Sunday, 12 November 2017

Eco Interviews and Links

Interviews with experts on various green and eco issues, and links to some sustainable living related articles.


Interesting article by Tony Naylor in the Guardian about misconceptions on the environmental benefits (or harms) of a number of products, from Cod to tinned chcikpeas to clingfilm.Most useful take-away for BFTF was that almond milk is very resource hungry and a more sustainable alternative is oat milk.


Aug 2011 : Kaye Brennan from the Woodland Trust

BFTF recently had the chance to interview Kaye Brennan from the Woodland Trust, but before providing some information on that, it is perhaps worth mentioning the story behind the interview. . .

Several years ago, I was in the car with Number 2 son when he said excitedly that he had just seen a very fast car (a Porsche perhaps, I can't actually remember). We were traveling down a tree lined avenue at the time and I wondered whether he could recognise the trees as well as he could recognise cars.

It turned out that he had no idea what type of trees were around us.

Then it struck me that, actually, I didn't recognise the trees that were passing me by. Oh dear, this wasn't good.

So, a week or two later I bought myself a Collins "Gem" book of Trees and started trying to identify trees as we were out and about in parks and the countryside. It has to be admitted that this wound up the family no end as, when on a walk, I would keep stopping to gaze intently at a tree whilst thumbing through my book to try and identify it.

Very quickly, I was able to recognise many of the common trees that can be found in our parks and woods. I even managed to pass on some of this new found knowledge to the youngsters.

Similarly, it was the sheer joy at now being able to recognise the trees around me, and to start learning about their characteristics, that provoked BFTF into trying to disseminate this information more widely via the "Just 5 Trees" project, which can be found here.

Then, one day, I found myself in a park where I didn't seem to be able to recognise a single tree. It was very strange. What was I doing wrong?

I emailed the Woodland Trust for help. They pointed out that many parks are planted with non-native trees and that this might be why they were not shown in my little book. They also kindly agreed to talk about British Woodlands on the radio - hence this interview.

Kaye initially described how the Woodland Trust had been formed in 1972 by Kenneth Watkins and some friends who were concerned about the rate at which small woodlands had been lost during the second world war and also to softwood plantations.

Since then the organisation has bought many other woodlands and is now custodian of some 1000 woods in the UK. You can find out more about the history, governance and funding of the Woodland Trust at their website here

Kaye also mentioned that the UK has a relatively low level of forest cover at only 12% (a post interview search of t'Intranet revealed that coverage was 31% in France, 32% in Germany and even densely populated Belgium managed 23%)

A key message that Kaye wanted to get across was the the Woodland Trust woods are numerous and close by - you can find out where your local woods are (and what kind of acivities you can do there) by visiting the "Visit Woods" section of or by visiting "" .

One interesting snippet of information that Kaye mentioned was that the "Sumac Centre" , an independant community and social centre, had a " 'Fruit and Notts' " project involving planting fruit trees in Nottingham - respect to the team there for making the effort to do this!

The Woodland Trust constantly campaigns to protect the country's woodlands, and people can get involved firstly be letting their local MP know how important local woods are. Further volunteering opportunities are available, of course, on the website.

After the Interview, Kaye sent an email with a link to a section of the Woodland Trust Website that has a "Tree Guide", so you don't even have to buy a book to get started!

Oct 2011 : Amy Mulkern from the FSC (2008)

The interview was with Amy Mulkern of the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC is a stakeholder owned organisation formed to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. It sets international standards for responsible forest management and it's product label allows consumers worldwide to recognize products that support the growth of responsible forest management worldwide.

As of 2008, over the past 13 years, over 90 million hectares in more than 70 countries have been certified according to FSC standards while several thousand products are produced using FSC-certified wood and carrying the FSC trademark. FSC operates through its network of National Initiatives in 45 countries.

Forests have a significant effect on the worlds climate and are host to many communities of plants and animals that live there.

It is worth mentioning that cheap paper products are cheap for a reason - in many cases that reason is that they have been produced from wood from cleared natural forests, often tropical rainforest.

To start with, Amy gave us some information of the history of the FSC;

“we've been around since 1993 and through the 80's and early 90's there was a real awakening and realisation that there was a problem with the world's forests, we all saw the images of the Amazon rainforest being burnt and seeing inappropriate plantations in the United Kingdom and started wondering and asking questions about where our wood was coming from and whether we were fuelling this problem, this illegal forest clearance happening all over the world - problems in Russia, in Canada, in south-east Asia, and in South America, in west and central Africa. And a lot of companies started asking questions about where their wood came from, and it was the first time they had asked this question. And a lot of them were quite upset with the answers that came from suppliers and they weren't really too sure what to do about it. So they needed a solution, a way to ensure that what they were doing was giving value to forests by their timber purchases, so giving them a reason for people to keep them, to make them economically viable but also to look after how they were being managed. So in 1993 a founding assembly of 120 organisations and individuals from around the world got together in Toronto, Canada. Our membership comes from big companies like B&Q and Ikea but also indigenous people's groups like first nations peoples and tribes peoples from Canada, also indigenous peoples groups and civil rights groups from South America, from west and central Africa, from south-east Asia. We're really a global organisation, we also had environmental organisations like WWF and Greenpeace and they all got together and they said we've got this terrible problem with what's going on with forestry around the world, we want to make sure we're giving value to forests, make sure forests are working, they're not being cleared, they're not being converted. So what are we going to do? We need a system like FSC, what we need is a truth label, so that when people see a label on wood products, whether it's paper, whether it's timber, whether it's charcoal or whether it's a book, we know that it actually does come from a well managed forest and not from illegal forest destruction. So that's what we were set up to do.”

