The Bee Team – Lizzie, Freya, Rosie, Olivia and Becki A group of Marlborough schoolgirls have made it their mission to protect bees following news that the population is in decline – and could pose potential risks to major crops.
Freya Pigott, 16, is heading the team from St John’s school in Marlborough, which is campaigning with Fixers to show people just how important bees are to 70 types of crops in the UK which rely on bees to pollinate them.
Bees are important because they pollinate a third of everything we eat and play a vital role in sustaining the planet’s ecosystem.
But earlier this month, a UN body – the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) - said pollination, which is directly responsible for between five and eight percent of global agricultural production, is at risk.
“The decline of the bee population is something that few people know about and even fewer people know how to act upon. It is an issue that is happening so quickly - but we have the power to change the outcome,” said Freya.
“It makes me incredibly sad that the bee population is struggling, especially as a lot of it is down to human actions, such as mass-use of pesticides/insecticides and the dramatic loss of meadows for them to pollinate.
“Humans can often take the outside world for granted, however it’s so vital that we care for this beautiful world we live in.”
The group has created a booklet to help educate people on what they can do to help. Freya hopes the booklet will help people understand which plants to grow in their gardens that are bee friendly.
“I want the local community to know that they have the power to make a difference and change what is happening. They can do that by lobbying for certain pesticides to be banned, buy local honey or simply planting flower seeds,” she said.
“Their extinction is preventable, however it’s down to everyone to act. This is a problem that is affecting everyone and it’s crucial we join together in acting.”
The group plans to distribute their booklet to the local community with the help of Wiltshire Beekeepers Association. The booklet can be accessed online at https://issuu.com/fixersdesign/docs/bee_aware
Co-ops Fortnight 2015Marlborough News Online readers are being urged to clear out their old tech junk as part of Big Co-op Clean, the focus of this year’s Co-operative Fortnight.
Old PCs, laptops, printers, scanners and cables that are cluttering desks and drawers can be put to good use in our Tech Amnesty.
Marlborough News Online – a co-operative owned by local members, rather than by a media conglomerate – has teamed up with Ramsbury-based Green Machine, an IT company that promotes social and environmentally friendly computing solutions and IT recycling.
Rather than clogging up precious space in your home, Green Machine can recycle your tech, giving you the piece of mind that your computer is not going to landfill, and that your private data is professionally erased – all free of charge.
Recycled computers and laptops are either sold to families, schools and charities as low-cost IT solutions, sent to communities in developing countries or, if they really are beyond repair, stripped for their reusable components.
Simon Crisp, the founder of Green Machine, said: “Anyone who brings their old computer to us can be guaranteed that the machine or its components will be put to the best use. Their data will be erased and, for a small fee, we can recover data – even from computers that won’t boot up any more.”
Peter Davison of Marlborough News Online said: “Many of us – and I’m as guilty of this as anyone – leave obsolete tech to gather dust on shelves or in cupboards.
“Helping readers to dispose of their old tech seemed an ideal way for an online newspaper to celebrate Co-operatives Fortnight, and in Green Machine we have found a company that shares our values of environmental awareness and social responsibility.”
Old items of tech – including computer screens and mice. printers and copiers, tablets and mobiles, modems and routers, video and audio equipment, and games consoles – can be taken to Burbage Summer Fair at Burbage School from 1.30pm until 4pm on Saturday, July 4. Burbage PTA will receive £5 for every computer or laptop handed in.
Donors can also take unwanted toner and ink cartridges, which will be passed to Prospect Hospice, which operates its own fundraising scheme using these items.
Co-operatives Fortnight, which aims to demonstrate how the UK’s 6,000 co-operative businesses are local, loved, and trusted – runs from June 20 to July 4.
RDA horse and carriageFarms across the UK threw open their gates this weekend for the annual Open Farm Sunday.
The day is a celebration of farming, and an attempt to get people thinking about their food, where it comes from, and what goes into producing it.
Marlborough News Online headed to Overtown Farm near Barbury Castle, the home of Barbury Beef.
There was plenty of family entertainment for young and old to enjoy. Our two-year-old cub reporter Sydney really appreciated a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, laid on by the local Riding for the Disabled group, based at Rockley, and enjoyed meeting calves, lambs and beagles.
For the adults, there was a chance to learn more about the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area: a unique initiative run by 42 local farmers, whose land covers 25,000 acres between the A4 and M4.
The scheme helps farmers to deliver strategic wildlife management across the wider landscape - from planting tree sparrow villages to returning insect-friendly wildflower meadows from chalk grassland.
On a tractor ride across the farm, John Cooper, who farms at Avebury and hosted last year’s Marlborough Downs NIA Open Farm Sunday event, talked us through the recent history of the landscape - the concrete tracks that criss-cross the site were left by the government – which requisitioned the area to fix planes - after the Second World War. The old concrete military buildings are now home to barn owls.
