Valuing our natural environment looks at how the food we eat and water we use impacts the natural world and how we can support wildlife. It is about choosing low impact, local, seasonal food, using water more efficiently and minimising pollution, and protecting and expanding natural habitats and creating space for wildlife.
The land and wildlife around us is the most important asset we have and we can all play a part in helping to protect it. Because the food we eat typically makes up the largest part of our ecological footprint and the South East of England is more water stressed than Syria and Sudan, how we produce and use these valuable resources has a big impact on our local and global environment.
Our top tips
- Eat less meat, and more fresh fruit and vegetables. Eating less meat is probably the easiest way to reduce your ecological footprint. 18% of global carbon emissions result from livestock with lamb and beef having the biggest footprints. Cutting down on the amount of meat you eat, maybe becoming a week-day vegetarian or starting off with meat free Monday’s is a great way to cut the carbon. A meat lover’s diet is likely to have a 70% higher food carbon footprint compared with someone who doesn’t eat beef.
- Eat seasonally. Each fruit or vegetable has a prime time when it’s at its seasonal best and when you can get it grown in Britain. That means extra flavour and fewer food miles. There are lots of information on eating seasonal food, check out the Eat Seasonably website, and take a look at Leon’s beautiful seasonal food chart. You can also sign up to Sutton Community Farm’s local veg box scheme where a supply of locally grown, seasonal veg will be delivered to you on a weekly basis.
- Buy organic. Organic food is good for your well-being and the environment. The UK Government’s own advisors found that plant, insect and bird life is up to 50% greater on organic farms. In addition, organic food releases less greenhouse gases than non-organic farming and organic standards insist that animals are given plenty of space and fresh air to thrive and grow. For more information, visit The Soil Association website.
- Grow your own. The best way to cut down on food miles is to grow your own! It is very rewarding and you know exactly where your food has come from. If this sounds a bit too much effort for now or you don’t have much outside space, you could start by growing your own herbs in a window box. There is lots of information online about how to grow your own and even information on how to grow your own melons!
- Avoid fishy business. If you eat fish it’s really important to choose fish from sustainably managed fisheries as so many areas have been over-fished. A guarantee of this is the Marine Stewardship Council mark, and their website gives guidance on the best fish to eat as well as lots of information on the state of our seas.
- Install a hippo. ‘Save-a-Flush’ or ‘Hippos’ are pouches you put in the toilet to save water on the flush. They typically save 3 litres of water per flush which makes a big difference as on average 30% of our water use just comes from flushing the loo. Your local water company should give them to you for free, else go head over to your local DIY store, they are very cheap to buy.
- Shower shorter. Whilst a quick shower uses much less water than a bath, if everyone in the country stuck to a 4 minute shower we would save enough water to supply 1 million homes every day. Saving water in the shower is also a double win as you save on the energy used to heat the water too, cutting your energy bills. You can also cut your shower water use by installing an aerated shower head. These maintain the pressure by mixing the water with air but use a lot less water.
- Avoid bottled water. With bottled water costing about the same as petrol, it’s strange that people buy it. The quality of tap water in the UK is among the best in the world and much cheaper. It also has a much lower environmental impact with bottled water production needing as much as 2,000 times the energy compared to producing tap water.
- Water butts and efficient gardening. Having a hose or sprinkler on for 1 hour uses the same amount of water as a family of four would use in two days. So, if you have a garden, get a water butt! Water butts are a great way to save water in the garden and use rain water instead of tap water to keep your plants happy and green. There are also some fantastic tips for saving water and making your garden more drought resistant from the Royal Horticultural Society.
- Turn off the taps and check for leaks. It’s sort of common sense, but make sure all taps are turned off when not in use (especially when brushing your teeth) and if you have any leaks (in your toilet or taps) get it checked out by a plumber as soon as you can.
- Plant native species. Using plants that grow naturally in your area is the best option for wildlife-friendly gardening and will help attract all kinds of. Lots of ornamental garden plants have been introduced to the country in the last few hundred years so aren’t so good for local wildlife. The Royal Horticultural Society have lots of information on native trees and shrubs for a Great British garden.
