Wood-burning – Inconvenient Truth

There’s ever-growing  evidence that wood-burning is a big contributor to air pollution, especially in cities.

On January 22nd London had a major air pollution incident, with Camden, Westminster and The City hitting 10 out of 10 (worst) on the Air Quality Index.  “We think about half of the peak was from wood smoke” said Timothy Baker, air pollution expert at King’s College London.  Wood smoke pollution is most on cold evenings and weekends – this was a cold, still Sunday.  Small smoke particles have the worst health effects, especially PM2.5 (smaller than 2.5 micro-meter), which get deep into your lungs.    During that incident Cambridge levels of PM2.5 were  9/10 on the index. Domestic wood smoke contributes about a third of all UK PM2.5, which is  2.4 times more than traffic

UK government’s best estimate is that 29,000 extra deaths a year are caused by PM2.5   Public Health England estimates that 5% of mortality of people aged 30+  in Cambridgeshire is due to PM2.5 pollution. So this really is a major health problem, with wood smoke a significant contributor.

This is an ‘inconvenient truth‘ for Anne & me, because we really enjoy our small woodstove, which provides over half our heating, burning scavenged wood.  It’s renewable fuel with much lower CO2 emissions than gas or electricity.  Carbon emissions from wood-burning vary depending on whether the trees are re-grown, how the land-use changes, if the wood is kiln-dried and its transport.

Our government is being dragged towards action on air pollution: ClientEarth won court rulings to make them produce realistic plans for meeting EU air pollution limits and now the EU has issued a final warning. Sadiq Kahn’s tougher action in London  includes an extra £10 charge for pre-2005 diesel cars from October.  In Cambridge a ‘Clean air zone’ and emission charging are on the cards, while an NGO coalition is calling for a Clean Air Act for the 21st Century.

The Clean Air Act enabled local authorities to introduce smoke control areas, like Cambridge’s, where you’re only allowed to burn smokeless fuel or, if you burn wood, only in a DEFRA approved stove.  An EU directive, ecodesign lot 20, requires more efficient woodstoves by 2022, with about 1/5 the particulate emissions.  The UK Stove Industry Alliance already lists ecodesign-ready stoves.

Burning wood on an open fire is about 6 times more polluting than in a simple stove and loses a lot of heat up the chimney when the fire is out.

Expect tighter regulation on wood burning  before long, particularly in cities.  Even in rural Hampshire woodstoves can cause dangerous air quality. I suggest you think twice about installing a woodstove in a city, while this becomes clearer.

In the meantime, if you use a woodstove, please be neighbourly by running it hot and efficient to reduce smoke,  not lighting it when bad air pollution is forecast:

  • burn dry wood  15-20% moisture is best. You can check this with a moisture meter.
  • get it hot quickly by lighting your fire with dry kindling and then small pieces of wood. Keep it hot, burning the wood gradually and efficiently. A magnetic flue thermometer helps check  this at a glance. No smoke should be visible emerging from the chimney or tar deposited on the stove window if it’s burning well.
  • add more wood before the fire dwindles, so it gets burning quickly too. Avoid burning big chunks which smoke while they gradually catch fire. Re-reading our stove’s manual I found it recommends wood less than 10cm across – so we’re now doing more wood-splitting.
  • don’t shut off the air or keep the stove burning overnight, as this causes more pollution
  • avoid producing other toxins: don’t burn plastics, cardboard or glossy paper. Avoid particle-board, plywood, salty, treated or painted wood.
  • check a local air pollution forecast and avoid lighting your stove if high particulate PM10 or PM2.5 pollution is current or forecast the next day. If it’s raining it’s probably ok, as it washes particles down. Air Visual’s forecast app is good.

If you notice wood smoke indoors, you may be exposed to dangerous levels if it persists – at levels you may not smell.  Do you have a chimney problem?  Ask a chimney sweep or stove installer. Fitting a Carbon Monoxide alarm  is good for safety too.

People who bought diesel cars because of their lower carbon emissions are now joined by woodstove owners in facing the inconvenient truth of their bad health effects. They’re both still relatively low carbon, but good health needs good air quality. It’s time to re-think.

Tom Bragg

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Thermal Imaging Guide

You can reveal where buildings are wasting heat with vivid thermal images… this guide shows how with lots of practical examples.

I’ve been testing the £200 Flir One smartphone add-on. It’s as good as CCF’s £1,800 thermal imaging cameras with smartphone advantages, although not so rugged.  Many more community groups and individuals can now afford to use thermal imaging to show poor insulation, draughts and other ways our homes loose heat.

Drawing on CCF’s experience of thermal imaging since 2009, this guide aims to help many others get started and to supplement our training sessions.

