Rewilding – what, why and how?

I first learned about rewilding in depth at university, where we explored it as a means of conservation, in contrast to ex-situ conservation programmes, such as zoos. When we think about conservation, often we think about large mammals – tigers, elephants or pandas, perhaps – and not entire ecosystems, from fungi to ancient trees and everything in between. With 2021 – 2030 labelled the ‘decade of ecosystem restoration, now seems like as good a time as ever to talk about how rewilding could fit into our sustainability goals and increase biodiversity.

Rewilding means returning a non-wild area back to the wild. The term originated in North America around 25 years ago during projects to help with the reintroduction of large mammals, such as wolves to Yellowstone (I would thoroughly recommend giving this short YouTube clip a watch!). Due to the relative recency of the field, scientific studies are relatively limited, and projects are instead often privately funded, limiting research into efficacy. Anecdotally, however, the changes rewilding induce can be vastly beneficial.

In Europe and North America (rewilding’s biggest proponents), rewilding often takes different forms, with the latter focusing on wildlife corridors for large mammals, and the former decentralising large mammals, focussing instead on habitats, not individual species. Either way, rewilding is essentially recreating habitats more similar to those that existed before human intervention, to the benefit of the natural ecosystem.

The impact of rewilding on the Knepp Estate

Why rewilding?

  • Helps nature recover

With 41% of UK species in decline and 15% threatened with extinction, it is evident that nature needs all the help it can get. Habitat loss and degradation have meant that the ecosystems in which many animals live are changing at a rate that they can’t adapt to. While woodland cover had actually increased, more unique habitats such as wetlands are vital for so many of the UK’s native species. Rewilding is not the only option for improving species outcomes, but it had the potential to significantly help, when done in the right way. More complex and robust ecosystems will be better able to withstand future environmental pressures.

  • Reintroduce missing species

Of 8,431 species assessed in the UK, 15% were classified as threatened with extinction from Great Britain, and 2% are already extinct. Rewilding habitats has helped with many conservation cases, both here in the UK and globally. Here is a great list of some of those success stories. Reintroduction of species cannot happen without significant amount of their native habitat being available, so rewilding could play a major part in global conservation efforts.

Wolves have been returning to mainland Europe for many years now thanks to information campaigns and conservation projects, after being persecuted for millennia.
  • Revitalise communities and bring economic benefits

While an entirely anthropocentric view, ignoring the economic benefits of rewilding would be foolish, as often this is the key way of getting these projects funded and facilitated. In the UK National Parks and nature are seen as a national treasure, but even abroad, many governments are starting to see the economic benefits of protecting, rather than exploiting nature. E.g. North American countries favoring wilderness showed faster growth in their employment and income level than counties in which the economy is mainly based on resource extraction.

“From an analysis of turnover, employment and county-level productivity data, it is estimated that England’s National Parks generate £4.1 to 6.3 billion of Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2012″.

National Park England Report
  • Ecosystem services and other environmental risk management

Ecosystem services‘ are the benefits humans gain from nature, including climate regulation, flood management, maintenance of nutrient cycles and, of course, improvement of quality of life. For example, trees lock water into the soil, preventing flooding after lots of rain. There are plenty of examples of how disrupting nature had led to far worse outcomes for humans too – this is just one example. Forest growth also promotes carbon sequestration (absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere), improving air quality. Natural regeneration allows soil recovery and nutrient availability and improved water quality, as forests regulate hydrological cycles too. Essentially, without nature and the services it provides as a byproduct of its existence, we’d really struggle.

  • Keep us healthy

I’ve spoken a lot about the mental health benefits of spending time in nature, and when you combine that with the benefits of exercise, walking, running or cycling through a rewilded forest is so good for you! Mind charity also released a report in 2018 on the benefits of nature for mental health. Nature is good for your physical health too, and the benefits of avoiding pollution where possible are multifold.

  • Restore for future generations

I believe that young people nowadays feel resentful at the way nature has been left, in a way that means they have to pick up the pieces. Rewilding is an opportunity to reverse that, and leave our ecosystems in a better position than when we inherited it. A legacy for future generations.

Rewilding and intersectionality – a note

I think it is important to note that the only reason we have to rewild, is because we have de-wilded. Europe did so so long ago that it is difficult to imagine how habitats looked before they were destroyed. North America, however, still maintains some indigenous lands, looked after by indigenous people, nature’s best custodians. It is important not to look at the rewilding movement as one of ‘saving’ habitats (that we destroyed), and instead look to learn from the indigenous philosophies, without marginalising these groups of people.

Historically, much of the (public) environmental movement has been vastly white, not taking into account both the viewpoints and vast experiences of indigenous people and those outside the white middle-class. This is counterproductive on so many levels, and, especially in the United States, where much land is still protected by its Native inhabitants, ignoring this threatens the strength of the environmental movement in its entirety. By its nature, the rewilding movement bases many of its principles on indigenous practises and beliefs, such as reconnecting to nature and respecting the Earth. It is important not to forget that we are late coming to this realisation, and we cannot afford to ignore local knowledge where it exists.

How can we help?

Donate

It is important to support charities and projects working to save and restore our natural ecosystems. This doesn’t have to always be monetarily – commenting, sharing and engaging on social media is also valuable. I have listed some great charities both in the UK and abroad below – please do support their work if you can!

