A nuthatch in the woods.

The nuthatch has got to be one of the most elegant woodland birds. The way it feeds upside and hops acrobatically along the branch is really quite artistic. It’s colours are muted and simple – grey on top, chestnut underneath, that stripe of black across the eyes like the Mask of Zorro.

I took these photos at the woodland hide at Pensthorpe in Norfolk on a Spring-like day in February. This is one of the most satisfying hides I’ve ever visited and it never fails to perform – there are so many birds that it’s almost too much to take in.

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The Monkey Selfie Farce

The ongoing saga of the copyright of the famous monkey selfie has probably filtered into your consciousness at some point in the last few years but been dismissed as “some nonsense.”

Yet the case drags on and the photographer’s career – and life – has been basically ruined.

David J Slater self-funded a month-long trip around Indonesia to photograph the rare and endangered crested black macaque monkeys to draw attention to their dwindling numbers so that the world might take notice. And so it did – because the monkeys liked the shutter sound on his camera and one accidentally ended up taking a photograph of itself.

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Despite the fairly modest income the photo was going to make him, Wikipedia decided to reproduce the image, making it free for all and it has been shared over 50 million times.

The photographer became embroiled in a 6 year legal battle over the copyright and more recently in the last two years PETA has sued him, claiming that the copyright belongs to Naruto the monkey, and they have demanded to manage the funds on the monkey’s behalf. Last year, a US judge ruled against the suit, as animals are not covered by the Copyright Act, but PETA has appealed the decision.

The saddest thing about this bizarre story is that not only has a man lost his career, he has also lost his love of photography – the magic has gone. PETA has made its point and should end the stalemate – even if the monkey’s right to the image could be asserted in law, it cannot prove which monkey took the photo. Dave Slater even claims PETA is championing the wrong monkey!

Doesn’t PETA have anything else to spend its money on?

One good thing has come out of the monkey selfie image: Dave has achieved his aim and the local people no longer hunt the macaques; instead they love their ‘selfie monkeys’.

 

Book Review: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly – by Sun-Mi Hwang

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There is a bit of a trend in libraries these days to display recommended books on designated shelves to help out the indecisive library-goers who want something to read but have no idea what. I always find something there that catches my eye and recently it was The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly *** by Sun-Mi-Hwang.

The blurb on the inside cover read:

“This is the story of a hen named Sprout. No longer content to lay eggs on command, only to have them carted off to the market, she glimpses her future every morning through the barn doors, where the other animals roam free, and comes up with a plane to escape into the wild – and to hatch an egg of her own.”

It sounds exactly like the books I like to read and it didn’t disappoint. I actually read it in one sitting, which I very rarely do, but it was only 133 pages so it’s an easy read. Sprout is an instantly sympathetic character – an animal whose natural fundamental desires are thwarted by capitalist exploitation. The book has a lot to say about the conditions of farmyard animals but from a perspective I hadn’t considered before: that while some are relatively well treated (the free range chickens) and some treated badly (the battery hens), both are denied their basic instinct for motherhood.

This is an existential problem.

Sprout manages to escape and lives a while in the farmyard, which from the unpleasant conditions of the coop she had idealised; now outside she finds a strict hierarchical society that excludes her. She makes a friend with another outsider, a wild duck named Straggler, who is also marginalised due to his injured wing and ‘otherness’.

Sprout escapes to the fields, where she finds an egg that she is compelled to look after until the mother returns. She doesn’t return, but Straggler does, and he guards and protects her throughout the incubation. I’ll stop there as I don’t want to give away any more of the plot.

There are obvious parallels with Animal Farm but it is not political in the same way. This novel is about motherhood, the exploitation of fertility, and the hidden internal world of sentient creatures. Vegans and animal rights activists will find this novel very interesting but it is also an allegorical tale about the human condition and the universal desire to survive and to raise offspring.


 

*** FYI this is an affiliate link to the Amazon listing of this book.

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Recipe post: herby cheese scones

This is one of my simplest and most satisfying recipes: homemade herby cheese scones.

I’m a sucker for a cheese scone anyway, but adding rosemary makes such a difference.

 I first cut the dough using a teeny tiny cutter but for my second attempt I just shaped the dough myself into large scone-shaped balls and doubled the quantities. And sprinkled lots of cheese on the top. And herbs. Did I mention herbs? You really must include herbs.

  • 175g self raising flour
  • 1 medium egg
  • 3 tablespoon milk (1 for dusting)
  • 70g grated cheese (or as much as your heart desires)
  • 2 teaspoons rosemary
  • black pepper (as much as you want to season).

Mix the dry stuff, add the egg and milk, mix it into a crumbly dough, roll it out, cut it into shapes, sprinkle a mini mountain of cheese and rosemary on top and bake for 20-25 mins.

Voila. Your house will smell delicious.  

 

On the importance of house plants

I have a minor obsession with house plants. I’ve got spider plants, rubber plants, ivy trailing everywhere around my home. I frequently run out of pots to put them in and have to buy more pots; this frees up the smaller pots, and I buy more plants.

Vicious cycle.

But I really do think they improve my day, and there’s lots of evidence to suggest that they improve your health as well. I like seeing greenery indoors, I enjoy watching them grow, and the cat likes to chew the leaves.

So what are the benefits?

