Blog: March 2017

Garden spaces: how UK gardens have changed
Hari Alexander
Pictured above: Trex composite decking is made from waste plastic bags and wood scraps. Decking remains a popular way to achieve that outdoor room feel - and extra living space for when the weather's good.
Britain’s homes are shrinking and with it our green spaces. Homes today have halved in size compared to those built in 1920, and the average British garden has shrunk from 168 m2 to just 163.2 m2 between 1983 and 2013.
On top of this, more than two million UK homes don’t have any garden space at all and planning experts predict that by 2020 10.5 per cent of homes will be garden-less. Which isn't good news on many counts, not least research that suggests children who live in homes without a garden are far more likely to become obese compared to those who do have gardens to play in.
However, it’s not just size or lack of access to garden space that's changed. Indeed Britons' entire approach to gardening has shifted as new synthetic materials have become available – from decking to gardening products such as fertilisers.
Plant pots: originally made from clay, pots and containers widely on sale are are plastic while some are now made from biodegradable materials.
Fertiliser: Once, fertiliser was entirely organic. However, chemicals have now been developed to serve as fertiliser – although many gardeners do prefer organic or peat-free fertiliser. 
Lawn mowers: We used to use shears or scythes..cutting grass was a manual job. But machinery was developed in the 1900s saw the development of the push mower and now of course we have electrically-powered lawnmovers which do make it so much easier to maintain a lawn.
Change of purpose
And while gardens are still full of soil, clay, timber and stone, lots of us have added plastic and stainless steel in the form of furniture and railings, and concrete for hard landscaping.
The actual way we see our gardens has changed too. During WW2, gardens were areas for growing food to supplement rationing, and also an area of refuge for those who’d build their own bomb shelters! But by the early 1950s gardeners had shrugged off this sensibility and shifted their focus towards ornamentation and decoration, placing more emphasis on how things look - so manicured lawns and trimmed shrubs.
The late '50s and early '60s saw the arrival of the garden centre, (the first one to open was in Ferndown, Dorset in 1955) – forever changing the way British gardeners cultivated plants. Widespread availability of plants meant heathers, conifers and bedding plants became popular. 
However, the 1970s' counterculture movement also changed the way we garden, reverting attention back on the idea of self-sufficiency and growing your own. And the advent of colour television saw gardening programmes arrive on our screens and interest in gardening as a hobby took off.
The 1980s saw gardens become places to entertain with conservatories and barbecues and by the 1990s we were all getting in to garden makeovers. Which meant putting in decking as a fast affordable way to make a living space in the garden.
The rise of the internet in the 2000s has changed gardening again. Information about growing and cultivating your own plants is everywhere, via your desktop, tablet computer or mobile phone. The renewed focus on climate change and healthy eating also means more of us
want to create sustainable gardens with minimal harm to the environment, using recycled materials in everything from plant pots to composite decking
However, returning to the point that British homes have ever smaller gardens, we need to think carefully about how we can make the most of the new materials and products available and use them to enhance our lives. If you have only a small backyard, fill it with pot plants and remember you can grow fruit and veg in containers too. Or if you're interior space is limited, it might be worth turning your outside space into living space too. You can do this with good decking, some large outdoor umbrellas to shield you from sun and rain and some weatherproof furniture. 
Environment and ecology, Garden, Gardening, Gardens, Lifestyle, Outdoor space, Wildlife protection, recycling, eco friendly
London's cultural offer to the world at risk from development
By Coco Piras

The reason cited by millions of visitors to London as to what brings them to the capital is its culture - theatres and galleries large and small, music venues, clubs, arts communities and studios and let's not forget the graffiti and other street art. 

But as planning permission is granted for ever more large scale development - usually for 'luxury' apartment blocks and offices - so the arts are squeezed because high rents means there's nowhere to relocate to. (Teacup chandelier maker Madeleine Boulesteix is a case in point: the arts venue in south London where she and many other artists had lived and worked for decades was closed and the site sold to a developer. She's now based in Devon.)

