GC 2015

Every week the Green Column appears in the Isle of Man Examiner. The authors come from different organisations and backgrounds. They all share love and respect for their environment and the topic of the Green Column is always connected to that.

We have had many outstanding Green Columns written in the last 3 years. Some of them are featured underneath, selected by availability and whether their content is still valid.

If you are interested in writing a Green Column, please write us a message in the contact-section.

05 November 2015

Airtight – doing it right!

A diagram showing how the air tightness test works

Last time, Draughtfinder’s Trevor Clark explained why it’s so important to ensure buildings are airtight – for comfort, energy saving and environmental reasons. This week, he looks at how to find those leaks, so they can be dealt with

Air is invisible, but you can ‘feel’ air movement if there is a temperature difference. This temperature differential also helps us to ‘see’ where any air paths are cooling or heating the structure at the point where the air enters the building, using an infrared thermal camera. By combining a thermal camera with a ‘blower door’, we make one very powerful tool that enables us to create draughts and then find them.

But first we must create the right conditions to perform the air tightness test, which can be repeated at any time in the future. This ensures that the test is valid, and allows testing at any time of year. We don’t need to wait for the weather to produce the right stormy conditions!

Once we accept that uncontrolled air entering our buildings will seriously affect our building’s energy demand, it’s easy to understand the need to prevent as much air from entering or leaving the building as is possible. This can result in permanent energy – and therefore cost – savings, as well as reduced maintenance costs in repairing damage to buildings from internal structure rot. Thus the comfort conditions within the property also improve, and the thermostat can be turned down, further reducing your energy bills.

The air tightness test involves the use of a large fan (blower door) installed in a temporary frame in one of the building’s doorways. All all other external windows and doors are closed. Any ‘intentional’ ventilation openings are closed or temporarily sealed during the test – this means things like the chimney, boiler flue, window vents, cooker hood and ventilation systems, etc. All internal doors are kept open while the test is run.

The blower door fan is turned on and the pressure inside the building is reduced. A number of readings are taken over a series of different pressures and these are processed through a computer software programme to crunch the numbers and produce the test result. While the blower door fan is running, air from outside will enter the building through the uncontrolled holes, gaps and fissures in the building structure. The test result can provide a figure for the equivalent hole size that all these holes, gaps and fissures amount to.

If you were seated in your lounge with a hole the size of a football in your wall, surely you would fill and seal that hole. Well, an average external door frame would probably have a hole the size of a tennis ball, if you were to bring all its little gaps and holes into one place. Add to this the other windows and there we have the football.

Yet, because we cannot easily see these holes, gaps or fissures, we forget they are there. Realising that this uncontrolled flow of air into and out of the building is increasing the cost of our heating bills should encourage everyone to do something about it!

Next week we’ll look more closely at some of the calculations we do when undertaking air tightness tests. In the meantime if you’re keen to investigate ways of improving your home or business’s air-tightness further, see www.draught-finder.co.uk/

29 October 2015

Build it right, built it tight!

Building or refurbishing a property with traditional cavity wall construction, or with timber frame, to achieve an air-tight building can be daunting. But when you get your head around it, there are simple ways of achieving it. Trevor Clark of DraughtFinder explains how you can save money, as well as the planet

‘Why be air tight?’

The first answer is simple – comply with the regulations. Every single new build in the Isle of Man that has gained planning approval since October 2014 needs an air tightness test certification. The new regulations require better air tightness than was previously needed – a figure of 10.0m³ halved to 5.0m³.

But the main driver for most people is their energy savings. Over the years, buildings have had more insulation installed – which has reduced energy consumption and therefore costs. Now, though, it’s still the case that most of the energy we use to heat our buildings goes to warm air that has entered or left the building. Energy is therefore wasted through holes and gaps in the structure, uncontrolled. This accounts for a staggering 50 per cent, approximately, of the heating costs.

So it’s pretty obvious that addressing air leakage can be pinpointed as one of the most effective, cheapest and permanent ways of improving the energy performance of a property which will lead to lower energy bills. More than this, though, the new building regulations also require a higher level of thermal insulation. These requirements together mean that the energy demand for these buildings should be lower than previously constructed houses.

Less energy used means the island can reduce its total fuel demand, all of which we currently import. This will reduce the need for any enlargement of the infrastructure to store fuel for a seemingly ever-increasing demand for energy.

It is expected that at some point in the future this air tightness requirement will also be required for extensions to existing buildings, and then when improvements are made to buildings.

Thermal insulation is only truly effective if there is no air movement leakage within, around or through the insulation material. After all, insulation is only a means of keeping the air within the insulation material still. So air circulating around or through insulation can decrease its effect by a considerable amount.

When we go out in a wind we put on a ‘windcheater’ jacket over a woolly jumper – if the jacket was removed, would you feel as warm? Clearly not, as its function is to trap air and stop the cooling effect. Air tightness in buildings is very similar. It allows the insulation to do its job, by keeping air movement around the insulation to a minimum. Colder air from outside a warm building that enters can cool the structure and increase the ‘normal’ energy demand considerably, sometimes by more than 50 per cent depending on how draughty the building is.

When warm air leaves a building in an uncontrolled manner, it also takes with it moisture – this moisture can condense within the structure when it reaches a colder area within the material. The water destroys the effectiveness of the insulation further increasing the energy demand on the heating system which can increase heating costs. Conditions become suitable for mould growth and damage to the structural components of the building can begin due to rot, which in turn increase maintenance repair costs.

As wind passes a building, it has a twofold effect. First, pressure from the wind increases on one side, pushing cold external air into the building through gaps in an uncontrolled manner. Then, as the wind gets past the building, the pressure drops and this ‘sucks’ warm moist air from inside out through gaps in an uncontrolled manner. Both these air movements add up to an increase in costs, as the heating system needs to heat the cold air entering from outside. We refer to these uncontrolled air movements as infiltration and exfiltration.

The good news is that we can tackle these problems. Improving the energy efficiency of the domestic housing stock and commercial properties will impact on the amount of;

1, Fuel (gas and oil) that the island imports; 2, Residents’ costs for heating; 3, Business profitability; 4, Maintenance costs; 5 And finally, and importantly, it’ll remove the ‘Fudge’ factor for heating and ventilation designs which will reduce energy demand and capital costs on new or replacement equipment.


01 October 2015

What danger lurks in your garden?

From left, George Fincher, Cat Turner, Sarah Calverley, Phil Corlett and Margaret Kneen show solidarity with bees

The Isle of Man Food and Drink Festival saw EcoVannin and its Green Centre partners present with games, competitions, demonstrations of solar gear, a petition, piles of handouts – and lots of local produce grown by gardener Tony Garland

The Isle of Man Food and Drink Festival, organised by the Department for the Environment, Food and Agriculture, was a real treat.

 EcoVannin and its Green Centre partners were there, with games, competitions, demonstrations of solar gear, a petition, piles of handouts – and lots of stunning local produce grown by gardener extraordinaireTony Garland.
In particular, the IoM Friends of the Earth team (smack in the middle of their hectically busy Fortnight of Action for Bees) were raising awareness of how important these, and other pollinators, are to our food chain.

Without them, a fair number of the vegetables, fruit and herbs that you have on your dinner plate would be missing.

It’s not just the obvious ones like strawberries and apples that spring to mind. Other things like broccoli, cabbage, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots also need to be pollinated by various different types of bee and other insects.

But many bees (and there are more than 250 different species within the British Isles) are struggling because of a variety of problems which I touched on last week.

One of the chief of these is, as readers will know, certain types of pesticides known as ‘neonicotinoids’, which – while not believed to be heavily used in agriculture on the island – certainly turn up in garden centre products and find their way into peoples’ gardens. These chemical compounds are neurotoxic to bees, especially the wild bees that do so much of our pollination. This can mean, among other things, that they become unable to navigate, stop foraging for themselves and die prematurely.

So it was good to see that one of the main manufacturers of pesticides known to harm bees – Bayer – is at last taking steps to remove some of these nasties from their most popular products, starting next year.

The particular neonic they’re getting rid of is Thiacloprid, and it’s found in both Provado and Baby Bio, both of which are familiar to many gardeners. It’s replacing the thiacloprid element of Baby Bio and Provado with another chemical known as a pyrethroid, in this case deltamethrin.

This is great news and in the meantime many gardeners, alerted to the dangers of thiacloprid by this news, will doubtless stop using them right away, until the reformulated products are available.

Indeed, more and more are realising that if they want to support wildlife and have thriving biodiversity in their gardens, it’s best to try and avoid spraying chemical insecticides altogether, except in extreme cases.

As regular readers know, certain neonics are already banned in the UK for agricultural use. But as Thiacloprid isn’t one of them, it’s still available and actively used in agriculture across the UK,though there are hopes it will be banned soon. Bayer neonic pesticides Calypso (used in orchards) and Biscaya (some vegetable crops and oil seed rape), which also contain Thiacloprid, are pretty widely used across the UK.

