Saturday, 5 December 2015

Old photos of Stoke town and Boothen

Lots of pictures of Stoke town and Boothen, in The Sentinel's latest batch of Bert Bentley pictures...

London Road. Was probably very pleasant, back when there was vastly less traffic.

Spode, south entrance.

Main run of shops, with shelters (bus, cinema queue?) lining the pavement.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Free trees for Staffordshire

The Woodland Trust's First World War Centenary Woods Project has so far delivered 9,315 free trees to Staffordshire, with around half going to schools. Schools and community groups can now apply for free tree packs for Spring 2016, sponsored by Sainsbury’s / Yorkshire Tea and the Lottery. The tree packs will be sent out between 7th-11th March 2016.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Boothen and Stoke town old photos

Boothen and Stoke town in times gone by in The Sentinel and online, in nearly 100 photos that until recently were sitting in dusty boxes in the city archives...

Monday, 2 November 2015

Pilgrim's Pit, opening soon in Stoke town

Pilgrim's Pit, a new creative/music venture in the Art Stop in Stoke town. Not quite open yet, but actively renovating and painting up now...

On Facebook here and on YouTube here.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Folkore in the basement

A few of the scenes from British legend and folklore / folklife, as Minton tiles from the basement of the former Stoke town public library, Stoke-on-Trent. Creative Commons Attribution, although the designs themselves are of an age to be in the public domain.

Ideas for the Stoke Neighbourhood Plan planning day

My ideas for the Stoke Neighbourhood Plan planning day today. Just a few of my own ideas and notions, so don't freak out if you see I've marked your shop-front for demolition! The big grey circles mean nothing - they were just on the 1:10000 map I found.

* Protect:

- Protect the south half of the Minster churchyard (the bit that's over the main road from the main churchyard).

- Make a new micro-park in the currently fenced-off and weed-filled south-west corner of Sainsbury's car park.

- Protect local allotments (Boothen and Richmond St.) from being built on.

* Re-open:

- Re-open the former public bicycle-path across the old Victoria Ground. Do not allow St. Modwen to re-route the cyclepath (when they build a new housing estate on the old football ground), such that the path ends up jammed right up against the A500 wall.

- Re-open the blocked-off footpath from Hunters Way (Hartshill) via the green back-lane of the Villas and down to the London Road Bakehouse - thus providing a green off-road footpath from Hartshill down to the lower end of the London Road.

- Re-wild the margins of the Fowlea Brook from North Street right the way down to the eastern edge of the Spode site. Do not allow future Spode re-development to wall itself off from the Brook.

* Build:

- Allow the University to expand onto the abandoned space at the back of Stoke Station (just north of the station's new back car-park). Don't keep waiting in vain for a chic modern hotel or conference centre to land there.

- Employment use should be preferred for the abandoned North Street / former Irish Centre sites.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

City council approves £2.5m battle against dumping

Good news today that the Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet has given the green light to £2.5m of new proposals to clean up the city. There will be a 'zero tolerance' approach to fly-tipping, with the council prosecuting every case of dumping. Plus four extra new fly-tipping clearance teams, enabling the council to clear fly-tipping from land that's not council-owned and to generally do more.

The Council will also undertake "low-level" hedge-trimming and minor repairs on privately-owned heritage buildings, to prevent neglected corners from becoming attractive to fly-tippers.

There's also now a new online form to report waste dumping and dog fouling to the council, though you may also want to use Fix My Street as it allows photo uploads.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Friday, 18 September 2015

An oral history of greening Stoke, 1966-2016

"It were all waste heaps and poison canals round 'ere, when I were a lass, and now it's green meadows, ponds, little woods and bicycle paths...".

An idea for a radio documentary I'd like to see made by someone: suggested title of "Bloomin' Stoke!" — a feature-length grassroots oral history on the greening of the city over the 50 years from 1966 to 2016. It would recount the struggle to green the city's landscape and bring back wildlife, and be told by ordinary people and grassroots conservationists rather than archival TV footage.

What got me idly musing on the topic was hearing about the death of Derek Bolton (who saved Berryhill Fields for nature), and seeing Mike Herbert (the amazing Shelton Bar / Festival Park reclamation in the 1980s - he's got to be retiring soon) on the cover of the latest Chamber of Commerce magazine. It seems to me that there's mostly still a generation of people around to be interviewed on the topic of how Stoke was made one of the greenest cities in the UK.

Take the idea and run with it, if you like it.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Last Hedgehog in Staffordshire?

"‘The Last Hedgehog in Staffordshire?’ campaign will see Staffordshire Wildlife Trust offering tips and advice on how people across Staffordshire can help hedgehogs by making a few changes in their gardens."

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Charles Tomlinson passes

The Hartshill born and raised poet Charles Tomlinson has passed away, at age 88. There's no wider response yet to the news. His cassette-tape audio book "Charles Tomlinson Reads His Stoke Poems" (Keele University, 1985) is now online for free, in .mp3 format (scroll down to the second collection). An extract from his "The Allotment" was previously on this blog.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Derek Bolton

Sad to hear that Derek Bolton of the Richmond Street Allotments has passed away. The Sentinel has a profile and details today, telling of how he helped save the city's Berryhill Fields heathland for nature, and also created the nature gardens around the New Vic Theatre.