Amy went on to give a feel for how an FSC forest is managed by pointing out that
“Each forest will have a forest management plan and that forest management plan will meet the international principles and criteria of FSC. Responsible forestry has been interpreted at the national level by local people about what's really the quality forestry that they can have in their country. So, you might have areas where they do clear blocks at a time, then they'll do rotational block clearing. They'll also have areas where they are more towards continuous cover. It will depend on the forestry and what's good. Certain types of bird species, for example, in the UK need cleared forest areas for their nesting sites, so it's not as simple as clearing blocks of forest is necessarily bad and keeping continuous cover is good. It would depend really on what the situation is at the very local level. And that's where the expertise of forest management and standard setting comes in.”
Later, Amy described in more detail how companies had woken up to the fact that they didn't know where their wood was coming from,
“I've heard speakers from B&Q and BBC saying that the questions were being asked through consumer pressure, through the NGOs, it was simply questions they'd never asked before. It was just paper, it was just wood. You know, they just bought it. But, they're also consumers, they're also individuals, they're also people. Once the question was asked, they thought to themselves, ‘God, I wonder where our wood does come from’? And then they started asking questions through their supply chain. B&Q themselves say we were not happy to find out that we didn't know where our wood came from and we realised that we had to sort this out.”

Amy also gave an example of what one publishers had to consider when auditing their supply chains,
“Alison, their production director, said very honestly, ‘we looked around and we looked at where our paper was coming from and we found that some of it couldn’t be proved that it had been legally harvested, let alone responsibly managed’. They were really worried about some of their sources of paper. And so, working with Greenpeace and WWF, and then later on working with ourselves when it got to a more technical level we looked at their supply chains, their pulp sources, so they wanted to exclude all the illegal fibre and then work to move as many book titles as they could to FSC certified. So you’ll find with companies what they’re doing is ensuring legality, not illegally harvested, not using indentured labour, is an absolute benchmark and then shifting over to responsibly managed FSC certified forests as fast as they can, working with our supply chains, moving things over because while avoiding illegal is vitally important, what we’ve also got to do is support and give value to responsibly managed forests."

And FSC is not just for printer paper, as Amy explained
“Paper used for printing and publishing, wood so that's sort of timber and furniture, garden furniture, kitchen utensils, all the building materials - plywood, chipboard, MDF. Companies like B&Q, Coop, even go down to your local garage and have a look at the charcoal bags there and see whether you can see our logo on it. Publishers of course like Bloomsbury and the Harry Potter books were printed up FSC certified. You can get certified greetings cards. If it comes out of a forest, it can carry the FSC logo.”

Amy went on to explain that the consumer also has a big role to play in this endeavour
“people are being concerned about where their products come from. We’re all starting to ask questions, as consumers, as members of the public. We want to make sure our money is going towards the right thing. And organisations like FSC give people an opportunity to be able to do that.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the issue of not just related to tropical forests, as shown by Amy's comments that:
“I was reading an interesting report a few months back from Greenpeace where they’ve caught a number of European pulp and paper mills and timber mills using paper that has come from Russia where there are a lot of problems with illegal harvesting and gang controlled harvesting and a lot of it gets smuggled over into Europe and then ends up in our mills that way. So it can be more of a complicated issue. Like I say, Greenpeace and WWF are really the experts on this but I’m afraid to say illegal harvesting and forest clearance is not just a tropical issue.”

We went on to take the specific example of IKEA, where we had asked staff in the stores “‘where is this wood coming from?’ and have been shown a little logo or label saying that they “do not take from intact natural forests’. This seems a little confusing, I mean, if it’s partially gone, does that mean you can rip the rest of the forest to shreds? On other occasions we have been told “we have a special forest in Russia and it’s all sustainably managed’.

Amy said that is was difficult to talk about specific cases, largely because
“What you’ve got there is a company’s self-declared claim and it may be absolutely right, they may well be taking it from perfectly responsibly managed forests but I can’t comment on whether that’s accurate or not. The point about FSC certification is its independent third party guarantee, someone’s gone in and actually ordered that and checked that, who is not part of the company, who has not got a vested interest in it to say that it genuinely does. With company’s self-declared claims, it muddies the water because some of them are absolutely true and doing a lot, for example Ikea, they have got all their garden furniture FSC certified, or the vast majority of it. I do happen to know that they do use a lot of fibre in their unlabelled products but as to the rest of it and the full supply chain, I just can’t comment on it, simply because I don’t know. And that’s what you need to be doing as a consumer, you need to be saying well, how do we trust you, how do we take your word for it? Where is the proof? Where is the evidence? Where is the independent guarantee?”

Having had enough of doom and gloom, we then asked Amy which companies DID sell FSC certifeid products and were told that there were now quite a lot out there, including B&Q, Focus, Travis Perkins, Magnet...

Moving on, we asked Amy what we could do in the political arena to promote sustainable sourcing of wood products. Amy replied that:
“Don’t be afraid to ask. You’re voting these people in, they’re your councillors, they’re your MPs, they’re your MEPs and you have every right to ask them where the wood is coming from in any local building projects you see. The government has got a commitment. The only source of timbre for central government projects should be from legal and sustainable sources. Get your MPs to ask some questions in the House of Commons, challenge them about how they’re delivering on it because Greenpeace has caught them again and again using timber from unacceptable forest management - the Cabinet office have had two fairly recent cases where they have been found to be using plywood that had been traced using German laboratories to analyse the plywood and was traced back to rainforest clearance in Papa New Guinea.”

Finally, we asked Amy about the future and what she thought it held for the worlds forests, to which she replied “We’re at very much a junction and it could go either way. I mean, the rates of forest clearance and forest destruction are pretty horrendous. We’re looking at about 33 hectares per minute being destroyed and when you have the Brazilian government themselves saying that 60% of the timber coming out of their country has been illegally clear-felled So we have got some huge challenges. But the other side of that is that FSC certified forests, responsibly managed forests, are growing exponentially. People are seeing valued forests. So we’re very much at the forefront of giving a future to the world’s forests, which is why it is so important that people buy FSC labelled products so that they can give the retailers, those people who are selling these products, the confidence that they are doing the right thing by taking this gamble, getting involved in FSC. If your listeners are then going out and saying to people, ‘oh, have you got an FSC certified whatever’? Then this is helping them to justify that they are doing the right thing because if we give value to forests we’re giving alternative to the land clearance, for agriculture, for mining, for urban development. So there is a future, there is a real future for the world’s forests and beautiful things are happening with forestry around the world. Whether it’s medicinal plants being grown under the canopies of FSC certified Eucalyptus plantations in South America, or whether it’s the work that’s been done up at my local forestry commission plantation on forest regeneration, there are some fantastic things going on and we all have got such a role to play in encouraging and supporting that, to prove to people that they are doing the right thing and moving forwards.”

