Graduate blues & the trouble with London

I was inspired to write this post by my good pal Beth, with whom I studied at university. She wrote a post on her blog about how 2014 had been a little frustrating, and how she was taking steps to ensure this year would be a vast improvement. I don’t think Beth and I are alone in wondering where life went after the undergraduate days, where we had the freedom to get wonderfully drunk, discuss Dracula and pursue our future writing careers without the burden of: ‘Will this pay the rent?’ Unless you stumbled (mortarboard-and-all) from Bristol cathedral into your dream job, I think most of my fellow graduates have found the afterlife quite an anti-climax.

1075540_10151593951587252_1355916897_oIt sounds silly, but when you’re in the careers lectures and the one-on-ones and the ‘development’ meetings, you assume that you’ll just walk into a job you like after graduation. I did everything I could to make my CV golden; I edited student newspapers, joined drama and riding clubs, worked as a tutor for younger students, gained work experience and made loads of fabulous friends. It seemed like the perfect package – surely the Guardian would be begging me to join the team?

No, I wasn’t that foolish. But I did think I would find something, and to be fair I did. I worked in my university’s alumni office for a year after graduation, and it was a wonderful job. But when I relocated to London to start my Masters, it was a completely different story. You’d think that London would be a piece of cake; every charity, business and brand has plopped their headquarters in the capital. It must have a million, billion jobs to choose from! And it does. But there are a million, billion, trillion other people applying for them. Once I found a vacancy on a recruitment site for a plain old admin assistant. No particular skills or experience, just data entry and fetching tea. In the first four hours it had received 87 applications..

At first I faced it head on, thinking that if I just sent enough applications, one would get through. I reckon I wrote about 50 decent applications in the first few weeks of London life (I did have a crappy rent-paying job, just not one that gave me the will to live). I like to think I’m a capable wordsmith, and I thought I knew what an appealing cover letter looked like. But after weeks and weeks without even an interview for a ‘real job’, the sparkling bubble that is London started looking rather oily.

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To cut a long story short, about a week ago I moved back home to Hampshire. There were a couple of reasons involved, but for quite a while I realised I wasn’t really a ‘London’ person. I love going there for daytrips to university and work, but there’s something about living there I just can’t get on with. Everyone says this, but my GOD there are so many people it is stifling. And also smoggy. I enjoy travelling into the centre, and before Christmas I was working as a temp at Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly, which I really loved! But I missed the peace and quiet of the countryside, and I am much happier and more productive now.

So the reason for this post is to help me focus on returning home after being away for almost five years, and to start thinking about the months ahead. Ironically, I’ve now managed to find casual work at a national newspaper in the city, so I have a kind of springboard to avoid utter destitution before springtime. And despite my bitching, it’s cool to have an excuse to visit London, as the country can be a little dull on rainy days.

So if you’ll just bear with, here is a little list of things I’m doing to push myself forward, because really I’ve been rather blue.

Masters frolics

As I said, my productivity has mega increased since moving home, which is why this week I’ve been pouring over Sylvia Plath’s miserable masterpieces and trying not to see everything in red and white. I love my Masters, and I’ve worked really hard to pay my fees and get the most out of it. This will continue!

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Sugar woes

Last summer I completed Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar programme. For some reason I never blogged about it, but it was literally the best thing I’ve ever done! Aside from making me shed lots of weight, it helped me sleep better and drastically reduced my sleep talking, which is a hilarious thing to be cursed with. Since Christmas I’ve completely given into jaffa cakes and leftover chocolate coins, and I can feel myself getting podgy and tired. Back to the routine!

520b0438c566d70ad80904bbWriting and drawing

My wildlife illustrations are proving very popular, but I need to commit more time to them while I have the chance. I’ve been meaning to branch out into tote bags, stationery sets and all sorts for ages, and I’m finally going to do it! Similarly, I’ve been veeery quietly writing a novel for a while now, and I need to start giving myself the time to bash some words out each week rather than writing one lonely sentence before falling asleep to Call the Midwife.