Picture: Derek Bolton on his allotment at the Richmond Street Allotments.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Don't Mess with Stoke

A new short book, Litter-ology: Understanding Littering and the Secrets to Clean Public Places, blends practical citizen science with a practical guide to action on litter. Australian, but with many lessons for the UK. No audio book, but there's a somewhat affordable Kindle edition.

Richmond Street Allotments Open Day - 22nd August 2015

Richmond Street Allotments Produce Show and Open Day, 22nd August 2015.

1.30pm - Gates open to visitors
3.00pm - Produce Sale
3.30pm - Prize Draw and Awards Presentation

Friday, 31 July 2015

Stoke-on-Trent Footway Survey

Good to see that the new city council in Stoke-on-Trent is inviting bids on a major footpaths mapping and surveying contract, over four years — the "Footway Asset and Condition Survey" for the city.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Staffordshire University Community Garden: Open Afternoon

"The Community Garden (Allotment) at Staffordshire University is hosting a free event at its location on Leek Road in Stoke. This will be taking place on Wednesday 1st July 2015, 2pm to 4pm and everyone is welcome to come along and explore the large site, made up of five allotments."

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Stoke-on-Trent National Garden Festival 1986 - 30th Anniversary

Just a note to say that the city now has one year to prepare for the 30th anniversary (May 2016) of the Stoke-on-Trent National Garden Festival 1986, now Festival Park and environs. Off the top of my head, a few ideas...

* a major well-researched gallery exhibition on the history of the site, perhaps also a book.

* a one night 'Sound & Light Night' on the site - artists working on the parkland areas of the site to make suitable artworks (temporary natural sculptures; environment art; costumed tableaux in dewy groves; illuminated light art; low-key ambient sound art) for one night only. I note that the large commercial “Just So” children’s art festival, held annually in woodland a few miles north of Stoke, has built up a great deal of expertise in such matters, and might be able to provide access to their roster of experienced artists.

If St. Modwen are not interested in providing their well-tended parkland area at Festival Park, then perhaps the rougher adjacent Grange Park area of the site could be used - that runs from the summit of the hill behind Morrisons down to Rogerson's Meadow / Navigation Lane at Middleport. In which case the canal towpath from Forge Lane to Middleport might also play a part.

Another potential location for a 'Light Night' would be the parkland around the Etruria Industrial Museum, which was also part of the Garden Festival. The event could be an evening follow-on from the Etruria Canal Festival, which itself could have a Garden Festival theme in 2016 - floral barges etc. The Etruria site could potentially be gated for a tickets-only evening.

* reclaim 30 small grotty waste sites across the city as 'pocket parks' (e.g. the waste plot between AirSpace and the Mitchell in the city centre), with the help of designers, architects and artists.

* perhaps an 'Open Gardens' weekend across the city.

* perhaps bring the ancient 'spring and well-dressing' floral tradition down to Stoke, from the Peak District where it still survives. Perhaps to mark the site of hidden culverted rivers and streams, and also the natural seasonal springs that still survive (e.g. several around Hartshill, above Stoke town).

I also note that the increasingly grotty car park area on Festival Park retail park is apparently set for a major refurb, which should (my guess) be finished by summer 2016. It'll probably be very conventional, but I wonder if some form of artistic topiary (hedges-as-sculpture) might be included in that, so as to link the site to the visual heritage of the Garden Festival that can still be seen on the adjacent parkland.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Bee palace

Made in Stoke-on-Trent, a cool ceramic "bee palace" for the various solitary species of British bumblebee to nest in.

"Made entirely in England by an artisan potter in Stoke-on-Trent the beepalace is slip cast in small batches and hand glazed."

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Root 'n' Fruit

Looks like great work is happening at Root 'n' Fruit, a new 717 square-yard community-run allotment, located just about at the junction of Middleport / Longport / Dalehall, in the north of Stoke-on-Trent. It's on Facebook, with some great pictures.

According to this map placement, this is the location. I seem to remember that there used to be a small allotments entrance at about the same spot in the early 2000s, so I think it's part of a larger site.

Eat your local park

After the election results, a promised "ambitious programme of pocket parks" will now be happening across the UK in the next few years. Is there potential there, perhaps, for some kind of 'edible planting' in some cases? Imagine a small pocket park planted up with the complete range of native edible plants. I mean away from main roads and cars. There are apparently a few such in London, but they're alongside main roads — where you really wouldn't want to pluck-and-nibble because of all the nasty gunk that comes off the vehicles.

A 40 years' wait for allotments

Staffordshire village gets allotments after 40 years...

Over 45 allotment plots have been re-created on the former site at High Hill, Essington, which has stood abandoned for more than 40 years. Councillor David Clifft (Independent), chairman of Essington Allotments Association said: "In just six months local residents and parish councillors have transformed the completely overgrown two acre site into a finely tended field." Over 40 people have already secured their plots and just a few remain for rent."

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Where now for the greens and leftists?

Well, what an interesting election night. The Labour wins in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke Central perfectly illustrated the sentiment that "a vote for UKIP is a vote for Labour". But in the end, it made no difference nationally — UKIP has been crushed along with Labour and the Lib Dems.

