New crisp packet recycling box outside Nature’s Harvest

27 May 2021

In the next few days we should be putting a box outside Nature’s Harvest in North Street, for recycling all brands of crisp packets. It’ll have this poster on top of it:

So please start collecting now and bring them along!

Once they’ve been collected, the packets are sorted into different types of plastic, cleaned, and made into plastic pellets which end up having a new life as things like benches, watering cans and fence posts.

More info on recycling points for all sorts of materials, here. And if you know of somewhere that will recycle things that aren’t listed yet, please let us know! You can contact us via our Facebook page or by email to info@southbedsfoe.co.uk

Peat-free compost – list of local suppliers

We’ve started a list of local suppliers of peat-free compost (here), with prices and brands correct as at 30 March 2021; do let us know if you find any others in town. We’ll keep the list updated.

It’s important to avoid using multipurpose compost that contains peat, because of the large amount of carbon dioxide that’s released into the atmosphere when peat bogs are drained in order to extract the peat.

Peat bogs are also important for biodiversity, as they’re unique habitats that support a range of rare plants and other wildlife.

Until recently, peat-free composts tended to be more expensive, and sometimes less reliable; but this is changing as manufacturers adjust their formulations and improve their supply chains. The one real difference for ordinary gardeners is that many peat-free composts hold more water, for longer, than the old peat-containing multipurpose composts, so we have to be careful not to over-water seeds and seedlings (the top may look dry, while the compost underneath is still wet enough). This can be very useful in drought! – but it’s something to be aware of when starting seeds off.

There’s likely to be far less difference in price between peat-free and the older peat-based multipurpose composts, as an increasing number of countries ration licences for peat extraction, or ban it completely. Ireland was our main supplier (the UK has already exhausted most of its peat bogs), but they’ve banned peat extraction now.

Planning reforms and the Ox-Cam Arc – proposed changes

The Government has signalled its intent to reform England’s planning system in a white paper entitled Planning for the Future. Consultation on this closed on 29th October 2020. It is also committed to developing the Oxford-Cambridge Arc – the area that spans the five ceremonial counties of Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire- and will be consulting on this in the Spring 2021. Both these developments could have a huge impact in our area.

SB Friends of the Earth has many concerns about the planning reforms which are bad news for our communities, climate and local democracy. These include:

  • A reduction in democratic accountability and public scrutiny by undermining the ability of councils to set local planning policies and determine planning applications. Under the proposals, the development management process would be ‘streamlined’ with automatic planning permission for schemes in line with pre-agreed plans.
  • The proposals will widen and change the nature of permitted development. We are concerned that proposals will lead to homes in unsuitable locations or failing to meet basic standards.
  • In addition proper strategic environmental assessments and environmental impact assessments could be ditched – the consultation wants to make these faster and simpler.
  • South Bedfordshire and the wider south east will continue to be under pressure to increase housing development, to the detriment of efforts to combat climate change and increase biodiversity leading to
    • Loss of habitat
    • Pressure on our local rivers and streams to supply water for growing population
    • Increased water run-off from buildings leading to flooding, exacerbated by climate change
    • Housing which is built, not to the very highest efficiency standards but only “what is necessary”
  • Local new housing has often been unaffordable, even when allocated as such. Often it is not sold to first time buyers or as a primary home, rather being bought by investors or those who already have homes. There is nothing in the planning reforms or the Ox Cam Arc proposals that is likely to change this. Councils need to be supported to build affordable, efficient, low carbon housing for those most in need.
  • The proposals for the Ox-Cam Arc do not appear to have taken account ofthe loss of jobs and businesses caused by the Covid pandemic, nor any population and business changes caused by Brexit. While job growth may have outstripped housing growth in the past, the needs going forward will be very different. We need a different approach to meet net zero carbon targets which encompasses more use of technology and the development of a green economy
  • The planning system needs reforming, but not in this way. There needs to be a clear path for addressing climate change, improving biodiversity, more efficient use of technology, sustainable construction, greater resilience and a more equal society. Planning should promote health and wellbeing. It should redistribute the value of land. Planning permission triggers significant increases in the value of land, especially in South Bedfordshire and the South East where a piece of land may have a business opportunity 60 times or more of its agricultural value simply by being given planning permission. This contributes to the excessive cost of housing.

SB FoE will continue to campaign for a planning system and local development that addresses climate change and improves biodiversity and equality.

New interpretation board for Parson’s Close

Some of our members have made a new interpretation board for one of our bee-friendly sites, the one on the banks of the Clipstone Brook as it goes through the bottom of Parsons’ Close. There’s information about some of the insects and plants you can see there, now the wild flowers we’ve encouraged over the last few years have really begun to get established. Thanks to Leight0n-Linslade Town Council for the posts and boards to attach the interpretation board to!

