Heaven and Hell

I had a perfect vision of heaven the other day looking over the River Avon. There was a spring tide on a clear crisp morning and Pill’s colourful houses made faultless reflections on the water. Fishing boats tied up on the dock at Shirehamption lent an air of worthy toil and couples walking along the coastal path below looked absorbed in the stillness of the moment. A touch of mist cemented the sense of peace across the scene.

Then I turned around behind me to the pure unadulterated hell of the six lane motorway thundering its way over the creaky M5 bridge. Biblical authors could have used it to instruct their readers on what might happen to the ungodly. You get to stand between the lanes for eternity dodging smoking lorries, speeding cars and swaying caravans with your ears and nose saturated with the permanent racket and smell of straining diesel motors, horns and sirens.

It set me thinking about the options of what our environment could look like in our climate changed future, and what choices we are making to get there. I heard David Attenborough telling us a while back we could quite easily wreck it and as I looked at the traffic nightmare it was hard not to think that is what we are doing. I wondered how interested we really are in making all those houses with the beautiful reflection so well insulated there was no need for fossil fuel heating,  how dedicated we really are to sustainable transport, to self sufficient communities and food production and to organizing work to be only a bicycle ride away.

Do you remember that famous Pastor Neimoller poem where he doesn’t speak out for the communists, trade unionists and Jews when the Nazis come for them because he wasn’t one, but when they came for him there was nobody left to speak for him? Sometimes I feel it’s a bit like that with climate change. We know its certainty and likely outcome but we don’t really do much about it because in the end we see it as someone else’s problem.

Sure, most of our political and business leaders are not providing the information or leadership that will bring about the behavioural and technical changes we need to be making now, but we elect them and buy their stuff. There are so many things we could choose to do or demand, big and small, which would make a difference. It could be something to do with transport, household energy, purchasing power, waste and recycling, food production or politics. Why not write to Bishopston Voice telling us what you are doing and inspire us to try it as well?

One of a regular series of articles, written by Sustainable Redland founder Hamish Wills.
It was published in Bishopston Voice in March 2019.

Posted in Hamish article


Living sustainably means satisfying the needs of the present without adversely affecting the ability of future generations to satisfy theirs. There’s probably a few unreconstructed freeloaders amongst us who couldn’t care, but my guess is most of us would happily go along with that, in which case, what does it really mean?

To answer that we need to look at different bits of the way we live without fossil fuel dependency, and consider how we could do it, and the effect it might have.

The big ones are transport, energy and food, though population, development including housing, clothing, money and the quality of life should be added as well. Also communities and work, though they will be affected by what happens in the first three, and somewhere there should be a reference to recycling.

Covering these in the remaining 200 words of this article is unrealistic, but it could be done over the next four or five. In which case I’d like to spend the rest of this making a start on transport, by asking what would we do if the water coming out of our taps made us ill? Nothing? Of course not. We would expect an explanation, advice and immediate action from Bristol Water. So why is our action on air pollution so pathetic? We know motor transport, especially diesel powered, is the major air polluter in Bristol, and we know it kills and causes serious illness, yet cars still clog our roads and we would certainly do not demand remedial action from the air authorities as we would if water started killing people.

The trouble is we are all part of the problem, and politically that makes things difficult. Kamikaze like there are still too many of us determined to drive as much as we feel we need, and how many politicians, national or local would get in if they stood on a ticket of less cars? They would more likely promise more roads to deal with more cars.

Happily it is not all a story of gloom and doom. Cultures can be changed, though not overnight. For example, our government accepts the importance of restricting the use of diesel vehicles in our cities, and the mayors of Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have plans to do that. London’s mayor is planning to pedestrianize Oxford Street.

So that’s two changes that may tip the cultural balance and make it easier to clean up our air – restrict diesel vehicles from city centres and encourage much greater pedestrianization. Doing both will take time, but it is up to all of us to get out of our cars and support the implementation of both.

Or do nothing and accept that air pollution will kill more of us, maybe someone in our family.