Even the Greens appear to have flopped, in terms of actually electing people. They campaigned on a manifesto that failed to even mention practical grassroots issues like litter, favouring instead an ideological mish-mash of complicated and untried proposals. These floated high above the heads of ordinary voters, who merely chuckled at the wilder policy ideas. The Greens have only managed to keep their one MP in Brighton. In the local councils the Greens squeezed out a mere 16 new local councillors across the whole nation, and lost control of the council in Brighton after heavy losses there. They have effectively failed to break out of toe-holds in Bristol and Brighton. Millions saw their often scruffy and eccentric candidates standing sheepishly on stages during the election TV coverage, thus confirming the public stereotype of the greens. Their overall vote was only up by 2.8%, despite their standing vastly more candidates this time. So it was hardly the grand national surge they had hoped for.

So the Greens are now damaged goods. Will that mean the Green Party becomes a leftist lifeboat, as the smooth-suited Blairites and Mandelsonian managers emerge from their bunkers to take back the Labour Party? Somehow I doubt that most Labour refugees could stomach the economic illiteracy of the Greens. Not to mention their wibbly-wobbly eclecticism on drug legalisation, group marriage and other issues of interest only to old hippies and naive students. But a sprinkling of the hardiest and most distraught Lib Dem local activists may well head to the Greens, if they haven't already crossed over.

The Greens may also be a tempting option for some as they're effectively the only micro-party still standing after the election. They appear to have taken the student vote, and the old socialist hard left traditionally loves nothing more than getting its paws on passionate young students. So I suspect there might just be some kind of organised attempt from leftist refugees to hijack the weakened Greens, possibly even leading to a civil war with the extreme leftists who are already said to have infiltrated the party. Just my guess.

But the Greens will now be facing a re-invigorated Conservative Party that is likely to reclaim neglected genuine green conservation issues such as: countryside management; ecology and wildlife; forestry; dog control; litter; parks and allotments; footpaths; energy and water conservation. The Lib Dems have now lost their claims to a localist legitimacy on such grassroots issues. UKIP, if it ever was a party of the countryside, has effectively been booted off the national stage for now. The Conservatives will need a strong presence on green issues to counteract the inevitable media and activist pressure around fox-hunting, new airports and roads, HS2, cuts in subsidies to wind-farms, fracking, badger culling etc.

Into a revivified green mix the Conservatives could sprinkle big headline items like new major overseas conservation reserves (already underway), and big global wildlife crime measures (William Hague is apparently headed that way, in his retirement) both in terms of policy and technology, plus a continued broad commitment to a sensible de-carbonisation of the economy.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

"Earth calling Hartshill..."

Hartshill Park really needs to boost (or boot) its communications manager. Friends of Hartshill Park Events and Meetings Web page... stuck in 2014. Main top car park noticeboard box... empty. Facebook group... seems to lack an Admin to admit new members or to post events details.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Restoring small urban 'pocket' woodland

I've been watching a few documentaries and reading a few articles and PDFs on restoring and managing urban 'pocket' woodland, especially that which is fairly young (50 years or so, maybe effectively abandoned in the 1960s). It might be on a fairly small patch of former industrial brownfield land, with a limited number of mature trees. Perhaps partly on a slope, even, and/or alongside a railway or old factory, which may have prevented development. The basics ten steps can be summed up as follows:

1. Pick up all the litter in the late winter / early spring. Every scrap of it. Then pick it up weekly or monthly, if you have an ongoing litter problem.

2. Put in a half-dozen bird boxes, fixed to the north-east side of the trunk, at just above six foot height. Higher, if yobs are likely to tear them down.

3. Add large chunks of nicely rotting wood from other sites, if not present. Place these in parts sheltered from the wind, if possible. Also consider transplanting sections of earth containing woodland fungi mycelium — half the wood is actually beneath your feet.

4. In November plant early spring native flowers for ground-cover, as bulbs and self-seeding seed. Plant the bulbs deeper than you might in a garden border, at three times the depth of the bulb length.

5. In a dark wood strategically clear bracken and bramble tangles, and lightly prune off the fingers of overhead branches, to create the first open sunny glades within the wood. But keep in mind that direct midday summer sun will blast and wither tender woodland plants - so "dappled light" should be the aim in your selective pruning. Consider adding a small water source in a glade, such as a large old sink or half-butt, half buried.

6. Raise the woodland 'canopy' from the floor by removing selected lower branches and suckers from all the larger trees and bushes. This lets more light reach the ground.

7. Contrary to popular opinion ivy is good for trees and wildlife, very good. Keep it, and encourage its progress, within limits in terms of it swamping the ground.

8. Discourage or prevent all dog walkers — research shows that the mere occasional presence of dogs in a nature reserve scares away a third of all the birds. Not to mention the health problems arising from dog shit, or the bizarre and disgusting practice of hanging little bags of dog shit from bushes and fences.

9. In an urban environment, take measures to discourage teenage yobs, scrambler motorbikes, outdoor sex enthusiasts ('doggers'), illegal fishermen, etc. Don't add any type of seating, for instance, or it will act as a magnet for anti-social behaviour. Clean up the 'territory marker' type of litter and graffiti immediately. In a larger wood add heavy tree-boles or ditches to discourage motorcycle 'scrambler' paths from forming.

10. Define a main path, but naturally close off others by encouraging their overgrowth and thus 'natural closure'.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Not 'the litter election'

I've just gone through all the UK political party manifestos in PDF, looking for keywords: litter / flytipping / fly-tipping / or rubbish. Obviously it's not seen as much of a national issue, despite litter and dog mess being a hot doorstep issue, and despite a major Parliamentary cross-party committee report in March. At least the Conservatives manage to have a lone new election promise on the issue...

