Friday, 25 November 2022

Say no to consumerism on Black Friday

We joined members of Leicester Animal Rights group and Extinction Rebellion Leicester on so-called Black Friday, to stand outside the shopping centre and remind people that consumerism is costing the Earth. The sign prompted some interesting conversations with passersby, many of whom were supportive and agreed that the way we are using and wasting resources is out of control. 



Sunday, 25 September 2022

Highfields Centre garden refresh

To mark Great Big Green Week, we went back to the little garden we created at the Highfields Centre and did some maintenance to spruce it up. We picked up litter, weeded and mulched. We also planted a few more strawberries. The herbs we planted in the spring have mostly survived the summer drought and are starting to look well established. Next year, there should be enough to pick some for cooking and herbal teas!

Before...


After...


Some of the gardeners!




Friday, 23 September 2022

Leicester's parks go glyphosate-free!

We were recently very excited to hear that the City Council have decided to stop using glyphosate in parks and green spaces from January 2023!

As you know if you've been following us, we have been campaigning for the city’s parks to go pesticide-free since 2021. We contacted the City Council to express our concerns about the use of this poison and pointed out that exposure to pesticides has been linked to many health issues, including cancers, Alzheimer’s and infertility. We also shared research showing that glyphosate harms bees’ digestive systems and damages their ability to keep their colonies cool, which can be devastating in our increasingly hot summers.

We spent several months on the streets explaining our concerns to the public and gathering support. In July, we presented a petition of 1057 signatures asking the City Council to stop using pesticides in parks and green spaces. We then attended the Neighbourhoods Services Scrutiny Commission meeting in August and asked the councillors and officers to reconsider their spraying policy.

The City Council have now responded to the petition, confirming that they will stop using glyphosate in parks and green spaces from January 2023, on a trial basis. They are working with Pesticide Action Network to develop a pesticide action plan. 

We would like to thank Adam Clarke and the council officers in the parks department for listening to our concerns. The vast majority of people we spoke to during our campaign were opposed to the use of pesticides in the city. Many parents in particular will be relieved that they don’t have to avoid sprayed areas when taking their children to the park.

Leicester has always rightly been proud of its status as the UK’s First Environment City and the Biodiversity Action Plan states that the Council aim to 'make sure that local biodiversity thrives'. We congratulate the Council on taking an important step towards that aim. We hope that they will take this opportunity to leave more wild edges in the city’s green spaces. There has been a catastrophic decline in insect and wild plant species in the UK, so we need to make space for nature in cities. We also hope that they will reconsider the use of glyphosate in other places, like school grounds and pavements.

This story was covered by the BBC and the Leicester Mercury. We celebrated the campaign win at our September meeting with tea and cookies!



Saturday, 20 August 2022

August social

As many people are on holiday in August, we decided to have a picnic in Victoria Park instead of our usual meeting. We invited other environmental groups in Leicester and were happy to chat to people from Extinction Rebellion, Climate Action, Stoneygate Baptist Church and the Quakers. Thank you to everyone who came along! 



Sunday, 17 July 2022

Green Book Reviews: On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester

On Gallows Down: Place, Protest and Belonging by Nicola Chester is a personal story, recording the writer’s extraordinary journey through life, as her love of nature develops and she chooses her goals.

Nicola Chester spent her childhood with parents and grandparents ‘who knew the importance of outdoors; of walks, weather and picnics, time alone, freedom and dirt.’ Her parents moved around as Nicola grew up but wherever she moved, the nature on her doorstep was always the first thing she looked for and explored. Her parents settled in Newbury and it was here, as she became a teenager, that she realised how much she felt a part of her local landscape. It was also in Newbury that her life-long battle to protect nature began, with the campaign against the Newbury bypass.

Reading Chester’s account of the building work, you need to be of a strong constitution – I wasn’t - not to weep at the account of the nine-mile route ‘smashing through heathland, ancient oak and ash woods, water meadows and chalk streams…’  The construction destroying ‘10,000 mature trees…4 sites of special scientific Interest, several local nature reserves….’ The list goes on.

She writes about the thousands of protestors battling, with regular skirmishes, to stop the contractors but to no avail. She reflects on the brevity of joy and life itself as a poplar wood is felled ‘as they lay with the leafy tresses in the water…., seeming to bleed redly into the water.’ It was this last battle that ignited in the author the knowledge of what she wanted to do with her ‘one wild and precious life’, as Mary Oliver put it: she intended to ‘save, champion and celebrate the wildness in any way an ordinary girl could.’

