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Photo: Charlie Burrell/ Knepp Estate Castle
Longhorn cattle were chosen for a UK “rewilding” project as stand-ins for their extinct ancestor, the auroch.

Here’s a concept that was new to me: “rewilding” the countryside — that is, bringing the land back to an earlier and less developed state.

At the radio show Living on Earth, we learn that a UK couple was able to turn a large, unprofitable farm into a profitable one by letting the land go back to nature.

“BOBBY BASCOMB: When writer Isabella Tree and her husband, Charlie Burrell, inherited an estate in West Sussex, England, they assumed they would continue to farm as generations of family had before them. But the intensive agriculture of their predecessors grew increasingly difficult, and they decided that farming was no longer a viable option. So they began to mull over another idea: Give the land back to nature and let it take its course. Isabella Tree’s recent book is titled Wilding, and its the story of what happened to the land when they gave up farming and let nature take the reins. …

“ISABELLA TREE: We inherited this piece of land from my husband’s grandparents [in] the 1980s. And it had been intensively farmed for ever since pretty much the Second World War. [But] the farm was losing money hand over fist. [We] kept buying … bigger machines, throwing more pesticide, more fertilizer, more nitrates, built bigger dairies and changed our types of cows to more higher-milk-yielding cows. …

“We tried contract farming [and] sold all our farm equipment. It was a very, very black day. … Charlie’s ancestors have been here since the Nash castle was built two hundred and twenty or so years ago. It really isn’t for us an option to sell. [We’re] stewards of this land, and we can’t just sell up and move out. …

“BASCOMB: Well, how did you even come up with that alternative? I mean, for most farmers, I think it’s probably pretty counterintuitive to just let the land go. I mean, that’s not what you do as a farmer.

“TREE: It is a very, very difficult thing to do, you’re absolutely right. …

“BASCOMB: You talk a lot in your book about the importance of introducing herbivores. What animals did you introduce and why? …

“TREE: We had to introduce animals that we knew would be able to survive outside all year round without supplementary feeding, that would be able to fend for themselves even in a harsh or wet winter. So, we chose old breeds, we chose Old English Longhorn, wonderful cows with great white finching stripe down their backs and great big horns. And then Exmoor ponies, one of our oldest breeds of horse, they are fantastic at surviving, out in any landscape. Very, very hardy, indeed. And Tamworth pigs, another old breed that’s very closely related to Iberian swine. So, they’re the closest we felt that we could get with an English variety of pig to the wild boar. And then we had roe deer here already in low numbers. And then we introduced fallow deer and red deer. …

“BASCOMB: What does it look like? What does it smell like, even sound like, and how is that different from what you started with? …

TREE: When you walk around Knepp today is the sound of insects, for a start. On a day like this, it’s a hot, sunny day, you’ve just got the sound of crickets and grasshoppers, you’ve got bees, you’ve got hover flies, you’ve got every sort of insect out there. It’s thick with insects. If you go out there on a bicycle, you have to wear sunglasses or, you know, because you’re getting insects in your eyes. …

“This used to be the norm 50 years ago. But in the era of pesticides, we just don’t see insects anymore. So the sound of insects is astonishing. And then, of course you’ve got the bird song, surround sound bird song. Go out into the thickets, it’s sort of like the African scrub. … It’s a wonderful thing to be sitting in the middle of.

“But it’s a double edged sword because we now go on walks in other places in the UK, places where we always used to enjoy, you know, an hour or two to walk, and now we notice what isn’t there. And it’s that, it’s what Aldo Leopold called that sadness, that tragedy of having an ecological education. You know what isn’t there and what could be there, what should be there. …

“We literally haven’t introduced anything apart from the free-roaming animals. So, they’ve all found us on their own. [We] have 13 out of the 18 breeding species of bat in the UK. One of them called the Bechstein’s bat is so rare, it’s rare even in Europe. … We have Peregrine Falcons, we have them nesting in a tree. Usually you associate Peregrine falcons with cliffs and clifftops. They nest in steeples and cathedrals, but not in a tree. Nightingales are another species that is associated with woodland, but at Knepp they’re taking up territories our exploding hedgerows and our thorny scrub. And so they’re choosing a very different habitat because it’s suddenly available to them. So, it’s really changing the science books, we’ve forgotten that this is where nightingales love to be.

“And I think that’s one of the lessons from Knepp, is that we’re so used to seeing species in a very, very depleted landscape, that that’s where we think they want to be. But in fact, they’re often clinging on by their fingernails to habitat that just isn’t optimal for them. And where they’d much rather be is in the kind of habitat that we’re presenting for them at Knepp.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: FNRttC /Night Ride Cycling UK
UK participants in the Friday Night Ride to the Coast enjoy the casual pace. Smaller, more family-oriented night riding can be found in cities like Cleveland.

