Posted in Environment, Environmental issues, Nature

Our World: Plastic pollution

Photo by Catherine Sheila on Pexels.com

I walked to a local nature reserve recently and decided to have lunch at its cafe. Until very recently it had just been serving takeaways (because of Covid and the restrictions) but now we could sit inside to eat. I ordered a large cup of tea and was directed to a basket containing tiny plastic cartons of milk.

Plastic cartons

I’ve seen these containers before, usually for takeaway drinks which makes sense. They’re handy and easily portable after all. But surely when sitting indoors an individual reusable, rewashable milk jug would be more eco-friendly, especially at a nature reserve?

Over the years there has been an increase in plastic use. Sometimes there is no alternative (PPE for health workers) but, too often, it is used as a lazy option that is not really needed. Too often I see fruit and vegetables – even bananas! – in supermarkets in plastic bags. Why not have them loose and consumers could pick them up and put them in paper bags? I see tea bags in cardboard boxes which are, in turn, wrapped in plastic.

I don’t doubt that plastic has its place, it’s an incredibly useful material, but I think it’s overused. Maybe the decision-makers think it makes the products fresher or more hygienic, but at what cost to nature? What cost to ourselves?

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Plastic pollution is a massive environmental problem. A lot of plastic ends up in our oceans. Sea creatures such as dolphins, turtles and birds can become injured or entangled by plastic. Or they might mistake it for food – obviously this can have tragic circumstances. Unfortunately these chunks of litter don’t just break down and disappear. When plastic does start breaking down, they end up as microplastics and, as Greenpeace says, “impossible to filter from waste water, they end up in our oceans.” These microscopic pieces of plastic end up in our food chain so we too can become unwitting victims of this pollution.

These miniscule particles are swallowed by tiny creatures such as zooplankton which end up getting eaten by larger animals such as whales. And guess who eats the fish in the oceans – which may also have digested microplastics at some point? That’s right, we humans. It can’t be good for wildlife. It can’t be good for us.

Photo by Catherine Sheila on Pexels.com

As I’ve said I have nothing against plastic itself as a material but I am against its overuse. If less plastic and more sustainable materials were used, I believe the world would be a healthier place. And a healthier world for animals always translates into a healthier world for humans too.

Happily, change can be done. A few years ago, every time I went to a supermarket or any other type of shop, I was automatically given plastic carrier bags, even when I brought my own. Then the Government banned free plastic carrier bags (a rare environmentally friendly decision by political leaders) and it now costs 5p to buy a bag (since raised to 10p). The use of carrier bags has been cut by 95 per cent. I see far fewer plastic bags littering the streets these days. I can only assume the oceans are seeing less of these bags too.

Another victory in the war against plastic pollution is that two charities of which I am a member of (Woodland Trust and RSPB), which once used plastic as magazine wrappers, have swapped to paper and a compostable potato starch product. The latter is a handy bag for my teabags for when they go into the compost heap.

So what can we do individually? On a personal level, I have decided to think twice before buying anything that seems to be needlessly wrapped in plastic. Of course, I can’t escape it but I can ask myself do I really need this? (The fact that this approach will also save me money is a win win for me!) On occasions when I think the company involved really doesn’t need to use plastic, I will send them a polite email. Maybe now is the time to start tweeting them? In fact, I have emailed the charity running the nature reserve and will wait to see what their answer is.

I have included a couple of video links about the issue below.

Vast quantities (of plastic) pollute our world. Much of it flows into the oceans, turning them into a plastic soup. A truckload of plastic enters the ocean every single minute.

