News February 2016

We had the first planning meeting for our Visiting Edible Gardens (V.E.G) project in January and the difficulty was not thinking of gardens to visit but whittling down the suggestions to a reasonable number.
We tentatively decided on a program of four visits between May and October:
  • Local veggie garden and allotment
  • Grower supplying restaurant
  • Community veggie project
  • Orchard

Permaculture, forest gardens and foraging might just have to wait for our second season! The project may also include a harvest event in Haltwhistle and we're looking into the possibility of growing edible plants in a couple of public spaces in the town. We are contacting gardeners to see if visits can be arranged and hope to firm up the schedule at our next V.E.G. project meeting, 7.30pm on Weds 17th Feb, at Jill Eastlake's house, Beeches, Park Road, Haltwhistle. All welcome.

This month's newsletter is longer than usual with three reports of sustainability related events, followed by a handful of notices giving details of talks and meetings coming up in February.
Do read on!

Climate Change: What's the hurry?

Chris Kilsby, professor of Hydrology and Climate Change at Newcastle University, took a hands-up poll of the audience at last week's Hexham Debate before he started his talk: "Who doesn't agree that human activity is causing climate change?" Only a couple of brave souls in the packed room raised their hands. "Who thinks that the recent flooding was due, at least in part, to climate change?" A smaller majority raised their hands. His talk went through scientific data that basically confirmed the majority views; humans, by increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, are causing climate change. Indeed there is a consensus that we are in a new geological age, the anthropocene, a moniker that recognises the impact of human activity on global systems. And, after emphasising the difference between individual weather events and climate change, professor Kilsby suggested that anthropogenic climate change was implicated to the extent of 40% in recent weather events. Whilst, during this winter's floods the Tyne did not top the high water mark of the pre-industrial age flood of 1771, the frequency of extreme events is increasing. Having laid out the cause and effects the professor turned his attention to the solutions and he listed three: reducing CO2 output, adaption to change, and new technological solutions. Kilsby suggested that a combination of all three would be required and we need to hurry.

Time then for the question and answer session which the professor prefaced by declaring that he wasn't used to debating, questions from his students rarely being more taxing than "Will this be in the exam?" (An indictment, perhaps, of his teaching and students.) However he responded with authority to queries about his data but what I considered to be more interesting issues were, quite understandably, sidestepped as "not being within my area of professional expertise". Questions were raised about:
  • Our responsibility for people from developing countries who hadn't contributed to climate change but were most vulnerable to its consequences
  • The extent to which a climate change induced refugee crisis might dwarf anything caused by current national conflicts
  • The (in)ability of our capitalist economic system, predicated on growth, to reduce energy consumption

These were treated as stand-alone comments and not debated by the speaker or the audience.

Only twice did professor Kilsby venture outside his remit and offer a non-technical opinion. In the first instance he was asked what he thought about more radical technological fixes, such as releasing aerosols into the atmosphere to mitigate the effects of increased CO2 concentrations. The questioner stressed that individual actions, like switching to low energy light bulbs just didn't deal with the scale of the problem, and programs to replace fossil fuels derived electricity with renewable sources couldn't meet the urgency of the situation. Aerosol release, whilst not a permanent solution, mimics the natural effect of dust particles emitted by volcanic eruptions and would buy us time. Thankfully the professor had grave reservations about the morality of such an intervention taken unilaterally as, whilst some regions might score in terms of weather, others would definitely be adversely impacted. International consensus should be a prerequisite for such an action and this, he felt, was very unlikely to be achieved. Furthermore the detail and extent of repercussions of such interventions are not perfectly understood. Secondly, in response to a question about the effectiveness of the recent Paris summit, Kilsby agreed that, although there was international agreement to significantly reduce CO2 emissions, there was no timetable for committed change and, going by past performance, it seems unlikely that the necessary action will follow. We should all keep up the pressure on those with the power to make a difference to get on with the job. The need for significant action is urgent.
Sue Seymour

Fruit on the Tyne:
Back to the Land Conference IV

Last November Jo Aris attended Fruit on the Tyne, the fourth annual conference organised by Tyneside's WEA Green Branch, and sent this report

The whole event was extremely well organised, with speakers striking a balance between the inspirational and practical advice. In the morning there were presentations from Jesmond Community Orchard, Wylam Orchard, Greening Wingrove, Ouseburn Farm, Northumbrian Water and Community Action Northumberland (C.A.N.).
C.A.N. provides support for community growing projects, sharing best practice, advising on legal and financial structures (negotiating leases, registering common assets, governance etc.), making connections between similar projects and with potential funders and volunteers - frequently young people not in education, employment or training (NEET).
Wylam's orchard is in the grounds of the Middle School and the head teacher Lynn Johnston described a model of integrating the orchard into every aspect of school life, not just the curriculum, but social and emotional education (developing respect for others, empathy, self-esteem etc.). Very impressive.

Other general advice from the orchard projects:
  • Research - visit/talk with other projects and people doing similar things
  • Have a clear vision and set of objectives, but be prepared to adjust and develop these as the project evolves
  • Good communication
  • The importance of partnerships - with businesses, local councils (and crucially their employees) schools, other voluntary and community groups, organisations such as the AONB, National Park, Northumberland Bat Group, etc.
  • Community engagement is the starting point - involve as many members of the community as possible, early on
  • Create a social space - Greening Wingrove managed to get some teenagers who had previously vandalised the site involved by building a clay pizza oven in the first stage of their project
  • Organise celebratory events - apple days, picnics, annual hay collecting day, wassailing event etc.
  • Expect creating the space to take time, don't try to do it all at once, and split development into manageable stages

In the afternoon there was a choice of workshops. I joined a discussion about maintenance of parks and green spaces in this era of reduced or withdrawn council funding. This was presented as an opportunity for more natural ways of managing the land, and also for communities choosing how they manage their own - Greening Wingrove and Central Gosforth Park are both examples of this. New financial models are needed. A Community Trust managed park at Ulveston offers one: here a housing development on part of the site funds the rest. There's potential for involvement by existing local businesses, or for Community Interest Companies to get income from for example selling fruit vegetables, timber or willow.

