major disruption and societal collapse, which seems almost inevitable at this stage.

We’re in the midst of the 6th Mass Extinction event. Extreme weather events are happening all the time. Conflict due to climate breakdown is happening now. Drought and famine are on the increase. Fires are burning out of control all around the world. People are dying now due to this crisis. We’re not changing course quickly enough, or at all in many cases, from the business as usual model that is destroying our world. Some relatively minor disruption and being arrested has got to be worth it in the face of all that. Surely people impacted by our actions can reflect on why we’re doing it, and conclude that being late one day, or not getting home when you expected, is nothing compared to what is coming.

Be the voice of the World when she is screaming

Be the voice of the World when she is screaming

On that note I experienced some interesting and varied reactions from people during the protests. There was an incredible amount of support from many, even from those stuck in traffic jams, but also some less agreeable and aggressive reactions from some. I can understand and empathise with those who we’ve irritated or delayed from something important. I’d hate to be responsible for delaying someone getting to a hospital appointment. Some just want to get to work, or get home, and we’re seen as targeting normal people just trying to get on with their lives; I will talk about the Canning Town tube disruption in a bit, just not yet or relation to this point. It still however comes back to it being, the majority of the time, relatively minor disruption for a very good reason (see above). I experienced first hand some very abusive comments, coffee cups being thrown, and the threat of violence; this was mostly during rush hour in the financial district. It’s interesting and perhaps not unexpected that the majority of this behaviour originated from middle aged and older white blokes, with no inclination to try and understand why we’re there, or the Climate Crisis. They’re often red faced, stressed looking, heart attack victim waiting to happen. You can also almost feel the waves of self-entitlement, elitism, and testosterone fuelled anger rolling off them. I’ve been trying to think why they’re so angry and I’m wondering if it’s because they feel threatened by us. Are we threatening their status and masculinity? Are we challenging them at some subconscious primal level? I don’t think it would matter if we were protesting about the climate or beer prices, I think think they’d still be aggressive and unwilling to interact reasonably. I reckon it’s often alpha males feeling threatened and reacting according to their evolutionary DNA. Perhaps it’s a competition thing, like two strutting peacocks facing off. Thankfully these sorts of responses are in the minority; most middle aged blokes were fine!

I wasn’t willing to be arrested, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t busy. I often ended up with various people’s mobile phones in my pockets that they didn’t want the police to confiscate! I spent a lot of time live-streaming actions to our Facebook account, or helping with comms to Norwich and Norfolk folks and between Affinity Groups; we ended up super-grouping our Affinity Groups in week 2 for the sake of efficiency. Another learning is around Affinity Group membership and structure – we probably need less groups for future large Rebellions, to ensure sustainability, resilience and support.

On the live-streaming front I used up far too much of my data allowance filming the Grief Funeral march processing from Marble Arch down Oxford Street, which I think took place on the Saturday; the film is on the Norwich FB page somewhere. Around 30,000 people marched through London in an array of costumes and props, however it was barely reported by the press; we suspect the BBC may have had instructions not to report on us, and I’m considering submitting a Freedom of Information request to learn if there’s any truth behind that. The Grief March was impactful and emotional, with a lot of support from the pavements. The Red Brigade brought a whole tube station to silence as they made their way through the city, remaining in character the whole time; they also provoked tears from many, such is power or iconography and silence.

I wasn’t involved in the action at London City Airport, however several Norwich and Norfolk XR members were, and were arrested as a result; they blocked an access point to the airport, on bikes. I did watch on the live stream as the partially-sighted former Paralympian James Brown climbed on top of a plane, despite being scared of heights. Another activist boarded a plane and refused to get off. Air travel is a major contributor to fossil fuel emissions, more than any other transport sector, yet the number of plane flights continues to grow. Another example of the seemingly unstoppable runaway business as usual train which needs to be slowed down and stopped somehow, or at least adapted and evolved to something less damaging. I think this was a good example of an action targeting the right place and people; high impact on the environment from plane travel, and the relatively small % of the population who can afford to fly for business and pleasure to an excessive degree.

