Tagged: Climate change

Connect | autumn winter 2017

09C2D023-946A-4E99-AC41-2533D34408C6The autumn winter 2017 issue of Connect – the magazine I work on as a freelance writer and editor for Greenpeace UK – was published in December.

Our cover feature – ‘The people versus oil’ – was about how Greenpeace is challenging the oil industry on all fronts, from the Amazon to the Arctic, and from boardrooms to court rooms.

The issue also featured an interview with Sir David Attenborough, an article about how offshore wind is powering ahead, and an update on a growing campaign to stop the flow of plastic pollution into our oceans.

Guardian | what lies beneath

Gardens: soil
This feature was written for the Guardian

The Worldometers website is compulsive viewing. If you watch this “real time world statistics” site ticking, you will see the world’s soil disappearing before your eyes. The statistic for land lost to soil erosion ticks over slower than some (the one measuring world population, say, or the number of cigarettes smoked), but it’s growing a few hectares a minute.

And it’s not only in impoverished regions of the world; the UK’s soil is in peril too. Erosion, compaction, pollution, development and loss of organic matter are damaging something that’s as vital to life as water and air. It can take up to 500 years to form 1cm of soil, and Defra says soil degradation costs England and Wales between £0.9bn and £1.4bn every year.

Soils vary wildly, from chalk to clay, acid to alkaline; there are more than 1,800 different types in the UK alone. After the deluge this winter, many rivers ran brown as soil washed out to sea. Exposed, damaged soil is vulnerable to being washed away by high rainfall, while reduced organic matter and compaction caused by over-cultivation or over-grazing make it less absorbent. Where water once soaked in, it now runs off, exacerbating flooding and causing further erosion.

Patrick Holden, a British farmer who once ran the Soil Association and now heads up the Sustainable Food Trust, warns that the floods have seen a “catastrophic leaching of goodness from the soil”. He says soil is at the fulcrum of the debate about sustainability: “It is the irreplaceable resource on which the future of civilisation depends. We should be seriously worried. Soils are haemorrhaging across the world.”

Why should we care? Because, as Professor Jane Rickson from the National Soil Resources Institute says, “Soil is amazing, providing us with food, fuel and fodder, storing water and carbon, and supporting habitats and infrastructure. It’s like an engine made up of physical, chemical and biological components. It is their interaction that makes it work.”

Soil may seem simple, benign stuff, but it teems with life. A teaspoon of rich garden soil contains up to a billion bacteria, within a complex and shifting mixture of grains, pores, channels and chambers. The microbes store, transform and release nutrients that plants need: nitrogen for growing leaves, phosphorus for roots and potassium for flowers and fruit.

Soil is also connected to climate. Healthy soil stores and slowly releases water in periods of drought or flood. It’s also a carbon sink – there’s more carbon stored in the soil than in vegetation or the atmosphere. When soil is blown away by wind and rain, it releases carbon into the atmosphere.

The threats soil faces may be great, but there is still hope. Holden says gardeners need to act as “soil stewards” alongside farmers, and encourages us to see soil as a sort of stomach, digesting the food that plants need. That stomach, packed with friendly bacteria, should be fed well and treated with care.

Save our Soils
• Keep off saturated ground – it needs time to drain and dry
• Start mulching – it’s the simplest and easiest way to protect and improve soil
• Compost all you can, so you can feed soil with rich organic matter
• Say no to polluting chemical fertilisers and pesticides
• Keep growing – plants prevent erosion and help soil sequester carbon
• Download a soil and earthworm survey

Mayoral Elections | nature, food, fresh air

Lawns left to grow long and living walls; a productive city that’s pesticide free; and air that it’s a pleasure not poisonous to breathe. Continuing the Londonist’s look at the environment as an election issue, here three London NGOs tell us how the next Mayor can make London a more sustainable city.

Protection needed for the unofficial countryside

Mathew Frith from London Wildlife Trust doesn’t think the natural environment has been given nearly enough attention in the Mayoral debate so far, and argues that green spaces and gardens currently don’t have enough protection.

