Energy Audit at Work.

If you spend over £50k on energy each year then the Carbon Trust will perform a free energy audit of your Company and will then issue a report which will highlight areas that they feel could be improved and the cost and payback time for any such investment.

As a site we pay more than that each year on electricity alone, as a Company, goodness only knows.  So, late last year I booked a survey.  This took a little while longer to complete than initially expected, partly due to the internal requirements at our Company, and partly due to the person allocated as our Account Manager going off on paternity leave!

First of all, the Carbon Trust did not carry out the survey, they subcontract this work to a number of consultancies (this also adds to the timeframe as there is communication between the Carbon Trust and the consultancy, the Carbon Trust and the company requesting the audit and the consultancy and the company being audited)  – all a bit overly convoluted!

The audit lasted about three hours, partly discussing problems encountered / solutions offered to other (nameless for the sake of confidentiality) companies and partly walking around the site and talking to the maintenance department about electricity supplies and compressors (something I will freely admit I know little about and which I will hopefully rectify in the coming year).  It seemed as though there were areas that he had already decided would be the main places for consideration – I am not sure whether this is because he had visited one of our smaller sites or whether it was because these are usually areas for improvement at most companies.  These included the aforementioned compressor, lighting and the voltage used to power the lighting.

About a month or so later we were issued with a fairly comprehensive report with recommendations for improvement, costs and potential savings.  These varied in complexity and price, the easiest being training to raise energy awareness…

Native Bees to the Rescue?

According to some recent reports (the Guardian and Radio 4) a new study is looking at the potential of the native black bee as a solution to the disappearance of about 30% of the UK’s honeybees.  The current bee population is based on an Italian bee which is relatively docile and very prolific as a honey producer.  The theory being tested is that the cold wet summers have left the Mediterranean bee less well equipped to deal with the Winter, whereas the native black bee is more used to the typically damp British weather and is therefore better equipped to last through the Winter on depleted food supplies.

I had heard about the black bee, but did not realise there are several colonies in the UK.   The first step is being helped by the Co-Op which has launched a fund to help map where existing populations exist so they can be used to increase the numbers of native black bees.

For more background on the current problems in the bee population (although it is admittedly slightly USA – centric despite being written by a British couple) a good place to start is the book ‘A World Without Bees‘ or read the story as published in the Guardian this week.

Recycling at work.

Our Green Team started off with a brainstorming activity to identify areas where we thought improvements could be made.  From this we decided that the most obvious area to look at first was recycling as there were no facilities at the moment (apart from a skip for cardboard and recycling of cling wrap) with all other waste being sent to landfill.  It also seemed one of the easiest to tackle as recycling has been a high priority for a number of years in Daventry, with the council providing excellent facilities and being the first in the country to meet government targets for household recycling.  Unfortunately, they do not seem at all interested in helping businesses in the area to recycle.

How have we done so far?

Two of the team spent a lot of time trying to find someone to take away our recycling.  Some were not very helpful, a couple were more interested in the confidential shredded waste which is controlled from head office and therefore we had no authority to change, and some were just too expensive.

We have provided bins for the collection of bottles, cans and plastic which are then put in a particular skip provided by local Company, Cawleys and, at the same time changed our supplier of the cardboard skip to Cawleys, which saved enough money to provide the recycling facilities.   Although there were some complaints initially that, heaven forbid, people are being asked to wash out their containers, and empty an extra couple of bins, it has in the main been well received.

We have also removed a larger skip from site which was originally rented in order to get rid of some particular waste some years ago and which now seemed to have a few broken pallets and bits of metal put in.  The pallets are being taken away for free by a local company (we may be able to find someone to pay for them at some point, but this is not a priority) and we have had the skip removed which, at a conservative estimate has saved us £1500 a year.

In addition to this, we have found a local company that will take away some perspex chips that we use as part of our business (saving about 5kg of plastic going to landfill every month) and other sundry items that they sell on to schools and playgroups for craft purposes.  The envelopes that were thrown away with the perspex are reused up to four times eah and we have even had other sites bring their perspex to us so we can send it for reuse.  Although this last part makes only a small difference, I think it has raised awareness at other sites of what we are trying to do.