So the London Assembly's Regeneration Committee has produced a report highlighting the threat posed to the capital's still vibrant art scene by developers which urges the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, to take action now. Recommendations include:

·         Developing a bold programme to create and promote sustainable culture in the capital.
·         Ensuring that the new London Plan includes an affordable cultural workspace policy that means there's affordable cultural workspace in every large new planning development.
·         Carrying out research to better understand ‘affordability’ for the cultural and creative sectors. Better quality data on culture in London is essential.
·         Urgently piloting a Creative Enterprise Zone in London, which includes both affordable housing and workspace co-located together.
·         Protecting not just the famous iconic venues in London, but also smaller grassroots venues.
London is home to a staggering 857 galleries, 215 museums, 320 live music venues and 241 theatres and 80 per cent of visitors to London cite ‘culture and heritage’ as the reason for their visit. And don't forget the creative industries account for one in six jobs in London (16.2 per cent), with almost a third of the UK's creative jobs being based in the capital. 
However regeneration programmes, which now cover large areas of London, are putting the capital’s cultural offer at risk. Between 2007 and 2015, the city lost 35 per cent of its grassroots music venues, a decline from 136 venues to just 88. And some 3,500 artists are likely to lose their places of work by 2019.
The Mayor of London has made the promotion of London’s as the best city in the world for culture one of his priorities, and the Regeneration Committee says that means taking action to curb rising property prices which are forcing artists out of their areas.


Culture, Development, Environment and ecology, art
Calling all couch potatoes..get a standing desk!
By Hari Alexander
Here's something that should get you up on your pins - Britons will spend more than 18 years of their adult lifetime sitting down. And sitting down all the time is not good for us, as we all know.
Despite all the gyms and fitness boot camps and home exercise equipment on sale, most of us continue to lead very sedentary lifestyles – spending 51 hours and 44 minutes seated during a typical week, according to recent research. That amounts to more than seven hours a day in their chairs – 4.5  of those hours being at work. The study also found lots of us spend 13.5 hours a week sitting down watching television.
Paul Chamberlain at Solgar UK, which commissioned the research, says inactivity is a real problem with the modern lifestyle: 'Our study of 2000 adults found people exercise only for a fraction of the amount of time they spend sitting down, which can lead to joint and muscle problems. We forget that we weren't built to sit still all the time but designed to move.'
Forty-five per cent of those questioned say they have no idea how much exercise they should do each week, and three quarters say their workplace does nothing to encourage more movement. (The World Health Organisation recommends adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, or 30 minutes on at least five days.) And over half of respondents say they sometimes sit still for so long they get a sore back.
Fifty per cent of respondents say they’re glued to their desk chairs because they’re too busy to move, and while one in ten of respondents say they worry that colleagues will think they’re not working hard enough if they take a standing break.
So good to hear that more than a quarter of respondents say they would welcome a 'standing desk' and this should act as a spur to companies to invest in these pieces of furniture, while we can also use them at home.
Standing desk makers include Ai Box, which offers very inexpensive cardboard standing desks, and Ikea, which has a good range.
Ironically inactivity is one of the major causes of joint pain because sitting for long period places pressure on the spine and joints.
For some people years of inactivity can lead to weight gain, which increases stress on the joints, along with increasing inflammation which again can impact on joint health.
Furniture, Health, Lifestyle, recycling, eco friendly
California: slower shipping speeds help protect the whale
By Bea Grbic
Shipping company Evergreen Line has been recognised for its outstanding work in voluntary environmental and ecological protection.
From July to November it took part in a protection programme focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vessels and avoiding whale collisions by encouraging slow sailing speeds in California’s Santa Barbara Channel region.
Vessels in the programme were required to reduce speeds to 12 knots or less within 95 nautical miles of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. This helps minimize greenhouse gas emissions and so improve air quality in port communities; and during the five-month period the result was a reduction of more than 1,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases and 27 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx), the smog-forming air pollutant.
The July to November period sees an increase in whale population in the Santa Barbara Channel region - these include blue, humpback and fin whales. With thousands of vessels sailing through the Channel each year, ship strikes are a major threat to the endangered whale population. Slowing ship speeds has been proven to reduce the risk of such fatal strikes.
Kristi Birney, marine conservation analyst for the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center, says shipping companies need to be aware that speed can result in fatal strikes: 'Slower moving ships down provide whale conservation -  as well as cleaner air for us to breathe here on the shore.'
Environment and ecology, Wildlife protection