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Volunteering for badgers

If you follow me on Twitter, you may see the occasional post about badgers and badger cull politics. I am really passionate about these monochrome little creatures, how ignorant our environment secretaries have been, and just the whole miserable business. The Badger Trust is an amazing charity that helps injured badgers and raises awareness for their welfare, and I will soon be volunteering with their West Surrey branch! I’m hoping to learn a lot about badger ecology and help out as much as possible.

6a00d8346d963f69e200e553a81e178834So there we are. What started as a rather depressing blog post has blossomed into a list of things that I think will cheer me up. Alongside the streams of ‘2015 IS GOING TO BE GREAT’ posts in the blogosphere, I’ve read a few other blogs where people are finding it hard to face 2015 with much cheer. I think perhaps if we all focus on the little things that make us feel better we can make it to spring, when we will be showered with sunshine, bunnies and easter eggs. Hoorah!

Poem of the Month: January

It’s 2015, hoorah!

Despite the fact that I am entering the new year heartily unemployed and brimming with mince pies, I’m feeling rather excited. It’s my birthday in a few days and I’m embarking on a supreme health kick involving an excess of curly kale. I’ve also been working casually at a national newspaper which looks promising, and I’ve had a few delicious ideas for my Masters thesis.

January’s poem of the month happens to be my favourite poem of all time! The Darkling Thrush was written at the turn of the century; the narrator observes the crisp, hostile landscape and anticipates a dark future ahead. But, upon hearing the ‘full-hearted evensong’ of a weary, old thrush, he is revived with hope.

Despite his depressing tendencies, Hardy is one of my favourite British writers, and I think this poem is perfect for the cynics among us who need to cheer up. I’ve included a few photos I took over Christmas in the South Downs where, when not in smoggy London, I am fortunate enough to live!

The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
          When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.
The land’s sharp features seemed to be
      The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
      The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
      Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
      Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
      Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.
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The Company of Wolves

This Christmas has been delicious in many ways, but my highlight of the festive season has been Gordon Buchanan’s two-part documentary Snow Wolf Family and Me on BBC2. Traveling to the remote Canadian Arctic, an area too hostile for human settlement, he attempts to observe and understand a family of white wolves that dwell there. Remarkably, the wolves have never before encountered humankind; what follows is the development of an intricate relationship between the cameraman and his wolves as they learn to trust one another, against the backdrop of a barren arctic wasteland.

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Gordon mentions how wolves have gained a surprisingly poor reputation, despite their dedication to companionship and pack welfare. His comments reminded me of the countless references to wolves in literature, usually depicted as evil, menacing, deceptive and murderous. One of the first novels that truly scared me was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a fierce, wonderful book that remains one of my favourites:

“Just then the moon, sailing through the black clouds, appeared behind the jagged crest of a beetling, pine-clad rock, and by its light I saw around us a ring of wolves, with white teeth and lolling red tongues, with long, sinewy limbs and shaggy hair. They were a hundred times more terrible in the grim silence which held them than even when they howled. For myself, I felt a sort of paralysis of fear. It is only when a man feels himself face to face with such horrors that he can understand their true import.”

Even in human history, we seem to cling to the idea that wolves are somehow more fearful than other creatures. When I visited Paris in June, I remember reading about a man-eating wolf pack that killed forty people in 1450, after entering the city through a breach in its walls. The leader was named Courtaud, and was thought to have bright, red fur; the Parisians eventually cornered the pack on the steps of the Notre Dame cathedral, and speared the wolves to death.

Why do we hold onto these negative portrayals of wolves as carriers of evil, but then praise the lion for pride and nobility?

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I’ve been particularly interested in wolves (and lynx, bears and beavers) after reading George Monbiot’s intriguing articles on rewilding this year. Rewilding is the idea that, since we have destroyed, diminished and wreaked havoc on the delicate ecosystems in which we live, we could benefit from reintroducing certain species back into our countryside to enrich and expand our biodiversity. For example, in Scotland there is a major problem with excessive deer populations destroying tree plantations, despite the attempts to cull them. Wolves would provide a natural predator to the deer, and create tourism opportunities like those found in Romania.