“London is rich in wildlife and the Mayor needs to safeguard this asset by strongly protecting and conserving London’s 1,500 wildlife sites. By committing to deliver the All London Green Grid, the Mayor could help bring more people into contact with the natural world, contribute to biodiversity conservation targets and improve the capital’s ability to cope with extreme weather events like flash flooding.

“There are significant advances currently taking place in sustainable and biodiversity-friendly design. World cities like London need to keep abreast of these advances to compete on an international level. Design for biodiversity (including things like swift and bat bricks, and living roofs and walls) helps encourage wildlife, reduces surface water run-off and mitigates the urban heat island effect.

“Despite the drought, many local Councils are still cutting the grass short in parks and green spaces. Landscape management contracts should be flexible to account for the need to leave lawns longer during dry periods so that more water can be retained. It’s such a simple measure but would have a positive impact to save water across London.”

London needs to be a more productive place

Ben Reynolds from Sustain (who run Capital Growth, Capital Bee and London Food Link) thinks the new Mayor should make it much easier for people to grow food in the city, as well as clamping down on junk food, pesticides and litter.

“We are looking for support for the next phase of Capital Growth, which will focus on increasing the sustainability of these food growing spaces, primarily through productivity. By increasing the amount produced through these Capital Growth spaces, and by other food growers around London, we hope to meet an insatiable demand for local food.

“More support needs to be given, particularly from London’s landowners, to allow people to grow and sell food. The next Mayor could insist that suitable land that’s been unused for more than two years is made available for food growing, even if just for a temporary lease. The Mayor could also insist that new developments, particularly residential, have provision for food growing built in.

“The next Mayor could help London to become the first pesticide free city in the UK, following in the footsteps of Paris and Tokyo. Restricting the application of these chemicals would really benefit London’s wildlife, including bees. We want the next Mayor to back our call to make every borough bee-friendly.

“As well as benefiting people’s health, restrictions on the number of junk food outlets could help to reduce litter. Some boroughs have successfully trialled the use of planning measures to restrict these outlets, particularly in areas around schools. The next Mayor should back all boroughs to use similar powers.

“By promoting environmentally friendly diets – including buying sustainable fish, organic food and eating less meat – the Mayor can also support fish stocks, biodiversity and animal welfare, and reduce climate change. The Mayor should insist that the public sector, including schools and hospitals, adopt the Government’s buying standards (currently only mandatory for 30% of public sector).”

And finally, how about a breath of fresh air?

Siobhan Grimes from Climate Rush thinks the Mayor should prioritise cleaning up the poisonous air we’re all currently forced to breathe.

“Air pollution on London’s busiest roads breaches air pollution laws by a factor of two every day. It means we are breathing in dangerous particles that are making us sick and causing climate change. In London, over 4,000 people die early every year as a result of air pollution, and between 15-30% of childhood asthma is linked to traffic pollution.

“Black soot emissions, including the traffic emissions that we see blackening tunnels and buildings in our city, contribute to up to 30% of global climate change emissions. Instead of being poisoned by the air we breathe we want the next Mayor to prioritise our health by investing in safer cycling infrastructure, by implementing a very low emission zone over the most polluted parts of the capital, by reducing the prohibitive cost of using public transport and by opposing airport expansion.”

INTERVIEW: “urban is my joy”

Talking green design and the wonders of Wandsworth with sustainable development and regeneration expert Lorna Walker.

I first came across Lorna Walker at a ‘Sustainable Cities’ event at the British Library, organised by the Natural Capital Initiative.  She delivered an inspiring speech that made me proud to call London, the greenest city in the world, home.  She focussed on empowerment and the benefits of urban greening, rather than statements of doom and gloom.  Lorna seemed sure that people could do much to equip urban areas to cope with climate change.

The second time I met Lorna was in the leafy surroundings of her south London home.  I walked there across an autumnal Wandsworth Common, admiring trees gently haloed with gold and bushes studded with bright red berries.  We sat in her airy conservatory and watched birds swarm over her feeders and squirrels hop noisily across her roof.

Lorna was born and brought up in southern Africa, but has lived in London for over 30 years.  She’s worked as a director at Arup and was a member of Richard Roger’s Urban Task Force.  She now runs her own business and is a commissioner for CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment).

