Sustainable Haltwhistle Newsletter April 2024

Free Film Screening: Tues 16th April
Everything Must Change
7.30pm in Comrades Club, Haltwhistle

Cost of living, climate change, food, housing, land: the multiple crises we face are deeply interlinked, which means the solutions are too.

"Everything Must Change" shows how a just transition away from a free market extractive system based on exploitation to a renewable energy system based on people's needs can solve all of them.

Drawing on the experience of numerous inspiring social movements, the film shows how climate change driven by profiteering from our global systems has destroyed our planet and increased inequality.
We need to transform global infrastructure and services to be people oriented, by building a global mass workers and peasants movement to enact a just transition.

For the people, by the people, and never for profit, because government and big business aren't going to do it for us.

Sustainable Haltwhistle get together
6 - 8pm Tues, May 21st, Garibaldi Room, Comrades Club, Haltwhistle
Buy a drink at the bar, we'll have snacks upstairs.

What do you think are the most pressing issues?
What would you like to see Sustainable Haltwhistle do?

Sustainable Haltwhistle was launched last year, taking on some of South Tyne Sustainability's activities and adding more.
As the list below shows we're up for anything from small actions to benefit our local environment and community, to raising awareness and joining national campaigns. We can do things on our own but we like partnering with other groups to reach more people - it's definitely a case of more hands make light work rather than too many cooks!
In the last year we:

  • Organised 'Tyne for Change' a people's conference - our biggest event was with over 80 delegates from the length and breadth of the Tyne Valley.
  • Screened Sustainability themed films in partnership with Haltwhistle Film Project.
  • Made and screened our own film 'Worth It' featuring local people who have found adopting green energy technologies to be just that.
  • Trialled a repair cafe.
  • Joined the 'Defend our Juries' campaign to ensure jurors are aware of their right to acquit a defendant according to their conscience, by sitting with posters outside Carlisle Crown Court on two national days of action.
  • Supported Haltwhistle Growing Together's lunchtime talks program by providing catering.
  • Responded to an invitation from the Town Council and are working with them to increase biodiversity on the verge of Avenue St Meen.
  • Continued our annual verge walks identifying wildflowers and monitoring verge diversity.
  • Took a stall at Hexham Net Zero Fair and ran a seed swap at Haltwhistle Plant Festival.
  • Sent out occasional e-newsletters.

Do come along on 21st May for a catch up and to let us know what concerns you - and maybe get involved...

If you can't come to the meeting we'd love to hear your suggestions:

Did you catch us at Hexham Net Zero Fair?

We took printed copies of the outcomes from our recent community conference on river health in the Tyne and shared them with interested visitors to the fair.

A lot of people had already heard how successful it was which is encouraging. We also showed a film - the excellent 'Snow in July' film on climate change made by Film Able, part of Haltwhistle Film Project.
You can view the film here

We learned about and connected with lots of interesting projects taking place in the Tyne Valley!

No Mow May

Provide a feast for pollinators, tackle pollution, reduce urban heat extremes and lock away atmospheric carbon below ground.

Join the movement:

Our project with Haltwhistle Town Council supports this initiative.
The first cut of the year on a stretch of the wide verge of Avenue St Meen will be delayed, giving any wildflowers time to set seed.

Later in the year management will aim to reduce the vigour of grasses and, in due course, we plan to introduce meadow species.

Tyne for Change
Since our conference sewage discharges into watercourses have been in the news again for all the wrong reasons! Recently published Environment Agency data revealed record 'spills' in 2023 and the Oxford crew in the Boat Race blamed waterborne infection for their below par performance.

Questions to Northumberland Water:
Hexham Town Council invited Northumberland Water to give a presentation to a full council meeting in March and to answer at least some of the questions raised at Tyne for Change. This has now been delayed until this month. However, in the meantime, questions from the conference have been sent direct to Northumberland Water and they have replied saying that they are collating responses and will be in touch within 10 days.

New groups:
We've been having some interesting chats about this. Remember - not all groups need to go down the monitoring route. Setting up as a pressure group is equally valid given the amount of monitoring and measurement which is already taking place.

Haltwhistle Clean Tyne Group:
If you are interested in exploring setting up a Clean River group for the Haltwhistle area please e-mail Sally at

Don't pay for dirty water:
Extinction Rebellion UK, and the Dirty Water campaign have teamed up to support the UK-wide wastewater bill boycott. Find out more here:'t%20Pay%20for%20Dirty%20Water%20is%20an%20autonomous%20campaign,and%20waterways%20across%20the%20UK.

Please find below some resources sent in by conference attendees

Not so long ago, most of our rivers were drinkable. But not anymore. We work to make our rivers drinkable again

River charters, net zero cities and bio regional banks: Creating a life-ennobling economic system with Emily Harris of Dark Matter Labs

Plan revealed for dozens of new bathing water sites

Water industry: letter to water companies from Environment Agency CEO

Rivers Trust - the State of Our Rivers 2024 Report

6 inches of soil
We screened '6 Inches of Soil' to a packed Garibaldi Room in the Comrades Club in March. The film showcases the work and motivations of three young farmers who are producing food and nurturing the most essential of our resources - the few inches of soil on which our life and indeed all terrestrial life depends.
All three were practising 'regenerative farming - that's any form of farming, i.e. the production of food or fibre, which at the same time improves the environment. This primarily means regenerating the soil. It's a direction of travel, not an absolute.

