Chair’s Report: NGSI AGM 6

Tuesday 5th February 2019

This has been another constructive year for NGSI. We have built on the hard work of previous years and there have been a number of significant developments.

Rachel has created an excellent new wild flower plot by the main road in Hazlerigg. This produced some beautiful flowers which lasted well into the autumn. The existing turf was rotavated to produce a seed bed. No weed killer was used.

Lydia’s Fountain Row plot in Spital Tongues was again outstanding. From April there was an abundance of wild flowers growing there. Speedwell, chickweed and bittercress were the first to emerge. By June meadow buttercup, yellow-rattle, ox eye daisy and red clover were prolific. Later on Scabious and meadow cranesbill were conspicuous. In June when I visited many bees were feeding on the flowers – the plot is close to some allotments. Bee species I saw included red-tailed, common carder and white tail. By July butterflies such as whites and the small skipper were common. Meadow buttercup, yarrow and red clover are particularly valuable as they remain in flower for many months – well into the autumn.

The Fountain Road plot is close to a much used footpath and busy road. It is gratifying that Lydia has received a number of very favourable comments from passersby about the flowers this year.

This autumn I added a lot more yellow-rattle seed and meadow flower seeds to the Kingston Park plots. David Stebbings and I collected the yellow rattle seeds at Weetslade in July. I bought a very generous kilogram of meadow flower seeds from Kevin Wharf, whose farm is in Upper Coquetdale.

One reason I added these seeds is that some of the plots are now larger than when we first sowed the original seeds. This is due to the grass cutting operatives being considerate and trying not to encroach on the plots. It is useful to compare the sown and unsown areas. It takes a couple of years for most of the perennial plants, such as meadow buttercup, to start flowering.

Lesley and I again sowed two three metre square cornfield annual plots. As before we simply turned the turf over, raked the ground and sowed the seeds, sourced from Meadow Mania, in mid April. The plot by the swings, which is on open ground, did well but the one shaded by railings and on wet ground was a bit disappointing. Corn cockle was the flower that did best there.

We have had two visits to the Kingston Park plots by senior council managers this year. Both were brought about because of complaints made by the usual suspects who live in Cowdray Court. The council officers were broadly supportive of our wild flower project. They have instructed Grounds Maintenance to make a few relatively minor changes to the plots – mowing borders by the footpaths for instance.

The Parks Department are going to visit again, with Steve Charlton from Groundworks, in the spring before the grass cutting season starts. I expect that the first thing the complainants will do when the Parks Trust is established is take their well rehearsed grievances to the new Chief Executive.

NGSI have organised or led a number of nature walks this year. In April we did a walk along the banks of the Tyne from Newburn to Wylam and back. We saw some early flying butterflies including a comma and an orange tip. We visited an SSSI site near Wylam. The soil contains a significant proportion of heavy metal residue. This allows an unusual flora to develop. The Alpine Pennycress was in flower and abundant.

In May we did an evening walk along the banks of the River Blyth from Stannington to Plessey Woods. The woodland flora was not quite at its bluebell peak but there were still plenty of flowers to enjoy.

Lydia and I led two walks for Newcastle Council which were organised by Sarah Capes. The first was at Greenside on 29th May. Unfortunately no one came. The second was at Warkworth Woods on 7th of June. This was better attended. This is a good area for orchids so we were able to compare the recently discovered Southern Marsh orchid with the Northern Marsh Orchid and Early Purple orchids. Sarah very kindly arranged for the council to pay NGSI £100 for leading the walk.

Lydia showed several people around the Fountain Row plot in June – when it was at its peak. Among many other questions she was asked was ‘what is the soil PH’ and the plot’s exact size.

Lydia also led a nature walk for two young children near Prudhoe in March. Unfortunately Kingston Park Primary has stopped inviting us to lead small groups of children on local nature walks. I do not know why. There is a new teacher in charge of the School Council, the group with whom we used to do these walks.