“Urban is my joy” she says. “Cities are fantastic. They are where you will find the solutions to many of our problems.”

London is definitely her favourite.  “I just adore London, I think it’s the best place to live in the world, it has such choices and such diversity.  When I got married we moved to Wandsworth.  It has the most green space of all the London boroughs, plus you’re close to the river and it’s not that far from town.

“London has parks all over it, squares and hidden little jewels – it’s 37% designated green space, not counting gardens. Green spaces mean better air and trees clean up pollution.  In the future, they are going to be more important than ever if we’re to cope with extreme weather events.”

Sustainable design is becoming an often heard term, but what does it mean?  “It means common sense and good design, for people.  Sustainability is about doing one thing that has about five positive effects.  And one of the imperatives is continuous improvement – you don’t have to change the world by Tuesday, but you can do a bit, if you believe every little bit counts.

“A lot of effort is going into improving the energy efficiency of buildings, but there’s also now much more work focusing on the edges of buildings and nurturing green space around them.  For example, urban ventilation systems, where you allow areas for air to move, quite often over water, can help mitigate against the urban heat island effect.”

For Lorna, green space is central to happiness.  She says she wouldn’t survive in London without access to nature.  She also suggests that happiness is starting to become accepted as a kind of science, explaining that it’s connected to health and community, which are in turn intrinsically linked to spending time outside.  Statistics show that vast swathes of the population, young and old, are depressed.  “Parks and furry things, talking to other people and being active, the spaces where people can do those things are really important.”

Access to green spaces for Lorna, who is a wheelchair user, can be difficult in London but she is full of praises for improvements that are slowly being made.  The Thames footpath is a particular favourite.  “It was originally designed for cyclists but it’s great for wheelchairs.  My pet hate though is gravel, it’s absolutely impossible for wheelchairs, you just can’t get over it.”

And what are Lorna’s favourite green spaces and London views?  She loves Wandsworth Common and the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park, which is “totally magical all year round”.  The best views are to be had from buildings like the OXO tower and Centre Point, or along the river from the Albert and Hammersmith bridges.

But most of all she loves her “green but unkempt garden”, where she and her sister counted over 23 species of birds last year.  She works mainly from home and says the more she looks the more she sees.  She keeps it wild and spends as much time as she can simply watching, delighting in everything from bees and beetles to bright green parakeets.

Lorna Walker is managing director of Lorna Walker Consulting, which focuses on sustainable development and urban regeneration.  She is commissioner for CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) and has just finished working on a Foresight report about sustainable energy and management in the built environment.  Find out more on www.lornawalker.co.uk

This article appears in the winter 2009 issue of Wild London magazine

In praise of peat

Dubh lochans in Munsary Peatlands Reserve in Caithness (c) PlantlifeFunnily, when I’ve told people about writing this bog article, they’ve lit up.  Perhaps I’ve been confessing to somewhat special characters but I’m not sure that’s it – bogs are pretty amazing places.

One friend, someone I regard as a true urbanite, went all misty eyed over the ‘b’ word, reminiscing about a few months he’d spent in the Hebrides doing wildlife surveying.  He described the rich, peaty landscape as a true wilderness and as isolated as you could get in the British Isles.  Another person I told got very excited about the idea of bog people, the ancient bodies pulled out of peatlands, preserved by the acidic, oxygen-less earth.

The UK and Ireland are home to about 15% of the world’s peatlands, which globally cover approximately 3% of the earth’s surface.  Living in London I thought I was probably as far away from any kind of mossland as you could get, but it turns out there’s a sliver of bog on Hampstead Heath, not far from where I live.  The Heath is a great place, somewhere in the city where you can go and get genuinely lost and a little bit muddy.  The capital’s small sphagnum bog can be found in an acidic patch in the Kenwood west meadow.  It’s been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and provides a perfect home for numerous invertebrates and locally rare plant and moss species.  It’s a tiny, urban example of how important bogs are for wildlife.