One of a regular series of articles, written by Sustainable Redland founder Hamish Wills.
It was published in Bishopston Voice in January 2019.

Posted in Hamish article

Where are the Arts?

How many of us have set about doing something to reduce their fossil fuel consumption in the wake of the devastating weather events that have happened around the world in the last few years? Probably none. Its unsettling reading about them but as they don’t affect us and it’s difficult to see any link between them and our personal behaviour, we carry on. In any case what can we do about people and animals frying in the worst recorded droughts in far away countries or drowning by the thousands in horrendous floods, apart from donating money or clothing?

A bit closer to home in San Francisco, the air has become so polluted with the Californian fires nobody goes outside without a facemask, and the advice is for all babies to be evacuated from the city to escape the toxicity. We know they’re the State’s worst fires ever recorded, they’ve burnt out whole towns and they follow on from one of its worst ever droughts. But how many of us have said this is something so shocking exacerbated by climate change, I’m going to stop doing at least one significant thing that contributes towards it.

I can guess the answer. None of us. Most of us are unsettled by images of starving or dead polar bears unable to feed themselves because there’s scarcely any summer ice left for them in the Arctic, or of vital rainforest essential for absorbing carbon being scythed to make way for palm oil, or of new oil rigs drilling above the Arctic circle, but they are far removed from our daily lives. Although we’re given facts and figures showing how our unsustainable and energy intense life styles drive them, we can’t see them and that makes it difficult to be really interested in changing firmly ingrained habits and expectations and learning to live sustainably.

So what needs to happen? We don’t respond well to fear mongering stories or horrendous statistics, so perhaps it’s time to be thinking about the arts, literature and music. They can tell stories scientists and mathematicians can’t. We know how effective the documentary about plastic in the ocean was, why can we not encourage film makers to make an even bigger one demonstrating the link between our life styles, choices and climate change? Where are the plays, poems and books we are all clamouring to see or read, the songs to listen to or the striking artwork and murals dotted around our city?

If you’re an artist, dancer, musician, writer or poet why not talk to others and see how can you flood us with images that will make us sit up and think?

One of a regular series of articles, written by Sustainable Redland founder Hamish Wills.
It was published in Bishopston Voice in December 2018.

Posted in Hamish article

Bristol Airport Expansion

Last month Keri Beckingham in her article ‘Bristol Airport expansion decision due in September’ put the points forward about our local airport expansion plans clearly, and they were scary. Over 6 years it wants to increase passenger numbers from 8 to 12 million with the option of bumping it up to 20 million after that. Instead of reducing its carbon output like the rest of us, it will double it.  This is to happen in Councils that have declared a climate emergency and aim to be carbon free by 2030. What on earth is going on? Why would anyone think it reasonable to seek permission to drastically increase carbon output?

Perhaps it is because Bristol Airport relies on us being the silent majority. Maybe it knows we are so wedded to the convenience and habit of flying abroad for our holidays we’d rather turn a blind eye to the consequences of what we are doing, and not question what it says and does.  But if we don’t and expect to carry on flying as much as we want, our children and grandchildren will point their fingers and say you carried on destroying our planet when you knew what you were doing just because you enjoyed the convenience and luxury.

The airport aims to have zero carbon output by 2030, which sounds good. If it can achieve that after the expansion, then maybe it hopes it will salve our consciences. But it doesn’t take a genius to work out that it’s only talking about the buildings. All new buildings should be carbon neutral by then. It’s specifically failing to include the carbon output of the extra aircraft running 24 hours, the extra road traffic and the loss of green space to park them. Keri included the figure of 87% as the numbers who arrive by private transport.

How do we feel knowing that all the carbon our Councils will have saved by becoming carbon free by 2030 will be wasted because of the airport’s expansion? Or that the efforts we will have made as businesses or private citizens will count as nothing?

The airport would argue that it has to expand to meet demand. It would be less willing to say publicly that there’s good money in it especially for its owners, a Canadian investment fund for teachers pensions.

