Green Societies Guide

10458859_693481564069381_2113089142360349256_nIf you missed all the fun of the (Big Green) Fair on Monday, then don’t worry – there are still plenty of opportunities to meet the green societies and groups based in St Andrews. Check out our previous blog post for the full Freshers’ event line-up, or keep reading for our run-down of the different groups St Andrews has to offer – there really is something for everyone!

Animal Welfare Society

524962_147884018691164_2139361533_nThe Animal Welfare Society (AWSoc) are dedicated to the wellbeing and fair treatment of all animal kind. The society  campaigns against cruelty to animals and supports animal-friendly alternatives. The society also volunteers and fundraises for local shelters, and host regular documentary nights.

Check out their website and Facebook page to get involved.

Bike Pool Group

fd3c2f_8542d1b388d71c462639b8017a265d28.png_srz_1800_1200_85_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzThe Bike Pool are a community Group with a three-part program:
1. To operate as a skill share, primarily of bike repair and maintenance skills
2. To refurbish abandoned/donated bicycles so they can be put back into circulation in the local community
3. To promote cycling within our community as a healthy and sustainable form of transportation

Join their Facebook group to find out more information about the group and upcoming maintenance sessions.

Carbon Conversations

coffee-cup-image-300x212Carbon Conversations are a unique and inspiring series of 6 group discussions, and are cited as one of the top solutions to climate change. The sessions involve group activities, knowledge-building, idea-sharing and reflections, where participants will have the opportunity to explore climate change both practically and emotionally.

Sign up for a series of sessions here.

Edible Campus

1969157_366580283485024_996722225_nThe Edible Campus project aims to reinvigorate our skills, knowledge and interest in eating more locally whilst increasing the amount of food growing within the University grounds for the benefit of students, staff and the wider community. There are over 10 different Edible Campus food growing spaces across town, and everyone is welcome to get involved – whether you’re a keen gardener or have never planted anything before!

Check out the Edible Campus webpage, like their Facebook page or join the Facebook group for more info!

Environment Team (that’s us!)

1465925_609448629115878_1841238397_oWe manage issues affecting the University that relate to sustianable development, including carbon emissions, biodiversity, waste reduction, transportation and resource use. We use this blog to engage with students to provide information on upcoming events and opportunities to get involved in making St Andrews a more sustainable place to live, work, and study.

Join us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with events, and drop us an email (environment@st-andrews.ac.uk) or check out our website for practical information regarding sustainable travel, food, energy use, the local environment, and waste management.

Fairtrade Steering Group

FairtradeLogoWhiteThe Fairtrade Steering Group promotes the use of Fairtrade products across campus and works on Fairtrade initiatives. The group also organises events for Fairtrade Fortnight, which takes place in semester 2 with Fairtrade wine tasting, bake sales, talks, visits to local schools, and the ever-popular Fairtrade Cook-Off!

Like their Facebook page or email fairtrade@st-andrews.ac.uk to get involved!

Greenpeace St Andrews

profile_img1_greenpeaceGreenpeace exists because this fragile earth deserves a voice. It needs solutions. It needs change. It needs action. If you like a good project and a good cause, join Greenpeace. The group encourage you to join the action and the fun in any of their weekly meetings, street campaigns, actions or socials!

Find them on Facebook or Twitter to start getting involved.

OneWorld Society

50494_35775563516_9171_nOneWorld campaigns on human rights, poverty, and the environment as part of People and Planet (the largest UK student campaigning network). They also organise numerous events and run the VegBox scheme.

Join the OneWorld Facebook group, or the VegBox group to find out more.

Saint Exchange

10460451_318878784943846_5836232256016066555_nSaint Exhange is a local trading scheme allowing people to trade locally in and around St Andrews. The scheme allows local residents to join for free and trade goods/skills/services using “Saints”.  By measuring trades using “Saints”, the scheme provides a service whereby members can share skills and talents that they enjoy and thus earn Saints, which they can spend them on the things that they want or need from other members.

To sign up, check out their website and Facebook page.