Peat and gardening (again)

It’s still freezing, but winter aconites and snowdrops are coming into flower, and gardeners’ thoughts turn to sowing seedings and planting things.

Mainstream gardening media now urge us to use ‘peat-free’ compost, because digging up peat increases carbon emissions by releasing stored carbon into the air. Also, the peat bogs that are drained to provide our multipurpose compost are rare habitats, with their own biodiversity; they take on average 1500 years to form one metre of peat, yet that can be destroyed in a few hours with modern machinery.

Although we might only buy one or two bags of multipurpose compost a year, if it’s based on peat (and most still are), all those single bags add up; the amateur gardening market uses nearly double the amount of peat than the whole of the commercial horticultural sector (source: UK Government figures for 2019 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/peat-usage-in-growing-media-production#history.

Peat-free alternatives have improved tremendously over the last few years. They may still be a little more expensive, though this may change as more countries ban peat mining because of its damaging effect on climate change. For example, most of the peat used in multipurpose composts in the UK has come from the Republic of Ireland up till now, but Ireland recently announced a ban on mining peat for horticultural use.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be collating information about people’s experience with various brands, and we’ll also try and publicise details of who’s selling which brands, locally. And we’ll try and suggest a few non-commercial alternatives that work (spoiler: most experts recommend using commercial compost for seed-sowing, as drainage and sterility are important; but after that, there are homemade alternatives that would save money as well as the environment).

New banner on Engine Idling

Air quality – we have produced three banners reminding motorists to turn off their engines when the car isn’t moving. One of the local schools has asked for a banner, and other places have expressed interest in having one to remind people. There’s more on our page about air quality explaining in a bit more detail why it’s important. to prevent air pollution.

Help Central Beds Council find places for trees and shrubs!

06 January 2021

Central Bedfordshire Council’s sustainability plan1 makes provision for planting a million trees by 2030., to help absorb carbon, reduce pollution, and help wildlife. Trees and shrubs can welcome shade in summer, and help reduce flooding.

Now CBC needs to know where to plant them! Can you think of a space where even a single tree or shrub could be planted? Perhaps there is a small patch of mown grass, or a corner of a field near you, where there’s room for a tree or shrub, or a small group of them. NB It’s important not to choose anywhere that’s already a good carbon sink, like established pasture, or anywhere that’s important for wildlife.

A motion was passed by Central Bedfordshire Council in February 2019 to set aside £1.68 million for tree and shrub planting, to combat climate change and support birds, butterflies and other insects.

Shrubs like guelder rose, dogwood and spindle can be really useful for biodiversity, and their much smaller root systems cause fewer problems than larger trees in an urban area. Hawthorn trees are small, but they support so much wildlife: “Common hawthorn can support more than 300 insects. It is the foodplant for caterpillars of moths, including the hawthorn, orchard ermine, pear leaf blister, rhomboid tortrix, light emerald, lackey, vapourer, fruitlet-mining tortrix, small eggar and lappet moths. Its flowers are eaten by dormice and provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects. The haws are rich in antioxidants and are eaten by migrating birds, such as redwings, fieldfares and thrushes, as well as small mammals. The dense, thorny foliage makes fantastic nesting shelter for many species of bird.” (https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/hawthorn/)

Community groups can apply for a grant for planting trees and shrubs – details here:  https://www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/info/42/stronger_communities/678/community_grants/4#:~:text=About%20our%20tree%20grant%20fund,November%202020%20to%20March%202021).

However, if you don’t belong to a group and you see an area near you that is crying out for shrubs or trees, and you could find enough people to help water the plants over the first couple of years as they get established, do contact South Beds Friends of the Earth (info@soutbedsfoe.co.uk) and we’ll help put you in touch with people at Central Bedfordshire Council who can help. Or you could contact Cllr Victoria Harvey, who seconded the motion and is working closely with officers to deliver the project.

1 https://centralbedfordshire.app.box.com/s/ejlz0344y534z796lyglaykwd3rua9s

Box on page 17 – “1 million trees planted by the Council by 2030”

Air pollution

17 December 2020

Air pollution has been in the news this week, with a landmark ruling that air pollution contributed to a child’s death. Announcing the ruling, assistant coroner Philip Barlow said today: “I will conclude that Ella died of asthma, contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution.”

The ruling is likely to increase pressure on the government and on local councils to start taking real action to reduce air pollution, which in many places is well above legal limits.

This is an issue that affects everyone; it’s generally accepted that outdoor air pollution kills 40,000 people a year. The ruling has been reported very widely, not just in environmental sections – for example, see reports from the Daily Mail, The Sun, The Telegraph, The Guardian, and the BBC

We’ve just published a leaflet on engine idling, and have a little more information about it here.