Tuesday, 24 April 2007

UK Charity Awards 2007

Time for my annual gripe and whinge. At the end of last year, Charity Times started promoting the Annual UK Charity Awards for 2007. Superficially it might be a good idea, though how you compare the RSPB with a children's hospice I have no idea. But I abhor the very concept of reducing Charity work to this level. Hopefully a few of us do it because we believe in the cause, and not simply to get an award at some Hollywood-style ceremony. But worse is to come, because to attend these awards' ceremonies, a place at the table is £141.35 a head (for charity workers), or £1175 + VAT for a table of 10.

Is this really what supporters of a charity expect their money to be spent on? Is this really how they expect staff and Trustees to be spending their time?

And of course only a few charities can afford the time and money to actually enter into a competition to become 'Charity of the Year' or be nominated the 'Trustee Board of the Year'. And not everyone has the ego that needs to be the 'Finance Director of the Year'. Clearly awards like these are going to be influenced by money and size -- particularly when there is an award for the 'Best Charity to Work for' and it's decided by internet voting.

The problem is that some members of the public will assume that these awards have real meaning, and that will mean that a charity which has spent an undisclosed amount of time and effort winning an award, is presumed better than one that has not done so. If the awards were chosen by an independent group of assessors, reviewing all charities against published criteria, there might be some value, but as they stand I believe them to do more harm than good.

Interestingly there does not appear to be an award for the charity that has 'done most to achieve its charitable objectives, for the least amount of money'.......

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Monday, 16 April 2007

Greenwash etc.

The hype about carbon offsetting is beginning to annoy me. This is because, although there is clearly a major worldwide problem, no one is really confronting the real issues, and looking at the problems logically.

I will list a few issues, not in any particular order of importance, but as they occur to me. Some of them I have mentioned before, on more than one occasion, others are new. All simple to fix, but ignored, as it it either not politically correct to discuss them, or no one wants to know.

1 Public transport. I visit London regularly. And the underground system is overcrowded, and thoroughly unpleasant to travel on most of the time. Why? Because too many people use it. But, I hear the greenies say, "Public Transport is a good thing". I agree, but only if the journey is needed. If public transport is made too cheap, and too convenient, then people use it for unnecessary journeys. And in London, the travel passes, and 'Oyster' cards, mean that once you have made a couple of journeys, the rest are effectively free -- so people use it to go a few hundred yards. I never use buses in London, but I suspect the same is true on the buses.

And on longer journeys it's even worse. The rail networks offer ludicrously cheap fares all over the country, to ensure the trains are profitable outside the peak times -- but most of these are pure leisure journeys. But all this extra travel then makes the public transport system seem 'efficient' and 'greener' than any other form of transport. The reality is that, take away all the non essential journeys, and most public transport is far less 'environmentally friendly' than it is made out to be.

2 Bottled water Of all the wasteful products in the world, bottled water is surely the most unnecessary. Packaged in plastic from fossil fuels, and shipped vast distances, and drunk by people who can rarely distinguish between the product and the one that comes out of a tap, it is surely the most wasteful of all natural resources.

3 Street lighting The amount of energy that could be saved if street lighting went of at midnight is phenomenal. And all other forms of unnecessary outdoor lighting. Not only is this incredibly wasteful of energy, it is also a pernicious form of pollution, causing disruption to the behaviour of migrating birds, the lifecycle of insects and much more. Easy to do, but no will to do it

4 Greenwich Mean Time If the England and Wales were to keep summertime all the year round, and have double summertime in the summer months, not only would energy be saved, but there would probably be fewer depressed humans around. Easy to do, but no will to do it.

5 Human population enough said.......

Friday, 13 April 2007

Grass Snakes, spring, and fresh air

Last weekend was Easter, and for once the long weekend was notable for some glorious weather. At least where I live it was. And so it was an ideal time to get out into the garden. Our principal objective was to 'sort out' an acre of woodland. A huge old oak had crashed to the ground in a recent gale, taking with it a completely rotten even older tree. And the rest of the 'wood' was suffering from a surfeit of straggling elder and blackthorn. The end result was that it was almost impossible to walk around, the ground was pretty well devoid of any plant life, and there was a lot of dead wood.

Now this is a dilemma, because any good naturalist likes lots of fallen trees, and lots of dead wood. So the answer was to get in with my chain saw, and create numerous log piles -- that way all the wood remained, but in a slightly 'tidier' manner, enabling access and light to get in. In the process, we made a couple of bonfires, to dispose of a small proportion of the extraordinary amount of twiggery that remained when clearing the elder. And that proved to be a disaster.