St Andrews Environmental Network (StAndEn)

10455322_738217186201162_6047836635977374219_nStAndEn is a community-led energy saving project, which aims to help you reduce CO2 emissions and cut household fuel bills through simple low cost steps. If you live in private rented accommodation, they can do a free home energy assessment and tell you how you can make savings.

For more information check out their website and Facebook page.

St AndRe-Use

10154342_1380538758895673_1145329313350358460_nSt AndRe-Use is a student organised reuse scheme in St Andrews. They collect, sort, and give away all donated items for free! St AndRe-Use set up donation points across campus during exam and graduation weeks. They save the environment, space and your sanity from the burden of too much stuff!

 To get involved check out their webpage, or join the Facebook group to start claiming and giving away items!

Sustainability Society

1047963_1474211176126570_1312490545_oThe Sustainability Society’s mission is to raise the awareness about sustainability issues amongst St Andrews students, and are dedicated to making St Andrews as sustainable as possible. The society undertakes academic, social, and practical activities to implement sustainability at all scales – from organising seminars to practical action.

Join in and find out more by visiting their Facebook page.

Transition University of St Andrews

466289_251323201618555_1429781240_oTransition University of St Andrews is part of a global movement responding to the threats of climate change and resource depletion. Transition works on practical projects that help communities become more self-sufficient, minimises environmental impacts, and strengthens community ties.

To get involved email transition@st-andrews.ac.uk or explore the many projects on their website and Facebook page.

Veg Soc

10177317_762903493729892_1990981121759130606_nDo you love to eat and cook veggie and vegan food? Then this is the society for you! Join them for veggie feasts, potlucks, parties, picnics, trips and more. Everyone is welcome – no politics, just food.

Join VegSoc on Facebook to keep up to date with their events.

Wildlife & Conservation Society

seal10Interested in wildlife and conservation? This society holds events such as presentations, documentary screenings, moth trapping, bat tracking, local conservation work, and more!

Go wild and find out more on Facebook.

Most of these groups will have a stall at the Freshers’ Fayre (Sunday 12th Sept, 10-4 in Venue 1) so if any take your fancy then head along to find out more, and sign up to start getting involved in creating a greener St Andrews!

Spring Biodiversity Surveys

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Spring is one of the best times conduct surveys and is a great excuse to get out and enjoy the new foliage!

Back in our December blog we discussed our plans for launching a new biodiversity surveying project for the Spring. Well, now that Spring’s upon us we have some reporting to do!

Our 5 Transition biodiversity interns have been working hard surveying multiple locations around the University grounds, trialing new Biodiversity Indexing methods for recording habitat diversity. Their reports have been coming in this week with some real gems of insight about the local wildlife that surrounds us right here in St Andrews!

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A giant snail? Fungal growth?… Nope! This is a solitary wasp’s nest discovered by biodiversity intern Alec Christie.

How do the surveys work?

The Biodiversity Index is a relatively new surveying method developed in by the University of Northampton. Intended for non-specialists, the Biodiversity Index provides a simple and straightforward way to measure the diversity if urban and semi-urban areas.

By focusing on habitat structures, areas sizes and leaf counts, the survey establishes a benchmark indexing ‘score’ for target areas. “The score is a snapshot of the natural environment at a specific location (and a specific point in time) and can be used as a benchmark to monitor and manage biodiversity improvement” (biodiversityindex.org).

Most recommendations for improving biodiversity are common-sense solutions to boosting habitat diversity. For example, recommendations from our several of our surveys include:

  • provide bird and bat boxes to encourage roosting, hibernating and breeding
  • when replanting, use native species if possible
  • link hedgerows to create corridors for small mammals, birds and other animals to travel between
  • reducing or eliminate mowing schemes where possible

We’ve found a high level of diversity in areas not usually associated with wild beasts & critters – St Mary’s Quad for example contains a relatively high level of habitat diversity despite being located in the centre of town! Check out the report for yourself here.