* Conservative Party: "Building on our introduction of a five pence charge on single-use plastic bags, we will review the case for higher Fixed Penalty Notices for littering and allow councils to tackle small-scale fly-tipping through Fixed Penalties rather than costly prosecutions".

* UKIP: No mentions.

* Liberal Democrats: No mentions.

* Green Party: No mentions.

* Labour Party: No mentions.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Buzzing and flying

Everything buzzing and flying today, apart from some ducks dozing in the grass by the side of the canal. Bumble bees bumbling out, a few gnats already flying, even a Red Admiral butterfly perched on a littered Ribena carton in the sun. The big hawks are back again, on Hartshill Park. Saw a big one slowly circling over the rail yards on the west side of Lock 38, presumably to see if the bunnies were out and about yet. Good to see that the post-industrial ecosystem is getting strong enough to support top-level predators year after year.

[Update: Hawks confirmed. I saw both of them riding the thermals above the Park, the next day]

"Litter Pickers" documentary from 2009

Positive little 10 minute radio documentary from Ireland, "Litter Pickers" (2009). (.mp3 link)

"One day, reporter Ronan Kelly came across a priest with a bike walking along beside a busy road in Dublin picking up litter. They spoke and Ronan thought little more of it until he came across a woman picking up litter on a football pitch... and then a man walking a dog picking up litter in a park... and another man with a bike picking up litter behind a supermarket. Soon Ronan had picked up enough litter pickers to make a report..."

Monday, 30 March 2015

Litter reports

There's a major new British Parliament cross-party committee report on Litter and fly-tipping in England (Web version with witness statements), also as a PDF version (no witness statements).

Also some recent UK think-tank reports on the topic:

A Clean Sweep: rethinking the way we tackle litter.

Exploring the Indirect Costs of Litter in England: Final Report to Keep Britain Tidy.

Scotland also has a rather dull 2014 National Litter Strategy.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Bill Bryson on Britain's Litter Problem (2008)

Bill Bryson: Britain's Litter Problem (2008) and part two and part three...

Thanks to Crosbyeyes for keeping this otherwise unavailable Panorama programme online via YouTube.

Don't Mess With Me: full series on YouTube

Don't Mess With Me is an excellent recent TV series on litter, which has just been re-commissioned for a second series. Here's the first series, free on YouTube:

Don't Mess with Me Episode 1.
Brighton Beach / Birmingham to Lichfield trains / Microplastic pollution in our seafood / Edinburgh street dumping wardens.

Don't Mess with Me Episode 2.
London's Leicester Square / A litter experiment / Canoeist litter picker volunteers on Leicester's River Soar / Collecting litter from inaccessible coastal beaches.

Don't Mess with Me Episode 3.
Birmingham New Street station and approach lines / Northamptonshire fly-tippers / Leicester can collector / A psychology experiment in Hay-on-Wye.

Don't Mess with Me Episode 4.
A poster experiment in Portsmouth / London's Gay Pride march / Underwater litter pickers in Devon / Croydon's cigarette butt wardens.

Don't Mess with Me Episode 5.
Essex fast-food giants / Hampshire dog poo wardens / Cleaning up motorway verges / An experiment in Essex.

Toward a historical timeline of litter in the UK

A quick attempt at a timeline of the history of litter in the UK. This is just meant to quickly capture my recent reading on the topic, in the hope it may help someone researching the topic in the future:

1930s: Council for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE) is concerned at level of picnic waste from motor-coach 'day trips' excursions, and the then-new rambling groups, from the cities to natural beauty spots.

1930s: Women's Institutes (WI) take up the CPRE concerns, adding urban concerns about Bank Holiday Weekends, and coastal concerns about seaside beaches, etc. The WI lacks national backing or a coherent campaign.

1940s: Intensive recycling during wartime.

1950s: Soft drinks and beer are still sold in returnable/refillable glass and stoneware bottles, on which a cash deposit had to be paid. Lack of a bottle smashing 'yob' culture, outside of small parts of London and Glasgow.

1951-53: Conservatives launch first national anti-litter campaigns.

1954: Keep Britain Tidy Group formed by the Women's Institutes (WI), Queen Mother as Patron.

1958: Government gets behind Keep Britain Tidy. Conservatives propose and passed The Litter Act in Parliament.

1969: The famous "Tidyman" logo starts to appear on some packaging.

1970s: Keep Britain Tidy Group becomes more professional, uses celebrities in TV ads.

1970s: Rise of 'disposable' fast food packaging, non-returnable glass bottles, cans. Spread of fast food franchises.

1970s: IRA terrorist bombings cause the removal of litter bins in some urban public places.

1970s: TV children's series The Wombles (1973–1975) introduces a generation of children to litterpicking as a hard but worthy activity.

1974: Keep Britain Tidy Group focussed only on those groups most likely to casually litter: school children, young men, smokers. Schools still able to organise pupils for litter picks.

1983: Conservatives proposed and passed the new Litter Act of 1983 in Parliament. Also the Environmental Pollution Act 1974.

1986: Mrs Thatcher forms a 'Litter Task Force' headed by Richard Branson. Leads to the Tidy Britain campaign, personally launched by Mrs Thatcher.

1980s: New large landfill sites needed across the country, to cope with the vast amounts of litter and packaging being generated annually.

1980s: Dog population starts rising rapidly, from a base of 5 million.

1980s: Spread of large out-of-town supermarkets, and more use of single-use plastic carrier bags.

