Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Improving Debdale Pond

Julie Howell holding loppers
Not sure I intended to be so 'hands on' but I really enjoyed it!

An exciting update for you.

Just over a year ago I wrote a blog entitled 'Watch These Spaces'. In the blog, I talked about the pond at Debdale in Orton Waterville and the parish council's plans to return it to a better state for the benefit of local wildlife.

This is how the pond looked then, in August 2016...

Debdale pond a year ago was in a mess

Fast forward to August 2017 and work has begun.

On the Sunday of the August bank holiday, I joined members of Peterborough Conservation Volunteers as they raked out the pond and cleared the scrub, using pieces of wood that might otherwise be discarded to reinforce the boundaries around this important site.

It was a very hot day and it was very hot work. Those of us working raking out the pond were given very long rakes and the conditions we very stinky and very muddy. I joked about falling over... and then slipped over, but no one avoided a good coating in mud.

Julie Howell raking Debdale pond
Whatever your ability you can have a go!
I did my best and like to think I made a modest difference.

Roger Proudfoot raking Debdale pond
Roger Proudfoot, Orton Waterville Parish Councillor and
joint coordinator (with me!) of Peterborough Green Party
Julie's dirty hand
Inevitably I slipped over. Sadly no one filmed it - I might have raised £250 from You've Been Framed.

Posted by Julie Howell on Sunday, 27 August 2017

Making progress

The pond is a former agricultural pond. Most of Waterville parish was farmland a century ago. Peterborough Conservation volunteers told me that when working on the pond in the past they had retrieved a number of old cattle bones from it. We retrieved an animal bone on this occasion too, although it is more likely that this one was thrown into the pond by someone who had just eaten takeaway food.

At the start of the day the pond looked like this. The pond has good tree cover which means many dead branches had either fallen or been thrown into it. There was also a fair amount of rubbish in the pond, hurled in by passing humans.

A group of volunteers raking Debdale pond
Hard at work to clear the pond of branches and debris.

At the end of the day the pond looked like this! All of the harmful and potentially harmful debris has been removed and the pond is now a safer and more suitable environment for local wildlife, including great crested newts.

Debdale pond after being raked
Wow. What a difference.

Pile of wood used to create a dead hedge
Fallen branches are used to make 'dead hedges' to improve protection of the site.

Peterborough Conservation Volunteers

Peterborough Conservation Volunteers break for tea
They even make the tea!

PCV is a local nature conservation group who help manage wildlife sites in and around Peterborough. They meet every Sunday to carry our many varied activities. They practice traditional skills and over a period of time you will find yourself helping them with coppicing, hedge laying, fencing and dry stone walling. Over the years they have formed close working links with the local Wildlife Trust, Natural England, The Woodland Trust and the local council. Much of their work is closely linked with the protection of locally or nationally rare species.

To find out more, visit Peterborough Conservation Volunteers.

Get involved

The next pond clearance will be on Sunday 22nd October 2017 from 10am. This time, Cherry Orton Pond at the top of Cherry Orton Road will be getting attention. Residents are very welcome to come along. You can watch or you can get directly involved - just be sure to wear appropriate clothing for getting wet and dirty.

Don't worry that you don't have much ability when it comes to this kind of work. I have multiple sclerosis and another condition known as sjogrens syndrome (tennis player Venus Williams also has this one) that mean I have pain in my shoulders and very little upper body strength - although I have very strong legs as I walk everywhere! I generally feel a bit left out from physical activity, but the PCV volunteers made everyone feel very welcome and stressed that we could all so as much or as little as we wanted to do.

Although I really enjoyed raking the pond it made me tired very quickly, so I switched to clearing the forest path for a while. I am very proud to say that I cleared the little stretch of path that you see in this picture.

Section of path cleared by Julie Howell
I cleared this section of path ALL ON MY OWN. Very proud. 

So don't be put off by lack of ability. Most of the volunteers are aged 50+ and it's your willingness to improve your local area that counts. If you can't join in as fully as you'd like to, that is no problem as the team is clearly very pleased that local people show an interest in conserving their local nature reserves.

FACT: The 'proper' name for Cherry Orton Pond is 'Top Town Pond'. Cherry Orton Road only got its name in 1950. Before this, the road leading up through Orton Waterville village was known as Town Street, although it seems local people tended to refer to it is 'the village road'. I'm told that some residents of Orton Goldhay know the pond as 'Black Pond' but no one seems to know how this name came into use. If you have any ideas, please let me know!