Bayer’s action is being seen as a pre-emptive move, and the company has been quoted as saying: ‘Neonicotinoids have become a contentious issue. It is likely that the regulations and legislation around thiacloprid will change in the near future, and Bayer has decided to be proactive about changing its products to meet the demands of these changes.’

So far, so good. But in the meantime, if you’re concerned about supporting the fuzzy little fellows who keep the food on our plates, you might not want to wait until 2016.

Why not investigate the many alternatives to neonics right now, which range from switching products, to companion planting?

You’ll learn lots, avoid damaging our bee population and have less chemically-infused produce to show for it, too.

24 September 2015

Fortnight of ‘Action for Bees’

An Isle of Man Friends of the Earth member dressed as a bee at this year’s Tynwald ceremony

All across the UK, Friends of the Earth groups and other campaigners are staging a fortnight of ‘Action for Bees’ – with the aim of highlighting some very specific issues. IoM Friends of the Earth is joining in

The ‘Action for Bees’ fortnight is taking place because bees (and here we’re largely talking about wild bees, not managed colonies) are in real trouble.

And if they’re in trouble, we are, too, as most of the food crops we rely on, and the trees and wildflowers which play such a big role in nature, are pollinated by them.
Across Britain, things are pretty dire – there has been a huge fall in the number and variety of wild bees, with England witnessing the biggest decline of anywhere in Europe.

Since 1900, the UK has lost 20 species of bee – another one became extinct only last year – and 35 more species are under threat.

But it’s not just in the UK where they’re struggling, though it’s doing worse than most places. In Europe, almost one in 10 species is at risk of disappearing.

Why? Well, there are a number of reasons – from loss of habitat to the use of pesticides (of which more later), the spread of pests and diseases and, increasingly, climate change.

It’s so important to our health, environment, food security and economy that the last UK Government drew up a National Pollinator Strategy.

This was a good start – but it had a huge failing: it was pathetically lame in how it dealt with the use of pesticides.

This comes as little surprise – the UK Government, under much lobbying from the chemicals industry and parts of the farming industry, has consistently denied the need to implement restrictions which the EU brought in, back in 2013, on neonicotinoid pesticides, or ‘neonics’.

Indeed although it had, begrudgingly, to ‘comply’ (it is the law, after all) it actually created exemptions from the ban for parts of England earlier this year, after some farmers claimed their rapeseed crops were failing because they couldn’t use the banned chemicals. In the event, these claims turned out to be incorrect.

So the theme of the fortnight of action is that the UK Government (and, we’re suggesting, the Isle of Man too)should now:

– Recommit (or in the case of the Isle of Man, commit) to protecting wild bees and other pollinators by having a sound strategy with strong action on pesticides;

– Have a permanent ban on neonics, the worst ones of the lot; and

– Refuse emergency authorisations for use of neonics because the damage they can cause is so great, and the risk to the economy, environment and human food supplies outweighs any potential gain.

Why are neonics such bad news? It’s because, for certain insects, they act as neurotoxins. That means they interfere with the bees’ nervous systems.

And because they’re so readily absorbed in sprayed plants – or plants grown from treated seeds – their residues are found in pollen and nectar.

In 2013 three neonicotinoid insecticides (imidicloprid, thiametoxam and clothianidin) were restricted for use in the EU following a thorough review of evidence by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

They found a ‘high acute risk’ to honey bees when neonics are used on crops attractive to them.

And the risks to some other types of wild bees, which are our chief pollinators, are much greater, as they seem to have different effects on their neurological systems.

The makers of these products have tried to claim that they don’t, in fact, kill bees. But their tests have tended to focus on hive-managed bees, which are less affected by the neonics; wild bees don’t die immediately (ie they’re not poisoned on the spot), but they lose the ability to navigate, stop foraging for themselves, grow weak and die within a reasonably short time frame.

Since the restrictions were put in place, several more studies have come out, all of which add to the weight of evidence that neonics are harmful to bees (and especially wild bees).

This is of huge concern given the impact on the nation’s ability to feed itself. And as I’ve said, manufacturers’ tests conveniently only currently take place on the less-affected, and (from a pollination perspective, somewhat less helpful) honey bees.

In June last year, the largest global study ever on the issue was published. It involved 29 scientists and more than 1,000 papers on the effects and risks of systemic pesticides, and was published by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides.

It concluded that neonics ‘are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees’.

And in April 2015, the highly respected European Academies Science Advisory Council cited ‘clear scientific evidence for sub-lethal effects on bees and other pollinators exposed to very low levels of neonicotinoids over extended periods’.

So what are we doing? Well, we’re halfway through a fortnight of action, which began with a Bee Information Day at the Green Centre on September 12. We’ve been organising some new plantings, plus talking to Douglas Corporation about whether we can get their wonderful wildflower drifts up at Douglas Head and Noble’s Park registered as ‘Bee Worlds’, and maybe consider some more.

And by the time you read this we’ll have swarmed our stripy way to last weekend’s Isle of Man Food and Drink Festival to tell people what the issues are, ask them to sign our petition for a neonic-free island, and encourage them to make bees welcome in their gardens and window-boxes.

17 September 2015

Campaign for clean water

It’s well known that Port Erin Beach has clean water, plenty of sand and great facilities. So it was a fitting venue for the launch of Isle of Man Friends of the Earth’s new campaign, Cheers – Clean Healthy Environment, Every River and Sea

The Cheers campaign (Clean Healthy Environment, Every River and Sea) was conceived by new co-ordinator Pete Christian, a long-standing member of the group and passionate about the island’s environment.

It reflects concerns over the state of the sea and bathing water in many island sites, as a result of the discharge of untreated sewage.

Isle of Man Friends of the Earth says that this has serious implications for the leisure use of Manx beaches (and, indeed, inshore waters), as well as contaminating the wider marine environment.
The group also points out that the island’s bathing water quality is still being assessed against very outdated criteria from 1976.

While not underestimating the complexity and scale of the challenges, IoMFoE is asking the Manx government two things: to support management and technical staff of the Manx Utilities Authority in putting an end to the discharge of raw sewage from anywhere in the island; to guarantee a full debate in Tynwald, before the 2016 election, on the need to adopt the 2006 water quality standards which are the norm in the UK and indeed throughout Europe.

That was the serious side of the day but there was much fun to be had.

The group was joined by Discover Diving, which offered free snorkelling safaris to anyone interested in inspecting the flora and fauna around the rocky shoreline;, and 7th Wave, who took people out for dinghy sailing sessions; and a small group of intrepid ‘free swimmers’, who traversed the bay and happily didn’t encounter too many jellyfish en route.

Huge thanks go to these good folks, and everyone else who took part in the day, or is otherwise supporting the campaign. A number of environmental organisations have helped shape it and are supporting its aims.

In addition there was rockpooling (with some very interesting finds), volleyball, wellie-whanging, Tiny Tantrums, hoopla and a wonderful sandcastle/sand design contest, with some amazingly creative results!

And speaking of sand designs, the Cheers logo was reproduced on the sand by the team, and made a great sight from the cliffs overlooking the bay.

The public response, both to the petition and the fun on offer, was terrific and the IoMFoE team were delighted by how well the day went.

Indeed so many people signed the petition that at one point, we had to go and get more sheets printed!

Summing up the day, Pete said: ‘A great effort by the FoE team, and we’re very appreciative of the support from other groups and businesses.

‘A really enjoyable day, which emphasised what a wonderful island environment we inhabit, and the importance of looking after it.

‘There is an online version of the petition accessible via the IoM FoE Facebook page, if anyone else would like to add their voice.’

10 September 2015

Clothes offered second chance

Alexandra Morrison, who runs the Second Chance Boutique, which raises funds for the ManxSPCA

The ManxSPCA’s dress agency, Second Chance Boutique, is a gem in all sorts of ways. It offers a new home for excellent quality clothes, bargains for those looking to update their wardrobes and is a great way to fund a charity which offers second chances to animals needing new homes or, in the case of injured wildlife, just some respite and excellent care. IoMFoE’s Cat Turner finds out more

The Manx Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Animals, based at Ard Jerkyll in Foxdale, is well known for its great work in caring for all animals, from injured seagulls to cats needing new homes.

But to provide the care it delivers it needs a constant stream of funding and one of the ways it generates this is, in common with many other charities, by running two charity shops.
This is something dear to our hearts in the environmental sector as the more we can encourage people to buy second-hand the less our precious natural resources such as water and soil fertility will be depleted to make new items.

Second Chance Boutique, however, isn’t your usual run-of-the-mill charity shop. It specialises in clothing which is, effectively, as good as new. That means it’s in great condition, seasonal and often slightly unusual; and there’s generally a good smattering of designer-wear on the rails for those who like label-hunting. Around half of the items are there to be sold on an agency basis, making it a great option for people who want to thin out their wardrobes and make a little money in the process.

