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Keyhole Gardening form Practical Action

A fascinating idea from Pratical Action – keyhole gardens
Here’s how to create your keyhole garden:

1. Plot the area for the garden’s bed – 3 feet all round from your centre point
2. Construct side walls from bricks, logs and stones
3. Build composting basket in the middle – wire, bamboo stakes or hard-wearing cloth work well
4. Secure the basket, making sure it keeps shape
5. Fill the basket, using about 18 inches of good quality soil (the rest can be compost)
6. Add plants to your new keyhole garden – and remember to water!

More on this and other amazing ideas at practicalaction.org

Government backpedalling

Government policies

The Soil Association has flagged its serious concern about reports that the Westminster government might backpedal on plans to make sure farm subsidies benefit nature and climate.  Head of Farming Policy, Gareth Morgan said  that such a move would be "an outrage".

The Soil Association is also asking the new Defra ministers to make sure that farmers that do most for the environment - such as organic farmers - are properly rewarded for the benefits they provide. "We know most farmers care deeply about  the environment and it is vital that they’re rewarded to protect it – especially in the face of trade deals that threaten to undercut British farmers with imports of food ordered to lower environmental and animal welfare standards. Government must proceed with the most evidence-based solution – a rapid shift to agroecological, nature-friendly farming.

The Soil Association Reflections on COP26

Below is an extract form the full blog, to read the whole blog visit the Soil Association website.

So, lots of words, pledges, and commitments. Clearly action and further ambition are now both needed, and the UK must not shirk its responsibilities in assisting the global south in this in addition to its domestic agenda.

Was it worth the long train journey to be there? Emphatically yes.

Whilst it was pleasing to see the UK government’s rhetoric around global regenerative practices at COP, this now must be reflected in domestic agricultural policy, with a shift to support for organic and agroecological farming that place farmers at the heart of decision making. With the Environment Bill receiving Royal Ascent, but lacking protections for soil health, we look to a strong Soil Health Action Plan for England in the New Year. After all, healthy soil is critical in combatting climate change – a solution that is under our feet! Looking ahead to the Biodiversity COP in Kunming in April 2022 it is vital that the UK leads the way in ensuring climate actions do not come at the expense of nature. We must tackle our own demand for overseas commodities that harm ecosystems. We’ll be working hard to draw attention to the impact of commodities grown in sensitive environments in Latin America to feed intensive livestock systems in the UK. As part of this is our campaign calling for Peak Poultry and our calls for dietary changes to include less and better meat. Additionally, given global ambitions on deforestation, we’d like to see Defra to build on the recently approved Environment Bill to ensure that commodities we import are not linked to any type of deforestation.

Was it worth the long train journey to be there? Emphatically yes. Every voice and action count now, both in limiting temperature rise and in making the case that we need to transform food and farming to do this. And we need to keep hope alive on climate change. If not the COP – then what?’

Stop Poison Poultry

The Soil Association is running a campaign Stop Poison Poultry as they raise raising awareness of the toxic pesticides sprayed on soya crops across Brazil – pesticides that are dangerous to farm workers and their families and wreak havoc on Brazilian biodiversity. As the soya is exported to the UK and fed to millions of British chickens, they are  calling on supermarkets to pay urgent attention to pesticides and scrub their chicken supply chains clean.
There is an alternative created through Innovative Farmers  where research by one farmer has been growing vetch and sprouting the seeds which he feeds to his chickens, these are more nutritious and converted into a reliable source of protein. Vetch is a useful crop as it’s a nitrogen fixer. Read more at www.innovativefarmers.org
You can find out more about the campaign and add your name via the link below. https://act.soilassociation.org/stop-poison-poultry

UK Goverment Net Zero Strategy - a response from the Soil Association

In October 2021, the Government launched their Net Zero strategy – the Soil Association were not overly impressed about the impact on agriculture and food policies.

The SA write:

This is an emergency – but you wouldn’t know it from the government’s new Net Zero strategy. As it relates to food and agriculture, it is devoid of urgency. Vague statements on emerging technology take priority over concrete commitments to agroecological solutions. Perhaps feed additives with methane inhibiting properties will help to reduce emissions from housed cattle. Perhaps innovations in alternative proteins will shift the balance of the UK diet, as the strategy suggests. The recent National Food Strategy called for an urgent transition to nature-friendly, agroecological farming and sustainable diets– the Net Zero strategy falls short in helping to deliver that ambition.

