COP26 from our own Correspondent – Week 1

Our own correspondent was at COP26 in Glasgow this week.  Here is his report on the first week.

COP26, or to give it its full name, the 26th annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is currently taking place in Glasgow.   Our very own village correspondent has been there this week to bring you an exclusive report on week one.

This year COP is divided into distinct areas – the blue zone for the negotiations, managed by the UN; the green zone for selected companies to exhibit, managed by the UK, and a fringe event across all of Glasgow for everyone else, ranging from businesses to pressure groups to direct action protestors.  Over 50,000 people are attending the blue and green zones with many more being drawn to the fringe events.

The blue zone is where the main discussions take place and hosts the government negotiators and advisors; the non-governmental observers; the media; and around 100 mainly government sponsored pavilions providing presentation areas and meeting spaces.  Many of these pavilions organised a continuous programme of presentations, panel discussions and workshops, so in addition to the main negotiations and set piece speeches, at any moment there are perhaps 50 or more parallel sessions taking place on all aspects of climate change and what to do about it.  Many of these are live streamed and can be downloaded e.g. the UK Pavilion here and the US Center here.

While the main political declaration from COP won’t happen until the end of the second week, it has already been a tremendous success in advancing action to tackle climate change.  Probably the biggest change from previous COPs has been the position of business.  Previously most business leaders waiting on the side lines, not wanting to be the first to move.  Now it’s quite clear the starting gun has been fired and large businesses are competing to ensure they are not left behind on the pathway to sustainability.  This provides great grounds for optimism, because while governments can invest billions, business can invest trillions in tackling climate change.

Some of the notable announcements that you may have missed over the past week include:

  • Commitments to achieve net zero emissions from countries that have until now resisted setting climate targets including Australia and India.
  • 450 financial firms representing $130 trillion of investment committing to meet the goals set out in the Paris climate change agreement.
  • 100 countries pledging to end deforestation by 2030 including Indonesia, China, Canada, Russia and the US.
  • A pledge to cut emissions of methane by 30% by 2030 involving over half the world’s biggest emitters (methane is potentially 80 times as bad for global warming as carbon dioxide).
  • A commitment to end use of coal for generating electricity, signed by more than 40 countries including some of the most coal reliant.
  • The announcement of the Breakthrough Agenda to identify and track the developments needed to make clean and sustainable solutions the natural choice in power, road transport, steel and hydrogen.

So, despite some of the more downbeat press articles, the first week of COP 26 has achieved some noticeable successes.  These are best highlighted in the International Energy Agency’s assessment that, if all climate commitments made to date are delivered in practice, this would put us on a target towards 1.8 degrees temperature rise rather than the 2.7 degrees pathway suggested by the UN before COP26.  There’s a huge “if” in this projection and it’s still not 1.5 degrees, but it shows how far we have come.


How one household halved their electricity usage

Jules and Becca have been looking at how to make their home more energy efficient.  As part of this, they looked at their electricity consumption, and with a few simple changes were able to halve their electricity usage, saving themselves around £600 per year.  Here is Jules’ account of how they did it.

Becca and I decided that we should look at optimising our energy usage, initially electricity. Our basic strategy was:

  1. Work out how much energy we were typically using
  2. Find out what the main contributors to it are
  3. Choose the easiest things to improve
  4. Go back to step 1.
Typical electricity meter

We worked out our average electricity usage by looking back through our bills for pairs of dated meter readings. The meter units are in KWh so the difference between two readings divided by the number of days between them gave us the average daily KWh.

Our average of 20 KWh seemed pretty high, the UK average is less than 10 KWh per day and we use gas for our hob, hot water and central heating. Every KWh we could save from average daily usage would be £60 a year.

We now had motivation but we needed a way to figure out where all that energy was going. We started recording our meter reading daily.  We don’t yet have a smart meter so,  I installed an energy meter (I used an OWL Micro+ CM180, which cost about £50, there are many others available).  The meter clips to the cables that feed our fuse box and gives a continuous estimate of electricity consumption on a wireless digital display.