But most, of course, are donations – meaning that all the proceeds of their sales go direct to this very worthwhile charity.

I met with Alexandra Morrison, the shop’s manageress, and was struck by her enthusiasm for both the work of the charity and for the contribution the shop makes to its funding. She has a passion for design and the creative arts, and puts her excellent eye for detail to good use, making sure that the shop offers customers the pick of pre-loved clothing, and shows these items off to their best effect in eye-catching window displays. It’s a great way to give the proverbial “second chance” both to clothing and to the animals who benefit from the funds the shop raises.

The shop doesn’t stock swimwear, underwear or nightwear as it’s difficult to ensure these are in the best of condition and there’s no children’s wear at the moment but it does have a small and excellently curated menswear section.

When it comes to accessories such as necklaces, scarves, bags and shoes there was – on the day I visited – a terrific selection.

Second Chance Boutique is based at 8 Windsor Road, and is open from 11am-4pm Monday to Friday, and 12-4pm on a Saturday.

03 September 2015

How can you cut waste when you plan an event?

You only have to look at the newspapers to realise that dozens of events take place in the island every week. Every one of those can create waste but with a bit of planning that waste could be avoided or reduced, says Zero Waste Mann’s Chair, Muriel Garland.

Zero Waste Mann has produced a leaflet to help organisers plan a Zero Waste Event.

The inspiration came from Wales where a great deal of work has been done especially at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show. Now that people are used to recycling at home and at work of course they expect to see systems for collecting cans and plastic bottles if they go to events on the island. During the motor-bike races we get lots of visitors from Europe and some from Australia where event recycling is the norm.

Whether you are organising a coffee morning, a garden party, a sports event or a pop concert the principles for creating a Zero Waste Event are the same.

Firstly you need to prevent waste happening in the first place. For example if you don’t use paper plates you won’t have to dispose of them. And washing up can be fun if everybody helps.

Secondly make sure you provide clearly labelled collection points so that people know where to put their cans and bottles. Zero Waste Mann has bought some small, wheeled bins that can be used at events.

Thirdly make sure you tell the people who are attending that this is a Zero Waste Event. It can be printed on the programme or tickets. The more people know what you are trying to do the more likely they are to help and support you.

While the event is taking place it’s important to go round and check the collection points occasionally. Research shows that people tend to throw things in a bin if there is something similar in there already. So if you retrieve any ‘contamination’ early it will ensure that people get the message. Ideally bins should not be used for mixed waste but at small events you can collect plastic bottles and cans in the same container. Food waste can be a problem and the ideal is to avoid it where you can. Don’t order too much and distribute it among your helpers at the end rather than throwing good food away.

 When it comes to signage the more professional you can be the better. Invest in proper signs rather than sticking up bits of paper with Sellotape or BluTac.

Our aim at Zero Waste Mann is to get people to look at materials as resources rather than rubbish. So if you show that you care about how they are treated the message stands a better chance of getting through.

If you are organising a small event, you can take the materials collected to the household waste site in your area afterwards but if you are planning a larger event you may need to employ the services of a company that specialises in waste disposal.

The secret to creating a Zero Event Waste Event lies in the planning.

You can collect a copy of our Zero Waste Event guidelines from the Green Centre (opposite Iceland in Douglas) open on Saturdays and Wednesdays from 10am or download it from.zerowastemann.org

20 August 2015

Plastic panorama: the global shame which imperils sea life

by Mel Wright

Plastic waste washed up at Cranstal

Plastic bags are just one element in a soup of pollutants in the Irish Sea.

The extent of the problem is evident on the island’s beaches and led to the formation of Beach Buddies in 2006, which harnesses voluntary effort to clean beaches.

It all began, said Beach Buddies founder Bill Dale, when he went for a walk on Kirk Michael beach.

 “I found a scallop bag, I picked up a few bits of rubbish and filled that bag in no more than a minute, then another, you could see plastics for miles, no one had cleaned it for 20 to 30 years.

It’s the responsibility of the local authorities, but they do not have the money to do it. The next weekend I collected 55 bags of rubbish on Ballaugh beach, plus another 50 with items like fish boxes etc. It just went on from there … Every single weekend there is something. It’s taken off. Last year we had more than 250 events, now we have 6,000 volunteers. I don’t know how it happened.’

There are always plastic bags on beaches he said. They pose a particular threat to wildlife, ‘when they get in the water and inflate they become circular, giant turtles mistake them for jelly fish and eat them,’ he said.

The plastic also poses a threat to human life, said Jackie Hall from Manx Basking Shark Watch.
‘Plastic gets broken down into micro-plastics and they mimic hormones,’ said Jackie. The micro-plastics are incorporated into plankton. Jackie said: ‘Fish eat the plankton and larger fish eat the smaller fish and it gets magnified up the food chain.’ This year MBSW has worked with a student from Plymouth University – Rebecca Lunnon – who is compiling a project as part of her BSc, looking at rubbish on beaches and the presence of micro plastic in basking sharks’ stomachs. She found the stomachs (of two dead basking sharks washed up in 2011 and 2015, which Jackie froze at the time for future scientific analysis) contained plastic. Further analysis found small bits of plastics with the plankton. They compiled a poster and questionnaire – which is on MBSW’s website – ‘to show rubbish and plastic bags affect you too,’ said Jackie. Other marine litter, such as ropes, gets tangled around the basking sharks’ noses.

Facilitating the disposal of marine rubbish is another element in clearing rubbish from the Irish Sea said Jackie. This means putting large bins in convenient spots in harbours and reducing disincentives (such as charging fishermen commercial rates for disposing large fishing nets at the amenity sites).
The consensus is that a collaborative approach by all jurisdictions with coastlines on the Irish Sea is necessary.

Rushen Parish Commissioners have been saying this for several years.

‘The great majority of the rubbish is not from on-island,’ said commissioners’ clerk Gill Kelly. ‘Some of the identifiable rubbish e.g. milk cartons, you will see are from Ireland.

‘Much of the rubbish has come off boats which could be fishing boats or yachts, etc. I know that in island harbours we have skips for our fishermen and others to deposit either their own rubbish or any which they have trawled up. We have in the past written to Harbours and suggested that the Isle of Man government should be strongly encouraging all the other countries around the Irish Sea to do the same and to make it a policy that no rubbish is thrown over the side of 
boats. We have suggested that this should be brought up in the British-Irish Council Meetings and any other meetings held where this matter could be raised.

‘It really shouldn’t be the responsibility of a small island to clear up the rubbish thrown in the sea by all the other large  countries surrounding us and this should be forcefully pointed out by our government.’

Bill said he would want to be involved in any such joint initiative. Not least because Beach Buddies – which is ‘unprecedented in the world’ he said – could be replicated in other parts of Britain.

‘The Marine Conservation Society … runs an annual (beach clean) event, it’s going to make next to no difference.’ He added: ‘The local McDonald’s is very keen to expand what we do, I hope with them we will get a link to the UK, even if just giving us £50,000, if you are going round the Irish Sea, getting equipment and setting up 50 different organisations £1,000 each, that’s nothing.’
The good news is intensive beach cleaning makes a difference.

‘Eight million tonnes of plastic is thrown in the sea each year,’ he said. ‘Last year we collected 300 tonnes of rubbish, and 1.5m items, from baby wipes to oil drums.

‘We are on top of it. We got rid of 30 years’ worth of rubbish, when we go down there is not any rubbish. If somewhere is clean people are less likely to throw rubbish. We are finding the beaches are in the best condition they have been for 30 years. The beaches of Britain are in a hell of a state, the Isle of Man has the cleanest beaches in Britain if not Europe.

‘That’s not bad for the profile of the Isle of Man.’

Plastic bags are just part of the problem, but he thinks people would pay 5p. At present Beach Buddies benefits directly as it is the beneficiary of the proceeds from the only on island retailer that does charge 5p for plastic bags – M&S.

Mr Ronan is keen to progress charges for disposable plastic bags and said: ‘I’m definitely minded to do that but in the current legislative calendar it would be difficult. We are looking to voluntary contributions as a way forward in the time being. I have spoken to a few retailers who are interested.’
We are ‘blessed’ to have Beach Buddies he said and he applauded their efforts. He added he supported a collaborative approach.

‘I would be very supportive of that, it’s in everybody’s interests to cut marine pollution down,’ he said. ‘It’s not just the Irish Sea, it’s coming from round the world. It’s quite scary when you look at the pollution.’

19 August 2015

Discarded plastic bags damage the environment

by Mel Wright

The island will soon be the only jurisdiction in the British Isles that does not charge for them.
 Introducing a 5p charge has a huge impact on demand and in the first year after it has been in force elsewhere in the British Isles, their use typically falls by over 70 per cent

Plastic bags are one of the most visible, yet easily avoided sources of litter and harm to wildlife

Cat Turner, Friends of the Earth

Charges already apply in Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the Channel Island, and a 5p charge will be introduced in larger stores in England from October.