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DETRITUS TRANSFIGURED – essay by Philip Vann

view of parade costume by Ann Templar cropped

DETRITUS TRANSFIGURED: The Cambridge CirculART Trail – essay by Philip Vann

Over three days in June 2016 I set out on quite an adventure – exploring on foot fifteen of the charity shops on the CirculART Trail in near-central Cambridge. Here, displayed in both shop windows and retail interiors for one month, was a dynamically diverse array of artworks made by over two dozen local artists. All had been sourced out of everyday scraps and bits of detritus; also from once perhaps individually treasured yet now abandoned oddments.

'Tetralogy of fallot' by Jane Helling, photo © Jenny Langley

‘Tetralogy of fallot’ by Jane Helling, photo © Jenny Langley

Jenny Langley, a local textile artist, imaginatively initiated and co-ordinated this ambitious project. She says, ‘I love charity shops. It’s my first port of call if I want anything. I love the serendipity of what I find there. I’ve got two thirds of the charity shops in Cambridge involved this year. We have a lovely mixture of artists now, some professional, some amateur, and two groups of artists with learning difficulties, who created fabulous window displays. Everything we’ve placed in the charity shops has been upcycled, reused, reclaimed, re-purposed in some way.’*

Alana Sinclair, Co-ordinator of Cambridge Carbon Footprint, explains how challengingly innovative this recycled art project has been. ‘We think we are the world-first in terms of pairing artists and charity shops together, and the first reclaimed art trail hosted in charity shops. The displays creatively showcase what can be done with recycled materials: waste isn’t waste until you waste it.’*

Just to single out a few highlights on this art trail:

Jane Helling’s immaculately crafted, hand-stitched soft sculptures (made out of recycled textile fragments) modelling human heart defects – one of which, Sacred Heart Defect, is, she says, ‘a 3D representation of my son’s unique set of defects, which he was born with 20 years ago’. Possessing their own surreally serene, upbeat beauty, these poignant works (at once semi-abstract and semi-anatomical) were displayed, suitably enough, in the shop window of the British Heart Foundation. Helling says, ”It makes a difference to your own whole creative process if you have to work with you’ve got or what you can find – and not go out and buy whatever you want. Happenstance is important in my work.’*

Judy Logan, 'I'M FREE'

Judy Logan, ‘I’M FREE’, photo © Judy Logan

view of parade costume by Ann Templar

View of parade costume by Ann Templar, photo © Janis Ford

Ann Templar’s outrageously exuberant yet deftly fabricated parade costume that she had worn at the Opening of Cambridge’s Strawberry Fair. She calls it ‘a political piece of art, incorporating a broken umbrella for the framework, sheet music and records and artwork donated by SENSE [the charity in whose window the costume was displayed] that I re-purposed into a plume of tail feathers’. Her visionary aim here was to reflect the soaring freedom of songbirds to transcend arbitrary human borders as opposed to the cruel silencing and ‘restrictions our brothers and sisters are suffering in the current refugee crisis’.

'The Lettuce Dress' by Cathy Dunbar

‘The Lettuce Dress’ by Cathy Dunbar, photo © Cathy Dunbar

Cathy Dunbar’s elegantly eclectic The Lettuce Dress – in which the ever-fluctuating fabric – and ephemeral beauty – of our lives is reflected in a design using many skilfully conjoined fabrics. Some of these came from clothes that the YMCA charity shop (where the work was displayed) was unable to sell, some from the artist’s own grandmother’s stash of 1920s and 30s’ textile bits and pieces. This is an audaciously harmonious creation fashioned out of a mass of fragments, including English chintz, chic French swatches, Nigerian cloth of bold archetypal design, and swirling sixties’ psychedelia of quite pungent saturated colour.

Judy Logan’s monumental, ominously swooping crow – its dark figure luminously splattered with turquoise and yellow (using reclaimed paints) against an asperous background of a recycled coffee bean sack sourced from a local café (with the engaging original packaging script still intact). Titled I’M FREE, this at once philosophical and visceral work was partly inspired by poetry – especially apt as the work was shown in the Amnesty Bookshop window – such as Ted Hughes’ lines: ‘Crow was so much blacker/ Than the moon’s shadows/ He had stars’, and William Blake’s ‘No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.’

In 2012, the Cambridge Mill Road Oxfam Shop won the Joe Mitty Award ‘for the imagination, flair and enthusiasm that has made [it] a treasure trove for the eclectic – and a huge success in raising money for Oxfam’s work’. No small part in this success has been played by the artist Chris Gould’s subtly pervasive, inspiringly counter-cultural contribution to the shop’s overall fabric and atmosphere.

'Telephone', recycled artwork by Chris Gould

‘Telephone’, recycled artwork by Chris Gould, photo © Derek Langley

Everywhere are his magical transformations: for example, seventies chrome bar stools ‘upholstered’ with intricate découpage, juxtaposing a fantastically bizarre, often comical range of images from all kinds of popular newsprint and streetwise sources. Elsewhere, mundane objects such as redundant telephone kiosk hoods, basic, rather tacky clocks and antique, ramshackle suitcases are decorated, graffitied and découpaged – changed into something ‘rich and strange’ – by his fluent associative poetry. This encompasses hallucinogenic images of figures such as Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix, apocalyptic skull forms emerging eerily from dense vegetation, compelling madcap cutouts from old Beano and Dandy comics, and exotic though quotidian folk culture references to items such as cheap Indian matchboxes. In this artist’s fertile universe, nothing is wasted; everything, however unpromising, can be playfully redeemed and vibrantly recycled.

