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  1. Why Does Biodiversity Matter?

    I was asked this question by a friend, no doubt invited by my rambling on about nature, and I’m ashamed to say I struggled to answer beyond a stuttered ‘Um, it just does...er...a lot'.

    Obviously since then I have replayed how I should have answered, eloquently and persuasively using both scientific and spiritual arguments, but that said it is a difficult question to answer.

    Biodiversity is in some ways very simple; it's the web of life, of which we are a part. It’s the air we breath, the water that we drink and the food that we eat.

    Biodiversity is also very complicated. Even the most clued-up scientists have only scratched the surface in terms of understanding the finely balanced system, with its countless interactions, that makes up our ‘Perfect Planet’.

    “Biodiversity is the most complex feature of our planet and it is the most vital. Without biodiversity, there is no future for humanity,” Prof David Macdonald, The Guardian 2018.

    Biodiversity loss is now thought to be the single biggest threat to humankind, more so than climate change (yet receiving far less media coverage). Species numbers are plummeting at an alarming rate; from large mammals to birds and bees, down to microscopic creatures at the base of the food chain.

    Our disconnectedness from nature makes it harder for us to grasp why biodiversity matters. Start talking about soil microorganisms in a conversation about fake grass and people may think you’re a bit bonkers (my friend Suze got three laughing faces on social media when she did just this!).

    We’ve been brought up to be scared of ‘creepy crawlies’, to see wildflowers as weeds, and bugs as pests. Children (and many adults) often don’t know where the food they eat comes from, or how it is grown, let alone that without those pesky bugs food crops wouldn’t grow at all.

    As inspirational youth conservationist and president of Black2Nature @birdgirlUK Mya-Rose Craig says;

    “The biggest hurdle to be overcome is the fact that people cannot truly care about something they know nothing about. However, as wildlife and nature decline, so do the opportunities to connect with it.” Wicked Leeks, 2021

    Insects In The City

    The good news, my fellow urban dwellers, is that our cities have the potential to offer a rich mosaic for wildlife, with our streets, parks, open spaces, schools, buildings, disused sites and verges to name but a few potential habitats.

    Nature loves diversity, and the city has it in spades, along with a large workforce of people who all have the ability to foster biodiversity with support, guidance and community spirit (and some have actual spades too :-)).

    This blog post shares some of the inspiring movements and projects that are taking place, that demonstrate how we too can get involved.

    The Movements

    Guerilla Gardening

    As the ‘Gangsta Gardener’ Ron Finlay himself says, ‘Plant some shit’, and guerilla gardeners do just that; in - shock, horror - council managed flower beds, grass verges, parks and the like. How wonderful!

    The charismatic Finlay is one of the movement's most vocal proponents (check out his TED talk), having transformed his local neighbourhood by harnessing the passion of local residents to create a productive space out of previously barren areas;

    ‘In LA you can’t find a fresh apple without a long car drive. His reaction? To pull up the littered turf outside his house and plant it up with banana trees and sunflowers for the neighbourhood. ‘ Guerilla Gardening, A Report From The Front Line - The Guardian

    We have our own Guerilla Gardeners in the the UK, like Richard Reynolds;

    ”Operating from Elephant and Castle in London, he sneaks out late at night and sows seeds in tree pits and on roundabouts, colouring up unwanted places. His delivery puts the people right at the core of all this blooming concrete.’ The Standard, 2016

    Depave

    Depaving, which is exactly what it sounds like, is supported by forward-thinking councillors such as East London’s John Burke who recently secured funding from the Mayor of London for a Depave project in Hackney;

    ‘It would be great if we were allowed to depave and replace hard landscaping with edible hedging and nature-enhancing plants – on street corners, in car parks, between buildings, the edges of pavements, private gardens and on estates.’ (John Burke, Yes Mag, 2019)

    More Than Weeds

    Burke has also lent his support to the More Than Weeds movement in Hackney, inspired by the wonderfully named French campaign '‘Sauvages De Ma Rue "(“Wild Things Of My Street”). Botanist and campaigner Sophie Leguil has now gained permission for the (previously illegal) act of labelling wildflowers in pavements cracks and on walls with chalk.

    “I’ve been wanting to do it on a larger scale, with permission, and I hope to get more authorities interested in creating trails. We talk a lot about plant blindness – what if putting names on plants could make people look at them in a different way? I despair at how sanitised London has become. Plants can be managed differently, with benefits – cost-saving, biodiversity, education.” The Guardian, 2020

    Hackney Council has now gone pesticide-free in some areas and halved its use overall to increase wild flowers and boost insect biodiversity,

    “It is absurd that this chalking of plant names is criminal. It is something we welcome as an important and inspiring teaching tool for adults and children. How else will a kid ever know these names? The vocabulary of the natural world helps us access it, love it and desire to protect it.” The Guardian, 2020

    I find it shocking that spraying is routinely carried out on streets and in parks, particularly as urban areas are already suffering the effects of pollution. Hopefully we will follow France’s lead where pesticide use in parks, streets and gardens is now completely banned.