The rest of the novel follows the author as she marries, has a family and lives in rural tied accommodation, usually on big estates with her husband. She teaches her children to love nature as much as she does by taking them on wild walks, badger watching and listening for the cuckoo and nightingale. She struggles to bring up her family in a rural setting on a very low income and writes about her journey of ‘protest, change and hope’ as she strives to save the nature she loves whenever and wherever she can, trying to influence the people at the ‘big house’ to also protect nature.

Chester writes ‘We are writing for our very lives and for those wild lives we share this one, lonely planet with.’

A very emotional read full of poignant moments that hopefully will inspire other people to explore and love nature as much as Nicola Chester does.

Melanie Wakley

 

 

Friday, 8 July 2022

Pesticides petition presented to City Council

We presented our petition asking the City Council to stop using pesticides in parks and green spaces last night (Thursday 7th July), to the full council meeting. Between the paper and online petitions, we had a total of 1057 signatures, of which 690 were verified as having city postcodes. Unfortunately, this left us short of our target of 750 verified signatures, which would have required a senior officer to respond to a public meeting. However, the Council still have to respond and we will be able to continue the conversation with them.

We had been told before the meeting that we would be able to speak for 5 minutes in lieu of reading the petition text, so we had prepared some key points to explain our campaign. We were then told at the meeting that we could only read the petition text. However, as we had already prepared our speech, we have emailed it to all the councillors instead. You can read our summary below.

We'll update you here and on our social media when we get a response!

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On behalf of Leicester Friends of the Earth, I wish to present our petition as printed on the script, asking the City Council to stop using pesticides in parks and green spaces. The City Council say that you are minimising the use of the herbicide glyphosate but we still see unnecessary spraying around trees, fences and even rocks in the city’s parks.

 

There have been a number of studies linking glyphosate to cancers in people, particularly non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This research was collated in a meta-analysis published in the academic journal Mutation Research in 2019 and I can provide the link to that for anyone who would like to read it. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pesticides, because their skin absorbs chemicals more easily and because they are more likely to be playing on the ground. And yet when we visited Humberstone Park recently, glyphosate had been used principally around the children’s play area.

 

The evidence for the ill-effects of glyphosate on bees and other wildlife has also been mounting over the last few years. It is now known that glyphosate harms bees’ digestive systems, for example, affecting their ability to absorb food. Councillors may also have read the recent article in the Guardian about glyphosate damaging the ability of wild bees to regulate the temperature of their colonies. We were therefore particularly disappointed to see that the seeded section of the 'Bee Road' meadow strip on Goodwood Road has recently been sprayed with glyphosate. The RSPB’s Pesticides and Wildlife Report explains that the combination of chemicals that all living creatures are exposed to, known as the cocktail effect, can cause more harm than any single chemical. The cocktail effect is not tested as part of the approval process for pesticides but research is now starting to reveal the extremely harmful effects of combinations of these chemicals.

 

We have been out on the streets collecting signatures for this petition over the past few months. The vast majority of people we have spoken to are opposed to the use of pesticides in the city and many have expressed surprise and dismay that they are still being used. Leicester has always rightly been proud of its status as the UK’s First Environment City, but on this issue, we are not leading. Forty-three local authorities in the UK have already banned all pesticides or committed to phasing them out in the near future. Cambridge, for example, banned the use of herbicides in the parks and green spaces in 2019 and are aiming to stop all herbicide spraying in the city by the end of this year.

 

The City Council’s Biodiversity Action Plan states that the Council aim to 'make sure that local biodiversity thrives'. We applaud that aim – with the catastrophic decline in insect and wild plant species in the UK, it is absolutely necessary to make space for nature in cities. However, biodiversity cannot thrive in places that have been sprayed with poison. 


We ask the City Council to reconsider their policy. Thank you.  


Exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides and risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma: A meta-analysis and supporting evidence - ScienceDirect

Glyphosate weedkiller damages wild bee colonies, study reveals | Bees | The Guardian

Information for local authorities - Pesticide Action Network UK (pan-uk.org)

Friday, 17 June 2022

Pesticides campaign update and Freedom of Information request

If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you’re probably aware that we are planning to present our petition asking the City Council to stop spraying pesticides in the parks to the full council meeting on Thursday 7th July. We’re trying to collect as many signatures as possible in the last few weeks. If we reach 750 signatures of people who live, work or study in Leicester, a senior council officer will be called to a public meeting to respond.

Thank you to everyone who has signed and shared it recently – the petition has grown significantly in the last fortnight so it’s working! If you haven’t signed and shared yet, there is still time. We’ll also be having one last street stall to collect paper signatures on Saturday 25th June, on the edge of Victoria Park.