I’ve been meaning to write on this topic for ages — ever since I started seeing Mary Ann’s joyful Facebook posts on cycling at night with friends, family, and like-minded strangers in Cleveland.

In an article by Sam Walker at the Guardian, we learn that night cycling is a thing in England, too, but for more miles.

Walker writes that the Friday Night Ride to the Coast is a “carefully organised event run by the ‘Fridays,’ a club devoted to the singular cause of safely delivering you at a conversational pace from the Smoke to the sea. They do this every month from spring through autumn, requiring only third party insurance and an annual membership fee of £2.

“The FNRttC, as it’s known to veterans, has been spreading the joy of night riding for almost 15 years, flying quietly under the radar of most cyclists. …

“It was started by Simon Legg, who spent a decade escorting thousands to Brighton, Whitstable and other destinations with decent transport links. When he retired he entrusted his legacy to a group of seasoned ride leaders who take turns as mother hen.

“The distance ranges from 55 to 75 miles, and popular routes can attract more than 100 participants. There are tail-end Charlies and human waymarkers, sometimes recruited on the spot, to ensure nobody is lost or left behind.

“Rides begin at midnight with a chat about safety and etiquette, jokes optional. Mechanical problems along the way are met with expert assistance, though you’re advised to give your bike a thorough checkup beforehand. …

“It’s a great social mixer, but there are also opportunities for solitude as you pull each other along on an invisible stretchy rope. Punctures are a communal affair. ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ one of the minders will more or less transmit to the front, and so all will wait, grateful it wasn’t them. This time. …

“We ride at night because it’s there, conveniently out of the way of the usual routine. Less traffic is a bonus, but magic moments are made of more than this.

“There’s the moon, for a start: those times when it paints the road silver and the mist mysterious, inviting you to dabble in poetry. When not moonstruck, the darkness itself is the draw, a coverlet silencing the day’s concerns, yet granting permission for thoughts to drift forever out into space. …

There are bats and badgers and other nocturnal creatures clocking in, which helps rouse you out of any stupor you may have been falling into. Hills become easier. Shrouded in mystery, their summits mere conjecture, they are far less daunting.

“But possibly the biggest draw is the intimacy of cycling with people all on the same mission, getting a buzz off their energy, their tired happy faces in the morning’s light a mirror of your own.

“ ‘Why are you doing this?’ I’ve asked fellow riders … Answers ranged from: ‘I’m getting miles in to help with Paris-Brest-Paris’ – a 1,200km jolly – to: ‘My friend talked me into it.’ There were plenty of dreamy shrugs: ‘Why not?’ … For some, it’s an answer to a question they may not even have been aware they’d been asking themselves.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Vincent Kessler/Reuters
Surplus bakery products account for nearly a third of the UK’s total retail food waste. Now Tesco is turning unsold bread into other products.

Remember this post on turning stale bread into beer? Stale bread is good for other products, too. Rebecca Smithers at the Guardian describes how the UK supermarket chain Tesco plans to make money while cutting waste.

“Britain’s largest supermarket chain is launching a drive to reduce food waste from bread by turning unsold baguettes and batons from its in-store bakeries into new products.

“Surplus bread is one of the biggest waste problems for food retailers, according to the government’s food waste adviser Wrap, particularly from freshly baked lines which have a short shelf life.

“Its most recent figures show surplus bakery products account for nearly a third (67,500 tonnes) of the UK’s total retail food waste a year. Bread is the second most wasted food in the home, with an estimated 1m loaves thrown away each day. It is also one of the most wasted items at every stage of the supply chain.

“Tesco said that, as well as being among the UK’s most popular breads, freshly baked baguettes and batons were among bread items left on its selves at the end of the day. The retailer said it had decided to use the unsold products to make a range of olive crostini and bread pudding which will be launched in 24 stores next week. It estimated the amount of unsold fresh bread could be cut by up to a half if the range was made available at all its outlets.

“Currently, Tesco’s surplus bread is reduced in price while still on sale, and some is sent to food distribution charities on the evening of its production. The remainder is then offered free in Tesco’s staff shop, after which it is sent for use in animal feed. …

“Said David Moon, the head of business collaboration at Wrap, ‘Using surpluses in store to make a delicious new product saves good food from spoiling and reduces the cost of waste to the business.’ ” Read more here.

If you would like to know more about the work of the sustainability consultant Wrap, check out the website. It says in part, “Our five year plan, ‘Resource Revolution, Creating the Future’ sets out how businesses, organisations and consumers can be part of a resource revolution that will re-invent, re-think and re-define how we use materials.

