Earth Day 2020

This is a strange one, but an important one. As we stay in our homes across the world in an aim to stop this virus, it should make everyone realise just how close we all are to each other.

People have more spare time than ever right now and there are plenty of small acts that can be done to help mother nature.

With people working and staying at home, there is much less traffic on the roads, in the air and on the water and this has led to many positives to the natural world. With a reduction in air pollution in India, the Himalayas can be seen clearly for the first time in 30 years. Wildlife are thriving from the quieter environment and have been found roaming areas that are usually highly populated with Humans. A town close to me had a family of ducks walking down the main street which is not a familiar sight in the highly popular seaside resort.

Some simple acts that can be done at home that might help:

  • Litter picking in your local area
  • Participate in Citizen Science projects like garden bird counts
  • Think of ways to reduce your waste
  • Stick to reusable bottles and mugs
  • Take the time to fix things that are broken instead of buying new
  • Try not to mow your lawn too much and let the wildflowers grow for the insects
  • Leave something out for the garden birds, the birds in my garden love Peanuts, Niger Seeds and some water
  • Watch an environmental documentary or listen to a podcast and learn something new

The most important part of this, is to spread the word and let everyone know what you are doing and maybe it will inspire others to follow suit. Social media has a strong presence during this pandemic so we should use it to spread the message of environmentalism.

Everyone I know is sharing beautiful pictures of their walks in nature and how much they appreciate it. People are finally taking a good look around them and taking the time to marvel at what has always been right in front of them. I have been trying to share as many photos and videos of my home as not everyone is able to leave their homes or get into nature right now. I am also trying to spread a little joy by sharing photos of my animals which I hope can put a smile on someoneโ€™s face. Our Earth and everything in it is incredible and I am so glad that more people are paying attention to it and I hope this continues.

This is our home and it deserves better.

What about a Spring Clean in your local area…

We have been treated to some beautiful weather here in Northern Ireland for the last few weeks. I am sure that this has helped to keep spirits up during the current lockdown going on. It is always great to get outdoors, breathe in some fresh air, stretch the legs and enjoy nature. I am lucky enough to live in the countryside and have a lot of space available to get out and about in. It has been great to see so many people outside getting their exercise and enjoying nature, however, one thing that I have noticed is that not one person bothered to lift any litter during their walks.

I am guilty myself of not picking up litter on every walk I go on, but to see the same people walking in my local area every single day just walking past the litter is disappointing. I live on a rural country road, with hedgerows on either side and for the last few weeks it has been filled with walkers, runners and cyclists of all ages. On my local beach there are facilities for walkers to use for collecting rubbish, and I have never seen anyone else use them before. I assume people might be more interested when the issue is literally on their doorstep and they will do something about saying everyone is so bored during lockdown.

So, after going for a walk with my mum last night and spotting so much litter, I made sure that this evening I brought my grabber and a bin bag to collect the rubbish. Some of my neighbours seen me out collecting the rubbish and they all gave me a strange look. I couldnโ€™t tell if they were more surprised at what I was doing, or at how much rubbish I had collected.

In a short stretch of road, we found everything from plastic packaging, rubber, plastic bottles, takeaway containers, polystyrene, cigarette packets and buds to clothing. It is sad to think that most of these items had probably just been lobbed out of a car. Among the rubbish, the hedgerows are covered with wildflowers, especially Dandelion that are in full bloom. These hedgerows are full of birds and insects and even have evidence of foxes using them.

I keep seeing all these challenges on Facebook to help keep people active and occupied and I would like to challenge everyone to do something to help clean up the environment and make a difference to their local area during this time.

Even the smallest of acts can have the largest impact.

Prince’s Island Park: Constructed Wetland

It was such a pleasure to discover a constructed wetland in the heart of Calgary, Canada. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know it was even there until I finally walked to the far side of Prince’s Island Park the other day. I used to work beside the entrance to Prince’s Island Park so I am amazed that I never knew about the wetland. Obviously, if you are close to the river at all in Calgary, you will notice the large population of Canada Geese and various duck species but you would never guess that there is a wetland tucked into the park. The wetland was created to treat storm water before it enters the Bow River, but it also acts as a new habitat for lots of species and increases the biodiversity of the area.

This amazing work has been carried out by the Alberta Conservation Association. By artificially damming water and planting carefully selected plants like Wood’s Rose, Balsam Poplar and Slender Wheatgrass, they have developed a very impressive constructed wetland.