1980s-2000s: Large increase in heroin addicts and drug dealers, who cause extensive localised crime and litter.

1990: Conservatives bring in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 in Parliament.

1990s: Health-and-safety doctrines prompt councils to move away from roving solo litter pickers, toward more vehicle-based street cleaning services. These then tended to become distinctly town-centre focussed, as the growing 'night-time economy' threw down ever more litter.

1990s: Schools and parents increasingly see litter picking as a 'demeaning' activity. This interacts with the new 'health and safety' doctrine, and some schools stop requiring litter picking by their pupils.

2000s: A growing rift between adults and kids, meaning adults could no longer admonish a kid throwing litter or smashing a bottle. The last soft drinks companies stop offering refundable deposits on glass bottles. Growth of the bottle-smashing yob culture.

2000s: Dog population is now much increased. 3.2 million more dogs are in the country than the late 1970s, meaning much more dog poo. Emergence of the bizzare and disgusting practice of hanging small bags of dog poo on bushes, trees and fences.

2000s: Rat numbers increased by 29% from 2001-2006, feasting on a new type of half-eaten fast-food litter. Consequent rise in the health risks of litter.

2000s: Terrorism fears after 9/11 cause the removal of litter bins in some urban public places, such as train stations.

2000s: Strongly rising population of urban foxes, which find ripping open bin bags at night easier than catching rabbits. This spurs the increasing introduction of wheely bins. This is followed by the rise of kerbside seperated-item recycling boxes for each household, which are often overflowing and/or opened up by high winds/foxes/cats, causing litter dispersal.

2000s: Rise in numbers of 'buy to let' landlords and university students — thus more fly-tipping of the left-behind goods of previous tenants.

Sources:

* "Blowin' in the wind: a short history of litter in the twentieth century"

* The Politics of Expertise: How NGOs Shaped Modern Britain.

* "Number and ownership profiles of cats and dogs in the UK".

* "KEEP BRITAIN TIDY CAMPAIGN AND RATS!", BBC News 30/09/02 and Google Books searches.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Where to buy a good litter pick up stick in Stoke

Back before Christmas I was lucky enough to get a wonderful litter pick-up stick/tool for just £1, at Home Bargains in Stafford. A very nice little bargain, and it proved excellent for litter picking. Sadly I broke it early this week, trying to force it to open up just a bit too far around one of those super-fat plastic cider bottles. Something plastic and fragile inside went backwards, then went ping! — and the stick was totally dead.

So, time for a new stick. Amazon UK have them by mail-order of course, but I really didn't want all the hassle of a courier delivery. Especially for a low value purchase. So I needed to find one locally in Stoke-on-Trent.

* Home Bargains's website showed that they had long ago sold out, and no longer sold any litter or pick-up sticks.

* None of the other Poundland and Poundstretcher type stores had any, according to their websites.

* B&M, Festival Park. A few weeks ago I had been all around their Festival Park store, looking for something else, and hadn't seen any. A quick look at their website confirmed that.

* The Homebase DIY store in Wolstanton doesn't appear to sell them.

* Wickes don't appear to sell them.

* Tesco Extra, Hanley? No.

* Morrisons, even in their rather useful new mini gardening section? No.

* Trentham Garden Centre? Doesn't appear to have a website that lists their stock. I presume it must be a proper garden centre, with just plants sold in there?

* Stoke-on-Trent City Council? Nope, no mention of their selling subsidised litter-pick kits to community groups, or giving them away for free to citizen volunteers.

* B&Q, Festival Park. B&Q's website reported them in stock, at £5.99 and £11.99 for a more expensive version. But after searching the B&Q store at Festival Park high and low, I was told that that both the cheap and expensive types had been "sent back" because they were "taking up too much room". One would think that, in a massive warehouse plus a garden-centre yard, they might have found a space for them somewhere. I suspect that was just the polite way of implying: 'No-one in Stoke can be bothered to pick up litter, they just weren't selling...'.

* Argos, Festival Park: They only offered a sort of picker-up stick for old people needing to pick up the TV remote, with the aid of two Dalek-like suckers. But it was vastly over-priced at £11.99 and out-of-stock anyway.

* Wilko, Hanley: Wilko Garden Pick up Tool at £7. But would Wilko have them in stock? Their website didn't offer an in-stock check. Plus, the stick looked a little shortish, was cheap looking and presumably made in China — I found that Alibaba.com has identical ones for about 85p each, if you import 200 to 500 of them direct from China. After having one cheapo stick break, I was wary of buying another.

* Ableworld, near Hanley. Ableworld's Classic Long at £7.19 was much more like it. It looked very similar what's said to be the best UK litterpicker, the Helping Hand Litterpicker 80cm at £14.99, just with not so much space between the pincers and yellow colouring rather than red. Yet Ableworld's was 2cm longer than the Helping Hand. That had to be worth a trek along the Cauldon Canal and down to 430 Leek Road, Hanley on the bicycle to investigate. (Note that Google Maps/StreetView's map pin is astray on this address, the Ableworld shop is actually up by the hideously busy traffic island).