As part of our research for this campaign, we submitted a Freedom of Information request to the City Council to find out more about their use of pesticides on pavements over the last three years. We were particularly interested in this time period, as we saw more wild plants in the streets in 2020 and early 2021.

We asked the frequency with which the pavements were sprayed with pesticides in 2019, 2020 and 2021 and the chemicals that were used. They responded:

2019

Number of treatments - 3

Commenced – 08.04.19, 08.07.19, 14.09.19

Chemical – Glyphosate (this is a herbicide, designed to kill plants but known to have other effects as well – see below).

2020

Number of treatments - 1

Period - April - Oct

Chemical – Glyphosate, No mix

2021

Number of treatments - 3

Commenced – 17.05.21, 26.07.21, 03.10.21

Chemical – Glyphosate, Rosate adjuvant

We also asked if they could tell us the number of reported trips and falls due to ‘weeds’ in the pavements in the same years. They responded:

Number of reported weed concerns:

2019 – 13

2020 – 56

2021 – 17

Number of reported trips and falls:

2019 – 4

2020 – 2

2021 – 0

We found these numbers interesting, because it seems to show that having more wild plants in the pavements (as there were in 2020 and early 2021) doesn’t lead to more trips and falls. On the other hand, the increase in wild plant diversity and abundance was very apparent. Two local botanists came to our May meeting and told us that in 2020, they recorded 361 species of wild plant on 20 streets in Leicester. They found a similar number when they surveyed a comparable area of unimproved natural habitat. Cities don’t have to be botanical deserts. In fact, left alone, nature can thrive in a city. We just need to give it the chance.

The City Council seem to be more concerned about the complaints they receive about ‘weedy’ pavements. And yet, many of us are worried about the use of glyphosate in the city, especially when we see the evidence that it is linked to cancer in humans and harms wild bee colonies. Therefore, if you’ve signed our petition and you are wondering what to do next, we encourage you to write to your councillors and complain about the use of herbicides in Leicester. You can use the Write To Them website to easily find your councillors and send them an email. You don’t have to be an expert – just explain why you are worried. But if you would like more information to quote in your email, Pesticide Action Network have some useful information here. And if your councillors respond, we’d love to know! Forward us any responses you receive to help us plan the next steps of the campaign: leicesterfoe@gmail.com

Sunday, 12 June 2022

Deborah Sawday - a lifelong activist

Deborah Mary Anne Sawday - 11th July 1944 to 19th October 2021

[With thanks to the ULAS Newsletter for the photo above and quote below.]

Almost no-one involved with Leicester Friends of the Earth in the last forty plus years can say they didn’t know Debbie Sawday. Determined, persuasive, creative, energetic fun-loving and effective as a committed environmentalist and campaigner - she has left a unique and lasting imprint on the group.

Born into a family with a successful local architectural practice, and the great granddaughter of Arthur Wakerley, who himself left his mark on Leicester politics and buildings, Debbie’s chosen career path was in archaeology, in which she developed a high level of specialism, becoming an expert in post-Roman and medieval pottery and earthenware.

As might be expected, Debbie’s funeral on Friday 5th November 2021 at Great Glen Crematorium, was very well attended, and included a number of former Leicester FoE campaigners, some even harking back to its beginnings.

We heard from her nephew Jonathon how she lived in London, on the King’s Road at the height of the swinging sixties, her dress and makeup responding fashionably to the Mary Quant look.

Her Leicester University work colleagues, too, recognised the multi-talented person that Debbie was. This extract from the ULAS (University of Leicester Archaeological Service) newsletter attests:

“…….. Debbie was University of Leicester Archaeological Services’ medieval pottery specialist, and had built up an encyclopaedic knowledge of her subject over more than forty years, with hundreds of reports to her name, including contributions to chapters in the recently-published Life in Roman and medieval Leicester volume.”

Debbie made sure her colleagues recognised and responded to environmental concerns:

“…….in terms of politics and attitudes, Debbie was very much a child of the 60s; she was ‘green’ before it was fashionable, never owned a car, cycled everywhere and was a passionate campaigner for Friends of the Earth. Her colleagues were used to having the latest petition thrust into their hands for signing, on entering the office!”

See full article here

Rachel Harriss – a campaigner in the 80s and 90s recalls; 

“Debbie was a tour de force.  You could not help but be drawn in by her energy and conviction. She was seemingly effortlessly adept at writing eloquent, and persuasive letters at the drop of the hat and shared her skills readily, rallying us all to do the same.