So, one evening, with energy monitor in hand, we decided to figure out where all that money was going. The monitor was going up and down pretty regularly as fridges and heating were going on and off, and we knew we weren’t going to get rid of them quickly so we just turned them off (temporarily) and that largely stabilised the reading.

Then we powered down anything that wouldn’t handle a power cut well, basically our desktop computers and our server (NAS), and noted the change in reading for each one.

Shutting down our NAS saved about 60 watts on the meter, as 1 watt of base load (ie on all the time) costs about £1.50 on our annual bill, that’s using about £90 a year.

That left a lot of base load, and a seemingly random fluctuation.

We then went through a process of turning on/off fused circuits and plugs to figure out what the rest of the usage was. It actually turned out to be easier to get things down to zero and then build back up, but in the end we had a pretty clear picture of where the power was going and a set of ideas for reduction.

So, what did we learn?

  • Our energy meter could take 10 seconds to update and was only accurate to maybe 30 watts, both got worse as the load got smaller (a smart meter should be more accurate)
  • Biggest surprise was: we have a couple of 28 Watt fluorescent lights with night/movement sensors on the front of our house; these use a ridiculous 144 watts and were coming on randomly day and night. In the short term we’ve pulled out the bulbs until we can fix the sensors.
  • In general our energy saving bulbs do their job, but we have a few lights that use an unexpected amount of power, mostly 2D fluorescents, and some of those are on a lot. The worst culprit is our fluorescent kitchen lights. Those that are on the most we’ll switch to LED bulbs, and we’re more aware of turning off lights that aren’t needed.
  • It turns out we had a bunch of devices that were using significant power (> 10 watts) when in standby mode. Our Sky box and SONOS speakers are both examples of this. We’ve found we can turn off most of these when they’re not in use.
  • Some of the equipment we had on all of the time, was a pain to turn off, but in many cases we’ve found ways to make it easier/quicker or discovered it wasn’t that inconvenient once we’d changed our habits.

Over a couple of weeks following our time figuring out the usage, we made a series of changes and fixes. We’re not completely done but I think we’ve definitely had the biggest wins.

In the process we got our base load down by maybe 200 watts and cut our daily usage in half. I was actually really surprised how painless it has been, and we should have an extra £600 a year to spend on something else.

Getting started with Composting

Composting is not just about gardening – it helps the environment too.  Keeping waste out of the dustbin saves all of the cost and energy associated with the collection of the material.  Digging the compost back ito the garden completes the carbon cycle and can help to offset your emissions.  So let’s put this valuable resource to use, help your garden and get composting!

330 litre compost bin

Compost bins can be obtained from most home and garden shops, or using the Sustainable Silchester group purchase scheme (contact us for details). 

Place your composter in a sunny spot onto well-drained soil.  It can be placed onto concrete or other solid surface, but place a layer of soil beneath it.

Loosen soil beneath the compost bin in order to help drainage and to make it easier for worms and bacteria to eneter the bin from the earth surrounding it.

It is essential to have a good mix of waste material in your compost bin to aid decomposition.

Add different types of material in layers approximately 7-15cm deep.  You can compost:

  • Vegetable and fruit peelings
  • Tea leaves. coffeee grounds and crished egg shells
  • Grass cuttings (some is great as it’s a natural activator, but avoid using too much)
  • Hair
  • Animal manure (from vegetarian animals such as guinea pigs).  Best mixed with straw.
  • Vacuum dust – the contents of a vacuum cleaner sack compost well, particularly if you have woollen carpets.  Do not try and compost if you have primarily synthetic carpets as this will not breakdown.