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: I’m in Debdale pond in Orton Waterville this morning with some volunteers and people from the Wildlife Trusts to clear out this pond because there’s a lovely pond here that could be made into a feature for residents to enjoy to an extent but most importantly it’s a nature pond and we have great crested newts here. So I’m doing really sweaty work clearing out the pond. I’ve got my welly boots on even though it’s August. I’ll show you what we’re doing here. So I’ve got this great long rake to rake the muck out and we’re just removing branches, you see the branches, well some have fallen from the trees but a lot have been chucked in by human beings. We’re also clearing the paths around here so that people can easily get through to here so they can enjoy what nature provides. But we’re not turning it into a municipal type of pond. If you look up you’ll see there’s not an awful lot of daylight comes through because of the tree cover. There’s quite a lot of us here today. It’s lovely. It’s really hot actually. Sunday morning. Something I can’t get across to you. I’m using this rake in order to pull out all of the debris that’s in the pond. But it stinks. My goodness, does it stink. So it’s not the most pleasant. But it’s really, really worthwhile so I’m very pleased to do this. And it’s great to be out on a Sunday morning. It’s fantastic.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Dog Poo: Get the Message

Just last week I told you about my encounter with an Orton resident whom I had observed throwing a bag of dog poo into a tree. We're getting pretty used to this kind of behaviour in Orton, sadly. But today I learned that it's a big, stinky problem in Ferry Meadows too.

Julie Howell by the dog poo tree
Not what you expect to see when you look up into a tree

In a bold, brave and eye-catching move, the team at Ferry Meadows has 'decorated' a tree and the area around it with bags of 'dog poo' to show visitors how much poo the rangers have to pick up in a single week. Given there are dog bins everywhere you look in Ferry Meadows it really is very disappointing to learn how big this problem has become for the park.

Dog poo sign in English
It would be great to have signs in other languages 

I think the installation is great (not everyone agrees). However, I think there is one key way in which it could be improved. As far as I could see, the only signage explaining the point of the dog poo tree was in English. Very many visitors to Ferry Meadows do not have English as their first language, and some do not speak or read any English at all. To be truly inclusive, and to make sure the message reaches everyone who walks their dog in Ferry Meadows, the Nene Park Trust should create sign language in all of Peterborough's most frequently spoken languages. We take it for granted that everyone appreciates that dangers of dog poo but I'm not convinced that this is so.

Dog poo tree
That's an awful lot of dog poo.

p.s. the bags in this installation contain stones, not dog poo - I checked!

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Farewell Waterville Ash

Ash tree
Waterville Ash Tree.
How we'll all miss it when it's gone.

UPDATE Tuesday 1st May 2018

The end. The last of the ash tree was carefully and skilfully removed by the city council contractors today. Just look at the girth of that trunk. A young oak tree has been planted next to it which will watch over the people of Waterville for centuries to come.

Felling of the Waterville ash

Felling of the Waterville ash

UPDATE Friday 1st December 2017

I appeared live on BBC Radio Cambs at the foot of the tree (at 7am!) to talk about why trees like the Waterville Ash are so important for Peterborough.

UPDATE Wednesday 11th October 2017

Some wonderful news and some sad news.

Let's deal with the sad news first. The branches have now been removed from the tree and it now looks like this. The gloomy sky says it all.

Ash tree with branches removed
It's very hard to look at this without feeling emotional.
And now for the wonderful news.

Peterborough Green Party Chairman Roger Proudfoot's photograph has won the Peterborough Environment City Trust's (PECT) 'iconic trees' photography competition. Roger's wonderful photograph of the tree in all its magnificence will be framed and placed somewhere for the public to enjoy for years to come.

Award-winning photo of the ash tree by Roger Proudfoot
Award-winning photo by Roger Proudfoot

UPDATE Monday 9th October 2017

The tree will be felled today. The city council and the parish council acknowledge how much this iconic tree means to local people. After 4:30pm today (NO EARLIER) residents are welcome to visit the site to collect a piece of felled wood as a memento of this historic tree. Only the crown (the branches) will be removed. The trunk will be left as a monolith while the parish council decides what to do with is after consultation with local residents.

I nipped down there earlier and collected a piece of a branch that was taken down today.