Global

  • Amazon Watch – Since 1996, Amazon Watch has protected the rainforest and advanced the rights of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. They partner with Indigenous and environmental organisations in campaigns for human rights, corporate accountability, and the preservation of the Amazon’s ecological systems. DONATE.
  • Rios to Rivers – This organisation’s aim is “to inspire the protection of rivers through youth-focused experiential and educational cross-culture exchange programs, where underserved students are empowered to become informed stewards and ambassadors for their rivers and the communities who depend on them. DONATE.
  • National Parks Conservation Association – The NPCA works to protect and enhance the US’s national parks. The charity has been going for over 100 years, protecting both habitats and policy changes that would put the national parks and their inhabitants at risk. DONATE.

UK

  • Woodland Trust – Specifically a charity for UK’s woodlands, this trust works to restore and protect ancient woodlands, and campaign for policy changes where they are needed. DONATE.
  • Rewilding Britain – Launched in 2015, Rewilding Britain seeks to tackle the climate emergency and species extinction by restoring ecosystems to their ‘natural’ state, providing jobs in the process. DONATE.
  • Heal Rewilding – A new nationwide charity which looks to buy up low-grade, non productive land and passively return it to its wild state. The sites will be in easy reach of cities for the most benefit. DONATE.
  • National Parks UK – There are 15 national parks in the UK, and this organisation works to manage the maintenance and restoration of these spaces, while also benefitting local communities.
  • London Wildlife Trust – London’s wildlife has been under threat for its whole history, but the LWT helps to manage and expand natural spaces through the work of volunteers and members. It has been particularly hard-hit by COVID. DONATE.

Educate

  • Educate yourself. Join charities, work with NGOs, volunteer, read. I am still learning so much everyday, because I choose to research and look up topics that are important to me.
  • Share articles, educational social media pages, new studies and more with friends and family. Until nature moves to the forefront of our minds, it’s easy to forget how vital it is, and how much we can help or harm it with our actions.
  • Remember intersectionality in your activism. I have been guilty of viewing environmentalism from a purely white, UK-centric viewpoint, but this ignores a huge number of people who are both fighting for, and impacted by nature and natural ecosystems.

In your backyard

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, the number of front gardens totally paved over tripled between 2005 and 2015. With fewer and fewer green spaces in towns and cities, niches for insects and birds are declining. Check out this piece for ways we can increase biodiversity from home, and read this for some of my favourite plant shops.

There are a million things we could all be doing to decrease our footprint on the planet and increase the number of wild spaces, both here in the UK and all around the world. I’ll be the first to put my hand up and say I’m not doing enough, but I hope articles like these help you realise some of the many ways we can have an impact. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or over on Instagram.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a small contribution. Feel free to make any article suggestions while you’re at it!

Many thanks to Hattie for helping me research this topic! If you’re into sustainability (why else would you be here?), give her a follow on Instagram.

Microplastics – a macro problem?

Microplastics, as the name implies, are tiny particles of plastics, created either for commercial use (primary microplastics, e.g. for use in cosmetics), from the breakdown of larger plastics (secondary microplastics), measuring 5mm or less in diameter. Over the last few years, there has been a lot of light shone on the prevalence and environmental and health impacts of microplastics, from their presence in drinking water, to their ubiquity in the ocean.

Thankfully, plastic pollution has come to the forefront of public perception (WWF)

It has long been known that plastics never really break down – instead, they break up into ever smaller pieces, causing environmental damage at every stage of the process. Single use plastics are thought to be the foremost contributor to secondary microplastics, but many microplastics are created intentionally to be used in industry. Wastewater treatment cannot filter out all microplastics, so they end up everywhere – in our oceans, freshwater systems and even the air we breathe.

Understanding the leading causes and relative abundance of microplastic in our ecosystems is key to understanding the how this might affect us, our environment and how best to limit that damage. With the problems being multi-fold – impacting both the environment and out health – we need solutions sooner rather than later, before irreversible damage is done.

For a summary of this article, scroll to the bottom.

A fish fry entangled in microplastic – National Geographic

What are the major causes?

A 2017 study found microplastics in 81 per cent of tap water samples globally. In the past few years, in mountain ranges in the US and France, researchers even found microplastics in rain. They have recently been found in the Arctic, too, giving an indication of their ubiquity. So where are these microplastics coming from? Without knowing the key sources, it is impossible to begin to understand how to tackle the problem. Here are the two key ways microplastics get into the environment.

  • Runoff from land-based sources, such as agriculture, tyre wear on roads and landfills.
  • Wastewater overflow, including treated water, as treatments cannot always capture such small particles. The microplastics come from the washing of clothes (microfibres), cosmetic microbeads, flushed period products etc. Every time we wash our clothes in the washing machine, millions of microfibres are shed. It is estimated that one load of clothes in a washing machine releases about 700,000 fibres per wash. Washing machine filters are not currently able to filter out these microfibres, so they work their way into our water systems.

What are the environmental impacts?

Environmentalists will be no strangers to images of seabirds with plastics filling their stomach, but do microplastics cause the same harm? The science suggests that the environmental impacts can be severe and far-reaching, with microplastics being found in 47% of Fulmar guano samples (a good indicator of their presence in marine environments).

The potential issues are multifold. As plastics do not degrade, they accumulate both with ecosystems and up food chains. They can also absorb toxic chemicals and pathogens, providing another route of harm. Another issue is that for many organisms, ingested plastics can make them feel full, so they stop eating and eventually die of starvation.

“Microplastics have been found in a wide variety of species including zooplankton, mussels, oysters, shrimp, marine worms, fish, seals, and whales. Several of these species are of commercial importance. For example, a 2009 survey in the Clyde Sea found 83% of Norwegian lobster contained plastic, mainly in the form of fibres. Similarly, trawls in the English Channel found microplastics in 36.5% of fish caught” (DEFRA).

