The summer issue of Connect – the magazine I edit for Greenpeace UK – was published this month. The cover story this issue brings fantastic news from the Norwegian Arctic, where the world’s biggest fishing companies have voluntarily agreed not to exploit a huge part of the Arctic Ocean, from Svalbard all the way up to the North Pole. Our cover star is a beluga whale, or white whale, photographed under the sea ice © WaterFrame / Alamy.
We also have a beautiful photo-led feature about a new campaign to protect the Tapajós River Basin in the Brazilian Amazon. It’s an extraordinarily biodiverse place, home to creatures like ocelots, jaguars and pink dolphins. It acts like a huge pair of lungs that help regulate our planet’s climate. The Munduruku community that call Tapajós home have a deep connection with the river and forest, and depend on them for food and transport, as well as cultural and spiritual sustenance. Shockingly, this region could soon be sacrificed to a mega-dam of monstrous proportions. The fight to save Tapajós is on.
I’m especially pleased with how this double-page spread is looking. It is an eye-opening start to an article about plastic pollution in our oceans, and features the magnificent artwork of Mandy Barker. Her SOUP series features images created using plastic trash found on beaches around the world. Right now, up to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic are entering our oceans each year, some of it so tiny it’s barely visible. Some marine life is mistaking microplastic for food, filling up on it and starving as a result – just one reason why tackling ocean plastic pollution is so important. Image © Mandy Barker.
I love it when I get a copy of a report in the post that I have worked on as a copy writer or editor, when the word doc I worked with has been transformed into something very good looking. The latest Impact Report from Greenpeace UK looks fantastic. Published this spring, it reviews everything the NGO achieved in 2015. The front cover features a colourful crowd of ‘kayaktivists’, brave people who took to the water to challenge oil giant Shell as it attempted to move its fleet up to the Arctic.
The spring issue of Greenpeace UK’s Connect magazine has just been published, with a focus on forest fires in Indonesia and the devastating effect deforestation is having on orangutans. Our great ape cover star was photographed by Markus Mauthe. The pollution from the fire crisis has been disastrous for people too – the region has been cloaked in a choking haze that causes severe breathing problems.
Other features this issue include ‘Tainted tuna’ and ‘Fracking hypocrites’. One of the articles I’m most happy with is about the Arctic Ocean – it begins with this magnificent jellyfish double-page spread, inviting the reader into the fascinating underwater world beneath the sea ice. Magnificent creatures like this Scyphozoan jellyfish – photographed by Alexander Semenov – are threatened by industrial fishing fleets that are moving into the Norwegian Arctic, as climate change causes the ocean’s once-protective shield of ice to melt.
I edit and help project manage the production of Connect, which is sent to Greenpeace UK’s regular financial supporters.
‘London is failing on solar, risking its decentralised energy and climate targets. The new Mayor can change the capital’s poor performance record, and ensure the future is bright for solar in the city.’
Really proud to have worked as a copy editor on this report from Greenpeace UK and Energy for London, published in February, which looks at solar energy in my home city. It outlines how the new Mayor of London can start a solar revolution in 2016.
This feature appears in the June issue of Gardens Illustrated
Photography by Rachel Warne
Dyer and designer Katelyn Toth Fejel hails from America but currently lives in Hackney Wick. As well as acres of urban grit, this part of east London also has a river, the Lee, and a modest tangle of woodland called Wick Woods. In the summer it’s tempting to get a little bit lost in its lushness. Sadly, I meet Katelyn on a day that’s less than perfect.
How many people in the fashion industry aren’t a little bit allergic to rain? Katelyn has excellent couture credentials but constantly craves the outdoors. Persistent drizzle, and the subsequent waterproofs it requires, doesn’t put her off. A walk in Wick Woods with Katelyn, her local dye foraging spot, involves getting down on your hands on knees to peer at things in intimate close up, whatever the weather.
Inspired by permaculture, Katelyn is part of the Permacouture Institute, works for the London College of Fashion’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion and helps run an ethical boutique called Here Today, Here Tomorrow. She’s a nature lover and environmentalist as much as she is a designer, and these passions inform and shape her work. “I approach fashion as if it were an ecology, an ecosystem.”