Dark tussock moth caterpillar (c) Cillian Breathnach IPCCOn a far grander scale, the peatland areas of northern England, Scotland and Ireland support wildlife species that can only exist in bogs’ unique conditions.  The creatures that call peat home are fascinating and the plant, moss and lichen life is nothing short of exotic.  There’s the carnivorous and brightly coloured sundew and butterwort plants that have something almost tropical about them; there’s the delicate beauty of minty smelling bog myrtle, rare bog rosemary and bog asphodel; not to mention the multicoloured and multi-textured patchwork of sphagnum mosses.  Bogs can be home to various birdlife as well as dragonflies, damselflies, frogs and lizards.  And the sight of the magnificently hairy caterpillar of the dark tussock moth is something to behold.

Peat forms in the waterlogged, sterile and acidic conditions of bogs and fens.  These inhospitable sounding conditions are loved by certain plants.  As they die, the organic matter doesn’t decompose but slowly accumulates as peat due to the lack of oxygen, growing at the painfully slow rate of just one or two millimetres per year.  Some peat bogs have taken thousands of years to form.  They lock up carbon that would otherwise contribute massively to global warming.

Lichen - Cladonia floerkeana & Moss - Campylopus introflexus (c) Cillian Breathnach IPCCUnfortunately the UK and Ireland’s peatlands have been being consistently destroyed and degraded for decades.  People have been using peat for centuries and hand cutting for fuel can be sustainable, as the peat is often able to gradually re-form.  It’s the industrial scale stripping of peat for horticultural products that’s the real problem.

It started in the 1950s with the rise of the garden centre, an explosion in amateur gardening and an increasing trend to grow things in containers.  It would be silly to suggest that peat isn’t an effective growing medium.  It’s good at holding air and water, it’s sterile, easy to store and relatively cheap. Since the 1970s, it’s been the compost of choice for nearly all growers and this has had devastating environmental consequences.

Things are slowly changing.  Politically peat is recognised as being in need of protection.  The UK government has committed to 90% of the soil market being peat free by 2010, and DEFRA closely monitors the situation.  Figures released in 2007 highlighted that amateur gardeners were the biggest consumers of peat products, but that peat use was slowly dropping.

Lichen - Ceratadon purpurea (c) Cillian Breathnach IPCCAs we face up to the realities of a changing climate, peatlands have taken on an even greater significance as vital stores of carbon. Despite only covering a small part of the world’s land area, peatlands contain twice as much carbon as global forest biomass. A 2008 United Nations report concluded that 10 per cent of global emissions come from degraded peatlands – more than is emitted by the global aviation industry.  The destruction of bogs is not only disastrous for wildlife, it’s got dire consequences for us humans too.

A letter from conservationists appeared in the Times about this earlier this year.  The authors suggested that peatland restoration was a key way to tackle climate change.  They argued that the “restoration of peatlands converts them from net emitters to net absorbers of CO2…Restoration also brings collateral benefits in terms of flood control, water quality, biodiversity conservation and amenity value. The UK contains substantial areas of peatland containing over 1,800 million tonnes of carbon. Restoring these to prime condition would not only help to balance our own carbon budgets, it would encourage other nations to do the same.”

Peat bogs are wonderful places for wildlife and they have the potential to act as vital carbon sinks at a time when we urgently need to cut emissions.  You can do your bit to protect them by refusing to buy peat products or plants that have been grown in peat based compost.  There are lots of alternatives that will effectively nourish your plants, not least homemade (and free!) garden compost.

Find out more about peat

www.ipcc.ie – The Irish Peatland Conservation Council





Wet and wild: why boggy is best

Soggy sounding words like bog, swamp or marsh may not immediately conjure up visions of successful vegetable growing, but wet areas are actually a really important part of the ecosystem.

Wetlands are defined as transitional areas between dry land and deep water, including habitats like rivers, streams and lakes, as well as flood meadows, peatlands, marshes and estuaries.  On your plot, it’s that boggy spot where drainage is slow or the pond you’ve built in the corner.

The bigger, wetter picture

Three per cent of the earth’s surface is classed as wetland, and it’s a habitat that is under constant pressure.  Huge numbers of humans find themselves living on what used to be wetland areas, which are now partly concreted over and less absorbent.  As climate change scientists warn of rising tides and the ever higher risks of flooding, perhaps it’s time we started valuing the boggier aspects of life a bit more.

