50 ways to live a greener life in Cambridgeshire - Part I
As concern over climate change and the loss of biodiversity soar, we offer some practical tips on simple actions you can take now, from examining your energy use, to what you can do in the garden, and from altering the way you travel to the food and drink you consume. Look out for part II in the Cambridge Independent (June 26-July 2 issue), with advice for shoppers, businesses and more.
1 Pick a green energy tariff
We all know it’s a good idea to switch your energy provider regularly to save money. When you do, pick a provider and tariff that offers renewable energy. It’s possible now to pick 100 per cent renewable electricity tariffs. Bear in mind we’re connected to a grid, which also includes electricity generated from non-renewable sources, so it’s impossible to say your electricity usage is carbon-free - but you can help improve the UK performance.
2 Insulate your home
About a third of heat lost in the home escapes through the walls. Cavity wall insulation typically costs an average of £330 for a flat, and saves £70 annually, while it costs £725 for a detached house and saves £255 a year, meaning you can get your money back in a few years. In doing so, a flat owner will save 290kg of carbon dioxide a year – and a detached household will save a massive 1,000kg of CO2 annually.
Further savings can be made in your loft or roof space. Even if it’s already insulated, you could save more money and carbon emissions by increasing the thickness of your insulation.
New windows and doors can be expensive but can help you keep that thermostat down and save money on your bills.
A cheaper measure is draught-proofing – remember not to block sources of intentional ventilation.
3 Be energy conscious
Encourage your household to be more conscious of their energy usage. Try turning your thermostat down a degree and save £80 a year, switch lights to LEDs and turn them off when not needed – and switch devices off instead of leaving them on standby (that could save you £30 a year too). All of these small actions makes a difference. For more tips, visit energysavingtrust.org.uk.
4 Save water
Water is the most precious resource on Earth and we live in the driest region in the UK here. Cambridgeshire is significantly drier than Morocco, in fact.
Why not encourage the whole family to be more water conscious with these simple tips from Anglian Water?
- Use a bowl to wash fruit and veg, then use the bowl to water the plants.
- Wash clothes only on a full load to save 10 litres a time - and use eco mode.
- Using a dishwasher that’s full can be more water efficient than washing by hand, particularly if you use eco mode.
- Showers use less water than baths, providing you spend less than 10 minutes in there. If you do have a bath, save up to 35 litres by only filling three-quarters of it. If each member of a family of four spends a minute less in the shower, it would save £120 a year. Some 25 per cent of your energy bill comes from heating water.
- Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth – it costs 12 litres in two minutes. And only put as much water in the kettle as you need – or you’ll waste water, electricity and time.
- Don’t use hosepipes: using one for 15 minutes to wash a car wastes 30 buckets, whereas you could wash one in five buckets. Similarly, use a watering can to water the garden. Water butts can catch 5,000 litres of rainwater a year.
- And there’s no need to water the grass – it naturally goes brown in dry weather and recovers easily.
Now test your family with the water saving quiz at anglianwater.co.uk.
5 Get smart
Smart meters ensure your bills are more accurate, prevent the need for manual readings and can be connected to monitors that enable the whole family to keep an eye on your energy usage. Knowledge is less power, if you see what we mean. Water meters are also a good move to help you save water and money by being more conscious of usage. It’s free, you can apply online and Anglian Water says customers typically save £150.
6 Go solar
A typical home solar panel system can save you 1.3 to 1.6 tonnes of carbon a year.
But do it for the environment, not to save money. The government’s feed-in tariff scheme, which paid you money for returning electricity to the grid, ended on March 31, 2019, so financially it’s now much harder to recoup your investment. In this part of England, you could save between £100 and £240 a year on electricity costs, depending on how long you spend at home, and an average installation is about £6,200.
In the garden
7 Let the grass grow
Lawn is far better than decking and paving. But better still - allow a patch to grow and flower. The RPSB says: “Areas of uncut long grass are an important habitat for all sorts of insects and minibeasts, not to mention a feasting ground for the hungry birds which feed on them.” And avoid weedkillers and artificial fertilisers on your lawn - they’re bad for birds and other animals.
8 Fill your borders with wildlife-friendly flowers and shrubs
Use native, nectar-rich flowers to attract bees and butterflies, like poppies, cornflowers and foxgloves. Choose single-petal varieties, particularly annuals. Ensure your garden has seeds, berries and fruit that provides food for birds and animals.
9 Don’t have a garden?
Windowboxes and planters can still be useful to nature. And if you’ve got a communal garden, talk to your neighbours and whoever maintains it about making it more friendly for wildlife.
10 Provide homes for nature
Trees, hedges, shrubs and climbers provide natural homes. Install nestboxes - it’s very fulfilling to see them used - but think carefully about where you put them: the RSPB has plenty of advice on this. You can also put up bat boxes and insect homes. Log piles, dead wood and compost can be great for attracting minibeasts - and the more insects and bugs you’ve got, the more food there is for wildlife.
11 Water is the source of life
Putting a pond in your garden is one of the best ways to attract wildlife and it needn’t be complicated. Just make sure there’s an easy slope in to prevent hedgehogs or other animals from getting trapped. Providing fresh water in a birdbath and on a dish will also be much appreciated by the wildlife.
Any supply of water in a garden can make a huge difference - as well as aquatic life, birds and insects all need water, so the benefits are invaluable. The bigger the pond, the more species will be attracted, however if short on time and space, old Belfast sinks can make nice ponds even as a patio ponds or they can be dug into earth.