Oct 2011 : Andy Guy - Dairy Farmer

BFTF is sure that you have all heard of children who think that milk milk comes from ASDA, not from cows.

Perhaps this article can help to correct any such misconceptions by providing an insight into the life of one of Britain's Dairy Farmers.

The farmer in question is 2005 “Farmer of the Year” Award winner Andy Guy who, together with his other half Sue, run a specialist dairy farm with some 110 cows on around 80 hectares near Southwell in Nottinghamshire.

As part of the LEAF network (linking Environment and Farming) they are champions for farming and have had visits from groups as diverse as Anglican Bishops and School children.

BFTF kicked off the interview by asking Andy for a little more information about LEAF. He told us that
“LEAF is a charity which promotes environmentally responsible farming and so it’s a farming system means that we try to consider the environment with everything that we do on the farm”

Andy then went on to describe the type of cattle that he had on the farm.
“We keep about 100 milking cows, pedigree Holstein cows, that’s the black and white cow that you’re probably familiar with...”

At this point BFTF jumped in, sure from it's primary school education that black and white cows are in fact called “Fresians”, but Andy explained that
“A Holstein is a development on from a Friesian. A Friesian is more of a dual purpose cow. It produces quite good beef but quite good milk, but in these days of specialisation farmers have improved the breeding over the years and created almost a new breed and that’s the Holstein cow, which is really a specialist milking cow”

Now thoroughly confused, BFTF asked whether the cows we saw wile driving up and down the Motorway were Fresians of Holsteins? Andy patiently explained that
“Mostly these days they’ll be Holstein cows … still some Friesian cows about … they’re not a rare breed or anything like that … but mostly they’ll be Holstein cows these days”

Having got that cleared up, the conversation moved on to how the cows spent their time...
”During the winter we keep them in the building. When the grass stops growing and the ground starts to get muddy and that kind of thing you can imagine 100 cows going through a gateway or getting to a water trough it makes a pretty good mess so it’s a necessity really to keep them in but actually they’re quite soft as well and I think they really appreciate it once the weather gets really wet and windy. They don’t mind cold but they don’t like rain and wind so once the weather gets really grim in probably late September or early October they’ll be housed for the winter and we’ll provide them all their dietary needs and things in the farmyard."

And what might these housed cows be eating ?
“In the winter they eat silage which is basically pickled grass and that makes up probably three quarters of their diet and the rest we balance up just like you and I do they need a balanced diet so they have to have all the right amounts of protein and energy and that kind of thing so we balance it up with other sources of protein and energy so they’ll get a little bit of soya and whole crop wheat silage which is silage that we’ve made out of wheat during the summer time, sugar beet pulp, that kind of thing. All natural vegetarian stuff - The days of feeding them fish meal and meat and bone meal and things are long gone … we’ve learned from mistakes in the past”

BFTF wondered whether this was the case for all farms and were told that
“It’s illegal and barmy to feed them anything but wholesome vegetarian stuff nowadays so you could be confident that any of the milk or dairy products that you’re buying in well any shop in the UK, as long as it’s come from UK sources anyway, is produced to those sort of standards. - The UK dairy market now is pretty well regulated and nearly all the dairy farmers are producing to what’s known as the national dairy farm assured scheme and your listeners will be familiar with the little red tractor logo I suspect and that’s what we need to produce to in order to meet that tractor logo standard so nearly all the producers are working to those standards now, you can be confident that if it’s bearing that symbol then it’s responsibly produced these days.

Having got an outline of the way he cows were looked after, it was now time to turn our attention to the milk. BFTF first asked for a little introduction to how the market had changed from the days of the Milk Marketing Board,
“It’s changed a lot since those days, the milk marketing board was a monopoly and was operated by the government since, well really since the 1930s and it was brought in to produce a stable market and a regular supply of wholesome milk and dairy products. It was brought in for a good reason but these days monopolies are not really the thing that any government supports, that’s not a party political statement, any government would work against a monopoly I think, and so the market was deregulated and nowadays there’s lots of people and lots of companies buying milk from dairy farmers and processing it and selling it on to the supermarkets, but supermarkets are making up probably something in excess of 80% of the market place now. They sell retail most of the milk and dairy products so it’s a slightly out of balance market I think, we’ve got four or five big supermarkets buying all of the milk from thousands and thousands of small farms and unfortunately that does have an impact on the dairy farmer. It’s very difficult to negotiate a good price with such a big organisation like that.”

Moving to a sustainability point of view, BFTF asked how comsumers could support dairy farmers in such an unfair market?
“The biggest thing you can do is vote with your feet, or at least with your purse anyway. If you’re buying liquid milk then it’s nearly certainly to come from British farms because it’s very difficult to transport it very far, but you can make a big difference when you’re buying yoghurts and cheeses and things like that and if you make sure that those are British produced and they’re either carrying the little red tractor logo or they say on the label that they’re produced in Britain from British milk then that makes a difference and sends a message to the supermarket because ultimately what the supermarket wants is to sell products, they don’t actually care very much whether it comes from Brazil or Venezuela or New Zealand or England.”

Andy felt that this kind of action really did make a difference, saying that
“at the end of the day I think what the supermarket is most interested in is what goes through the till at the checkout - They don’t care what you buy as long as you buy so Buy British “

Touching on another, BFTF asked about organic milk and it's alleged benefits,
“Of course. Well organic is another farming system and it’s a strictly regulated farming system, there’s a rule book that goes with it and the result of the rules that are applied to farmers means that output from farms is generally lower than it would be under conventional techniques and therefore produces a more expensive product at the end of the day. Now we’re not organic and we’re farming in a way which we believe is environmentally responsible and the welfare of our animals is very high on our list of priorities so I think ultimately it all depends on why a consumer or a buyer wants to buy organic products. If they’re buying them for environmental or welfare reasons well I personally don’t believe that organic milk is any better than my own. My milk is wholesome, there’s no antibiotics in the milk that we sell ... no residues or anything like that and it’s a wholesome product, but at the end of the day it’s up to the choice of the consumer isn’t it. If they want a product that’s produced in a particular way and they understand what those rules mean then I think they can buy that product, it’s a free market isn’t it?