This is an emergency – but you wouldn’t know it from the government’s new Net Zero strategy.

There are welcome elements to the strategy. The government has signalled its ongoing support for agroforestry and tree planting. It has recognised the damaging impacts of nitrate and ammonia pollutants from slurry, generated in vast volumes by intensive livestock systems. Nods towards expanding legislative prohibitions on the burning of peat bogs are welcome, as is the suggestion that regulation might be introduced to curtail the use of manufactured nitrogen fertilisers. The government is also considering new legislative powers to improve soil management and nutrient management.

The Climate Change Committee has said that Net Zero won’t be attainable without a change in our diets, including a sizable reduction in the consumption of poultry meat – why is the government trying to dodge the difficult public conversation on dietary change? The National Food Strategy called for an urgent transition to agroecological or nature-friendly farming and sustainable diets – but the strategy falls short in helping to deliver this ambition.

It also raises lots more questions than it answers – Is the government pursuing a trade agenda that supports the UK’s climate ambitions? Does the strategy’s emphasis on bioenergy align with the government’s purported intent to protect nature and restore soil health? Is the environmental land management scheme fit for purpose?

Find this blog here on the Soil Association website and see more at the Soil Association blogs on their web site.

Saving our food - wemove.eu

People dressed as vegetables with one woman holding a sign saying "No patents on seeds"In March a bunch of screaming broccoli and tomatoes in Munich stood outside of the European Patent Office (EPO) to save the future of our food! Our partners and the voices of more than 180,000 people from our community protested to stop companies like Bayer-Monsanto or Carlsberg from having the exclusive right to grow our fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Our voices were heard! The Chairman of the EPO, Josef Kratochvíl, three days after our protest wrote us an official letter saying that he “respects the opinion of civil society groups” and ”welcomes a fruitful dialogue with these groups.” Last year, the EPO officially accepted that conventionally-bred plants are not patentable. But Bayer-Monsanto and others are abusing the European patent system to take control of our food. They want to decide what we eat, what farmers produce, what retailers sell, and how much we all have to pay for it. While the Chairman says that he respects and welcomes our opinion, this just isn’t enough. They must close all legal loopholes in patent law that allow companies to register new patents on tomatoes, barely, melons, and all natural foods. The EPO will meet again at the end of June and its chairman wants a “fruitful” dialogue. We’re currently planning another action prior to this meeting to ensure they’ll get our message: make a final decision to close loopholes and stop patents on seeds once and for all!

More detail and sign the petition from www.wemove.eu

Potato Seed Trials

As potato days around the country are cancelled so Alan Romans is offering seed potatoes which are part of the project he has been promoting for a few years now, trying to raise the next generation of blight resistors in association with the Sarvari Trust. He writes ‘I have combined 3 groups of parents to get 3 different sources of blight resistance over 3/4 years. My technique has greatly improved this season and I have thousands of seeds. I can cope with 100/200 of them at most. Nearly all of the progeny will have some blight resistance with a few having great resistance.

Most will be modern maincrop/ late maincrop ie not daylength dependent for tuberization (like eg Golden Wonder) and could have large yield potential.
To stand a fair chance of useful tubers in one season I would sow the seed in February like tomato seeds in a propagator and plant out as soon as conditions permit. Allow at least 12″ between plants if looking for size. I cram the seedlings as close together as I can to give me more to assess and am happy to get a few minitubers of the more promising to plant on in the following year. I am always impressed by how vigorous the little seedlings are.

My seed, so far, has been very good for one year but then loses much of its viability by year 2 – hence my apparent selfless generosity! It would be great if any members interested would join our very informal group and look out for commercial quality tubers coming from very blight resistant plants, which could be assessed at Bangor University in the future. Good but not essential – I am not getting any younger and the more my crosses get out there the more chance there is that something gets passed on. Regards, Alan Romans’
If you are interested in this project get in touch.