She began experimenting with mail order natural dyes at art school and hasn’t looked back, quickly graduating to ones she makes herself. “I love the diversity of the experience when you pick the dye yourself. With powders you get the same result each time.” She talks of the beauty of creating a dye palette that reflects her local environment, suggesting the blur of colour you might see through a car or train window is likely a similar spread of shades you would get from dye plants sourced in that area.
Katelyn champions species that are abundant but others may see as a nuisance. “I love plants that do many things like nettle – it can be used to make soup or tea, as a fabric and a dye.” A favourite last summer was a container of cut-and-come-again pot marigolds – the flowers are delicious in salads and can also be used as a dye. She has a huge bag of frozen petals in her freezer, ready for brewing into a dye bath when the right project comes along.
Making natural dyes from plants is a lot like cooking – there’s no one way to do it. Bark likes to be cooked long and hot, whereas something light and leafy needs much gentler treatment. To turn the concoction from colourful stew into dye you may need to add a mordant like alum, which helps fix the dye to the fabric. It’s gentle enough that leftover dye can be used to water acid loving plants like blueberry or rhododendron.
Katelyn’s experiments with plants have produced hues of ombre, chestnut, rust, gold, mustard, terracotta, pink, mink and cream. The colours compliment each other and have unusual depths. “Natural dyes, like a Seurat painting, change in different lights,” she says. “They shimmer. It’s almost like an optical illusion. They have a richness and depth that synthetic colours lack.”
For Katelyn, dock root is “an unusual blessing”. It may need to be boiled for several hours to release the dye, but the resulting rusty pinks, shimmering golds and autumnal oranges are worth it. In a world dominated by yellows, natural dyers come to prize the reds. Dock works beautifully on silk or wool, and you can achieve many more shades by adding acid or alkali to the dye. A dash of baking soda will bring out a warm terracotta. Dock leaves can be used too – young foliage produces a bright green-yellow, older leaves create more of a mustard.
As someone who loves a challenge and embraces the opportunity to experiment, cherry is a favourite of Katelyn. “It’s such a mystery, still. If I had any tree it would be this.” While some people hate the inconsistency of natural dying, she relishes the unknown. The bark from young, fallen branches can produce a dye that ranges from pinks and oranges to greens and golds. The colour achieved depends on the variety of tree and the environmental conditions where it is found, not to mention the fabric you are dying – wool and silk will turn different colours when dipped in the same dye bath.
The inner bark of the birch tree produces a pretty pink, while the outer bark achieves a paler, subtler shade. The leaves create yellow or olive green. Add iron to the dye bath – Katelyn nurtures rusty nails in jars of water especially for the task – to produce a creamy, purplish grey. A range of special effects are possible with natural dyes and specific techniques can be used to create unusual patterns. For example, Itajime – Japanese wood block clamping – leaves behind un-dyed shapes with haloes around the edge. You can use natural dyes to colour yarn and for screen-printing projects too.
The bark, leaves and berries of the elder tree can all be used as dyes. The bark creates a delicate metallic colour like the palest pink of the inside of a shell, while the leaves produce tans, greens and golds. The berries can be used to create a fugitive purple stain, which changes over time and eventually washes out. Katelyn welcomes the impermanence – “embrace unpredictably and accept change – dye a dress afresh every season.” Her foraging also embraces the edible and she advises you eat some elder berries too. The ideal plant will colour your cloth and make a meal.
This article was written for the Guardian
It has Prince Charles as its patron and a recent show at Somerset House celebrated its sense of style, but could wool have a future as a conservation textile too? Over the last three years, a band of artists and volunteers have been installing healing plasters of wool on the side of a Welsh mountain in a bid to control landscape erosion and protect a valuable swathe of peat.
Back in 1976 a fire on the side of Pen Trumau in the Black Mountains left a 70,000 metre square scar burned into the hillside. A huge section of peat was exposed and has been eroding ever since. It’s estimated that 6,125 tonnes of carbon have escaped so far. Over 30 years later, artist Pip Woolf first witnessed Pen Trumau’s “black hole” on Google Earth. She was shocked by its extent but inspired by its potential to be transformed.
“There’s a black space,” thought Woolf, “if we covered it in wool it would turn white, and the long term picture would be that it would turn green.” The reality was it would take an awful lot of wool to cover, so her original idea for an absorbent woollen patch turned into ‘The Woollen Line’, an artistic experiment that’s slowly attempting to heal the mountain’s great wound, stitch by stitch.
