Monday, September 1, 2014

Life - don’t talk to me about life!

Sunday, May 25th 2014: A quick post. As I cycle around the Fens I see both agriculture and nature at work. However both are managed and both for good reason. Over the last few years there has been what seems like a huge increase in Wind and Solar Farms sprouting all over the place. There is government pressure to build more housing, which requires more transport facilities, but gets interpreted as more roads.

The thing is they are all interrelated, along with a lot more besides. The UK is one of the players dependent on world trade for all sorts of things from food to energy. We are also one of the contributors to problems the world is facing such as Climate Change. We depend upon co-operation and our products are affected by world markets.

As a result we rely on world trade – to supply us with things we wouldn’t normally have, in return we sell things that other countries don’t have. How is pricing arrived at – well a mix of supply and demand, and Politics (which can involve import and export duties or cartels).

when everything is going “well” then we don’t give it much thought.  We do notice it when something happens. If the world wheat production has a poor year then things that use wheat such as bread go up in price.

The same is true  of energy, we take it for granted that we can buy petrol or heat our homes with gas. We moan when prices go up.  For instance the average cost of petrol was 87.3p in Jan 2007 and 130.2p in Jan 2014. Here is OFGEM’s explanation for the fluctuation in Gas pricing (which affects electricity prices as well as gas prices). According to this 2012 Guardian article British Gas suggested that energy prices would rise for the next ten years.

So as citizens we would hope that the Government consider the various issues and takes a long-term view on energy security and food security. Which I think is one reason for sustainable energy sources become so popular. Yes their popularity is driven by the subsidies, but whilst the idea of sustainable energy production is supported through the need to mitigate climate change I think that it also ties in to the need for long-term energy security.

The trouble is it seems to me that the elected governments lurch from on five year term to the next. So they can sometimes focus on the short-term rather than the long term.

I tend to refer to Daily Mail articles because of their somewhat dramatic headlines – I am a sucker for a dramatic headline. However the more I cycle the more interest I have been taking in agriculture. Apparently UK farmers now produce just 60 per cent of the total food the British Consume. Is this good or bad? It sounds bad, but I would hope that our Government has taken a long-term view about what is a proper percentage to target.  It is slightly more concerning that in 1991 the percentage of food produced was 75%.  So there has been quite a drop. I have also just looked at this Telegraph (Torygraph) headline that suggests that the UK population could hit 78 million in 2037 (currently 64million). This implies, assuming no growth in food production that we would be able to supply 50% of the UK’s food requirements.

The trouble is there is competition for the land – housing, solar farms, and crops for energy production. Apparently as many as 24 solar farms could be built in South Cambs alone, East Cambs is also getting its fair share.) (There are quite a few wind farms in the Fens, but they tend to be less intensive in their land use.)

Housing developments have seen just under 18,000 homes developed between 7/2001 and 3/2013 with a further 30,000 committed (map here). Yet this does not include developments like Waterbeach airfield?

Just to mix in some more pessimism apparently the UK is as risk from pests affecting our agriculture because of climate change and poor biosecurity. Even worse this could drive a global famine by 2050.

The problem is that this all puts pressure on the farmers and on the land – which can lead to us forgetting about nature – not just as somewhere nice for a picnic but as part of the natural diversity that is important for the planet’s ecosystem.  Mono-cropping also carries risk particularly as we chase higher and higher yields.  (Look how various tree diseases have spread in the UK because of bio-security issues and “mono-cropping”.)

Of course not all agriculture is necessarily about food. Flowers are also grown in the Fenlands, particularly around Spalding. I’ve seen fields full of daffodils on my way through to Upware a few years ago.

Strangely these issues don’t get much air-time in politics.

As I was cycling down White Fen Drove I saw some poppies at the corner of a field. Apparently in 1862 more opium was sold in Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Manchester than in other parts of the country.  Poppies were grown in people’s gardens for poppy-head tea.

I wonder if this field was used to grow poppies or whether these have self-seeded. Poppies are grown for morphine production in the UK. These do rather look like Papaver somniferum.

Poppies at the corner of a freshly tilled field – White Fen Drove

Don’t worry there aren’t many growing – it shows natures tenacity that they hang in there. Although we should be helping nature – not taking it for granted. as populations rise then so do things like domestic cats – which apparently kill 275million other animals per year in Britain.  Although the RSPB reports that there is not evidence that this is having any impact on bird populations.

Poppies at the corner of a freshly tilled field – White Fen Drove

Burwell Fen

Reach Lode Bridge

And finally some pictures – “Pilot’s eye views” and “Sunsets and frosts”.