Greenpeace
Posted in Environment, Environmental issues, Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

Our World: Hope in the form of new nature reserves

It’s easy to feel despondent at times of the massive environmental issues which are facing us. For example, wildlife habitat is being lost all over the world, the most notable being the vital rainforests in Brazil (and this destruction is affecting indigenous people as well as wildlife). In Britain too, habitat (aka ‘green belt’ and ‘countryside’) is being taken away from wild creatures every day. But it isn’t just wildlife which suffers – a concrete landscape is detrimental to humans’ mental and physical wellbeing and can increase the risks of flooding and climate change. But there are glimmers of hope in the form of new nature reserves. Land which will cater for wildlife, be protected from developers, and be beneficial for our mental and physical health. Not only that, nature reserves can help tackle the big issue of climate change.

The UN says: “Most nature-based solutions for climate change come from strengthening or restoring existing natural ecosystems. For example, forests don’t just absorb carbon, they also defend us from its most devastating impacts. Carefully planted tree species can act as firebreaks, keeping trees next to farmland can protect crops from the erosive forces of intense rain, and forests can alleviate inland floods due to the sponge-like way they absorb water.” (https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/09/1046752)

The Wildlife Trust describes nature reserves as “places where wildlife – plants and animals – are protected and undisturbed, and this can sometimes mean continuing with or restoring the old-time land management practices which originally helped to make them wildlife-rich.”

So it makes sense to create more nature reserves and I’m pleased to say that new ones have been set up in Lancashire over the last 10 years.

Brockholes, near Preston, off the M6 (Opened in 2011)

Brockholes
Brockholes

Brockholes is owned by The Lancashire Wildlife Trust and boasts 250 acres of nature – and the UK’s first floating visitor centre (it’s actually on a flood plain so the building is perfect for the setting)! It’s very family-friendly with a cafe, takeaway, information centre and shop. There are regular events and weddings are even held here. The last time I visited there was a Meet and Greet Reptiles and Amphibians event which my godchildren enjoyed.

Despite being accessible (just off the M6 and it is also on the Preston Guild Wheel route), there is an abundance of wildlife. It might be hard to believe now, but before it was a nature reserve, it was once a quarry site and the materials were used to build the M6. Various habitats including lakes, reedbeds, pools, woodland, wet grassland and the River Ribble all offer animals and plants a home. Notable sightings I have seen include roe deer and tiny froglets. Longhorn cattle are ’employed’ to maintain the site. The land was bought in 2007 and was opened to the public in 2011 – it celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Happy anniversary Brockholes!

A butterfly at Brockholes

Grimsargh Wetlands (2017)

Grimsargh Wetlands

Grimsargh Wetlands is made up of three former United Utilities Reservoirs and, between the 1840s and 1959, provided water to the surrounding area. The location was classified as a Biological Heritage Site in 2003 and was taken over by the Grimsargh Wetlands Trust in 2017. It may be small but it’s vital for wildlife and a very enjoyable stroll.

I wrote a story about it here: https://cosycottageandthequestforthegoodlife.wordpress.com/2021/07/04/a-nature-stroll-through-grimsargh-wetlands-one-of-lancashires-newest-nature-reserves/

The Village Parklands (in progress)

At a new housing development near me, I was happy to see that over 80 acres of land had been allocated for The Village Parklands. A sign I saw said there will be new ecology areas containing 27 new ponds, a new designated footpath covering five miles and woodland and wildflower meadows. I look forward to seeing how this will progress.

Primrose Nature Reserve, Clitheroe (2021)

I explored this nature reserve a few months ago, while on a trip to Clitheroe. It may be much smaller than the likes of Brockholes but it is still important – it has been listed as a Biological Heritage Site. The location is home to a man-made reservoir, Primrose Lodge, and Mearley Brook, which flows through here. Strange to think it now, but it was once an industrial site and the lodge generated power for the nearby factories. Primrose Mill actually opened in 1787 for cotton spinning. These days it’s a tranquil spot, owned and maintained by Primrose Community Nature Trust. The Ribble Rivers Trust has done a lot of work restoring the site and it only officially opened in March this year. An interesting fact about this reserve is that one of the largest fish passes in England has been installed here, making fish breeding grounds accessible for salmon, eels, trout and other species.