After the devastating UK floods in 2007, the Pitt Review concluded that the extent of the flooding was exacerbated by unsustainable management of land and water. The Wildlife Trusts argue that, in the past, the landscape around towns and cities and in upland areas absorbed water like a sponge.

Today, rain falling in the uplands often cannot soak into the ground, because drainage and erosion have damaged peatlands, and soil has been compacted by intensive grazing and farming.

Housing and arable land have replaced wet grassland and grazing marsh areas on many floodplains, taking away natural storage spaces for water. Concrete and paved over spaces like car parks, streets and some gardens can’t soak up water. Intense rainfall can quickly overwhelm some urban drains.

In the rush to increase agricultural production and expand towns and cities, water has been squeezed out of its natural space.  And it’s not just about flooding – many species of wildlife need wetlands in order to survive.

In the face of all this, gardens and allotments, with their soft, absorbent surfaces, are incredibly important for both people and wildlife.  Adding some wet areas to your plot will have benefits for the wider environment but will also encourage useful predators like bats, birds, frogs and toads, as well as adding aesthetic interest.

Damp loving plants can be very beautiful and there are even some crops that love wet conditions.  Water mint makes as good a cup of tea as ordinary mint, comfrey is an invaluable green manure crop and the jewel-like fruits of cranberries are a pleasure to try and grow.  Or why not give water cress cultivation a try?

Dig a pond or a build a bog

A garden pond, however big or small, is one of the best ways of attracting wildlife into your garden.  Even small ponds can support a rich diversity of wildlife and provide places for various species to bathe, drink and mate. A series of ponds in a neighbourhood creates essential corridors for wildlife to move and adapt to changing temperatures. Ponds also store large amounts of carbon, helping to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Anything can become a pond, in one of London Wildlife Trust’s sites an old roll top bath looks rather majestic as one, but it is best to construct a purpose designed pond, with easy routes in and out and plenty of pond-side shelter in the shape of marginal planting.  A pond can be dug at any time of year and shouldn’t take very long.

You can download a free guide to making one from www.wildlondon.org.uk/gardening, but the key things to consider are location and liner choice.  A level, sunny spot away from falling leaves is best, while flexible butyl liners are preferable to pre-moulded or concrete ones.

Creating a bog garden is even easier than making a pond, requiring a lot less digging!  If you already have a place in your patch that naturally has poor drainage, you can set this aside for plants that favour wet conditions.

To make a boggy area from scratch, mark out an area, dig down about 30cm and cover the space with a pond liner punched with a few holes (for slow drainage).  Refill the area with soil and a water retentive fibrous garden compost, and then water.  Plant with bog loving plants and keep it wet with rain collected in your water butt.

Water loving crops

Comfrey: organic growers should consider having a comfrey patch in their garden or allotment, as its leaves can be turned into an effective, green feed.  Comfrey really likes soggy conditions so if you have a damp area it should do well there.

Cranberries: the plants are low-growing, creeping shrubs that grow best in damp, acidic soil. Try digging a sunken bed in the garden, lining it with perforated black plastic and filling it with peat free compost.

Water cress: traditionally grown in running water, it’s possible to grow water cress from seed in standing water.  Sit pots of the plants in bowls full of water in a shady spot and change the water every couple of days.  Remember to re-use the old water elsewhere on the garden.

Water mint: able to grow on pond margins or fully submerged, water mint adds welcome colour and fragrance with its large pinkish flowers and strong menthol scented leaves.  Small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies love this plant, which also has numerous culinary uses.

Damp lovers – plants that like it wet


Bog bean

Common valerian

Hemp agrimony

Ladies smock

Marsh marigold

Meadow sweet


Purple and yellow loosestrife

Ragged robin

Water avens

Water forget-me-not


Yellow flag iris

If you do one thing

Protect the world’s bogs and fens, which provide a home for many rare plants and animals as well as acting as vital carbon stores, by refusing to buy peat products.  Choose peat free compost and only buy plants that are grown in peat free soil.  There are many alternatives to peat that are just as good if not better at nourishing your plants, not least homemade garden compost, which has the added bonus of being free.

