Harpenden explores nature for SustFest19

As part of Harpenden Town Council’s aim to encourage people to engage and learn more about their local common and green spaces, our Commons and Greens Support Officer runs events throughout the year, exploring a wide variety of wildlife and habitats.

Harpenden Town Council takes over our Guest Blog this week looking at events being run as part of the Sustainabilty Festival 11th May to 1st June. Details of all events below can be found at sustainablestalbans.org

Spending just a few minutes each day enjoying nature is known to improve mental health and wellbeing, as well as help to create long lasting memories with children and adults alike. More information about events throughout the year can be found at http://www.harpenden.gov.uk/events-calendar as well as booking links for those below.

Bat Walks


Harpenden Common is home to two species of bat, the Common Pipistrelle and the Soprano Pipistrelle. These are species which hunt for their prey along treelines and hedgerows, making the common perfect hunting ground. What do they eat? How do we know we have these species on the Common? What can we do to continue to help these nocturnal predators of the sky? Come along to Bat Walks on Harpenden Common on the 14th and 16th May to find out.

River Dipping

29-5 58 - RIver DippingHarpenden is home to lots of special habitats and one of these is the chalk river, the river Lea, which runs through it. Chalk streams are a rare habitat, 98% of which are found in England. They boast a diversity which rivals the rainforest, from the tiniest aquatic invertebrates to a number of fish species. Can you identify a mayfly larvae or a stonefly larvae? What does a caddis fly make its home out of? Bring along some wellies and get stuck in, learn how to id these aliens of the waterways and how we look after this special habitat. Morning and afternoon session on the 29th May. 10am – 12:30pm Morning session. 2pm – 3:30pm Afternoon Session

18-5 57 Litter picking

Litter Picking on the Common

Come along and help us keep Harpenden clean by picking up a litter picker and a bag at Harpenden Cricket Club. Go the extra mile and separate the recyclable litter from the non-recyclable. Drop in session from 1pm to 3pm – Pop along at any point during that time to collect your gear.

Marvellous Mammals

Bank vole in the hand - small mammal trappingThis event is running in conjunction with the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust. Small mammals like field voles, shrews and field mice are an incredibly important part of any food chain. Able to produce between 5-10 litters of 3-12 young every year, they are plentiful in number and are eaten by birds, larger mammals, and even insects take advantage! A healthy number of small mammals can indicate a healthy habitat. Come along and see the small mammal live traps (called longworth traps) in action, and hopefully see a mouse or shrew! Learn what they look like, what they eat, and what tracks and signs these and some of our larger mammals leave behind. Location TBC – Friday 31st May 9:30am-11am.

Driving less, cycling more (and all without wearing lycra)

I’m guessing everyone reading this knows that riding a bike instead of driving a car is good for the environment. It’s also great for your health.

This week’s blog is written by Catherine Ross, Chair of the Sustainability Festival, and trustee of Sustainable St Albans.

But, it’s not easy to start. If you aren’t a bike rider then becoming one can be really daunting.  I know, because I’ve become one (very, very gradually).

In 2010, I didn’t own a bike and hadn’t ridden one since I was a teenager, apart from a slightly hysterical trip on a tandem on holiday. Now, in 2019, I cycle regularly.  Cycling is my main day-to-day way of getting around.  I’m not a leisure cyclist in lycra on a Sunday morning; I cycle to the station to get my train to work, and then I have a beaten-up old bike in London that I use to get around at the other end.  In St Albans, when I need to pop to the shops, or get my youngest to school, it’s bikes we use.

We still have a car, and it gets used for longer journeys, or when we’re in a rush… it’s not that I never drive but just that I’ve swapped a bunch of my car-miles for bike-miles and enjoy it.

So how, over 8 years, does that change slowly happen?

Step 1: The blindingly obvious; get a bike and get it working.  

If you’re going to ride a bike, you’re going to need to take the plunge and buy one or get it out of the shed and services.  Back in 2008, I didn’t want to spend money on a new bike, in case I chickened out and never rode it, so I got a cheap one from eBay for £50.  More recently, I get good second-hand bikes from Richard at Botox Bikes in St Albans, who services them before selling them on, so I trust they will work well.  woman repair bike.png

Buying second-hand is good for your wallet and good for the environment. 

If you’ve got a bike, and need it serviced, you can take it to Cycle Tech at the station (Wednesdays and Saturdays) or any of a number of bike servicing places.  Invest in a decent lock too; it’s too, too annoying when your bike gets nicked.

