Category Archives: Local

The Wye, Reimagined!

Extinction Rebellion activists hold a vigil for the River Wye, Saturday 19th Dec 2020

The River Wye, like so many of Britain’s rivers is in a sorry state. It is suffering from decades of damage caused by poor farming practices. Phosphate pollution is a major issue stemming from intensive poultry units, excessive use of artificial fertilizers and old and poorly functioning sewage works and septic tanks. Excessive ploughing is leading to soil erosion after heavy rain. Maize, unsustainably grown for bio-digesters, is especially vulnerable to soil erosion. These are just some of the problems affecting the Wye catchment area. Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s Andrew Nixon gives his list of what is wrong here. Helen Stace, the Trust’s director, writes about a recent act of ecosystem vandalism by a local farmer on the River Lugg. Investigative journalist Nicola Cutcher writes about pollution on the Llynfi, a Welsh tributary of the Wye. Yesterday Extinction Rebellion held a vigil on the old bridge in Hereford to draw public attention to the crisis affecting our rivers. George Monbiot, Franny Armstrong and Nicola Cutcher are crowdfunding for what I am sure will be a fascinating live documentary to be called Rivercide.

All this is about what is wrong, with just a little about some of the small things that could be done to mitigate the damage. I want us to now re-imagine the whole Wye catchment differently. We could utterly transform the whole ecosystem, producing more food while also massively benefiting wildlife. Here’s how.

Protecting and rebuilding soil is of critical importance, and the scope for solving multiple problems is immense. Gabe Brown, a farmer from North Dakota, has been a pioneer in regenerative agriculture. He has five principles of soil health: ‘no-till or minimal tillage, keeping the ground covered, diversity in plant and animal species, keeping living roots in the soil as much as possible, and the importance of integrating animals.’ By applying these principles he has managed to increase his soil organic matter from 1.9% in 1991 to 6.1%, so increasing the rate at which water can percolate down into the soil from half an inch per hour in 1991 to eight inches per hour now. This increase in permeability massively reduces risks of both flooding and drought. The raised level of organic matter also increases fertility while sequestering carbon. Imagine if all farmland in the Wye catchment adopted these methods.

We could go further, as agroforestry pioneer Martin Wolfe demonstrated at Wakelyns farm over the last 25 years. Now several others are developing the most amazing farms utilizing agroforestry alley cropping. Outstanding among them is George Young of Fobbing in Essex. He is planting rows of the most extraordinary variety of fruit and nut trees, with a great diversity of nutrient rich grains and legumes grown in the alleys and is now integrating red pole cattle into the system. He, like most regenerative farmers, is gradually reducing all his chemical inputs and slowly converting to organic systems.

If we return to reimaging the Wye catchment where the entire area was converting to systems of organic agroforestry, with a very much greater diversity of trees and bushes, arable crops and livestock all integrated into each acre. As we did so we could close down all intensive poultry units and replace or repair all malfunctioning sewage works and septic tanks. We would then have massively reduced the risks of flooding and of drought, of pollution and of soil erosion. We could of course go further still. Many areas would benefit from rewilding. Some farms might want to follow the extraordinary example of rewilding set by Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell at Knepp farm in Sussex. The reintroduction beavers would have a very positive effect, acting to slow the river, reduce erosion and create a wonderful network of habitats for more species to colonize. The Wye could once again have the biodiversity and health it had hundreds of years ago, and it could simultaneously produce more and better food than it ever has.

Muddle… or Decisive Action?

Students lobbying Councilors to declare a Climate Emergency

Students lobbying Councilors to declare a Climate Emergency

Last Friday Herefordshire Council unanimously declared a Climate Emergency. It was an inspiring day. About a hundred of us old environmental activists were outside the Shirehall when along came about one hundred and seventy young students who had marched chanting from the collages, down Aylestone Hill and through High Town. Our councillors had seldom, if ever, seen so much support for a motion to be passed. Yesterday the same council approved their own Transport Package, which essentially commits them to spending vast sums of money on road building and peanuts for walking, cycling and public transport. This, of course, is exactly the kind of policy that shows they are not serious about the Climate Emergency that they themselves had declared just a few days earlier. It reflects the muddled thinking of governments around the World, who continue to give billions in subsidies to keep the old fossil fuel industries going, while at the same time professing to be concerned about climate change, ecological breakdown and appalling air quality. It is why more and more people are taking to the streets globally, with groups like Extinction Rebellion and School Strike for Climate Action, demanding immediate and decisive action.