Add Sparingly to your compost bin

  • Evergreen clippings – they take a long time to decompose and should be added only in small amounts
  • Leaves – contain lignin and take a long time to decompose, the same as wood.  best dealt with separately in leaf mould piles
  • Prunings – only add in small amounts andd chop up well
  • Paper (in small amounts, shredded or scrunched up)

Things to Avoid

  • Disposable nappies or used paper hankies (in case the pathogens that cause disease aren’t all destroyed by the composting process)
  • Excrement – human/cat/dog (for the same reason)
  • Hard objects, stones, bits of glass, metal, plastic
  • Cleaning fluids and other household/garden chemicals
  • Meat (cooked or raw) – the smell can attract animals
  • Fish and dairy products are not recommended

Getting the Best Results

  • Activators such as grass, nettles, pond weed, comfrey, urine, horse, cow, sheep, pig and pigeon manure and rabbit or guinea pig droppings help speed up the composting process.  This is particularly useful during the cold winter months
  • Always keep the lid on your compost bin – it retains heat and moisture when the weather is dry and protects it when it rains
  • Site it out of the wind, as you need a fairly high temperature in your compost bin
  • Do not let it dry out.  Add water when necessary in very dry hot weather.
  • The compost is ready when it is brown and crumbly.  This takes 9-12 months.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will my Compost Bin attract Rats?

Living in the countryside, there are already rats around.    Rats are more likely to visit your compost bin if it is a source of food, so avoid adding cooked foods, dairy products, meat, fish, or bones.   Regularly used compost bins are much less likely to attract rats.  if you are concerned, then try placing some chicken wire, or heavy gauge mesh under your bin to stop them getting in.

Why do I get a lot of ants in my bin?

Ants are part of the home composting process, but it could mean that your bin is too dry.  For a quick fix, add some cold water to your bin.  Over time, you may need to add more ‘green’ nitrogen rich items such as grass cutting and vegetable peelings to keep moisture levels up.

Why does my bin smell?

You need to add more oxygen in your compost bin so that the waste can break down aerobically.  By mixing bulky items such as toilet roll tubes, cardboard or shredded paper into your bin you can introduce pockets of air.

I seem to have a lot of small black flies in my compost bin?

Fruit flies do not carry disease and do not harm your compost.  However if you find them unpleasant you can reduce their numbers by ensuring that the organic waste destined for you bin is always kept covered in the kitchen or whereever it is stored.  You can eradicate them by leaving the lid off the bin for 3-4 days allowing predator beetles to gain access and kill them for you and by covering the compost with an inch or so of soil to prevent the hatching flies from being able to escape.  They are not an indicator of a failing bin.

I’ve waited a while but I still don’t have any compost at the bottom of my compost bin.  Why is this?

It takes 9-12 months to make finished compost.  Keep adding a good balance of greens and browns and the creatures will keep composting everything down.

Glow Worm Walk

Silchester Common, new date of 14th July 2021

The first few weeks of July see a really unusual wildlife event happening in Silchester – the annual display of glow worms. If you’d like to see these creatures literally glow in the dark and learn a little more about them then please feel free to join a walk on the Common organised by Sustainable Silchester’s Stephen Hodgson.

The walk will begin outside the Calleva at 9.45pm and is free of charge (although a small donation towards Sustainable Silchester’s running costs would be appreciated). The walk will take just over an hour and finish back at the Calleva. Just bring a good pair of boots or wellies (in case its wet) and your camera and we will see how many we can find.

This walk was last done in 2019 and we saw 29 glow worms on the common. Please note, the presence of glow worms is not guaranteed but early July is often the best time to see them.


Bee Orchid spotted in Silchester

An early benefit of Sustainable Silchester’s No Mow May campaign is that a bee orchid has been spotted in one of the verges next to housing in Silchester.

These orchids are rare to see because it takes as long as six years for the orchid to flower and many bee orchids only flower once in their lifetime.

The flowers are designed to mimic female bees, both in scent and appearance. In this way the male bee is tricked into landing on the flower and attempting to mate with it. When the bee moves on to another plant, the pollen it has picked up from the first orchid is transferred to the next. Unfortunately, the correct species of bee is not found in the UK so our bee orchids are all self-pollinated.  

But there’s more – another beneficiary of No Mow May is that a pyramidal orchid has also been spotted in the uncut verges. These orchids are quite common but it is, nonetheless, great to see them in the verges at the side of the road.