Moorhen (image by RSPB)

Moorhens were recorded at the Andrew Melville pond site (image from rspb.org.uk)

One of the best places for observing local biodiversity is at the pond and grassy area to the West of Andrew Melville Hall. A hidden hotspot for wildlife, and especially water fowl, located at the end of town, our volunteers discovered a host of interesting species including the hard-to-miss moorhen with red colouring on its beak and forehead.

If you have a chance why not do some biodiversity investigation yourself? If you find any interesting species, or take some great photos we’d love to hear from you! Email us at environment@st-andrews.ac.uk to get in touch.

For further resources about biodiversity at the University of St Andrews please visit our biodiversity webpages.

Consumer’s Guide to Ethical Food Certifications

It’s the third Sunday of the month: your turn to cook dinner – that’s fine because you’re not in charge of washing the dishes. As you meander through the store aisles, you remember that your flatmates are picky; John only eats “ethical” meat and Michael, organic produce. Fortunately there are certified products galore in the store, so now the only issue remaining is deciding which ones to purchase.

In this time of green consumerism, choosing between certain standards and labels really can be confusing. There are so many issues to consider: your health, the environment, workers’ rights and even animal rights. If you are someone who is interested in conserving biodiversity, hopefully this can shed some light on the labels that we see in Tesco Morrisons or Sainsburys, more specifically, the Rainforest Alliance, the Marine Stewardship Council, the Soil Association, Certified Humane and the Fairtrade Foundation.

rainforest alliance

The Rainforest Alliancehttp://www.rainforest-alliance.org

The Rainforest Alliance works to prevent deforestation and land degradation and to increase conservation around the world by training and educating land managers and entrepreneurs who produce food products such as bananas and tea. They also work with communities to conserve local biodiversity by establishing sustainable eco-tourism businesses (Rainforest Alliance 2014). In order to be certified, producers’ practices must meet certain criteria, some of which are “conserving local wildlife and water resources, minimizing soil erosion” and “protecting forests and reforesting where possible” (McAllister 2004). Rainforest Alliance Certified farms must follow the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standards, which can be found at the bottom of this paragraph. Some of the criteria call for providing a natural habitat for endangered species, letting land lie fallow to improve soil health and planting vegetation barriers to minimize the impact of agrochemicals. It is important to note that only 80% of the total criteria must be met for certification and that some certified products might have been produced using pesticides (Standard Agriculture Network 2010).  Further, it allows products that have at least 30% of its ingredients Rainforest Alliance Certified to bear its seal, which has caused many consumers to criticize the organization and call for an increase the percentage of certified content (Rainforest Alliance 2014).  The SAN standards can be found here: http://www.sanstandards.org/userfiles/SAN-S-1-1_2%20Sustainable%20Agriculture%20Standard_docx(1).pdf

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) – http://www.msc.org/
MSC

The MSC encourages sustainable fishing practices to preserve marine life by proposing standards for fisheries to follow if they wish to be certified. Part of the standards require sustainable management of stock populations and that the fishery operations have as little impact as possible on the local environment. This can be done through effective waste management and by ensuring that none of the farmed species escape into the wild. This way, the species diversity and structures of nearby natural ecosystems are preserved. Additionally, the MSC prides itself on its products’ traceability, that is, the chain of custody that can allow consumers to see where their seafood came from and how it ended up on the store shelf. The MSC also encourages fishers to be more aware of bycatch and the effects of their fishing on non-target species. Sometimes, turtles or even dolphins are captured as bycatch when fishers lay out long fishing lines with many hooks, and these hooks can end in places such as albatross nests (Agnew et al 2006). Despite its good intentions, MSC has, at times, been found to act in ways that contradict its principles. In early 2013 National Public Radio published an article detailing that some seafood may be certified by the MSC, despite a lack of accord with MSC certification standards (Zwerdling and Williams 2013). Later in the year, a Nature article included scientist Jenifer Jacquet’s observation that the MSC’s scoring system is subjective and can be understood in ways that would easily allow fisheries to be granted the MSC seal of approval (Cressey 2013).