Step 2: Keep safe by making yourself visible. 

Drivers don’t want to hit you, and the key to safety is visibility. I go the whole hog; Hi-Viz jacket and bright lights, both on my bike and on my helmet. Be seen, be safe.

Step 3: Start small but start

11-5 5mtf highfield rollingChoose a small, achievable goal, and decide when you are going to attempt it. I decided to start by walking my bike down to the Alban Way bike path and just riding up and down the path, getting gradually steadier.  I didn’t ride on the road at all the first few times.  I was very wobbly, after 30 years not riding, and felt safer on the bike path. I practised indicating when I was on the bike path, and it took quite a few rides to get good at it.

Step 4: Gradually, gradually do more, as you feel ready. 

I took it really slowly, and built-up gradually.  At first, I started by riding on the pavement to get to the bike path.  (Pedestrians have right of way on the pavement, so I always slowed down and gave them space.) When I felt ready, I started riding on quiet roads, but I would get off and walk the bike over roundabouts and difficult traffic light junctions (especially when I needed to sit in the central box to turn right). For the first couple of years, I never rode at night. Then, over time, I got steadier and more confident, and did more. Now I can ride just about anywhere, including my previous nemesis: the double roundabouts on Hatfield Road!

Top tips: Plan ahead and work out routes you feel comfortable with. 

Often, there are three or four ways of getting where you want to go, and some will be quieter than others or avoid junctions you don’t like. Over time, I’ve worked out routes I feel happy with.

And finally, don’t be put off by the idiots.

Just as there are considerate people and selfish people, so there are considerate road users and selfish road users; some of them in cars, some of them on bikes.  Most times when I’m out on my bike, I’ll meet some of each. You need to be very aware of who is around you.  You need to be on the lookout for the careless drivers who open their door on front of your bike, and the aggressive ones who overtake you and then turn left across your path. You also need to watch for the aggressive cyclists who will cut across your path or appear from side roads at high speed.  And keep an eye on pedestrians who might step out.  As you ride more, you get a sixth sense of what’s likely to happen.  Keep your brakes covered when necessary.  You’ll have some hairy moments but keep the bigger picture in mind;

Every mile you ride is good for the planet, good for your wallet, and good for your health.

Catherine Ross

See cycling events happening during #SustFest19 – and come along to the St Albans Market Take-over on Sunday 19th May when we will have push-bikes with a road closed to try them out – and electric bikes too!

On Wednesday 29th May St Albans Cycling Campaign group presents a talk by Caroline Russell, London Assembly member – on Healthy Streets – how people-friendly, less traffic-dominated streets make our towns and cities into sociable, economically vibrant places, where everyone can choose to walk or cycle, and breathe clean air. See programme ‘talks’ for info

During SustFest 11th May – 1st June there is a Wheelie-Good’ offer for cyclists at The White Lion on Sopwell Lane, St Albans – you will get a half-price drink or free loose-leaved tea – if you cycle there!

Bike Rides:  On Saturday 11th May women are invited to join ‘Five Miles to Fabulous’ bike ride- starting 9.30am meet at Morrisons Car Park St Albans, or on 31st May there is a Breeze round Herts cycle ride for women at 40 miles with stops for tea and cake. See programme for more info and booking

If you fancy a longer ride ‘ Cycle  Chilterns’ is a 62 mile bike ride on Sunday 12 May starting out at 9.30am outside the Blacksmiths Arms, St Peters St, St Albans AL1 3HG, or a 60 mile ride ‘Wheeling to Wing and Back’ on Sunday 26th May meet up 9am. Booking needed for these bike rides – see programme

And for more cycling inspiration see this  Herts Cycling Map 

For more information and more maps on cycling locally see St Albans Council web pages on cycling




Do you eat food? Then you can change the world.

“We take our groceries for granted, but they’re a big part of every day for us all and it’s easy to forget that what we eat impacts the world in countless ways.”

We are delighted to introduce this fascinating guest blog this week from Naomi Distill, the inspiration behind Incredible Edible St Albans, a project of Food Smiles St Albans – and the winners of  Environmental Champions in the St Albans Mayor’s Pride Awards 2019.

In our modern, global world our food systems play into almost every big issue on earth;

air and water pollution, soil depletion and loss, hunger and poverty, climate change, economy, habitat loss and species extinction, animal cruelty and human slavery, rubbish and landfill, public health and antibiotic resistance.