Hugely well informed, she was an avid devourer of the Environment pages of the Guardian and her newspaper clippings cabinet at 122 London Road was legendary.  In her articles for the newsletters, she pared down complex issues and gave us action points and catchy slogans that we could easily take out on to the streets. 

She also knew how to have fun. I recall many a late night at campaign HQ, or 122, as it simply became known, glass of red to hand, as we fashioned sandwich boards out of scavenged cardboard and poster paints. There were quite a number of parties, too, at Debbie’s then home (and one of the Leicester’s Arthur Wakerley buildings). On those hot summer evenings enjoying the open air on her cast iron balcony, it was a mix of friends, work colleagues and FoE co-campaigners. 

Debbie was also not averse to a spot of dressing up. I remember us commandeering a dinghy and dressing up in wetsuits, snorkels and armbands, ready to battle rising waters in a ‘Greenhouse Effect’ day of action. 

April 1989 stays with me particularly, calling on our High Street banks to reduce or write off the huge foreign debts accumulated by countries such as Brazil, whose government was hell bent on cutting down rainforests, in order to keep up with interest payments.  The burning season was about to begin again, forcing tribal peoples from forest homes, killing off rare species of plants and animals and releasing huge quantities of carbon dioxide. Debbie arranged for some full-blown street theatre. Mourners, all in black, we staged a symbolic funeral procession down the London Road, armed with a cardboard coffin and a giant sized £3 billion cheque to pay Brazil to safeguard the forests for us all. I recall her fetching down one of her curtains to drape over the coffin - she knew both how to repurpose and to live lightly. We made merry hell outside the banks, collected hundreds of signatures, distributed thousands of leaflets and hit the Leicester Mercury big time.”

Debbie was rainforest campaigner for some time in the 1980s and ‘90s. Her resourcefulness, determination and indefatigability made for interesting and exciting events that drew public attention, poured scorn on careless and indifferent companies and institutions and contributed to the mounting pressure for action.

Another occasion, in 1993, helping to make and carry a giant draught excluder, Debbie joined the energy group drawing attention to the profligate waste of energy through the many and large shop open doors.


Harriet Pugsley recalls, along with Debbie and Sue Eppel taking part in a Day of Action at Raab Karcher, the timber merchant on Bede Island South. “We brazenly walked in and 'stole' away some tropical hard wood that we then labelled as being stolen property from the Brazilian Amazon.  Of course, this caused some consternation. The police being called, we had made our point and left without being handcuffed or locked up”. 

Celia Barden and I visited Debbie a few weeks before her death. She was undergoing further treatment for secondary cancers. Though fatigued, she was very positive and showed us around her lovely gardens at Knighton Church Road. The rear garden had a pond and many native species in the lawn and surrounding beds.

We miss you, Debbie.

Alan Gledhill



Friday, 27 May 2022

Responding to the Campaign Against Leicester's Workplace Parking Levy

We support Leicester City Council’s proposal to introduce a workplace parking levy (WPL): a charge on employers who provide parking spaces for their employees. There is a detailed explanation of why we support this on Climate Action’s website. We know that there is now a campaign against the introduction of a WPL in Leicester and we would like to respond to some of the arguments being put forward.

“The WPL will have a disproportionate impact on the lowest paid workers”

The most economically disadvantaged people in Leicester (employed or not) suffer the most from low quality public transport and unhealthy levels of air pollution. 35% of households in the city do not have access to a car. Many, if not the majority, of people in those households will be reliant on public transport to get around. At the moment, many of the bus services are infrequent and poorly co-ordinated and all are too expensive. The number of bus passengers in Leicester has been declining for years as a result. This situation leaves already disadvantaged people further disadvantaged by the limited transport available to them.  

It is now well known that people who are economically disadvantaged are the most exposed to air pollution. This is all the more unfair because the same people are less likely to own a vehicle and be contributing to the pollution. They are also more likely to have existing health conditions that will be exacerbated by breathing polluted air. This spiral of inequality is visible in Leicester, for example, with the St Matthew’s housing estate being next to the congested ring road. Introducing clean (electric) buses, with more connected, more frequent services, would benefit people without access to a car and people living in polluted areas the most. It would finally address the current, doubly unfair situation.

As the WPL is levied on employers, they can choose whether to pass it on to their employees and how to do so. The City Council have said they would work with employers to ensure the charge is passed on fairly. The University of Nottingham’s scale of charges provide an example of how this can be done. This would need monitoring, of course, and any employers not using a scale of charges to protect their lowest paid employees would need to be challenged. But that could be done and, overall, the scheme promises to benefit the people who are struggling the most by improving the transport they rely on.

