I love the New Year - a fresh start and new adventures to plan! After the gluttony and excess of Christmas, it always feels so refreshing to clear out the old.
This year has started with a difference. I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a coppicing course with one of my favourite eco-heroes, Ben Law, accompanying volunteers from the very excellent Kindlewoods CIC, a project that manages woodland and delivers woodland wellbeing programmes for people experiencing mental health challenges. I love what Kindlewoods is about - it's one of the things I'm most grateful to be involved with and well worth a moment of investigation.
We arrived for our stay, at the Sustainability Centre, late at night - too late to see much at all - but we had a warm and comfortable bed and in the morning we were able to investigate a little more that it had to offer. The site is large and home to a variety of habitats and some beautiful timber buildings. Everything is geared towards showcasing environmental gains - our heating was provided by a biomass boiler, all the food provided was organic and Fairtrade and there were posters and information sheets displayed throughout. Short days meant less exploring that maybe we could, but it's on the revisit list!
There is a general consensus that wildflower area = low maintenance. If this is something you're considering on that basis, STOP now! Stunning in full flower, meadows are very special places, and having been lucky enough in a past life to spend a hazy summer surveying them in upper Teesdale, they hold a special place in my heart. But, like all areas of planting, they require care and attention.
I'm going to start straight off and state that I really don't think there is anything eco about holidaying. But I didn't half need a break!
I once read that you should build a life from which you don't need a holiday - sage advice - but not necessarily something that the majority can do. Whilst I probably feel less inclined than most to depart from normal life (as normal life for me is pretty enjoyable!) it is nice, once in a while, to leave the distractions behind and find a new corner to explore.
Flying is ruled out immediately - not just on account of the environmental impact, but also because there are too many of us to make it feasible! And although a foreign jaunt is appealing, we are lacking in passports and the means to make it happen comfortably. The weather has been so fine this year though, that actually staying on home turf is not a bad option!
The UK has plenty of unchartered territory for us, and with vaguely predictable weather, making an active choice to stay in the country was perfectly viable. The first choice, Mull, however was ruled out last minute due to rain and low temperatures, and instead we picked Norfolk, somewhere we had never ventured.
We managed to pick up a colony of bees a few weeks ago (literally pick up, in a box in the boot of the car!), which we've safely rehomed in an empty hive that had been kicking around the garden, wishfully thinking, for a couple of years.
We have no aspirations for honey this year - we will have done well to keep them alive through winter. (The colony is a swarmed one and only little. Bee colonies need to have enough bodies to collect food to store to keep them through the cold months and sadly I really don't think they're going to be able to do that). But honey or not, we wanted to inspect the hive and make sure things were going OK, especially after ferocious storms a week ago.
This week it has been all about the bees!
On Wednesday, I was lucky enough to meet a lovely group of novice beekeepers on a little 'Intro to Beekeeping' course at the Senior Connections project at the TS3 Community Church in east Middlesbrough. Teaching is one of my favourite things to do, but bees are so fascinating that it's an easy task and there's always a group of very willing students. After tasting eight different honeys (eucalyptus was the favourite!) we rattled through a huge quantity of new facts and figures with the aim of explaining a little of what happens in a hive and how a colony functions, as well as what sunstances the little ladies make that can prove useful and a viable alternative to some of the less natural products that often surround us.
I managed to escape for an hour or so yesterday and freed some time to walk to a meeting, something that sadly hasn't been so possible lately.
When I walk anywhere, I tend to do so with the eye of a forager! I noted about myself some time ago that my eyes are constantly darting from ground to sky and scanning around for edibles. I don't know whether this is something that's innate, a hark back to when food was scarce, or whether it's something learnt by means of having a slightly food obsessed nature!
This time of year is excellent for the forager because it's the time when the fruit trees are in blossom. Short of having actual apples dangling from the branches, it makes easy work of spotting potential bounties realised in the autumn. Cherries and plum relatives (plums themselves, but also gages and blackthorns for sloes) are currently blossoming here; apples and pears won't be too far behind now. I made a mental of note of where to return later in the year!
I almost submitted an application for some work with a rather lovely little social enterprise called Kindlewoods CIC this week. It seems they provide opportunities for people to enjoy woodlands and forests to improve their wellbeing, learning the kind of skills that help maintain these special places as they go. I really, really like the ethos behind the company, but on reflection, it's not quite where my skills lie (I'm talking accountancy things here. I can cobble as necessary but it's definitely not something I enjoy!) The application involved the usual CV and cover letter, but I was also asked to describe what I loved about nature. Now there's a question!
I am a twitcher. There, I've said it. I love the birds in my garden like they were my own children (maybe a little less...) and spend the same amount of time gazing out of the window at their antics as most 'normal' people spend watching telly!
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.