The airport action also saw disturbing scenes of the police using ‘pain and compliance’ to restrain activists. There is film footage of this, and it’s not very pleasant with the activist in question gasping in pain whilst not, to my eyes, putting up any resistance. It reminds me that whilst we’d like the police to be on side, whilst they are ‘just doing their job’, and whilst we’re often very friendly and want interact positively with them it’s not always the right thing to do.

Many protest groups and individuals from black, brown, indigenous, ethnic or minority communities, have not been treated well by the police. Their experience of being stopped and searched or arrested, often unjustly, has not been good at all. Statistically they are much more likely to be stopped and searched, or arrested. Institutional racism is still thought to be prevalent in the police force, despite efforts to eradicate it. XR members chanting ‘we love you’ whilst rebels are being arrested can be counterproductive, even when it’s not actually directed at the police, but towards the activists being taken away; it can be perceived as being directed at the police and in the past has been. In addition gestures of love or kindness towards the police can alienate groups we want to be onboard with. Flowers sent to Brixton police station by an activist, with good intentions, to thank them for their kindness and care can have a very negative reaction in communities which have seen friends and family hurt or even die in police custody, in that station. I’m still learning about this, and might use the wrong words, however it’s clear we (XR) need to learn and change our approach in some areas to ensure we become more diverse and inclusive. We need to acknowledge the challenges faced by the non-white and the non-middle classed, people we’d love have in our organisation. We need them.

Into week 2. It was an early start on Monday for the ‘Banking on Breakdown’ day of action, targeting banks and financial institutions contributing to the climate crisis and ecocide; most of them one way or another. It’s that system change thing again, with capitalism and neoliberalism driving all the wrong behaviours. We rolled out of our tents in the early hours, after much planning over the weekend, and headed for the rendezvous at St. Pauls.

Initially we teamed up with a few other East of England affinity groups to put in road blocks in the financial sector of the City of London. It was a very wet start to the day, and our first roadblock was cleared after about an hour culminating in several arrests; some downtime in the cells for several friends. We regrouped at Bank Junction, outside the Bank of England, where the bulk of rebels were gathered for the day blocking the roads. I had a few good conversations with journalists and workers, who all got it at one level or another. After a quick discussion we decided to get together the Norwich and Norfolk Rebels we could find, along with several from Cambridge, and head to Canary Wharf to bring some direct action to a bank heavily invested in the fossil fuel industry. I cycled there on one of London’s cycle super-highways; they’re ace, and I didn’t get lost for once.

Rebels arrived in dribs and drabs via the Tube, or like me by bike, and a game of cat and mouse ensued with undercover police or private security teams (not sure which) as we moved around Canary Wharf trying to work out where we were going. It’s quite a disorientating place, and feels completely disconnected from nature. I think the security teams are quite used to protestors turning up, with actions regularly taking place outside Barclays.

Barclays invests billions in the fossil fuel industry, and is up there in the top world rankings for financing activity killing us and the planet; tar sands projects in the US and Canada are not a good thing. We blocked the main doorway for several hours, read the Declaration of Rebellion, and performed outreach activity with workers and passers-by explaining why we were there. It was very cold and windy at Canary Wharf, but numbers grew until we had a sizeable crowd involved. We asked if we could speak to members of the Barclay’s Exec Team to explain our activity, ask them to divest from fossil fuel based funds, and get some answers, but no-one was forthcoming. The one manager who did appear was only interested in how many of us were being arrested, and what for, and smirked the whole way through any conversations; really dispiriting. They’re more interested in driving excessive profits for a small number of very rich people, at the expense of everyone else and the planet.