The morning after, I found a medium-sized (2foot) grass snake, dead in the ashes of the fire. At first the reaction is to think it must have been in the twigs -- just as hedgehogs get roasted when a heap of garden rubbish is burned -- but that simply was not possible.

No the explanation is that reptiles regulate their body temperature when their innards get hot. So they bask away in the sun until the centre of the body is warm enough for action, and then, off they go. The warm ashes of the fire probably attracted the snake, but by the time its innards were nicely warm, its skin and outer parts were, unfortunately, cooked. It's a point worth remembering if you have a bonfire in summer, with reptiles around -- rake out the fire, so that they are not attracted in the cooler hours. I wish I had known of the risk, as it is really sad to see wildlife end in this way, particularly when grass snakes are probably in a steep decline in most parts of England, if the numbers dead on roads are anything to go on.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Cost efficiency vs quality of life

We are digging ourselves into a deeper and deeper hole, because we imagine (or politicians have conned us into believing) that quality of life is improved by having low taxes and all commodities as cheap as possible. The con' is that under low taxation, the poor get poorer and the rich get richer -- a gap that has widened significantly in my lifetime. Efficiency has become equated with cost. Just because it is cheaper for a council to privatise the street cleaning does not mean it is efficient. There are many ways of measuring efficiency, and in a wealthy society we should include quality of life and several other factors. It can be 'efficient' to cut down a mangove forest if you own it, because you can make a quick profit, and then reinvest in something else. But is this efficient for the rest of the inhabitants of the region, who then get swept away by the next tsunami?

I am constantly horrified at how cheap most commodities have become. Food, furniture, fabrics, electronics, travel -- you name it. Almost everything of this nature is getting ludicrously cheap. Compare real prices with real prices of 30 or 50 years ago. Luxury good have spiralled into the nether regions, with paintings by Damien Hirst commanding astronomical figures -- but the resource base of a painting may not be any greater than a single copy of a magazine. And while I am meandering, and prattling about resources, an article in 3rd Sector Magazine pointed out that charities are among the most wasteful users of paper and other resources. Charities involved in direct mailing (NOT the WLT I must emphasise) expect a 95% wastage -- that's a lot of paper, pens, and apparently other unwanted 'gifts' as well. But perhaps that's another story.......

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Power lines and bird deaths

We are all aware of the carnage on the roads, but overhead cables are also amazingly hazardous to birds. In the past week I have found three rooks dead or injured beneath less than 100m of electricity cables that cross a small field we own. The rookery in the adjacent trees only has a dozen nests, and the casualties were all adults, not inexperienced young birds. Multiply that up and there must be a staggering number of birds killed. Of course not all power cables are as hazardous as these -- some kill very few, but others, sited on migration routes probably kill even more. The difficulty is that most of the birds are not killed outright, they are badly injured, and flutter to ground some distance from the cables. And then if large numbers of birds are being killed regularly, predators such as feral cats and foxes soon learn, and the injured birds are disposed of within a few hours.

Most people are surprised when they hear of these casualties, believing birds capable of avoiding cables. Which they are of course in many cases, but in high winds, at night and poor visibility this is not the case. And large birds such as swans are not very maneuverable, so that when a cable looms out of a mist, it is almost impossible for them to avoid a collision.. And it also depends on the species; corncrakes, for instance, are known to be particularly vulnerable -- they migrate at the right height, and are not very agile in flight.

Cars, cables, light pollution at night, pesticides, loss of habitat, desertification on their wintering grounds, hunting by Maltese -- it's a small miracle any birds are left.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Spring is sprung, and there are flies on the dung

Hooray. I was clearing up our little meadow, and delighted to note a great cloud of Scatophagid flies. Dung flies. Our llamas and sheep have not been wormed since we had them and the first couple of years there were no dung flies -- largely I suspect because many of the farmers round about pump ivermectin and other helminthicides into their livestock, and prior to our ownership they had been wormed.

We have been heavily grazing an acre and a half of what was a field of nettles and thistles three years ago. Now it is already a nice short turf. The next stage is to reduce fertility and hope that wildflowers come back -- perhaps with a bit of help from me. One of the ways of reducing fertility of soil, is by removing all the dung of the grazing animals. This where llamas are good -- they are territorial dungers. Their little, well digested, pellets are deposited in heaps, and are suitable for digging into the garden straight away.

And while I was clearing up one of the llama dunghills, I found a lovely seething mass of earthworms. Even better.

But elsewhere, farmers are still pumping their livestock fill of anti worming compounds many of which will destroy all the invertbrates that feed on the dung. Earthworms and dungflies may not be the most popular of creatures, but the world will be a lot worse off without them. Yet another example of biodiverstity being whittled away, and like the bricks of a jenga tower, one day the whole ecosystem will collapse.