Further to their effect on animals, microplastics have the potential to carry around pathogens and invasive species. High levels of microplastics on beaches may even change the temperature of the sand, affecting animals such as turtles where offspring sex is temperature-determined.

Despite the complex science, a 2017 United Nations resolution discussed microplastics and the need for regulations to reduce this hazard to our ecosystems. The problem is so widespread it’s unlikely to not be seriously harmful over the years, and combined with the other pressures on our oceans, they need all the help they can get.

Are they causing us any harm?

There is a huge absence of science in this area, thanks in part due to the relative recency of interest in the subject, but also due to the difficulty of carrying out robust scientific studies on humans. It is estimated that the average person consumes up to 120,000 particles of microplastic each year, with that number increasing for those drinking mostly bottled water. However, whether or not this has had adverse effects in the decades we have been consuming them is not entirely clear.

As with many environmental issues, our exposure to microplastics is partially dependent on where we live. In the UK and other high-income countries, sewage treatments can effectively remove most microplastics from effluent, reducing the amount present in freshwater systems. In low and mid-income countries, however, only 33% of the population have sewer connections, meaning that for most of the population, water is poorly treated, leading to greater microplastic concentration in soils and water systems, and thus greater potential adverse health incomes.

For the most part in richer countries, drinking water is treated enough to prevent large quantities of microplastics working their way in. However, the smallest plastic particles can assimilate their way into our food, including seafood (primarily shellfish). While most plastics are inert (don’t readily react) and insoluble and therefore unlikely to be absorbed into our bodies, there are concerns about their absorption of toxic chemicals from the environment. However, with the relative paucity of scientific studies on the subject, there is not enough evidence to suggest a link between microplastics in drinking water and food and adverse health outcomes. This doesn’t mean that the link is not there, simply that more studies need to be done in this area.

What can we do?

  • Reduce littering and improve rubbish collection systems.
  • Move on from the idea that plastic is disposable. With the average single use cutlery being used for just 3 minutes, yet taking hundreds of years to break down (not disappear), this will never be a sustainable attitude.
  • Install and optimise wastewater treatments which reduce the amount of plastic pollution in waterways, and thus the amount being consumed in drinking water too. While the UK has extremely effective treatment facilities, this isn’t the case everywhere.
  • Limit the introduction of new plastic sources into the environment. A lot of microplastic pollution comes from single-use plastics in one form or another, so by reducing the amount of plastic we consume, we can reduce the amount that eventually ends up in our ecosystems.
  • Improve plastic recycling systems and use them. Of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic that has been produced (2018), 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste, and 91% of this has not been recycled. By reducing the amount of plastic sent to landfill we can reduce the amount of plastic breakdown there is globally. This includes dealing with our own plastic problem, and not shipping it elsewhere (just another form of environmental racism)
  • Introduce global bans where possible on unnecessary use of microbeads (already done in the UK), for example in cosmetics, while recognising that this is only a small part of the issue.
  • Improve sustainable plastic alternatives. While current ‘bioplastic’ alternatives are not always less harmful than conventional plastics, existing technologies have the potential to decrease the prevalence of harmful plastics in our ecosystems. It is vital to ensure that replacements to conventional plastic is not more damaging than the plastic itself.
  • Introduce the widespread use of filtration bags when washing synthetic clothes (e.g. Guppyfriend washing bags).
  • Encourage brands to take responsibility for their plastic pollution at all stages of industry, from banning microbeads, to having consumers report litter (e.g. via the Plastic Patrol app).

TL;DR

Microplastics are everywhere, from rain to our drinking water, to the Arctic to the Mariana Trench.

Microplastics can break down into nano plastics, even smaller microscopic particles that can have differing impacts in lots of different ways.

There is not enough evidence to suggest that microplastics lead to negative health outcomes in people, but more research needs to be done in this area. Health impacts are likely to vary between countries depending on their treatment systems.

Improving sewage and water-treatment systems in LEDCs will likely have far-reaching positive effects, far beyond simply reducing microplastic exposure, and should be a priority where possible.

The real issues with microplastics lie in their effect on the environment, as they have been shown to be harmful to animal life at every stage of their degradation.

As with all environmental issues, behavioural change is all well and good, but what is really needed is system change that holds corporations accountable for their disastrous impact on the environment.

While the impacts are not fully understood, the ubiquity and prevalence of microplastics will likely already be causing issues to the environment and potentially our health too. We need more research to see where and how.

Thanks to Hattie for helping me research this huge topic! For more sustainability content, go and follow her on Instagram.

Alcohol-free spirits – the best of the best

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of an ice cold Gin & Tonic – in fact it’s the sort of birthday present I could get every year and always be delighted with. I even wrote this piece on combining alcohol and my love for fitness – I think balance is important and would say my attitude to drinking is ‘intuitive’ – I rarely drink to excess, but enjoy a tipple a couple of times a week. With the advent of great tasting alcohol-free spirits, however, I’ve found myself switching more and more to these when I want something non-alcoholic that’s not water or tea, but also doesn’t taste of Ribena.

In the UK, around 20% of the population is teetotal, rising to almost 30% in 16-24 year olds. Among people who do drink, the amount of alcohol consumed is decreasing too – in 2005, 43% of young people said they drank above the recommended limits, but this proportion had fallen to 28% 10 years later. Needless to say, the popularity and availability of non-alcoholic drinks is on the up!

Common among teetotallers and those who choose not to drink at an event, is the expectation from other people to explain why they aren’t drinking, as though this is some unacceptable breach of social norms. Although this obviously shouldn’t be the case, the increase in non-alcoholic spirits and adult ‘mocktails’ makes not drinking at social events significantly easier. They’re also perfect for those of us who enjoy fitness and don’t want to always feel groggy after a night out/wedding/dinner.