It should be noted that many of the normal workers we spoke to were pleasant and interested in our message. Most of them very much get it, but are trapped by needing to earn money to support families, pay mortgages, conform to what society expects of us, and by a toxic system that doesn’t offer any other options. They don’t necessarily have another path open to them which is accessible or offers sufficient financial recompense to support their current lifestyle choices. The whole system needs to change, and we need to realise that means we can’t go on the way we are. It will mean big changes to the way we live and operate, and some of these changes won’t be comfortable at all, at least to begin with. I believe however that we can transition to a better method of living, with tighter knit better connected communities, working with nature and not against it, increased equality, more produced locally, and eventually a healthier and happier society; but different, very different. A topic for another blog, but if we don’t start making these changes soon, globally, we’re screwed.

The Barclays’ action culminated with the police arresting eight of our number, using solvent to remove superglue, or cutting tools to breakthrough lock-on tubes. I was on camera duty for most of the day, live-streaming footage, or doing a bit of outreach activity, or supporting the Rebels blocking the doorways. There was a bit of a wait for police vans due to everything else going on round the City, however eventually our comrades were carted off to Sutton Police Station; it was a fairly emotional end to the action, with more than a few tears and shouts of support to those under arrest for aggravated tress-pass and obstruction. The police were gentle, polite and respectful throughout, but we could tell they were getting tired and stressed by long shifts, relentless XR actions, and lack of resources their side. There were several occasions during the course of the October Rebellion where Rebels were de-arrested by the police, as they ran out of police vans or cell space, however this was not one of those times. The Barclays’ high ups obviously wanted to make a point, and made sure the police kept the arrestees in cells for the full 24 hours; money and influence talks. It felt good to have targeted what can be regarded, at least in part, as climate criminals. We targeted the right people, with 8 arrested for crimes incomparable to the destruction, climate breakdown and ecocide caused by investment into an industry we are all forced to use to one extent or another.

Our diminished group retreated from Canary Wharf to regroup at Bank Junction, which was still being held as part of the Banking on Breakdown day of action. We were all pretty tired so retreated for a round of vegetarian burgers.

Reduced in number but still going strong

Reduced in number but still going strong – Norwich Rebels regen time

We joined the end of the Bank Junction protest in a big march down to St. Pauls; lots of drumming, dancing and singing, with some lovely support from drivers and passers-by. It was, however, very wet!

The next day we had to leave Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, a sad departure. I’m not entirely sure why the police decided to move us on, especially as Lambeth Town Council had given us permission to be there. I suspect they just didn’t want us to have a big base to operate and launch actions from.

We now know that the Section 14 order placed over London was unlawful, but at the time the police were using it to disperse us, confiscating tents and arresting those refusing to move. The Red Brigade turned up to support us on the final day.

We left the gardens in a good state, making sure we cleared up all litter. Clearing the site took several hours, during which we talked to the police, shifted kit into vans, and had a chance for a bit of a sing-song with the Norwich XR choir.

So that was it, all the main October Rebellion sites cleared despite our best efforts, however we’d lasted longer than I thought we might. Maybe we need to re-think out tactic of taking and using large sites during these big rebellions. They can be counter-productive, with people getting attached to them and not focussing on actions that can have more impact. Maybe we should do more to ‘move like water’, popping up in one place for an action before dispersing only to arise again in another. However having everyone together does build a sense of community and solidarity, allows for mass Peoples’ Assemblies and planning, and helps with our regenerative culture.

Another point on the sites front was that much of our organisation and decision making structure was tied to a physical location, in terms of people and roles. When sites fell, or merged with others, these structures seemed to partially breakdown. Maybe we need a more virtual network and structure next time, or processes to better integrate multiple sites into one. Things still worked, but they could work better, and we perhaps need better communication channels with the Rebel Support Office.

