The Fruit and Nut Village, Stirchley

Hazelwell Park is a beautiful place. A 10 minute walk from the train at Bournville and it feels like you’re miles away- you can still see the buildings and cars but it’s like another world of nature and peace. This year was the first time I had been to Stirchley- a mistake on my part. It is a beautiful area and I wish I’d explored the more rural areas of Birmingham rather than sticking to Selly Oak student land and the Birmingham city centre. The outer areas, Stirchley, Kings Heath, Longbridge, Harbourne, all have their own charm and character, something a bit lost by the laddy student culture in Selly. Where I’m from originally, there are not many areas of lesser managed land unless you go right out of the city. Birmingham and the surroundings are a wonderful change from that. It never fails to surprise me that I can walk just a bit and feel like I’m free of the pollution and stress of uni and the city.

Stirchley is special for another reason: The Fruit and Nut Village. Last Saturday, I volunteered at a tree planting day from 10am until 3pm with other volunteers (yes, I am that overly keen Environmental Science student). Being there made me realise what I’d been missing out. The Fruit and Nut Village is a project in Birmingham aiming to create public food spaces within the city. They plant fruit and nut trees, herb gardens and edible hedges that anyone can help maintain and use. Food security is a real issue for a lot of people and this initiative is a great way to solve it, providing free exercise, food (they even provide lunch on the day!) and friends. 38 of us helped on Saturday, all different ages and different backgrounds; the results of our labour were staggering.

It was the start of the (nice and terrifying) February heatwave- I don’t think I’ve ever bought an ice cream in February because I was too hot before! Along with some of the folks from the University of Birmingham Conservation Volunteers, we worked on building a hibernaculum for frogs- we dug down about 30cm (a nightmare when the soil is full of bricks and metal might I add), added stones and logs to create spaces and inserted plastic tubes to allow the frogs to get inside. After this, it was covered in soil to keep it safe and covered; lemon thyme was planted on top which will hopefully flourish! Other people planted hazel trees, bramble-gooseberry cross, gooseberries, bay, thyme and sage. The area will smell incredible when it all flowers!

A very candid shot…

The Fruit and Nut Village was started by Spring to Life and is an aspect of the project Food Forest Brum which aims to reduce food insecurity in Birmingham. There are hopes to continue to roll out new projects across the area when this one is established, and with some volunteer help it could easily become a reality!

Food insecurity is a very real issue and the amount of food that is imported and eaten out of season is ever growing with preference changes and a desire for organic crops. Climate change has already been proven to be impacting crop availability globally. In areas that grow high numbers of cash crops, the poorest population are at a significant risk of food shortage; increasing imports of wheat, rice and vegetable oils left 75 million people hungry worldwide.

As the average UK citizen, there’s not much we can do that would have any significant impact; buying locally and growing our own however is one of the things we can do. Projects like the Fruit and Nut Village are a great way to both understand what goes into gardening (spoiler: it’s a lot) and the food that we eat and to feel proud of growing something ourselves. There’s nothing quite like eating veg you grew yourself- my dad grows tomatoes and chillis every year and they’re absolutely gorgeous! We get so many for such little cost, and my mum has the magic touch when growing basil, it goes mad!

Recap: growing food is cheaper, fun, free exercise, and better for the planet. Seems like a win win? And it is, if you have the time. The fact is that we are all busy. That’s why projects like the Fruit and Nut Village are so important; most people can spare five hours on a Sunday once a month, and you can still make use of the produce at the end without being the sole caretaker and provider for the poor innocent plants.

Our little herb garden!

I’ll come back with an update of our plants in a few weeks hopefully; my current plan is to take my friends and annoy them into helping. The advantages of being annoying and a bit bossy is that I can gently (or strongly) push for people to help me in my volunteering antics!

If you want to get involved in something like this, check out social media. In Birmingham, the Birmingham Black Country Trust run events and the Canal and River Trust do as well; at universities across the country, there are often societies allowing for involvement. Check out social media and the local authorities websites too!

Follow their social media to keep up to date!

Twitter: @fruitnutvillage



The Trouble with Biodegradation

Photo by Dustan Woodhouse on Unsplash

I recently read a report on biodegradable plastics (thrilling, I know) and it got me thinking about all the secret rules that come with so many recyclable or biodegradable products. The outrage on McDonalds straws not being recyclable is something that lots of people have spoken to me about recently and I find it quite frustrating because of what I know from my own recycling.

The thing is, anything that isn’t clean is not recyclable, and that’s not even discussing the inequalities of different recycling systems in different counties. What is recyclable in Birmingham isn’t in Hampshire and vice versa; heaven forbid that you put something not recyclable in with the recyclables, lest everything gets thrown out.