- Create space for wildlife. As well as having native species growing in your garden, there are other ways to create space for wildlife. Leaving an undisturbed area of your garden, putting in bird feeders and nesting boxes, and drilling holes in pruned branches and logs to provide insects with shelter and nesting space are great ways to encourage more wildlife into your garden. If you want to find out more the RSPB have lots of tips.
- Volunteer with a local conservation group. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer in Sutton and help our wildlife. Volunteering is also a great way to keep fit and make friends. Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers are a Sutton based group who have regular sessions maintaining key wildlife sites in the borough. The Wildlife Trusts also have loads of volunteering opportunities across the country and in the local area.
- Peat free and organic gardening. Buying garden products containing peat contributes to the destruction of peat bogs, so it is important to use a peat-free compost. Defra estimate that by using peat, British gardeners release almost half a million tonnes of locked up CO2 into the atmosphere every year. Fertilisers and pesticides can also damage the natural system and may harm some of the wanted wildlife as well as the pests. Organic fertiliser such as homemade compost or wood ash releases nutrients more slowly so are better for your plants. Click here for more information.
Case study projects
Sutton Community Farm. Sutton Community Farm was set up in 2010 on a disused 7.5-acre smallholding to increase organic local food production in Sutton and beyond. The farm aims to provide a model for small scale sustainable farming in London, to develop vocational opportunities and create employment. The farm is now a not-for-profit social enterprise, run a veg box delivery scheme and supply other London box schemes and food outlets. If you want to have a look around, do a bit of food growing or find out more about the veg box scheme go to Sutton Community Farm’s website.
The Grange. As part of the Greening Businesses project the Grange pub and restaurant saved £2,700 worth of water per year with an environmental audit, delivered by Bioregional on behalf of Sutton Council and funded by ERDF. East Sutton and Surrey water visited the pub and identified various water leaks. Flow restrictors were fitted and flow rates adjusted to make taps more efficient, and leaks were fixed. These simple steps reduced the Grange’s water usage from 7m3 per day to just 1.4m3, saving half a tonne of CO2 and £2,700 in water bills. An audit at the nearby Red Lion pub had a similar result, halving its water consumption – saving a further £600 per year.
Hackbridge Rain gardens. As part of the Heart of Hackbridge regeneration project we introduced rain gardens into the pavements. These are examples of ‘Sustainable Urban Drainage Solutions’ or SUDS. When it rains, the run off on pavements is directed into the rain gardens which can hold a lot of water. Instead of the water immediately rushing into the drains, it is stored and slowly released or used by the plants. The rain gardens also look great and bring extra greenery into the area, great for people and local wildlife.
Living Wandle. This project started as a five year, £500,000 project to restore the River Wandle following a major pollution incident in 2007 from the Beddington Sewerage Treatment Works. Phase 1 concentrated on education, riverfly monitoring, compensation to local clubs, fish restocking and funding for the Wandle Trust. Some of this was used to grow trout in school classrooms, and improve access and habitats along the river. Phase 2 supported the National Trust and London Wildlife Trust to create water vole habitats in Mitcham, eel passages, and the removal of a weir in Hackbridge.
A network that aims to increase our understanding of how the food system contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and what we can do to reduce them.
The Local Food Network set up by EcoLocal in Sutton will help you find out all you need to know about growing your own fruit and veg, swap growing tips, seeds and plants, information on healthy eating and cooking and how you can get involved in food growing in Sutton.
Sutton and East Surrey Water like most local water suppliers have free gadgets available for customers to help you save water. These include toilet hippos, flow restrictors for taps and shower timers.
The leading authority on water efficiency in the UK and Europe, Water Wise can help provide useful information on how you can save water at home and at work.
SNCV is the main nature conservation organisation operating within Sutton and has been working to conserve and maintain Sutton’s many wildlife sites since 1987. If you want to get involved contact firstname.lastname@example.org
London Wildlife Trust is the only charity dedicated solely to protecting the capital’s wildlife and wild spaces, engaging London’s diverse communities through access to our nature reserves, campaigning, volunteering and education. On their website you can find out lots of useful information on looking after our local wildlife and how you can get involved.