Village Climate Action

The last few weeks seem to have been busy.  It’s funny how retirement has changed my feeling of what a busy life is.  I can dawdle through breakfast, stroll around the local area while ‘getting my steps in’ most of the morning, browse the newspaper for an hour, snooze a bit after lunch, and cook and watch box set episodes in the evenings.  Compared with a 45-50 hour week in a helter-skelter office, it’s a breeze.  And yet, working in our local, village climate action group, which generates the pressure of a few extra meetings, the need to manage a few peoples’ surprisingly acute sensitivities, a commitment to arrange and attend a couple of public events, the responsibility for our newsletter and the imperative of responding to a score of emails, my days can suddenly feel very full. 

Dawn This Morning On The Way To Town – Just To Prove I Do Get Up Early Some Days In Retirement!

I have enjoyed being part of our local village climate action group since I retired.  It has been a good way to become better known in the village, to meet villagers I didn’t know when I was commuting to London each week, and to feel part of the local community.  Our main objective is to keep the climate and ecological crises high on village residents’ radar.

To that end I have helped prepare for and then man a couple of stalls advertising our existence and interests in the last couple of weeks.  The first was in our local market town at the annual Nailsworth Town Meeting where we helped out our (big) sister climate action group.

The Nailsworth Climate Action Network Stall At The ‘Town Meeting’

The second was at our local village fete.  Given the size of our village, this fete (especially the ever-expanding dog show) punches well above its weight.  It also has the benefit of always having nice, sunny weather – I don’t know how the organisers manage that!

Horsley Village Fete Morris Dancers In Full Swing

While Long-Suffering Wife crowned days of organisation and food preparation by slaving away managing the teas and cakes service in the Village Hall, I stood in blazing September sun in front of or climate action group stall trying to catch the eye of passers-by that I could have a chat with.  Speaking to strangers is something I am not comfortable with but I now know enough village people well enough to intrude on their fun by saying a few words about the climate emergency before moving on to other village news. 

Our Climate Action Network Stall At The Horsley Village Fete

It’s more tiring than expected though – or again is this just because I’m getting soft in retirement?  I was glad that I had the excuse of a football game to see and could slope off well before the end (especially as my team, Forest Green Rovers, won to go top of their league).  I offset my feebleness and lack of stamina on our fete stall by spending a few hours afterwards collating the results of some informal surveys we conducted.  So I feel I did ‘my bit’.

A highlight in the activities of our climate action group in the last few weeks has been a visit to a local farm where the farmer is trying to farm sustainably.  It was a fascinating visit even though the weather was at the other end of the scale from that we had at the fete – cold, wet and windy.

The farmer is what he called a ‘generational farmer’; that is someone who is part of a family tree that has farmed the land for generations and who hopes to pass it on to his kids.  That is important since he therefore has a vested interest in thinking about the long term health of the farmland he owns and has a sense of stewardship for. 

View Towards Horsley Village From The Farm

He emphasised the need for corridors (such as overgrown hedges) for wildlife through what he called a ‘mosaic’ of different habitats and productive fields.  He strives for a balance between his responsibility to produce food for the nation (and make enough profit) and the need to maintain biodiversity and soil health (so there is longevity to that profitability).  Some of what he is doing is experimental.  In most cases, the sustainable agricultural activity has a clear, short term cost but an unclear, long term benefit.  It is an act of faith that is only justifiable to the farmer personally because he and his family hope to farm the land for decades.

Some Of This Year’s Milling Wheat Crop (Awaiting An HGV Driver!)

His 80 cows have so much space and are so semi-wild that we didn’t see them at any time during our 90 minute trudge through the drizzle.  Among the stretches of arable fields were re-wilded areas, copses, overgrown hedges, fields of colourful mixes of plants that encourage field birds, and of legumes that replenish the soil.  Some areas of poor soil have been turned over to natural grassland which has reduced erosion and allowed flora and fauna diversity to prosper.  Some harvested fields have been left to regenerate with spilled seed that protects the surface from the elements and provides a habitat for voles which are predated by barn owls and short-eared owls. 

Part of the Farm ‘Mosaic’: Untended Grassland, Legumes, And Field Bird Crops

It was a life affirming and uplifting visit.  Clearly there are many challenges in farming in this sustainable way – not least the uncertainty in bureaucracy and payments as we move from EU to UK farming policies, protocols and subsidy administration following Brexit.  Indeed, farming sounded like a lot of hard work.  Not like retirement!