In addition to this, the search for someone to recycle has allowed us to get a cheaper quote for the rest of the general waste that will save us a further £750 per year.

So, what more can we do.  I think we need to look at providing more facilities for general paper and newspapers, as well as for some of the less obvious things such as batteries.  I am also planning to invest in a cardboard baler which will bring down the collection price of the cardboard and then look to try and sell or get a better price for some items such as wooden pallets and cling wrap (although the price of recycled materials has dropped dramatically in recent months following the collapse of the oil price).  We also have intermittent pallets of waste that can be recycled, so my next task is to find a way to advertise some of these internally and see if they are needed at any other site.

Has anyone out there had any successes or failures recycling at work?

No salad days just yet.

I thought I would put up a quick note about how the garden produce is going so far.

The rhubarb and blackcurrant are settling in well, although there has been a brutal aphid attack on the blackcurrant necessitating a bit of prunage.  I think we should get something out of both of these this year.  The gooseberry has been moved to the front of the house to try and loosen the grip of the sawfly.  This is the last chance saloon, but it appears to be OK at the moment even though it only has one berry.  The blackberry (Oregon Thornless) is also growing really well.

The seeds that I have sown in the last month are doing well.  Five out of six courgettes have germinated, which is fine as I don’t need any more (I am trying Partenon again, and it was my one remaining seed of Black Beauty that did not germinate).  My first salad leaves are growing well, I am hoping to make regular sowings and grow just enough for sandwiches or salad for lunch.  The beans and sweetcorn are also growing away nicely, although I don’t have any plans to plant these out for another month (as suggested by Monty Don).  I have included a few pictures of my most photogenic crops below, this is partly a reminder to myself of how they looked before the slugs found them!

Salad Leaf Seedlings
Salad Leaf Seedlings
Golden Neckar French Bean
Golden Neckar French Bean
Partenon Courgette
Partenon Courgette

On the negative side, my tomatoes are progressing very slowly, although they have germinated I think they need to get a wriggle on if they are to be planted out at any time in the foreseeable – none of them have even bothered to think about a second set of leaves yet.

Pak Choi are also growing well, with the beginnings of life beginning to show from the chard (new this year as is the Pak Choi) and radish.

‘Pests’ and pricing.

If deer, rabbit and pigeons are such a pest causing millions of pounds of damage each year, then why are they so expensive and difficult to source at the butchers and supermarket?

A couple of weeks ago BBC Radio 4’s  Farming Today concentrated on the problem of pests in farming, including some that those of us who are non-farmers would probably not have thought about straight away.  Each day they highlighted a different animal, the damage they caused and the cost of protecting against them.  The animals covered included pigeons, deer and rabbits, wild boar and rats.  

Deer populations have apparently increased in recent years, and are attracted to the crops that are planted by the farmers  as well as causing problems for forestry.  A lot of money is spent on deer proof fencing as they are large enough to barge their way through standard fences if they want to get to the other side.

The rabbit population currently stands at 45 million, they cause damage to crops but also to machinery due to the holes that they create.  Pigeons are also on the increase, woodpigeons being one of the most successful birds of recent years despite those declines seen in other wild bird populations often finding their way into grain stores as well as causing problems in the fields.

Now, I don’t come from a farming background, or even a rural one, so I find it hard to think about fluffy bunnies being a nuisance or deer, of which I have only seen a few, to be sufficient in number to cause damage (although I can quite understand the pigeon problems – we have one that runs amok in our garden most days).  However, there is a burning question in my mind, why are these so expensive to buy at the butchers or supermarket?  If these animals are costing hundreds of millions of pounds each year then why do two venison steaks cost £5.99 at Waitrose, why are pigeons about the same price as chicken when they are about a tenth of the size and why, is it almost impossible to buy rabbit (I have even tried a local butcher for rabbit and venison).  Even if I could buy rabbit, the chances are that it would be farmed.  Yes, that’s right, approximately 95% of rabbit sold in this country is farmed (and often not in conditions that are much better than those of battery chickens).  So, in response to the damage these are causing can we not employ people to humanely kill these pests and sell them locally for a reasonable price – are we missing a trick, can Jamie Oliver create a market for rabbit?  Is it time to simplify the legislation, are we concerned that these ‘pests’ are going to become extinct.  We can’t leave it all to the polecats (although maybe this is a case for the reintroduction of lynx and wolves?).