A bold white streak
Together with some volunteers and a bale of washed wool from the Wool Marketing Board, Woolf spent the cold February of 2010 making felt by hand. Heather seeds were embedded into the fabric. The felt was pegged onto Pen Trumau, leaving a bold white streak on the dark landscape. It’s now faded enough to miss on foot but is still very visible viewed from above – the area’s gliders have taken the most dramatic pictures.
So why put all that wool up there? “The whole reason the site won’t vegetate is because it’s completely mobile,” explains Woolf. “If it’s wet, the peat is washing off, if it’s dry it’s blowing off. Once peat loses its vegetative cover it oxidises and releases carbon in all sorts of ways. You’re losing carbon storage, water storage and grazing land.”
The hope is that the wool will slow things down, making the site more hospitable to plant life and less vulnerable to erosion. Ask Woolf if the experiment is working though and you’ll get short shrift. “The whole reason peat forms on the top of Welsh mountains is that it’s cold and wet, and everything happens very slowly up there,” she says. “Demanding a green result that quickly is foolish, it’s bad science.”
Sausages to save an SSSI
The project has evolved since the first Woollen Line was laid. Hand making felt was time consuming and none of the heather germinated. So the focus has moved onto wool ‘sausages’, first to pack erosion channels and more recently laid in a line along the top edge of the scar. Woolf now pays farmers to stuff nets with wool they can’t use for anything else. “It’s wool that’s absolutely worthless to the farmer but not worthless to this,” she explains. “They get a rid of their rubbish wool, I get my sausages – it’s brilliant.”
The Pen Trumau mountainside is an SSSI, so throughout Woolf has had to convince ecologists to support her experiments. “Nobody’s done anything on this site for 35 years, but as soon as the ecologist touched one of the wool sausages everything changed,” she explains. “The wool is the language people understand.”
Encouraging new growth is the project’s ultimate aim and where the heather failed, grass is proving more successful. Last year volunteers collected seed and cuttings from cotton-grass and wavy hair-grass and propagated them. Out of 600 plugs planted along the Woollen Line last year, 300 plants are now growing well.
Land art on a mountainous scale
As well as a piece of community conservation work, the line is land art that’s leaving a lasting impression. “It’s almost like leaving a dirty great footprint,” admits Woolf. “I remember coming down early on and thinking I can’t take this back. I do struggle with plonk-it art in the landscape and would hate for it to be a Pip Woolf mark on the hill… but I have to stay there until I can find a really positive way for it to have its own life.”
The project continues and this spring the plan is to create a wool spiral on part of the scar that is yet to be touched. And until the end of the month, an artistic exploration of Woolf and her 750 volunteers’ labours so far is on show in a cold but atmospheric barn in Crickhowell.
Part eight of my series for Kitchen Garden about urban agriculture
“There’s a huge amount of food growing going on in Manchester, and demand for allotments is high. It’s a good way to make communities more resilient, especially at times of high unemployment” says Chris Walsh from the Kindling Trust.
Kindling is the organisation behind various projects designed to ensure the city’s food supply becomes more sustainable. Urban growing may be increasingly popular, but it would be foolish to assume every urbanite has green fingers, or that all growers have the same goals.
“There’s a new generation of gardeners – they tend to be graduates and public sector workers – who are joining an older generation of allotment holders who continue to grow in the city. But there’s a gap – lots of people don’t see growing as something they want to do” says Chris.
The Land Army
“It feels like there are two food movements – one focussed on community and health projects, one on organics and environmental issues”, he continues. “There’s a funny separation between the two and the Greater Manchester Land Army is about trying to bridge that perceived gap. We’re also creating solidarity between deprived rural and urban communities.”
2011 was the Land Army’s pilot year. They bus groups of volunteers from Manchester out to farms in Cheshire where they can learn about commercial food production. Volunteers do everything from weeding leeks to planting garlic and harvesting potatoes. Chris describes them as “a group of people who want to increase food production in the city. We’re still learning and there’s no guarantee that what we’re doing will work, but there’s a real buzz about it.”
The idea is to provide training and encourage people to think about perhaps becoming commercial food growers themselves. “Urban growing as a career is in its early stages – it’s still hard work, poorly paid and under-appreciated. But that is changing. I think there’ll be 40 to 50 part time growers on the scene in Manchester within the next four to five years” he predicts.