We also learnt about oil seed rape production – how those bright yellow flowers give way to black seed pods which deliver the crop – and we had the chance to meet a herd of Ruby Red cattle, bred for their deep red meat, and sold to butchers and farm shops. You won’t, John stressed, find it in supermarkets.
The change from dairy cattle to beef cattle eight years ago was one of necessity, we were told. A litre of milk now costs less than a litre of bottled water, and as a result the number of UK dairy farmers has diminished from 35,000 in 1995 to 9,000 today.
To find out more about the work of the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area log on to http://mdnia.org.uk
Summer sun brought hundreds of visitors to Overtown FarmSydney meets a Holstein calfA little-seen view: the back of Wroughton aerodrome from Overtown FarmVisitors took a ride around the farm in a trailer
A Water Vole Terry Whittaker NaturePL.com
River lovers have until Friday to ensure the Kennet remains clean, full and healthy long into the future.
An Environment Agency consultation is asking local people to comment on draft plans that set out how to protect the water environment – but it closes on 10 April.
Blueprint for Water, a coalition of environmental charities, has developed a website – www.saveourwaters.org.uk - to make it easy to respond to the consultation and is calling for everyone to have their say before it is too late.
Residents can fill in a questionnaire giving their views on how healthy they think their river is, and what could be done to improve it.
Healthy rivers are essential for people and wildlife – with the Kennet providing a home for much-loved species such as water vole, reed bunting and even the brook lamprey as well as being a vital source of water for homes and industry.
But like many of the UK’s rivers, it is coming under huge pressure to provide more water for drinking, industry and sanitation.
Although there have been efforts to reduce over-abstraction from the Kennet in recent years, it remains a pressure along with agricultural and domestic pollution. These pressures affect water and habitat quality and reduce fish populations.
Since Save Our Waters launched in October 2014, over 700 individuals have added their voice to the campaign.
Rose O’Neill, water policy manager at the World Wide Fund for Nature and member of Blueprint for Water, said: “It’s clear that we are failing our rivers and their wildlife. We need to see government action to restore these rivers, for example by reducing abstraction and tackling pollution from sewage works, farms and roads.
“There has been fantastic work carried out by wildlife groups, rivers trusts, water companies and others to make improvements but we must go further with this effort.
“There’s still time to add your voice. I’d urge everyone to respond quickly as the consultation ends in just a few days.”
Janina Gray, Chair of Blueprint for Water, said: “We all need water to survive but currently only 17 percent of England’s rivers are in good health, so it is more important than ever that everyone gets involved with this consultation.
“We’re urging everyone to take two minutes and tell the Environment Agency which river, lake or stream matters to you via the Save Our Waters website.
“It might be a place that’s special to you or one you’re planning on visiting as the summer months approach.”
Every response on the Save Our Waters website is sent directly to the Environment Agency to include in its consultation. It also offers an option for those who have a little more time to contribute their views. For more details, visit www.saveourwaters.org.uk
Image David WhiteBarn, little, long-eared, short-eared, tawny… there are many different kinds of owl in Britain, but which one is it you see sweeping over the fields near your home, and what can we learn about these crepuscular creatures?
Experts from the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area will be leading a twilight walk and talk around Rockley on Tuesday, February 17. The Owl Prowl, which is free to attend, will offer an insight into the world of owls, and other birds of prey.
Members of Marlborough Community Orchard at the unveiling of the new interpretation boardsFruit lovers can make better sense of Marlborough’s award-winning community orchard, thanks to a pair of interpretation boards, unveiled on Saturday to mark National Tree Week.
The information boards outline the project to create a Town in an Orchard by planting rare Wiltshire varieties of apple, which otherwise faced extinction.
The boards – designed for Marlborough Community Orchard by Mark Saunders and funded by Marlborough Town Council– also maps the 25 apple, pear, plum, damson, cherry, quince and medlar trees on the site, and acknowledges the sponsors who paid for the planting.
Besides preserving old varieties of fruit, the orchard is also intended as a free fruit larder for the people of the town – anyone is welcome to pick and eat the fruit.
The boards were unveiled by Alison Galvin-Wright, wife of the late Jeffrey Galvin-Wright, who designed the Diamond Jubilee Plantation on Marlborough Common.
At the heart of the diamond-shaped orchard is a mulberry tree – one of 60 trees granted to local groups nationwide to celebrate the Queen’s 60th year on the throne by the Tree Council of Great Britain.
Attendees - who came armed with gardening tools for a spot of weeding and mulching – were reminded that this year’s Britain in Bloom South West Cup for Best Community Initiative was won by Marlborough Community Orchard.
Interpretation Board 1Interpretation Board 2
Before we had central heating and well insulated homes, there would be wonderful and intricate ice patterns on windowpanes when we pulled back the curtains in the morning following a hard air frost.