Polecats are on the march (although I haven’t seen one).

Polecats are the latest mammal to be making a comeback in the UK.  First of all it was otters, now it seems that polecats are increasing in number in the UK.  Is this good news? I think so.

Until I read a recent article in the British Wildlife Magazine I didn’t know anything about polecats (or even realise they existed in the wild), so here are a few things I have learned:

They are native and were reduced to small groups surviving only in Wales, in no small part due to persecution by farmers and gamekeepers.

They are now spreading north and east, although their range appears to be limited by the major conurbations of the north-west and the midlands.

Polecats are relatives of ferrets, and there has been reduction in the purity of the polecate genes by some interbreeding with ferrets.

Polecats are about half a metre long (similar in size to ferrets), they have dark fur, lighter fur on their faces and dark noses (ferrets tend to have pink noses).

Unfortunately the polecats are often killed on the roads.

They manage better in the wild than ferrets as they are good hunters (ferrets were bred to be rubbish at catching their prey) and are thriving on the increased population of rabbits in the wild (currently standing around 45 million).

The good news is that it is thought that they (or possibly the otters) are having an adverse effect on mink which are starting to hunt during the day.  So, in the world of doom and gloom with everything seeming to be labelled a ‘crisis’ it appears there is some good news out there (unless you are a rabbit, frog, ground nesting bird…Oops, I think I am going off them a bit!).

For more information about polecats see the report from the Vincent Wildife Trust or subscribe to the excellent British Wildlife Magazine.

Are you missing out on something this weekend?

In the UK a bank holiday weekend is approaching and who knows, maybe the weather will be warm and sunny. So, a nation will get into its cars and head to the coast or the national parks, spend a few hours in traffic jams, looking for somwhere to park, looking for somewhere to eat etc etc. But, what are you missing closer to home? This weekend is the perfect opportunity to go out and look closely at what nature has to show you (for free and without needing to sit in a metal box on a long, boring stretch of concrete).
I have a few suggestions to make, these are for those in the Daventry area, but I am sure there are similar things to be found wherever you live in the UK.

Bluebells at Everdon Stubbs
Bluebells at Everdon Stubbs

Firstly, at this time of the year the bluebells are a must. In Badby and Everdon there are cream teas available this weekend for those going to see one of nature’s most beautiful spectacles. I went to visit the bluebells in Badby Woods for the first time last year. Apart from the spectacle of a sea of blue in all directions, the scent is astonishing as is the constant drone of the bees. I went to Everdon Stubbs this week which is stunning at the moment, but I was later told is also somewhere to hear a cuckoo, something I think of as the quintessential rural England.

If you don’t want to go that far, how about a walk around the country park. At the moment the hobbies have returned and are swooping about at the far end of the dam, just in front of the trees, chasing larger insects and smaller birds. The swallows, house martins and swifts are also there, screaming about the water (being chased by hobbies!) as are the common terns, preparing to nest on the tern rafts and patrolling along the shallower waters looking for their lunch.

Cuckoo Flower
Cuckoo Flower

The hedgerows are starting to get their second coat of white – the hawthorn is coming into blossom. Along the ground around the edges of the housing estate, industrial estates and country park are an array of wild flowers. Cowslips are still in bloom, along with the more delicate Cuckoo Flower (also known as Ladies Smock) and, if you look closely you may notice the small purple blooms of the Ground Ivy. As always, darting above the flowers are the butterflies; Orange Tips, Large Whites and Speckled Woods are all there, waiting for you.

So, instead of trying to get away from it all, why not stay home in the midst of it all and relax!