Ableworld had two of the Classic Long left in stock. A nylon cord, rather than a stress-prone plastic rod, is used to connect the handle with the jaws. I bought one. A bargain, and British-made too. Underneath it actually had a "Helping Hand" logo, so it's a rebranded Helping Hand anyway. But at half the price of the Helping Hand Litterpicker on Amazon! An hour of litter-picking on the estate later, it had proved its worth. The only thing its smaller jaws couldn't handle was a really heavy thick glass 12" tall Shloer-type bottle with some water in it. Nor was it great on grabbing a closed-up styrofoam clam-shell burger-case. On everything else it was fine, having a full pincer grasp that's about the size of a typical can of Heinz soup, and more than enough to grasp cheap rot-gut beer cans and Coke cans. It's also good for fine work too, able to pick up cotton-bud sticks for instance.


Ableworld Classic Long, actually 84cm (I measured it).


Helping Hand Litterpicker 80cm.

So, in conclusion: if you want a good litter-picker stick for only 20p more than the Chinese made one in Wilko, then pop down to Ableworld. Note that you may want to cut off the hook on the end, if you find it snags in the bin-bag plastic too much. I didn't find that a problem, but if you're digging into brambles and hedges you'll probably want it off. The 84cm size is right for a grown man of average height, in boots.

Ableworld also had some other types of reacher / pick up sticks in stock, including a short folding version of the Classic at about the same price, which looked like it would be good for putting in a camping bag or rambling rucksack, or for giving to kids in middle childhood / the early teenage years.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Toward a green manifesto for Stoke-on-Trent

What would a genuinely green election manifesto for Stoke-on-Trent looks like? I don't mean the half-baked ideological mish-mash of the economically illiterate Green Party. I mean proper old-school green measures, to do with wildlife, strengthening ecosystems and cleaning up local environments. Here are my suggestions:

* Litter and dumping:

A constant multi-year rolling programme of 'showcase' prosecutions of fly-tippers and dumpers, modeled after the successful and unrelenting anti-drugs Operation Nemesis. Use 'smart water' sprays, roadside stops, license enforcement, sting operations, cameras and audio surveillance, license plate ID, and all the other tools available.

Local councillors should be asked by voters to commit at least 10% of their Ward budget to community litter picks. And in the worst areas, so as not to replicate existing Council provision.

Free litter pick-up tools / bags / gloves, offered to those committing to organise regular litter picks.

A public campaign to target the idiots who feel compelled to hang sickening little plastic bags of dog poo on trees, bushes and fences.

Double the litter picking budget for the city, with new part-time 15-20 hour a week posts to make it attractive for older people.

* Vehicle pollution:

Stoke-on-Trent is one of the worst in the country for potentially deadly air pollution along roads. We need a formal scientific investigation into the reasons for this, which also lays out the practical measures we can take to reduce it. Possibly it has to do with our clogged roads, which causes so many vehicles to stop/start in heavy traffic.

Force another few thousand "old clunker" cars off the roads of the city.

Mandatory monthly spot 'health checks' on all buses entering Hanley bus station, in terms of how heavily the 'heavy black' type of diesel fumes roll out of their exhaust pipe as they climb the short hill up to the bus station.

Search for a suitable space in the city to which we could move all the city's car scrap yards / 'orrible car repair yards / old car tyre sellers.

* Environment restoration:

Restore and 'daylight' a highly polluted tributary of the Trent, the Fowlea Brook.

Officially decide which of the "fence and forget" brownfield wasteland in Stoke is never going to find a use, and properly restore them with basic tree planting, simple pond-making and by breaking up concrete surfaces so that nature can take over.

Consider a joint Stoke-on-Trent/Newcastle-under-Lyme project to expand Bradwell Wood beyond its current margins, by using field margins and nearby disused brownfield sites.

Link environment restoration to local schools in an ongoing way, via a small cross-schools cadre of 'young citizen scientists', doing real science.

* Wildlife:

We need a proper timetabled 'wildlife and green places strategy' such as the one Newcastle-under-Lyme has been enacting for the last decade. Something better than Stoke's vague and too-late 2014 'green space strategy'. In terms of wildlife this just has a paragraph of hot air in a larger report, without any deliverables or timetable.

A major urban wildlife survey, to find out what is in the city, where it is and what new 'corridors' might better connect it together.

An expansion of the successful programme to allow grass to grow tall on parts of playing fields, grass verges etc, which doesn't appear to have caused any added grass fire hazard.

Commit to a 20% increase in 20 key species in the city by 2020 — frog and newt friendly ponds, hedgehog protection, hawks, owls, bees, rare plants, etc. Consider crowd-funding or bringing in business sponsors on this on a per-species basis, to cover the cost of the project.

* Light pollution:

A survey of practical measures to further reduce light pollution in the city. It's probably better than it was (it's been reduced by 25% in the West Midlands since the early 1990s), but the night sky above Stoke is still a-glow on a Friday and Saturday night, just as if the old blast furnaces at Shelton Bar were still going.

* Noise pollution:

This seems to be ever-increasing. Explore measures for reducing it. For instance, require council tenants in flats to use wireless headphones to listen to music and TV, rather than big amplified sound systems.

* Allotments:

A commitment not to sell allotments or build on them for the next 20 years.

* Public footpaths:

A commitment not to permanently close off-road footpaths in the city, and to maintain the off road cycle-path network.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Hotspot or notspot?

Re: the geothermal power proposal for Stoke-on-Trent, for which funding has reportedly now been secured.

Deep Geothermal Review Study: Final Report, UK Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC), October 2013.

The report's mentions of Staffordshire: zero.

The report's mentions of Stoke-on-Trent: zero.

Map showing a "volcano" or heat "bubble" hotspot under Stoke: mysteriously missing...