And what is Andy's view about "Food Miles"?
“Food miles really don’t work do they if you’re going to import an organic product all over the world especially if it’s something that can be produced perfectly well in this country. It’s different if you’re importing mangoes or something that doesn’t grow here, but if we’re talking about milk and cheese really it should be produced here shouldn’t it? My own feeling, we don’t buy organic products ourselves because we’re consumers of course as well, we don’t buy organic products because I don’t really feel that they’re better than the conventionally produced products.”

Moving to something completely different, BFTF asked Andy to tell us a little more about the history of the farm. Andy began his response by explaining how things were before the war,
“there were four or five people working here still using horses on the land, they had dairy cows actually, we’ve always had dairy cows as long as the family’s been farming here but back before the war there was about 20 dairy cows on this farm and they also had beef and sheep and goats and geese and all sorts of things, a real Old McDonald sort of thing. And over the years it’s gradually specialised more and more in what it does best really. The soils and the climate that we’ve got here suits dairy farming quite well and is less appropriate for arable farming and producing potatoes and that kind of thing. The soil is a heavy clay so you can imagine that trying to dig root crops up in a wet autumn.”

Andy then went on to tell us about how the amount of milk produced by the cows had changed. . .
"Before the war they were producing maybe 3,000 litres per cow and now they average nearly 8,000 litres per cow, so a dramatic difference and a lot of that probably in the last 20 years, that’s the biggest change. Farmers have been able to understand genetics as well much better and breed for better cows. We’re not talking about genetically modified cows this is natural breeding and natural selection. And then there’s technology and being able to feed these cows. A cow producing 8,000 litres of milk is really working like an athlete, she’s working hard, and it’s the technology that has allowed us to feed the cows properly and analyse the nutrients that are in her diet and that kind of thing and you can make an analogy with an athlete maybe, say, Paula Radcliffe running a marathon, she doesn’t do it on fish and chips and Mars bars, she has a very carefully controlled diet and our cows are much the same these days. Cows are much easier than people they don’t like variety, they like the same thing every day so that makes life a bit easier.

BFTF then asked about the lifespan of the cows and were told that. . .
“Well it varies of course. The oldest cow I ever heard of was 27 years old. We’ve got several teenagers in the herd, that’s not unusual at all. So they have a calf each year and they need to have a calf in order to produce milk, just like any mammal, so as long as we can still have a calf and we can produce wholesome milk from the cow then we’ll keep her in the herd and keep going. That’s one of the nice things about dairy farming actually because you get a real relationship with the cows. It’s 100 cows and to the untrained eye they all look the same but we get to know the characters and we know who each cow is and how she’s going to behave and what she’s going to do so it’s quite nice to build the relationship with the herd like that."

Calves was something that BFTF wanted to know a little more about so we asked for a little more info. .
“They stay with their mums for the first two or three days I guess on this farm until they’ve had their first milk that gives them all the antibodies and things to set up their immune system and by that time by the third day mum’s producing a lot more milk than the calf needs so we take mum away at that point and she joins the herd she’ll come back to the calf at night time and look after the calf at night maybe for the rest of that week. At the end of the week we take the cow away, she’ll go back to the herd and we’ll start feeding the calf milk manually. It’s still whole milk, it’s coming from the cows but it’s maybe not her mum’s milk, it’s just surplus milk from the milking herd and the cow joins the rest of the herd and they’re gregarious animals so they’d rather be with the herd than just on their own."

We had head a lot about the work farmers do to protect the environment so BFTF asked whether his work with LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) was related to this?
“We’re all the time with every farming decision we’re not just thinking about the commercial aspects of the business, those are the principal influences because we have to make a living, but we try at the same time to consider the implications for the environment and society around us all at the same time. The result of that is the careful management of hedgerows and the margins around our field, which is where most of the wildlife and wildflowers tend to live. It influences the way we manage those parts of the farm and the net result is quite dramatic, we’ve got I think 67 species of bird visiting our farm. We’re not a big farm we’re 200 acres, which is a relatively small farm but 67 species of bird on the farm and something like 23 butterfly species as well. It’s quite gratifying to see that thriving at the same time as our commercial farming operation."

This all sounded very impressive so BFTF asked how this compared to an ordinary farm?
“I think that’s a little bit higher than you’d expect on some farms. I think certainly in the East Midlands most of the farms are much larger than ours and most of them actually don’t have livestock on them, they’re arable farms and so that limits the amount of habitat and the variety of habitat that you have on a farm. With a livestock farm like ours we do grow crops so you get all of the bird species and insect species that live in crop habitat but we’ve also got the grassland, we’ve got red clover growing on the farm and lots of other opportunities in the hedgerows and trees and that kind of thing, so we do get a bigger variety on a farm like ours than you would on a specialist arable farm.”

Lastly, BFTF asked for a little more information about the types of visitors they had had on the farm,
“We’re open all year round, it’s absolutely free. As long as you can get a group, we’d like to have a minimum of ten people, that sort of thing. No maximum, so if all your listeners want to come they might have to come in shifts but we’ll share them all round. We’ve had a huge variety of people. We get everybody from the W.I. and the local primary schools, to a bunch of bishops from all around the world. They were in sandals and all sorts of things. It was quite bizarre! You’re very welcome to visit us and you can find out more from the LEAF website (”

Spring Lane Farm Shop (2008)

One way of reducing the amount of fossil fuels that are used in transporting fod produce is to buy fruit and vegetable that are grown locally. In fact, wouldn’t it be great if we all had a local farm from which we could buy fresh vegetables – ideally so fresh that sometimes they were only picked from the fields a few hours earlier? Wouldn’t it be even better if this produce was cheaper that buying from supermarkets? And wouldn’t it be the best if this allowed us to offer farmers an alternative to selling their produce to the powerful supermarket chains?

Happily, many of us can do exactly this by buying from “farm shops”. These are shops that often sell produce from an attached farm, or provide an outlet to a number of local farmers. You can find them in the yellow pages, or on the internet.