Cat Turner, co-ordinator for Isle of Man Friends of the Earth, said: ‘It would be easy here. It’s our laws. We can make our own legislation. We could be a real beacon of sustainability, instead we are not just behind the curve. We are woefully behind the curve. There is no excuse.

‘Plastic bags are one of the most visible, yet easily avoided sources of litter and harm to wildlife – and on top of that they’re made using oil, best left where it is in the ground. We’d see a plastic bag tax as a decent start – but a complete ban, as is being used in many countries and cities around the world, would be far better. This could be backed up by a small charge for “re-useables”, as experience shows that if you don’t do this, free re-useables simply end up as single-use bags, being discarded and replaced on each trip.’

However, Department of the Environment, Food and Agriculture minister Richard Ronan said the government is exploring introducing a voluntary contribution for plastic bags until the relevant legislation for a compulsory charge is in place. He said the busy legislative calendar means it is unlikely a bill regarding plastic bag charges will be passed before the next general election.

20 July 2015

Making a genuine impact

The Green Column recently called out the ‘low impact’ approach to life. It was suggested that simply ‘trying to do minimal harm’ to the environment sets a low bar for living and that it’s much more life-affirming to aim for as high, and as positive, an impact as possible on the people and places you’re involved with. This week, Cat Turner meets a team doing exactly that.

Readers of this column know how much we ‘greenies’ like re-use and recycling. It’s almost as good as finding ways to not consume stuff in the first place!

So when, last week, I walked past the open door of an unassuming little workshop in a Douglas side street and saw what was clearly a herd of recently re-fettled bicycles, my whiskers twitched immediately.

I poked my head round the door for a nosey. An amiable chap called John told me that I’d found the workshop for the Community Impact Team, and that, yes, they took lame bikes and nursed them back to full health, repainted and cleaned them, and donated them to good causes.

I made an appointment to come back and learn more.

So it was that the following day, I turned up there with a) my daughters’ Catherine and Lizzie’s outgrown trikes, and b) my EcoVannin notepad.

 I thought I’d found a good recycling/re-use story – but it turned out to be so much more.

Andy Simpson, the friendly and approachable leader of the Community Impact Team, explained that the initiative’s run under the auspices of The Children’s Centre. He told me that it aims to (and does) achieve a number of things:

l as I’d thought, it provides a way for tired but still useful items like bicycles to be refurbished, and live to ride another day. Re-cycling? Check. Reducing resource depletion by the need to buy new bikes? Check.

l it enables these bikes to be donated to families in need, or charities and other organisations that can rent them for use by staff. They can even be lent to visiting groups (such as Scout groups, who might struggle to fund bringing their own over on the boat). Spreading the benefits to needy folks in the community? Check.

l it provides resources in the form of willing and able bodies for all sorts of useful projects. These range from the aforementioned bike refurbs, to footpath clearing, maintenance in glens and parks – the sort of stuff that keeps our lovely island in the sort of good shape that everyone can enjoy and be proud of. Direct environmental action? Check.

But the thing that had initially escaped me, that I didn’t have on my EcoVannin checklist, is perhaps the most valuable aspect of all: the human one. The CIT helps unemployed people get involved with, and pull off, some really useful projects – the types of things that are appreciated right there in the community and businesses around them. It means that people who aren’t yet back in paid employment can build and maintain skills, show what they’re capable of, and demonstrate really solid experience on their CVs. They might also be able to gain trade-based qualifications, such as NVQs, depending on what projects are happening at the time.

I can’t overstate the importance of this. I’ve had first-hand experience of what felt like (though probably wasn’t) a pretty long period of unemployment, during which I struggled to find work and feed myself and my children. It was depressing, and in my darkest hours it made me feel useless, hopeless and diminished. That’s just my own story, of course. It’s different for everyone, but I’ve met enough other people who’ve had a similar experience for me to realise those feelings are pretty commonplace.

So what an amazing opportunity for people to be able to learn, gain work experience and, not least, build their own self-esteem and often make new friends, at the same time as boosting their prospects of finding paid work.

The CIT, I learned, was set up for a limited period, funded by DED and supported by The Childrens’ Centre team. The hope is that more long-term funding will be made available. But with my EcoVannin hat on, I’m keeping everything crossed that it continues.

After all, it’s doing great things for EcoVannin’s three main targets: the environment (reuse, and maintenance of various areas), the economy (getting people back into work) and the community (the obvious benefits for the people involved).

If that’s not the very definition of a ‘positive impact’, I don’t know what is!

If you’d like to find out more about the CIT or how your organisation can take advantage of the bike scheme you can do so by contacting The Childrens’ Centre on 676076, or by emailing Andy on andrewsimpson@thechildrenscentre.com

06 July 2015

‎The courts defend the planet. Sort of.

by Cathrine Turner

On 24 June, a really eye-opening court ruling was made in the Hague District Court – with potential repercussions on governments around the world. Including, of course, here.

Last week, the HDC gave its judgment in Urgenda Foundation v The State of the Netherlands (Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment) C/09/456689 / HA ZA 13-1396 on 24 June 2015.‎  It decided that the Dutch state must take more action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the Netherlands thank it had been intending. Here’s how it happened.

Urgenda, a climate change NGO, on its own behalf and on behalf of almost 900 Dutch citizens, brought proceedings against the Dutch state over the Netherlands’ climate change policy and greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. The Dutch state’s current climate change policy currently aims at a 17% reduction in GHG emissions by 2020.

The key points of Urgenda’s arguments were that:

  • Current levels of global GHG emissions are likely to result in global warming of over 2°C, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
  • The level of global GHG emissions is contrary to Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
  • The Netherlands makes a significant, excessive contribution to global GHG emissions. This makes the GHG emissions of the Netherlands unlawful.
  • The Dutch state has the ability to manage, control and regulate Dutch GHG emissions (because they occur on Dutch territory), so it has “systemic responsibility” for total Dutch GHG emissions and can be held accountable for the Dutch contribution to dangerous climate change.
  • Under national and international law, the Dutch state has an individual obligation and responsibility to ensure Dutch GHG emissions are reduced, in order to prevent dangerous climate change.
  • The Dutch state’s duty of care means that the Netherlands should achieve a reduction of 25% to 40% GHG emissions by 2020, or a 40% reduction by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
  • The Dutch state’s current climate change policy (which is expected to achieve a reduction of 17% by 2020) is a breach of this duty of care.

Urgenda asked the court to order the Dutch state to ensure that GHG emissions from the Netherlands are cut by 25-40% from 1990 levels by 2020, or to ensure that emissions are reduced by 40% by 2030.

In response, the Dutch state argued that:

  • Urgenda had no cause of action, to the extent that it was bringing a claim on behalf of current or future generations in other countries.
  • There is no real threat of the Dutch state acting unlawfully towards Urgenda.
  • The Dutch state’s current climate change policies aim to limit global warming to less than a 2°C increase, and are expected to achieve this, in conjunction with international and EU law, policy and targets.
  • The Dutch state does not have a legal obligation under national or international law to achieve the GHG emission reductions claimed by Urgenda.
  • Dutch climate change policy is not in breach of Articles 2 or 8 of the ECHR.
  • It would be a breach of the principle of separation of powers for the court to allow any of Urgenda’s claim. The court cannot force the Dutch state to change climate change policy.

The court considered the question in the context of international and EU climate change legislation and policy, including the:

  • UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol;The Treaty on the Functioning of the EU;
  • The EU Emissions Trading Scheme legislation; and
  • Various climate change policy documents published by the European Commission, and EU GHG emissions reduction targets.

It also looked at the relevant Dutch Civil Code and the Dutch Constitution. After all this deliberation, it decided that the Dutch state does have a duty of care to mitigate climate change as quickly and as much as possible, as part of its duty of care under Dutch law to protect and improve the living environment. It looked closely at  The court considered the extent of this duty of care, and the limitations that could be placed on it. It concluded that a reduction of less than 25% to 40% would be a breach of the Dutch state’s duty of care. However, it didn’t think there were sufficient grounds for it to require the Dutch state to adopt a target of more than a 25% reduction.

The court has therefore ordered the Dutch state to ensure that Dutch GHG emissions achieve a reduction of at least 25% of 1990 levels by 2020.

The court also said that:

  • Urgenda did have standing under the Dutch Civil Code.
  • The Dutch GHG emissions reduction target is below the standard considered necessary by climate change science and international climate change policy, so the Netherlands (and other countries) must cut  emissions by 25% to 40% by 2020 to meet the 2°C target.
  • Urgenda itself cannot rely on Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR, as it is not a direct or indirect victim under Article 34 of the ECHR. However, the court used the principles of the ECHR to help it interpret the state’s duty of care to Urgenda.
  • The Dutch state does not have a legal obligation towards Urgenda under Article 21 of the Dutch Constitution, the “no harm” principle, the UNFCCC, Article 191 of the TFEU or EU ETS legislation. However, this legislation is relevant in considering the nature of the state’s duty of care to Urgenda.