Slice of ash tree branch
I counted roughly 110 rings.

Ash tree being felled
If the branch is 110 years old the whole tree must be at least 300 years old.

Ash tree logs
Residents are welcome to visit the site after 4:30pm daily and take a piece of wood away as a souvenir. 

It's something of an icon in Orton Waterville. So we were all really sad to be told that our beautiful, cherished ash tree, that is somewhere in the region of 300-650 years old, is due to be felled. Not only is the tree old, it has become diseased, and its close proximity to traffic on the corner of Oundle Road and Cherry Orton Road means it cannot be left to stand where it poses a risk to human life.

Everyone who lives in or passes through Orton Waterville will be familiar with this tree. Residents born here have known it all their lives, as did generations before them. It's possible the tree was here when Henry VIII was a lad.

The fungus that has destroyed the ash is plain for all to see.

Having listened very carefully to the opinion of Peterborough City Council's Tree Officer we understand that the tree is now in its last days and that nothing can be done to reverse its decline. Rotten branches could fall at any time, while the fungus at the tree's roots has caused enormous damage to its structure.

On Wednesday 23rd August 2017, a group of Peterborough Green Party members, parish councillors and local residents gathered to say farewell to this mighty ash tree.

Farewell Waterville Ash
Posted by Julie Howell on Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Like many of you, while we accept that the tree will be taken down, we are concerned that the wood is used in a way that benefits the local community and we also hope that a suitable, mature tree is planted in its place.

If you would like to add your voice to ours, let the city council know what you would like to happen to the wood (note that ash isn't suitable for outdoor furniture) by contacting the council at treespeterborough@amey.co.uk or call 01733 425 425.

Video transcript: Julie Howell: We're at the site of a beautiful tree in Orton Waterville in Peterborough with members of Peterborough Green Party and also other parish councillors and friends who love this tree. The reason we’re here is to support the Woodland Trust which has a fundraising initiative called Invite a Tree to Tea and it was very obvious to us which tree to choose because this beautiful ash tree in Orton Waterville is much loved and sadly it’s come to the end of its life. So we gather here today to celebrate it. We accept that it has to go but it’s a good opportunity to talk about the tree. If I just give you a glimpse of the tree you'll see it’s an absolute beauty. As you can see there are birds up in the tree. As you can also see it’s near a very busy main road which is one of the reasons why it’s deemed a problem now that it’s in trouble. It’s one of those things, isn’t it… it wouldn’t be the cultural icon that it is if it was in the middle of nowhere but because it’s by a road it poses dangers now that it’s in trouble. Local people were meant to be alerted to the problem by this tiny little sign that no one could read so now this new sign has been put up to warn everyone that the tree’s removal is imminent. I’m going to have a chat with a few people about what’s happening with the tree and what it means to them. Peterborough has ambitions to be an ‘environmental city’ and the Peterborough Environmental City Trust (PECT) has planted a ‘Forest of Peterborough’ and is just about to plant its 100,000th tree in Peterborough and is asking for photos of iconic trees. What a shame this is one that is about to go. Local residents I’ve spoken to are concerned that it’s replaced with something just as iconic and beautiful. So now it’s come to the end of its life I’d like to talk to a couple of local residents about how they feel about the tree. The first person I’ll speak to is Neil Mitchell and Neil is a local historian in Peterborough. Neil, what do you know about this tree?

Neil Mitchell: It’s been here ever since I was a small boy coming to visit my relations in the village. It is an iconic tree. I’m sorry to hear that it’s going to come down due to diseases. It saddens me.

Julie Howell: Barry Warne is a local to the area as well. What are your thoughts about the loss of this great tree?

Barry Warne: It’s very sad. I often get a bus into town from the stop just up there and I would stand there admiring it. It’s beautiful the way it covers the road and seeing the snow and frost on it. It just looks marvellous. I’ve got an old friend who cycles to The Windmill (pub) every day up the hill and he’s noticed when they’ve made changes to it and lopped branches off it and such like and it’s a conversation piece in The Windmill. A lot of people do care about it around here.

Julie Howell: Notice how busy the road is. I think thousands and thousands of people must see this tree every day and I would imagine that when it’s lost people are going to notice. People may think oh it’s just a tree, just replace it, but when this is gone – as you can see it stretches right over the road – people are going to miss it. I’m going to turn now to Roger Proudfoot of Peterborough Green Party and also a parish councillor here. I know Roger has been speaking to the tree officer at the city council about why the tree has to go. What do you know, Roger?