This coming Friday, 15th March, there will be a global school strike for climate action. As of this morning 1209 actions in 92 countries have been announced, and many more are being added each day. I follow many of the organisers on Twitter, and these young people, some only ten years old, are so powerful and eloquent speakers. They put most of our elected politicians to shame.

We need to make policy and investment decisions fit to the physical realities of the ecological crisis. Take road building. While our local council’s top priority seems to be to build ever more roads George Monbiot suggests a target of reducing car use by 90% over the next decade. Halting the manufacture, sale and use of fossil fuel cars, lorries and buses is a political decision. As I have repeatedly argued on this blog battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell alternatives already exist, and having most of the cars in car sharing clubs rather than private ownership we can further decrease the damage they do and the space they take up. If we are serious about action on climate change, or children’s health, or the liveability of our cities, then we have to make planning policy decisions in the understanding that the era of the privately owned motor car is over.

Extinction Rebellion in Hereford

Extinction Symbol

Extinction Rebellion is coming to Hereford. This Saturday, 1st December, we will hold our inaugural action, starting on Castle Green at 11.00 am. I have the honour of being one of the speakers. Each of us has just a few minutes. I doubt if I’ll have time to talk about many aspects, so let me expand a bit here. This is both deeply personal and of planetary importance.

Many of my generation have been active campaigning for ecological sustainability and social justice since the late 1960’s, and before that there was a long tradition of concern and action. Over all these decades humanity made some steps in the right direction, but larger ones in totally the wrong direction. We cleaned up rivers and created national parks and wildlife reserves, eradicated smallpox, lifted millions out of poverty, spread literacy and achieved much else. However over these same decades carbon emissions grew, ever more habitats were lost and species made extinct. As some forms of pollution were clamped down on others expanded rapidly.

The prospect of the extinction of our own species is very real. This is personal. By the time my grandchildren are reaching old age the planet may simply be uninhabitable. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is now at over 405 parts per million. This is destabilizing the climate and it is also causing the acidification of the oceans. Humanity is utterly dependent on a well functioning biosphere. As oceans become more acidic phytoplankton die, and without phytoplankton the oxygen cycle breaks down, threatening the ability of large mammals, such as human beings, to breathe. Phytoplankton die-off due to ocean acidification is just one of numerous tipping points beyond which we must not pass. To safeguard our existence as a species we need to change our global political and economic systems. The latest science suggests we need to reduce global carbon emissions to zero within twelve years. To do this will require extraordinary levels of commitment. It will require unprecedented action from governments, who currently seem totally unprepared and unaware of the situation humanity is in.

As I’ve said numerous times on this blog, technologically and philosophically there is so much we could do: the obstacles are largely political. Extinction Rebellion has been formed to force governments to take action by engaging in non-violent protest, which will often involve some, but not all participants taking action for which they may be arrested. In London this has largely been blocking roads, occupying government buildings and similar things. Extinction Rebellion groups are now springing up all around the world.

Extinction Rebellion fits into a crowded field of people hungry for change. The school strikes for climate action started a few weeks ago in Sweden with 15 year old Greta Thunberg, and are now spreading fast, with kids from 100 towns in Sweden and over 260 places worldwide on strike today.

We need many diverse voices calling for rapid and bold action on climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and the rest, and we need politicians capable of listening to them and taking the required action. We don’t have long.


Three inspirational events


Almere, pioneering community self building on land reclaimed from the sea.

Apologies, it’s now nearly a month since I last posted a blog. I usually try and write one every week or so. It’s been a busy month. One annoyance has been the General Data Protection Regulation regulations that I couldn’t fathom, which meant that I’ve cancelled the Mailchimp automated newsletter, and I’ll have to work out how to delete the sign-up form from this webpage! Sorry to those of you who enjoyed getting the blogs via the newsletter format.

Over the last week or so I’ve been to three events that each in their own way were inspiring and indicated positive trends. All could do with strong government support to really grow to their full potential.