BEAD Recycling – a resident’s experience


My initial interest, for Silchester, was to find out whether they could help recycle plastics that I currently have to consign to my Black Wheelie bin. As you probably know, I process everything we collect on Fridays for the Ali-recycling group. Inevitably we receive a few items that are not accepted by the TerraCycle organisation, and the quandary is always “What should I do with this?”. My hope was that the answer could be “Send it to BEAD”. In every case that was the right answer!

The TerraCycle approach is based on individual, “difficult to recycle”, items which they have learned, through research, how best to process. The BEAD approach is based on “material type” rather than “item type”. For those who don’t know, there are 7 different types of plastic in common use around the world, and each is (supposed to be!) stamped with its type. That’s slightly misleading as there are in fact MANY more types of plastic in use in various industries, but the less common ones are classed as “Type 7 – Other” !! BEAD recycling have stated that they can recycle Types 1 – 6 , but not 7.

Most of the “discards” from the Ali-recycling collection fall into types 3 & 4 – “soft plastics”.

There are, of course, other recycling opportunities available to me, but the Council-run “Green Wheelie bin” kerbside collection facility only “wants” what they describe as “bottle-shaped bottles”. (Turns out these are mostly type 2, So they certainly do NOT want my “soft plastics”).

There is also a facility at Tadley Sainsbury which purports to collect “mixed plastics” – mainly “tubs & trays” (mostly type 5). But anyone who has been following my articles in the Parish Magazine this year, will know that this service has been very “patchy” recently.

Where BEAD scores is that they don’t require you to visit a special location, and wade through piles of litter only to find the the skip is full or closed or missing – instead they will come and collect from your house!

By the time my research had got this far, I decided to sign up – as a sort of “pilot” project for Silchester. Signing up is a very simple process that can be done online in a few minutes. There is a  one-off £13.50 charge for the “Welcome pack” – a neat, A4 box containing coloured plastic bags, some tags, string, a pencil and a few sheets of information and “instructions”. These bags (and bits) are replaced with an empty one, whenever they collect a full one.

[My replacements were delivered in a cheerful little red bag, left outside my front door – not, interestingly, under the brick I had placed conveniently close to the bags on the front “grassy patch” (I cannot in all honesty refer to is as a “lawn”!)]

When I signed up it was explained on the web site that, as they were rather busy, it would take about 3 weeks for the welcome pack to arrive. (3 weeks later, give or take a day, it did!).

Within 24 hours of sign-up, though, I was assigned a code, which I could look up on the BEAD calendar web page to find out when the next collection day would be. (It was a Wednesday, which also happened to be a 2-bin day for Council collections. I emailed their Customer Service team to point this out and they promised to review this for future collections as they generally try to avoid such clashes). As it turned out, though the council collected in the morning and BEAD came in the afternoon, so it wasn’t a problem.

Collection day was set about a month after sign-up day, giving me plenty of opportunity to gather “stuff” ready to fill the colourful bags, when they turned up. Other members of the SS group were kindly able to provide a few extra carrier bags of material to supplement what I had amassed myself so, on the day, I was able to muster 5 bags for BEAD to collect. 5 bags of plastic saved from landfill. Not bad!

One interesting incident arose as I was trying to group my potential BEAD collection into crates – prior to the arrival of the official bags. I found two things I didn’t quite understand on the BEAD web page that lists all their bags and what to put into which. I contacted customer services and they clarified the instructions AND AMENDED THE WEB page accordingly. That impressed me!

I assigned myself a task in my garage on collection day, hoping to be able to see the BEAD van and maybe chat to the driver. The collection window is specified as “Between 9am and 8pm”. But they came just after 6pm, when hunger had forced me indoors to make my dinner!

As well as types 1 – 6 of plastic, BEAD will collect a lot of the other “standard”  recyclables as well – aluminium foil, batteries, paper, toys, books clothing, etc. which, I understand, they pass on to other local charities if they cannot recycle them.

One interesting, but frustrating, line is TETRA-PAKs. Unfortunately that service is suspended at the moment, because the local processing facility they used to pass it to had closed. As it will be popular, judging by conversations I have had, I will advise (through the SS web site and Parish Magazine) when this is available again.