To find out more about Farm Shops, BFTF interviewed Mark Spencer, who is the owner of the “Spring Lane Farm Shop” in Nottingham.

One of the attractions of Spring Lane Farm shop was the free range eggs that they offered. We asked Mark about the ethos that he had regarding the treatment of the chickens laying these eggs. . .

“At the end of the day you know I think to be a farmer you have to love animals don’t you, and we just really treat our animals as we think they’d like to be treated. . . it’s our responsibility to look after them and to make sure their life is as enjoyable as it can be”

Mark went on to describe the conditions that the chickens lived under. . .
“Basically there’s a thousand chickens in one shed and when I tell you that shed is actually on wheels. At night time we lock them in so that they’re safe from foxes, and then they’re let out every morning. They’re fed a diet pretty much of solely cereal based food. We also feed them a little bit of like a granite grit, which assists with their digestive system and helps them break down the food to give a stronger egg shell, and then once a year we sort of move (the shed) across the field because they actually graze the grass all around the shed immediately, they can strip that part of the field almost back to the soil so we move the shed a bit further, so that they’re again surrounded by grass and we can then reseed the bit where the shed was and keep them moving like that. They’ve got five acres to walk in. That’s actually twice what they’re meant to have under the Soil Association free range egg rules if you like. It just happened that was the size of the field that we’ve got so they’ve got five acres for a thousand chickens to walk round in, and they do actually make use of all of that field. It’s quite humorous to watch them, when you let them out in the morning they’ll literally spread themselves right across that field to all four corners. There is a lot of space for them to walk round. The expression ‘pecking order’ is very much applied to chickens and they will fight if you keep them too close together, that they bully each other and they’ll fight over food so the more space you can give them the more room you give to their, to the chickens if you like at the bottom of the pecking order to escape their bullies. There are strict rules for egg production and if you label your egg as free range you have to have met those criteria. They have to have so many square metres per chicken to range in, and also the sheds have to have so much room for the birds to sleep in at night and to, and so much space for each nest box as well, so any of those eggs that are for sale in the supermarket will meet the strict criteria but they may have been produced on a larger scale, in a shed that maybe has 20,000 birds in it rather than a shed like mine that’s got 1,000."

After this fascinating snippet of information, BFTF went on to ask about the pricing and freshness of his eggs. . .
Well if I were producing for a supermarket they’d probably be paying me between 60 and 80 pence a dozen. So I think at the moment our large in the shop are £1.40 a dozen, which is obviously cheaper than the supermarket sell them for, but that’s obviously a much bigger premium to me as a producer, and I mean at the moment we’re pretty much running hand to mouth with the eggs. Certainly at the weekend we’re selling the eggs collected on that day. Some of them are still warm as they’re going into the boxes”

BFTF had heard that Spring Lane Farm Shop even took returned egg boxes and reused them, again cutting down on the environmental impact of the farm:
“We do, we have to buy them so we’re always grateful for anybody that brings the egg boxes back. The ones that we sell obviously are all papier mâché biodegradable, but there’s no harm in recycling the egg boxes and using them again and we appreciate those customers that take the trouble to bring them back”

Mark then talked about the differences between British and foreign eggs. .
“I would say is that those eggs produced in the UK will be of higher quality than those that you buy that were imported. You’d be astounded at the amount of food in general that is imported into this country, and shipped from all over Europe and, particularly Eastern Europe now as the EU gets bigger, a lot of food products coming from Eastern Europe."

Moving on to the vegetable side of the operation, Mark gave an outline of the produce that the ho pstocked:
“ Well at the moment we’re producing all of the potatoes that go through the shop as well as quite a few cauliflowers, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and my next door neighbour he’s doing all the carrots, parsnips, leeks and some cabbage for us as well. There’s a fair spread of vegetables there which are grown within three miles of the shop I would have thought."

Homing in on potatoes, we mentioned that the potatoes from the shop seemed to be cheaper and better tasting that those of supermarkets – and allowed us to support the local farmers. .
"Well, it’s very kind of you to say that. We do grow varieties that are better in taste than looks. Maybe some of the supermarkets do focus on how good they look on the shelves rather than how nice they taste on the plate. We’ve tended to stick to the older varieties that we think are better tasting, and our customers have got used to."
We asked Mark about this policy on use of pesticides, given the current popularity of organic produce. . .
“The truth is chemicals are very expensive and we really don’t like to use anything that we haven’t got to use and if there are other methods of weed control for example, doing that mechanically, we much prefer to do that than we would use a chemical to kill weeds. And again obviously I’ve got children myself and they’re eating the vegetables I’m growing, so it’s quite important to us that they’re the best quality that we can produce. We don’t do organic ourselves, but I think there is a market out there for organic produce. You do get a much lower yield (with organic produce) and it’s whether the consumer is willing to pay the extra price for receiving food that’s not produced using any chemicals, and again that’ll be right for some people but not for others. That’s for consumers I suppose to choose isn’t it. We very much try and grow it with the minimum use of pesticides that we can, but we do use pesticides.

BFTF asked Mark about so-called “food miles” and what he thought of them . .
“It’s becoming more of an issue, certainly, when you think about the environment, and environmental schemes. I always think it’s quite strange that this government want to pay me to plant trees and hedgerows and to take grass out of production so I don’t have as much beef, but they then allow Brazilian farmers for example to take up the rainforests and then to spend aviation fuel shipping beef over to this country. We’re very keen to source everything as locally as we can if we can’t do it ourselves, not only from a point of view of the distances travelled, but the nearer (the farm) is to the shop the fresher the produce becomes, and the taste, of course, is depreciating the longer it is since they were picked.”

We then asked Mark about his feelings about supermarkets, particularly as they have such a large market share and have been accused of bullying farmers. We wanted to know if he had seen any benefits to working outside the supermarket system?
“We don’t produce anything for supermarkets at all. They tend to deal with much larger farmers than ourselves and we wouldn’t be able to compete, it wouldn’t be economic for us to grow the produce we do and to accept what they’d be willing to pay us. Really you ought to speak to someone who is producing for a supermarket. I suppose they’re a business and they’re there to make money, but it sometimes feels as though they like to squeeze every last penny out of the producer and take the largest margin that they can. Of course some of these producers have put in a lot of capital to get their businesses to a size that’s viable, and they’ve borrowed a large amount of money, they’re almost trapped because they can’t go to another supermarket because there are clauses in the contracts that stop them dealing with other people, so they (supermarkets) do have tremendous power."