Philip Vann is a writer on the visual arts. Since 1984, he has written a number of books on contemporary British and Irish artists, and is author of the critically-acclaimed ‘Face to Face: British Self-Portraits in the Twentieth Century’ (2004). He has written on art and design for RA Magazine, Galleries, World of Interiors, The Economist, The Guardian, The Independent and Resurgence Magazine. He lives in Cambridge.

* these quotations are taken from an illuminating new film, CirculArt. Or: How I learnt to stop worrying and love my stuff, Directed and Edited by Jonne Howard and Produced and Interviews by James Murray-White. It can be seen on Cambridge TV.

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Hempcrete workshop at Thoday Street

Today’s blog is another cross post from the Open Eco Homes blog. If this post gets you enthused about hempcrete make sure you check out the hempcrete workshop being offered at Thoday Street. At the time of writing there are two half price tickets up for grabs! 

Alex Jelly installing wood-fibre insulation 2This years Open Eco Homes features Thoday Street, a house where the emphasis is firmly on natural building materials. Alex Jelly (pictured here with her Cob pizza oven and installing wood fibre insulation) and partner Mike are determined to make their eco-renovation affordable and natural, and want to help others do the same. As Alex points out in her case study “indoor air pollution is generally far higher than outdoors (a fact that shocked me when I first found out)”.

Turning to natural materials reduces the potential for ‘off-gassing’ from more common synthetic insulation materials, and also allows for complete return to the natural environment once the material is no longer required. Affordability prevents many people taking on an eco-renovation but learning a DIY solution like Hempcrete can make a real difference to price, and bring it within the reach of more people.

At Open Eco Homes we’re really pleased to be able to work with Alex Jelly and Alex Sparrow of Hempcrete UK to offer you the chance to learn this great technique in-situ in Alex’s home. You can sign up for a tour of Alex’s home, take part in a workshop or attend an evening talk by Alex Sparrow (sponsored by Green Books).

But first, we’ve asked Alex Sparrow to explain a little more about what hempcrete is and why it is so beneficial.


Alex Sparrow, Director UK Hempcrete

What is hempcrete?

Hempcrete, or “hemp-lime”, is a mixture of hemp shiv (the woody stem of the industrial hemp plant) together with a lime binder. It is usually wet-mixed on site and cast in shuttering (form-work) around a structural frame, but it can also be pre-cast in blocks or panels.

Hempcrete is a non-load-bearing, medium density natural insulation material, which also has thermal mass, and is “breathable” (permeable to moisture vapour).

What you can use it for?

Hempcrete is most commonly used to make new-build walls, but can also be used to form floor slabs, ceilings, and roof insulation.

In contrast to conventional insulation materials (which tend to be installed in a cavity within the wall, or added to wall as an extra layer in the build-up) hempcrete in new build forms the wall and the insulation in one piece, with the only other materials being the structural frame (usually untreated softwood) and a lime or clay plaster internally and lime render externally, although cladding (timber, stone, brick etc.) can be used in place of wet finishes if desired.

Mixing hempcrete in a drum mixerHand-placed hempcrete cast around a central softwood frame.

In the repair and retrofit of (pre-1919) traditionally constructed buildings hempcrete is used to add insulation to existing solid walls or repair infill panels in timber frame buildings. It is ideal for use in traditional buildings because of its vapour-permeability and its ability (as a wet-mixed, loose-fill material which hardens once applied) to mould itself exactly to unevenly shaped walls in an old building, and support itself without sagging.

Advantages of hempcrete

Hempcrete is a breathable (vapour permeable) material which is hygroscopic (it passively regulates humidity in the building by absorbing water vapour and releasing it in response to changes in the relative humidity). A hempcrete building’s thermal mass also means that it “buffers” changes in temperature, staying warm in winter and cool in summer with minimal use of heating or cooling systems.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHempcrete is naturally fire- and pest-resistant, meaning that there is no need for potentially toxic chemicals to be added to it. This fact together with its vapour-permeability and hygroscopic nature means that hempcrete buildings are healthy living environments.
Hempcrete is a natural material. The hemp plant used as the aggregate in hempcrete absorbs so much carbon during its rapid growth that more CO2 is locked up in a hempcrete wall than is used in its construction. In other words, hempcrete has negative net carbon emissions – it’s a “better-than-zero-carbon” material.

The exceptional eco-credentials of this natural, sustainable material make using hempcrete in your building the obvious choice if you want to reduce your energy bills, your carbon footprint and the overall impact of your building on the environment.