Obviously, as lovely humans, the first thing we think of is not: ‘What an excellent idea! We need to give something back to our wildlife after everything we’ve done to them.’ Ignorant fools have already expressed their outrage at the idea of letting wolves roam loose around our sacred isle, in a manner that cries, ‘Won’t somebody please think of the children?!’ Unfortunately, I have no time for these people. I never want to see anyone mauled by wildlife, but if the risk is slightly increased in exchange for a rich, beautiful and healthy ecosystem, it just seems absurd that we would still prioritise the safety of our horribly ballooning population over our cherished and vulnerable wildlife.

The worst part is that so many people still think humans and wildlife are disconnected, as if the food in our supermarkets just appears from the abyss. It’s not a case of ‘us or them'; the more species we push into extinction, the less stable our ecosystems become, and the more likely we will be unable to feed ourselves.

I recently read in BBC Wildlife magazine one of Chris Packham’s columns about the ‘ecological illiteracy of our media':

“In March this year, tabloids reported that Lydia the ‘killer fish’ had been spotted 1,000 miles off Cornwall; Lydia, an underwater weapon of mass destruction en route to terrorise our green and pleasant land. Except that her species, the great white shark, kills under 15 humans a year, whereas we slaughter tens of millions of sharks annually. We are 1,000 times more likely to be killed by lightning and 1.3 times more likely to have our life terminated by a failing vending machine than to be taken out by a shark. We also have a 100 per cent chance of not being a victim of shark attack if we stay on dry land where we belong.”

I will never understand how humans have developed the idea that we are above other species, and somehow superior to them, when in reality we just got evolutionarily lucky. It is now time to use our ‘supreme intelligence’ to reconnect with nature and start putting other species above ourselves.

You can find out more about rewilding here, or visit Population Matters for more on the human population. And here is a wolf I did. Happy new year!

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The Real Scandal behind the Nazca Lines

I’ll start off by saying how silly Greenpeace have been recently. In an attempt to increase pressure on UN negotiators meeting in Lima, the environmental organisation trespassed on the arid plains of southern Peru to lay a banner declaring: ‘Time for Change! The Future is Renewable’. In doing this, they have damaged a UNESCO world heritage site, famous for its geoglyphs etched into the earth by ancient Peruvians.

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With the resources available to Greenpeace, I’m fairly embarrassed for them that they didn’t research this project properly beforehand. Peru aren’t a wealthy country, and these intriguing lines must be worth a great deal to them, both sentimentally and financially. Greenpeace have shown little respect for the people of Peru, and it is now for them to reconcile the situation together.

Unsurprisingly, the mainstream media have utterly ripped into Greenpeace regarding Nazca-gate..

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When I googled this story, barely a single headline drew attention to the reason behind the stunt: to highlight the devastation caused by climate change and fossil fuels, and to encourage UN leaders to reconsider the future of our energy sources. Instead, they chose to focus on the damage caused by their footprints and encouraged the reader to direct our anger towards them. Certainly the damage needs highlighting – but what about the rest?

Throughout the 20th century, global temperatures have increased by 1%, with 15% of carbon emissions coming from deforestation and land use change. Climate change is going to effect the poorest regions on the planet, causing sea level rises and chaotic weather that will displace huge numbers of people around the globe. And the Nazca lines?

‘The lines themselves are superficial; they are only 10-30cm deep and could be washed away. Nazca has only ever received a small amount of rain, but now there are great changes to the weather all over the world. The lines cannot resist heavy rain without being damaged.’
Viktoria Nikitzki of the Maria Reiche Centre

In 2013, parts of the Nazca lines were also destroyed by heavy machinery used to transport limestone from a nearby quarry. The limestone firm had not been sanctioned or supervised by authorities, despite being in an archeological reserve. Yet interestingly enough, I don’t remember that story being splashed ferociously across the newspapers?

Over the last few decades, Greenpeace have been responsible for a remarkable number of successes, protecting vulnerable species and regions, and raising awareness for the damage caused by profit-seeking conglomerates. I wonder how many you have read about in the papers?

