Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ category

Some hard (plastic) facts

July 13th, 2014

As we’re a good proportion through our plastic-free month of July, I thought I’d pause to take stock of how I was doing… Not so well! It is clear that plastic is everywhere, and increasingly so, making it difficult to get away from it. The most problematic area I’ve found is food shopping, as plastic packaging is so commonly used, but I continue to be on the look-out for alternatives.

Sometimes, plastics seem to be the ideal material, from the keyboard I’m typing this on to items which always used to be metal: dashboard and some external panels on my car, central heating pipes… Let’s face it, plastic is a really good material for many things.

What makes it so good, is also its downfall when it comes to using it for disposable items. Here are ten facts about plastic, concluding in a few that are recycling-related, which I hope will provide some background to why we should consider reducing use of single-use / throw-away plastics:

1) A plastic bottle needs a couple hundred years before it typically starts decomposing. Some degradable plastics are on the market, but these remain a little more expensive to use, so the majority aren’t of this material.

2) Once the decomposition process has begun, it then takes up to 100 years to decompose completely, an average total time of around 450 years since being produced, but very much longer for some types.

3) Approximately 100 million litres of oil are used to produce a billion plastic bottles, including their lids. More is then used in transporting them…

4) In the last decade, we have produced more single-use plastic that during the entirety of the last century.

5) Around 50% of plastic we use is thrown away shortly after, and therefore not put to good use.

6) Approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide – that’s more than a million every minute. No wonder the subject made it into the Queen’s speech this year!

7) Plastic constitutes approximately 90% of all rubbish floating on the ocean, and accounts for around 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals being killed each year. It is estimated that 44% of all seabird species, 22% of cetaceans, 100% of turtle species and an increasing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in their bodies.

Dale Hoyland: Seabirds & plastic waste don't mix

8) Using recycled materials to make a new plastic bottle take 75% less energy as compared with using ‘virgin’ materials.

9) Recycled plastics can be used to manufacture a wide range of products, including park benches, picnic tables, and even fleece jackets (using just 25 recycled drinks bottles per jacket). My loft insulation has been topped up with ‘recycled plastic’ insulation!

10) In Oxfordshire, we do very well in terms of plastic recycling rates at over 50% recycled (thanks to the recently closed Oxfordshire Waste Partnership), but we could do better, and of course reducing the initial demand for disposable plastics is far better than having to deal with them afterwards…

So, if you haven’t yet made the pledge to reduce your plastic consumption, there’s still time to do so, and with other local residents taking on the challenge this month, there’s no better time. Plus, more tips and advice will be going up on the Sustainable Witney blog as July continues.

Related articles:
Recycling plastic is fantastic for resident of North Leigh
A-Z of waste & recycling from West Oxfordshire District Council
Dale’s trusty plastic bottle

Witney’s Bee World

May 25th, 2014

Last June, we held a successful Bee Cause Campaign meeting jointly with Friends of the Earth. Now, a site at Deer Park in Witney has been designated as one of FoE’s national “Bee Worlds“.

The site is managed by Witney Woodland Volunteers, and many local volunteers have since been busy preparing the ground for sowing the special bee-friendly wildflower seed, sent courtesy of FoE, along with a plaque to install at the site to mark its importance to the campaign to save our bees. I’ve also written to David Cameron, informing him of what is happening and inviting him to come and see for himself. His Diary Secretary is working on the possibility of a visit.

On the wider scale, following pressure from FoE and others, the Government has developed a National Pollinator Strategy. It remains to be seen whether this will counteract the loss of habitat, use of pesticides, monocultures, pests and diseases and climate change with which bees have to contend. In the UK we have over 250 different species of bee and we want them all to survive and flourish.

Reprieve for historic tree

August 21st, 2013

Remember the historic chestnut tree, threatened with the axe by an insurance company? We’re delighted to report that the tree has received a stay of execution.