We asked Mark what his advice to consumers would be in terms of where they bought their produce from. . .
“The one thing I would say to all consumers really is that they should think long and hard where they source their food from and if they go to a supermarket then ask that supermarket where the food is coming from. Is it produced in the UK and how far has it come from? What they purchase has a direct impact on the countryside around them."

Finally, Mark gave a comment that brought home the human dimension of farm shops as opposed to supermarkets when he said:
“That’s the beauty of going to a farm shop in that you often get to speak to the chap that’s grown the produce.”

BFTF certainly learnt a lot from Mark’s comments and we hope that you, dear reader, have also found something of interest in his comments.

Be a “Locavore”
In a similar vein to some of the points mentioned in Marks comments, the “New Scientist” magazine recently ran an article on being a “locavore”. Far from being some kind of extinct retile, “locavore” is a term coined up some two years ago by Californian Jessica Prentice (author of Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection). She and some friends decided to only spend a month only eating food that had produced within 100 miles of San Francisco. On her website she challenged others to do the same. Many took up the challenge and some are still going!
In fact, eating only locally produced produce has become so popular that “locavore” was voted Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary.
The New Scientist articles looked at the reductions in a persons “carbon footprint” that could be achieved by eating locally produced food and found that Western Europeans are each responsible for emitting around 12 tonnes of CO2 per year. Of this flying contributes about 1.6tonnes (showing how a few hours at 30,000ft can have a disproportionate effect on one “footprint”) while food accounts for about 2 tonnes.

The CO2 contribution from food comes not just from its transport but also from its growing (manufacture of pesticides, heating of greenhouses etc) and processing (converting lettuces into bags of “salad leaves” etc).

Eating only food that was grown locally and not processed or packaged saved around 0.7tonnes of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.

Opting for locally grown organic produce (or going vegan) can save another tonne or so. So just by changing the way you buy your food you can reduce your carbon footprint by OVER 80% !! Now, that’s what I call an incentive!

Interview kindly transcribed by Ali Marsden.

Interview - Ben Ayeliffe - Greenpeace (2006)