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Does your Combie fire up at odd times?

Today’s blog is a cross post from the Open Eco Homes blog. Written by Anne Miller, a former Eco Homes host this blog post is a great example of the sort of detailed advice you get on an Open Eco Homes tour. Bookings are now open for tours on September 18th and 24th.

Eltisley Av 150x150About a month ago, after we’d had a few plumbing jobs done, we noticed that our Combie boiler was turning itself on every time we used a cold tap. Or more precisely, the boiler turned itself on briefly, a few seconds after we turned a cold tap off.

This seemed very odd! The whole point of a Combie is that it only heats up the hot water when you need it. It was also very annoying, because we try hard to keep our energy usage and carbon emissions to a minimum, and this was clearly wasting energy. We subsequently estimated that it had increased our summer gas usage by about 10%.

It took a while to work out that the problem is what some plumbers call “bounce”. Not a bad name, because when a customer complains about it, plumbers often blame it on the boiler, and boiler engineers say, ‘it’s a plumbing problem’. I think it’s probably very common, but once you understand it can be easy to fix

It happens when air has been trapped in the pipework to the taps (note this is a completely different circuit to the one that heats the radiators). Because the trapped air acts like a bouncy cushion, when a cold tap is turned suddenly off, the shock compresses the cushion of air, which tricks the Combie into thinking that the hot tap has turned on. This means that to fix it, ideally you need to find a way to let out the trapped air.

Here are some simple things you can do before you spend money on calling out the professionals.

Start by running the taps, initially gently then increasing to full flow. You’ll know when air is coming out, because the flow of water will cough and splutter, then when the air’s out from that bit of pipework, the water will flow smoothly. Do this for all the taps, starting at the top of the house.

P1040471-2If this doesn’t fix it, the air may be trapped in a “deadleg”, in other words a bit of pipework that no longer ends in a tap.

The next thing to check is whether there are any connections for washing machines or dishwashers that are no longer in use. These are increasingly common, because whereas a few years ago plumbers would automatically install both a hot and cold feed to a washing machine, these days new washing machines tend to be cold fill only, so the hot feed will probably have been blocked off.

Hopefully this will have been done with a little tap, which makes it very easy to bleed the air out. In our case, I found three of these little taps: one for the unused hot feed for our washing machine, and another pair in a cupboard where our washing machine used to be. Once I’d bled the air out of these, the combie started working perfectly again.

If you’re unlucky, there might be a deadleg that a thoughtless plumber has left somewhere inaccessible, like under your bathroom floor. If this is the case, don’t despair, because a simple alternative can be to get a plumber to install a non-return valve on the cold feed to the boiler. It’s not the ideal solution, because the valve may get blocked someday, but with luck this will reduce the bounce effect enough to stop the boiler turning on despite the trapped air.

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Brexit and our Environment

Please ask your MP to support the Environment Pledge.

The Brexit negotiations pose many threats and opportunities for UK environmental protection and our urgent transition into a low-carbon nation.

If red-tape slashing vested interests get the upper hand, vital protections for our wild life, countryside  and seas will be swept aside. Also support for changing our industries, energy supplies, homes and lifestyles into the low-carbon future we need to avoid dangerous climate change.

There are opportunities to improve on EU regulations with better ones appropriate to the UK. For example the Common Agricultural Policy could be replaced with support for landowners and farmers, especially smaller ones, with the right incentives to take good care of the wildlife and land they know so well, as well as growing the food we love.  A majority of British public support environmental protection at least as strong as current EU rules.

Uncertainty and frequent sudden changes are bad for business, as for several local firms installing renewables and home-energy improvements that have been forced to close recently  by the chopping and changing government support schemes.  Brexit is going to take years, so how can we help reduce the damaging uncertainty?

Cambridge Carbon Footprint is a member The Climate Coalition, who with Green Alliance, are today calling on MPs to support an Environment Pledge, below.
If a majority of MPs sign, that will indicate good support for strong action on these issues and  reduce the uncertainty.

Please ask your MP to support the following pledge:it’s easy

I believe that following the EU referendum, the UK government, working with administrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, must build a healthy and prosperous future for all.

This means a thriving natural world on land and at sea, clean air and water, communities connected to nature, and a sustainable economy. For the wellbeing of my constituents, for people at home and abroad, and for future generations who will depend on a flourishing and secure planet, I will do everything in my power to:

  • Establish the UK as a world leader on the environment by committing to match or exceed current environmental, wildlife and habitat protections.
  • Ensure the UK leads on climate change by publishing robust low carbon investment plans and ratifying the Paris Agreement this year. 
  • Create a countryside richer in nature by supporting farmers and landowners to deliver environmental benefits alongside a thriving farming sector.

Tom Bragg
CCF Trustee

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Vacancy: Open Eco Homes

dream job

Open Eco Homes Project Worker?