Indeed, according to the map we are remarkably chilly (blue is cooler, red is hotter), compared to other parts of the UK. So far as I can see the hope of 'hot rocks' rests on a set of linked assumptions, assumptions that the government report above doesn't seem to place much faith in. Certainly not enough to put Stoke on the map.

The story behind these assumptions starts back in 1920. In 1920–21 the Apedale No.2 Borehole was sunk to 1294m (0.8 miles) under the influence of Sir John Cadman, near Stage 8 at Apedale colliery, three miles west of Stoke-on-Trent. The site owner was apparently seeking oil. Instead he was disappointed, finding under the coal only an "at least 840m thick" layer of useless volcanic rock (called 'tuff' by geologists)...

"Apedale No.2 Borehole, drilled almost on the peak of the Apedale anomaly, proved over 840m of volcanic rocks buried by less than 450m of sedimentary rocks." — Geology of the country around Stoke-on-Trent (1998).

The Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London stated of the Apedale borehole that it...

"encountered an exceptional thickness of igneous rock, indicating either that it had entered a volcanic neck or that it had crossed the axial plane and was in steep-dipping lavas or ash beds"

So a possible volcanic cone neck. But no certainty.

It was later "postulated" by a geology paper for the local geological society that Apedale was thus the cone of the ancient volcano that had produced the "tuff", and that its volcanic rocks might extend out to the east under Stoke-on-Trent...

So far as I can find no-one has ever followed up this "postulation" (a guess, in plain English) with actual test boreholes in Stoke. Even the deepest coal mines seem never to have discovered what lay below the lowest coal line in Stoke. But the age of these volcanic "Apedale tuffs" rocks is congruent with what's been mooted in the press about the current geothermal project, with talk about a "350 million year old" volcano under Stoke. Actually the cone may have been three miles west of Stoke, rather than under the city — but that's beside the point.

The proposers of the current plan then appear to assume that these volcanic rocks might, perhaps, still be more than naturally radioactive in some way. Unnamed "unstable isotopes" have been vaguely mentioned in the press by Prof Peter Styles, a geophysicist at Keele University. It's then suggested that this radioactivity might be what causes the flooded mines in Stoke to be hot. There is said to be "hot water at 800-1000m in centre of city" in flooded mines (Stoke-on-Trent PLEEC Energy Efficiency Strategy - Stakeholder Workshop 1 document).

How hot, exactly? The council document City Systems Integration: A Feasibility Study for the Technology Strategy Board mentioned the "40° C water of the flooded mines at depths of 600m beneath the city". The BBC reported in June 2012 that Prof Peter Styles — who it said was the one "who suggested the [whole] idea to the council" — claimed that the water temperatures could get up to "43°C in some places" in the North Staffordshire coal field. That does seem to be hotter than normal (mines are always warm, and get warmer as you go deeper). Though I haven't been able to find out for certain exactly how or when or where this mine water temperature was measured. Given the depths mentioned, the measurements could have been from the Hanley Deep mine (now Central Forest Park), whose deepest shafts went to 880 yards (800m) and were dug and in use circa 1901-1970s.

But the matter is complicated because the Hanley Deep, along with the nearby Sneyd Colliery was later "connected underground to the refurbished Wolstanton Colliery in 1962" and was pumped from there. The idea was to run all three mines through one pithead at Wolstanton, to save money. This plan was accompanied by a huge underground reconstruction under Stoke-on-Trent that spanned the years 1951 to 1975. The deepest the combined and expanded Wolstanton ever achieved appears to have been 3750ft (1140m or 1.14km), and presumably the Coal Board took readings of the water temperatures at the time. All of the shafts in this mega-pit flooded in 1986 after the pumps were turned off. Given the depth at which Wolstanton was still finding coal, one wonders where the volcanic tuffs were? Presumably further down, perhaps dipping down and away from the high volcano cone at Apedale and thus buried somewhere toward the 2km level — if there was a volvano at Apedale and if its lava flow ever reached Stoke, and then escaped being washed away by some sea in the intervening 350 million years.

But the site of the proposed geothermal power plant suggests a backstop option, one nearer the surface. According to the planning maps the power plant will be on the far Etruria side of Festival Park. Right next to the planned Wolstanton road bridge over the A500, just north of the point at which the new road is to touchdown on Festival Park. So presumably that means the geothermal pipe could go down from there into the old Grange coal mine area. The Grange was used as a dump for "pumping water" from 1917 to 1937, after the Grange mine itself was abandoned to total flooding in 1917. Specifically, after 1917 it was remembered as having been "used as a pumping pit" to take the water out of the 470ft (173m) deep "Racecourse Pits at Etruria" (Mr. W. Jack, Norton-in-the-Moors, who gave information in 1959 for the A History of the County of Stafford, 1963). If going for such an easier mine water option, what if the heat in the depths of the Hanley Deep simply isn't present in the presumably shallower Grange mine? Or is there a fallback intention to put a pipe into some long-forgotten deep hot shaft of the Hanley Deep, which might strike out from Forest Park and run directly under that particular spot at Festival Park? In the absence of a map of the final 1970s layout of the Wolstanton / Hanley Deep shafts and tunnels it's difficult to tell.