The Fauna Nature Reserve, Lancaster (2011-2012)

This 16-acre site was created by The Fairfield Association, formed by residents of Fairfield, Lancaster. The association started off campaigning to save a children’s play area from housing development in the mid-1990s. From that successful beginning, over the years they have bought or leased increasing amounts of land to form The Fauna Nature Reserve.

There will be other community groups and charities, big and small, who are creating safe havens for nature all around the world. By doing so, they’re saving rare species, giving wildlife a home, protecting habitats, helping people’s mental and physical health and fighting against the worst effects of climate change. I hope that many, many more nature reserves will be set up in the coming years.

Posted in Environment, Environmental issues, Nature

Our World: COP26

A glimmer of sunshine… a glimmer of hope

There has been a conference taking place in Scotland called COP26, which is focused on tackling the issue of climate change. My first reaction was to write a piece about the sheer hypocrisy of the politicians and other ‘bigwigs’ attending via private jets and gas-guzzling cars but I have ranted enough verbally in real life about this issue and my blog is meant to be a positive place!

So instead the occasional series of Our World will concentrate on hopeful events that are happening; good news stories; eco-tips that can work in our favour as well as the planet; and charities/people/organisations which are fighting for nature – whether that’s in terms of climate change, the biodiversity crisis, habitat loss, deforestation (which is linked to the previous three), pollution (plastic, air, land, sea…) or anything else that affects our planet adversely. Raising awareness is important but when it comes to taking action, for me, on a personal level, motivation and inspiration works better than gloom and judgement.

There are three phrases or ideas that I think of when I’m considering this massive issue.

But I tried, didn’t I? At least I did that.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Think globally, act locally.

Every little bit helps. (I also quite liked Many a Mickle Makes a Muckle but I’m not entirely sure what a mickle and a muckle are!)

Posted in Environment, Environmental issues, Gardens, Nature

Learning about trees and shrubs: The Butterfly Bush/Buddleia

Why is the buddleia also called the butterfly bush? Answer? Well, see the above photo of a buddleia in my garden – butterflies love it! I have four of these, two in my back garden, one in my side (the chickens’ territory) and the fourth in my driveway.

This summer, the same as every year, butterflies were drawn to every buddleia I have. If you want to attract these beautiful insects to your garden, this hardy shrub is a must-have.

Butterfly Bush

The type I have is the fragrant and popular buddleia davidii which can have white, mauve or purple flowers. It can grow to 8ft or more if not pruned and ‘bears tiny honey-scented flowers in cone-shaped spikes’ (Dr D G Hessayon, The Tree and Shrub Expert). It flowers between July to September so a very welcome flowering hotspot for butterflies during summer. According to Dr Hessayon, buddleias prefer sunny locations and well-drained soil. Not sure how well-drained my soil is but none of the four shrubs seem to mind and flower each year.

Other varieties include buddleia alternifolia and buddleia globosa.

The buddleia is actually originally from China (and named after an English botanist called Rev Adam Buddle). It’s often found in the wild in Britain, on derelict sites and along railway lines. It could be classed as ‘invasive’ which usually has negative connotations for nature but in this case it looks like the benefits outweigh the drawbacks to this useful and beautiful plant.

The butterflies certainly seem to appreciate it anyway.

Posted in Environment, Nature

Caring for a hedgehog

Snuffling around

“I heard a growling outside my kitchen window…”

So started Simon’s encounter with a rather spiky garden visitor. Unfortunately this particular creature seemed to be rather poorly, it was wheezing and wasn’t moving much.

Simon put the prickly creature in a cardboard box containing water, and rang up several wildlife rescues. Nobody answered but then again it was after 10pm. Hedgehogs may have been up and about but many humans were heading to the Land of Slumber.

Understandable maybe, but it still left a dilemma for Simon. What to do now? Was the hog hungry? Thirsty? Should he keep Mr/Mrs Tiggywinkle overnight in his house? Should he try and feed the hedgehog?