This is the first time a court has ordered a government to strengthen its climate change policy and set higher climate change targets. There has been speculation in the press that the decision will encourage NGOs in other countries to bring similar claims. A similar case is currently pending in Belgium so it’ll be interesting to see the approach that the court takes there.

However, the court’s decision revolved mostly around the duty of care under Dutch law, which is based on the Dutch Civil Code, so the court’s reasoning cannot be directly applied to the common law principles of tort in the UK, or indeed here on the Island….any lawyers out there who’d like to comment on this for us, we’d love to hear your views

02 July 2015

Earth has lost more of its beauty than you thought

Archive picture of the Manx scallop fleet lined up alongside Peel Breakwater at night time after a days fishing

In his book The unnatural history of the sea – The past and future of humanity and fishing, Professor Callum Roberts reveals a thought pattern which some readers might already have known in the back of their minds. It could come as a shock to you, nonetheless, as IoM Friends of the Earth’s Falk Horning discovers

There has, historically, been a much greater abundance in wild life than most people can nowadays imagine.

 Fish populations were at one point 10 times higher than they are now, average sizes for fish were extraordinary by today’s standards – and there were many, many more diverse species in our seas.
The impact of humans on fish stocks reach back far into history. Intensive fishing has, as most people know, led to a depletion of the seas over generations. But the real extent of this trend has slipped by, un-noticed by most people, precisely because of this generational effect.

For example, the status of marine life as it is when a person is born, is what seems ‘normal’ to him (or her).

Over his life span, he might have noticed a degradation, compared to what was in evidence when he was young – but his children are brought up in a time when this degradation is already embedded; it sets a new baseline.

So the state the seas are in when they are young seems normal to them. Again, over the lifespan of this younger generation, the seas are further depleted, which they will again compare to the state the seas were in when they were young.

 Their offspring again accept the natural environment they’re born into as normal… and so when they see a reduction in sea life, they might aspire to stop that destruction at the then-current levels, not realizing that those levels were already far off from what their father or grandfather had experienced.

Most of the time, a compromise between keeping the status quo and the demands of the fishing industries is made. So sea life gets demished further.. and the next generation will see that new state as normal, and so on and so on. If those children were to ask their father how sea life was in his youth, and, instead of taking their own perception of the seas as a baseline for aspirations, took their father’s perception as the ideal state, that compromise would look much different from the ones typically arrived at. And this differential would be even greater, if they were to take the state of the seas two or three generations ago, rather than just one.

The Isle of Man’s waters have changed dramatically. Up until about one generation ago, salmon and seatrout were seen so often in our waters, that they were fished commercially. Until about two generations ago, huge herring schools were common. Nowadays, much herring for our traditional Manx kippers has to be imported. Looking further back, cod was known as the “Emperor” of the North Sea, found in great numbers and majestic sizes. Big skates surfed through our waters. Until 1900, an oyster fishing fleet with as many as 200 boats was active around the Isle of Man. Overfishing and the destruction of underwater habitats has hugely altered the underwater landscape of the seas. Huge mussel beds, coral reefs and seagrass territories once gave our fish stocks food and shelter. Today, big parts of the sea floor are covered only in sand and mud.

This ‘deforestation’ of submarine flora has gone unnoticed by most of us, as it’s harder to see.

25 June 2015

Windy comments in Tynwald

Tynwald recently agreed to recommendations aimed at a more sustainable, responsible way of life for Manx people, with a particular focus on CO2 emissions – great news, indeed. And because this will mean big changes to the way we do pretty much everything, MHKs have been asking questions about how we’ll do this. That’s good too – the more clarity and discussion there is on these issues, the more confidence people can have. But some politicians have shown a marked (and rather embarrassing) lack of understanding of the scientific and economic issues.

Following the recent proposals put forward by Richard Ronan MHK, and agreed to almost unanimously by Tynwald, it was good to hear Peter Karran MHK raising questions last week about if and when government would be putting its money where its mouth is, by showing support for renewable technologies such as wind power.

This is a reasonable question, given the major transition happening to economic and energy frameworks the world over.

 In the UK, wind power accounts for a significant percentage of total power generated. As I write, I’m looking at the inputs to the UK National Grid, which you can find at www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/. This gives real-time contributions from the various sources of grid electricity in the UK, and right now wind is contributing 7.07 per cent – not to be sniffed at.

But this is only part of the story. Wind power from unmetered turbines actually contributes about half this again, which registers only as a drop in demand, because it’s used on the sites where it’s generated (saving those local or home generators from having to draw energy from the National Grid in the first place).

Thus we’re talking about a contribution today of some 10 per cent.

Moreover, for the whole of 2014, grid-connected turbines alone met 9.3 per cent of the UK’s needs. That’s not including those unmetered generators I’ve mentioned.

So it was bizarre to hear Zac Hall MHK proclaiming his delight about an early end to UK wind subsidies – apparently because wind is such an ‘unreliable and intermittent’ energy source.

This is a strange view to take. Wind is, as critics love to repeat as though it were ‘new’ news, indeed intermittent. It doesn’t blow all the time, all day, every day.

But it’s what’s known as ‘predictably intermittent’ – that is, developers can get a really good idea of how often and how strongly wind blows on average, over a period of time, for a given site. That’s why they invest so much in long-term testing of wind speeds and directions, before they decide where to locate turbines. And of course, Manx taxpayers – you and I – have paid for government-commissioned reports from consultancies Mott McDonald and AEA, both of which clearly stated that our island has terrific potential for an excellent energy contribution from onshore turbines.

So, wind can provide a regular electricity resource within a ‘patchwork’ of other renewable resources – and it’s one which won’t be withdrawn because of conflicts with other countries, or subject to price fluctuations on world markets, as oil and gas are. These are crucial factors for the security of our island’s energy, both supply-wise and price-wise, and it would be naive in today’s politically complex and volatile world to pretend otherwise.

In addition, problems with windfarms and individual turbines are relatively rare, and when they do happen, have a much smaller impact on the grid than would a problem with a larger, ‘conventional’ power station. The latter could take many megawatts of capacity offline without warning, and be much more problematic to restore.

But back to those subsidies. They’re an emotive issue, and critics often like to claim that wind power can’t work without state support. In fact, the price of wind generation is falling rapidly – as it is for solar and other technologies, of course.

But the IMF recently reported that Britain subsidises the fossil fuel industry to the tune of a massive £30 billion a year. That’s more than £1,000 per British household – money which could surely be better spent elsewhere, in these austerity-racked times.

And that’s without the ‘invisible’ subsidies the fossil-fuel energy industry receives through training of workers for its industry, construction of roads and other infrastructure.

This is an industry whose ultimate owners have lived very well, thank you, from taxpayer support over the past decades, so claims that its product is ‘cheap’ are highly misleading.

The support that’s been given to onshore wind, meanwhile, has been costing a mere £10 per UK household – and this to get an industry off the ground that can provide clean, secure, price-stable energy to the nation without relying on what’s going on in other countries.

It’s time we stopped peddling myths about the renewables industry. To do so is either lazy or deliberately misleading (depending on the myth-peddler’s motives).

Either way, it’s morally unacceptable in a world facing real environmental, financial and social challenges.

04 June 2015

Be proud of our impact

‘Low impact’ living is often touted as the best way forward – but, says IoM Friends of the Earth’s co-ordinator and Isle of Man Permaculture Association member Cat Turner, we can aim so much higher

I was lucky enough, last week, to watch a great film with other members of the Isle of Man Permaculture Association. If you don’t know this friendly and knowledgeable group, they’re well worth looking up at www.permacultureiom.org. Meeting monthly, their aim is to educate and inform people on sustainability issues, often through practical examples. Much of the focus is on growing and food, but permaculture is, in essence, a design philosophy, and as such can inspire all aspects of life from personal development to finances and urban planning.

The film we watched together was ‘Inhabit’, (inhabitfilm.com) and it was terrific, covering every aspect of regenerative agriculture and productive growing, from peoples’ front gardens, to urban rooftops, playgrounds to farmsteads. It was also beautifully shot, and, unusually in the world of ‘worthy’ movies which often take a couple of hours to say what could be said in 30 minutes, had barely a wasted moment.

But one of those moments stayed with me in particular.

It was this: one of the speakers spoke of the trend for ‘low impact living’. He saw it as a poor and limiting goal, and his argument made a lot of sense. If we see our best outcomes as being the absence of any sort of impact, this implies that being impactful is of itself a bad thing. By being in the world, we’re a menace, a scourge, a waste of resource. But permaculture aims to do so much more than simply limit harm. And so, I’d suggest, can we all.