The Wildlife Trust in Cambridgeshire says: “Ponds are so important because frogs, toads and newts are all declining. They don’t have to take up much space or time - mini ponds are easy to create from a whole range of containers, and even easier to take care of. Adding marbles or stones to a shallow water dish creates a perch for bees and other pollinators. Another idea is to simply dig a shallow channel or hollow to allow excess rainwater to pool - this will slow storm water run-off as well as adding wildlife habitat.”
12 Help our hedgehogs
Numbers of our spiky friends have plummeted as their natural habitat and prey have declined. In the 1950s there were 30 million in the UK. Now there are one million. To help, put hedgehog holes in your fences and encourage your neighbours to do the same to allow them to forage between gardens. Remove netting, put in a hedgehog home to provide shelter, and put down hedgehog food and fresh water (no milk - it’s bad for them). Shepreth Wildlife Conservation Charity runs a hedgehog hospital and you can sponsor a hedgehog, or offer to rehome one. Another charity that is helping is Cambridge Hedgehogs - follow @CamHedgehogs for advice.
13 Avoid compost containing peat
Digging up peat to provide compost for gardeners is hugely destructive. Peat bogs are a vital habitat, but also store vast amounts of carbon. A loss of only five per cent of UK peatland carbon would be equal to the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, the IUCN found in 2011. That year, the government pledged to phase out the use of peat in garden products by 2020 and in commercial use by 2030: but it’s still very much in evidence. Ask your garden centre for peat-free compost.
14 Ditch the pesticides
Using chemicals in the garden can have significant knock-on effects throughout the food chain, damaging plants, affecting pollinators and destroying sources of food for garden birds. The best route is to encourage wildlife to get on with natural predation. “Ladybirds, lacewings, frogs, hedgehogs and birds are all great at limiting numbers of garden pests such as aphids and slugs,” says the RSPB, which has further advice on organic pest control at https://bit.ly/2FiDvU9.
15 Feed the birds
Putting out food all year round for our feathered friends is really important, given that urbanisation and the industrialisation of agriculture has had such devastating impacts on many species. Keep your feeders clean to avoid spreading disease, move them around, use a variety of bird foods and provide fresh water too. Then sit back and enjoy the natural show!
Food and drink
16 Be a meat reducer
Flexitarianism is on the rise as people realise the environmental and health benefits of reducing their meat intake. The average UK person eats 84.2kg of meat per year - adding to our carbon footprint, thanks to the methane released by farm animals, as well as the transportation required. It also takes 16,000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of beef. And of course, livestock require plenty of land, leading to deforestation in some countries. If going vegetarian or vegan is out of the question for you, try reducing the number of meals you have with meat in. Some people opt for ‘Meat Free Mondays’, for example. Eating a more plant-based diet can benefit your health too.
17 Try vegan when you dine out
Reducing your meat intake doesn’t have to go out the window when you dine out. Try the popular vegan restaurants Stem & Glory in King Street, or The Rainbow Cafe in King’s Parade. Relevant Records, in Mill Road, NOVI, in Regent Street, and Hot Numbers in Gwydir Street and Trumpington Street are among a host of places offering good vegan options in Cambridge.
18 Water for life
Thanks to the ‘Attenborough effect’, we all know the impact of plastic pollution on our seas. Take a reusable water bottle out with you, instead of buying a new plastic bottle of water.
19 Careful with the coffee
Some of the big coffee shop companies have been slow to wake up to the harm they’ve been doing with their polyethylene-lined coffee cups, which are difficult to recycle if mixed with other waste. But finally, chains are beginning to offer in-store recycling, and some offer you a discount if you take in your own cup. Choose a coffee shop that cares.
20 It’s a wrap
While aluminium foil and clingfilm can be recycled, there’s a better option: why not wrap food in BeeBee Wraps? The Cambridge company’s organic cotton and beeswax wraps can be used to keep your sandwiches fresh, make pouches, or cover food in the fridge. Visit https://beebeewraps.com/.
21 Don’t go the extra mile
Think about food miles: buying from a farm shop not only means you’re supporting a local business, but gives you the option to buy from local producers - and there are often organic choices too. For starters, try Radmore Farm Shop in Cambridge’s Victoria Avenue, Gog Farm Shop at Shelford Bottom, Coton Farm Shop in Cambridge Road, Coton, The Larder at Burwash Manor, Bury Lane Farm Shop in Melbourn, or The Bushel Box Farm Shop in Willingham.
On your travels
22 Using sustainable transport
Getting out of our cars is one of the best things we can do for the environment. Think about each journey you make: Could you walk, cycle or use public transport instead? If you really can’t ditch the motor for work, could you cut back by using sustainable transport one day a week? Could a car-sharing arrangement work? Or would your employer let you work from home once a week to reduce car use? The Park & Ride service could at least help you avoid driving into the congested city.
23 Charge it
If you really do need a car, make your next one a hybrid or, better still, an electric car and make use of the free charging points at Cambridge car parks, such as Queen Anne Terrace or Grand Arcade.
24 Pick an electric taxi
When ordering a taxi, ask for an electric one. The more passengers who do so, the more likely it is that taxi firms will buy them.
Cambridge City Council has installed rapid chargers to encourage taxi firms to go electric - and Panther Taxis has purchased some electric vehicles.Visitelectrify.taxi/campaign/cambridge/ to read about the campaign to electrify the Cambridge fleet.
25 Why fly?
Do you really need that extra foreign holiday? Flying less could be the most effective way for you to reduce your carbon footprint. And if you must fly, try buying a carbon offset - but check that the programme is credible.
Next week: 25 more ideas to help you lead a greener life, including advice for shoppers and businesses.
More by this authorPaul Brackley