One of BFTF's earliest interviews was with Ben Ayeliffe from Greenpeace back in 2006. With much of what Ben said being as relevant today as it was then, it seems like a good idea to put it online here on the blog. . .
One of the topics covered early on was the effect that small individual actions can have, when they are performed by lots of people. Ben gave the example of GM food, saying. .
“In the past I’ve also worked on the GM foods campaign and I think that more than anything else was an example of consumer power really and here we had a technology which was unproved it was untested. In Greenpeace’s view it was playing with nature at a very fundamental level and we had these big powerful American companies telling us we were going to eat this food, we were going to enjoy it , we were going to like it and there was nothing we could about it and yet almost overnight as soon as shoppers and consumer around the country really realised what was going on and said hang on we don’t want GM foods, the supermarkets reacted overnight and pulled GM from the shelves and that was in 1998 and today you can go to a supermarket and you won’t find any GM foods and yet you know, supermarkets are full of organic foods which Greenpeace believe is a decent alternative so that was a cracking example if you like of just how strong consumers can be.”
BFTF dug a little deeper into this area by asking how many letters, emails etc it typically took for the head office of a company to start getting nervous. In response, Ben commented that . . .
“I think actually it’s a lot less than your average person on the street might think. I would say that every little counts. I remember that we heard sort of off the record from one of the big retailers that for every letter that they receive from a customer on an issue they consider that there are another 1,000 people out there who feel the same way but haven’t taken the time to write so it might sound a mundane thing to do, and a slightly pointless thing to do but believe you me, the effect of people badgering supermarkets and companies in general really is phenomenal they don’t like having to justify their positions which many you know positions which people might find unpleasant or wrong to the people that shop in their stores.”
This is certainly valuable information and BFTF hopes that it gives people the confidence to challenge retailers (and other organisations for that matter) if they are not acting in an ethical manner.
Moving on, the interview next tackled the subject of fish, asking Ben’s opinion on fish that had been caught long distances from the UK. His feeling was that . . .
“Really I think it’s quite simple you should really only buy locally caught fish and if it doesn’t say where it was caught on the label you should ask the retailer, and if they can’t tell you then the chances are that it’s come from half way around the world, it’s been flown over at great cost and. . . that does have a big impact on the environment.”
Another topic that gets a lot of coverage is that of sustainably sourced paper, so BFTF asked Ben for an overview about why should we care where books and stationery and printer paper is made?
“I think people really should care because paper grows on trees really and the paper that you buy, and the newspapers or the books that you buy, the paper will more often than not come from forests which are again a bit like fish, really under threat and we’ve seen that 80% of the world’s natural forests have been completely destroyed and the remaining 20% are under threat from industrial, and in many cases illegal, logging. Certainly in paper you find that an awful lot of the original source of this paper, the wood pulp, comes from areas like Finland and Finland has the last remaining natural European woodlands and this is really … it’s completely devastated up there, it’s massively under threat from illegal logging. The Finnish government is heavily involved in the industry and they’re making a lot of money by throwing up saw mills, they’re in conflict with the local Sámi people who herd reindeer in these snow forests, and a lot of the time this paper will end up here in the UK and what Greenpeace has been doing is saying to the industry well look, this is crazy, you have to get a more responsible paper policy and what we’re encouraging them to do as Greenpeace is to stop buying paper which is sourced from threatened forests throughout the world, and buy FSC paper. The FSC is the Forests Stewardship Council, and basically they can guarantee that the wood or the paper that you use comes from responsible and sustainably managed forests and they will be … these forests will be basically … they have a future … they’re not going to be completely logged out, so we think this is a sensible long term way to go about getting new paper, and we’ve been running a book campaign recently so we’ve had people like Quentin Blake on side spreading the word through the publishing industr … people like J K Rowling who wrote Harry Potter, has also joined the campaign … that the books that they write need to be printed on this FSC paper and FSC and recycled paper, the paper that has already been used. And this has had a really big impact and already we’re seeing about a third of the UK publishing industry has agreed to go FSC, which is great news. “
BFTF felt that this was fantastic news, to which Ben said . . .
“It really is. And again it’s down to the fact that your average person in the street doesn’t want their paper or the book that they read at bedtime to come from trashed rainforests.”
Ben also reinterated his earlier message about individual action by saying . . .
"We’ve seen the Amazon up in smoke, the paradise forests of South East Asia are being felled to make plywood which is sold here in the UK which is sickening really, it’s stuff that makes advertising hoardings, and again I’ve said this before, consumers really will be amazed at the power that they have over the companies involved in this trade; they don’t like to be associated with illegal destruction of rainforests and people can vote with their wallets, they can stop shopping at certain DIY shops say, or at certain bookstores, and that has a really big impact. . . I think there’s a great deal to be said for kicking up a fuss and asking questions in these sort of places because it really puts companies on the spot.”
One tactic that BFTF had heard some companies were adopting was to gain certification to the ISO14001 environmental standard (which does not actually mandate any specific environmental policies) and then use this as “evidence” that they were acting in a sustainable manner. BFTF asked Ben for his views on this, particularly in relation to paper producers such as APP. .
“Again this is the thing, you speak to people like APP and they’ll tell you that it’s legal and sustainable, well their view of legal and sustainable I think would be very different from the average person’s view of what is legal and what is sustainable. Beyond people like APP we’ve seen within the timber industry that things like illegality, corruption, violence, human rights abuses is rampant really, and because of that we, Greenpeace say that the only way that you can be sure that you’re getting wood or paper that is legal and sustainable is to look for the FSC logo and demand that from whoever you buy your flooring from, your garden furniture, your books, anything like that, because otherwise these very shady timber companies do have a rather different view of what you or I might think of as legal and sustainable, and for instance we did an exposé recently on a company big Malaysian logging company operating in Papua New Guinea, and whilst they were telling people in the UK who were buying their timber to make plywood that it was completely legal, we actually went out and sent researchers out into Papua New Guinea, and found that they were paying the local police force to beat up people … when they said they managed the forest, what they meant was that they were sending bulldozers in, so what a logging company thinks of as sustainable isn’t always really sustainable, so look for the FSC logo"
Taking a wider perspective, the interview now looked at some the other places the Ben had worked . . .
“Certainly I was in … a few years ago I was in southern Tanzania which is quite a strong Muslim areas within Tanzania, and we were doing some research on fisheries, and I was amazed at the fact that these communities have been here for hundreds of years and manage to live in a relationship with the natural environment that we just don’t do here and it was a real eye opener to see how these fishermen would go out and they’d bring in huge hauls of fish but they wouldn’t completely kill off the fish in that local area, they would do it in a responsible and sustainable sort of way, and I’ve been lucky enough to go to places like South East Asia with Greenpeace and I’m always amazed, certainly going to places like South East Asia, at the vibrancy and the passion of local non Greenpeace groups out there who do care very passionately about the same sort of issues that we do, so be it illegal logging or genetically modified foods, that passion is out there. I think where we’re lucky here in the UK is that we actually have quite a well developed consumer and activist network which is perhaps missing from those areas, but that’s not to say that the people don’t care as passionately as we do, because I think they certainly do"
Having talked earlier about individual action being a way to influence governments, the interview now moved on to asking whether individual action could also influence governments . . .
“I think it does work and what I would say is keep your eye out for stuff that Greenpeace does because we do quite regularly ask people from around the world to act on a specific issue, so be it say write to the president of Thailand say on a certain issue, we can generate thousands and thousands of letters and emails. . . .I think Indonesia is a good example and we highlighted, I think it was in 2004, how again it was shockingly enough it was timber that had been illegally logged out of Indonesia that was coming to the UK as plywood so we got on the backs of the industry here in the UK, we got on the backs of the government here in the UK and told them to send a message to the logging industry and the government in Indonesia that what they were doing was not acceptable, and now you can see that the, certainly from speaking to people in the timber industry here in the UK, that the way that the Indonesians are operating is different, there’s a notable difference in the way they operate with regards to the legality and to going towards FSC say, and this is all down to the fact that people here in the UK and around Europe and around the world took the time and the effort to get involved in the activity so that Greenpeace and other campaigning organisations had on this issue so every little does help.”

It’s worth mentioning that this interview was recorded back in 2006, and the overall status of the wood and fishing industries may have changed since then. You can get up to date by visiting

Dec 2011 : Jane Burd from Greenpeace Notts

BFTF was chuffed to have the opportunity to interview Jane Burd from the Nottingham branch of Greenpeace recently.

Starting, helpfully, at the beginning, BFTF asked Jane to give a short introduction to Greenpeace. She responded by explaining that the organisation had its origins in 1971 when anti-nuclear protestors campaigned against the underwater nuclear tests in Alaska, which they feared would cause a tsunami due to the geologically instabilities in the area. Initially called the “Don’t Make a Wave Committee” the protestors chartered a ship which they named “Greenpeace” and sailed towards the site of the test. Although they were turned back by the US Coast Guard, and were unable to prevent the test, the resulting publicity was critical of the US and caused further tests in the areas to be cancelled. Soon after, “Don’t make a Wave” officially changed their name to Greenpeace. Since then the organisation has grown into a world-wide organisation campaigning on global issues. The Greenpeace website describes their vision as “a green and peaceful world - an earth that is ecologically healthy and able to nurture life in all its diversity.”

Describing the essence of the problem that they are combating, the Greenpeace website states that
“Until now, modern governments and businesses have treated the Earth as a commodity to be exploited and used up to serve human needs and desires. Our whole economic system is built on the belief that a thing is only of value if it creates money. By these standards a forest is worthless unless it is cut down and sold. When economists balance the books, they don't take into account the value of the work that forests do to provide rainfall, regulate the climate and provide habitat for most of the world's plants and animals, not to mention food and shelter for millions of local people.”
To combat this view of the world, this Greenpeace is active in a number of key areas:

Climate : We're working to replace our hugely inefficient and carbon polluting energy system with a clean energy one so that our air will be clean and our climate will be stable and healthy.