On the comms front we were using both the Signal and Telegram Apps, as well as WhatsApp and Facebook. This became quite confusing and overwhelming at times. It also starts to break down when peoples’ mobile phones run out of charge and there isn’t the infrastructure in place to recharge them, if for example the police have confiscated items. We might need to rationalise our comms channels, and work on the ‘less is more’ principle. We also need to continue using public facing channels such as Facebook to recruit more people to actions as a Rebellion progresses, and individuals decide to join us; they won’t have access to our more private channels. Lots to think about before next time.

After leaving Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens the remaining Norwich and Norfolk rebels dispersed across London, with me and several others moving to a sanctuary site; a church hall in Islington, for a few nights. They and several other organisations, mostly churches, opened their doors to welcome us, providing much needed floorspace, and even a kitchen to use in this instance. A few of our comrades, those arrested at the Barclay’s action, had to leave London for home or break their bail conditions; very sad to see them go. We met up the next day to regroup and head to Trafalgar Square to join rebels in defying the Section 14 ban on us gathering.

Hundreds gathered in defiance of the unjust Section 14 order, to listen to various speakers including George Monbiot, a representative from Friends of the Earth, religious and spiritual leaders, and environmentalists from all over the UK and beyond.

There were several arrests, including that of George Monbiot, as rebels occupied parts of the road around Trafalgar Square and Whitehall; this went on for hours.

In the evening we headed to the Shard, to bring attention to the role the media plays in the Climate Crisis.

The mass media often seem to either not report on the Climate Crisis, under-report it, or falsely report on it. It’s time they told the truth and gave these issues the prominence they need to wake up wider society to the challenges we face. On top of that they need to stop giving any media-space to climate change deniers, surely we’re past that now.

Another long day, but successful in demonstrating we will not be silenced, and again targeting organisations that need to up their game.

I think it was the following day we awoke to news of the Canning Town tube action, a protest most of us had voted against, and which I feel was badly timed, targeted the wrong people, and the wrong infrastructure; public transport that is at least part ‘green’. I wrote about it at the time, saying how it broke some of the media blackout we’d been experiencing, but sadly for the wrong reasons. Many of us have reflected long and hard on it in the weeks since. We know the theory behind XR and civil disobedience; that 3.5% of the population thing. We know we can’t be friends with everyone and that inevitably we will make mistakes, this action, in my opinion, being one of them. But we know we have to do do something to try and wake people up, and bring about change. Or should we just sit around, watch the world burn, and wait for our inevitable demise?

This was another learning for me from the October Rebellion, from some of the messaging and training out of the Global Justice movement, and from some of the reading I have done since. XR needs to perform actions, but I think we need to think harder about targets and timing, who it will impact, and the social science behind our tactics which may not have been interpreted correctly, or been used on a bit of a pick and choose basis. It felt right targeting industries that directly contribute to the problem. It did not feel right to be targeting normal working class people trying to go about their lives, a lot of whom are struggling to make ends meet. This was very counter-productive, and damaged our reputation and some of the good work done to date. We need these people in our movement and on side, as we run out of time and start to witness the terrifying impacts of climate breakdown. These impacts are likely to affect poorer people first, and sooner that we think.

Some of the social science being used talks about needing 3.5% of the population on side and activated in order to bring about change. However the evidence for this seems to be from societies where the 3.5% were oppressed or repressed, often violently. With the majority of XR members being white and middle classed, we are not being oppressed or repressed, and certainly not violently. In fact actions such as the Canning Town tube debacle, although well intentioned, are in danger of turning us into the oppressors in the eyes of those affected; normal working class people who aren’t feeling the impacts of climate breakdown. So instead of rebelling against a system that is killing us, we could end up being rebelled against by the very people most at risk from the challenges ahead. We need to target the powerful, not the powerless.

I sincerely hope more people continue to rise up and join Extinction Rebellion, but we need to work on diversity and inclusion. We need to engage at a grassroots level with, and learn from, the communities we are trying to recruit from. We also need to learn from other past and current movements with similar aims. They must look on with dismay at some of XR’s tactics and apparent disregard for the impacts on minority communities, but we’re only a year old and very willing to learn. I hope that over the next few months we’ll think more about this, evolve and adapt as an organisation, and come out stronger.