The first event was the AGM of Ledbury Solar Coop. The coop is doing well and the directors are doing an outstanding job. This is one of the Sharenergy renewable energy coops of which I’m a member, and which I’ve frequently mentioned in previous blogs. To me they seemed to have massive potential to meet many social and environmental challenges. Unfortunately government support has been weak, confused and generally unhelpful, which has certainly slowed the spread of such coops.

The next event was Riversimple’s launch of the Rasa in Abergavenny. It is looking increasingly likely that our car club will be part of their trials for this hydrogen fuel cell car. The Riversimple car and our car club are things I’ve blogged about before. Together they indicate a way of moving beyond the era of individual ownership of wasteful and highly polluting petrol and diesel cars. We could free up a lot of urban space, cut traffic congestion and pollution by moving toward more flexible patterns of mobility.

The third event I’d like to flag up was the launch of Hereford Community Land Trust’s Building Momentum project. They had two outside speakers who I thought were excellent and showed how the UK’s housing crisis might best be addressed. Keith Cowling spoke about the achievements of Bristol Community Land Trust while Ted Stevens gave an inspiring talk setting UK community self build in context with the extraordinary projects being built in many other countries. (eg Berlin)

Together these three events show how energy, transport and housing outcomes could all be improved.


Ellie wins for the Greens!

Ellie on election night

Ellie and some of the team on election night

Some great news! Ellie Chowns has just won the Bishops Frome and Cradley council seat here in Herefordshire. This is another emphatic win for the Green Party, following several others in recent months in West Midlands and across UK. (Leominster East, Leominster South & Knowsley, Cannock & others). Ellie was a very strong candidate and will make an exceptionally good councillor. She got 471 votes for the Greens, Robert Carter got 299 votes for the Tories, Jeanie Falconer got 251 for the LibDems and Roger Page only managed to get 19 votes for the Labour Party. This brings the green group on Herefordshire Council up to four. For the last ten years this had been a Tory seat, but before that it had been held for the Green Party by Guy Woodford.

I’ve helped out for the Green Party and before that the Ecology Party in a small way at many elections since the 1970’s. This one was remarkable. We had a bigger and more highly motivated team than I can ever remember. Guy at 82 was fired up with enthusiasm and his encyclopedic local knowledge was invaluable. Mike Abbott organised the many volunteers with a spirit of love and joy that was so at odds with the anger and hate that seems to dominate so much of politics these days. The big team included several councillors and members from It’s Our County, a locally focused political party. They had decided not to put up a candidate themselves and to support Ellie. This cross party cooperation I found particularly rewarding. I wish we had more of it at the national level, and I hope it is a positive sign of things to come here in Herefordshire.

This victory in the picturesque hills and valleys of east Herefordshire was also impressive because many people think of rural Herefordshire as very strongly Conservative, or the kind of old Independent councillors who usually end up propping up the Tories. Most of It’s Our County’s councillors represent the more urban seats of Hereford and Ledbury and the Greens other three councillors all serve the people of market town of Leominster. For a coalition of Greens and It’s Our County to have any chance of replacing the Tories and running Herefordshire Council we will probably have to win some of the many rural seats. This campaign in Bishop’s Frome and Cradley really did show how it could be done! Thanks to everyone who helped out, and most of all to Ellie for being such a great candidate!

Local elections: reflections

Greens win in Battenhall

Greens win in Battenhall

All the results are in at last from the UK local elections. No great breakthroughs in terms of building a more ecologically sustainable and socially just future, but several small victories.

Perhaps the best results were in Scotland, where the Scottish Green Party went from 2 to 6 MSP’s, including Ross Greer who at just 21 is the youngest MSP. Congratulations to Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Nationalist Party who won 63 seats, just two short of a majority. I can envisage SNP/Green collaboration to pursue some really great policy initiatives taking Scotland on an increasingly divergent course from Cameron’s England.

The other region where the Green Party did well was here in the West Midlands, particularly in Solihull and in Worcester. In Worcester Louis Stephen won the Battenhall ward from the Tories and Neil Laurenson held the St Stephen ward, which means that the Tories lost their control of the council. Labour and the Greens may be able to cooperate to get better policies enacted as a result. In Solihull the Greens have gone from 8 to 10 councillors. A highlight there was Chris Williams increasing his vote share to 75% in a 4 corner race in Chelmsley Wood.