Roger Proudfoot: Basically, it’s quite a sick tree. It’s got this fungi at the bottom of the tree that’s eating into the main buttress roots which is weakening the overall structure of the tree. Potentially in the next winds or gales there is a concern that the tree could come down. Obviously we’re on a busy junction, you can hear the vehicles going past. Obviously there are pedestrians going to and fro about their business. It’s a very sad occasion because we estimate the tree is about 20 feet in girth. We’ll try and measure it in a moment to get a better idea, which could put it anywhere between 300-500 years old. And when you think about the history that this tree has overseen it could even go back to Tudor times and Henry VIII. It’s quite amazing really. That’s why we’re here today, to acknowledge the contribution the tree has made to the wellbeing of all the residents who have lived here long before we all came around and we should note its passing. It’s very unfortunate. We’ve spoken to the tree specialist at the city council and he’s never seen as sick a tree as this with this particular fungus in all his experience. He’s as passionate about trees as we are and he’s very sad to see it go too. But the risk to the public outweighs the tree being left. If it was in a field or woodland it would probably last maybe 50-100 years longer.  But it is a sick tree, you can see some of the branches that have died. There could be other factors as well. It is a tree that’s coming to the end of its natural life. Sadly, even the mighty ash tree and oak trees do come to the end of their lives at a certain point.

Julie Howell: I got an email from a resident today saying that they hope the council will do something useful with the wood because this is a lot of wood that’s coming down. Maybe build something here that’s of use to local people here and also that they’ll plant something appropriate and not saplings.

Roger Proudfoot: There isn’t a plan at the moment so it’s something for discussion and if anybody’s got any views about that they should let the parish council and the city council know. There are contact details on the tree removal sign. Perhaps a more mature oak or another ash tree. I know that ash trees can be affected by ‘die back’ and young ash trees are particularly vulnerable so with this fungus thing here it may not be appropriate to plant another ash here. An older oak tree rather than a sapling might be something more appropriate. But let’s hear what the people would like to see.

Fiona Radic: If you wanted to you could cut straight across that tree and get a table top or twenty out of it. Also, with some timbers if you’ve got an infection it actually adds to the appeal of the wood for people who make ornamental things out of wood. It’s a great pity it’s an ash because ashes are getting ash die back so ashes are really important. If you can keep an ash alive that’s a good thing.

Julie Howell: What’s the measurement? 5.2 metres in girth! So how old is that, Roger? Can we do a calculation from that?

Roger Proudfoot: The average for a tree apparently, the growth rate throughout its life, bearing in mind a tree grows fairly fast when it’s young and then slows down when it’s older, is about 2.5cms per year so this tree is at least 208 years old (depending on the growing conditions). There has been some work done to try and estimate the age of trees and for an ash, if it’s a good site with shelter, which this is, a five metre tree would be up to about 300 years old. If we could class this as a woodland boundary it could be as much as 650 years old. Certainly over 300 years and possibly more. There’s obviously a lot of value in the wood. It’s obviously very expensive to take down. And it is going to be very hard to cut. It’s going to have to be cut in chunks, particularly when you get down to the main trunk. What we’re hoping is that some of the wood can be used to put to good purpose. Ash isn’t a very good outdoor wood but it’s one of the best woods for crafting and maybe some of the local crafters may be able to make something with the wood. That’s something we’re currently discussing with the city council as to whether or not some of the wood can be put to good use to pay tribute to the tree.

Julie Howell: To finish off with some moments of reflection I thought it would be quite nice if we thanked the tree and spent a few moments thinking about what the tree has meant to Orton Waterville. I’m going to ask Peterborough resident Ruth Fiddy to read out a poem in a moment that’s called The Old Ash Tree by a lady called Susanna Moodie, who was born in the UK then emigrated to Canada. It’s interesting to note that Susanna Moodie was born in 1805 and the tree was already here then! That’s how old this tree is. She died in 1883 but the tree has kept on going, which is quite something to contemplate. The Old Ash Tree by Susanna Moodie.  

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Dog Poo: What's the Right Thing to Do?