There are loads of areas upon which we need to reflect. Topics still causing me some confusion and painful thinking include our practice of not blaming and shaming, as well as being apolitical or ‘beyond politics’. On the first point I think it’s definitely wrong to blame normal individuals who have no current choice as to their way of life, however what about government and business leaders supporting the toxic system which is at the root of the problem? And likewise on the political front, especially with a general election coming up, should we come out in favour of a party more likely to bring about the changes needed? I know politicians have been failing us for a long time on the climate and ecological front, and will no doubt continue to do so, but shouldn’t we more openly support those at least trying to make a difference? Maybe XR should continue not supporting one party over another, whilst individual members can of course do so. I do think we need to encourage members from all sections of society, and supporting one party might inhibit this. It could sow division and even intimidate potential members into not joining us. But if one section of society, and let us for arguments sake call that Tory party members leaning more the right, is blatantly putting our futures at risk, then shouldn’t we come out against them? I want an inclusive and diverse movement, but don’t know how we achieve this in some areas, and am not entirely sure we want or need to be inclusive of some people.

Phew, that was a long section without any photos. If you’re still going, thank you and well done!

Thursday was my last full day in London. I was beginning to feel pretty tired and was missing the quiet of the countryside, and fresh air. I was still enthusiastic about the Rebellion but events such as the Canning Town action had knocked all of us off centre, and we’d lost quite a few of number by this point; to arrests or from just needing to go home for work or to support families. Whilst rewarding it can be draining trying to keep things going, comms flowing, and people supported. I am very grateful to certain individuals who helped keep me grounded and supported.

On Thursday morning I joined the non-XR protest versus the mega-ming corporation BHP. This all forms part of what I’ve been learning over the last few months. BHP run huge mining operations that extract valuable minerals from countries such as Chile, Brazil and Columbia. These minerals are used to make things that we all buy. The companies behind these operations, such as BHP, make huge profits at the expense of the people who live in these areas. Locals are subject to unfair wages and unsafe working conditions, and the the mines are destroying huge swathes of natural habitat and ecosystems upon which indigenous people still rely, and from which we all ultimately benefit in terms of biodiversity and oxygen production. The protest was to demand justice for people impacted by BHP, and the lives and land devastated by its activity.

It’s all tied up with the concept of neo-colonialism, the more about which I read the more I begin to realise how complex and huge the challenge is. The Global North is profiting from, and aiming to maintain its current excessive and high consumption based lifestyle, at the expense of the Global South. People in the Global South are being exploited, killed, threatened and evicted from their homes, or imprisoned, to support the sick profits of huge multi-national companies and ultimately our comparatively cosy but selfish lifestyles. We need global justice in the face of such activity, unless we really are complete arseholes that are happy for this to go on just so we can live as we do now.

And this for me is the crux of the matter. We can’t go one as we are now, and we can’t transform to a ‘green economy’ that replaces everything we have now with apparently sustainable alternatives. It’s just not that simple. For example to replace our current energy production units with solar or wind power needs precious minerals, many of which are mined in the Global South. The same with electric cars, and the next generation of mobile phones. In the UK are we willing to destroy the Global South via neo-colonialist practices, or are we willing to change? The massive carbon budget expenditure needed just to build all this new energy producing infrastructure, or electric cars, could in itself push us over a climate breakdown tipping point from which there is no return. From what I’ve researched there simply aren’t enough available resource to transform the whole world, and replace everything we have now with ‘green’ alternatives, and this couldn’t be done without massive CO2 emissions, or further devastation of the Global South. Therefore, logically, we need to move to a different sort of society, economy, way of life, or we will destroy ourselves.

Or maybe we just all start praying the gods or aliens will save us, ‘cos that’s always worked in the past.