But as author and activist Michael Pollan famously says:

“The wonderful thing about food is you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world.”

The food with the smallest environmental impact is that which grows easily on the land where you live. That way your food has grown in harmony with its environment without the need for extra inputs, it supports local people and economy, and it doesn’t need to travel, nor be wrapped, gassed and refrigerated for travel. And there’s no better way to reduce those food miles and to know that your food is naturally grown than to grow some of it yourself.

2017 working together2

FoodSmiles St Albans growing site

Healthy food without chemicals and food for the soul

Growing even a little of your own food has countless benefits. Not only do you get healthy food grown without chemicals, without a big carbon footprint and without a plastic wrapper. It is more nutritious and often more delicious, because it’s perfectly fresh and because the soils in biodiverse home gardens and allotments tend to be much more nutrient-rich than tired farm soils bearing monocultures. It’s cheap, easy to do and extemely rewarding.

You get to reconnect with natural cycles and processes that are all but forgotten in modern life..


..and you get to spend time outdoors, in contact with the earth, hearing the sounds and witnessing the intricacies of nature and breathing fresh air.

You get a little exercise too, and it’s a perfect way to connect with other like-minded people if you decide to take on an allotment or join a community growing scheme.

But I don’t know how

A lot of people seem afraid to try growing food because they feel they don’t know how, but there really is nothing simpler than putting a few seeds in some compost, keeping it moist and seeing what happens, and you have little to lose!


Plants WANT to grow – they WANT to succeed and fruit and prosper –

..so many will take care of themselves if you just provide for their basic needs, and the back of the seed pack usually has a few useful tips too (ALWAYS to be taken as guidelines, not gospel!) and there are many books and websites available to guide you along the way. As with learning to cook, you won’t get everything right all the time, but you’ll learn as you go along and improve each and every time you try!

flower peas

Where to begin

Identify where you’re going to grow..

..choosing an area with as much direct sunshine and natural light as possible.

Next, choose your veg. A great way to do this is to first think of the vegetables you already eat most at home – though if you subsist on aubergines, sweet potatoes and chickpeas some compromise might be a good idea; some crops are easy while others have trickier needs, so it’s a good idea to start with the simplest or else grow a mix!

The absolute easiest crops to grow in our climate are potatoes, French beans, broad beans, Swiss chard, courgettes, tomatoes, beetroots, lettuces and salad leaves.


Swiss Chard is easy to grow

Short on space

red radishThough you’d get more from a garden patch, many useful crops can be grown in pots on your patio, front drive or even a balcony, and many people grow significant amounts of food this way. Focus on crops that give a continuous harvest for a period, such as tomatoes, beans, and salad greens, and be sure to water (and feed) well as pots often dry out faster than the earth.

Short on time?

Perennial crops save loads of time and last year-round or come back each spring, with no need for digging the soil, sowing, transplanting and so on each year. Fruit bushes, strawberries, rhubarb and woody herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano etc.) are all reliable low-maintenance perennials..

..but also consider searching out perennial greens such as Caucasian vining spinach, perennial kale, sea beet, wild rocket, sorrel and more, as well as reliable self-seeders such as purslane, winter purslane and land cress.

Once planted, your food plot will need little care other than occasional weeding and thinning, and annual pruning of fruit bushes.

Short on sunshine

Leafy crops are a good choice for shady plots; try lettuces, rocket, cabbage, kale, spring onions, spinach and chard.

If your plot gets sunlight for half the day, most root crops will be okay too; potatoes, carrots and beetroots are all well worth a try, and so are peas and broad beans.

beansand carrots

What are you waiting for?

Now is the perfect time to start planning, whether you’d like to rent an allotment, revamp the garden or just start a single pot on your patio. Grow a little something this year and see how rewarding, healthy and delicious it can be!

Or if you’re still not ready to go it alone, consider joining a community growing group such as FoodSmiles St Albans, where members work together to grow food and learn growing skills –

or join us at one of our Incredible Edible gardens where you can see how we do it and grill us with your gardening questions!