This article appears in the July issue of Kitchen Garden magazine


Is pink the new green?

Coal-Rush-Landmark-Feb-2009-ES5 (c) Amelia GregoryIt was 6.30pm on a Thursday and impeccably dressed women in sparkling dresses, hats and heels had started gathering outside the rather swish Landmark Hotel in London.  Furtive looks and whispered hellos hinted that something was brewing.  That, and the huge number of police circling the block.

A glamorous looking woman talked urgently into her phone.  Suddenly she cried ‘now, now, now’ and the group dashed off to a side entrance and into the hotel.  I dashed off with them.  Through secret back passages that usually only the staff would see, our well dressed group headed deeper into the hotel before emerging into a huge atrium.  Chanting ‘no new coal’, and now sporting bright red sashes emblazoned with the same message, we sat defiantly around a sweeping staircase as two of our number unfurled a large banner from one of the balconies facing into the hall.

This was a Climate Rush action, organised in protest against the UK coal industry, which had been planning a dinner at the hotel that evening.  Climate Rush isn’t an exclusively female movement, but the organisers proudly take their inspiration from the Suffragettes. They declare they are “a diverse group determined to raise awareness of the biggest threat facing humanity today – that of climate change. We demand deeds not words”.

Environmentalism is not gender neutral

Climate code redResearch suggests that men and women approach environmental issues differently, that the relationship between communities and their environment is not gender neutral.[i] Forget Tupperware or Anne Summers parties, women have been meeting up and determining to fight for a better planet for years, and the movement seems to be gathering a new momentum of late.

Back in the early nineties, 1500 women from 83 countries met for the first Women’s Congress for a Healthy Planet.  More recently, in 2007, the Women’s Institute (WI) and Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) joined forces to produce the Women’s Manifesto on Climate Change.  Last year a networking group called WISE – Women in Sustainability and the Environment – set themselves up, calling for more female voices within the environmental movement.

“It is time now for more females to be informed, to become influential spokespersons and promoters of the solutions required to mitigate climate change, to push for a seismic shift in consciousness that recognises that we owe a duty of care to our wild and beautiful planet” say the WISE founders. Born out of an email to six people in April last year, the network already boasts 9,500 people on its mailing list, including quite a few men.

Fighting for planetary rights

Polly Higgins is an environmental lawyer and one of the founders of the WISE network.  She’s behind ambitious eco-projects including the Trees Have Rights Too call for global planetary rights.  She puts the success of WISE so far down to a huge apCoal-Rush-Landmark-Feb-2009-ES3 (c) Amelia Gregorypetite from women, and men, for a pro-active, solution based approach to environmental problems.

I asked her how people responded to the women only thing.  “A small minority think it’s ridiculous but most see it as non-threatening and actually I’ve found it’s a selling point.  Men are very interested in it!  It’s about positive discrimination and balance, not about excluding men” she explains.

Green tasks are pink not blue

It’s not all about direct action and political campaigning either.  Women are a powerful force on a much more personal level too.  A joint WI/WEN survey found that women make most household decisions, that 80% are very concerned about climate change and that a massive 98% recycle.  “Green tasks, like similar chores, are it seems more likely to be pink than blue” say Caroline Oates and Seonaidh McDonald in their research paper ‘Recycling and the Domestic Division of Labour’.

Our ladies only eco-group

About a year ago I joined a group that was meeting in my local area to talk about environmental issues.  There were no rules, except that I was female.  As with all these kinds of things, I went along not knowing what to expect but with all kinds of expectations.  It was like a first date, and a blind one at that.  I was attracted to the group because it was for ladies only, but I did, I confess, feel slightly awkward about that fact.

plastic bottleWe wanted our first event to be fun as well as informative, so we picked a gorgeous venue and there was wine and goody bags, as well as talks and advice from experts.  Our local MP Emily Thornberry even showed up.  It was a lot of work but it felt important to try and talk to women who hadn’t yet been converted to environmentally friendly ways of working.