The tree was planted in 1927 to celebrate the piping of water to Leafield village. There was a planting ceremony with prayers, hymns and speeches. But it was threatened with destruction when RSA Insurance Group (formerly Royal and Sun Alliance) claimed that it was responsible for cracks in the wall of a nearby house, Butchers Cottage.

Leafield locals, determined to save the tree, met on the hottest day of the year (14th July) to share their concerns. Those present included children, a pregnant woman and a 92-year-old, along with most of Leafield’s parish councillors. Residents also started a petition which has gained 145 signatures so far. The show of feeling prompted the parish council to hold a formal public meeting.

Now the campaigners have received the best news they could have hoped for: RSA Insurance Group has become aware of public feeling and has also inspected the report sent to them by Dr Giles Biddle, an independent tree expert employed by the parish council. RSA has agreed a “stay of execution” for the tree while further investigation is carried out.

Residents have always argued that the date set for felling the tree (29th July) was too soon and that the decision was made without enough evidence. The surveyor working for the insurance company did not have certain facts to hand – for example, he was not aware that previous owners of Butchers Cottage had carried out underpinning, or that  an older building used to rest alongside the wall in question before being demolished because it was causing damp.

The Leafield campaigners believe that a fair, unhurried look at the evidence will show that the tree is not the cause of the problems with the property. Resident Anney Harris said: “We hope against hope that the tree may be allowed to remain.”

Urgent: insurance threat to Leafield landmark

July 23rd, 2013

An ancient chestnut tree on Leafield village green is threatened with felling – because an insurance company believes it is to blame for cracks in nearby buildings. The huge horse chestnut tree, which dates back to 1927, could be chopped down as soon as next Monday.

Horse chestnut tree on village green

The tree has been a Leafield landmark for nearly a century.

The problems began when residents living near the green contacted their insurance company about cracks in the walls of their house. A geotech engineer and a tree surgeon working for the insurance company concluded that the cracking is the fault of the tree and that the tree must go.

However, other residents believe that the professionals did not take the full picture into account. For example, the surveyor was not aware of underpinning work done by the previous owners of the property and also did not take into account how one of the wettest summers on record would affect a clay soil.

But Leafield Parish Council has agreed to cut down the tree and has set a date of 29th July. Campaigners believe that the council is being pushed into a hasty decision by the insurance company, Royal & Sun Alliance. They are asking for a “stay of execution” to allow for more evidence to be gathered and reviewed.

The parish council is holding a public meeting tomorrow (Wednesday 24th July) where people can raise their concerns about the tree. Resident Anney Harris said: “Once insurance companies are involved in a claim, it becomes an unstoppable juggernaut, and this is what makes our chances of changing their minds so frail. But the more people who join the call to save this tree, the more chance we have of being successful.”

The public meeting will take place at 8pm tomorrow in Leafield Village Hall, off Lower End. All are welcome. Please come along and speak out to save this piece of local history.

5 myths about bees – busted

June 20th, 2013

Here we present five common myths about bees… and why they’re wrong!

“Bees make honey…”

» Read more: 5 myths about bees – busted

2013: the year of the bee?

June 17th, 2013

We recently gave three ways you can help to save the bees. But why are they in so much danger? And why should it matter to us?

» Read more: 2013: the year of the bee?

Please spend a few minutes to help save our bees

June 11th, 2013

Last Thursday, Oxford Friends of the Earth came to talk to Sustainable Witney about the problems facing our bee population. The bees need your help, and below are three things you can do, from the quick and simple to the more long term, to support our bee pals.

» Read more: Please spend a few minutes to help save our bees

Bee Cause meeting and committee meeting this Thursday

June 3rd, 2013

This is a quick reminder that Sustainable Witney is hosting a Bee Cause meeting this Thursday 6 June, at the Fleece on Church Green. Guest speakers from Friends of the Earth will discuss the campaign and what we can do to help bee populations.

Bee Cause starts promptly at 7pm so please get there in good time. There’ll be a committee meeting beforehand from 6pm, to which all interested parties are welcome!