In London the Green Party retained two members of the London Assembly, where Baroness Jenny Jones and Darren Jonhson were both standing down after 16 years as Assembly Members. In their place Sian Berry and Caroline Russell were elected. In the mayoral contest Sian Berry managed to come in third, out of a packed field of a dozen candidates. Labour’s Sadiq Khan becomes mayor. He’ll probably be reasonably good on social justice and human rights issues, but unlikely to take a leadership role when it comes to London’s ecological footprint.

As ever it seems progress through party politics is a slow, patchy and frustrating business. Technological innovation is zooming ahead in leaps and bounds, improving the possibilities for building an ecologically sustainable and socially just future, if only we had the politicians capable of seeing the opportunities!

Shifting Investments

Glenn, David & Cathy from SHIFFT, with 6th form students.

Glenn, David & Cathy from SHIFFT, with 6th form students.

A couple of days ago I went along to the Hereford River Carnival: lots of great floats, stalls and good community fun for all the family. There was a sort of festival within a festival as New Leaf had created the h.Energy village which featured a number of local organisations advocating greater sustainability. I stopped and chatted with lots of old friends and met some new faces. One of the groups with a stall was the new SHIFFT group, which stands for Stop Herefordshire’s Investments in Fossil Fuels Today. It’s part of the rapidly growing global movement lobbying for disinvestment from fossil fuels.

A few days earlier I went up to Llandrindod Wells to have a look around and talk to the people at Riversimple and see their amazing hydrogen fuel cell car. Robert Llewellyn, the actor and comedian from Red Dwarf fame, also happened to be visiting, making an edition of his Fully Charged video blog. I think we were both suitably impressed with what a breakthrough this car is. I’ve sung its praises a number of times on this blog. Riversimple currently are crowdfunding. This is to raise equity, so has a fairly high degree of risk involved, but also the potential to buy into an early stage start-up company which might well be a very lucrative investment. It is also of course just about as ethical an investment as I can imagine. They’ve kept the minimum investment at just £50 and would love to have many thousands of small investors.

Globally vast sums of money are flooding out of the fossil fuel sector, in part driven by the ethical arguments about the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground to prevent the worst ravages of climate change, and in part due to the realization that these reserves are very likely to become stranded assets, so undermining the perceived value of oil, gas and coal companies. The money is beginning to flow into the renewables sector in vast amounts. I mentioned in my last blog about the £229 billion that went into renewable electricity generation last year. On top of all this wind and solar comes the whole raft of cleantech innovation start-ups such as Riversimple. I do hope they achieve their crowdfunding objective, initially of one million pounds, with a further two similar sized tranches following on.

Political Change is in the Air

Diana Toynbee

Diana Toynbee, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Hereford City and South

Political change is in the air. For the last 35 years a neo-liberal economic orthodoxy has held sway, and the right of centre parties that support it have dominated politics globally, and locally. A couple of political landslides over the last few weeks indicate the new openness and unpredictability of politics. Syriza’s victory in Greece has been much written about: more recent and perhaps more interesting has been the victory of the Arvind Kejriwal’s anti-corruption AAP in Delhi, and Annastacia Palaszczuk’s pro-renewables Labour group in the Queensland elections.

The Green Surge continues, with the membership of the England and Wales party up at 53,276, and our local Hereford City and South branch up at 136 as of this morning. People are joining for a wide range of reasons. Many ex Labour and LibDems have joined, fed-up with the ever rightward drift of those parties. Many Tories, especially the old One Nation type, are appalled by the extreme inequality that now exists, and in many areas fears over fracking are driving former Tories to join the Greens. Perhaps the biggest group of those joining are people who previously were not really involved in politics and didn’t bother voting: now they see that if they want change they do need to get stuck-in politically. The Green Party really does have a well thought out and popular range of policies across the whole spectrum: see the Vote for Policies link below.

Locally here in Hereford we have a really excellent candidate who’d make a great MP: Diana Toynbee. The local party is buzzing. Come along to our first new Members Forum type meeting at the Riverside Centre in Vicarage Road, St James, Hereford, 7.00pm Monday 16th February. And if you’re not already a member, why not join today? (Just click link below, Join the Green Party.)