These days our meetings tend to focus around talking about our eco problems.  It’s incredibly useful – an environmental concern shared is a concern halved, etcetera, etcetera.  We’ve researched and debated things like plastics, organics and cosmetics.  We explored how to hold a green wedding when one of us announced her engagement and environmentally friendly parenting when one of us got pregnant.

All this, plus some great evenings in our favourite Islington pub.  We really enjoy the supportive dynamic created by the ladies only rule, valuing the fact the women’s movement seeks to challenge the default ways of doing things and gives us the courage to take action, both personal and political.

A different kind of energy

“Women offer a different energy and perspective” says Polly Higgins of WISE, who explains the network “is about helping more women step up to the podium to deliver messages that are not doom and gloom led but offer big solutions.  There are so many women out there with so much expertise that we should be tapping into”.

Previous climate change talks have been dominated by men, but something is beginning to shift.  In December the UN vowed to address gender imbalance in climate change negotiations and women are working hard behind the scenes to make their presence felt more strongly at the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen.  “We are different creatures, we look at things differently” says Polly, and it seems that that different approach can only make the environmental movement stronger and able to engage more people, male and female.

This article appears in the May issue of Organic Garden and Home magazine


Useful facts, figures, resources

A joint survey of UK women by WEN and WI found:

Women make most household decisions

80% of women are very concerned about climate change

98% recycle

87% refuse plastic bags

Useful web links






[i] Climate change: learning from gender analysis and women’s experiences of organising for sustainable development by Irene Dankleman; Gender and Development Vol. 10, no. 2, July 2002

The future of gardening

The future of gardening


Gardens are becoming more important than ever for people and wildlife, a vital link in a living, breathing grid of green space across the country. They are quite simply crucial in our efforts to cope with the effects of climate change, from soaking up water and carbon and offering shade, to providing areas where we can grow our own food and offer shelter and food to wildlife.


A change in climate will be felt strongly by the nation’s gardeners, who will witness first hand the impact of extreme weather like drought and flood on plants, food crops and garden wildlife.  It is time to start gardening with climate change in mind.  In a two pronged approach, we can take steps to both mitigate against and adapt to climate change.


Why cities need gardens

Canyons of concrete and oceans of pavement heat up quicker than a field or forest, and they keep cities warmer at night by releasing heat stored up during the day. By the middle of the century our capital city may be sweltering in heat waves in two out of every three summers, according to the London Mayor’s climate change report.  Average summer temperatures are predicted to rise by two and a half to three degrees Celsius by 2050.

High proportions of concrete and other hard surfaces make flooding more likely too, and with the increased intensity of rainfall making the risk of flooding ever greater, our gardens have never been more important.  They soak up water like sponges and then allow it to evaporate slowly, steadily helping to cool the atmosphere.  Gardens and green space like allotments let our cities breathe, and that’s why it’s so important that we preserve and protect them.

Campaigning for the capital’s gardens

In response, London Wildlife Trust is taking a stand on climate change and campaigning to get garden conservation taken seriously.  They are encouraging people to stop adding hard surfaces like patios and concrete parking spaces to their gardens. If green space must be covered, porous surfaces can be used and additional areas of green space or habitat can be developed elsewhere on the property. This could be by installing green roofs on sheds, garages or flat roofs.

London Wildlife Trust’s Director of Biodiversity Conservation, Emily Brennan explains that “managing your garden with climate change in mind can be beneficial for people as well as wildlife.  A high proportion of living, porous surfaces can reduce the likelihood of flooding, and also make your garden a more pleasant space during heat waves.  Choose plants which provide shelter and food for wildlife, and which don’t need a lot of watering to thrive.”

Gardening for wildlife

Urban gardens can be rich in wildlife, supporting rare and common species, from stag beetle and hedgehog to sparrow, bumblebees and old native trees.  Gardens could also help wildlife adapt to rising temperatures. As the UK heats up wildlife will need to move to new areas of suitable habitat along climate corridors, up and down the country.  London’s gardens and allotments are one vital part of a UK network of open spaces including river corridors and parks that wildlife can use to move. Such a network is an essential part of the ‘Living Landscape’ approach to conservation championed by The Wildlife Trusts.