Soil assoc

Soil Associationhttp://www.soilassociation.org

The Soil Association is a British charity that campaigns for organic production of food, clothes and make-up. Unlike some of the other certification schemes, the Soil Association’s standards and requirements are more concrete and easier to locate. By producing goods organically, the Soil Association believes that the Earth’s health improves, as well as humans’ wellbeing. In order to conserve biodiversity, the Soil Association urges farmers to create wildlife corridors to link habitats by establishing hedgerows or field margins, and it prohibits genetically modified (GM) crops. Further, it maintains that any green waste must be checked for GM contamination. Green waste, along with crop rotations, is encouraged as it promotes nutrient recycling and improves soil health. For aquaculture operations, the Soil Association requires detailed management plans that include an analysis about the fishery’s impact on the local environment and how it will be implemented. Even though the Soil Association produces its goods organically, keep in mind that 5% of ingredients are allowed to be non-organic, probably because they are hard to grow organically (Soil Association 2013). Though some products are not grown organically, that does not necessarily mean that they were grown using pesticides. To further its mission of conserving biodiversity and improving environmental quality the Soil Association has introduced new projects, such as the Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme and Low Carbon Farming, to help farmers improve their productivity in an environmentally responsible manner. For more information on the Soil Association’s organic standards, browse through them here: http://soilassociation.org/organicstandards.

Certified humane

Certified Humanehttp://www.certifiedhumane.org

For people who shop for meat that has been raised ethically, Certified Humane can be their answer. Certified Humane concerns itself with animal welfare; certified farms provide plenty of space in which animals can move, unlike industrial farms where cows, pigs and chickens are crammed tightly into pens. If an animal product is labeled as Certified Humane, farmers have not used antibiotics and have allowed the animals to have access to space, food and water. Some animal activists might take issue with the fact that Certified Humane standards permit beak trimming, but in some cases it is done to prevent hens from violently pecking one another (Certified Humane 2013). Animals products labeled as Certified Humane were not necessarily were raised according to organic standards (Certified Humane 2013). Certified Humane focuses on ethical treatment of animals, while organic programs emphasize environmental health. It is also possible that some meats were raised ethically and/ or organically, but the producers could not afford to be certified. If you want to know more about how your meat is raised, it’s best to do research on the farm on that it came from or you can ask farmers if you buy meat directly from them at local farmers’ markets. Here are the label’s standards: http://www.certifiedhumane.org/index.php?page=standards.

Fairtrade Foundation – http://www.fairtrade.org.ukFT

In a fashion similar to Certified Humane’s, the Fairtrade Foundation chooses not to focus on the environment but rather on farmers and workers in developing countries. It aims to tackle poverty by empowering producers and giving them the opportunity to be more actively involved in the global market. It still, however, has some rules for producers regarding the environment. It prohibits the use of GM crops, but it does not check for them (Fairtrade Foundation 2008). Buffer zones are required around bodies of water to reduce the risk of chemical contamination from pesticides, and farmers must report how they measure soil quality. The Fairtrade Foundation encourages farmers to be aware of local wildlife so that they do not hunt or collect threatened species or introduce invasive species to the area. Though it has taken some measures to protect the environment, the Fairtrade Foundation can do more. For example, with a stricter GM crop policy, local systems can support native species, which in turn can support farming productivity. If you are interested in Fairtrade and want to stay up-to-date on all things Fairtrade-related in St Andrews, like and follow the Fairtrade in St Andrews Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FairtradeInStAndrews.

So, why is biodiversity important? Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth. Without it, life would be bland, not to mention difficult. Can you imagine living without seeing different types of plants, animals and climates? All organisms – big or small – play a role in a complex network of ecosystem dynamics. While we may not be conscious of it, we are dependent on these ecosystems for the services and resources that they provide. They act as storm buffers, pollution filters, water purifiers and climate regulators. Sand dunes on beaches serve to lessen the impact of storms, which is why there has been a concerted effort to restore West Sands in the past few years. Medicines, cosmetics and some foods come from plant species found in select parts of the world. If biodiversity “hot spots” like the Amazon Rainforest continue to be degraded and destroyed, our favorite foods will disappear from our diets, and we risk losing valuable cultural knowledge that can better inform us about plant and animal species. When it comes to buying food, try to educate yourself about the food’s origin by finding out where and how it was produced. While it may not be immediately obvious, those labels, like the Rainforest Alliance frog on the tea boxes, remind us that our lifestyle choices affect other species and people somewhere else in the world.