It’s a tricky world and there is almost know way to be entirely ethical. Mcdonalds straws, as well as pizza boxes and takeaway boxes covered in grease are not recyclable. They are soiled by food and that means they can’t be recycled. It’s frustrating but is a sad fact of life. In the same way, things that are technically biodegradable or compostable are often only actually able to break down under very specific temperatures and chemical concentrations (the link at the end discusses this in slightly more detail). So, the compostable carrier bags you might be using from the supermarket might be great in theory but they only actually compost in industrial composters kept at very high temperatures rather than the bin in your back garden that you converted. Nice try supermarkets, you’ve not fooled me yet.

So the ocean is full of plastic but it’s okay because we’re shifting over to biodegradable plastics… right? Nope, it’s again going back to the whole biodegradable under certain circumstances like an industrial composter. The plastic in the oceans will stick around at the bottom in the cold where it can’t break down, or they will break down veeeerry slowly. Does biodegradable actually mean anything?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Biodegradable literally means that it will degrade in biological conditions, but that includes high temperatures that would only be naturally found in the human body. We’re biological organisms so that counts as biological; the issue with that is that of course we’re not going to biodegrade things inside humans, it gets left to the open world. Labels of biodegradable can be taken as an excuse to litter more- it’ll break down anyway right? But then with everything we’ve already discussed obviously that’s not how it works.

In conclusion, nothing is simple and everything requires way more researching than is fun. So what can we do to actually make sure things are biodegradable? One thing is checking what you’re using and where you’re putting it, so no more pizza boxes in the recycling I’m afraid. Little things, like coloured paper and cards with glitter on aren’t recyclable and you’d never know without extensive research. I had the advantage of studying it for three years and my lord I’ve read a lot of plastic reports. Arguably interesting, but also incredibly tedious to read 38-page documents repeatedly. Make sure things like juice bottles are rinsed and remove the lids if you must where you live! Some areas of Hampshire don’t recycle lids, whereas Birmingham does. It’s all about checking before you bin. The obvious advice to reduce plastic in the ocean is to not litter it, whether it’s biodegradable or not. It’s all well and good to think something’s biodegradable but that doesn’t mean you should just chuck it out the car window.

Hope you enjoyed a slightly convoluted blog post! Hopefully going to get on more of a schedule soon! P.S. here’s the article that got me thinking about this!,_concerns_and_impacts_on_marine_environments-2015BiodegradablePlasticsAndMarineLitter.pdf.pdf?sequence=3&fbclid=IwAR2woBLSH4PmYxpsWb6DfyU2H_005KsQhywXjU-G1wcf40lEwsJddoUvDLI

Food and Climate Change: How can one person change the world?

I can’t explain the relief that comes with finishing a 10,000 word document

Hello all, hope you’re well! I wanted to spend this blog post talking about my dissertation and the findings from it. My environmental science course meant that my dissertation is keenly linked to this blog and to the current topics of food and the environment. It was an incredibly interesting topic that I could have written so much more about. Now that I’ve graduated, I can actually share some of my findings!

The title of my dissertation was Food and Climate Change: How can one person change the world? It involved putting out a survey (which many friends and internet strangers answered!) and then analysing the results to determine if people were aware of links between food and climate change, what people thought the links were and whether they would act on it. This meant I could understand the barriers to changing, what people were doing to change their diets, and what anyone actually knows about climate change. That is what led to this blog in the first place!

My research showed that the wide variety of climate impacts that there are are known to varying degrees, with some such as water consumption and drought resistant crops being little known while everyone knows that temperatures will rise. Humans will be impacted by a high number of factors, and for that reason it is important to clearly understand the effects. Impacts on food security are something that seriously needs studying and understanding. Even little things like what is available locally- I’m not going to get into Brexit on this blog but changing trade deals in conjunction with the climate will have an impact on Britain’s regular diet. Understanding the different issues is an important step to tackling them and doing better.

Factors that drive change were also investigated, so I could see what the barriers were to changing diets. The prime limitations were money and education; the lack of education on the subject (something which is now finally being sorted) is a key issue. If you don’t know what is going to be better, how are you meant to act? The use of public platforms for blogs such as this is important in sharing knowledge, and there needs to be more accessible ways to take action against climate change. 271 participants in my survey said that they had low to medium understanding, and that is something that needs to be remedied. Lots of other participants said they wanted to know more, showing that it’s not a lack of willingness but a lack of access.

Overall one of the main things my dissertation found was that people are willing to make a change, they are just either unaware or unable to act. Money and understanding and time are huge barriers to anything. Money doesn’t buy everything but it’s definitely easier to think about saving the world when you have a roof over your head and food on the table. I’m very lucky to have parents who can help support me while at university, and for that I am grateful. I honestly do believe that everyone can take some sort of action. It is important to remember that no action is too small- it’s better for us all to do something small than most of us do nothing, even simple things like bringing a reusable water bottle! The acts of individuals stack up- one person picks up litter on the street and it makes the road that little bit cleaner.