The Land Army was born out of Feeding Manchester – a loose network of groups that bond over food. “Food is complicated – you can’t focus on issues in isolation. We’re taking a holistic approach, sharing and swapping ideas, and working out how we can influence policy. Food is about relationships, trust and getting to know people” says Chris.
Out west is the Unicorn Grocery’s land project, part of the Feeding Manchester network. They have 21 organic acres in an area of peat land that once was full of salad and vegetable crops. Stuart Jones works in both Unicorn’s shop in the city and at the farm in Glazebury.
“Our soil is great for growing vegetables. We have a six year rotation in place including two years fertility building with red clover, white clover and chicory, followed by brassicas, beets, alliums, umbellifers and lettuce. We also have a rotation for overwintering green manures like rye and crimson clover, to keep the soil covered between cropping” says Stuart.
“We’re passionate about producing food in a more sustainable way to feed the city. That means working with nature rather than against it, feeding the soil with good compost, boosting organic matter levels and creating healthy, biologically active soil. There’s plenty of good growing land that could be providing Manchester with veg, but at the moment most comes from Lincolnshire or even Spain.”
Not wanting to step on anyone’s toes and keen to pool knowledge, Unicorn is part of Manchester Veg People – a cooperative with buyer and grower members. “We meet buyers when we are planning our crops and they let us know the quantities they want” explains Stuart.
“The growers work out their production costs and then set the prices. We get a fair price and the buyers know they’re supporting a more sustainable way of doing business, sourcing food grown no more than 20 miles from Manchester Town Hall.”
Growing to eat
“Everyone eats. We’re all united by food” says Amanda Woodvine from Didsbury Dinners, a group based between Manchester and Stockport. “An easy, but often overlooked way of reducing our carbon footprints is considering the food on our plates. We want to make it easy for people so we published a ‘low-carbon’ community cookbook last year.”
As well as sharing recipes, Didsbury Dinners also grow food in various spots around town. Planting projects include 40 fruit trees on land at the back of local rugby pitches and a landshare-style plot, where four growers share a privately owned garden rent free. A local estate agent has even given them access to space behind a rented property where they’ve planted soft fruit, herbs, salad leaves, various beans and peas.
Growing often leads to a desire to learn how to cook with homegrown produce, as well as an increased understanding of food related issues. But urban agriculture isn’t just good for the environment – it’s good for people too. Working the land improves physical and mental wellbeing.
Bite – a partnership project between Mind and the Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust – runs five cafes and nine growing projects across the city, as well as an affordable veg bag scheme. Their growing land ranges from allotments to daycentre grounds.
“Food poverty is a problem here and people might not have the skills or confidence to cook the produce we grow, which is why we also have cafes where people can learn” explains Rowena Pyott from Bite.
“Our project is also part of Fairshare, which is about using up food waste from supermarkets. So we’re addressing wider issues too, and teaching people about things like food provenance. We’re bringing the sustainable food message to deprived communities who aren’t usually exposed to it.”
Inner City Forest Gardening
A unique project just outside Manchester city centre has seen part of a public park transformed into a forest garden, with a delicious plethora of edibles including walnut, apple, pear, cherry, plum, damson, gage, nectarine and hazel trees.
Birchfields Park Forest Garden is also home to raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries, jostaberry, logan and tay berry, not to mention gojiberry and blueberry. Species like eleagnus, alder, clover, bird’s foot trefoil, vetch, peas and beans have all been included for their nitrogen fixing properties.
“The project is about permanence – we’re demonstrating the potential of forest gardening, complimentary planting and gardening with nature” says forest gardener Jane Morris. “We want to show that we can have higher yields than monocultures. And that there’s potential for forest gardens in even the smallest of public spaces – why do we need so much mown grass?
“Urban growing keeps the activist in me alive” says Jane, who is generally positive about her home town’s food growing credentials. “Manchester is proactive, and the Food Futures Strategy is moving us towards a more sustainable food system here.” But there’s work to be done.
“Inner city Manchester is one of the poorest areas in England – there are huge differences in quality of life and life expectancy. Our project is trying to counteract those inequalities. It’s about improving nutrition, increasing physical activity and also has a therapeutic aspect.Our garden showcases robust and resilient planting, and hopefully is creating robust and resilient communities too.”