    The Community Projects

    The Poppy Estate

    Under the leadership of Cllr John Burke (yes, that name again) a very different kind of land management company has been appointed to look after the Clapton Park Estate. John Little, of the Grass Roof Company, is a pioneer (and personal hero of mine) in creating and managing public spaces that people can engage with and actually use. He was brought in to transform this housing estate in East London.

    Little recalls how at the start of the project he discovered that one resident, Fatima had been doing a spot of guerilla gardening by planting coriander underneath the council’s neat shrubs. He then focussed all of his efforts on what this diverse community wanted from their garden. The result is a communal herb garden which reflects the culinary tastes of the diverse residents: grape leaves for Turkish dolmas, mint and oregano for Kurdish dishes, and coriander and thyme for West Indian cuisine.

    “If you could see for years what we had to look at across there,” Ahmet says with a grimace. “Gradually now though we’re getting more mums sitting under that side with their kids, sitting and eating their dinner - they never used to do that.” The Ecologist, 2012 

    The since nicknamed ‘Poppy Estate’ was transformed into a productive space with 50 growing plots, over 250 fruit trees and bushes, herb beds, community gardens, wildflower railings, native trees and shrubs, and green roofs and insect hotels. A beautiful, thriving place that everyone can share and enjoy - I shall plan a visit!

    Poppy

    Residents picking almonds. Photo from Grass Roof Company.

    Energy Garden

    Energy garden is a charitable initiative that helps communities turn disused spaces in overground stations into solar powered green spaces where local residents can grow fruit trees and vegetables, and where beehives & hedgehog houses are installed to encourage wildlife.

    “We need to have wild spaces and incredible ecosystems that are green and beautiful, so that you want to live in a city because it’s just as healthy as the countryside. Every station garden is a reflection of the community that lives and travels there” Founder Agamemnon Otero, I News 2021

    Energy 563

    Photo from Instagram @energygardenldn.

    There are similar initatives popping up internationally, like Pocket-Sized Parks in Athens, that are helping to combat pollution and mitigate the extreme heat for its residents.

    The Schools & Allotments

    The Dasgupta Report is a first-of-its-kind UK government commissioned report that outlines the threat of biodiversity loss; giving recommendations on how we need to change our economic and societal model to tackle the problem (fascinating report that hardly garnered a mention in the press!).

    One finding is that teenagers are the least engaged in wildlife (particularly if they have a mum who is an eco geek), and suggests that education on Ecology should be introduced into the National curriculum.

    The good news is that schools, particularly at primary level, are creating their own nature gardens; where children can help to grow vegetables, and study the abundance of wildlife that appears when you have habitats like a pond. I spotted wood piles and bee hotels on my walk past our local school, all of which help children to connect with wildlife.

    As I understand it, it is largely left to teachers to introduce conservation issues across different subject areas, such as science, geography and PSHE. The Harmony Project, led by Richard Dunne (watch his brilliant TED talk), is helping educators to do just this - focussing on helping young people to connect and have a deeper understanding of the natural world. It would be wonderful to see biodiversity become a core part of education, from infant to senior school level.

    Allotments are also starting to focus more on biodiversity. On my friend Alix’s allotment in Walton, a family friendly area called ‘The Community Allotment’ has been created. It’s a completely charming space; with old wheelbarrows planted up with wildflowers, wildlife ponds and supersized bug hotels using reclaimed materials.

    Schools and scout groups are invited to visit, and Alix has noticed fellow plot holders embracing nature with log piles and bug hotels. Her own lovely patch features a wildlife pond complete with frogspawn for the first time this year!

    Allotment 563

    Urban Buzz, run by the UK’s brilliant and only dedicated invertebrate charity, is aiming to turn Cardiff University into a bee-friendly campus, with the campaign having spread to the wider community in the form of initiatives like wildflower grass verges and road embankments, and the installation of bee hotels and bat boxes on city streets. Anyone who is anyone will have an insect hotel in their garden by 2022, I'm telling you :-).

    The Charities

    Councils are now supporting the creation of Friends Groups, which in turn are supported by charities like the Wildlife Trust and Habitats & Heritage. The result is that local parks and green spaces are starting to see more of a focus on conservation in the way that they are being managed.

    One fantastic example local to me is Crane Park in the Borough of Hounslow. My local butcher told me that this isn’t a park that you would have rushed to with a picnic 20 years ago. Now it is an eco park, endorsed by local resident David Attenborough no less!