2001  The Deni Indians of the Amazon won formal recognition of rights to their traditional land, with all logging and mining thereafter prohibited
2010  They stopped Nestlé buying palm oil from sources that destroy Indonesian rainforests and the habitats of orangutans
2006  Spain confirmed it will phase out nuclear power in favour of clean, renewable energy, joining Sweden, Germany, Italy and Belgium
2010  Following a 10 year Greenpeace campaign, Europe has banned the trade in illegal timber
2010  They bought a plot of land in the middle of the proposed site for a third runway at Heathrow, after which runway plans were axed
2002  They exposed the use of illegally logged wood in the refurbishment of the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace and the Cabinet Office in Whitehall

I don’t work for Greenpeace; I’m not even a member (purely due to my financial constraints). But I’m not going to start forgetting all the amazing work they have done just because they made an insensitive mistake. Readers of this blog will know how much I criticise the mainstream media, and how I hold them responsible for so much ignorance and fear in the world. However, the other day I was thinking about it within the ‘chicken and egg’ scenario: Who is really to blame for these stories? The newspapers who print them, or the people who buy the newspapers?

Please don’t read about Nazca-gate and dismiss the work being done by environmental organisations. The papers might want you to get riled up and blame activists for a stupid mistake, but they aren’t the ones we should be angry at. There are logging and mining companies destroying acres of rainforest every day to line their own pockets, but this doesn’t sell newspapers anymore so we are encouraged to forget about it and focus on DRAMATIC things like this.

If you are interested in cool, real news, you can read the agreement concluded by UN members in Lima on how countries should tackle climate change, the next step towards achieving a global climate deal next year in Paris.

ocelot__amazon_rainforest__ecuadorA south American ocelot

Poem of the Month: December

For December’s poem of the month, I thought I should probably pick something festive to go with the season. Yet, being in love with the Romantic poets, I find this poignant poem by George Gordon Byron expresses the true spirit of Christmas. It celebrates the love, loyalty and courage of the poet’s best friend, and all they gave to one another.

Byron was a handsome, troubled soul. Often described as the most notorious of the major Romantics, he was both celebrated and castigated for his aristocratic excesses, including debts, affairs with both genders and self-imposed exile. Behind this exterior, he was a devoted animal-lover, his favourite dog being a Newfoundland called Boatswain. When Boatswain contracted rabies, Byron nursed him without care for catching the disease himself. When Boatswain passed away, Byron commissioned a memorial stone larger than his own in the grounds of Newstead Abbey, his estate in Nottinghamshire. This poem is the epitaph that adorns the stone.

The poem is important to me for the poet’s recognition of the purity of animals and how they should be remembered for their devotion and strength of character. It is only humans that are immortalised in graveyards, despite the fact that they are ‘corrupt by power’ and ‘by nature vile’. It may seem like a gloomy poem for Christmas, but it’s not! It can be a fierce reminder of how we should admire the uncomplicated hearts of animals, and turn our backs on ‘Black Friday’, money and materialism for a more simple festive month.

Epitaph to a Dog by Lord Byron

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.

This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
Boatswain, a Dog
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18th, 1808

When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown to Glory, but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below.
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master’s own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonoured falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the Soul he held on earth –
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.

Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power –
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who behold perchance this simple urn,
Pass on – it honours none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one — and here he lies.

A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society exhibited 1838 by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer 1802-1873

10 Years of the Hunting Act

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Hunting Act, which bans the hunting of wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales.

The idea of hunting animals for sport has always been abhorrent to me, and I find it perplexing how people can so willingly inflict cruelty on vulnerable creatures. I’m aware of the damage caused by wild foxes on livestock; they are known to break into a chicken coop and destroy every hen, after which they will eat only one. To combat these attacks, foxes can be caught by pest-controllers and killed in a quick, humane way; this is certainly the best option, although a better one would be not to eat chickens in the first place..

Thankfully, the majority of people are against blood sports these days, but there are a few trying to lift the ban in the name of ‘tradition’ or to ‘revive rural life’. I’m a great lover of the pastoral idyll; horse riding, pub lunches and walks in the wood are all my cup of tea, and I watch Countryfile and Downton religiously. But as American philosopher Bernard E. Rollin once said: ‘Immorality sanctified by tradition is still immorality’. There is no place in the modern world for blood sports, just as there is no place for slavery, religious crusades or gender inequality, all of which have once been an accepted part of ‘tradition’.