Dog poo bag hanging from a tree

It's a fairly common sight in Orton, but I'd never caught someone in the act before. I'm writing this in August, with Christmas some four months away, so why are local residents hanging things from trees?

I'm afraid I'm talking about dog poo. More specifically, the bags of dog poo that dangle from trees around Orton.

Why do dog owners do this? Why bother to pick up after your dog and pop the mess into a bag only to then throw the bag into a tree?

As I'd had the misfortune of observing someone do it, I thought I'd ask them (to protect their identity, and because they promised me they wouldn't do it again, I'll keep the identity of the dog owner and the location to myself this time).

The answer didn't really surprise me: lack of dog bins and too much distance between dog bins.

Why are there so few dog bins in Orton?

This largely depends on where in Orton you are.

Residents have complained to me about the lack of dog bins across Orton for some time now (Orton Southgate in particular). Except Orton Northgate that is, where there are five dog bins in close proximity to one another. These red dog bins are infrequently emptied, having put there by the Northgate developer's managing agent. An overflowing dog bin is no pleasure to live by.

The reason we don't have more dog bins in other parts of Orton (and elsewhere in Peterborough) is the cost of emptying them. But should this really make a difference? What happened to 'take your litter home with you'? I wouldn't dream of throwing a bag of dog poo anywhere but in a bin, and I'm quite rebellious.

The city council says that all bins in Orton now double as dog waste bins so if you see any kind of bin you can put your bagged dog waste into it.

"If I hang it on the tree the council will collect it"

Err... not necessarily. Many of the bags are plucked from branches by volunteers like me who don't wish to live in a public dog toilet.

While you may believe that hanging your dog poo bags on trees sends a message to the city council it really doesn't. What it does is make our environment look nasty.

Across our city, Peterborough City Council is introducing PSPOs (public space protection orders) that forbid any kind of littering. If you are caught in breach of a PSPO you will be fined. It won't be a council worker who approaches you, but a member of the Kingdom team, a third party company the city council has contracted to watch us for any wrongdoing and which benefits financially when we do something 'wrong'. Personally, I think it will be a very sad day for Orton if a PSPO were to be introduced here to kerb something as basic as dog poo management.

Find a stick & flick it

So what are you supposed to do if your dog does a poo and there is no dog poo bin nearby?

1. Ideally, bag the poo and carry it with you to the nearest bin or take it home with you. This is the best thing to do. Dog poo is dangerous and not just to humans. It can cause harm to delicate ecosystems too. Taking it home and disposing of if with your household waste or placing it into a council public litter bin is the best thing to do. Please note that ANY public bin will do. It doesn't have to be a designated dog bin. If disposing of it at home, it should go in your black 'general waste' bin to be taken to landfill.

2. If you are unable to carry it to the nearest bin or to your home then, please, DO NOT BAG IT. When you throw bagged dog mess into a tree or hedgerow you introduce plastic to the natural environment that takes many years to biodegrade. It also looks horrible when, come autumn, the leaves fall from the trees. Instead of bagging it, find a stick and flick the poo it into the bushes. While this is not the ideal solution, it is infinitely better to do this than to throw a plastic bag into a tree.

3. If you have forgotten to bring dog poo bags on your walk, use the 'stick and flick' method to flick the dog poo away from places where people walk.

Julie flicking dog poo into undergrowth with a stick
No dog poo bags?
Flick it into the undergrowth with a stick.
Suitable for keen golfers (put, don't pitch).

What about 'biodegradable bags'?

Biodegradable bags still look awful hanging from a tree or on the ground and they still take several months to biodegrade. The introduction of dog poo to the natural environment, whether in a biodegradable bag or not, is harmful. Dog poo contains many toxins that hurt the environment, and harmful bacteria found in dog poo can pass from other animals to people and can also pollute our waterways.

Do use biodegradable bags, but bin them so they will be disposed of in landfill sites where they will biodegrade, not in our trees or hedgerows.

If you can't find a public bin, it is better to leave the dog poo where it is than to bag it and throw it in a tree. Better still, bag it and take it home with you for disposal in your black bin. Failing that, find a stick and flick it away from the path. Please stop adding to the amount of plastics in our environment. Out of sight may be out of mind as far as you are concerned but the harm that plastics do to our wildlife and natural environment is far greater than you might imagine.

Dog poo bag on the ground
The bags often fall out of the trees onto the forest floor where they
suffocate the earth and take years to biodegrade