“The number of buses will reduce”

We contacted the City Council about this claim, to understand it better. Bus operators’ fleets in Leicester are currently artificially high, because they include vehicles for contract work outside Leicester. The competition between operators also means that we often see empty buses driving around. For example, I live on the route of the 22 in Evington and it is not unusual to see a First bus and a Centrebus pull up at stops at the same time or within a few minutes of each other. Inevitably, the second vehicle is then mostly empty. This pointless competition between operators adds to pollution and congestion in the city. The new Bus Partnership Plan promises to reduce competition between the operators, as well as improving the frequency of services and the connections between them.

One of the Council’s priorities with the revenue that could be generated by the WPL is to fund a new orbital bus service (i.e., a service that goes round the city rather than from the outskirts into the centre). This would run within 400 metres of 75% of the employers in the city. For people without cars, it would significantly increase their access to jobs and services. The electric buses will also cut the pollution caused by public transport. But this plan needs funding and the money provided by central government will not be enough. We need the WPL to fund better bus services.

“We need system-changing socialist solutions”

and “municipal ownership is better than commercial ownership”

We completely agree that bringing public transport back into public hands is the best way to provide an excellent bus service. And to give credit where it is due, Peter Soulsby has consistently said this too. But it isn’t going to happen with a Conservative government. It isn’t guaranteed even if we get a Labour government at the next election; they were in power for 12 years last time without fixing the public transport system. And we haven’t got time to wait for a revolution before we start acting on climate change. The latest IPCC report made it very clear that action is needed now to avert climate disaster. India is currently dealing with a heatwave that has been made 30 times more likely by the climate crisis. There are more severe heatwaves every year in countries where very few people have access to air-conditioning. There are more floods, more fires, more droughts. Left unchecked, it is only a matter of time before climate change starts killing people on a scale that we cannot bear to imagine. We need to start moving towards a more sustainable way of life now, even if the first steps are not perfect. In Leicester, a sensible next step would be to improve the bus service and start to encourage people to consider leaving their cars at home.



Wednesday, 18 May 2022

May meeting: Urban biodiversity presentation

At our May meeting, we welcomed Russell Parry and Lindsay-Anne, who had come to share their enthusiasm for wild plants (N.B. not ‘weeds’!) in urban areas. You can see their slides here and below is a brief summary of their presentation.

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Data from NatureSpot, a species recording website, shows that the highest levels of biodiversity in Leicestershire are found in the city and towns and the lowest in farmland. The pesticides and fertilisers used in agriculture are turning fields into green deserts, with very low diversity. Seeing plants and green places is essential to human health and happiness; many psychology studies have now demonstrated this.

There has been an alarming decline in insects over the past few decades. This is made very clear by the ‘windscreen phenomenon’ – car windscreens are no longer covered in squashed insects after long journeys. A German study found that there has been a 50% decline in insects in 20 years. Insects rely on wild plants for food and a place to lay their eggs. More wild plants = provide more habitat for insects.

Russell has conducted a bird survey along the same route in Birstall for the past 25 years. He finds that there is less species diversity and abundance on the golf course and more along the roads with gardens. More plants = more insects = more birds.

The City Council routinely sprays the pavements in Leicester with herbicide to kill all wild plants. In 2020, with the lockdowns, they only sprayed once. In that year and the following spring, there was an astonishing abundance of urban wild plants. But then they resumed spraying three times a year and the pavement wild plants have disappeared again. Lindsay-Anne saw a similar situation in Enderby. A recent article in the RSPB magazine concluded that the best way to deal with ‘weeds’ is to allow them to flourish.

The abundance of 2020 inspired Russell and Lindsay-Anne to start the StreetWild project. They planned to ask people to go 200 yards from their house and look for common plants. They would provide people with a guide to recognising five plants currently in flower every month. The Wildlife Trust and the City Council were interested in promoting this. However, when the pavement spraying resumed, the project had to be abandoned.

In 2020, Russell and Lindsay-Anne recorded 361 species of wild plant on 20 streets in Leicester and found a similar number when they surveyed unimproved natural habitat. Lindsay-Anne found Jersey Cudweed in Enderby, a schedule 8 plant (meaning it should not be touched) and the first record of this plant in Leicestershire. She reported it to the District Council, but when the spraying resumed, it was still sprayed.

The City Council’s Biodiversity Action Plan includes some excellent intentions, including: ‘We will make sure that local biodiversity thrives.’ However, they are not acting on these.

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This gave us some new ideas for how to progress our pesticides campaign!