So, in the context of growing and agriculture, permaculture techniques don’t just aim to minimise the negative impacts (low carbon output, minimal pollution and waste, soil degradation), they actually build and/or restore natural resources such as soil, air and water quality. This is exactly why this aspect of permaculture is so often called ‘regenerative agriculture’. A well-tended plot can actually increase its fertility, abundance of yield, and nutritional content year-on-year using these approaches, and support natural biodiversity and ecosystems too, without the need for damaging and expensive chemical interventions.

It put me in mind of Google’s mantra ‘Don’t be evil’, something they’ve occasionally taken some flack for.

Hmmmm. Rather a miserable, mealy-mouthed motto for life, don’t you think? When my time comes, I hope the best that can be said of me won’t be that I ended this life with an epitaph of ‘well, at least she didn’t damage anyone’. To suggest that this is the best we can do smacks of a sort of self-hatred: we’d better not leave our mark anywhere, because it’s bound to be a bad one. The best we can aspire to is leaving things as we found them – no worse, but no better either.

In its widest sense, permaculture is about working with nature wherever possible, to leave things – people and places – better, more resilient, productive and healthy. That seems a brave but worthwhile aspiration and one open to everyone, whether in big ways or small. Bill Mollison, one of the pioneers of the permaculture movement, memorably said ‘Everything gardens’, meaning that everything has an impact on its environment, to some degree. Time and attention on an allotment affects its productivity and health; a smile and a word to a lonely or anxious person positively affects their day, and your’s too.

And a lovely couple I know, members in IoM Friends of the Earth, tell us that rather than simply picking up and binning their own litter, they also aim to pick up a bit more whenever they’re out walking – ‘We like to leave places better than we found them’. How cool is that?

It’s time to reclaim the term ‘do-gooder’, so that it loses its implication of meddlesome busy-bodies or sanctimonious suck-ups, and stands for people who know their own worth, who pass through this life leaving the whole darn thing ‘better than they found it’.

Doing no harm, lowering your negative impacts, that’s all fine, but it’s a really low bar to set yourself.

You’re powerful, you matter, and you affect the environment and the people around you in a million ways through your buying decisions, with your actions, with a supportive word. Both environmentally, and otherwise, let’s aim for a ‘high-impact’ life, and let’s make that impact one to be proud of.

26 May 2015

Hurrah! Tynwald vote brings in a new era of opportunity

by Cat Turner

Richard Ronan, the DEFA minister, put forward two reports from CoMin. These reports have been welcomed by Foe.

Last week, Tynwald’s business included the most life-changing (in the literal sense of the term) matters for a long time. The economy, our infrastructure, social needs- all of them are key and all are transformed by climate change impacts. Two reports from CoMin were put forward by Minster for DEFA Richard Ronan. They were: “Policy on Sustainable Development and Mitigating Climate Challenges” and “Adaptation Policy for our climate challenges”.

The event was a great outcome: Tynwald voted decisively in favour, bringing the island into a new era of opportunity and decent global citizenry.

MLCs, MHKs and ministers spoke eloquently of the importance of the island playing its part in this greatest of challenges. Minister Gawne reminded his colleagues of the climate issues being faced at home and abroad right now, and not at some far-off point in the future. A

A minority of speakers displayed an embarrassing failure to grasp the enormity of the issues at hand, both in the terms of risk – but also of the social, environmental and economic opportunities on offer. You can find the debate on www.tynwald.org under business.

Space doesn’t allow to display all the recommendations today, though we’ll revisit some in coming weeks: but in summary, from the first report Tynwald agreed:

1- Sustainability will be central to Government’s policy/decision making, so we balance the long term needs of society with those of the economy and environment

2- To deliver the agreed scale of emissions reduction we must cut total GHG (green house gas) emissions from electricity generation here to nearly zero by 2050

3- We’ll have to ensure that net emissions of GHGs from buildings are near zero by 2050

4- We’ll need to ensure that all surface transport will be powered by ultra-low GHG technology by 2050, barring machines of cultural importance such as those used on the heritage railways and for motor racing events.

5- Land use practices must meet principles of sustainable development by 2050.

6- Government will assess how our GHG emissions can be cut and review this assessment and progress against it every five years

And from the second it agreed that in order to cut climate risks and maximise benefits Government will “both promote and undertake appropriate proactive adaptation to the current and projected climate”.

These are huge – and yet the bare minimum needed.

Massive head-start – we have some catching up to do with other countries but we are well placed to do this and indeed excel in many areas: our island status, talented work pool, sometimes nimble legislature and other assets that give us a massive head-start.There is no denying that the way in which we do everything (get around, heat our homes, make things, choose how to spend time and money) has to change almost beyond recognition and this can be scary, but provided we manage the transition well, also tremendous exciting.

I’d like to highlight a trite but (had it been representative of the wits of the majority in Tynwald that day) terrifying exchange last Tuesday. One MLC, known for his enthusiasm for all things petrol-fuelled, complained at the recommendation for support for more sustainable transport – including support for more cycle routes where appropriate. Hansard reports him as saying “… The time to cycle around the Isle of Man.. It is all very ideal but people’s lives are not running like this now. Walking, cycling to school – I would not even consider allowing my child to cycle to school. The roads are horrendously dangerous. The whole infrastructure is not set up for that.”  –  Aside from the (possibly deliberate?) error of interpreting the recommendation as “we should all cycle everywhere”, the shocking thing was the assumption that dangerous roads are “the way things are and the way they’ll stay”. Almost every developed country you can think of is investing in more and safer cycle routes for leisure and commuting, including to school! – And after all – whose job is it to ensure that children, that all of us, can access the benefits to health, pocket and planet of being able to cycle safely? Tynwald’s of course. His. Uttered in the same week that the Times reported on the continued increase in cycling across the UK, especially in busy cities, his remarks spoke more of someone mired in the past than the future. Even in London we read that 10% more cycle trips were made in Q4 of 2014 than in the same quarter in 2013. To claim that cycling is no longer viable – and worse, to accept it as inevitable – is painfully last century.

Transition – Transport is just one component of our transition to an environmentally sound, socially and economically thriving island. Energy, building, food business and leisure are all important and can potentially transform for the better. It’s great that our leaders are grasping this nettle at last and congratulations to the advocates in Government departments who have brought us this far.

Some hard work but rewarding stuff comes next: turning these policies and this vision into a detailed roadmap to a far, green, flourishing society. I for one can’t wait.

21 May 2015

Looking to the future

New measures being introduced by the Welsh Government seek to ensure that anything that can be recycled does not end up in an energy from waste plant, like the one at Richmond Hill

During the week that Tynwald debates the island’s approach to sustainability, Cat Turner looks at an example from across the water

In past Green Columns, I’ve referred to Wales’s excellent Act for Future Generations – a statement of intent for sustainable living if ever there was one.

Building on this, the Environment (Wales) Bill was last week introduced into the Welsh National Assembly.

In 2013, the devolved Welsh Government published a White Paper ‘Towards the Sustainable Management of Wales’ Natural Resources’.

This built on ‘Sustaining a Living Wales’, which was a Green Paper on a new approach to natural resource management, discussing how to plan and manage Wales’ natural resources in a more sustainable and joined-up way. It uses the ‘ecosystem approach’ developed by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, something the Isle of Man is also party to.

The White Paper set out plans for the new Environment (Wales) Bill, and sets a good example, one which various other countries are mirroring while some even go further.

 It’ll be interesting to see whether our own government can show the same vision and leadership in developing a strategy for a sustainable Isle of Man.

In terms of natural resources, the new Bill puts duties on public authorities:

– Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the new ‘single environmental regulator’, must produce a Statement of Natural Resources Report, assessing the nation’s natural resources and how sustainably they’re being managed.

– The Government itself will produce a National Natural Resources Policy, with priorities and opportunities for managing Wales’ natural resources sustainably.

– NRW must prepare ‘area statements’ setting out the priorities, risks and opportunities for sustainable resource management for each area and exactly what actions it’ll take.

This is similar to the ‘area’ approach under two EU environmental Directives (the EU Water Framework Directive 2000 and the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive 2008).

Already, NRW is trialling area statements in the Rhondda, Tawe and Dyfi river catchment areas. They’re not hanging about – there’s a genuine and inspiring intent to live in accordance with modern values, and not the rather plundering approach which typified the 20th century and the noughties.

– Public authorities in England and Wales must already ‘have regard to the purpose of conserving biodiversity in carrying out their functions’, something we hope to see under the Isle of Man’s Biodiversity Strategy. The new Welsh Bill goes further – it says a public authority must ‘seek to maintain and enhance biodiversity in the exercise of functions in relation to Wales, and in doing so promote the resilience of ecosystems, so far as consistent with the proper exercise of those functions’.

– New powers for voluntary land management agreements will allow NRW to work with landowners to manage land sustainably. Management agreements can already protect designated land and species, but the new powers aren’t restricted to ‘designated’ land and species – they include restricting land use and requiring work to be undertaken. They’ll be binding on successors in title.