Here are some of my favourite non-alcoholic spirits – I hope you like them too! Please comment below your favourites too.

Ps. Because I am a massive gin fan, I like to have most of these with tonic. I find it very refreshing, but know many people aren’t a fan. Most of their website’s have alternative recipes and cocktails, so it’s worth checking those out if you’re keen on giving them a go!

 

Seedlip

One of the original non-alcoholic spirit brands I was aware of, Seedlip was debuted in Selfidges in 2015, where it was immensely popular as one of the first drinks of its kind. The brand produces three varieties of spirit – Garden 108 (herbal), Spice 94 (aromatic) and Grove 42 (zesty). I like them all, though my favourite is Grove 42. Serve with orange peel, ice and tonic.

“Back in 2013, whilst researching interesting herbs I could grow at home, I came across a book written in 1651 called ‘The Art of Distillation’ that documented distilled herbal remedies – both alcoholic & non-alcoholic. Out of curiosity I bought a copper still and began experimenting in my kitchen.

Three months later I was out for dinner at a nice restaurant in London, not drinking and got offered this pink, fruity, sweet, childish mocktail. I felt like an idiot, it didn’t go with the food, and it wasn’t a great experience. Surely there must be a better way! The dots began to join and I spent the next two years working with my still, my mother on the ingredients, my father on the design and slowly beginning to believe that maybe we could begin solve the ‘what to drink when you’re not drinking’ dilemma with a different approach to non-alcoholic drinks.”

Price: £26 for 70cl

Seedlip_Photo-credit_Rob_Lawson-644x429

 

Bax Botanics

I learned about Bax Botanics via a support system for small businesses during COVID lockdown, and was delighted when I got to try their Verbena ‘spirit’, one of two varieties they currently produce (the other is Sea Buckthorn).  The creators of Bax originally worked in wild foraging, so note that everything about this drink is incredibly sustainable and made in small-batches – even their drinks labels are waste from the sugar industry rather than paper. This drink is perfect with cucumber and tonic – just like a G&T. Thoroughly recommend.

“Our drinks were the product of over 15 years working with wild food flavours. The very first incarnations of Bax Botanics actually used foraged ingredients from our local woodland! The brand is completely sustainable, with Fairtrade organic botanicals – the flavours and the green credentials are our priorities. We would still be working in our wood if we couldn’t make Bax Botanics in a kind and sustainable way.”

Price: £18 for 500ml

Bax-Botanics-TIFF-ALL-125-smaller-1024x682

 

Caleño

Columbian-inspired spirit Caleno is a little different to the other drinks on this list, in that it doesn’t aim to replace a spirit such as gin, but instead is delicious in its own right. It contains Inca berries, juniper (it main similarity to gin) and various spices, and isn’t overly sweet to taste, but a little more fragrant that what you might expect from a spirit. It’s extremely refreshing with lots of ice, some lemon and a little tonic. The packaging is probably my favourite of all of these drinks.

Price: £24.99 for 70cl

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Atopia

This 0.5%ABV drink is extremely close to being alcohol-free, so fits well into this category.  This brand has two flavours – Spiced Citrus and Wild Blossom, both of which are beautifully presented and delicious. This isn’t surprising considering the creator is Lesley Gracie, master distiller of Hendrick’s Gin at William Grant & Sons (one of my favourite gins!).

“Inspired by the more mindful, lifestyle choices of today’s consumer, the exquisite liquid comes in two perfectly balanced flavours. We’ve used our distilling heritage and expertise to ensure no compromise on flavour is experienced when drinking the ultra-low alcohol spirit. The flavour is full, from first taste to finish.”

Price: £25 for 70cl

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World Environment Day – increasing biodiversity from home

Biodiversity loss has been highlighted as the third biggest risk to the world both in terms of likelihood and severity this year, ahead of infectious diseases, terror attacks and interstate conflict. Let that sink in. 

As we sit in the midst of a pandemic, it is easy to look only inwards, turning our backs on the changes that need to be made in our world for humans to continue thriving. However, now, more than ever, it is outwards that we need to look and wonder how we got ourselves here in the first place.

Biodiversity is the abundance and variety of life on earth. Humans are entirely dependent on biodiversity for the air we breath, food we eat and water we drink. Almost half of global GDP – around €40 trillion – depends on nature and the services it provides.

The recent COVID pandemic has brought to light just how much this is true, with scientists positing that the increased incidences of viruses such as Ebola, Bird Flu, Dengue Fever and COVID are exacerbated, if not caused, by biodiversity loss, deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade.

Today is World Environment Day, an international awareness day built to engage and motivate environmental action within governments, businesses and the general public. Each year WED has a theme, focussing efforts on one element of environmentalism in an effort to educate, share resources and make a difference.

This year’s theme is Biodiversity, a term which has seen the light of day more and more in recent years. The United Nations even labelled 2010 to 2020 the ‘decade of biodiversity‘, implementing strategies to improve it worldwide. However, a recent report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), found that nature is being eroded at rates unprecedented in human history, leading to the acceleration of climate change and demise of our natural world. Businesses are also not doing anywhere near enough, with most countries on track to miss the targets of the Paris Agreement.

“The more one thinks, the more one feels the hopeless immensity of man’s ignorance”. Charles Darwin, More Letters of Charles Darwin, 1903.Apt, but today we don’t have ignorance as an excuse.

Climate change, biodiversity loss and our own wellbeing are all intrinsically linked. Biodiversity loss in Europe alone costs the continent around 3% of its GDP each year, around £400m pa. It is in our best interest to do as much as we can to prevent further loss of the natural world, and start rebuilding where we can.