Nicholas Wells, Transition biodiversity intern

http://www.transitionsta.org/Volunteers

Sources:
Agnew, D., Grieve, C. , Orr, P., Parkes, G. and Barker, N. (2006) Environmental benefits resulting from certification against MSC’s Principles & Criteria for Sustainable Fishing, London: MRAG UK Ltd and Marine Stewardship Council.
 Certified Humane (2013) ‘Beak Trimming’ [online], available: http://www.certifiedhumane.org/uploads/pdf/Fact%20Sheets/beak_trimming.pdf [accessed 4 Jan 2014].
 Certified Humane (2013) ‘Does Certified Humane mean organic?’ Frequently Asked Questions [online], available: http://www.certifiedhumane.org/uploads/Frequently%20Asked%20Questions%2011.5.13.pdf [accessed 5 Jan 2014].
 Cressey, D. (2013) ‘Eco-label seafood body attempts to convince critics’, Nature, 17 July, available: http://www.nature.com/news/eco-label-seafood-body-attempts-to-convince-critics-1.13409 [accessed 4 Jan 2014].
Fairtrade Foundation (2008) ‘Are Fairtrade Products Guaranteed to be GM Free?’ Q&A: Fairtrade Standards and Genetically Modified Organisms (GM) [online], available: http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/includes/documents/cm_docs/2011/f/fairtrade_gm_q_a_jan_08.pdf [accessed 6 Jan 2014].
McAllister, S. (2004) ‘Who is the fairest of them all?’ The Guardian, 24 Nov, available: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2004/nov/24/foodanddrink.shopping1 [accessed 3 Jan 2014].
Rainforest Alliance (2014) ‘How Does Rainforest Alliance Certified Compare to Fair Trade Certified?’ [online], available: http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/agriculture/faq-fairtrade [accessed 3 Jan 2014].
 Soil Association (2013) ‘Standards’ What is organic? [online], available: http://www.soilassociation.org/organicstandards [accessed 4 Jan 2014].
 Sustainable Agriculture Network. (2010) ‘Farm Standards’ [online], available: http://www.sanstandards.org/userfiles/SAN-S-1-1_2%20Sustainable%20Agriculture%20Standard_docx(1).pdf [accessed 3 Jan 2014].
 Zwerdling, D. and Williams, M. (2013) ‘Is Sustainable-Labeled Seafood Really Sustainable?’ NPR, 11 Feb, available: http://www.npr.org/2013/02/11/171376509/is-sustainable-labeled-seafood-really-sustainable [accessed 4 Jan 2014].

Biodiversity On The Mind

State of Nature

The latest comprehensive report of the status of wildlife in Britain

During my brief lunchbreak today I found myself totally engrossed in the State of Nature Reporta first of it’s kind document detailing the health of the UK’s wildlife populations (available from the RSPB).

It was a beautiful day and I should have been eating outside, away from my computer and enjoying the great outdoors! (that will be my goal for tomorrow)… As it turns out I found some useful insights from this remarkable document, helping remind me that biodiversity loss is not an easy concept to get your head around. The report’s foreword by Sir David Attenborough puts it this way,

“even the most casual of observers may have noticed that all is not well. They may have noticed the loss of butterflies from a favourite walk, the disappearance of sparrows from their garden, or the absence of the colourful wildflower meadows of their youth. To gain a true picture of the balance of our nature, we require a broad and objective assessment of the best available evidence.” (my emphasis)

No easy task. But this recent report does an impressive job at achieving such a broad and objective assessment by integrating species research over the past 50+ years on thousands of species of significance who live in the UK and overseas territories. Everything from the hazel doormouse to the harbour seal is covered in their analysis.

SoN doormouse

(State of Nature, pg 38)

Overall, the numbers and figures are not surprising. Indicator species (particularly of butterfly, moth and bird species) continue to decline significantly. Of total data covering 3,000+ species, 60% have declined and 31% have declined strongly over the past 50 years. I find these numbers difficult to truly grasp. That means 91% of all species highlighted in these studies are in some form of decline?