Open Eco Homes (OEH) arranges for householders to show and explain to visitors on 2 weekends in September how they save home energy by their home’s design, retro-fitted improvements, smart behaviour, etc. Continue reading

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CCF Paris Workshop

Workshop (640x360)

We’d offered to run a CCF workshop about personal footprints: “How to stop feeling helpless” at Climat Forum at a fairly bleak school in the Paris suburb of Montreuil. We only had confirmation a week ago. Publicity was minimal. Would anyone come?  Continue reading

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UK Innovators in Paris

Outside Climate Solutions (640x360)

Extra security in Paris is undersandable but there were 2 events we couldn’t get into.

On Friday night we went to the launch of Energy Unlocked, a new UK organisation supporting low-carbon energy innovation. It’s a small startup, which attracted low-carbon business organisations over a remarkable range of scale:    Continue reading

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Hosting Open Eco Homes

CCF_DSC3612 16f cropped 5x4

Anne shows off her DIY demountable window awnings

Anne Miller
(Home F, in Open Eco Homes 2015)

When Tom suggested last year that we should be an Open Eco Home, I was a little nervous: Did we have enough to show people? Would they criticise my standards of housework? Looking back, those fears seem rather irrational, but they were real at the time, and I suspect quite common amongst other Open Eco Home hosts.

We’ve steadily been improving our home (an Edwardian terrace) since 2001, and this has had a substantial impact on our energy use. Our gas consumption is a quarter of what it was Continue reading

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Warm Homes Mill Road VIDEOS

Videos of householders in the Mill Road area and home energy improvements they have made:

Patricia’s Victorian “2-up, 2-down”
now with internal insulation, double-glazed sash windows, woodstove & solar PV:

Judith Green’s eco-renovation of her Victorian terraced house, with carefully chosen high-tech, re-used and sustainable materials:

For details of materials Judith used, see her “Ross Street” case Study at Open Eco Homes

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October newsletter: A tasty sustainable feast!


We’re very excited that tickets are now available for the launch of our Food for a Greener Future Campaign at Fitzbillies restaurant. We’ll be celebrating the best of local, sustainable, delicious food with a menu specially designed by Fitbillies first-class chef, Rosie Sykes. Booking is available through the event page on the CCF website.

As part of the Food for a Greener Future Campaign we’re also challenging you all to eat local in November! The goal? To source all of your food from within a 30-mile radius of Cambridge for three weeks. How hard can it be? Click here for lots more info on the challenge.

And if the thought of tasty sustainable food excites you, do check out our sustainable food blog if you haven’t seen it recently. There are some great posts from our regular contributors (even when we don’t have a challenge going on) – and also some delicious recipes!

Last chance! – Now is your last chance to book for our Carbon Conversations group starting next Wednesday! It’s a wonderful opportunity to find out more about low carbon living and to really kick start your low carbon life. We have a few spots left, so email alana@cambridgecarbonfootprint.org to book now.


  1. Carbon Conversations: Kick start your low carbon life!
  2. Festival of Ideas, 28 October
  3. Warm Homes Mill Road, 2 November
  4. Celebration of Sustainable Food at Fitzbillies, 21 November
  5. Eat local this November!
  6. It’s the Science
  7. Gardening in October – Something in the garden is staying warm!
  8. Public Meeting: The gagging law
  9. Global Sustainability Institute Seminar: A Fevered Planet
  10. Introduction to Permaculture with Claire White
  11. Global Sustainability Institute: Festival of Ideas event
  12. Green Enterprise: Carlos Ludlow-Palafox on opportunities in recycling

1. Carbon Conversations: Kick start your low carbon life!

Carbon Conversations is starting next week! It’s a great opportunity to connect with others and learn together about how we can live lower carbon lives. There are 6 sessions in all and each session is a supportive space to:

  • Learn about the impact of our food, travel, consumption and energy use
  • Share ideas and create plans
  • Talk and meet new people
  • Begin to get a grip on climate change

Meetings will be held fortnighly on from 7.30pm October 9th.

To register for this course, or your interest in attending any future Carbon Conversations groups please email your full name to alana@cambridgecarbonfootprint.org, or phone the CCF office on 01223 301842.

2. Festival of Ideas, 28 October

28 October 2013, 7.00-9.00pm, St Lukes Church, Victoria Road Cambridge, CB4 3DZ 

We all want to do something about climate change in light of the idea that it poses a real threat to humanity. But what can we personally do? This workshop for the Cambridge University Festival of Ideas looks at our current levels of consumption, energy use, global travel and food sourcing and asks, ‘Are the solutions within our reach?’

Participants will have the chance to compare their lifestyle expectations with lifestyle expectations as recently as 40 years ago and consider what it would be like to redraw the boundaries we have set to create a more sustainable lifestyle for ourselves. A lifestyle that would be fulfilling, enjoyable and exciting while at the same time lower in carbon.

The workshop will provide participants with a taste of the Carbon Conversations course we also run, which is a series of six engaging meetings helping participants to halve their carbon footprint.