If we have any concerns at all about climate change, the first thing to do is stop meeting demand by flying less and the second is to stop being part of Bristol’s silent majority. To achieve the latter check whether the planning decision was made in September and if not send objections to the 17 North Somerset Councillors responsible. Details can be found at To help with the former sign up to the Flight Free UK pledge.

One of a regular series of articles, written by Sustainable Redland founder Hamish Wills.
It was published in Bishopston Voice in October 2019.

Submit a comment about the planning application

Posted in Hamish article

Concern for Leigh Court Farm

Update – 29 April 2019: The National Trust have now met with the tenants and agreed to give them new 5 year tenancies on their current tracts of land. They have admitted that they were wrong in the way that they handled the matter, and have made a commitment to work more cooperatively with thier tenants in future. Thanks to all those who wrote to express their concern.


There is a current risk to Leigh Court Farm from a potentially misguided retendering process by the National Trust.

At Sustainable Redland we are very concerned indeed. Leigh Court Farm is an essential part of our Whiteladies Road Farmers and Fairtrading Market every Saturday, and they are an essential part of the Bristol Food Movement providing locally grown organic produce.

We have learnt that retendering by the National Trust of their land in Failand could lead to Leigh Court Farm losing their tenancy. We believe it essential that the 10-acre field in Failand, farmed by Leigh Court Farm, must continue to be farmed by the current tenants in order to maintain the viability of their business.

For full details see the Briefing about Leigh Court Farm – April 2019 prepared by Sustainable Redland.

We are urging the National Trust to meet with the tenants to find a way forward. One possibility has already been proposed that seems to meet all parties needs.

Please write to the National Trust (email addresses shown in the Briefing document) to express your concern and your support for the farm.

Posted in News

Climate Change and Energy Talks

Nikki Jones is a freelance reasearcher and writer on global and UK energy. She will be giving a series of talks in Redland in March on climate change and energy, organised by the BCR Energy Group.

Talks will take place from 7.30pm – 10.30pm in the Mustard Room at the Kensington Arms, 35-37 Stanley Road BS6 6NP. All are welcome. Entry is free, but donations are welcome to Solar Aid, Nikki’s chosen charity, which donates free solar lamps to people in Africa. You can register for each talk separately using the following Eventbrite links:

Tuesday 5th MarchWhere Are We With Climate Change?

Tuesday 12th MarchUK Energy, Emissions and Targets

Tuesday 19th MarchIs Nuclear the Answer?

Tuesday 26th MarchLand Use and Climate Change

Tuesday 2nd AprilThe Way Forward

Tuesday 9th AprilDiscussion: Does local / individual action matter?

Some may remember Nikki talked about some of these topics a few years ago in Redland, but she has fully revised her very well researched and detailed talks to bring them up to date with the latest evidence.

Posted in News

C.H.E.E.S.E Energy Surveys

The C.H.E.E.S.E. Project is a Bristol-based not-for-profit community enterprise that aims to reduce domestic energy losses, at low cost. Some people reading this may already have had a thermal imaging survey of their home carried out by them. If not, now is the time to consider one to reduce your energy consumption, keep warmer, save money and contribute to Bristol’s most recent climate change commitments. Surveys can only be carried out in the colder months.

The C.H.E.E.S.E. Project has been presented with a Carbon Saving Award by Community Energy England / Community Energy Wales as “the community group which has undertaken the most inspiring energy conservation and/or management project” of the year (see

Draught between floorboards

Missing cavity wall insulation

Cold vent

Poorly fitting window

The survey’s unique method identifies draughts and cold spots, many of which you won’t be aware of, and suggests how to take remedial action.  Surveys cost £75-£150, depending on the size of your house or flat, but are free for low income households, and take 2-3 hours.  You will be given a memory stick with a recording of the survey (audio and visual images) so you have a record of the findings and the remedial advice given.  You can also borrow an energy box containing energy monitors and an Eco-house manual. More information, testimonials and how to apply can be found at

Posted in News

Song of the Whale

This report has been sent by Vassili Papastavrou from the mid-Atlantic.