There is a dire need for government action, and for that reason it is important to get people in higher power positions to take notice. I myself haven’t figured out how to do that effectively yet but petitioning and postcard picketing make a difference. With our animal welfare society at uni, we got a reply from Michael Gove so anything is possible! The climate protests have been receiving a lot of media attention and it’s fab to see people caring so much! However, I think it’s important to be shown to take action in other ways- doing Earth Hour or Plastic Free July for example. Scream and shout about the environment- share your weird blog on facebook for everyone to see…

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

I’m going to link a copy of my dissertation, and if you fancy reading it then check it out! In the same vein, if you have any points to add to this, any ideas, or just want to say hi then please feel free to comment and let me know! Thank you for reading!

The Trouble with Learning

At least Old Joe is enjoying the sun

There’s something incredibly disheartening about sitting inside on a day when the sky is clear blue and it’s actually warm, but alas that is what university becomes in third year. Day on day in the study area of choice, staring at computers, writing dissertations and assignments before the final hurdle: Exams. I’m not going to lie, I hate exams and studying them often begins to feel like a curse. I have two exams coming up and it feels like all I’ve been doing this year is reading about Environmental Legislation and Brominated Fire Retardants.

I’m lucky in the sense that I genuinely do love my degree. I find the content interesting and most of the time I actually quite enjoy reading research papers, something that a lot of people don’t have access to. It makes me feel more confident in my beliefs knowing I can back it up with scientific data and that I can check that what I believe makes sense. There are a lot of problems that come from the lack of access to education, and that’s what I want to talk about.

The concept of education on environmental topics was my initial idea for this blog, as I discussed in my first post. My dissertation showed me that a lot of people simply don’t have the time or access to fully research things; it’s not that they don’t care, they just don’t know how to care effectively. Honestly, research papers can be so inaccessible even if you can get into them in the first place. The writing style of many educated people is very overly complex and it adds nothing to the paper, just makes it harder to want to read it.

So how can we go about learning better? How can we look at research papers without university? Is there any point in trying at all? (Spoiler: the answer is yes.) So here’s some ways to access research papers and to stay educated even without a ton of time. I won’t even mention this blog in the list!

  • Unpaywall- I recently downloaded this attachment for my browser and it’s really helpful. It tells you whether there is a free and legal way to access the paper where you can actually read it with the little padlock at the side of your screen. So if you really want to read something but don’t have a university login or the money to pay hundreds of pounds for academic paper subscriptions, take a look. It doesn’t bother or make a difference unless you’re looking at a page with academic papers and it works fab with google scholar too. Here’s the link:
The webpage explains it far better than me!
  • Ask- Since coming to university, something I’ve learnt quite closely is that lecturers and academics love Twitter- and I do mean love. Almost all of my lecturers use it, more than the students, and they post about the research on there. With Twitter, you can see what they’re looking at but also have a way to chat to the authors- many will happily send you over a copy if you ask or will at least have a chat with you about it. It’s well worth it if you’re interested! The worst they can say is no, so if you fancy reading about random academic research mixed with Brexit rants and complaints about academics then look no further than the world of academic Twitter.
Don’t let the colours fool you, the document is 30 pages long.
  • Sources- In school, we always got told that Wikipedia was a terrible resource, not to use it to write anything because it’s all lies. In their defence, it can be but only if you don’t use it right. To this day, I still use Wikipedia to get an idea of the basic concepts I need to understand on an essay and find some starting sources; the references section at the bottom of a wiki is a lifesaver. There’s nothing wrong with looking at crowdsourced data, but it’s always worth checking the sources. It would be great to be able to trust everyone to know everything but everyone is still learning something! Even online newspaper articles often have sources linked, and they’re often pretty detailed and easy to access.

I know there are barriers to education especially when it comes to the academic world, but I really want to help break them down. Education for all is a right and if I ca spread just a little bit of what I have access too then I feel I’ve succeeded. Hope you’ve all enjoyed this blog post! Has anyone used unpaywall before? Let me know what you think!

My Journey Begins

WordPress gave me the title above and I suppose it is fitting; the start of this blog mirrors the beginning of my journey into the real world beyond university.

My name is Emily, I am 21 and from the south coast of England. I study Environmental Science at the University of Birmingham, a course I really do love. I finish uni in June and then…. I’m still not sure what I want to do afterwards to be honest. I have some interviews in the works but that’s not what this blog is about.

While at uni, one thing that has really struck me is the academic inequality; while here I have wonderful access to all the papers my heart desires, I can fact check the tiniest detail while I’m not working. I’ve been taught how to read and understand academic papers. That’s all great for me, but a lot of people don’t have this.

With this blog, I want to help make scientific academia more accessible, writing about papers with sources and all but in a way that actually makes sense. The number of times I’ve tried to read a news article that has been sourced incorrectly drives me mad. So I hope anyone who reads this enjoys. I’m working on some posts but everything is still very in the air for now. Anything sciencey you would like to see my talk about or general questions about life? Leave a comment!

Thanks for reading x