Biodiversity loss is not only an environmental issue, it also impacts upon many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including those tacking food security, poverty, peace, justice and development. As mentioned by Sir Robert Watson, chair of the IPBES, biodiversity is “a security issue in so far as loss of natural resources, especially in developing countries, can lead to conflict. It is an ethical issue because loss of biodiversity hurts the poorest people, further exacerbating an already inequitable world. And it is also a moral issue, because we should not destroy the living planet.” (Guardian, Nov, 2018). Closer to home, biodiversity in green spaces is inextricably linked to mental health and wellbeing for all of us.

“This is the assembly of life that took a billion years to evolve. It has eaten the storms – folded them into genes – and created the world that created us. It holds the world steady”. E O Wilson, The Diversity of Life, 1992.

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This destruction of ecosystems has led to a million species (500,000 animals and plants and 500,000 insects) being threatened with extinction, potentially many more (UN). Figure from Guardian 2018

 

But what can we do from home?

I would argue that most of us interested in the natural world generally already know ways in which we can help, from changing to a green energy provider, cutting back on travel, switching to an ethical bank and changing to a meat-free diet, and it’s just a case of enacting this. However, there are many more small ways to improve biodiversity from home.

Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic has turned our sights away from many parts of the world where threats to biodiversity are greatest, from illegal bycatch in fishing vessels and the deaths of those who regulate this, to the deforestation of sacred indigenous land in Sierra Nevada, Colombia, to make room for tourism (you can support a petition to end this illegal activity here). Because of this, it is important to look not only in our own backyards, but also what we can do to support efforts across the globe.

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While many backs are turned due to COVID, sacred regions within Sierra Nevada, Colombia, have been invaded and damaged by tourism projects and mining. Sign a petition to end this.

Close to home:

Leave wild spaces around your home.

  • If you have a lawn, leaving it for longer between mowing, or avoiding mowing patches altogether. This will not only improve the biodiversity of the plants, but also provide shelter for small mammals and insects.
  • Consider piling up wood, stones and garden cuttings to provide homes for more types of insect and mammal, as these are becoming rarer with the loss of woodland and increased obsession with ‘clean’ spaces. Composting organic matter also increases bacterial, fungal and other decomposers, providing a healthier garden all round.
  • Providing bird feed and water in your garden will also provide vulnerable bird species with a better chance of surviving harsh winters and being able to raise more young. Offer a mix of food for the widest variety of birds and provide protection from cats where possible!
  • Planting a window box with flowers that pollinators love can help maintain biodiversity in urban spaces. Having greenery at home is also great for your mental health!

Shop eco friendly.

Understanding how food and other crop production impacts the environment is a huge topic that deserves an entire literature review of its own. However, there are a few small steps we can make to ensure everything we buy is as biodiversity-friendly as possible.

  • Buy organic where possible. This does not always make a difference, but many of the farming practises that are intrinsic to organic farming (prohibition/reduced use of chemical pesticides and inorganic fertilisers, sympathetic management of non-cropped habitats and preservation of mixed farming) benefit local flora and fauna. On average, organic farms have 12% more biodiversity than equivalent non-organic farms. Look for the Soil Association label to make organic shopping easier. 
  • Buy shade-grown or bird-friendly coffee. This is vitally important as coffee is grown in some of the most biodiverse but rapidly changing environments, meaning that it can either support or harm endemic wildlife. Here’s how you should choose your coffee.
  • When buying furniture, only buy FSC certified wood. The FSC holds businesses to a standard that helps them carry out sustainable management practices to ensure forests thrive today and in the future (FSC).
  • Buy from ethical clothing brands. The fashion industry is immensely polluting, encourages deforestation, and if the fashion industry were a country, its emissions would rank almost as highly as the entire European continent. This is evidently bad for biodiversity. Buying less and choosing ethical companies can reduce your impact. Brands such as Veja are leading the way in supporting, rather than exploiting, the ‘guardians of the forest’ in the locations they source their materials, working with locals to promote biodiversity, instead of simply deforesting as many other brands do. Have a look at Good on You and EcoAge for other brand recommendations.

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Further afield:

Donate, support, fund, share.

We can make changes in everyday life and do what we can to maintain diversity, both close to home and further afield. However, the work of charities, NGO and certain businesses takes this a step further, keeping an ear to the ground to call out environmental injustices, hold governments to account and support local communities around the world. Here are just a few – comment your favourites below!

NGOs

  • Traffic, a NGO, supports efforts to end the illegal wildlife trade and combat wildlife crime. They focus on educating governments on sustainable wildlife management and regulation systems, reducing reliance on poaching and unsustainable trade. Donate here.
  • Amazon Watch works with indigenous people to protect large swathes of the Amazon rainforest. Recent research demonstrates that while the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples make up less than five percent of the total human population, they manage or hold tenure over 25% of the world’s land surface and support about 80% of the global biodiversity. Protecting Indigenous people is protecting the environment they live in and vice versa. Donate here.
  • African Biodiversity Network (ABN), a UN accredited NGO, accompanies Africans in voicing their views on issues such as food and seed sovereignty, genetic engineering, agrofuels, biodiversity protection, extractive industries and the rights of small-holder farmers. They ‘focus on indigenous knowledge, ecological agriculture and biodiversity related rights, policy and legislation’. I cannot find anywhere to donate but do check out and share their work!
  • National Biodiversity Network works closer to home (UK) to record and analyse data collected about UK wildlife, enabling conservation efforts to be focussed on areas that really need it. Knowledge is power! Donate or join here.
  • Cool Earth work to end deforestation and environmental degradation in rainforests, some of the most biodiverse places on earth. Rather than exerting top-down control, they work with local people to help them benefit from protecting their surrounding forests. Donate here.