Forests : We're working to protect the world's ancient forests and the plants, animals and peoples that depend on them.

Oceans : We want oceans that are protected and full of abundant, healthy marine life; oceans that are carefully managed, and sustainable fishing practices that don't put marine species at risk.

A Peaceful world : Governments and industry around the world must ensure that the Earth's finite resources are shared fairly, so people have what they need to live peacefully. That way there is simply no need to fight over dwindling food, gas, oil, and water, or to develop weapons of mass destruction. We tackle the root causes of global insecurity and promote a vision of green development which is vital for living peacefully on a finite planet. Read more about how we're promoting peace.

Jane also provided some information on the Nottingham branch of Greenpeace. She explained that it comprised about a dozen people, all volunteers, who spent a few hours a month campaigning, often by manning a stall in the city centre. The organisation tends to deal with one campaign at a time.

BFTF asked Jane how she had become involved in this kind of activism. She explained that when she had her first child, some 20yrs ago, she began to take a keener interest in the kind of world that they would be growing up in. Living in the North East at the time, she became aware that fishermen on the East coast were landing fish that were often diseased and contained tumours. The fishermen would then ship the fish to the West coast for sale, where people were less aware of the poor shape that the fish were in.

At the same time, fishermen on the West coast were catching fish that were radioactive (due to discharged from nuclear installations) and were shipping them to the East coast for sale (again, because the customers there were less aware of the radioactive nature of the fish.).

Becoming very unhappy with this situation, Jane happened to meet a Greenpeace campaigner on the street, a chance encounter that was the start of her involvement with the organisation.

Moving on to the subject of the UK fisheries (sustainably sourced fish being a recurring theme in this blog (seehere and here ), BFTF asked Jane about the state of fish stocks around the UK.

Jane responded by saying that fish stocks around the UK were under severe pressure and, at current rates, would soon be severely depleted. A big part of the problem is that the Common Fisheries Policy (see also here) is too vulnerable to lobbying from countries such as Spain, which has a very large fishing fleet. The policy is set every ten years, the next review being in 2013)

In terms of what people should buy, Jane acknowledged that MSC certified fish was a valuable step forward but pointed out that Greenpeace was interested in achieving change for all fishing grounds, not just the MSC certified ones. A visit to the Greenpeace website reveals that the organisation would like to see an end to the very destructive practice of bottom trawling as well as reform of the current rules to end the practice of discarding unwanted fish (more about that later). Some measure of the damage that is being can be seen by the comments of The UN Secretary General in 2006 that 95 percent of damage to seamount ecosystems worldwide is caused by deep sea bottom trawling.
Bottom Trawling can wreck my environment, please buy your fish with care!

A guide to lobbying your MP and MEP can be found here.

To this end, and to BFTF’s utter surprise, Jane praised the current fisheries minister, Richard Benyon, saying that he genuinely committed to introducing sustainable fishing practices in Europe.

Jane also recommended “Hugh’s Fish Fight”, a campaign being run by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to reduce the levels of fish discarding by European fishing vessels. As Hugh explains,
“Around half of the fish caught by fishermen in the North Sea are unnecessarily thrown back into the ocean dead. The problem is that in a mixed fishery where many different fish live together, fishermen cannot control the species that they catch. Fishing for one species often means catching another, and if people don’t want them or fishermen are not allowed to land them, the only option is to throw them overboard. The vast majority of these discarded fish will die. The EU estimates that in the North Sea, discards are between 40% and 60% of the total catch. Many of these fish are species that have fallen out of fashion: we can help to prevent their discard just by rediscovering our taste for them.Fishermen are not allowed to land any over-quota fish; if they accidentally catch them – which they can’t help but do - there is no choice but to throw them overboard before they reach the docks”

If you visit the website you can sign up for the campaign and add your name to the letter that will be sent to Commissioner Damanaki, Members of the European Parliament and all member state governments, asking them to use their influence to stop the unacceptable practice of throwing discards away. Hugh points out that the large numbers of people who have already emailed their MPs to protest about discards has resulted in the issue being debated in the Houses of Parliament and funding being provided for a six month study into what would happen if a discard ban was introduced.

The discussion now moved onto electricity, specifically renewable energy generation. BFTF asked Jane what kind of renewable could fill the gap that will soon be left by the large number of coal and nuclear power stations that are scheduled to be closed down in the next few years. Jane suggested that wind power was the most mature of the available technologies and pointed out that off-shore wind farms had a number of advantages, including higher wind speeds, no “NIMBY” issues and the ability to build large “farms” of windturbines.

Gobsmackingly, Jane said that Denmark generates a full 20% of its electricity from wind-power (see here), so it is clear that wind can form a significant part of the energy mix. To take just one example of what Denmark has been up to, let's look at the Rødsand I windfarm, built in 2003, with 72 turbines and a total capacity of 166 MW. Annual production is some 570 GW•h. Interestingly, this suggests that the widnfarm operates at some 39% of its theoretical capacity, well above the 15-20% that Germany achieves with its largely land based wind generating capacity

The Danish attempt to make the worlds largest "Battleship" grid was going well

For an outline of worldwide energy production, get clicky here.

Penultimately, BFTF asked Jane about lobbying MP’s or companies to encourage them to change their practices (for example, as shown here, here and here). Jane commented that her experience was that MP’s still valued a crafted letter (as opposed to a copy-and-paste letter) above emails and other communications and explained that people could find the contact details for their MP’s at

Jane also described how companies can change their policies very quickly indeed when they feel their reputations are under threat and that the publicity surrounding Greenpeace campaigns could sometimes be the catalyst to make this happen.

Lastly, as with all BFTF guests, Jane was asked what she thought was the best thing about living in the UK.

Her answer was instant and decisive ; “Tea, I’ve been to other countries around the world and in none of them was I able to get a cup of tea as good as it is made here.”

And who could disagree with that?

To find out more about what Greenpeace is doing in Nottingham, you can email them at