Whilst the ban seems fairly secure for now, there have been numerous cases of people flouting the law, chasing foxes with hounds and other offences. The League Against Cruel Sports are a fantastic charity working to expose and end cruelty inflicted on animals in the name of sport.  If you would like to keep hunting banned and help convict those who break the law, please have a look at their website and support them.

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Why I’m dumping the Body Shop

Having recently become a vegetarian, I am forever on the look out for more ways to make my lifestyle more eco-friendly. Food can be tricky; I’d really like to be a vegan but my body and mind aren’t ready to make the jump. With cosmetics, on the other hand, I don’t feel I can justify buying anything that damages wildlife or the planet. Make-up, haircare and cosmetic products are trivial things; they are a luxury and we don’t need them to survive.

Due to this, I’ve been on a little mission to get rid of the unethical products in my cosmetic routine. I am consciously avoiding palm oil in all food and cosmetics because of the devastation it’s causing in south east Asian rainforests. These rainforests are being torn down at an alarming rate in order to plant palm plantations. Although alternatives are still being debated, the situation has to slow down before their entire landscape is destroyed.

I’ve always loved buying from Lush because they have taken palm oil out of all their products. I then decided to visit the Body Shop too as they have a reputation for being ethical, and I foolishly didn’t think twice before buying raspberry body butter. When I got home, I checked the ingredients and realised it was full of palm oil! I decided to write to them and express my concerns, and ask what they were doing to keep palm oil out of their products. Here is what I wrote:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to you as a loyal Body Shop customer with concerns about the ingredients in some of your products. I have been thinking very hard about how to change my cosmetic choices to help our environment and dwindling wildlife. After careful consideration, I decided to start buying my cosmetics from two stores: Lush and the Body Shop. I believed both of these stores to be ethical about where they sourced their products, and I could find all my cosmetics needs in both.

However, very recently I bought a tub of your ‘Early Harvest Raspberry Body Butter’, as I have dry skin and your body butter has always been one of my favourite products. I was very upset to find that it contains Ethylhexyl Palmitate, which is derived from palm oil. Being a supposedly ethical company, I’m sure you must be aware of the terrible things happening in Indonesia, and the orangutans that live there are rapidly losing their homes and dying horrific deaths as their trees are being felled by powerful machines.

Palm oil is not a necessary ingredient in anything, and alternatives can easily be found. I recently spoke to Divine, the ethical chocolate company, who do not use palm oil in any of their products. They mentioned that in their caramel bar, palm oil would have been the go-to ingredient to make the caramel soft and squidgy. They admitted that it had taken some time, but they had succeeded in finding a perfect palm oil substitute. I have tasted their caramel bars, and they are absolutely top notch.

I’m aware that many companies claim they use ‘sustainable’ palm oil, and perhaps this is what you believe you are using. However, in Greenpeace’s report Cooking the Climate, they discovered that ‘sustainable’ palm oil can be just as dangerous as uncertified palm oil. Many of the large businesses like Cadbury’s Tesco and Unilever who are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) are taking no steps to avoid the worst practices associated with the palm oil industry, and deforestation continues at an alarming rate. There have also been examples of land being taken from natives without consent in order to plant palm crops.

I believe you to be an ethical company, and I would still like to buy cosmetics from you. However, I cannot consciously help a business to profit from these kinds of practices, and I have started looking elsewhere. Are you aware of the consequences of palm oil production? Have you looked into changing your ingredients?

Yours sincerely,

Tiffany Francis

After a long, long wait, I finally received a response to my enquiry. Rather than an informed reply addressing the individual concerns in my letter, I was disappointed to receive a generic ‘palm oil response’, which they obviously hand out to anyone who questions their ethics. It’s one of the most blatant displays of poor customer service I’ve ever seen, and has made me completely rethink my attitude toward the company. Here is their enlightened response:

Dear Tiffany,

Thank you for your letter. Palm oil is one of the world’s most popular vegetable oils, used in thousands of everyday products, from margarine to lipstick and is consumed by over a billion people across the world. It is also a common ingredient in many of our products, like our soaps. Indonesia and Malaysia are home to 90% of the world’s palm oil and 100% of the world’s orangutans. The rainforest in Borneo has halved in size and where once 300,000 orangutans roamed the earth, 50,000 now struggle for survival. If this continues, orangutans will be extinct in 12 years. Clearing forests for palm oil plantations deprives local communities of their livelihood, and sometimes forces them off the land.