Businesses

While NGOs and charity organisations are excellent, some estimates suggest they receive only 10% of the funding needed to avert a biodiversity crisis. Engaging the private sector to fill in the gaps is a necessary and productive next step.

  • Treedom supports biodiversity by allowing people to purchase native trees and plant them in small, sustainable agroforestry systems around the world. Trees contribute to biodiversity by providing shelter, food and homes for animals, insects and other plants, increasing the number of pollinators and natural pest predators, like birds (thereby supporting the pollination of the world’s crops), capturing CO2, preventing soil erosion and much, much more.
    The trees people sponsor with Treedom support smallholder farmers and their families, providing either food or an added income source. For transparency, all of their trees are geolocated and photographed, and customers receive regular updates about their tree and the project where it is planted.
    Treedom have planted over 1.1 million trees across 16 countries, offsetting over 340 million kgs of CO2 and providing food security and income for over 66,000 farmers. If you’d like to purchase a tree or two, the code FLORA10 gets you 10% off! Please do let me know if you buy one, as I’d love to share 🙂
  • There are many re-wilding projects also happening in the UK, returning deforested woodlands to their former diverse glory. You can learn more about rewilding projects here.

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Trees are vital for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem health, but also are excellent for your mental health too! Photo Johny Cook.

 

Nature provides us with everything we have, and we cannot afford to lose more biodiversity on this planet. While we may have long ago destroyed much of the biodiversity in the UK, there is still a chance to make an impact with our actions and reverse some of the damage, both close to home and further afield. The best time to at was yesterday. The next best time is now.

Many thanks to Hattie Webb for helping research this post – there was SO much more I could have put in, but in the interest of people actually getting to the end, I have saved this for another time. I hope you enjoyed reading! Please share it if you found it useful, tagging @foodfitnessflora and @hattie_eco on Instagram. Do add any ways you have found of increasing biodiversity, as well as any charities you like to support. Thanks for reading!

Sustainable paints

Week 9 of lockdown – how’s it going for you? What activities have you taken up, or is keeping afloat taking enough time as it is? With many of us still staying at home, working sporadically and lacking in social life, our views have turned inwards to our homes. Having worked our way through countless banana breads, sourdough starters and home haircuts, more and more people have chosen to use this time to make their living spaces more homely. It’s not a surprise either – usually we have real life to distract us from peeling wallpaper, outdated sofas and other DIY jobs that need doing, but when you pass those things everyday, they become harder to ignore.

Repainting is one of the easiest ways to redecorate without fear of electrocuting yourself, or having heavy objects fall on you. It’s simple enough for anyone to do with a bit of planning, but makes more difference to the feel of a room than almost anything else.

Excitingly, I’m also planning on moving home after summer, finally aiming to live with my partner, who I’ve been with for 5 years now, but whom I have never lived with full time. We’re hoping to be able to redecorate as soon as we move in, but want to do so as sustainable and ethically as possible. You can think of this article as a bit of research for myself, but hopefully it’ll help you too!

 

What makes some paints unsustainable? 

Needless to say, paints contain large numbers of chemicals, many of which are bad for both the environment and ourselves in large quantities. Research suggests that professional redecorators are considerably more likely to contract lung cancer, due to the volatile compounds and formaldehyde present in many paints and other building materials. Ingredients such as  vinyl resins, synthetic dyes, petrochemicals derived from oil, acrylics, formaldehyde, and ammonia can contribute to health issues, especially if you are prone to asthma or eczema.

Aside from the effects on indoor pollution levels, the production of paint and the ingredients therein can also have disastrous environmental consequences. Producing just 1L of conventional paint can produce around 30L of toxic waste, including solvent emissions that damage the ozone layer, and greenhouse gas emissions, whose effects we know all too well. Disposing of paints can also cause issues. Many are hazardous and cannot be disposed of in normal household waste, unless they are totally dried up. Some eco-friendly paints can be composted and/or recycled, reducing their environmental footprint. Here’s some information on how to dispose of your paint safely in the UK.

 

What are eco-friendly paints?

Currently, there is no standard for any paint company to call itself ‘eco-friendly’. Guidelines laid out by the EU have loose restrictions on volatile compound levels, but regulations do not separate out ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘conventional’ paints. Because of this, it can be hard to know if the ‘eco-friendly’ paint you are buying really is much better than cheaper conventional products.

Ethical Consumer, a site that explores the ethical and environmental credentials of companies, suggests looking out for certain terms when choosing paints. ‘Generally, plant-based, water-borne paints are the best buy, followed by plant-based, solvent-borne ones with natural solvents. Try to avoid those using titanium dioxide.’

Eco friendly paint companies also take into account the emissions and environmental impacts of paint production, not just the paint itself. The carbon footprint any toxic byproducts of production contribute to the paint’s overall environmental impact, so is important to bear in mind.

 

Best brands

Auro

Created in 1983, Auro was a pioneer of eco friendly paints, cleaning products and stains. Their paints are petrochemical free and the source all their raw materials from sustainably managed sources. Ethical Consumer highly rates their ‘gloss paint’.

 

Earthborn

Earthborn are the only UK brand to carry the EU ecolabel flower accreditation, showing their commitment to a circular economy and lower environmental footprint. Their paints are water-based, petrochemical free and breathable, making them suitable for a wide range of walls.

 

Lakeland Paints

If you’re an allergy sufferer, UK-based Lakeland Paints may be for you. Lakeland uses organic, non-toxic, no odour, volatile-compound free and are accredited by the British Allergy Foundation. All there packaging is also 100% recycled and/or recyclable.