  1. Purify the air: plants can absorb harmful toxins from the air, break them down, and release the harmless by products.
  2. Remove carbon dioxide: it has been suggested that plants can remove up to 10% of carbon dioxide from the air. (So’s it’s really concerning when trees are cut down when we have a global problem with carbon…)
  3. Increase the humidity: this is much healthier than dry or dusty air, which causes throat, nose, and eye irritation.
  4. Improve relationships: caring for nature increases compassion and boosts our mood, making us just a bit better at putting up with each other.
  5. Help us to think: plants increase our capacity for memory, increase productivity and creativity.
  6. Help us to heal: patients recovering from surgery heal better when they can see plants – they have lower blood pressure, and less pain and fatigue.
  7. Reduce noise pollution: this probably helps more with outdoor plants, as you can plant a large hedge between your house and the road to block out the traffic noise.

Which plants should you choose if you want to improve the air quality in your home?

NASA went to great lengths to thoroughly study which plants could be used to purify the air in space facilities, so we have a pretty good idea of which plants to buy if we want to improve the air quality in our homes.

Snake plants – otherwise known as ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’ (because they are sharp.) They give out oxygen at night, unlike most plants, so they work best in the bedroom.

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Broadleaf lady palm – to be honest, I had never heard of this one. Apparently it can extract ammonia from the air so is really helpful at detoxifying the air after using cleaning products.

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Aloe vera – a spiky succulent that fights benzene, which is found in plastics and detergents.

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Spider plant – combats carbon monoxide. What a beauty!

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Chinese evergreen – likes humidity, thrives in bathrooms where it can tackle the formaldehyde from cosmetics.

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Ficus/ weeping fig – cleans the air of fireplace smoke so perfect for rustic living rooms.

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English ivy – removes airborne fecal matter!

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Orchids – another one that gives off oxygen at night time so perfect for bedrooms. Also tackles the chemicals found in shoe polish. (So fill your shoe polishing room with orchids.)

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Looks like I need to plan a trip to a garden centre soon…….

Is it too late for my May Favourites

I’ve never done one of these monthly favourite blog posts before so I thought I’d join in and see how it goes. These are some of the things I’ve been enjoying in the last month (I know I’m a few days late but hey…)

New Toms

Toms are some of my favourite summer shoes, though I certainly don’t limit their use to one season as they are so comfortable. Now, I know they are not the most durable item of footwear – they’re made from linen, but that’s one of the reasons I like them so much as it means they’re often vegan. Some of their designs do include leather insoles, so you have to do your research.

I bought the below pair recently – the Birch Critters – and I’m so in love with the pattern and enjoying the usual comfort they provide my poor, misshapen and tired feet.


Charcoal face mask

I’ve been trying to find an affordable and effective mud face mask ever since Superdrug apparently stopped doing their own version and I have finally found this Quick Fix Facial Charcoal Mask in Boots. They’re currently on 3 for 2 and include the charcoal mask, brightening peel mask, collagen lift mask, vitamin C mask, and an exfoliating scrub.

It left my skin feeling so fresh and so clean (sing it).

New wheels

If you read my recent post, you’ll know I bought a new bike last month. And it’s beautiful, and it’s lovely and vintage, and gets me around when I don’t want to drive/find somewhere to park. What I’ve learnt is that is really helps to set your bike to the right position for you – my memory of bikes is that I was too tall for them, that I was always hunched over on the handlebar and had constant back pain. When actually I just needed an allen key to move things about a bit (what a fool.)

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It’s a Pendleton Somerby and so far I’ve been cycling into town a few times, by the river, and along the local cycle path that used to be an old railway track.

That’s that then. Guess I’ll have to start buying new stuff for June!

 

 

 

GE17: Manifestos on the Environment

Less than a week to go until the “snap” General Election 2017 that nobody wanted but what are the parties promising on the environment?

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Here’s a quick summary:

Green Party

  • preserve all EU environmental laws and principles after Brexit
  • introduce Environment Protection Act to preserve wildlife and habitats and ensure all have right to access green space
  • work towards global temperature rise of below 1.5 degrees
  • ban fracking
  • end fossil-fuel use
  • support onshore wind and solar power
  • all new homes to be zero carbon by 2020 and improve energy efficiency of old homes
  • remove diesel cars through scrappage
  • £2 million for cycle and walking schemes
  • redirect farmer subsidies towards sustainable land management
  • marine protection network around the UK, maintaining sustainable fish stocks

Labour

  • will meet international climate targets and transition to low carbon economy
  • protect current EU environmental standards and principles
  • nationalise the energy market
  • ban fracking
  • interest free loans for landlords to improve energy sufficiency of their properties, as well as improving insulation in 4 million homes
  • introduce a Clean Air Act
  • invest in electric vehicle manufacture and use
  • targets to reduce plastic bottle waste
  • plant 1 million trees to help natural flood management
  • protect land and sea habitats

Liberal Democrats

  • maintain EU environmental standards
  • create governmental office for sustainability
  • create blue belt for marine life
  • introduce a Zero Carbon Britain Act, Green Buildings Act, Zero Waste Act, and an Air Quality Act
  • expand renewables by 60% by 2030
  • diesel scrappage scheme
  • plant a tree per citizen
  • maintain Paris climate obligations
  • £2 million for flood prevention
  • redirect farmers’ subsidies towards healthy food and effective land management

Conservatives

  • continue to meet the international goal of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050
  • £600 million investment to make every car have zero emissions by 2050
  • upgrading poor fuel homes by 2030 to EPC band C
  • possible offshore wind technology, particular in the Scottish isles (if they are still within the UK….)
  • subsidies for farmers guaranteed until 2022 (new schemes to come into play after that)
  • improving water courses with landowners to manage natural flood defenses
  • commercial fishing to preserve fish stocks
  • free vote on the Hunting Act

 

Hope this helps you come to the right decision for the environment this Thursday!