With a statistic so high, is there room for any good news?

Well, what I would add to Sir David Attenborough’s introductory words is that biodiversity requires science and wonder, reasoning and re-enchantment (something his has always excelled at sharing with audiences). The best surveys in the world will not stop biodiversity attrition alone.

This is partly why we have developed a new internship for students to work towards improving biodiversity right here in St Andrews. In partnership with our local Transition initiative – Transition University of St Andrews – we recruited five “biodiversity interns” to work with us this semester. While we too, like the researchers in this report, will be surveying and accounting for the local biodiversity among the University’s scattered landscape, we hope to also bring as muchring enthusiasm, excitement, and genuine compassion to this topic.

Our first step? To master new survey techniques that allow non-specialists (eg, students, staff and residents) to get outside and map the landscape around their halls of residence, staff departments or academic schools. Our online tool, the Biodiversity Index, guides us novices through the process and includes a concise report at the end that provides a benchmark score from which to improve upon. The report gives suggestions for improving our scores, such as to incorporate less intensive landscaping practises (leaving a wildlife meadow unmown during summer for example) or planting a community orchard in an otherwise unused area. All ideas will be considered which help increase habitat and vegetation diversity – indicators of species richness and the success of specific species of concern such as the common bee.

bio survey

Results from our first pilot survey of the Gateway building and surround area

 Our plan is to “divide and conquer” the University’s landscape in Spring 2014 by leading students and staff on multiple mini survey’s of their own, in places that mean something to them. We have high hopes that when people are given the chance to investigate, record, and reflect on their own local landscapes, more creative ideas will be generated with stronger chances for success. We hope you can join us by participating in these surveys as we work towards turning under-used landscapes into beautiful, resilient and healthy places to work and play.

This can only be done to the backdrop of global biodiversity concerns, such as impressively documented in the State of Nature report. I am eternally grateful to those researchers contributing to this latest report on the health of our living community. Let’s also remember that improving biodiversity begins with attention – where better to start then our own doorsteps?

Interested in joining the biodiversity interns on their mission? Signup for Spring 2014 survey updates by emailing environment@st-andrews.ac.uk

Carbon Conversations Comes to St Andrews

Is the future worth a conversation?

Carbon Conversations is a 6-session course that is designed to lower your personal carbon impact. It is not a taught course, but a facilitated discussion, a space to share and explore ideas and develop interpersonal connections. Interactive board games facilitate active engagement with the subject material, visioning exercises allow a creative and self-reflective approach, and short-talks supply assessable information on climate change.

It has been celebrated as one of the top 20 ways to combat climate change by the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/13/manchester-report-climate-change1). While this course is aimed at an aware audience (meaning, simply, that it is not expected that people who do not know or care about climate change will be attracted by it), Carbon Conversations usually results in a reduction of a tonne of personal carbon emissions.

A couple weekends ago the newest member of the Environment Team, Sustainability Intern Lucy Arndt, and two members from Transition University of St Andrews, Jamie Peter and Rebecca Petford, headed over to Edinburgh to become trained and certified as Carbon Conversations Facilitators. Amid the chaos of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, this two-day course provided a calming yet empowering space for us to develop facilitation skills and explore this unique group learning approach to behaviour change for mitigating climate change. What struck me the most throughout the weekend was the real feel of creating community, fostering discussion and empowering individuals to take responsibility and control for their carbon impact. I was inspired and motivated to make changes in my personal life!

The three of us are now kitted out and ready to launch the Carbon Conversations course back in St Andrews. We have been practicing the board games in the office!

We will be running these 6-week courses throughout the 2011-2012 academic year for staff and students, both postgrad and undergraduate, alike.

Staff- The first courses are to begin right away, kicking off in late-September. To find our more please follow these links!

Carbon Conversations Announcement

Carbon Conversations Flyer

Carbon Conversations More Information

Students- Stay tuned! Information on student courses will be available soon.