After the BHP protest I nipped round the corner to support veteran activists outside the Supreme Court. Today XR wanted to highlight the impact of the ‘defence’ industry, arms trade, and war on climate change, and elders had gathered outside the court, gluing themselves together in protest.

Pretty amazing to watch the older generation standing together in uncomfortable conditions, putting their freedom on the line, and then being led away to police vans. Much respect.

We spent the afternoon in the City of Westminster walking from one protest area to another, sometimes arriving just as one finished due to rapid response by police. We all got pretty wet as the heavens opened, but thankfully dried off when the sun came out. Later that afternoon several of use decided to join a critical mass bike ride, with hundreds of other riders. I had the use of my touring bike, whereas others hired Santander bikes.

The critical mass bike ride was unlike anything I’d ever been on before. It was huge. There were banners and costumes, so many riders, and multiple sound-systems. I was completely envious of the most impressive sound system; a rickshaw with DJ decks and huge speakers. We definitely need something similar for Norwich critical mass rides.

We pedalled off from Hyde Park on a ride that must have taken about an hour and a half. The sound system boomed, we rang our bells and rode past Marble Arch, down Oxford Street, down Regent Street, around roundabouts, past Buckingham Palace and down to Parliament Square. It was exhilarating, with much support from the pavements.

I’ll say one thing, two weeks of rebelling in London, including riding your bike a lot, does an awful lot of good as far as improving one’s knowledge of where everything is and how it all joins together.

Here’s a bit of film from the Oxford Street section.

We ended the critical mass ride at Trafalgar Square, where Rebels had gathered for a mass meditation session. This ended with some uplifting singing and bouncing. Pretty groovy day all in all.

So that was me mostly done. I’d survived two weeks of being an ‘uncooperative crusty’ (thanks Boris, we’ll own that one) in London, and spent my last night back at the sanctuary space in Islington. The next day I took my leave of the remaining Norwich rebels and caught the train back home; I was too tired to cycle all the way back!

That was not the end however of the London Rebellion, with two more days of actions and activity scheduled, including the ‘Red Hand’ march; following pictures courtesy of friends or the Internet.

What was the Red Hand march?

‘We will raise our red hands, taking responsibility for our actions – we all have blood on our hands. We march in admission and recognition of the part we play in the injustice of this emergency, and the ongoing suffering of thousands of people around the world due to climate and ecological breakdown.’

There were hundreds on the march again, which stopped at several government departments to demand plans are quickly made to tackle to climate emergency.

By this time I was back home in Salhouse, recovering but also missing my companions of the previous two weeks. One builds such strong friendships during these actions, which will no doubt endure for years to come. I know XR has much to learn, and challenges we need to overcome. I’ve discussed some of them in this blog, and will continue to mull things over, analyse our actions and future strategy, talk about it all with other Rebels, and we’ll work out where we go from here.

Travelling Lobster made it home

Travelling Lobster made it home, somehow with a squirrel that ended up in my panniers, courtesy of my niece and nephew

I know there are course corrections we need to make, such as diversifying our actions and tactics; it can’t all be about mass arrests, and we need to find a way of engaging with other segments of society. We also need to look at the bigger picture; climate breakdown cannot be viewed in isolation, it needs to include social justice and equality.

Back home, peace!

Back home, peace!

This has been an epic blog to write over the course of about 10 days. I could have broken it up, however as mentioned at the start writing it has been part of the reflective process for me, and one thing kinda flowed into another. I may well pull out individual bits and expand upon them in future. There is still a lot I need to think about and learn!

Thanks for reading, and stay turned for more Norwich and Norfolk actions. Why not come and get involved yourself?

WE ARE ALL CREW

Rebel for Life

‘Rebel for Life’. I love that phrase and the double meaning. Simple, with a big impact. That’s what we’re trying to do in Extinction Rebellion: Rebel against a system which is causing catastrophic climate change. The climate breakdown we’re experiencing now will impact all life on Earth within our lifetimes, and exponentially so within the lifetimes of our children. The evidence is irrefutable, and yet our leaders don’t seem get it. In fact most people don’t seem to get it, but that is changing.