 

Farrow & Ball

Farrow & Ball was the first in the industry to change their entire range to water-based paints. These are also low-VOC (volatile compounds), low odour and accredited by the Toy Safety Standards, meaning they’re even safe to use on children’s toys. The packaging is 100% recyclable, too.

 

Little Greene

Little Greene manufactures their environmentally friendly paints here in the UK. They have water-based, low VOC options, or oil-based options, made from sustainably sourced vegetable oils. Their wallpapers are either FSC or PEFC certified, meaning they come from sustainably managed forests, and for every tree cut down, another is planted. Their paint tins are made from 50% recycled steel and are fully recyclable.

 

Eico Paints

Eico paints was the only company I found that promised to use 100% renewable energy (geothermal and hydropower). Their production process is carbon positive, and their paints are low to no-VOC and low-odour, making them popular with allergy sufferers. They have a huge variety of colours, too!

 

Eco friendly workout mats

As all of us are working out at home more and more, home equipment has become a bit of a hot commodity, with shops selling out of all their weights, resistance bands, treadmills etc. Whether you’re doing more HIIT, yoga or simple stretches after a run, a yoga mat is key for making the whole experience more comfortable. Standard PVC mats are practical and cheap, but often not great quality, and use non-renewable resources to make. When they break, there is no way of disposing of them in an eco-friendly way, with the vast majority making their way to landfill, or being incinerated instead, releasing dangerous toxins when they are.

Thankfully, many brands are taking more care to use natural materials that can decompose, or are made of recycled materials, reducing the need for virgin plastics. Here are some of my favourite!

At the time of writing, all of these are in stock!! 

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Liforme – £95

A well known brand, Liforme offers really grippy mats, etched with lined to help you align your poses in yoga, or know where you are on the mat. The brand supports numerous charities too, including Friends of the Earth (environmental conservation), the RSPCA (animal welfare) and Yoga Gives Back (fighting poverty in India). Currently they are also raising money for the COVID 19 Solidarity Response Fund. Their mats are fully biodegradable and have recyclable plastic-free packaging. Their travel mat is more affordable and transportable than their full-sizes mats.

Form – £79/£50

This UK based, carbon-negative brand produces a plethora of beautiful mats made from recycled tree rubber and recycled plastic bottles. At the end of their life, the mats are fully biodegradable, except parts of some of the mats, which are recyclable. Their circular mats are extremely popular, and you can preorder these for the 18th May. However, their Marble travel mat is both in stock, and gives back – £10 from every sale goes to The Ocean Cleanup

Cork Yogi – £85

This rubber mat topped with cork is both incredibly padded and good for the environment. The cork is sustainably sourced, and its natural properties mean it is anti-microbial and becomes grippier with sweat, perfect for intense workouts and hot yoga. A portion of the profits of CorkYogis goes back to Destiny Reflection Foundation allowing them to train and give work to survivors of human trafficking and slavery. You can buy their Premium Yogi mat here.

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Yoga with kids! It is safe to let your toddler roll around on the mat, because cork mats are antimicrobial and all natural. And after they have done their rolling around the cork is a perfect material for yoga as it increases the grip when moist. Thank you for the image @rebecca_thelonemark Bring your practice to the next level with a cork mat today, the link for ordering in the bio. . . . . #cork #corkyogamat #sustainable #naturelover #girlpower #womensrights #yogaeverydamnday #yogamats #yoga #nature #yogalondon #yogauk #motivation #yogalover #yogadaily #yogaeverywhere #namaste #goodmorning #corkyogislondon #natural #sustainablebusiness #iloveyoga #yogini #strongwomen #yogawithkids #teachthemyoung

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Yogi Bare – £68

Yogi Bare produced sustainable rubber mats that are 100% vegan and cruelty free, with 100% recyclable packaging. Although they are created in Hong Kong, they freight by ship rather than air, reducing emissions. You can buy their extreme grip mat here.

 

Manduka – €75

Manduka is a well known brand in the yoga community, but works well for workouts too. Their eKO mats use sustainably sourced rubber and only non-toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process. They have multiple thicknesses, but their 4mm Lite mat gets the best of all worlds. They also have an Almost Perfect collection of reduced mats that were produced with slight imperfections.

EcoYoga – £45

This ecofriedly mat is made of jute and natural rubber, making is biodegradable, compostable and grippy. They’re also designed and handmade in the UK, so you won’t be getting any air-miles if you order this. They’re out of stock in many places but I found one here.

 

Planet Warrior – £50

This natural rubber yoga mat is perfect if you’re looking for a pattered addition to your yoga flow or workout. It’s beautifully painted with water based inks and perfectly grippy thanks to the rubber base. The top is lined with microfibre to make it as soft as possible. When delivered, it comes in recycled and recyclable cardboard and paper, with no plastic tags. You can buy it here.

Daway – £47.90

PVC and made using only non-toxic methods, this mat is perfect if you’re looking for a bargain. Some of the reviews however say that it gets a little slippery in hot weather, and you can expect some curling at the end if left rolled for extended periods of time. However, if you’re looking for a less-expensive thick mat, this one comes in at 6mm, far thicker than the standard 3-4mm you would usually get. You can buy it here.

Good luck with your training or practice, I hope it brings you a lot of happiness in this strange time!

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Seasonal produce – worth the hype?

