Strumpshaw Fen, end of August

Strumpshaw Fen, end of August

After 2-3 months of blistering heat, August has been quite temperate and we’ve had a chance to cool off. I’ve also noticed a lot of autumn flowers and berries a bit earlier than normal as they have ripened too soon in the excessive heat.

So I get to do my autum berry photoshoots earlier than usual. :)

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We walked round RSPB Strumpshaw fen at the end of August and it was a windy, grey day so not many birds were out and about. There was a family of swans with their young cygnets and a flock of what I think were wild grey partridges, though they were very distant.

Those clouds!

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Rewilding Britain with Beavers

Recently Michael Gove attended an event in Gloucestershire to release beavers back into the wild as part of a project to rewild Britain. A male and a female Eurasian beaver, a species hunted to extinction in the UK 400 years ago for their fur, meat, and scent glands, were released into the Forest of Dean. They join other iconic British species that became extinct and have returned to the Forest of Dean, such as the wild boar.

The area will be regularly monitored throughout the 3 year project and it is hoped that the beavers will reduce the local flood risk and benefit the health of the ecosystem; being a ‘keystone species’, beavers play a part in shaping the landscape through their dam-building activities. The Eurasian beavers are expected to build a series of natural dams that will slow rainwater and prevent floods from the steep hills in the area.

You can read more about global rewilding success stories here, including the wolf in the US and the giant tortoise in the Galapagos islands.

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Beaver Facts

  • Beavers are vegetarian
  • They live in ‘lodges’, which they construct from branches and sticks – they have a drying off den and an inner, drier den for the family to sleep and socialise in
  • They are the largest native European rodent
  • Beavers are ecosystem engineers, or ‘keystone species’; their dam-building behaviour shapes the ecosystem by slowing down the flow of the river, resulting in particular species thriving. The largest beaver dam is in Canada and is visible from space
  • They have transparent eyelids and can see underwater
  • They sometimes share their homes with muskrats
  • Beavers are monogamous and will mate for life
  • A beaver’s tooth enamel contains iron, which gives it that orange colour and enables them to gnaw through trees.

My top 5 Amazon Ethical Buys

… And no that’s not an oxymoron. I know a lot of you will think Amazon’s ethical credentials are pretty low, what with all the monopolising practically every industry and controversies over the treatment of its workforce, but unfortunately Amazon is a fact of modern life and it would be difficult not to shop there. I’d love to know your thoughts on this – have you boycotted or do you avoid shopping from Amazon?

In the meantime, since I do use Amazon every now and again, it’s good to know what sort of ethical products you can buy there and of course there’s a lot as practically every company wants to sell through them. I’m looking mainly at the ethics of reducing plastic, reducing waste, and finding sustainable alternatives to lessen the environmental impact. I hope this guide is helpful!

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Ecoegg Laundry Egg: the ethical way to wash your clothes

So this is a pretty cool find. You can use it in your wash for all types of fabric and it completely replaces the need for washing powder. It uses natural cleaning pellets which don’t contain the harsh chemicals you find in normal detergents. Better still, it lasts 720 washes which is the equivalent of 3 years’ washing for the average family of four!

Bamboo Toothbrushes: reduce plastic with these bamboo toothbrushes

Plastic toothbrushes are one of the worst marine pollutants and are always being found washed up on beaches or in smaller pieces in the stomachs of marine life. There is an easy solution – replace your normal toothbrush with a bamboo one, which is 100% biodegradeable! This particular set contains 4 so one for each of the average family, and they are all different colours so you don’t confuse your toothbrush with anyone else’s. The bristles are BPA free and the packaging is made from biodegradeable recycled materials.

KeepCup: get your morning coffee in this re-useable cup

I’ve had my KeepCup for about 5 years now and it’s still going strong. Initially I used to get annoyed looks for baristas when I presented it and gave my coffee order but now they’re a bit more used to it. I take it all over with me and it fits in my handbags after use (do carry tissues so you can dry it out if you don’t have anywhere to wash it.) The UK gets through 7 million coffee cups per day and we throw away around 2.5 billion per year but less than 1% are actually recycled. The plastic polythylene used to make paper coffee cups waterproof breaks down into micro plastics, which end up in the stomachs of marine life. And let’s not forget that disposable cups are made from virgin paper pulp so trees are felled to produce a piece of pointless plastic-paper that is used to drink a single latte. If you do one thing to reduce your environmental impact, let it be buying and using a re-useable coffee cup!

Cheeky Panda Bamboo Toilet Roll: toilet roll made from sustainable material

One thing we can forget about when trying to be more ethical consumers is toilet roll; paper made to be wasted. The Cheeky Panda style of toilet roll uses 100% bamboo, which is natural, biodegrdeable and sustainable. I’ve noticed no difference in quality in using bamboo bog roll. Cheeky Panda also do bamboo tissues. Why is bamboo more sustainable? It grows faster than trees, produces more oxygen and absorbs more carbon. It regrows when cut and requires no fertilisers. (Psst: also, it’s vegan as there’s no gelatin-glue for the cardboard inner tube.)

Pilot B2P – pens made from plastic bottles: don’t just recycle your plastic bottles, buy everyday items made from those recycled bottles!

The UK consumes around 13 billion plastic bottles per year and more than 3 billion are not recycled. Obviously I would encourage you to invest in your own drinks bottle, which are all quite cheap, but on top of that it’s good to buy things made from recycled plastic as it puts to good use the plastic waste we’re still disposing of. Greenpeace suggest 9 ways to reduce you household plastic use. 

 

What are your top ethical buys?

 

 

The garden in summertime

Every now and again it’s nice to update you on how my garden grows. I don’t know if you’re interested but I have a surplus of photos I need to share so there we go.

