Waste – who is responsible?

There was an article in Business Green today which stated that leading retailers have grouped together to ask the government for new policy to ‘encourage firms to design out packaging’.

This raised a number of questions in my mind.  Firstly, who holds the key to the use of packaging?  Is it government – I don’t think so.  It is consumers, and, as we only buy what is available, then, surely retailers hold the trump card – reduce the packaging or we won’t stock your product.  Waitrose have recently moved to biodegradeable and recycled packaging, Amazon publicly stated it was going to reduce its packaging, so, surely there is good publicity to be had if these retailers move to reduce packaging rather than asking the government to make it happen.

Secondly, where do the Government’s priorities lie?  They have recently announced a review of the UK waste policy, details of the remit are yet to be announced, but they are concentrating on increasing recycling rates – because they look good, and have scrapped ideas about a pay as you throw tax, because that would be unpopular.  After all, who benefits economically from reducing waste – no one makes anything in this country, but recycling, well, that creates good headlines and, jobs in this country.  Or am I getting more cynical in my old age?

The obvious answer is to reduce packaging as it uses precious resources, including water, but the initiative should come from retailers and consumers, not from government.  This would also have the added benefit of reducing litter – a huge bugbear of mine which I think we need to tackle, not just ignore.

Hunting Damselflies

Normally when I visit Brandon Marsh nature reserve I take my ‘scope and go looking for birds.  However, in the Summer this path usually leads to disappointment, so yesterday I decided to go armed with my macro lens and go looking for insects, particularly damselflies.

I did get a good shot of damselflies a couple of weeks ago with my compact camera whilst on a lunchtime stroll, but I hoped to be able to get something a little better when armed with my ‘proper’ camera.  In some ways I was disappointed, the damselflies were ever so jumpy, as soon as you moved they were off.   Also, there were areas which looked perfect for other insects, but they were just not there, all those obliging umbellifers at the side of the path, and they were empty (I found the same problems at the Country Park this afternoon).

However, I did achieve what had become an unconscious ambition.  For the last year or two, mainly as a result of my macro photography I have developed an interest in insects.  The increase in the size of our pond has added damselflies and dragonflies to the list that was previously populated by butterflies and bees.  As a result, and, through viewing various nature programs, I have always wanted to see a demoiselle, a type of damselfly.  Particularly, a Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx Splendens).  You may be wondering what I am talking about, but these are particularly beautiful damselflies, that flutter like butterflies and sparkle in shades of green and blue.  They are truly beautiful (in fact there is a Beautiful Demoiselle, but I think the Banded is prettier).  I never thought that I would see one, but they are apparently present at Brandon Marsh.

To cut a long story short, I got a brilliant birthday present, and had been at Brandon just long enough to drink a hot chocolate and wander a few hundred yards onto the reserve before one tantalisingly zipped past – I got just enough of a glimpse to realise what I had missed.  Then, no more, but some beautiful emerald coloured damselflies which did not seem to want to stay still – it was going to be one of those days.

On my way back from the furthest of the hides I decided to risk going the long route back through an area which is usually too boggy to try – and, despite all the dry, hot weather, it was still muddy in places.  My walk was rewarded, Banded Demoiselles were there in numbers.  They were also pretty nervous and any movement or the slightest breeze sent them fluttering up.  Getting a photo was difficult, and I apologise for the poor quality, but I think you will agree that these are lovely insects (unless you are my mother, who doesn’t like any form of nature apart from blue tits, robins and some butterflies).  I have since discovered that the green damselfly is in fact the female Banded Demoiselle.


I am very excited –  it does not take much I know – anyone who has spoken to me about bees will realise this.  However, the reason for the excitement is my gooseberry bush (Invicta).  Although it is a bit early to be picking them, we are getting our windows replaced tomorrow and I am worried they would be knocked off.

Why so excited.  Well, prior to this year, the biggest harvest we have had was a massive 6 gooseberries.  This year I have over half a kilo!  Moving the plant  to the front of the house and putting it next to the rosemary also seems to have distracted the sawfly for this year at least – all the leaves are pretty much intact.  I just have to work out how to prune them now.

I have also picked the first sweet peas of the year – not many, but I am experimenting by putting them in the front garden, the plants in the back do not seem to be showing much sign of flowering yet, so this also seems to be paying off.  Next year I need to find some nice looking supports so I can put them all in the front garden.

Environmental Law Workshop

In the hopes of learning more about Environmental Legislation so I can help us avoid breaking the law I attended an IEMA (Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment) workshop in Birmingham today.  Whilst I was hoping to learn more about some of the current legislation, it concentrated on recent changes and expected changes, including the CRCEE scheme, WEEE recycling regulations and changes to Environmental Permitting regulations.  However, I found these sections a little lacking in information, other than pointing out that something had changed, and the relevant websites, it wasn’t overly helpful.

Part of the workshop was presented by a lawyer, these parts, which I initially thought would be a little irrelevant, I nevertheless found really interesting.  In addition to including some examples of cases that had set some precedents, she went through what would happen if the Environment Agency came calling, and, what your legal rights are.  The basic message was, don’t sign anything, even a seemingly informal statement (this then makes it a formal statement), without legal advice.  If you are questioned under caution (and this is apparently voluntary) make sure you are prepared, have a lawyer with you and state that you are representing the Company (and ensure you have the authority to represent the Company – if not, you shouldn’t be there).  I think there were probably only a  couple of people in the room who had been in such a position, so I am sure lots of us found this useful.