    The London Wildlife Trust, working with the local council and community volunteer groups, has turned it into ‘a park designed to encourage wildlife’.

    I only discovered it recently and was totally bowled over by how beautiful and wild it is. There are coppiced fences, brash piles, mangrove-like areas, bird and bat boxes - a huge variety of habitats across a relatively small area. The Crane River runs through the middle, and on the four visits that I’ve made so far, I’ve seen a Kingfisher three times (and have done an unbearable amount of showing off about this to my rural dwelling family!).

    Other charities like Tiny Forest and The Conservation Volunteers work with councils and community groups, the former planting native trees and creating small woodlands in areas as small as a tennis court. TCV runs Green Gyms and volunteering days across London, and offers a great chance to dip your toe into conservation projects in your area.

    The Power Of The Public

    Transforming public space with the input and help of local residents automatically leads to a higher level of engagement with the landscape and seasons; whether by growing food, creating cleaner and greener spaces to spend time in or building habitat for much-loved creatures like bees and hedgehogs.
     
    All of these wonderful projects show just how essential biodiversity is to us. Individuals and community groups are using their collective voices, and (sometimes rebel) actions to influence councils, governments and developers to consider the potential in transforming grey, sanitised urban areas into productive, rich and biodiverse places that work for the whole community, insects included.

    So grab a handful of seeds, find a space and grow some shit!

    Resources

    Listen To: Roots and All Podcast Episode 29 – Garden Design for Every Species with John Little of the Grass Roof Company

    John Finlay TED Talk - A Guerilla Gardener In South Central

    References/ Further Reading

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/may/01/not-just-weeds-how-rebel-botanists-are-using-graffiti-to-name-forgotten-flora-aoe

    https://theecologist.org/2012/oct/12/grey-green-transforming-londons-council-estates

    https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/12/what-is-biodiversity-and-why-does-it-matter-to-us

    https://theecologist.org/2012/oct/12/grey-green-transforming-londons-council-estates

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/28/organic-or-starve-can-cubas-new-farming-model-provide-food-security

    https://www.hackneycitizen.co.uk/2019/11/12/citizen-gardener-garden-winter/

    https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/gardening-blog/2014/oct/10/guerrilla-gardening-a-report-from-the-frontline

    https://horizon-magazine.eu/article/what-urban-nature-really-means-insect-biodiversity.html

    https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/guerrilla-gardening-meet-the-man-who-plants-flowers-in-the-night-to-make-london-a-greener-city-a3236816.html

    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-greece-environment-pocket-parks-idUSKBN2B320F

  2. Tips For Eco Friendly Christmas Wrapping
    Whether you are a last minute dash to the shops, throw the paper on, cellotape in teeth kind of a person; or wrapped by 1st December, precise folds, silk bows kind of a person, chances are you do wrap your Christmas gifts in one fashion or another.

    There is, of course, a colossal amount of waste produced either way, so whatever your wrapping style, try following these tips for a more eco friendly Christmas 2020.

    Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String

    Basic
    Brown kraft paper is one of the most cost effective and simple ways to wrap gifts, and large rolls are widely available to buy online. An additional benefit to having a bigger roll is that it will cover even the largest gifts. Look out for variations, you generally get the quality that you pay for. If you're on a budget go imitation kraft or spend more for ribbed brown kraft paper which gives a luxurious finish.

    To keep things minimal, write your gift message straight onto the brown paper to avoid the need for tags. Add a flourish with a red pen, and your neatest calligraphy penmanship!

    Budget - Hobbycraft Kraft Brown Wrapping Paper
    Luxury - Gift Wrap It Ribbed Kraft Paper or Burrow & Nest Brown Paper

    Kraft_Butchers_Pres_98763351-88d5-4341-bc31-ef50f9744912_1024x1024

    Add Bells
    Invest in a spool of string or paper raffia ribbon, widely available online. At The Wise House I currently use three different types of string for the eco gift sets and Christmas gift wrap; red and white cotton string, plum hemp cord and green wool.

    Tie up each gift in the traditional parcel way, or check out Pinterest for all sorts of stylish variations.

    Little Cherry - Compostable Ribbon
    Imaginediy - Hemp & Flax Cord & Bakers Twine

    Photo 23-10-2020, 12 38 49

    And Whistles
    Forage for festive foliage for the final flourish on adult gifts. Plants like holly, dried flowers and rosehips all look lovely. A reader of this blog also suggested dried orange and cinnamon sticks, adding a gorgeous smell too!

    Invest in a Christmas themed stamp so that you can customise your brown paper. Try The English Stamp Company for a wide choice for both paper and tags, including the option to personalise.