One wrinkle we, in Silchester, need to be aware of, is that BEAD also collect for TerraCycle programmes – same as Ali-recycling does. The DIFFERENCE is that the charities supported by Ali-recycling are all in Silchester Village, whereas those supported by BEAD are (schools, I think), local to their Basingstoke base. Although there is a lot of overlap between the Ali-recycling TerraCycle programmes and the BEAD ones, there are around half a dozen that BEAD can use which Ali cannot.

Overall, I strongly recommend BEAD as an efficient way to recycle many of those hard-to-recycle items.


Plastic Myth Busting

  • Wise-up on alternative plastics, unless you see hard evidence
  • Don’t use single-use plastics
  • Choose to reuse instead

The Government and the plastics industry aren’t regulating the use of terms like ‘bioplastic’, ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’ in relation to alternative plastics. That means there’s nothing to stop some manufacturers using these terms to sell their products without any evidence to back up their claims, or any obligation to provide evidence if challenged.

Research shows that many of these products only degrade under very specific conditions that most shops and consumers won’t be able to replicate. You can’t just put a ‘compostable’ take away coffee cup in your home compost bin and expect it to decompose. It would need a specialist industrial composter and there are few of these in the UK, and none locally at the moment.

The products, if tested at all, are often evaluated in unnatural conditions e.g. wet wipes are tested for decomposition in a warm washing machine not in a sewer or salt water environment where they will end up if flushed as advised on the packet.

There are other problems:

  •  ‘Biodegradable’/‘compostable’ items encourage littering, especially ‘biodegradable’ dog poo bags.
  • They’re usually more expensive
  • Most alternative plastic products used in particularly by take-away food outlets (who are trying to do the right thing) end up in a litter bin.
  • There’s an established recycling industry for traditional plastics. Not only can recycling companies not recycle biodegradable plastics, these items also contaminate the traditional recycling streams.
  • If you try to compost them at home they’re highly unlikely to decompose in any meaningful timeframe.
  • Bio plastic does not encourage the behaviour change needed to address the problem of plastics ending up in our oceans, rivers, parks and hedgerows, in the food chain and in foreign landfill sites, which is why concerns about plastics were raised in the first place.

Many alternative plastics can be worse for the environment, not better than traditional plastic.

Please buy a travel mug, a re-useable water bottle or other re-useable item instead, or if you must choose a single-use plastic item, please opt for traditional plastic that you can recycle.

Insulation Properties of Older Houses: Investigation with a thermal imaging camera

Older houses pose particular challenges with regard to thermal efficiency and sustainability. For this reason Sarah and myself found it extremely useful to borrow the thermal imaging camera to investigate our house- Culhams Farmhouse. The farmhouse was built in 1840 and the original part of the house has solid brick walls although several more modern extensions have cavities and mostly meet today’s building regulation standards. Windows in the original house have thick oak frames and single glazed lead mullions. The property is Grade 2 listed so anything we do has to meet the approval of the conservation officer. Originally the house was built without a damp proof course, but a chemical course was inserted over 40 years ago much to the disapproval of the conservation officer who told us that this should not have been allowed. We don’t appear to have any significant damp issues. Today the house has a modern gas central heating system (boiler replaced 18 months ago) which is supplemented by two log burners (both replaced recently and meet today’s standards) and an open fire. I have purchased a wood moisture meter to ensure I only burn seasoned wood.

Another part of the thermal efficiency jigsaw is how we use the property. It’s relatively large and there are only the two of us rattling around in it so throughout the winter half of it is unused and unheated apart from Xmas. Two downstairs reception rooms are mostly unheated- but the radiators and log fires can bring them up to temperature quite quickly in the event they are needed. Similarly, only one of the bedrooms and both bathrooms have background heating the rest being left completely unheated. The house has two large, cavernous lofts and I have improved the depth of insulation on the one above our bedroom, but the other larger loft doesn’t meet today’s standard for thickness of insulation.