Rebel of Life

Rebel of Life

Extinction Rebellion is a movement I have become part of over the last few months, and is something close to my heart. It’s great to finally meet and work with a group of individuals who feel the same way, and who are awake to the challenges we face; all the grief, anxiety, anger and despair, with the same aim of trying to provoke the changes desperately needed.

Traditional methods of driving change just aren’t working. Writing to your MP is all well and good, but what if they don’t listen, and are unwilling to educate themselves. Petitions get ignored, and scientists sidelined by powerful lobbyists backed by fossil fuel companies.

We attempted to get Norwich City Council to declare a Climate Emergency, however this was downgraded to acknowledging a Climate Emergency, with no increased commitment to reducing carbon emissions within a sensible timeframe. More political shenanigans by Labour councillors unwilling to face reality. Yes the council have done some good stuff on the climate front, but it’s nowhere near enough. In some ways I can’t blame them, as they truly believe they’re doing the right thing, but that’s because they’re not properly awake to the challenges we face yet. This is deadly serious. We need to adapt now, and that adaptation has got to be deep with fundamental lifestyle changes for all.

Thanks to the Green Party Councillor Denise Carlo for tabling the motion so eloquently, and to the backing of the Green Party Councillors present. A shame the Labour councillors don’t get it and are more concerned with political jockeying and short-term goals. It reminded me of why I’m loathed to watch Question Time anymore.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have 12 years to drastically cut carbon emissions if we’re to be in with a chance of limiting global temperature rises to below 1.5’C. Rises above that will see drastic increases in droughts, flooding, food shortages and extreme heat and weather events. We’ll see mass population displacement and migration, with the associated social, political and economic problems these bring. The bad news is we’ve almost certainly passed the point of limiting temperature rises to below 1.5’C, and we’re already seeing all these problems. It’s happening NOW.

And yet politicians, business leaders, and people in general don’t seem to want to acknowledge the Climate Emergency, or do anything about it. Even if a Climate Emergency is declared it’s only words, often not backed up by deeds, with policies driven by the idolization of unfettered and unsustainable economic growth; policies that often only benefit the superrich.

Again in some ways I can’t blame them. It’s hard to comprehend the scale of the problem and the impacts it’ll have. Much easier to live in denial and not wake up. And that’s what a lot of our so-called leaders want us to do: Don’t wake up, continue being compliant little consumers who can be exploited, whilst they sit amongst their riches secretly building emergency bolt holes for when it all goes wrong; yes, that’s happening, the world’s elite aren’t stupid.

The Norwich chapter of Extinction Rebellion took action last week, at the Norfolk County Council annual budget meeting, to try to drive home the point that change is needed. We strongly oppose the building of the new Western link road due to the increased carbon emissions that will result from both its building, and use.  The money would be far better spent on other projects such as public transport, social housing, renewable energy schemes, and measures to prepare for sea level rises that will sink places like Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn. The leaflet we produced explains more.

Climate Emergency flyer for Norfolk County Council protest

Climate Emergency flyer for Norfolk County Council protest

We disrupted the council meeting for around 5 hours by occupying the council chamber and making our voices heard through colourful and at times harmonious chants. I went along to help record the protest and broadcast updates via social media.

We don’t take this sort of action lightly, however as the leaflet says we’ve had enough of asking politely and not being listened too, of being sidelined, ridiculed and ignored. Our leaders are failing us, even though they don’t seem to realise it, and need to be woken up. We won’t take the destruction of planet and our futures, as well as the human caused 6th mass extinction event, lying down. Again, this is happening now and it’s not hard to find out about it; look at how insect numbers have plunged, the levels of biodiversity loss, sea ice diminishing to the point of blue ocean events in the arctic, or the fact that between 150 and 200 species are going extinct every day – a rate that is around 1,000 times greater than the background or natural rate.