The aim is to be flexible, though. In theory, they could also meet wider objectives such as long-term management of flood risk, something that’s also of interest here in the island.

The Bill puts a duty on Welsh Ministers to meet climate change emissions targets, by ensuring that net Welsh emissions for 2050 are at least 80 per cent lower than the baseline (either 1990 or 1995). It also requires them to introduce regulations setting interim targets, and five-yearly carbon budgets from 2016, which are consistent with the 2050 target.

This we sorely need in the island. We’re already somewhat behind the game.

There are also new provisions for charges for carrier bags. Ministers can set a charge, for example, on bags for life, on top of the current five pence on single-use bags. This targets a rise in use of reusable carrier bags which are not necessarily reused by consumers. Retailers must donate the proceeds to good causes, not necessarily environmental ones.

There are powers to increase recycling, improve the quality of recyclates and ensure that materials that could have been recycled aren’t wasted. They will:

– Require business and the public sector to separate recyclables before collection, covering paper, card, plastic, metal, glass, food and wood.

– Require separate collection of recyclables.

– Ban burning recyclables in energy from waste plants. This is desperately needed, to prevent energy from waste plants from derailing recycling efforts and deflecting development focus from true renewables.

– Ban disposal of food waste to sewers from non-domestic premises, so it can be made available for uses such as anaerobic digestion.

The new Bill amends current marine licensing charging powers, and includes provisions to improve the sustainability of shellfish fisheries.

It also tackles some issues relating to flood and coastal erosion, and land drainage.

It’s now been submitted to the National Assembly for scrutiny, and it’ll be interesting plotting its progress as our own government debates similar issues.

There’s a lot riding on this. Some would say, almost everything. Our economy and wellbeing is so dependent on the environment it’s almost impossible to overstate its importance.

I’m keeping everything crossed.

21 April 2015

Launch of forum for electric vehicle users

An electric scooter caught the eye at the forum launch

A forum for owners of electric vehicles was launched on Saturday.

And the first meeting also included an information and display day between 10am and 3pm at the Green Centre in Douglas. It was great to see a whole herd of Leafs – cue lots of jokes over the collective noun for these lovely vehicles – assembled outside the Centre.

The display also featured electric bikes and even an electric scooter, which attracted lots of interest from passers-by.

The meeting itself was virtually standing room-only in the – admittedly not very large – Green Centre. Around 20 people, variously owners, infrastructure providers and the curious, assembled to discuss a packed agenda. Chris Burton, of the Manx Energy Advice Centre, chaired the meeting and was ably supported by Dan Brook, whose excellent Facebook page EVIOM was the initial inspiration. Chris and Dan are the driving force behind the group and have lots of information and experience to share.

For instance, did you know that provided you arrange in advance, you can charge your EV on certain Steam Packet sailings? This is a great facility, and hats off to the company for offering it.

It was also good to see the Manx Utilities Authorities’ Richard Bujko in attendance, both to share the MUA’s ideas on developing tariffs and charging infrastructure and to take back feedback from the group. Richard gave us lots to think about and invited feedback on a planned tariff structure – we appreciate the chance to comment.

The agenda covered everything from affordability and charging points, to connectivity issues, maintenance and battery life.

There was lots to discuss and many items will be revisited at the next gathering, to be held on a date to be confirmed.

What was clear, though, was that EV owners aren’t just motivated by environmental issues or a wish to be freed from the ‘slavery of the petrol pump’ – they genuinely love their vehicles.

More than one person described their car as the best drive they’d ever had, bar none. Clearly, choosing an environmentally sustainable option doesn’t mean opting for second best!

The forum aims to help EV enthusiasts network and share ideas and experience – but it’ll also be a useful lobbying body, and will be one of the groups feeding into the newly established EcoVannin forum (www.ecovannin.im) through its Transport stream.

If you’d like to know more, or to be added to the group’s mailing list, email Chris Burton csburton@manx.net, contact Dan Brook through the EVIOM Facebook page or call/text EcoVannin co-ordinator Cat Turner on 482077.


16 April 2015

Island is perfect place to run an electric vehicle

The is a wide range of electric vehicles on the market – with more appearing each year as technology continues to develop

On Saturday, between 10am and 3pm at the Green Centre, Market Street, Douglas, Ecovannin, the Green Centre and EVIOM are holding an informal get-together to discuss and exhibit electric vehicles and their use in the Isle of Man. Chris Burton, himself an EV owner, explains what’s on the agenda

The benefits of running an electric vehicle will be the subject of a special event being held at the Green Centre, in Market Street, Douglas, on Saturday. The get-together will take place between 10am and 3pm and topics for discussion will include the suitability of EVs for use on the island, including their range, cost and availability. We are inviting owners of electric vehicles and trade suppliers to attend to answer questions that the general public may have with regard to this alternative, clean and economic form of transport. At the moment Nissan Leaf and Vectrix scooters will be on show. If any of our readers owns an electric vehicle, and would like to participate, please do feel free to turn up on the day – and provided there is space, we’ll be pleased to show your vehicle.

There’s no doubt that electric vehicles are perfect for the Isle of Man.

They have a range that covers most journeys – and together with the Manx Utilities EV charging network, which has points in Douglas, Ramsey, Peel and Castletown, they offer a real alternative to combustion engine vehicles.

Manx Utilities also operate an electric vehicle tariff which provides half-price electricity between midnight and 7am: this further reduces running costs.

On top of this, the associated vehicle tax is £15 a year, and running costs are approximately 2p a mile. Servicing averages around £100 a year, and there is never any oil to purchase, or exhaust systems and the like.

We have run a Nissan Leaf car for two years, and we find it to be extremely reliable, cost-effective and efficient.

It’s a family-sized automatic car seating five people. Servicing is carried out locally, as the skills are available on-island.

This is definitely an option worth exploring, whether because you’re ‘green-minded’ or because you don’t want to be constantly paying out for petrol or diesel – and there’s always a selection of new and second hand electric vehicles for sale in the Isle of Man.

So if you’d like to know more (or share your own experiences), why not join us at the Green Centre any Saturday between 10am to 3pm.

And if you’d like to sit in on, or participate in, the inaugural EV users’ forum meeting, to see where we can press for improvements that will affect affordability and/or charging infrastructure, please contact Eco Vannin and they will point you in the right direction.

 We’re looking forward to seeing you!

09 April 2015

A second life for everything

Cardbord bailed and ready for processing

This week, the amiable Paddy from Ask Buck shows IoMFoE’s Cat Turner around the business premises, and explains what happens to much of what we call ‘waste’.

Commercial outfit Ask Buck (www.askbuck.com) is becoming a well-known solution to waste and recycling problems – both for commercial organisations and, increasingly, for households opting to drop items off.

Last week, owner Paddy showed IoMFoE round Ask Buck’s Ballasalla-based operation – and it was quite an eye-opener.

His amiable team were happy and willing to explain their jobs, and show me the impressive equipment the business has invested in to help turn the island’s rubbish into the raw materials for new products. This takes up two warehoused-size buildings of around 6,000 square feet, and includes card balers, confidential shredding equipment, industrial bin-washers and an impressive array of equipment for, variously, crunching, slicing, shredding or powderising all sorts of plastics, rubber, wood, metal and other compounds. The company will – for reasonable fees – collect all sorts of waste materials, from glass to metals, paper to plastics. We saw huge container loads of clothes-hangers, heaps of wheelie-bins, bales of card and paper, metal in all shapes and forms, computer innards and pallets and pallets of (sometimes unused) plastic product…..pretty much anything, excepting for food waste (which ideally our readers will be composting where they can).

It was a relief to realise that all of this didn’t have to go to incineration or landfill. It’s frankly madness – and in a very real sense, sheer wickedness – that in so many cases, ‘consumer’ items suffer the indignity of being made from precious and diminishing natural resources – only to be burnt or buried after just a single use: and often not even that!

We delved a little deeper into the destination for Ask Buck’s recyclates – and learned, for example, that those heaps of office paper which need to be properly disposed of to ensure customer confidentiality, are turned into fine shredding – then shipped off to a papermill in Lancaster, to be made into the ubiquitous and endlessly useful ‘blue roll’ which gets used for a million and one cleaning-up jobs…cardboard, too, ends up taking a boat trip, to be reprocessed (again in Lancaster) into more cardboard. Various plastics are cleaned, sorted and shipped to distribution centres in the UK, where they’re sold on the commodity markets.

But some things don’t leave the island. Much of the glass that’s sorted at Ask Buck heads off to Ballahara to be turned into eco-sand and the like, a great product that can be used to make colourful bricks, driveway toppings, even garden decoration and ‘hard mulch’. And the plastic that comes from discarded coat-hangers gets pulverised, and turned into eye-catching giant paper-clips, great for promotional giveaways or big filing jobs.