He decided on the latter, buying dog food at a late night supermarket. Surprisingly, when he got home, the hedgehog was trying to climb out of the box. So Simon found a bigger box and, along with the water and now dog food, back in popped the rather large Mr or Mrs Tiggywinkle.

The following morning, the hedgehog kept escaping.

Simon told me: “It broke out of the cardboard box and hid under the bookcase in the spare room. I found it a couple of hours ago. So I put it in a plastic box. It’s done the same thing again.”

It ate some of the meat so that was one good thing, although food and animals can have consequences. Especially escaping ones.

Meal time

“I don’t mind the hedgehog on the floor,” continued Simon, “although I’d prefer it didn’t poo on the carpet.

“It went exploring in the night. I found poo in front of the TV. I thought I could smell something but presumed that it was just the dog food I’d left out.”

The hedgehog turned out to be an avid reader with a great love of books – or at least that was the way it seemed considering how often he/she headed towards the bookcase. Unfortunately hedgehogs are quite tricky to free from hiding spots under bookcases.

Checking out the book collection

That morning Simon got through to a nearby rescue sanctuary. Taking the hog for a check-up, the hog expert told Simon he had done the right thing by keeping the creature in overnight and recommended he released it that evening as it may have a litter nearby. There was no way of finding out if Spike was male or female as he/she had rolled into a ball when being examined.

The hedgehog slept that afternoon, tucked up in Simon’s fleece. In the meantime, Simon was busy constructing a new home for his house guest. He made the hedgehog house out of wood and stuffed dried grass into the sleeping area. To keep cats and other potential predators at bay, he covered the house with raspberry canes.

Creating a hedgehog home
The finished house
A house for hogs
Fast asleep

By evening, the hog’s breathing was less laboured and noisy. Simon released the still-sleeping hog into its new home, along with food and water. In the morning, the hedgehog had upped and left, back on his or her rounds once more. If you would like to build a hedgehog home for your garden, visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/nature-on-your-doorstep/garden-activities/giveahogahome/

Posted in Environment, Environmental issues, Nature, Thoughts on life and spirituality

Our World: The Other Environmental Crisis

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Increasingly there has been more and more talk from politicians about climate change. There has been widescale protests from groups such as Extinction Rebellion and the young activist Greta Thurnberg has spoken out against the climate changing. Personally I believe there has always been climate change taking place over a gradual basis for millions of years – but the meddling with nature by humans over the past couple of hundred years has damaged the balance and has exacerbated and quickened the changes.

When the powers-that-be focused on the climate, I was glad that finally people at the top seemed to start caring about nature. But I then started to feel that the focus seemed very much on ‘green technology’. Is this type of technology really green? For example, where do the batteries for electric cars come from? I don’t know but I don’t believe technology is the be-all and end-all. If I were in politics, I would also opt for more incentives to use public transport; safer, more attractive and convenient paths to walk on; better cycle routes…

Behind all the talk about climate change, there is another emergency going on that is closely connected to the issue. This is the biodiversity emergency.

According to the WWF: “Biodiversity is all the different kinds of life you’ll find in one area—the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms like bacteria that make up our natural world. Each of these species and organisms work together in ecosystems, like an intricate web, to maintain balance and support life. Biodiversity supports everything in nature that we need to survive: food, clean water, medicine, and shelter.”

WWF


But the WWF adds: “As humans put increasing pressure on the planet, using and consuming more resources than ever before, we risk upsetting the balance of ecosystems and losing biodiversity.”

The wildlife charity’s https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/living-planet-report-2018 found the global populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians had declined by 60 per cent (on average) since 1970. 

Borneo’s forests are vital for biodiversity – but too often attracts humans wanting to plunder it for natural resources such as trees, coal, metals, minerals and rubber. Depressingly, the WWF says 30 per cent of Borneo’s forests have been destroyed in only 40 years. Of course this will have an impact on its wildlife. Half of all critically endangered Bornean orangutans have been lost in the past 20 years. 