Four of our number were arrested at the protest, and willingly so, a small price to pay for getting the message out there. Kudos and my personal thanks to them all.

Council protest - 11 Feb - XR Norwich activists in action

Council protest – 11 Feb – XR Norwich activists in action

I should say the police were courteous and gentle, and we have no complaints about how they conducted themselves. They’re just doing their job. It’s a shame our politicians aren’t.

The four people arrested were charged under a law dredged up from the archives, something created in the early 20th century to deal with movements like the Suffragettes. Oh…the irony. The county council even had a Suffragettes exhibition on display in the building, but obviously were blind to the parallels.

Following on from last week’s protest a group of Extinction Rebels also visited a South Norfolk district council meeting last night, to table a question requesting the declaration of a Climate Emergency. The request was refused by the council, with their action on cleaning up graffiti, fly tipping, and road advertising all being cited as reasons why they’re doing enough.

Cleaning up graffiti…they really don’t get it to they. How can that possibly help any of us in the fight versus catastrophic climate breakdown? This kind of ignorance is what we’re facing, and why Extinction Rebellion advocates non-violent direct action. We’ve got to rebel to stand a chance, following in the footsteps of movements like the Suffragettes, or individuals such as Gandhi; when the political system fails us it is our duty to rebel against it, and this is surely the biggest crisis faced by the human race to date.

We did invite Councillor Kay Mason Billig, Deputy Leader of the South Norfolk District Council, to meet with us to discuss the benefits of declaring a Climate Emergency. Councillor Billig politely refused, confirming there was nothing more she could do to assist with this request seeing as the council had refused it. She did wish us well with our campaign though…which is nice…she clearly doesn’t get it.

Time is running out

Time is running out

On a positive note did you witness the children striking for their future on Friday? It was truly moving to see thousands of pupils strike from school lessons to protest against the lack of action on climate change, a movement started by the inspiring Greta Thunberg (please watch her TED talk, and follow her on Twitter). Hearing their voices eloquently calling for change was amazing to watch, and I’m very much looking forward to the next #SchoolStrike4Climate on March 15; this is going to grow and grow.

Some politicians such as the progressive MP for South Norwich, Clive Lewis, came out in support of them, whilst others, including our Prime Minister, derided the action saying pupils should not damage their education by skipping lessons, and could face detentions and disciplinary action. As many pupils have said it’s their future being destroyed, and it’s time for change. Sacrificing a few hours of lesson time is more than worth it, and what is the point of learning if there is no future? Full credit to these children, they’re doing more than most adults for the cause.

I believe Theresa May said something along the lines of children and teacher time being wasted. I’m not sure she really has a leg to stand on after seeing the parliamentary shambles of the last few years. They have also wasted at least 30 years by not doing anything to avert this crisis; these facts have been known for decades.

I’m at the point of complete disgust and despair at most of our politicians and leaders, with a few exceptions such as Caroline Lucas, or Clive Lewis. Talking to them just isn’t working, and neither are letters or petitions. Direct action seems our only recourse.

We are all going to have to change our lifestyles in order to stand a chance, and for our children to stand a chance. The changes needed will be far-reaching; a topic for another blog, and for a Citizens Assembly to try to work out. I certainly don’t have the answers.

The question I was asking myself today was why do most people in this country, and in more developed countries across the world, seem to value their often luxurious and consumptive lifestyles more than they love their children? Why won’t they make even simple changes like using a car less, rejecting fast fashion, or cutting down meat consumption? I don’t get it. Many indigenous cultures claim we have forgotten how to love our children. I think they might be right.

You can follow Norwich Extinction Rebellion activity via our Twitter account, @NorwichXr, as well as our Instagram and Facebook accounts. Please feel free to come along to one of the weekly general meetings which happen most Thursdays; details on Facebook, or message me.

Rebel for Life.