Think global, act local

The importance of growing food shouldn’t be under estimated.  Reports[1] suggest that processed foods use ten calories of fossil energy for every calorie of food produced, not to mention the impact of air miles, refrigeration and packaging.  Growing and eating local reduces our climate calorie intake.

Author and expert grower Charles Dowding explains why an element of self sufficiency is important.  “The more food you can grow, the more independent you become and that is vital in a fast changing world where weather, market supplies and international trade look more uncertain from day to day.”


Advice for gardeners


So how do we create the gardens of the future?  How can you do your bit to fight climate change and also adapt your garden to cope with its effects? 


Charles Dowding advises that “it makes sense to garden organically, in a way that eventually relies little on inputs from outside. Making and using sufficient compost is the key here. 


“To cope with increased risk of drought and flood increasing the organic matter content of soils will make the biggest difference. More moisture can be conserved because the humus in organic matter is like a sponge, holding on to more rain, so you need to water less in dry weather. Adding organic matter also encourages soil life such as worms, whose vertical tunnels act as superb drainage channels in heavy rain.


“Vegetables can be far more productive than is often realised, as long as the right ones are sown at the right time, soil is in good heart and slugs are dealt with correctly (see top tips for sustainable gardening for advice). I hope that the allotments and kitchen gardens of the future will be more productive, as people re-learn the art of growing good vegetables.”


Get inspired

Last year London Wildlife Trust developed an award winning ‘Wildlife Garden in a Skip’, which travelled around the capital highlighting the importance of urban gardens.  Building on that success, this year they are taking the sustainable gardening message to Hampton Court Flower Show, July 8th – 13th.  London Wildlife Trust’s Future Garden will explore how gardeners can adapt to our changing climate by planting water saving plants, and using sustainable and reused features. It will also highlight what could be the common garden species of the future.  Why not come along to the show and visit the garden? 


Visit www.wildlondon.org.uk for fascinating facts about the capital’s wildlife and indispensable mini guides to wildlife gardening.


Charles Dowding is author of ‘Organic Gardening the Natural, No Dig Way’ and ‘Salad Leaves For All Seasons’, both published by Green Books at £10.95.  You can find out more at www.charlesdowding.com.



London Wildlife Trust’s top tips for sustainable gardening:


DIY compost and feed

Make rich liquid feeds for hungry tomatoes and peppers from comfrey, borage or nettle.

Leave autumn leaves to rot in bags and then use as mulch.

Adding homemade mulch to your soil will not only increase how much water it can hold, it will also suppress weeds.



Collect rainwater in water butts and use ‘grey water’ from washing up, baths and showers to water your garden.

Egg boxes and yoghurt pots make great planters, and why not make protective cloches from old plastic bottles.

Trap slugs and snails in grapefruit halves or saucers of beer, or create barriers around prize plants with soot, grit or egg shells


Wildlife working for you

Attract birds, hedgehogs and frogs – they’ll feed on slugs and snails.  Lacewings, ladybirds, hoverflies and spiders will devour aphids.

Plant a variety of seasonal flowering plants to provide year round nectar for ladybirds, bees and butterflies, and integrate native wild flowers into your existing planting scheme.

Colourful poached egg plant, pot marigold and fennel will attract hoverflies.


Some star plants for dry gardens

Rosemary – delicious with your Sunday roast and good for bees

Lavender – smells divine and a favourite of butterflies

Thyme – tasty herb beloved of humans, butterflies and bees


Visit – the Centre for Wildlife Gardening in Peckham, South London



© Helen Babbs / The Wildlife Trusts

First published in Kitchen Garden magazine June 2008


[1] Taken from ‘How we’ve all grown’ by Allan Jenkins, The Observer, 11th November 2007 – Lucy Siegle writes in ‘The Ethical Audit’: “Processed food uses 10 calories of fossil energy for every calorie of food produced. Then there’s the air miles, the chilling, the refrigeration and the packaging” – see http://lifeandhealth.guardian.co.uk/gardens/story/0,,2206775,00.html