The most enjoyably subversive part of the day was a presentation by Dr Duika Burges-Watson, of Durham University, about Big Food and alternative food systems. She began with a lovely image of the beginning of the Dig for Victory campaign in London (in front of Marble Arch?) reminding us that currently only 22% of the food we consume in Britain is grown here, sped on to guerilla gardeners - dismissed, not quite exciting enough - and on to San Francisco's Guerilla Grafters - yes, cutting edge and very exciting indeed! They graft fruit bearing branches onto non-fruit bearing ornamental trees, creating food in public rights of way 'undoing civilisation one branch at a time'.

Edible trees are not included in contemporary urban and roadside plantings, contrary to the standard practice for centuries, in case they encourage rats!

So, some wonderful places have already been made, there's great potential for making more, and joining up the gaps between.

Waste Recycling in Northumberland - Transition Tynedale trip to Northumberland County Council/SITA facility at West Sleekburn

Jo Aris sent these reflections on her day out!

Every time I go the tip I am frustrated - both by the amount of stuff being scrapped that someone else could use, and because I'm not permitted to take or buy things myself - for example: stone, a very nice old metal bin, stripped pine door (now probably pulped into chipboard), wood for building or burning.

So going with Transition Tynedale to find out more about the current state of recycling in Northumberland was a good place to start. Stuart Page, who was also on the trip, gives an account of this and NCC's great progress over the last decade.
I left with an image of a Barbara Streisand LP, both vinyl and cover in a bale of cardboard, and a few ideas. The next step is to come up with positive actions.

Brighton and Hove Council's recycling centre includes a YMCA store. They are also able to recycle thirty materials there - all of which must make it much more interesting and rewarding for the people who work there. And you can use public transport and turn up on foot.

STS has already shown some films that deal with the subject of waste. These are variously informative, shocking, highly emotive, visually stunning and amusing. They are:
  • Oliver Hodge's Garbage Warrior about eco-architect Michael Reynolds depicts some very beautiful buildings created with unconventional materials
  • Wasteland is an uplifting film following Brazilian artist Vic Muniz as he co-creates artworks with Catadores working on the largest landfill site in the world
  • Unravel is Meghna Gupta's film from Panjapat in India where women who dissemble clothes into thread wonder about the previous owners of the garments
And a man from Middlesborough has built a very beautiful house and garden in Mexico, floating on an island he constructed out of plastic bottles!

DVDs of many of the films STS has screened will be available to borrow from the relocated Kasteale when it re-opens in March.

Climate Change and Flooding,
Conversation café at Cake and Ale, Bookcase, 17-19 Castle Street, Carlisle

Sustainable Carlisle is re-launching their monthly conversation café at 12 o'clock on Sat 6th Feb at Cakes and Ale, a café secreted within the cavernous book emporium, Bookcase. The first topic, 'Climate Change and Flooding', will be led by Henry Goodwin. The idea of the conversation café is an open, informal discussion of topics related to sustainability led by a different person each month. Past discussions have included everything from Nuclear power to population.

To receive Sustainable Carlisle's newsletters with details of Conversation Café and all other events please contact

Sustainable Urban Farming?

Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants in a water and nutrients rather than soil) and is promoted as sustainable urban food production. I tend to the opinion that vegetables and soil are inexorably linked - it'll be interesting to see if GrowUp can convince me that they have a new technique for producing sustainable local food in cities.

TV Version of Addicted to Sheep on BBC4.

Over the last few months the BBC has been working with the Addicted to Sheep team to make a 60 min TV version based on the 85 min film, which has been touring in cinemas and is now available on DVD. The team was nervous about cutting anything out of the film, which they felt had the pace that reflected the lives that farmers lead. But to enable more people to find out about tenant hill farming, where our food comes from and the challenges that farmers face in general they agreed to abridge the film and the resulting TV version will be broadcast for the first time on the 8th of February at 9.00pm on BBC4.

South Tynedale Wildlife Group

7.30pm, Tues Feb 9th, Commdades Club, Haltwhistle
Tom Cadwallender 'Winter and Summer Birds of the Northumbrian Coast'
All welcome, £2.00 on the door.

Dark Skies (Hadrians Wall Community Champions event)
Wednesday 17th February 2016, 7.00pm-10.00pm Steel Rigg NNPA Car Park NE47 7AN (meeting point)

Join Richard Holmes on this 7km route passing through farmland, open moorland and woodland and follow part of the Pennine Way as well as a classic section of Hadrian's Wall. With the moon is in its first quarter, weather permitting, we will see many features of the partially moonlit sky. Be surprised at just how much you can see, hear, smell and feel once your senses become adapted to the dark.
Free event but email by Feb 11th to reserve a place.

It was great to have a couple of contributions from Jo for this newsletter, please get in touch (details below) if there's anything you'd like to report on, review or promote to STS members.

South Tyne Sustainability aims to reduce the impact of the community of Haltwhistle and surrounding villages on our environment. This will help individuals, families and our community save money and resources and ensure a more sustainable future for us all.

To join STS contact Sue Seymour, 016977 47359