We were the first retailers to join the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which is changing the way palm oil is traded. Several palm oil plantations are now in the process of meeting the new international standards we have helped to set up through the RSPO so the way they produce palm oil is far less damaging socially and environmentally. In 2007 we started using sustainable palm oil in our soaps.

We are pleased to inform you that since 2011, 100% of the unmodified palm oil use in the Body Shop products has been certified sustainable by the RSPO. Our supplier, based in Papua New Guinea, has been certified by RSPO. The Body Shop’s soaps contain the largest percentage of sustainable palm oil out of all our products. Soon, all soaps at the Body Shop will display the RSPO logo on the packaging, as a way of raising the profile of this important not-for-profit accreditation association. I hope this answers your question.

May we thank you for your interest in the Body Shop online and we look forward to serving you again in future.

Dusan Kovacevic, UK Customer Relations

So what questions have they actually answered in this letter? They have ignored my question about considering alternative ingredients; they have ignored my question about the effectiveness of ‘sustainable’ palm oil and the RSPO. They don’t even seem to have read my letter, as they have quoted facts and figures back at me that I have already mentioned, as if I didn’t know about deforestation and the RSPO.

Although I would be foolish to discredit an entire organisation based on one letter, this is merely the icing on the cake. They have been the centre of controversy in recent years when they were part-bought by L’Oréal, who have a history of animal cruelty and anti-semitism. When I read things like the Wash your Hands of Palm Oil campaign at Lush, and see how much effort they are putting into creating beautiful, ethical products, why should I give my time and money to a company that can’t even be bothered to send me a genuine letter?

I will no longer be shopping at the Body Shop, and I encourage you to do the same. I am also very excited to announce that I am currently constructing an ethical food and cosmetics list, which will become a permanent page on my blog. If you are keen to buy products that are kind to the planet, watch this space!

Bornean orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus); Tanjung Puting National Park, South Kalimantan (K. Selatan), Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), Indonesia

Poem of the Month: November

I’ve been very excited to post November’s poem of the month as it was written by someone I know! Bruce is an ex-Marine, personal trainer and actor who enjoys dabbling in poetry, and he wrote this lovely poem about a rather out-of-place duck in Trafalgar Square. I think it’s fabulous, and I painted a silly little illustration to accompany it. Enjoy!

A Duck Amongst the Pigeons by Bruce Alexander

Trafalgar square is the place to land,
Many a tourist with bread in hand,
A certain dress code is required though,
Unless you’re a pigeon, you just don’t go.

No penguins there in evening suit,
Nor swan or goose or glebe or coot,
A bird of prey might pass on through,
But they have no taste for the birds in grey and blue.

Swallows, tits, finch and wren,
They think of coming but think again,
The pigeons rule this al fresco venue,
With only bread upon its menu.

Until that is, I spy a sight,
One that filled me with such delight,
A flash of colour amidst mediocre grey,
I will always remember ’til my dying day.

A duck amongst the pigeons here,
A sight that filled my heart with cheer,
Through the crowds he waddles proud,
Never afraid to be too loud.

Words and water cannot harm,
As he wanders along so cool, so calm,
A lesson to all, be yourself and shine,
Then with Nelson you can wine and dine.

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My Green Reads

I once wanted to be a journalist for a while, and although this dream has pretty much dissolved in a haze of media hatred, I have retained my love of specialist magazines. I rarely touch newspapers anymore, but I read a small collection of publications surrounding the theme of wildlife and environmental conservation, and I thought I’d share my favourites! Sort of like book club, but shinier and with more pictures.