The decline of biodiversity is happening in Britain too. In a recent RSPB magazine, it stated that the latest State of Nature reports that the abundance and distribution of nature in the UK has declined by 13 and five per cent respectively since the 1970s. Since the 1950s, the UK has lost roughly one wildflower species per county, per year – these are vital for moths, butterflies and other insects. Indeed, the abundance of butterflies has decreased by 16 per cent. Insects, as well as being important for pollination, are important food for birds.

What happens to one species affects another, such is the way of ecosystems. According to State of Nature report, the causes are “agricultural management, climate change, urbanisation, pollution, woodland management and invasive non-native species.”

Climate change harms nature, but so too does pollution. So too does habitat loss and urbanisation. If wildlife has no home, how can it exist? Thank goodness for environmental charities such as the Woodland Trust and the RSPB. They buy land and maintain it as nature reserves and woodland.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Climate change has a negative impact on wildlife but if we work with nature – not against it as we have done in the past and present day – we can, I believe, help to combat climate change, or at least reduce its most harmful effects. And at the same time, we will help the planet get back into its rightful balance. But humans have to realise that we are part of the natural world. In a religious, spiritual and ecological sense, I suspect we are meant to be the caretakers of the planet – not the lords and masters.

The hypocrisy of the world’s politicians strikes me. The UK’s Prime Minister is good at talking the talk, not so good when it comes to actually genuinely caring about the environment. He and his party want another runway at Heathrow Airport; they wanted to plough on with HS2, a very expensive and unnecessary high speed train that will destroy ancient woodlands; they are seemingly intent on destroying wildlife habitat for often unnecessary office and home developments – even though there are many empty and derelict buildings in urban and suburban landscapes that could and should be used. Now he will proclaim how Britain will be carbon neutral. You want to be carbon neutral? Why not put nature first – protect our wildlife habitats, leave our green spaces alone, create more nature reserves. Look after nature and we will find nature will more than likely return the favour.

WWF – Endangered Species Conservation | World Wildlife Fund

rspb_state-of-nature_summary-report_uk.pdf

What is biodiversity? | Pages | WWF (worldwildlife.org)

Posted in Environment, Gardens, Nature

Learning about Trees – the Rowan Tree

My rowan tree, photographed in July

I have written previously about my goal to be able to recognise and name trees. So I thought I would start close to home, from my driveway to be precise. My driveway was once a barren spot, fit only to park a car, but over the last few years it has become a mini wild area. And one of the residents of my ‘wild driveway’ is a rowan tree. Back in 2014 or thereabouts, I joined the Woodland Trust for the first time. I kept seeing their sign whenever I walked in one of their woods and I realised that it was thanks to The Woodland Trust that there were so many beautiful and accessible woodlands near me (and possibly near you too if you live in Britain).

My rowan tree, planted in my ‘wild driveway’

And yes, the thought of a free gift also enticed me. This free gift was a rowan tree sapling. Rowan trees, also know as the mountain ash, are slender, with silver-brown bark. They’re excellent for wildlife as they have white spring flowers and red berries in autumn. So win-win for insects and birds alike. They are deciduous so lost their leaves in winter.

The Woodland Trust says the rowan tree – which can grow to an average height of 8 to 15 metres – can live for 200 years so hopefully my tree will long outlast me, providing pollen and nectar for pollinating insects (including bees) and berry food for birds such as song thrushes and waxwings. Of course, like all trees, my rowan also absorbs carbon and purifies the air. So even my tiny driveway is doing its bit for climate change too.

And as an added extra, it looks great too!

Red berries in autumn Picture courtesy of The Woodland Trust

In the wild the rowan grows higher (1,000m) than any other tree hence its other name, the mountain ash. There’s a lot of folklore connected to the rowan – it was seen as a magical protector and planted outside houses to keep witches away.