“It focuses on the three priority areas that will help best meet our goals – Food and Drink; Clothing and Textiles; and Electricals and Electronics, all of which are underpinned by resource management. …

“We work uniquely, and by design, in the space between governments, businesses, communities, thinkers and individuals – forging powerful partnerships and delivering ground-breaking initiatives to support more sustainable economies and society. We are world leaders in establishing the facts, getting the right people working together, then converting ideas into action and delivery on the ground. …

“Underpinning all our priority sectors is resource management, our focus on maximising the value of waste by increasing the quantity and quality of materials collected for re-use and recycling.”

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Photo: Mirrorpix
In 1968, Hull fishermen’s wives and mothers successfully fought the dangerous conditions perpetuated by trawler owners. They refused to take no for an answer.

It’s good to be strong, but sometimes the tough guys don’t know when to complain, don’t know when complaining can prevent the premature deaths of family and friends that leave children fatherless and devastate communities.

That’s when women have to take charge. And as a group of women showed in Hull, UK, in 1968, angry wives and mothers can be tougher than men.

Lucy Beaumont writes at iNews, “In January 1968, several Hull trawlers set off to the icy, dangerous waters of the Arctic in their quest for the biggest catch.

“They headed straight into one of the worst storms in living memory. Within three weeks, three of the ships had sunk and 58 men had lost their lives. For their families back home in the Hessle Road area of Hull, the news was devastating. It was known as the Triple Trawler Tragedy. Out of this tragedy came something incredible. Hull women – wives, mums, sisters, daughters – rose up to protest against the dangerous working conditions.

“They wanted a safer fishing industry and they were prepared to do anything to get it. They marched, they spoke out and they went straight to the top demanding change. During their campaign they were verbally and physically attacked – one woman was even punched in the face. They made headlines around the world and managed to change British law after getting over 10,000 signatures in support and not giving up until the authorities listened to them. …

“The [so-called] headscarf heroes should always be remembered. The women of Hessle Road were so strong. They had to be because they could lose their husband, their father or their son at any time. They had to cope with it and carry on looking after the family – and that’s exactly what they did. The women’s campaign was one of the biggest and most successful civil action campaigns of the twentieth century and coming from Hull, I’m so proud of those women.”

Beaumont’s personal connection to the story sometimes overwhelmed her as she worked on a BBC documentary about the women. “My grandad is from a family of men and women born and bred in the fishing community on Hessle Road. His granny lost two sons at sea. John was only 19 when he was washed overboard and Herbert died from pneumonia. She had poppies on their photos and swore that she heard John calling for her at the time. It was later confirmed that he had perished.” More here.

The life of a fisherman continues to be one requiring toughness from all the women and men who go to sea. There are a few more protections today than there were in 1968, but no one controls the weather. With global warming reportedly causing more storms, the dangers are actually likely to increase.

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sheku-kanneh-mason-2-credit-lars-borgesPhoto: Lars Borges
As of February 2, 18-year-old Sheku Kanneh-Mason was 2018’s best-selling British debut artist – across all genres.

Here’s another story celebrating a young person who thinks differently and opens a new path. He’s a musician in the United Kingdom who refuses to limit himself to one kind of music — and shows that one can excel in different genres.

Katy Wright at Rhinegold Publishing reports, “Sheku Kanneh-Mason has become this year’s best-selling British debut artist – across all genres – to enter the Top 20 in the Official UK Albums Chart with his album Inspiration.

“The release, which features repertoire ranging from Shostakovich to Bob Marley, has entered the main chart at No. 18, and is at No. 1 in the classical chart.

“The 18-year-old is the first BBC Young Musician to break into the pop chart with his debut album, as well as the youngest cellist ever to reach the Top 20 and the youngest classical artist to break into the Official UK Albums Chart in almost a decade. …

“The album … features Shostakovich’s first cello concerto – the piece which propelled Sheku to fame as the first black winner of BBC Young Musician in the competition’s 38-year history – and Kanneh-Mason’s own arrangement of Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’.

“Kanneh-Mason is the top streamed young classical artist, having received 2.5 million streams on Spotify alone.”

Wikipedia adds some biographical details. “Sheku Kanneh-Mason grew up in Nottingham, England. He is the third eldest of the seven children of Stuart Mason (a business manager) and Kadiatu Kanneh (a former university lecturer), and began playing the cello at the age of six, having briefly played the violin. At the age of nine, he passed the Grade 8 cello examination with the highest marks in the UK, and won the Marguerite Swan Memorial Prize. …

“In 2015, he and his siblings were competitors on Britain’s Got Talent as The Kanneh-Masons. He won the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year contest in May 2016, later telling The Observer that appearing on Britain’s Got Talent had been ‘a good experience for getting used to performing in front of lots of people, with cameras and interviews.’ …

“Kanneh-Mason is a member of the Chineke! Orchestra, which was founded by Chi-chi Nwanoku for black and minority ethnic classical musicians. …

“In 2016, Kanneh-Mason told The Guardian‘s Tom Service that ‘Chineke! is a really inspiring project. I rarely go to a concert and see that kind of diversity in the orchestra. Or in the audience. Having the orchestra will definitely change the culture.’ …

“In January 2018, it was reported that Kanneh-Mason had donated £3,000 to his former secondary school, enabling ten other pupils to continue their cello lessons.” More at Wikipedia, here.