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Resurgence & Ecologist is a fairly new title formed of two established magazines, Resurgence and The Ecologist (shocker). It covers environmental issues, ethical living, philosophy, art and spirituality, and is very much a voice of the green movement in Britain. I really enjoy the eclectic range of topics covered, and there is always something unexpected to learn about. The scientific articles are particularly fascinating, and the entire reading experience is just good for the soul.

BBC Wildlife is one of my favourites mainly because my subscription comes addressed to Lady Tiffany Francis (such fun). It is a vibrant and visually delicious magazine all about wildlife in Britain and around the world, with some really beautiful photography and illustrations. Aside from updates on conservation and research, it features fantastic articles on different species and ecosystems, as well as identification pages to help you explore nature around you. This month’s issue had a great little article about rainforest-friendly coffee that is grown in the canopy shade rather than logging to clear space.

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I can’t help but love Countryfile magazine as I worked as an intern for them whilst at university. It’s a great magazine (and programme) because it explores and celebrates the relationship between humans and nature, from heritage sites and walking trails to country fairs and birdwatching. The only problem I have is they aren’t allowed to take sides with debates like the Hen Harrier crisis, as their target audience is rooted in both sides of the argument: the wonderful nature lovers and the rather short-sighted grouse moor landowners. However, it’s a great magazine and solid companion for country walks, and certainly celebrates the great outdoors!

British Wildlife is one of my favourite finds in recent months. It comes from an independent publishing house and has been a brilliant tool in my personal journey towards understanding ecology. My specialist subject has always been English Literature and I love my Masters which I started in September. However, as I am hoping to become a successful nature writer, I am also determined to get a thorough grounding in ecology and understand how our natural world works. British Wildlife is a super journal with intriguing and thoughtful articles about our nation’s biodiversity, and it has been a really rewarding read for me. I recommend it if you are interested in more than just pretty pictures (although it has those too), and you have a thirst for fresh research and amazing nature stories.

Going Vegetarian

I very recently made the decision to become a vegetarian! I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while, but could never bring myself to give up lamb chops or bacon. I’m too poor to buy meat on a regular basis, but I love a slither of something crispy.

However, as you may have realised I am extremely passionate about protecting the environment and reversing the damage we have done to the planet. I’m the first to admit that I can get pretty heated and preachy about it all, but I realised that by continuing to eat meat I am being incredibly hypocritical. So I’ve decided to give it up – and it feels great!

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So why go vegetarian? My reasons are mostly environmental. I absolutely love animals and have always bought free-range where I can, but I chose to become a vegetarian because of the bigger picture. In July The Guardian reported that the red meat industry has a larger carbon footprint than the motoring industry, producing 18% of the world’s global carbon emissions. If that statistic isn’t enough, we are given constant visual reminders of the devastation caused by the industry. Huge areas of rainforest are legally and illegally logged every day to make room for grazing. If you didn’t like Saruman’s treatment of Fangorn Forest in The Two Towers, imagine it happening every day in the Amazon…

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I love doing anything I can to combat our environmental crisis, and it feels really good to finally have the balls to give up meat and fish. The main reason I’ve given up fish is because of our global problems with unsustainable fishing and wildlife destruction, and also because of something my friend told me, who works in marine conservation: Our oceans are now so full of plastic that they are starting to find plastic molecules in the fish we eat. Lovely!

‘A recent study into historical records has revealed that since we started fishing on an industrial scale 120 years ago, our major fish stocks have shrunk by a staggering 94%.’
Rabbit Science

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I’d like to go the whole hog and become a vegan one day, because the dairy industry can be just as cruel and carbon-consuming as the meat industry, but a dairy-free diet is such a massive lifestyle change. However, it would be a great thing to do and I will one day! For now, I’ve asked for vegetarian cookbooks for Christmas, and I’ve been experimenting with lots of intriguing pulses and funky vegetables.

I’ve also bought one of those lovely brown Paperchase books to collect vegetarian recipes together as a sort of food journal, so please let me know any delicious recipes you’d like to share!

You can follow these links for more information…

Why Go Veg? (Vegetarian Times)

Solutions to Deforestation (Greenpeace) 

Working for Sustainable Fishing (WWF)