Thursday, 17 October 2013

Action 21’s blog has moved!

Please visit our current blog at for the latest eco updates, sustainability info, tips on living sustainably and news from Action 21. 

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Food. Part 2: Chemicals in Farming

Research has found that many chemicals used in conventional farming practices can have harmful effects on human health – including on farm workers themselves. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated around 20,000 farm chemical-related illnesses each year in agricultural areas.

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Insecticides are used to kill the bugs that commonly feed on crops. Certain insecticides contain materials that can affect our health, but the most devastating impact is on wildlife. Insect-eaters such as sparrows and starlings – once considered almost pests themselves – have plummeted in numbers in the past two decades.

•Farmers use fungicides to kill fungus that grows on and destroys crops. Fungicides often come into direct contact with the area of the crop that is eaten. They can contain harmful metals such as mercury and copper.

Herbicides kill off ‘weeds’ – and natural ecologies on field boundaries, including those insects that depend on certain wild plants

Rodenticides are used by farmers to kill rodents such as mice and rats, which feed on crops. They are also poisonous to other mammals, including us.

Artificial hormones. Used by farmers to increase the growth of livestock. They have been shown to have harmful effects on the animals, as well as potentially to humans who consume the meat.

Antibiotics. Farm animals are now routinely fed antibiotics to prevent infections. This encourages the development of resistance to the drugs we too depend on.

By choosing organically grown food, we avoid supporting the use of these chemicals, and of course, putting them in our bodies. But more on that to come!

Sources - Harmful farm chemicals:,
Information on current UK practice:

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Delicacy or disgust: consuming insects for a healthier body and environment

It may be of great surprise to many that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation is advocating a rise in the consumption of insects, targeting the “cultural bias” of the Western world. With obesity levels doubling to 500 million people since the 1980s, health concerns alone are a motivational force to implement these nutritious dishes. Comparable to the protein levels of minced beef per 100g (27.4g), caterpillar and grasshopper provide similar values (28.2g and 20.6g respectively), yet the time taken to convert insect food to protein can be up to 12 times faster than that of livestock. Additionally, insects consist of essential minerals such as iron, and healthy fats otherwise lacking in the typical western diet.

Insects also prove to be significantly less harmful to the environment than livestock such as pigs, due to the lower ammonia levels produced. Ammonia contributes to the long life greenhouse gas level of methane; once emitted it remains in the atmosphere for decades to centuries. Typically insects reproduce rapidly with a minimal carbon footprint – a far cry from the longevity involved in rearing cattle and the miles of land required to feed and transport them.

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Two billion people globally eat insects on a daily basis for their nutritious and convenience value. While this consumption occurs within the developing regions of Africa and Asia, the Western world seemingly turns a stiff upper lip to the possibility of incorporating these meals in their diets. If the UN is successful in promoting the health and environmental well-being associated with insects to the public, this may open agriculture and export opportunities to businesses in these developing regions.(BBC 2013 and Thomson Reuters 2013)

By Action 21 volunteer Ellen Kane

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Sustainability at home: Audit your energy

Each day, energy and money silently leaks from your home via the walls, windows and sockets. Auditing energy is a useful way to understand where such losses are occurring. This can be undertaken by a professional or carried out as a DIY job. DIY is a cost-effective approach, using the last 12 months’ utility bills and a Home Yard Energy Stick by ENERGY STAR (or other auditing companies). In five minutes you can obtain comparative energy efficiencies of your house and similar houses across the country. Many companies will provide recommendations to follow through with to ensure those utility bills and energy losses drop. 

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A professional auditor can provide information on specific recommendations for efficiency in your home.  To get started, visit

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Food. Part 1: Conventional Agriculture

This post marks the first in a series on food production, and what we can do to eat and buy sustainably.

Conventional agriculture
Conventional agriculture aims to get high yields for minimum direct costs. Practices include using industrial fertilisers and pesticides, and rearing animals intensively indoors. Food production has hugely increased over the last 50 years.
Advantages include:
•    High yields
•    Cheap and varied food in the shops.

But there are very unwelcome disadvantages:
•    Loss of soil fertility, making production dependent on oil-based fertilisers
•    Loss of wildlife biodiversity through pesticides
•    Loss of adaptability, as fewer strains of plants and animals are farmed
•    High yields dependent on artificial fertilisers, pesticides, and drugs such as hormones and antibiotics
•    Unwanted and even dangerous chemicals getting into our watercourses
•    Intense animal suffering through battery farming.

What can I do?
•    Avoid intensively farmed meat, eggs and milk. Choose free-range and organic food produced humanely
•    Ask your local shop to stock more free range and organic products
•    When eating out, ask for free-range food
•    Buy local, buy organic, grow your own!

Sources: Pros and cons of intensive farming:,, Compassion in World Farming campaigns for animal welfare and against factory farming:

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Climate change poses threat of extinction to Australian possums

The mountain pygmy possum has journeyed across Australia for over 25 million years. Today, the survival of the species is threatened by climate change. Only 2000-2600 possums remain in Australia. Their extinction could be determined by a relatively small increase in temperature; from only a rise of 1C, the continent could see its first climate change-induced extinction within the decade.

Figure 1: the Mountain pygmy possums vulnerable to extinction (The Guardian 2013)

With their natural environment being the Snowy Mountains (situated between New South Wales and Victoria States), mountain pygmy possums rely upon the insulation properties of the snow throughout their six month hibernation pattern. The projected 1C and 3C rise by 2020 and 2030 respectively will increase snow melt, thus reducing the possums’ insulation for survival.   

Like most species, the possums’ hibernation patterns are synced with predation patterns; moths and mountain plums become available to feed upon after the six month hibernation is over. Disruptions to hibernation patterns result in gradual starvation and death of the possums as both moths and mountain plums are unavailable until the usual possum hibernation period is over. Mountain pygmy possums die directly or indirectly due to lack of insulation from the lack of snow as the climate warms.

Upon realising the severity of the crisis posed to possums, researchers are currently attempting to acclimatise the species to warmer climates in the lowland rainforests; a promising indicator of success is based upon their ancestors thriving within these warmer climates. However, if ascertaining this breeding colony fails, the consensus among many zoologists, palaeontologists and naturalists is that it is “guaranteed we’re going to lose this possum to climate change” (Michael Archer, researcher at University of New South Wales, Australia). 
(The Guardian 2013)   

By Action 21 volunteer Ellen Kane

Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Bats of Jephson Gardens

On the evening of 6th September, a bat expert from the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust will lead a walk and talk around Jephson Gardens. 

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It’s completely free to come along and learn more about these mysterious nocturnal beings as they swoop around the Gardens, but booking is essential – email our ranger at for information and to book. 7-8.30pm. All children must be accompanied by an adult.