Queensland elections,_2015

Delhi elections

Vote for Policies

Join the Green Party

Local Green Party news, plus some great fun fundraisers

Arts for Greens auction

Renewable Energy Coops

Chase Community Solar

Chase Community Solar

Many people, like me, share a vision of a very different energy future. A future of low carbon, renewable energy, as far as possible cooperatively owned and controlled by local communities. I’ve written and spoken about this extensively. Despite the snow and ice a good number of people came to hear me talk in Ludlow on Thursday on the subject of ‘Renewables & Resilience’, organised by the wonderful Ludlow 21 group.

There is something of a fight-back by the big six and their political supporters who basically want to continue with ‘business as usual’. Changes are coming to both the tax regime and the legal structures that can be used for community renewables. George Monbiot wrote about these changes in rather alarming terms, and I wrote a blog that I posted and then took off-line 24 hours later. Having checked with Jon Halle at Sharenergy and a few other knowledgeable people, the situation is not as bleak as George suggests. It’s complicated, and still not totally clear, but it looks like community renewable energy will hopefully have a future after the changes. Meanwhile there is something of a surge of new coops launching over the next few weeks to beat the April tax changes.

Chase community solar are working with Cannock Chase Council to put solar panels onto the roofs of low income families and pensioners in Council housing. This will help drastically to reduce both fuel poverty and carbon emissions. The project will start doing 150 roofs and hope soon to expand to 300. Lots of other great projects moving forward, including the Ludlow hydro project: check-out the Sharenergy website for more information.

A couple of years ago I was running some of my evening classes in Ledbury. Out of those sessions an excellent group of local people came together and decided they wanted to start a renewable energy coop in Ledbury. After many trials and tribulations they are at last ready to start. I’m honoured to be speaking at their launch at the Feathers Hotel in Ledbury, 7.00pm, Thursday 5th February. If possible, do come, invest and join the coop: be part of the community renewable energy revolution.


The Monbiot article



Green gains in Leominster

Jenny Bartlett

Jenny Bartlett

Here in Herefordshire it feels like the political landscape is shifting in interesting and hopeful ways. On Thursday there were two by-elections for the County Council. In Ledbury Terry Widdows won the seat for It’s OUR County (IOC) and in Leominster Jenny Bartlett won for the Green Party. Both seats had previously been held by the Conservatives. Back in November at the last Herefordshire Council by-election the Tories again lost the seat to IOC. It’s OUR County is a locally focused political party. Jenny joins Felicity Norman as the Green Party’s second Herefordshire Councillor, and the two of them sit together with the It’s OUR County as a single grouping, so with It’s OUR County’s twelve members and the two greens this grouping now stands at fourteen. Having won the last three by-elections all from the Tories the tide of support seems strongly to be flowing in the direction of this It’s OUR County/ Green grouping, and strongly against the incumbent Conservatives.

Out of the 58 seats on the Council the Tories now only have 27, the IOC/Green group has 14, the Herefordshire Independents 14 and the Lib-Dems three, and both Labour and UKIP none. These IOC/Green gains mean that the Conservatives will now be ruling as a minority administration.

The situation in Leominster is particularly rewarding for the Green Party in that Jenny’s victory was quite emphatic in a crowded field: she got 384 votes to the Conservatives 222, Independents 198, UKIP’s 111 and Labour’s 99. Also on the same day there was an election to the Leominster Town Council which Jane Lacey won for the Greens with 726 votes to Labour’s 202.

In 2015 the whole of Herefordshire Council will face an election, and if this political tide continues might we see the IOC/Green group forming the next administration? That really would be an interesting new direction for the county! However things will be different next year. 7th May 2015 sees a general election, all parish and town councils in Herefordshire, plus the County Council all up for election on the same day, and the boundary changes will reduce Herefordshire’s Councillors down from 58 to 53. Anybody’s guess what that combination will throw up!

STOP PRESS I’ve just heard that IOC and the Greens will formally sit as two separate groups, but still continue to cooperate as they have done over recent months.

Hereford Times and Daily Mail