I have been at sea since March helping to bring the research vessel Song of the Whale back from South Georgia after studying southern right whales with British Antarctic survey.

Killer whale [Photo: MCR Ltd]

I joined the boat in Montevideo and we are taking the boat to Portugal. Our longest passage was twenty-one days, between Salvador and the Cape Verdes and now we are in the mid-Atlantic just south of the Azores. This morning we saw two killer whales, which took a very brief interest in the boat before resuming their fishing. We’ve also seen several species of dolphin, sperm whales and sei whales. We are recording all whale and dolphins sightings and for most of the trip conducted an acoustic survey too. See our blog on the Marine Conservation website.

We have had the full range of weather, from 56 knot gales to days becalmed in the doldrums and from cold at the beginning to extremely hot and now cool again as we enter the Azores high. Beautiful sunsets lead to starry skies and we embrace a routine of cooking, observations, eating, sleeping and being on watch. Sometimes days go by with nothing and then spotted dolphis will leap next to the boat and bowride for an hour.

Manta trawl collecting plastic [Photo: MCR Ltd]

When I started as a whale biologist, I never imagined that I would be helping to study plastics but this what we are also now doing. We trawl for fragments in the open ocean and record rubbish sightings. Each day when the weather is calm enough we deploy our manta trawl as part of a project in collaboration with 5 Gyres. Even far south in the middle of the Atlantic we collected plastic fragments. As we head north towards Europe, plastic pollution is increasing. We are hundreds of miles from land but still we see discarded plastic products.

The effects of plastic of all sizes on marine life are known to be increasing. In the last decade fatal ingestions of marine debris have increased by 40%. Several whales have now been autopsied with their guts full of plastic and David Attenborough has drawn the attention of the world to this problem in Blue Planet 2.

Dolphins underwater – taken with camera on a pole [Photo: MCR Ltd]

The only conclusion is that we urgently need to reduce the consumption of plastics at source. As Friends of the Earth said long ago, “Think globally, act locally”.

So, anything that Sustainable Redland can do to reduce our plastics consumption locally is really important.

Posted in News

Make a swift nesting box for your house

Decline of swift nesting sites

Swift flying

Photo: Pau Artigas CC BY-SA 2.0

Swifts migrate 6000 miles from sub-Saharan Africa to breed in Britain. It was only in 1994, when the Breeding Birds Survey was initiated, that their numbers began to be monitored, and so there are no accurate records of the numbers breeding in Britain before then. However, since 1994, monitoring has indicated an alarming 38% decline in swift numbers, which are now estimated at around 87,000 pairs. As a result, the species has been placed on the Birds of  Conservation Concern’s Amber list, denoting a decline in numbers or a contraction of the species’ range. While several factors are likely to contribute to this sharp decline, lost of nesting sites is certainly one. Swifts, which are sociable, and prefer to nest in colonies, have evolved with humans to take advantage of our houses for their nesting sites. They like to nest high up in the roof space under the eaves of old houses and churches. However, modern building design and the refurbishment of old houses has resulted in the loss of nesting sites as access to roof spaces has been sealed off.

In Bristol, a recent survey by Bristol Swift Conservation Group has indicated just 5 small colonies of 2-3 pairs in the Redland area. Our house is one of those, with a small colony of 2 pairs. It is one of the highlights of our year to welcome “our” swifts back in early May, to be able to watch at very close quarters as they enter and leave their nests and to hear their calls (so-called ‘screaming parties’) as pairs within and outside the nest communicate with each other. The skies seem empty when the swifts depart at the end of July.

We can increase the number of known colonies in Redland, by retrofitting swift nesting boxes under the eaves of our houses. Swift boxes can be purchased, or alternatively, you can make your own.

Would you like to make a swift nesting box for your house?