For bookings email info@cambridgecarbonfootprint.org or call the CCF office on 01223 301842.

3. Warm Homes Mill Road, 2 November

 2 November, Mill Road Area & Ross Street Community Centre, CB1 3UZ

After the popularity of our Warm Homes Trumpington event, CCF have put together a whole day home-energy event for the Mill Road area, including a morning of visits to local houses with energy-saving improvements, as well as an afternoon at Ross St Community Centre with:

  • talks and workshops by home energy experts
  • videos of local homes and homeowners talking to energy experts
  • stalls with reliable local suppliers and installers
  • expert advice about you can do to save energy in your home including tailored advice for tenants
  • DIY improvements
  • Getting the best out of your house at no extra cost
  • latest information on loans and grants, including the Green Deal

Check out the full timetable of activities at the Ross St Centre (pdf)

The main focus will be on the many pre-1920s houses in the area (and throughout Cambridge) which have solid walls and are therefore more difficult and expensive to insulate.

Please contact us for more information, bookings for home tours will be open soon.

4. Celebration of Sustainable Food at Fitzbillies, 21 November

21 November, 7.00pm, Fitzbillies Restaurant 52A Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RG

Join us at Fitzbillies to celebrate the delicious and varied sustainable, local food around Cambridge, and to launch the new Food for a Green Future campaign. There will be three course sustainable set menu, including both vegan and omnivorous options. Tickets are £33 per person not including drinks.

Booking only through Cambridge Carbon Footprint. Click here for more info and to book your spot!

5. Eat local this November!

4 November – 17 November

Roll up your sleeves, switch your brain into ‘inventive cooking’ mode, and get ready to go crazy in the kitchen! After a break over the summer, we’re once again once again gearing up for our next food challenge. Your goal? To source all of your food from within a 30-mile radius of Cambridge for three weeks, with an extra emphasis on reducing your meat and dairy intake.

It should also be mentioned that we do advocate the ‘five exceptions’ rule: that is, please allow yourself five ingredients (such as rice, tea, quinoa, spices etc) that are not local…just to ensure you are getting the proper nutrition and still enjoy your food!

Participants will also have the opportunity to write about their experiences on our sustainable food blog, and to meet other participants at a bring-and-share meal.

There’s lots more information on the CCF website, but to take part in the challange and join up with other local eaters you just need to email elaina@cambridgecarbonfootprint.org.

6. It’s the Science

By Tom Bragg

Yesterday I was at DECC’s launch of the new IPCC climate science report, which provides a consensus view with unequivocal messages; most climate scientists actually think the situation is even more challenging, but it was uplifting to be with so many people who wanted to explain and act on the science.

For the first time, it describes a global carbon budget: to have a two-thirds chance of staying below a dangerous 2°C of global warming, humankind must add less than one trillion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere. By 2011 we’d already used half this budget, and unless emissions are cut rapidly, we’ll burn the rest in 30 years. The report also warns that this budget may be smaller, because of ‘known unknowns’ in the climate system, like methane emissions from permafrost.

Heeding this climate science implies that at least two-thirds of current fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground – a complete reversal of the rush to discover and burn more oil, gas and coal.

But with a General Election looming, politicians are falling over themselves to freeze fuel prices or fuel duty. Please oppose these and other short-term populist measures that feed climate change.

The hard truth is that fossil fuel prices will need to rise even further. We must strive to ease the effect of this on those who can’t afford it: a small example is CCF’s new Warm Homes Plus project to provide households in fuel poverty with advice and practical help to improve their homes’ thermal efficiency.

7. Gardening in October – Something in the garden is staying warm!

By Keith Jordan

As October day lengths shorten and the sun is lower in the sky, temperatures are generally on the decline. This is a natural trigger for many animals and plants to make provision for storage and survival during the winter months. Jays and squirrels will be collecting acorns to bury, insects may be laying eggs, pupating or finding safe hibernation places. Many herbaceous plants die back, shed leaves or divert their energy reserves from leaves and stems to their roots, tubers or bulbs.

Associated with mass decomposition of plant material, well-made compost heaps will be warming up.
Decomposition involves millions of microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) plus some larger organisms including earthworms, molluscs and woodlice. Under optimal aerobic conditions, composting proceeds through three phases:

1) Mesophilic phase (moderate-temperature), which lasts for a few days (look out for woodlice and worms). Composting will occur optimally if the mixture of materials is right – a good mix of greens (the wet, soft, green materials, high in nitrogen) and browns (the dry harder, absorbent materials high in carbon). It needs to be moist (water if necessary, but not too wet) and have enough air (some bulky, twiggy material provides this). Covering with old carpet will help to keep the heat in.

2) Thermophilic phase (high-temperature), lasting from a few days to several weeks depending on the time of year and material. Billions of bacteria (good species!) and fungi will chemically break down the variety of organic materials, using a broad range of enzymes, and generating heat in the process. You may have seen evidence of this exothermic process – steam rising from a heap of manure on a cold day. This is the basis of the old technique of hot beds used in the walled kitchen gardens of stately homes to raise plants in cold frames out of their normal season.