None of this is entirely straight-forward, though: Paddy explained that- great as it is when people recycle their plastic bags, if they must use them – a single till receipt left in one can ‘contaminate’ the batch . So everything has to be sorted, cleaned and separated if it’s to be granted a second life. Some of this, Paddy’s team does at the warehouse – but of course the more they have to do, the more time it takes and the more it has to cost; so it’s well worth taking the time, if you’re using Ask Buck’s services, to do a decent job yourself – and if in doubt, give the team a ring on 825826. They’ll be glad to tell you what works best in recycling and what to watch out for.

It’s great to see that the idea of saving valuable resources from the ground is becoming more mainstream all the time, and also to appreciate the wide variety of materials that can now be recycled. Check it out – Ask Buck – you might be surprised!

26 February 2015

Feed the soil, feed the people

A study by researchers at the University of California challenges the view that organic, pesticide-free agriculture is incapable of competing with ‘conventional’ agriculture in terms of yields. Tony Brown, a long-standing IoM Friends of the Earth campaigner, looks at the implications

The results of a study by researchers at the University of California indicate that organic practices provide an average yield only 8 per cent lower than modern conventional farming. These involve the addition of manure, composted vegetation and the like, the use of nitrogen-fixing cover crops like clover and alfalfa, multicropping and crop rotation techniques.

Moreover, the study also found the yield differential for legumes such as peas, beans and lentils was negligible. Other studies, including those from the World Health Organisation, have argued that yields from organic and non-intensive farming are actually greater than those available through intensive techniques, so this report is actually fairly conservative.

The study is timely amid growing concern that intensive farming incorporating the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers is damaging the environment and depleting precious top-soil.

The report also claims that our current agricultural system produces far more food than is actually needed, much of it unnecessarily wasted. World hunger is predominantly due to lack of access to food, rather than lack of production.

The so-called ‘green revolution’, where synthetic fertilizers have been routinely added to the soil to boost yields, is said by some to be a resounding success, seemingly allowing the human race to thrive and multiply. However, this is likely to appear the case only in the short term, while at the same time the world’s topsoils and ecosystems have become dangerously degraded and depleted.

In the 19th century, the pioneer of modern chemical fertilizers, Justus von Liebig, found that some poor agricultural soils would benefit from the application of four principal minerals: calcium (Ca) in the form of lime, nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). The last three of these are known collectively as NPK. As a caveat, however, he added that indiscriminate use of, and dependence on, these basic chemicals alone could irreparably damage the integrity and complexity of the soil. His warnings, alas, have been ignored.

Over millenia, the natural decomposition processes of vegetation, forests and the myriad of microbial life, earthworms and other creatures have laboriously built up the fertile topsoils at a rate if 2.5 cm every 500 years.

However, within only a little over 150 years, our disastrous agricultural practices have shrunk much of the deeper soils of several metres, by as much as 80 per cent. China’s topsoil is presently, we’re told, being lost at a rate 50 times faster than the natural replacement processes.

Meanwhile, the run-off of fertilizers into waterways has resulted in enormous ‘dead zones’ in the oceans’ coastal regions, as oxygen-depleting algal blooms have been stimulated. The sheer stupidity of continuing this hugely destructive industrialised monocultural agriculture model, fed by synthetic fertilisers, is clearly shown by the fact that it takes 10 calories of fossil fuelled energy to produce one calorie of food. In addition, every ton of nitrogen fertilizer is manufactured using natural gas – releasing some 4.5 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Further, the damage done to ecosystems by pesticide and herbicide use is self-evident from the decline in farmland bird populations and the loss of beneficial insects such as bees, and of many wild plants – it’s an unmitigated tragedy.

Here in the Isle of Man farming is carried out in a relatively benign manner – far better, for sure, for our environment than the destructive industrialised processes taking place elsewhere. Many individuals are growing their own food organically, and we have a small commercial food producing base. However, if we’re to achieve the necessary state of self-sufficiency later this century, as imports of fertiliser and food-stuffs become at increasing risk of drying up, it would be sensible for us to adopt a gradual and more widespread implementation of organic cultivation.

This could, I’d suggest, be encouraged by a change in our subsidy system and the setting aside of land, at places such as Knockaloe, to promote the viability of widespread, long-term organic agriculture, assuring the maintenance and rebuilding of fertile soils in the process.

Finally, one thing I’ve always found baffling is this: why do we have such a dearth of fruit orchards in the island? Their establishment would be a wonderful step towards a future state of island self-sufficiency.

15 January 2015

Year of soil offers chance for growth

This week, Zero Waste Mann’s Sarah Calverley looks at one of the fundamental building blocks of good food – the soil it’s grown in

I remember, in the 1980s, my friend Alice telling me about Le Puy lentils. They have to be Le Puy and not ‘Le Puy-type’ lentils, she emphasised.

The point is this: Le Puy is an area in France which, due to past volcanic activity, has particularly fertile soils, rich in minerals so that the crops grown there are extremely nutritious. So, although they cost more than their impersonators, ‘it’s definitely worth buying the real thing,’ said Alice.

Gardeners have always appreciated the effect soil has on crops, realising that plants are affected by it at least as much as they are by sunlight and water.

Now, in 2015 – some 20 years after I first used and learned to love Le Puy lentils – the benefits of different soil types on crops are going to be celebrated worldwide with the International Year of Soil, together with clear messages about why we should learn to love the good earth.

This is a good year to appreciate our largely unspoiled Manx soil. Just as large sea trawlers can destroy the seabed, and over-fishing can destroy marine life (causing irreversible damage to fishing industries), people are now appreciating that some intensive methods of food production on land may also hinder future generations of gardeners and farmers; and this at a time when humanity requires more food than ever, to feed expanding populations.

There’s a danger that we could fall into complacency here in the Isle of Man, as we have a rich, largely unspoiled and uncontaminated soil, kept moist by rainwater and fresh, mineral-rich natural water supplies.

But we are not self-sufficient – we do import a lot of produce. Some of the countries we import food from are suffering from nutrient-depleted soil due to over-farming, countries which are without the infrastructure, knowledge or motivation to replenish the richness of their lands. These are often the countries whose populations are the least wealthy and can’t easily implement regenerative agriculture – the feeding of the soil with organic matter, and its reparation through crop rotation.

In importing crops from these farmers, we’re sometimes locking them into strategies which will ultimately deplete their ability to feed us, and themselves. In some countries, the problems don’t just extend to over-farming and nutrient depletion; there are, in addition to these man-made problems, also natural disasters.

For example, in Bangladesh, high levels of toxins, including arsenic, pollute the water. As river water flows to the delta it combines with the soil. Nutrient-rich soil where food supplies are grown can be contaminated, but due to poverty, the local populations struggle to address such problems.

It is often at deltas, where rivers combine and discharge into the sea, that farmers have found the most nutrient-rich soil, and farming most productive. Yet at the same time, and with increasing industrialisation, rivers are absorbing larger and larger deposits of factory waste which are polluting these same deltas. The deltas also are affected by global warming as sea levels rise, and these areas tend to have large human populations who (as in Bangladesh) can be devastated by flooding; floodwaters can wash away farmland, destroying livelihoods, and introduce salinity to what were previously freshwater farm lands.

Much nearer to home, in England flash floods have had adverse effects on the soil. Recent years have seen unpredictable and torrential rain trigger these flash floods, which can themselves cause landslides in which valuable agricultural land is lost. Inland rivers flood and break their banks, destroying crops and changing the composition of (or washing away) the top soil.

Once upon a time, England was covered in forest and the roots would have helped protect from such effects. But nowadays the country has been largely concreted over, affecting the biosphere (including soil) and indeed the human population, which struggles to combat floods by building artificial barriers. The beneficial effects of trees and plants in protecting against soil erosion is also apparent further afield in equatorial zones.

Mangrove swamps are being turned into agricultural land, which in the long term may prove counterproductive as the roots of the mangrove trees are no longer available to provide stability, and protect the land from storm surges.

Back in the Isle of Man, our island is (relatively) unscathed by industrialisation and building. We enjoy pure, fresh, uncontaminated water in plentiful supplies, which is a pleasure to drink and adds to our unpolluted, highly nutritious soil to allow us to grow first class vegetables and give grazing for healthy cattle.

Our natural biosphere is largely unspoiled, and the leaves from deciduous trees, and natural seaweeds are plentifully available to provide nutrients for our gardens and farmland. Our climate is ideal for crops, as can be seen by the locally-grown produce available to us – especially the small-scale organically grown products.

OK, we can’t have locally-produced ‘Le Puy’ lentils, but you should see the size of a marrow my neighbour gave me recently – I doubt they could grow such a specimen in Le Puy region!

Our small green island is a gem indeed – our soil is rich and mostly unpolluted and this is real cause for us to celebrate in 2015!

And how better to celebrate than to make a conscious effort to support local Manx grown products, and of course, avoid any factory farmed animals as then you can have healthy conscience as well as a healthy diet.