Swift nesting box workshop

Mark Glanville of Bristol Swifts and Matt Collis of Avon Wildlife Trust (AWT), both members of the Bristol Swift Conservation Group, recently teamed up and in November held the first of what is hoped to be a series of swift nesting box workshops. Eight participants working in pairs, including my husband and me, made a nest box each, using materials and tools provided by Mark and Matt. The design of the box has been worked on and incrementally improved over many years by Mark, who, with his wife Jane, has what must be Bristol’s largest colony under the eaves of their house in Stoke Bishop. In 2017, they had 14 pairs, which fledged a record number of 20 chicks.

Redland Green Community Group would like to collaborate with Bristol Swift Conservation Group and hold a workshop for residents of Redland and surrounding suburbs. The workshop would be held on a weekend day before spring, probably at the AWT’s Bennett’s Patch and White’s Paddock reserve on the Bristol Portway.

The cost of the workshop is currently £15 per participant, to cover the cost of materials. Mark and Matt donate their time. Between 6 and 10 people, working in pairs, is an ideal number per workshop. The AWT currently has funding to assist in putting the boxes up.

If you would like to take part in a workshop, please send an email to Julie Parker at to express your interest, letting me know how many people might take part. Workshops are suitable for anyone aged 16 or over. We will then arrange a date (or dates) for the next workshop(s).

Julie Parker
Redland Green Community Group

Posted in News

What’s in a Hedge

By Karen Shergold

If you have been to Metford Road Community Orchard in the past, you may need to do a double-take as you approach it now. I’ve been an active member for many years, and I certainly did when I arrived for the second day of hedge-laying on 19th November. I had been there at the start of the previous day to welcome Malcolm Dowling and his 17-year-old grandson Ollie who is his trainee, but I had taken my bad back home after an hour.

Malcolm (or ‘Grandad’, his trading name) has won many national prizes in six regional styles of hedge-laying, but he chose to use North Somerset style for our sloping site. He started at the top, wielding his chain saw to bend a 20ft high tree across the path above. He then sliced the top off and wedged the remainder behind a stake he made from a straight branch. He then worked his way downhill in the same fashion, teaching as he went.

We asked him to leave a yellow plum as a tree part way down as the small round fruit are so delicious, but we did decide after much deliberation, that he should include the tall Sea Buckthorn in the laying process as it did cast shade on a plum tree and on the neighbouring allotment – we do have some regrets about that but hope it will spring up again. To our knowledge, the Sea Buckthorn has never fruited, which is a shame, as it’s fruits are supposedly high in vitamin C. I pulled off some small side branches and plan to see if they will take as hardwood cuttings.

There were two willows along the run – one large crack willow which we had permission to remove (but didn’t), and one smaller goat willow. He took the crack willow down to a low stump, and the goat willow to a stump around a meter high – they should both come back and we hope to coppice them in future years (basket-making anyone?). Other plants laid include several Dogwoods, Hawthorns, Blackthorns, Hazel and Dog Roses. Malcolm took great delight in passing around a severed branch of Dogwood and instructing us to sniff it – the reference to dog was quickly obvious to all!

Hedges are a valuable resource for wildlife in terms of food and habitat, especially in winter. Getting this run of out-of-control hedging (i.e. trees) laid has also massively improved the light levels and airflow in the orchard and the neighbouring allotment.

We have local law firm Barcan+Kirby and their Corporate Social Responsibility budget to thank for getting this job done professionally after our inadequate attempt to do it ourselves last year (sorry Joe – we just didn’t come up with the manpower to do justice to your workshop!). We will be working hard on fund-raising during the year ahead, so that we can get Malcolm and Ollie back to do the hedge bounding the other side of the orchard.

Our biggest fund-raiser is our annual stall at Whiteladies Road Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning 9th December 2017. Do please come along and buy some cake, jam, jelly, medlar butter, chutney, honey, hand cream or whatever else our members offer for sale to help us on our way. We orchard members will appreciate every penny spent (and I like to think that the hedge-in-waiting would say the same if it could make itself understood by humans!).

Posted in News