First Published in early 2021 on wyog.org.uk

Ban urban and garden pesticides

Professor Dave Goulson of Sussex University has launched a petition to end the use of pesticides in urban areas and to ban their sale for garden use. Urban parks and gardens can become a network of havens for insects and wildlife, but this is threatened by the use of pesticides when nature-friendly alternatives are available.
The petition is named: Ban urban and garden pesticides to protect bees, other wildlife and human health. You can find and sign the petition here: Petition to ban urban and garden pesticides

UPDATE August 2021:

The Government is committed to supporting alternatives to chemical pest control and recently consulted on a National Action Plan to minimise the risks and impacts associated with pesticides.

The UK Government’s priority with regards to pesticides is to ensure that they will not harm people or wildlife, or pose unacceptable risks to the environment. To this end, we operate a strict system for regulating pesticides.

A pesticide may only be placed on the market in the UK if the product has been authorised by our regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, following a thorough risk assessment, which includes impacts on people, animals and the environment. If there are found to be unacceptable risks, to pollinators for example, the product is not authorised. The risk assessment also specifically addresses the situation of people living near where pesticides are used. Pesticide users are legally required to ensure that use is kept to the area to be treated and not allowed to drift onto neighbouring properties, and there are statutory conditions of use for all authorised pesticide products that must be followed.

The Government is committed to supporting alternatives to chemical pesticides. In our 25 Year Environment Plan, the Government has outlined its approach to reducing the environmental impact of pesticides. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) lies at the heart of our approach to maximise the use of non-chemical control techniques and minimise the use of chemical pesticides. IPM is defined as the combined use of all available control methods. This means that pesticide users can take a holistic approach in reducing the associated risks (including indirect effects) whilst combating pest resistance. IPM also includes measures to optimise pesticide application, with the aim of reducing non target effects and unnecessary environmental exposure. This includes increasing the use of nature-based, low toxicity solutions and precision technologies, with the potential to enhance biodiversity, as well as benefit pollinators.

Our approach is detailed in the draft revised ‘National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides’ (NAP), which sets out the ambition to improve indicators of pesticide usage, risk and impacts. This was the subject of a recent public consultation, with over 1,500 responses received and analysed. The summary of responses will be published in due course and the revised NAP later this year.

The objective must be to reduce the risks and impacts associated with pesticides. These depend not only on the amount of pesticide used, but which pesticide is used and where use takes place. The draft revised NAP supports the development of low toxicity methods and improved advice and support for pesticides users, to reduce their impacts on human health and the environment.

We are also taking action alongside many partners to implement the National Pollinator Strategy’s provisions to help wild and managed pollinators to thrive. The Strategy sets out actions to address key risks and pressures, such as: habitat loss and fragmentation; invasive species; pests and disease; and climate change. This includes supporting IPM by restoring and creating habitats in rural and urban areas, including parks and gardens, and raising awareness across society so that people can take action themselves, by carefully considering whether or not to use pesticides in gardens, parks and other urban areas.

More broadly, our Environment Bill sets a new legal foundation for Government action to improve the environment. For example, it introduces Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRSs) to underpin the development of the Nature Recovery Network (NRN), an expanded and better-connected network of places that are richer in wildlife, more resilient to climate change and provide a range of benefits for people. LNRSs and the NRN Delivery Partnership, led by Natural England, will help bring people and organisations together at local and national levels to identify priorities and opportunities for nature recovery. We are integrating the goals for the network into a wide range of funding streams, including: land management schemes that reward environmental benefits; biodiversity net gain; and the Nature for Climate Fund.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


Sustainable Living Guide

Sustainable Living Guide

The Soil Association has created a FREE digital Sustainable Living Guide! In the guide, you’ll find lots of ways you can help restore nature, health, and a safe climate from the ground up. Covering all areas of sustainability, with a number of small changes you can make at home and advice on bigger changes you can make in your life to reduce your carbon footprint and support a sustainable future. This guide includes:

  • The latest on packaging
  • Creating a wildlife friendly garden
  • How to avoid greenwashing
  • The link between your finances and sustainability, from Triodos Bank
  • Energy saving advice, from the Centre for Sustainable Energy
  • Sustainable travel tips, from Sustrans

You can download the guide from the soil association web site www.soilassociation.org or try the link