Having set the scene what did the thermal imaging camera reveal? We borrowed it on a cold and frosty night when there was a log fire in the lounge log burner and the radiators were working in the rooms we heat. The camera is very sophisticated with a large instruction manual but in simplistic mode you can forget all this and switch it on then pull and hold the trigger. The screen now reveals the thermal image, and you can walk round the outside of the property to investigate its thermal properties. Black or grey is good but yellow or orange is bad suggesting significant heat loss and red is awfully bad.

How did Culhams Farmhouse fare? The good news is (and somewhat surprising) that the walls of the original structure and all of the roofs were black showing no appreciable heat leakage. Rather surprising is that the image of the downstairs cloakroom, a 1980s addition with a conventional cavity wall construction, clearly showed the outline of its radiator in orange suggesting much greater heat loss from the newer construction. The bad news was the windows, where all of the original window openings with single glazing, showed significant heat loss. The camera was also effective in identifying heat loss through drafts. We have a new extension completed 18 months ago comprising a large kitchen extension and involved excavation of the original kitchen to install underfloor heating which is modern and efficient. (I know that earlier I said the house is too big so you might wonder why we extended- it’s a long story but in essence the space we had wasn’t in the right place). As an aside the kitchen refurbishment made a major contribution to reducing our carbon footprint as we got rid of the solid fuel AGA which used to run 24/7 throughout three seasons and consumed anthracite at an alarming rate. The kitchen extension was built with an insulated cavity wall and no problems were detected here. However, we had windows with solid oak surrounds and also tri-fold doors with solid oak frames. We were warned these might shrink and cause drafts and these were clearly visible on the camera showing as a thin strip of orange along the hinged joints. The other major draft leakage was from the old front door. This is rarely used but is the original oak door, 180 years old. Its warped and has been for years but we have a curtain we can draw across it.

So what are the next steps having seen the thermal imaging? Well, the apparent loss of heat through the solid walls was a huge relief. Solid walls can be a major problem in older properties and options are limited- wall cladding is ugly and, in any event, wouldn’t be permitted in a listed building. Thankfully, the walls at Culhams  are thick (four bricks thick in fact) greater than many older properties and thicker than modern cavity construction albeit without the benefit of high performance insulation. I’m surprised about heat loss through the downstairs cloakroom- I would have expected a 1980s construction to have insulation in the cavity but perhaps not. I will fit a thermostatic valve on the radiator and lower the temperature. I have just bought a load of draft excluder and have started to fix the worst problems. Then there is the question of the single glazed windows! Some were replaced a few years back by a previous owner and had to be handmade- the bill was huge. There is no easy answer to this but I am looking a the possibility of secondary glazing although Sarah and I have yet to agree on this radical step. In the meantime we will continue to draw the thick curtains in the winter months.

All in all, the thermal imaging experience was very good. It provided some reassurance but also focussed attention on where the quick wins are for thermal efficiency. I would recommend it to everyone.


Paul Roper

Living with an Electric Car

I love my electric car.  I’ve had a Renault Zoe for 7 years now and it still makes my smile every time I put my foot down and pull silently away from the lights faster than almost any other car.    In the word used for Rolls Royces – it has waftability.


The first question I am always asked, is how far it can get on a charge. 

Mine is an early electric car, and the range is 70-80 miles depending on driving conditions and the temperature.   There are very few days when I need to travel further than 70 miles.    Almost every charge is done at home.  I have made it to Portsmouth, Bath and Cambridge  – and all those places will come easily within range when I come to replace it,  as newer models all have ranges in excess of 200 miles.  But at the moment longer journeys need a little bit of planning, although this is getting easier as the number of charging points increases.

If you are thinking about an electric car, it is worth looking at electricity tariffs designed for the electric car owner, which don’t come up on comparison websites.  I’m currently using Octopus Go, which gives me a few hours of very cheap charging overnight, so a full charge costs less than £1.

I do like the green credentials: lower CO2 emissions and no pollution, I love the silence that allows me to listen to music without the engine as background noise, but that’s not the main reason that I would recommend an electric car.  The main reason is the driveability.  It is just so nice to have a car that responds so quickly and smoothly when you put your foot down.  It’s very difficult not to be a boy racer away from the lights.