But I imagine that the greener option for Stoke's geothermal — compared to pumping up highly polluted mine water and hoping it doesn't ever leak into the city — will be to try to tap the deeper "tuff" hot rocks that may exist far under the old mines. Certainly the hazy press reports make it seem that way, now that methane extraction from the mines has been ruled out on cost grounds. Perhaps all the options will be tried, since I guess it's as cheap to drill a three step borehole (Grange mines to 300m? / Hanley Deep mines to 800m? / "hot rocks" to 1.5-2km?) and see what comes up from the probes and cameras at each step, once you have the drilling rigs up and the engineers on site. Rather than go hell-for-leather for the 2km level. The borehole itself is presumably a fairly low cost and low-risk endeavor, with the bulk of the £50m only being committed later to the district heat network of pipes, if the borehole discoveries justify the investment. On that basis the government's backing is presumably not: "You're definitely on top of a volcano, so we're backing you" but rather "Well... if you can prove it's down there, then you're guaranteed the core funding".

So if the new Council offices in Hanley are "build it and they will come" then the proposed geothermal borehole seems to be "drill it, and see". That seems to be true of the hope for hot rocks and for hot deep mine water. Nice if it all happens, and if it does then I'll celebrate along with everyone else. But it looks to me like we won't actually know if the volcano theory is correct until the borehole drill-bit cuts through the millstone grit and drops into whatever is down there under Stoke's coal. Hopefully it won't be a live volcano.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Tony Chilton, gent's barber of Stoke

Sad to hear that Tony Chilton, a traditional gent’s barber of Stoke-on-Trent, has passed away. He was my barber for about seven years, at Tony’s Barber Shop, 121 College Road by the University. A real character and a nice bloke, he's very much missed.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Slavering feral packs of dogs roam Stoke?

Has anyone seen the slavering feral packs of dogs which The Sentinel newspaper would like us to think are roaming the city? No, me neither...

Figures obtained by The Sentinel reveal more than 2,700 dogs have been found abandoned in Stoke-on-Trent or seen wandering the city’s streets since January 2012. [...] 2,000 of the dogs were rescued from the streets and taken to kennels. A further 700 animals were reported to be 'roaming' the city.

The Sentinel is sensationally conflating dogs merely reported as "seen wandering" with actually "abandoned" dogs. Despite the Council's growing budget for stray dog catching services — running at £63,000 a year in 2014/15 (the amount is from an FOI request) — there were reportedly 700 uncatchable roaming dogs reported over the last two years. That appears to equal less than one report of a stray dog per day anywhere in the city: of the 'the Council located it and tried to catch it, it wasn't friendly and ran away' type, perhaps indicating it was a hardened stray. But possibly these "700" dogs were actually multiple public reports of the same dogs — The Sentinel gives no estimate of the total for 'identified dogs known to have been on the loose for more than x amount of time'. I'd expect it's no more than a dozen genuine 'one-month abandoned' starving dogs across the whole city, even in the summer.

There is of course a potential impact on wildlife from a build-up of stray dogs, since even normal dog-walking has been proven to scare away around a third of all the birds from parks and conservation areas. So the threat of a build up of stray dogs would need to be dealt with, if it were to happen. It doesn't appear to be happening. Although the City Council has reportedly cut the weekend and evening working hours for its dog wardens, the overall dog-catching budget has actually gone up for 2015, and the cuts to overtime hours don't appear to have made things worse.

I've done a lot of walking and cycling through the city during the last few years, and I don't think I've ever seen a genuine rough-looking stray dog once. The real menace to pedestrians and cyclists is the deranged smaller yappy dog that gets let off the lead in a park by their owner, which then comes hurtling toward you over the grass and either leaps up and/or tries to bite your ankles.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

"No legislation has been passed to outlaw traditional units for allotments"

It seems that Whitehall bullies are trying to get allotment committees to switch to metric measurements. Presumably they're doing this at the behest of the EU. But the British Weights and Measures Association is writing to local newspapers to inform people that...

"We want to assure councils and allotment holders that Mr Johnson is wrong. No legislation has been passed to outlaw traditional units for allotments. When drafting metric regulations in the mid-1990s, the government exempted ‘transactions by specification’, of which allotment contracts are an example. Rods, poles, perches, yards and lugs have existed for hundreds of years in Britain, and we hope that councils and allotment holders continue to use them for centuries to come." — JOHN GARDNER Director, British Weights and Measures Association.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Gone to pot

Well well... Hartshill is in the news today for 'allotment' gardening, although of a very dodgy kind: "Police seize more than £20k worth of cannabis after raiding Hartshill business". I quite often walk up through Hartshill Park to flex the hip, do a bit of shopping at the Tesco mini-store there and post some letters, and I'd noticed the partial re-emergence of the very dodgy looking spare-tires and supposed car-repair place, which looked rather out-of-place. As I walked past it I once or twice got some hard stares from the guys who seemed to be running it, though usually there was no-one to be seen out at the front of the car entrance. Now I see the possible reason for their wariness.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Penkhull Wassail 2015: two new photo galleries

Andy White followed the procession and performances for the inaugural Penkhull Wassail 2015 thoughout, with his camera, and now has two excellent sets of photos (one and two) online at Facebook.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Wassail at the Honeywall: video

My little video of last night's Wassail, at the Honeywall and Beehive pub section of the procession, very near the allotments...

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Penkhull New Year Wassail

Pictures from the Penkhull New Year Wassail, with the Domesday Morris processing a crowd down from Penkhull to the Beehive and the White Lion pubs, on the Honeywall, where they performed in the pub yards...