Larger, insulated compost heaps may heat up to 40-50°C and municipal scale compost systems to 60-70°C destroying pathogens, fly larvae, and weed seeds. It would be interesting to use a thermal camera to check yours! Mix grass clippings, straw or hay to kick start slow, cool compost heaps. Natural products high in ammonia can also help (e.g. poultry manure, waste water from an aquarium, etc.).
Lack of oxygen (if too wet or compacted/ perhaps too much soil added) results in anaerobic bacteria producing ammonia and hydrogen sulphide (smelly and no heat!).

3) Cooling and maturation phase, lasting several-months. Woodlice and worms carry on the process.
Turning material once or twice will help this stage. The result is nutrient rich organic matter, perfect material for adding to your soil, making potting compost and mulching around plants.

8. Public Meeting: The gagging law

Last month Tom Bragg wrote a piece in our newsletter about the upcoming gagging law. Many charities (including CCF) are concerned about the implications to their activities. To voice these concerns 38 Degrees have set up a public meeting in Cambridge, which MP Julian Huppert will be attending. Here’s what 38 Degrees  have to say:

Want to help stop the gagging law? There’s a public meeting happening in Cambridge on 17th October. Your MP, Julian Huppert, has already confirmed that he’s attending. But we need to pack the meeting with lots of his constituents. Can you come?

Here are the details:
Friday 17th October
Wolfson Hall, Churchill College, Storey’s Way, Cambridge, CB3 0DS
7:30pm – 9:30pm

Your MP, Julian Huppert, is one of the MPs that we need to vote against the gagging law, if we’re going to stop it. 38 Degrees members voted to focus on public meetings as a way of persuading MPs to make a stand against the gagging law. We know it’s a very effective tactic. But we need to make sure the meeting is packed full to the rafters. To work, it needs to be big.

MPs will vote on the gagging law again on October 8th. Let’s make sure that for Julian Huppert MP, the thought of justifying the way he voted face-to-face with hundreds of constituents will be front of mind when he casts his votes. If we can get lots of people to turn out, it’s bound to impact on what your MP does as the law continues its way through parliament.

Everyone is welcome to come along, so please bring your friends and family. Even if you don’t want to ask a question, it will be interesting to hear what your MP, Julian Huppert, and the speakers have to say on the gagging law.

Visit our facebook event page and let us know if you can come. We need to show that as many people are planning to attend as possible, so please RSVP – and invite your friends too.

If you don’t have facebook, you can email emailtheteam@38degrees.org.uk or leave a comment on our blog to RSVP.

9. Global Sustainability Institute Seminar: A Fevered Planet

7 October, 1.00-2.00pm Lab 005 (Anglia Ruskin East Road campus) 

Speaker: Prof Hugh Montgomery, UCL

The number of humans on the planet has grown at an extraordinary rate, and in a very short space of time. At the same time, the rate of technical and industrial growth has massively accelerated- as have the demands and expectations of each individual. The net result is that humanity has degraded Earth’s biosphere at a rate which is unsustainable. On top of this, anthropogenic climate change acts as a force multiplier. For all too long, these combined impacts have been framed as ‘academic’, or at best distant and slow. They have also been framed in terms of tigers, polar bears, and tree frogs. But what does the environmental impact which humans have had on the environment mean for the environment’s impact on humans?

Any questions, or to let us know you’re coming (which is not essential) contact rosie.robison@anglia.ac.uk or julie-anne.hogbin@anglia.ac.uk, 01223 695107.

**Sustainable Lunch Provided**

10. Introduction to Permaculture with Claire White

12 – 13 October, 9.30am-5.00pm, Trumpington Pavillion 09:30-17:30

Permaculture is the underpinning philosophy behind Transition Towns. While Permaculture has it’s origins in land use and growing systems that is only a part of Permaculture. It is a design system, not just for gardening but for all aspects of living sustainably, be that in our emotional lives, how we design and use our homes and much much more. This weekend course Costs £75 (£65 unwaged).

11. Global Sustainability Institute: Festival of Ideas event

23 October, 5.30-7.00pm, LAB 027 (Anglia Ruskin East Road campus)

Title: Uncomfortable conversations… why discussing the big issues is so hard

Like politics, religion and money, climate change can be one of those topics it’s not very comfortable to talk about with friends. It can provoke strong feelings, and judgement of people’s life choices, so isn’t it more considerate not to mention it at all? In this interactive talk, speakers from the Global Sustainability Institute and friends will give their thoughts on why we avoid issues that it might be helpful for us to face up to, from climate change to our own health, and ask the audience to share their views and experiences. Led by Dr Rosie Robison and Julie-Anne Hogbin from the Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University.

15+, Free, Full access, Talk, Arrive on time, Booking not required

For more information see the Festival of Ideas event listing.