I remember them well and the images here are examples that I took on 4 January 2009 when we experienced nine consecutive nights with an air frost including a night when the thermometer plummeted to -13.3C on January 9.
With the subject of climate change being widely discussed and a major conference being held this month in Paris, it is interesting to look at one aspect that affects us as autumn advances into winter: the onset of air frosts.
Details of the first air frost to occur each autumn since 2000 are: 2013 - November 11, 2000/04/05 - November 13, 2011 - November23. This year the first air frost was on the November 22 (-2.6C), which almost equaled the record for a late start to air frosts set in 2011.
Air frosts can mean attractive landscapes and frozen car windscreens when they occur. Their severity tends to deepen as the winter moves into January and February.
Extracting and analysing data since my records began in 1984 reveals a changing pattern. I will take the period from 1985 for this article and use the data for when the air temperature drops to or below -0.1C.
There is a distinct trend over the period for the first occurrence of air frosts to get later and later into autumn. Using September 1 as a datum and averaging the days since that date when an air frost occurs, I find the following trend. The first and last periods are for five years whilst the central periods cover ten years.
We all realise that the mild weather experienced in autumn tends to last longer and delay the more severe weather of winter. Looking at the overall trend, these figures show the quite dramatic shift in the advent of an air frost each year, whilst recognizing that there are considerable variations from year to year.
While air frosts occurred three times in September 2003 and five times in September 1986, Septembers since 2004 have been frost free.
An air frost always occurred during October up to 1999 when there were five with the coldest recorded at -1.7C. The last three consecutive years have been without an air frost in October.
November is quite a different month in that the overall trend is flat for the number of air frosts. However, there are wide variations. We experienced an air frost fifteen times in 2005 contrasting with four, nine, eight and four over the last four years.
December provides quite a contrast in that the trend for the frequency of air frosts has increased over the years from around eight a month to twelve a month. At the extremes there were 25 air frosts in 2005 and only two in 1988.
The data above provides evidence that the climate in Marlborough has changed over the past thirty years or so but is this short-term change or evidence of more permanent climate change?
Jo Ripley joins activists at the climate lobbyHundreds of green flags signed by local people concerned about climate change have been taken to Westminster as part of the annual UK Climate Lobby.
Around a dozen campaigners from the Devizes constituency attended the event, which was attended by a spectrum of organisations including environmental lobbyists, faith groups and the Women’s Institute.
There was disappointment that Claire Perry MP was not there to meet the group on Lambeth Bridge – especially as she had pulled our of the Pewsey Environment Hustings before the General Election – but the Bishop of Salisbury was able to meet the group and expressed concern about the need to change people’s priorities away from consumption and towards conservation.
The local activists were among the estimated 10,000 campaigners who marched on to Lambeth Bridge on Wednesday, June 18 to lobby around 300 constituency MPs of all colours in an initiative called For The Love Of.
Amber Rudd, the UK government minister responsible for climate change, said: “Politicians can’t deliver on the ambition [to tackle climate change] without the public saying ‘We need you to do this’. So I really welcomed the campaigning today... It engaged more politicians on this really important issue.”
Children enjoy at trailer ride on Open Farm SundayA clutch of farms will be throwing open their gates to the public on Sunday, June 7 for the 10th annual celebration of agriculture.
Open Farm Sunday events will be held at Wexcombe Manor Farm (SN8 3SQ) – home of Marlborough News Online columnist George Hosier – from 11am until 3pm.
Visitors will be offered guided walks and tractor rides around the farm, while children can enjoy face painting, an obstacle course, and corn pit.
There will also be a scarecrow competition, and families are invited to bring along a scarecrow for the chance of winning a prize.
For more information, log on to www.wexcombefarm.co.uk
At Kingham Farm, Aldbourne (SN8 2NP) there will be a chance to meet the animals and enjoy tractor and trailer rides. There will also be a static display of farm machinery.
The farm gates will be open from 1pm until 5pm.
At Overtown Farm, on the edge of Barbury Castle Downs (SN4 0SH) visitors will be able to enjoy a sheep shearing display and watch the sheep dog in action. A fly fishing competition, a gun dog display, and terrier racing are planned.
The farm will be open from 11am until 4pm.
And at Manor Farm in Compton Bassett (SN11 8SW) there will be the chance to watch the cows being milked and fed. There will also be a farm tour, trailer rides, and a static machinery tour.
Last year, 375 farms across the UK took part in Open Farm Sunday, attracting 207,000 visitors. For more information about Open Farm Sunday events, log on to www.farmsunday.org
The Renewable Energy Home HandbookEnergy prices are on many minds at the moment, and often it is economics that drives change with the environment looking to benefit.