The Woodland Trust
Posted in Environment, Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

A nature stroll through Grimsargh Wetlands – one of Lancashire’s newest nature reserves

Grimsargh Wetlands – The Island Lake

Grimsargh Wetlands is one of Lancashire’s newest nature reserves, having been created by transforming three decommissioned United Utilities reservoirs into a fairly small (it’s a 30-minute one-mile stroll around the reserve) but highly important nature reserve. Back in 2003, it was designated a Biological Heritage Site but it was in 2017 when it was formally handed over to the parish council. Grimsargh Wetlands Trust now runs the site.

The Island Lake

We hear much of a housing crisis for people, but there is also a ‘housing crisis’ for nature as humans take away more and more wildlife habitat so when I hear of new nature reserves being formed or current ones being protected, it gladdens my heart. I first heard of Grimsargh Wetlands through a newspaper article this year after the Grimsargh Wetlands Trust, which maintains the reserve, received a £10,000 grant. This inspired me to pay a visit.

It’s only a few miles away from Preston, in the village of Grimsargh but, after parking in a side street, off the main road, we were unable to find the reserve at first. There appeared to be no signs but, strangely, once we left, we kept coming across signage! (Isn’t it always the way?)

Annoyingly, we forgot binoculars but we still saw geese and swans with the naked eye. On the website it says there is a colony of ringlet butterflies and a possibility of hearing the distinctive curlew or glimpsing roe deer through the reeds. Bats have also been spotted here too.

The Mere

Directions on the internet stated it was at the back of a new housing estate. We found a path and followed, crossing a field. I think we took a wrong turning early on but our encounter with a group of children and their teaching assistants confirmed that we were heading in the right direction – especially when we came across a hide in front of The Island Lake. This is a shallow lake with mudflats. Following the path around, we came across The Fen. The Trust is hoping to create at least three ponds and increase the extent of reed beds in this marshland. There are also plans to grow more wildflowers at the reserve, especially by the viewing platforms.

Our walk took us back to the road and it was now when we noticed signs to the reserve!

We took another turning, away from the main road towards The Mere, another reservoir turned lake. Here we saw volunteers carry wooden boxes – tern nests – to an island on the lake. They were hoping terns would come to live and breed there. Interestingly, one of the volunteers said that Preston Docks – an urban location – has a colony of terns.

The reserve is next to the former Preston/Longridge railway embankment. I learnt that Longridge stone was taken from the quarries in Longridge, a small town near Grimsargh, to be transported to Preston and further afield.

It may not be the largest reserve but its habitat will be of great importance to wetland birds and other wildlife. And it is a very pleasant scenic walk for us humans too.

The Island Lake

For more details, visit: Grimsargh Wetlands | A Haven for Wildlife

Watch stunning drone footage of one of Lancashire’s newest nature reserves, which is being opened up to the public | Lancashire Evening Post (lep.co.uk)

Posted in Environment, Nature

The Guardians of Mason Wood

Mason Wood

I discovered this wonderful selection of wood art in Mason Wood, Preston. I imagine it’s depicting both the wild creatures who live here and the gentle guardians, usually invisible and secretive, who look after the woodland and its inhabitants.

I apologise for the lack of Cosy Cottage updates recently. I got sidetracked but am back again! 🙂

Posted in Environment, Nature

A Medley of Trees

Photo by Alexander Kovalyov on Pexels.com

All my life I have wanted to learn the types of trees, to be able to identify them by their bark, their trunks, their leaves, their buds, their branches… To know their myths, history, ecology and more… I start off every new year with this unofficial resolution to learn my trees in the same way once, many years ago, I learnt my times tables.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But winter never seems a great time to learn once the trees have lost their leaves. Then by spring and summer, this resolution has fallen – like so many – by the wayside. And when it gets to winter again, and I embark on a frosty walk in the local woodland, once more I think “wouldn’t it be nice to be able to tell the difference between that tree and this tree?”

I love these majestic giants but how little do I know them!

So I will use this blog to act as an occasional tree journal to help jog my memory when it comes to learning about trees.