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Photo: fractalx via VisualHunt.com
Street art outside Nottingham Playhouse. The city has a plan to integrate arts and culture into all aspects of life.

What do we know about the city of Nottingham? We know about the sheriff, I guess, and his adversarial relationship with Robin Hood. But did we know that modern-day Nottingham is really into the arts? A website called Arts Professional wants to enlighten us.

Christy Romer writes, “Nottingham has committed to embedding culture in education and healthcare as part of an ambitious ten-year vision for the city.

“By 2027, the city aims to make ‘culturally-inspired lifelong learning’ available for every person in Nottingham, and establish cultural programmes, research and partnerships that enhance health and wellbeing.

“The vision … aims to achieve national and international acclaim for the quality and diversity of locally-produced artistic work.

“ ‘Culture will unlock potential in our city. The next ten years will continue to see a transition that takes the city from its industrial, manufacturing past, paving the way to reimagine the city for generations to come,’ the [Cultural Statement’s] foreword reads. …

“Plans include supporting schools to develop a world-class cultural learning offer and giving every person opportunities to access creative skills and careers. …

“The City Council also aims to work in partnership with public health professionals and local commissioning groups to understand and enhance the health and wellbeing of the city’s residents. …

“The city announced its bid for the European Capital of Culture 2023 title in August.” More.

Alas, the Brexit vote to leave the European Union means that UK cities will not be eligible. Here’s hoping that Nottingham’s worthy ambitions are not derailed by Brexit and that the UK government will help the city find the resources to carry out its plans. (One has to wonder if the ramifications of leaving the EU was ever fully thought out.)

AmeliainHull, it sounds like Nottingham wants to give Hull a run for its money!

Art: Louis Rhead, “Bold Robin Hood and His Outlaw Band,” New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1912.

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Photo: Alicia Canter/The Guardian
Mohammed, a Palestinian, bakes cheese twists with his host family in London.

Here’s another example of individuals in the UK stepping up to give refugees a welcome — while providing themselves with an experience that feels more meaningful than donating money or sending “thoughts and prayers.”

Alicia Canter, Kate Lyons and Matt Fidler write at the Guardian,
“It’s a simple premise: people with a spare room in their house are matched with a refugee or asylum seeker in need of somewhere to stay.

“And it’s a popular one: before 2015, Robina Qureshi’s organisation, called Positive Action in Housing (PAIH), used to provide about 600 nights of shelter a year to people with nowhere to go. In the 18 months since September 2015 this has risen to 29,000 nights.

“ ‘We were getting bombarded with people. … They said, “I want to do something.” ‘ …

“There are numerous points in the asylum process that asylum seekers and refugees can find themselves becoming destitute and homeless. Perhaps the most common is when they have their claim refused – at which point support payments stop and they are forced to leave their accommodation.

“People in this situation often find themselves homeless, without the right to work or receive benefits, unable to approach the local authority for help, and yet, in many cases, feeling unable to return to their home country. …

“ ‘The ones I feel really sorry for are the people who have been left destitute for years on end. People take them in and let them be human, and take them into a warm home where people care for them,’ says Qureshi.

‘What the hosts found out was that they were meeting a need in themselves – a need to give. Our society is so wealthy and our houses are stuffed full, but there’s that need to help others.’

“Mohammed, 35, from Palestine, [lives] with Joanne MacInnes, an actor and activist, in west London, and on weekends her daughters Malila, 12, and Eve, 14. …

“MacInnes has hosted six people in her house, but Mohammed is, she and her girls agree, their favourite. ‘He’s the nicest of them all,’ says Eve.

“Currently the family are trying to find Mohammed a wife. He uses his local mosque’s dating service, but says that because of his precarious immigration status he is not considered a desirable match. …

“Mohammed says he was shy when he moved in and nervous about how the family would respond to him.

“ ‘First time I come in here, I’ll never forget, Malila gave me a hug and speak with me,’ says Mohammed. ‘I was shy, Malila come in straight away, hug and speak with me and is not shy, you know. Eve is shy and Eve after two weeks spoke with me. And Joanne spoke with me. I feel family. Listen, I don’t speak English, but I hope you understand me. My dad is dead, my mother is dead [and] my sister. Joanne, Mali and Eve are my family.’ ”

More here.

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