Giving a helping hand with ditching expensive and emissions-heavy, coal and gas (and nuclear) driven homes, is The Renewable Energy Home Handbook.
And Marlborough News Online has a competition to win the book, along with an unbeatable reader offer.
Just published, the book is a step-by-step guide to choosing and installing renewable energy projects - insulation and energy saving, biomass heating, wind turbines, solar electric PV generation, solar water heating, heat pumps - everything a home needs from wind, sun, water - and wood.
There is even advice on living ‘off-grid’ for complete energy self-sufficiency.
The book is geared to those comfortable with a spanner but not to do it themselves. Rather it aims to help the clever customer, those who want to thoughtfully plan eco-domestic installations rather than leap into it with the vague idea that it is a 'good thing'.
Just like finding any good tradesman, it is important to use companies skilled in this field - there is nothing worse than duff advice where your life's most expensive purchase (and investment) is concerned. And this book has been written with meticulous research from experts in domestic renewable energy, most of whom are found in the UK.
Author Lindsay PorterThe author, Lindsay Porter, is one of the country's most successful motoring writers, and pioneered the picture-led manual with Haynes back in the 1970s. Now he has turned his hand to authoring his other love - environmentally-friendly self-build.
For the past 40 years he has built, added, and renovated his country cottage. Back in the 1970s he stumbled across the Scandinavian standards of building insulated homes, way ahead of the UK's 'universal gas guzzling houses' and adopted their methods into his own house.
The Renewable Energy Home Handbook, published by Veloce Publishing, is a solid book, around letter paper size, with over 800 images across nearly 200 pages.
Marlborough News Online has one of these books for a lucky winner. To be in with a chance of winning, just answer this question: What form of heating does the book cover?
Competition closes 11.59pm on Thursday, April 16 2015. A winner will be chosen at random from all correct entries received by the closing date.
Even if you aren't the lucky winner (or you just can't wait), buy it for a specially reduced price, exclusive to Marlborough News Online readers. Visit www.veloce-eco.com and use the code MNOnline, reducing the book from £24.99 to £15.99 (plus P&P) - an amazing £9 discount.
Just pop the code into the discount voucher box on the purchase page here: http://ww8.aitsafe.com/cf/add.cfm
Tree sparrow (Photo: David White)One of the main projects undertaken by the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area (MDNIA) has been to revive the downs’ much depleted tree sparrow population. There is now statisticval proof that it is succeeding - and having an impact across the county.
In 2014 the number of tree Sparrows in Wiltshire has increased with a total of 170 nesting pairs raising 1542 nestlings that fledged. That is an increase on 2013 when 890 fledged from 125 pairs.
The MDNIA recorded 76 pairs within its boundary producing 623 fledglings (510 fledged from 62 pairs in 2013.) The tree sparrow can be distinguished from the house sparrow by the black patch on each of the birds’ pure white cheeks.
Working with the MDNIA’s farmers, 1,000 nest boxes have been put up across 300 square miles, creating tree sparrow villages. Hedges have been planted that will give the birds appropriate cover. And a winter feeding programme has been helping the birds through the cold and wet season.
Matt Prior with tree sparrow feederSince 1999 about 14,000 tree sparrows have been ringed in the Marlborough Downs area. Matt Prior, who manages the MDNIA tree sparrow project explains:
"Last winter's feeding has definitely helped the birds survive. A great breeding season last spring combined with us putting out large quantities of food again this winter means we are very excited about the prospects for Tree Sparrows in the Marlborough area next year".
The MDNIA covers 10,370 hectares (25,625 acres) of chalk downland to the south of Swindon, within the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
For more information visit the MDNIA website.
RainfallAugust was a chilly wash-out, but Marlborough’s summer was saved by a better-than-average June and July, according to town meteorologist Eric Gilbert.
Only eight days in August - all of them at the beginning of the month - hit the 30-year mean, according to Eric, who has been taking recordings at his Windrush weather station since 1984.
Many days in the month were several degrees below the long-term average. The mean was 1.7C below the long-term average so it is not surprising that it was the coldest August since 1993. The maximum day temperature was 25.2C, which was the lowest maximum since 1986.
There were only 11 dry days in the month, and the total rainfall for August of 101.4mm was 157 percent of the norm.
It was the eight wettest since 1984 with August 1992 holding the record when the total precipitation was 139.5mm.
However, says Eric, June and July produced above average temperatures so although August was cool, the mean for the three summer months was 0.3C above the 30-year average.
The total rainfall for the summer was 186mm, just 4mm above the 30-year average.
In the longer term, the consecutive eight months from January to August have produced a total rainfall of 787mm, which is the highest total since Eric’s records began.
“It is interesting to note,” says Eric, “that there are only three years that have totals in excess of 700mm, all recent years – 727mm and 707mm in 2009 and 2008 respectively.”