Summer’s Slow Demise

The weather during most of September has been excellent.  Now, though, summer has gradually drawn to a close.  There are still warm and sunny intervals but rain clouds are more prevalent, the tiring trees are dripping brown, and the streams are filling up.  Autumn is here.

The new walled garden still looks full of colour – Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has done a great job of maintaining its life throughout the summer and now on into Autumn.  The dahlias, which she has tried growing for the first time, largely succumbed to the slugs early on, but those that survived now look magnificent.  The scabious, salvia, cosmos (my small contribution), gaura and ever-resilient verbena bonariensis still look great and the last of the bee activity of the season continues to feed on these.

Last, Fading Colour In The Walled Garden

Last, Fading Colour In The Walled Garden

The badgers took all the sweetcorn – they didn’t leave one for us! But there are still vegetables to harvest – leeks, beetroot, potatoes and chard – plus one last elephantine courgette.  However, thoughts are now moving on to clearing away the vegetable beds, planting bulbs for next year and putting in a couple more trees.  We have ordered loads of alliums which I (and the bees) love and some more narcissuses for the field.  I have gathered some wildflower, hollyhock and foxglove seed and now need to do something with it!

We can see a lot of the ash trees in the vicinity are diseased.  We have a very impressive, large ash at the edge of our property.  It looks appears to be thriving but must surely be threatened by the surrounding ash die-back disease despite its current good health.  We need to get ahead of the damage and start planting to fill potential gaps.  We have just ordered a cherry and a whitebeam to offset the cutting back we did earlier in the year, and to augment the little orchard we have established over the last few years.  However, more tree-planting may be required.

I attended my Parish Council meeting for the village we now live in last week.  This was one of a series of meetings I attended related to carbon footprint reduction in the village, local sustainability initiatives and climate change.  At the Parish Council meeting I supported a move towards our village becoming carbon neutral and one of the first steps is to plant a 1,000 trees in the Parish.  It’s a start and we’ll offer to take three or four more in our field.  But I’m aware that other trees will die or need to come down because they obstruct power lines adjacent to our land, so all we are likely to manage is a rough equilibrium.  I hope others with space do better.

Local Tree Planting Scheme To Reduce Flooding

Local Tree Planting Scheme In Kingscote Woods To Reduce Flooding

As we have become increasingly aware of the climate change and sustainability issues, so LSW and I have suffered increasing angst about air travel which has such a big carbon emission impact.  Our trips to Canada, Australia (twice!), South Africa and cities in Europe in recent years have magnified our carbon footprint.  We haven’t looked to offset these trips up to now but are certainly planning to do so in the future.

Fortunately for the planet, our prevarication in the face of Middle Son’s accident, and then my mother’s recent falls, have given us excuses to shelve our summer and autumn holiday plans to burn up more exhaust in the upper atmosphere.  Maybe we will train-ride to Lyon for a few days in October…..

Meanwhile, I continue to enjoy the local walks.  The wildlife on the way to the local town each day is constantly shifting in character and behaviour.  Seeing it every day allows observation of the slightest changes – the loneliness of the swan, the arrival of little egrets, and the growing snuffling aloofness of the increasingly porky pigs.

Local Wildlife - New Chicks, Lonely Swan, Foraging Old Spot Pigs And, If You Look Carefully, Little Egrets

Local Wildlife – New Chicks, Lonely Swan, Foraging Old Spot Pigs And (If You Look Carefully) Little Egrets

This fascination has been augmented by the joy of being able to pick and eat the blackberries on the way.  Even better, there are enough – it has been a truly wonderful year for hedgerow blackberries – for cooking and for freezing for breakfasts and puddings during the forthcoming winter.

Masses Of Wild Blackberries Picked In Less Than 30 Minutes

Masses Of Wild Blackberries Picked In Less Than 30 Minutes

I shall miss the summer as it creeps away.  I shall miss the casualness of not having to worry too much about whether it is going to rain or the need for a coat.  I shall miss the sun and sitting and walking in it.  But Autumn will have its splendours too, and we are lucky enough to have a house that can withstand the winter cold.  In those circumstances, even winter can be attractive.  Goodbye summer.