NGSI have sent out six nature notes newsletters. These included Sarah Foster’s beautiful set of photographs of bees, butterflies and moths. Lydia sent out a fascinating set of pictures to accompany her account of the insect life on a leaf on a plum tree in her garden during a week in mid summer. It was an epic tale of birth and death.

Members of the group gave three talks during the year. At the last AGM Dave took us through the very interesting subject of butterfly migration. In May Sarah gave a talk on bees. Her pictures were outstanding and we all learnt a lot about the life cycle of bees. In October I gave a talk about Switzerland. I mentioned the flora, agriculture, politics, economics and history of the country. I have given it again this evening.

We have reinvigorated our anti pesticide campaign this year. This has been greatly helped by the charity Pesticide Action Network UK launching a national Pesticide-Free Towns campaign. We have featured on their website. They published a picture of me with a placard outside the Civic Centre.

We launched the local campaign with a talk given by me at Jesmond Library. About 12 people attended. One lady did not wish to be photographed or give her name. It would be good if she was reporting back to the local authority. We have produced some postcards which supporters can send to NCC’s Chief Executive, Pat Ritchie. These and the placard we use were designed by my daughter.

We have held a campaign stall at the Monument, in Kingston Park and outside the Civic Centre. We now have forty people on our email list for the campaign. We hand out the postcards, the leaflet Sarah designed and a PAN.UK leaflet. In the space of an hour I can nearly guarantee that at least 10 people will sign the form and give us their email address. Many people are aware of the glyphosate issue and feel strongly that public land should be managed without the use of pesticides.

We submitted an existing petition to Democratic Services based at the Civic Centre. It has nearly 500 signatures. We presented this to a full council meeting on 9th January. Cllr Kemp replied for the Council. Alas the Council will continue to spray pesticides on public land this year. He said operatives are being given a refresher course by the supplier. Presumably this is to assuage any anxieties about the risk to employees that councillors may have following the Monsanto trial in California.

The petition was forwarded to the relevant director who I assume to be Christine Herriot. I wish to thank everyone who has contacted their local councillors and/or written to council officers to support the Pesticide-Free Newcastle campaign.

Last week Cllr Marion Talbot kindly agreed to meet me to find out more about the pesticide issue. She gave me over an hour of her time. She asked many pertinent questions. She is going to do some more research and then give her views to Cllr Kemp. There is just a chance we will get her to support our campaign.

Buglife were going to involve us with a project they hoped to do in the city but unfortunately this fell through. They really liked our website.

We are contributing to a project called Naturvation. This is being run by Durham University and is EU funded. The name is a combination of nature and innovation. The aim is to develop nature based solutions to problems such as flooding and developing hospital grounds in ways which will benefit patients’ health.

In June there was an illustrated article about NGSI’s wild flower areas in the Kingston Park News bulletin.

Once again many thanks to Albert and Lydia for maintaining and updating the website. It is receiving more visits because of the PFN leaflets we are giving out.

Thank you all for coming to the meeting and for your support through the year.

Chair’s Report: AGM 7th February 2017

Welcome to our fourth AGM.

We have continued to build on our core activity of developing wild flower areas on council owned amenity grassland. Our plots in Kingston Park and in Spital Tongues have shown a steady floral progression. Each year the annuals, such as yellow-rattle and eyebright, have become more firmly established. Ox-eye daisy, wild carrot, meadow cranes-bill, meadow buttercup and several other perennial species are gradually increasing in abundance on the plots.

The two cornfield annual plots in Kingston Park did much better this year. Lesley and I prepared the seed beds in February and sowed the seeds in mid- April. The flowers appeared in mid-July and lasted until early November. The plots were approximately three metre squares. We simply turned the turf over and then broke up the sods of earth as best we could. We watered the plots regularly after sowing. I am sure this made a big difference to the seed germination percentage.