The venue was good and did provide some sufficient space for networking opportunities.  I met someone from a large engine manufacturer who had lots of experience in Environmental Management and who seems to be further along with energy management.  He has promised some information by email, so it seems I may have benefited from the day in numerous ways.

Insects, insects, and some flowers

No nature notes for two weeks, it is not due to a lack of things to see, just a time issue.  Where to start – probably insects.  The weather has been pretty variable, some sun, rain, thunder, lightning, it was just hail and snow that were missing.  This seems to have had a different effect on insects.  I don’t know what is happening where you are, but I don’t think I have seen a single butterfly in the last two weeks.  I am not sure if it is just a natural hiatus, some are in caterpillar form, others are waiting for the correct plants, but it does seem odd.

What are about in abundance are damselflies.  A walk round a lake on a sunny day reveals them in numbers.  I managed to take some of my best pictures ever. This was taken along the path, and is my first bit of insect porn.  I love the colours of the damselflies against the green of the leaf.  I think that these are common blue damselflies, but they are apparently very similar to the azure and variable blue damselflies and I am just not good enough yet.  There were also lots of large red damselflies about.  Last week I also saw a lot of Blue Tailed damselflies which flew up whenever I brushed past some grass by the lake.

The sage is flowering now, and is bringing a lot of honey and bumble bees to the garden whilst the birds foot trefoil is attracting them to the back which is good because that is where my broad beans (the first time I have tried growing them) are flowering.

Wild flowers are still in abundance, although lots have gone to seed.  The grasses, for those not attacked by their pollen, are looking pretty in both the sun and the rain an around the lake there are a lot of flag iris about, looking bright amongst the green.

The garden is covered in birds every morning.  The finches, green, gold and bullfinches turn up every day, making a lot of noise and getting through a lot of sunflower hearts.  We also had the first baby great tits last weekend.  In recent years they have always appeared over the Bank Holiday weekend at the end of May.  This year they are a week late.  They usually turn up at the same time as the baby blue tits, both can be distinguished from their parents by the more squeaky noise they make and the fact that they look as though they have faded in the wash.  However, I haven’t seen any blue tits yet, even though the ones on Springwatch have fledged.

Binning the bin tax – what a rubbish idea.

Listening to the radio on a Monday morning should be relaxing, but I am feeling quite angry.  The new government are scrapping the plans of the previous government to make us all pay for what we throw away, replacing it with incentives to recycle.

So, instead of reducing the amount of rubbish we are creating we are now going to be rewarded for buying more stuff and how are we going to be rewarded – we will get vouchers to buy more stuff – a vicious circle.  If you don’t buy very much, then no rewards for you – we need you to buy things – after all, that is what our economy is built on – shopping.

Do I think recycling is a bad thing?  Certainly not, but I think we should be at a point now where not recycling is unheard of, unthought of.  We shouldn’t have to be rewarded for recycling.

What I do think is that if you throw things away you should pay for it – after all you are taking more landfill and more of that scarce resource – space.  It is the only way to make people think about what they are buying and why.  I understand the argument, there would be more flytipping, and burning of rubbish or putting it in the neighbours bin  – then we will have to be more vigilant.

The pay as you throw works in Belgium – why are we not capable of managing such a scheme.  While it may not be the best way, it is surely a start in the right direction.

A word about the BP and oil.

Despite trying to earn my environmentalist stripes, I admit to not following the events of the coast of Louisiana too closely.  It is not because I don’t think it is important, but more because I think its potential importance is largely being missed, certainly by the traditional media.

Firstly, it is not the worst oil-related disaster, whilst it has apparently leaked about twice the amount of oil as the Exxon Valdez oil spill which I remember watching news coverage of as a teenager, (oh for the days of John Craven’s newsround) the Exxon Valdez is still considered a relatively small oil spill.  However, from an ecological point of view any spill has to be a potential disaster.  Not only is there the problem of the oil to deal with, and the area over which the aforementioned dealing has to happen, there is also the effect of the burning of the oil and the residuals from the dispersants to deal with.  All in all I am sure that most people (even the manufacturers of the dispersants) would agree, it is not a good thing.

There is a lot of blame being levelled at BP, and, rightly so.  It would appear that they did not include such an incident in their risk planning – but then, with the deafening silence from the other oil companies, other than we will help if we can and we should make sure this never happens again, one can assume that it was not in the risk planning of any of the oil companies.  It is just a stroke of luck for them that it happened to BP first.

A lot of the adverse publicity seems to be emanating from the American government – but they do not appear to have any better ideas either, and, I assume that they have profited from the jobs and licenses that result from the deep sea drilling in the Gulf of Mexico?

My main point, which I am eventually getting to, is that if we are blaming BP for drilling, and we are blaming the American government for its inaction (which apparently some Americans are), then why are we not blaming ourselves?  We bitch and moan about the price of petrol and the excessive profits that the oil companies make, but we can do something about it.  We can stop buying as much fuel, we can stop insisting that our pensions are worth more every year, we can demand that we pay more for our fuel and that some of the revenue is used to undertake deep sea research to stop disasters on this scale occurring.  But we won’t, we will carry on regardless, watch the pictures on the TV and then hop in the car to run an errand.

Perhaps it is time the true cost of oil related products was revealed, and we started to think about whether we think the environmental devastation that comes with any sort of extraction of natural resources is a price worth paying.