There’s been a lot of talk in the last few years about the best diet for the planet – is flexitarian better than vegan? Can you eat meat sustainably? Is fish OK? – but within each of these diets is so much variability that it’s hard to determine one diet that could save the day whilst keeping people happy. Eating seasonally is another ‘lifestyle choice’ that has been touted as potentially being the answer to our sustainability questions, with people singing its virtues and even willing to pay more for it, but does it stand up to scrutiny?

Seasonal eating is not a new idea – in fact, before we had well established trade connections across the world, it was the only way people ate. Foods were restricted to certain times of year, and were almost always locally produced. Nowadays, there’s always something in season somewhere, so it’s hard to know what’s available in the UK (or wherever you live) at the time of purchase.

In fact, a survey by the BBC suggested that whilst 78% of Brits claim to shop seasonally, only 5% could name when blackberries ripen in the UK. In addition, it seems not all of us are even aware what ‘seasonal’ and ‘local’ means anymore, so where do we begin?

Seasonal produce tends to be foods grown ‘locally’ at the time of year that they have traditionally been abundant, without the aid of poly tunnels or artificial heating etc. Typically, there is a glut of this produce at a certain time of year when it is ‘seasonal’, thus driving prices down in that area.

So, is it important that we eat seasonally? There are a number of arguments, not all of which stand up to scrutiny, but let’s take a look at them all.

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Local/seasonal veg boxes are now very much the mainstream

It tastes better. One of the main arguments for seasonal, locally produced foods is that it tastes better, since it is growing in conditions that it has evolved to grow optimally in. Local food should, in theory, also be fresher, as it has less far to travel to get to our plates. It’s hard to determine whether on a blind taste test any of us could truly tell the difference between a local and foreign tomato, for example, especially when cooked into a meal, but when in salads or eaten without too much flavouring, local/seasonal produce may well have more depth of flavour.

It is more nutritious.It is thought that locally produced foods have more nutrients in them, since there is a shorter time between them being picked and arriving on your table. Locally produced foods are also given more time to ripen, increasing nutrient levels further. However, this is not the case with all produce – anything that is frozen tends to preserve more nutrients than fresh counterparts, as they are frozen immediately after being picked. Similarly, more ‘hearty’foods such as apples, oranges, grapefruit and carrots are able to retain their nutrients even if they travel long distances.

Purchasing locally produced food helps support the local economy. Since much seasonal produce is also grown locally, buying seasonal helps support local farmers and aids the local economy. If you are also buying from small farms, you’re likely to get a variety of produce you might not find at your local supermarket. Buying from local farms may help boost the economy in the area.

It’s more sustainable. Or is it? It is true that if you were to grow your own vegetables in season, they would be about as sustainable as you could get (growing veg at home is historically very important too!). Thankfully, the energy demand for UK grown vegetables is generally lower than their imported equivalents, aside from a few notable exceptions. Aubergines, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes in the UK are often grown in heated greenhouses, which are extremely energy intensive. In these cases, transporting the produce from Europe over long distances consumes less primary energy than cultivating them in the UK, provided they are sourced from Europe and transported by road and sea, not air. Cabbage, celery and Brussel sprouts are environmentally the most sustainable veg we can eat in the UK, and asparagus the least.

It’s cheaper. Whilst ‘locally produced’ produce doesn’t have the same ‘premium’ price point of organic produce, people are still willing to pay more for it, despite the fact that intuitively it should be cheaper. Because of this, although intuitively it should cost less this is not always the case.

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Historically, local produce has been very important!

So when is it best to eat seasonally?

When eating raw/fresh produce, local and seasonal vegetables may taste noticeably better and may even be more nutritious. Foods that are able to be picked when fully ripened (as opposed to harvested early so they can be transported further) may be higher in nutrients, and thus have a better flavour. If you are eating a lot of foods raw or unflavoured, this difference in flavour may mean it is worth picking up local produce over imports.

Cabbage, celery and Brussel sprouts are the most sustainable UK produce you can eat, and should always be consumed in season if possible. Aside from that, importing vegetables grown in unheated greenhouses in Europe has a lower impact than UK vegetables cultivated in heated greenhouses (e.g. aubergines, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes), despite the transportation.

Air freighted vegetables have around a five times higher impact than domestic produce, so in the case of a choice between locally produced vegetables and those air freighted, always choose local produce.

It is important to bear in mind that despite all this information, eating vegetables is always more environmentally friendly than eating red meat, and the confusing nature of food labels should not put you off eating a plant-based or plant-heavy diet. Despite any complications, plant-based diets are the best suited to fight climate change.

In addition, food waste is one of the worst culprits for increasing food impact on our environment. Reducing food waste overall, rather than focussing on purely buying local produce, may have more of a beneficial impact on our environment. 4.2 million tonnes of avoidable food and drink is wasted each year in UK households, worth £12.5 billion.

Wasting food and drink hits our wallets and is a financial drain on local authorities who have to pay for food waste collection and treatment. It has a detrimental impact on the environment, wasting the materials, water and energy used in its production. Rather than spending more on local produce, try wasting less of the produce you already have.

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How various vegetables impact the environment looking at different factors 

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The overall energy consumption of various vegetables (PED MJ/kg)

TL;DR

  • Local/seasonal produce is generally seen as superior in multiple ways, from taste to sustainability to economically.
  • When choosing produce, buy British except in the case where heated greenhouses are used.
  • Avoid air-freighted vegetables always. Opt for sea and land-freighted vegetables when imported.
  • Plants are generally better than meat, especially red meat.
  • Reduce food waste. If you do one thing to eat more sustainably, stop throwing out so much food.
  • Want to know the best seasonal veg boxes to get in more greens? Check out this article I wrote for Bustle.

 

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any thoughts on locally/seasonally produced foods. It’s not nearly as simple as I was expecting!