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    All That Glitters Ain’t Gold - Wrapping Paper Dos And Don’ts
    If you still prefer the more traditional wrap with a festive print, try to avoid anything that is shiny or glittery as these papers won’t be recyclable. My dad was a printer by trade, and he told me that gold and silver are the most toxic inks to print with, so try to swerve those colours. 

    Thankfully companies are waking up to this, and I have noticed that John Lewis/Waitrose and Paperchase have moved away from non recyclable wrap.

    Do look for paper that is recycled as well as recyclable, which is often that with a brown kraft paper background. I am using some beautiful recycled Christmas paper at The Wise House this year, so that customers can choose to have their order sent wrapped and ready to go (see image below). For in-store/ high street try Paperchase and Barnados Charity Shop.

    Gift Wrap It - Recycled Wrapping Paper
    Paperchase - Kraft Christmas Wrap
    Temptation Gifts - East Of India Recycled Paper

    Wrap

    Work Some Christmas Magic With A Twist Of Fabric

    Basic
    Wrapping with fabric might sound like a newfangled idea, but in fact Furoshiki is a traditional Japanese wrapping technique that has been used across Asia for hundreds of years. Check out Pinterest or read this guide by Fabric Wrapping Co for different ways to tie your fabric.

    Use scraps from home, or buy a suitable ream of fabric from your local haberdashery. The beauty is that you can cut a variety of sizes to suit different gift shapes. More importantly, you can reuse for many years, and save a great deal of waste and pennies in the process!

    Add Bells
    Custom made fabric wrap is now becoming more widely available, printed in a range of gorgeous patterns and colours. I noticed that even John Lewis are selling fabric gift bags. Try Tabitha Eve for a Christmas family bundle, one of which we bought last year to use for our close family gifts. They also sell fabric gift bags in gorgeous Christmas prints.

    BOTTLE1_2111b913-d231-430a-9120-2c93f4538240_1024x1024@2x

    And Whistles
    The Fabric Wrapping Co sell the most beautiful fabric wrap, complete with pom poms and silk fabric. Totally luxurious.

    You can also add your own embellishments to a fairly plain fabric wrap from the contents of your sewing box - tassels, ribbon, buttons etc.

    On The First Day Of Christmas, My True Love Said To Me - Reuse To Save Chopping Down Trees
    We’ve talked a bit about reuse, which is of course the most eco friendly way to go. Take it to full eco geekdom status with the following ideas:

    Basic
    Use old magazines, newspaper and tissue to wrap gifts. For smaller presents I cut up large paper envelopes that I have received, as it works in the same way as brown paper wrapping. I send many of my orders in grass paper envelopes which would make lovely gift wrap. Check out this Pinterest board by Pebble Magazine for more inspiration (image below by Pebble Magazine).

    88dc725b449c58a9a6280ffce066ff92
    Add Bells & Whistles
    I save every scrap of ribbon, string and other nic nacs that I receive throughout the year and keep it all in a large tin. This is a great way to prevent non biodegradable embellishments like bows and ribbon from landfill. Dip into your tin every time you wrap a gift (and snatch it back again if you think the recipient is more likely to throw it away!). I’ve even kept the ribbon from the children’s medals!

    Bye Bye Cello, Brown Tape ‘Hello’

    Basic
    Cellotape is horrible stuff quite frankly. Switch to brown paper tape now with nary a glance back! Cellotape sized brown paper tape rolls are now widely available. Try Eco Craft Self Adhesive Paper Tape.

    Bells & Whistles
    Upgrade to paper tape printed with Christmas designs, which looks particularly snazzy on plain brown paper wrap.

    Papertree - Christmas Paper Tape
    Naturally Wrapt - Paper Tape

    eco-friendly-christmas-tape-600x600

    Make Free Tags Your Bag

    Basic
    Tags can be an expensive way to let a person know who the present is for and from. You either ditch this step all together, particularly if you are handing over your gift in person, or try making your own.

    Add Bells
    A free way to make tags, and a tradition going back through the Rowe family, is to cut up the previous years Christmas cards. It takes a bit of time but children usually quite like to get involved, so it can become a family activity.

    And Whistles
    If you prefer your tags custom made for Christmas, look for manilla and/or recycled paper tags, following the same rules as with the wrapping paper. You could even paint or draw your own designs onto plain tags, for the personal touch.

    With many of us having a bit more time on our hands, perhaps we can all get more creative this year! Leave a comment below with suggestions on wrapping ideas, or your thoughts on which tips you might use from the blog. You will be entered into a Prize Draw with a chance to win a Christmas gift wrapped Orange & Bergamont Soap On A Rope. For more eco gift ideas, shop The Wise House.

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