On the large tussock grass area creeping buttercup is abundant early in the summer and this is followed by knapweed in mid summer. These species compete well with coarse grasses and can tolerate considerable trampling by dogs. A small area where the grass is short allows cowslips to grow in the spring and bird’s-foot-trefoil later in the year.

Lydia and Ros continue to manage the Spital Tongues plot. This was very colourful indeed in June and July. Lydia mows the grass, with a small team of helpers, using a scythe. This method has various environmental benefits as compared with using a petrol strimmer. It also provides interest for passers-by.

We entered the In Your Neighbourhood Scheme run by the RHS this year. All the work of the group was taken into consideration by the assessor. Lesley and I attended the award ceremony in October. We achieved the ‘Thriving ‘standard with a score of 82/100. We missed the top award, Outstanding, by four points. I think we can feel proud of reaching this level of horticultural attainment.

We have been involved in a range of educational activities this year. We did four nature walks with the School Council of Kingston Park Primary. The council consists of two pupils representing each year group. Rachel and I have established a routine which seems to work. We start with a walk around the Green. The children make their own collection of flowers, leaves and fruits on sticky cards. They have magnifying glasses and we look closely at the different parts of a flower. We finish by giving the children a short quiz back at the school. It takes about an hour.

Lydia and I led two nature walks for residents of Newcastle Great Park. Sarah Capes organised these. The one around Greenside was well attended and we saw two kingfishers by the Ouseburn, the small river that runs through the estate. Sarah kindly arranged for NGSI to be paid £50 for each of the walks. We have been invited to lead them again this summer.

We advised Friends of Heaton Park and local councillors from Denton Burn on wild flower projects. Jeanie Molyneux asked us for advice on creating a small wild flower area in Heaton Park. The Friends have made a start on this by removing certain plants. The councillors wanted to transform a large grassed area in West Denton into a flower rich area. Newcastle City Council had quoted them a very large sum for doing this. We made proposals that would have required volunteers – who cannot always be found. I have not heard that councillors have made any progress with this scheme.

The glyphosate campaign continues. Currently we are waiting for a reply to a letter that 10 of us signed and which we sent Catherine McKinnell MP on 26th November. She has told me that she has asked the council to reply to our comments and will send me their reply when she receives it. I sent copies of the letter to Michael Murphy, Director of Communities, and Pat Ritchie the CEO of Newcastle City Council. I also sent email copies to attendees of the OSC meeting in January.

Our view is that NCC is making only token efforts at reducing the amount of glyphosate they use. They seem to be unwilling or unable to appreciate recent research which demonstrates clearly the risks to human health of exposure to glyphosate by inhalation of droplets or by dermal contact with sprayed vegetation or by eating food containing glyphosate.

On the positive side Kingston Park Primary School have stopped using glyphosate on the school grounds. This followed representations from NGSI. I met the Head and the School Council to explain the issue. The School Council presented their arguments to the Governors. The Governors asked the care taker to ensure no more pesticides are used to manage the school grounds. The school really appreciated our involvement and were delighted that the School Council had been involved with an issue that resulted in a practical outcome.

Rachel has put an enormous effort into campaigning on very important local environmental issues this year through the group she founded - Save Newcastle Wildlife. Several of us are supporters of this group. She has done sterling work in challenging the developers and planners whose building schemes will decimate the two hundred year old trees in Woolsington Woods and severely impair the Havannah/Three Hills local nature reserve.

Sarah Foster has put a great deal of thought and effort into designing some excellent new NGSI business cards. They beautifully illustrate the nature that we all love and seek to enhance. She has also very kindly designed the excellent anti-pesticide posters which I mentioned earlier.

I would like to thank Lydia for keeping our website updated with information and new pictures. This is a very important contribution to the group. I would also like to thank her for keeping us informed about the council’s proposals for running Newcastle’s parks when the parks budget is reduced to practically zero. It is good that NGSI have a presence at the Parks Forum meetings which Rachel also attends.