12. Green Enterprise: Carlos Ludlow-Palafox on opportunities in recycling

October 28, 7:30-9:30pm, Friends Meeting House, 12 Jesus Lane, Cambridge, CB5 8BA

Carlos Ludlow-Palafox of Enval is successful entrepreneur who has developed a patented process and built a commercial scale recycling plant for recycling the formerly unrecyclable flexible laminate packaging (as used for toothpaste tubes, food pouches and coffee) Carlos is clearly skilled at navigating the funding maze, so this session will be of interest to anyone wondering about how to find funding for their idea, or the important topic of how we can convert landfill waste into valuable resources.

As usual in Green-enterprise events, the evening will be participative and will include plenty of time for discussion with the speaker and other participants. Cost £5.

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Gardening in August: Summer wanes as autumn fruits appear

by Keith Jordan

thermometerThe schools are out for summer and the holidays are in full flow but, with some regret, every year there are some subtle changes in the natural world in early/mid August that signal the summer is on the wane! The start of the football season is another reminder! Campers also find that clear nights and heavy dews can be a feature of mid August. My garden thermometer dropped to 6 deg C the other night here and it went down to about 4 C in Thetford.

About one week after the Cambridge Folk Festival finishes the swifts that have been flying and screeching over our houses are noticeably absent. They are already on the move, following their epic twice-yearly journey to Africa along with some of the warblers and other migrant birds that have graced our neighbourhoods. Continue reading

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Gardening in mid-late July – time for soft fruits and summer puddings!

berries It’s a real ‘Berryfest’ down on the allotment at the moment!  The ideal time to make summer pudding.  I think the last 2 months have been excellent growing conditions with a variety of weather – sun, cloud, some cool days, some rain (in June), basically a bit of everything.  A great contrast to last year’s over abundance of rain, flooding and the ‘Snailfest’ (e.g. remember the mega-downpour on 7th July before the Olympic Torch came to Cambridge?).  I’m heartened to see that bees (honey and bumble), butterflies (e.g. Small Tortoiseshell) and insects in general are much more plentiful than 2012 and busily feeding off the nectar of garden plants.  I grow some especially on my allotment to help these pollinators. At the moment popular insect plants include Lavender, Comfrey, hardy Geraniums, Stachys (‘Lambs Ears’), Lamiums, Oregano/Marjoram,  Phacelia (a green manure, if left to flower) and Red Campion – a very long flowering wild flower.

The summer is hurtling along and it’s the time of plenty in the garden and allotment (assuming you planted or sowed things a few months ago!).  Just as the strawberry crop wanes, the plants start to produce runners now, from which new plants will arise.  A great chance to increase your stock of plants by pegging down the new plantlets and allowing them to root.  As strawberries are short-lived it’s best to replace a third of your crop a year with new plants.  Remove any netting, especially the very fine type, as soon as you have used it protect fruits – they can so easily become a trap for birds and hedgehogs.  It’s much safer to use more rigid netting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou may find lots of small apple fruits lying around trees – do not worry as this is a sign of good spring pollination and harvest to come in the autumn.  The ‘June drop’ usually starts around Wimbledon week when trees naturally thin their crop. With more bees around at flowering time and no air frosts, pollination has been good and the trees thin their crops.  As the season progresses you may find you still have to thin the apple crop later in the season if the branches are bending over with the weight.  The little fruits make great non-returnable but biodegradable ‘balls’ to improve your tennis practice (as long as no greenhouses are nearby!). The couch grass is high on some plots (almost 5 foot!) and going to seed and bindweed is even higher (ah, with those lovely pure white trumpet flowers like Morning Glory!).  In both cases try to control now rather than later,
and if nothing else, don’t let them drop seeds unless you want to increase your workload next year.

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Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower 1 (300x226)Easy to make, with an exotic flavour
-more elderflowers and less sugar than some recipes:

50 elderflower heads, with fully open florets,
preferably picked on a sunny morning
2 lemons: juice & zest
5 tsp of citric acid (ask at your chemist)
Use another lemon, if you can’t get it.
1kg of sugar
3 litres of boiling water

1. Shake and rinse the elderflowers to remove any insects and cut off their main stalks
2. Put all the solid ingredients in a large bowl and pour over the boiling water
3. Stir well and cover.  Put it somewhere cool and stir it occasionally over 2 days
4. Then strain and seal the cordial in clean bottles.

It lasts a few weeks in the fridge or a year in the freezer (leave an air-space at the top of the bottle) I find plastic 1 pint milk-bottles good.  Or you can preserve it without freezing by stirring in 3 crushed Campden tablets before bottling, but this isn’t suitable if sulphur dioxide makes you asthmatic like me.

Dilute the elderflower cordial to taste.
Serve with ice and a slice of lemon or a sprig of mint or some borage flowers.
Try it in a vinaigrette or with sorbets, ice-cream or stewed fruit.

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