SW hosting Bee Cause meeting on Thursday 6 June

May 11th, 2013

On Thursday 6 June we’re hosting a meeting for Friends of the Earth to speak to West Oxfordshire groups about the “Bee Cause” campaign. This will start at 7pm, at The Fleece.

The talk will cover: an introduction to the campaign; what’s happened since the campaign was launched last year; activities currently ongoing in Oxfordshire (including Witney) and beyond; and what we can do to help reverse the decline in British bee populations.

We’re aiming for a 50/50 talk/discussion and we’d love people to come along and take part!

(Please arrive promptly for the 7pm start.)

Well Oiled

July 16th, 2010

Finally some good news from the Gulf of Mexico – BP have managed to stem the flow of oil for the first time. It’s not clear if it’s a permanent solution yet, but if it is then a line can drawn on the balance sheet and the total cost calculated.

The Greenpeace alternative logo competition is open for voting. Sustainable Witney didn’t submit an entry in the competition, but should we have?

Has the situation in the gulf got anything to do with us?

Answers in the comment box below…

Rain at last! and other vegetable growing matters

July 15th, 2010

Carrot in July

Rain! We’ve finally had some rain. Every day, for weeks, I’ve been checking the forecasts. Mostly they’ve said ‘hot and dry’ and sometimes they’ve shown rain in three or four day’s time, but that’s where it’s stayed, until today when a gentle, soaking rain started in the early hours. The RHS reckons we are now five inches short of rain and that will take some making up, so don’t let up on the watering as the plants need all they can get. Give priority to plants in flower so they get what they need to form pods or fruit.

Watering late in the evening or early in the morning is best as this means the plants get what they need before the moisture evaporates. If you are troubled by slugs and snails, water in the morning so that the soil is dryer over night and less comfortable for them to slither across.

» Read more: Rain at last! and other vegetable growing matters

The Big Wood, Corn Exchange

March 3rd, 2010

Public Meeting at Witney’s Corn Exchange, more information on the WWV website.

The History of Bees

February 14th, 2010

It was standing room only in the Witney Museum on 3rd February 2010 as members of the Wychwood Project gathered to hear Shaun Morris, beekeeper, biologist and former director of Oxford Scientific Films tell “The History of Bees.”

Morris left his photographic kit at home. Instead he chose the role of story-teller and had the audience captured for ninety minutes with a vivid account of the evolution of the honey bee.

The bee split off from the other hymenoptera and “went soft”, choosing a diet of plants (as opposed to hunting) to support ecology by collecting pollen to feed its grub and make honey. Evolutionary pressure led these originally solitary bees to become social; males have half the number of chromosomes as females. Workers help the mother raise the next generation creating a social unit.

The structured unit in the hive has a queen which lives on average five years as opposed to her wild who lives twelve months. In the hive she has her coterie of attendants, drones waiting for the opportunity to mate and workers maintaining the hive environment. The queen never leaves the hive so is dependent on the hive being kept well maintained and at the correct temperature all year round. This requires sufficient stores of water and sugar to provide air-conditioning or central heating created by the wing movements. Honey which is nectar and water processed in the stomach is disgorged and is available as stores. The remainder tends to be judiciously raided by the bee keeper during the summer months.

The worker bee has a short life span; five weeks. During weeks two and three it lives close to the hive entrance, measuring up the world and taking training flights. Its final two weeks are spent foraging.

Bees have a distinct language. The waggle dance directs them precisely in direction and distance to the species even indicating the quality of nectar. They compete with other colonies so their scouts are careful to find the most economical routes and efficient food sources. As bees have evolved, flowers and their patterning have likewise.

As bees are part of a colony which may make 150lb of honey per season it seems reasonable that the sting as a form of defence has re-emerged in its evolution. It was a relief to learn there is one occasion when we are fairly safe from attack, which is when they are in a swarm; planning to start their next colony.

As we broke up for tea, Morris let us each sample his visual aid – an 80 year old pot of dark honey. Bee miles? Twice round the circumference of the world!

Rae Cather