Right now I’m growing lots of herbs and while the spinach and chives have grown well from when I planted them in April, others are slower to take and I’m still waiting for the rosemary to show its first sprouts.

The roses are nearly all in bloom so everything is quite colourful at the moment. The sweat peas have in the last few weeks started to flower.

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I’m really impressed with this year’s display from my hosta. It always performs well but normally by this time it has been destroyed by slugs. I haven’t managed to put anything down to protect it so I’m relieved it’s still ok but we’ll have to see how long it lasts.

My so-called “hardy” fuschias did not really survive the Beast from the East and while one has started to leaf again the other has not shown any signs of life, which is a bit of a shame. I should have brought them in – I should do a lot of things I can’t be bothered with.

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Sweet peas

I’m loving the pond at the moment. The nearby fern is providing lots of wonderful shade and the marsh marigold is growing again, although still no flowers from it this year. I’ve seen a few frogs, which is wonderful as it’s what it’s there for. The cat still likes to drink from it, of course – what’s wrong with the fresh tap water we put down for her every day I do not know.

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That’s it for now. In the autumn I’m going to re pot the geranium and the erysimum as they have got too big for their boots.

Catch up on my other garden updates here and here.

Lush shampoo bars – first impressions

Like practically everyone, I’ve been trying to reduce my plastic usage. Although I’ve always recycled since I was responsible for my own waste disposal, there’s a lot of stuff I never considered, and whilst being so concerned with finding vegan, cruelty-free shampoo brands I completely disregarded the fact that they come in plastic packaging.

Shampoo bars seem like the perfect solution but I’ve been reluctant to invest because it seems messy and ineffective. But I’m giving it a go now! I’ve bought a shampoo and conditioning bar from Lush to try over the next few months to see how I get on. I also bought one of little silver tins to keep it in to manage that worrisome mess.

Godiva shampoo & conditioning bar

A visit to Lush is a very sensory experience – there are so many interesting smells and pretty sights. I always want to try everything or at least sniff it all. I went into the shop specifically for a shampoo bar so I tried not to tempt myself with anything else. There is an impressive selection of shampoo bars, which are all around £6-8; this does sound pricey but when you consider it’s going to last you months and months it’s a good investment.

I went for the Godiva because it’s smells great and conditions as well, which saves me buying an extra bar. Not only is everything in Lush cruelty free (and cute and amazing!), many of their products are vegan, and the Godiva bar is completely vegan. It has a jasmine scent and contains a variety of oils and butters to give a soft shine to the hair.

It lathers up really well and it’s actually really easy and convenient to use. It’s not messy like I expected and I was impressed with the amount of lather you get out of these shampoo bars, and how long they last – 80-100 washes, so I’m told. I’m not totally convinced it’s going to be provide sufficient conditioning to my hair though so I’ll probably use a leave-in conditioning spray or a bit of coconut oil as well (which I already do.)

This shampoo bar is going to be really handy for travelling and for taking to the swimming pool as it’s so small and fits snugly into its little tin.

I also bought a milk bottle shaped shower gel but more on that later!

How to keep wildlife safe in the heatwave

I am a very heat intolerant person. I’ll happily moan about the hot summer weather and I don’t care who it annoys because you know what? Hot weather makes me feel ill. It makes me dizzy, it gives me palpitations, it exacerbates all the dangerous cardiac symptoms of my chronic illness and anyone who insists that I should be obliged to enjoy hot weather can do one.

This year, the UK has been “enjoying” (read: suffering) from extreme Mediterranean temperatures. I live in the driest county – East Anglia – and we haven’t had a single, solitary drop of rain for nearly 2 months. It’s been between 20-30 everyday and this week the office has been 32 degrees! I happen to have unwisely chosen this summer to be pregnant, so that’s also making me hot, sweaty and intolerant.


Our garden birds have been bringing this year’s young to our feeders, and that’s at least one thing I’ve been happy to see, but I am worried for them. I can’t put down water because the cat will get them. How are they keeping hydrated? How are farmland birds getting at worms in the parched earth? While the hot weather has been good for some species – reptiles and butterflies  – it has been bad for others, including amphibians and birds. Not to mention the devastating wild fires that have spread across moorland and farmland, which will have had a huge impact on the flora and fauna dependent on them.

So how can we look after wildlife in the heatwave?

  1. Leave out water dishes (make sure they are regularly cleaned and topped up and placed in a shady spot away from the hiding places of predators.)
  2. Leave out another water dish for bird baths – they need to keep their feathers clean and it helps to refresh them.
  3. Watch out for sleeping hedgehogs when you mow the lawn (there’s a brilliant poem by Philip Larkin on this matter; you can read it here.)
  4. Make a pond from a washing up bowl to give a cool, watery habitat for frogs and toads. The RSPB has some great advice on how to do this – you can read my experience of creating a garden pond in this blogpost.
  5. Keep your plants watered – wild plants can die in this heat, making our garden flowers even more attractive to pollinators.
  6. Don’t trim your hedges (you shouldn’t this time of year anyway!) as they can provide vital shade. In particular, let the ivy grow.
  7. Create nature highways between your garden and others. This is good advice for all year round but it really comes in handy in a heatwave to make it easier for hedgehogs and other animals to move between habitats in the hunt for food.
  8. Know which local animal charity numbers to ring if you see an animal in distress – the RSPCA website is a good place to start.
  9. Don’t forget pets! Take dogs for walks in the mornings or evenings and not in the midday sun. If it’s very hot, avoid hot surfaces like pavements as these can burn the dog’s paws. Cats will take care of themselves but make sure they have water, food and shade and keep the fleas at bay.

I hope this advice proves helpful! How are you keeping cool?

 

 

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