After the film another trio of young farmers, Matthew Tompkins from Hallsford Farm, Haggbeck, Alex Main from Bewcastle and Joseph Kidd from Langwathby contributed to a discussion about what they are doing on their holdings. (Richard Simpson from Eva's Organics, Low Luckens, was also asked and wanted to join but, having recently become a father, was a bit busy!).
I had to stop myself from butting in as I thought the emphasis from the film on young people ought to be allowed to endure! - particularly when the topic was constraints to change.

For me the constraints to change are/have been:

  • Financial risk - changing things is always a risk. And we have a big mortgage and want to stay!
  • Stewardship Agreement prescriptions and subsidy rules - some of the 'dos and don'ts' are at odds with regenerative practices. Requesting changes to an agreement can hold up any payment from the Rural Payment Agency for an inordinate amount of time.
  • Wanting to be a 'good farmer'. 'Good farmers' have lots of animals, ewes which rear lots of lambs and get lots of money at the Mart.
  • Being unsure of what is the 'right' thing to do. Plant trees, everyone says - except those who are concerned about curlews as trees provide perches from which predator birds can spot the eggs of ground nesting birds. And the academic debate on the merit of carbon locked up in trees versus that sequestered in soil under well managed grassland continues...

For many, taking over from parents and grandparents, it is being asked to undo the work that forebears have done. It's virtually impossible if they're still around and remains challenging even if they're long dead.
Now, it's right to block up drains on peat ground, drains that were painstakingly dug in an effort, lauded at the time of course, to improve the land and produce more food. As a first generation farmer here that, at least, is something I don't have to grapple with.

On 1st January this year we started a new Higher Level Countryside Stewardship Agreement and are in discussions with other land managers as to what a Landscape Recovery project for the Border Mires and riparian habitats of the Upper Irthing might require. Previously I felt I was farming within the constraints of my Environmental Stewardship Agreement, now I'm using livestock as a tool in managing the land for biodiversity, carbon sequestration and ecosystem services - the by-product is top quality meat!

Beef, Bogs and Biodiversity

We have secured a second Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL) grant from Northumberland National Park which enables us to offer free farm tours, a talk, a walk and a meal, to groups.

I'm happy to discuss how changing farm support and conservation designations have influenced the land management here, and our current aims and practices, or simply chat about what it's like living at the end of the road, north of the wall, where barbarians once roamed.

Please get in touch if you'd like further details of Beef, Bogs and Biodiversity visits for a group you know.
The FiPL grant may also support transport costs for people who face barriers to accessing the countryside.

Agriculture and Food Security - Industrial vs. Agroecological
with Dr Julia Cooper - Head of Research at the Organic Research Centre

This Hexham debate is on Saturday 11th May at 11am. It will take place online. Julia will talk for about 30 minutes, followed by another 30 minutes for questions and discussion.
More details on

The debate will be followed by an in person panel discussion on The Future of Food and Farming in Northumberland provided by Tynedale Transformed at 11am on Saturday 1st June in the Church Hall, St Mary's Catholic Church, Hencotes, Hexham, NE46 2EB

Defend our Juries - National Week of Action, 13th - 21st April

Here we are at Carlisle Crown Court in January with placards reading 'Jurors you have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to your conscience'.
Trudi Warner, who inspired the campaign, has a Contempt of Court hearing, for holding such a poster, at the Royal Court of Justice on 18th April. Defend our Juries are organising a week of action during which they hope to stage sittings at every Crown Court in the country.
Unfortunately I won't be able to attend this time (lambing at home) but I hope our friends from Penrith will take the lead.
If you are able to join Defend our Juries will be pleased to provide information about anything planned at Carlisle, or Newcastle

Haltwhistle Plant Festival & Craft Fair, Sat 18th May

Jo Aris will be running Sustainable Haltwhistle's Seed Swap at the Plant festival in the Swimming and Leisure Centre again this year.
There'll be an eclectic and intriguing selection, particularly veg, herbs and pollinator supporting flowers.
Home-saved and heritage varieties can be swapped (donations also welcome) but cannot be sold commercially.

Do say hello and share any ideas you might have for Sustainable Haltwhistle activities.

Samson Inn - still time to buy shares!
Gilsland Community Benefit Society have been awarded a grant to enable the purchase of the Samson Inn. Over 400 people have pledged to buy shares to the value of over £140,000 but it's not to late to support this initiative.
You can still buy shares even if you didn't pledge to do so.
The minimum purchase is only £25. Details on the 'Save Our Samson Inn' facebook page.

Get in touch
Any questions, comments or contributions to this monthly e-newsletter?
Please contact 07935 259416

Sustainable Haltwhistle 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 SH contact Sue Seymour, 07935 259416