Tips for low-carbon growing:

  • Buy only peat-free compost (or make your own, but clean and sterile commercial compost will give you a higher success rate when seed-sowing).
  • Grow from organic seeds or seeds that you (or a friend) have saved. Organic seeds come from strains of plants that haven’t had to rely on chemical fertilisers or pesticides, so their offspring shouldn’t have to rely on them either.
  • Sow at the correct time, when light levels and temperatures are adequate for what you’re trying to grow – this avoids the need for growlights or heated propagators. Often a seed packet will tell you the very earliest time you could possibly get away with sowing a seed, but aim a bit later to give it the best chance. On a similar note, do you best to grow plants which are suitable for your location; plants with less-than-desirable growing conditions often need more input to keep them healthy. Consider growing more of the things you grow well, and swapping some with a friend who succeeds with different crops.
  • Avoid chemical fertilisers and pesticides, which have a high carbon footprint and harm the soil, the insect life and possibly you! Most pest problems on a small scale can be controlled by hand (removal or squishing!), with a mild home-made soap spray, or by using insect-proof mesh to keep insects off.
  • Install a water butt to harvest rainwater for your garden.
  • Don’t be tempted by all the fancy equipment that’s available! Buy only what you need, or share tools with a friend, and buy quality that will last. And try not to buy plastic pots – many gardeners will have a surplus they’re happy to share with you, or you can easily find inspiration online for repurposing other containers for food-growing.

Naomi Distill, FoodSmiles St Albans 2019 (All photos from Naomi Distill).


If you are intrigued and want to find out more – FoodSmiles St Albans are taking part in SustFest19 with at least three events during the festival.

Sat 11 May: FoodSmiles Open Day, and site tour – with cake!  Hammonds End Farm site

Sun 12 May: Incredible Edible, Civic Centre St Albans

Sat 25th May: Incredible Edible Russell AVe, St Albans

Also see Open Food Gardens 2019 programme

onions leeks

Heading for Extinction (and what to do about it)

Are you worried about climate change?  David Attenborough certainly is.  Addressing international climate talks last year, he called it “Our greatest threat in thousands of years…. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

We are really excited to present our  guest blog this week  from Dr Emily Spry – one of the founding members of the newly formed Extinction Rebellion St Albans

According to mainstream scientists, we have 12 years to limit the coming climate catastrophe.  Our current course leads to more extreme weather events, sea rises, food shortages, mass extinctions and large areas of our planet becoming literally uninhabitable.  Most worryingly, as temperatures rise, there is a tipping point, where feedback loops, such as the lack of sea ice leads to further warming, kick in and cannot be stopped by reducing fossil fuel use.  In other words, not just polar bear extinction but human extinction is very much on the table.

Ok, so why on earth is no one doing anything?!  Surely, this is an emergency?! Individual actions (pledging not to fly, insulating your house etc) are all well and good but rely on the few informed citizens making those choices, against the prevailing culture.  What we need is rapid and massive change at all levels of the system.

rebel for life banner

XR rebels 2018

Extinction Rebellion was born in 2018 to use the powerful tools of non-violent civil disobedience to bring the issue to centre stage.   Hundreds of Rebels, from all walks of life, have blocked roads, disrupted oil industry meetings and Government buildings and many have been arrested.  It’s a fast-growing movement, with over 150 groups around the country and many more springing up across the world.  The biggest actions so far will be happening in London from 15th April 2019.  Everyone is welcome and everyone is needed to help this movement grow.

XR worldwide

Extinction Rebellion groups worldwide – March 2019

I have two young kids.  I feel scared and deeply sad to think that when my eldest daughter turns 18, it will already be too late to limit the worst of the climate catastrophe.  By that point, human extinction may already be inevitable.

I can’t be sure that this Rebellion will help kickstart the changes we need, but there’s no doubt that carrying on as usual will not.  Please come along this Tuesday 12th March and find out more. Everyone is welcome, everyone is needed.

Professor Kate Jeffery and Dr Emily Spry will give a talk Heading for Extinction (and What to do About It) on Tuesday, March 12, 2019 at 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM at Trinity URC, 1 Beaconsfield Rd, St Albans AL1 3RD.

Dr Emily Spry


Follow us on social media to find out more.




And then they came for the cheese…

Excellent post from Make Wealth History on cheese!

Make Wealth History

A few weeks ago I wrote about dairy production and its impact on the environment. I had quite a few comments from friends and family about that post, and almost all of them were variations of “no! not the cheese!”

A lot of people would find it easier to give up meat than to give up cheese, so I think I should say a bit more about it. And the first thing to say is don’t panic – you don’t have to give it up if you don’t want to. Living responsibly isn’t about giving things up all the time. It’s a matter of making informed choices. In the case of cheese, that may mean less or different. The future needn’t be bleak and cheese-less.

Let’s start with why it matters. Cheese is a climate change problem because it’s made with milk. Milk comes from cows, and there are quite…

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