After the initial construction, it is up to nature to take over and that is definitely what has happened here. Whilst walking around the wetland area, you are surrounded by waterfowl, mostly Canada Goose, Mallard and the American Widgeon and the trees that line the pathway are filled with birds. I was treated to a sighting of my first North American Water Vole which was swimming between the banks of the wetland.

North American Water Vole (Microtus richardsoni)

Wetlands are an extremely important and useful ecosystem that we need to preserve and learn more about. I love that the pathway takes you all around the wetland banks on Prince’s Island and is filled with information signage to help teach people more about the importance of the flora and fauna of this special habitat. Constructed wetlands are a concept that other large cities should be thinking about; they increase biodiversity, improve water quality and can act as a buffer zone against floods, storms and other extreme weather events, especially along coastlines.

My Meat-Free Journey

As of Easter Sunday morning, I completed my meat-free Lenten promise. There were a lot of lessons to learn during this time period;

Lesson 1: Always read the menu properly

I was just into Day 4 of my new meat-free lifestyle when I was eating out in a restaurant for lunch, and I ordered the Poutine. Poutine is a classic Canadian dish which contains fries, cheese curds and gravy. I love Poutine, it’s always the first thing I want to eat as soon as I get to Canada, so when I see it on a menu I usually order it. So, after seeing Poutine on the lunch menu on this particular day, I immediately ordered it without looking into the ingredients. As I awaited my lunch, filled with excitement, my sister pointed out that gravy isn’t usually vegetarian and I felt so disappointed in myself for not even thinking about that. A few minutes later my meal arrived and I was already feeling like a total failure, when they placed a plate in front of me that was filled with Beef. If I had have paid any attention to the ingredient list, I would have seen that I ordered a Brisket Beef Poutine. So as I sat there, embarrassed and disappointed with my myself, my sister named me “The Worst Vegetarian in the World”. I didn’t eat any of the meat and I definitely didn’t let it go to waste, my friends ate it instead. I felt like a total idiot, but at least it taught me to be more thorough when ordering food. FYI, this is now my sisters favourite story to tell people.

Lesson 2: Lent isn’t only 40 days

I guess I just always thought that Lent was 40 days because it reflects upon the 40 days and nights that Jesus spent in the wilderness. But apparently the time period of Lent isn’t always the same every year. This year it was 46 days and I was happy to keep up my Lenten promise for a little longer.

Lesson 3: Use supplements

One thing I realised after the first few weeks is that I wasn’t using enough supplements as my energy levels were getting pretty low. I guess the biggest difference with taking meat out of your diet will be Protein and Iron levels. So, I made sure my meals and snacks included Iron rich foods like; Spinach, peas, chickpeas, beans (kidney, black, baked), nuts, lentils, avocado, broccoli, tomatoes and Tofu. I also started using protein powder in smoothies and I noticed an immediate difference to my energy levels.

Lesson 4: Come up with exciting recipes

My first experience with Tofu wasn’t great, it was very bland and soggy. Overtime, I figured out how to season it and cook it better and that I definitely preferred the Extra Firm Tofu. One time I battered it and fried it and it was really tasty, I made my sister taste it and she compared it to a chicken nugget which I was pretty happy about. It’s like an international thing that when something is compared to tasting like chicken it gets the seal of approval. I started making really interesting dishes to stop my taste buds from getting too bored. Zucchini fries, fried Tofu and plant-based mince and salads really got me through it all without craving meat at all. I was pretty luck that restaurants in Calgary are very accommodating to vegetarian diets, so I usually had a lot of options when eating out. I had numerous veggie burgers, tofu dishes, Portobello mushrooms and avocado tacos.

Lesson 5: Plant-Based Burgers are amazing

Honestly, this transition was made so much easier with the help of A&W. A&W is a fast-food outlet found across Canada which is famed for its delicious burgers. I am a fast-food junkie, I LOVE burgers and fries, so when A&W launched their Beyond Meat menu, I was over the moon. I would happily say that their Beyond Meat burger is probably the nicest burgers that I have ever eaten. I will happily pick that burger over the beef burgers from now on. They also provide a Beyond Meat breakfast bap that contains a sausage equivalent that I have yet to try. It is inspiring to see such a large company taking action and providing meat-free equivalents.

The first meat I ate was some bacon with my breakfast on Easter Sunday and yes, it was tasty but honestly I would have still been happy with the meal if it wasn’t there. I really enjoyed the vegetarian life-style and I hope to continue along this path but I think my more realistic goal is to have a 6:1 diet. I will follow a vegetarian diet as much as possible but still allowing myself to eat meat if I really crave it or for special occasions. I would recommend people to really try it out, even one or two days a week, it is definitely the better environmental and economic lifestyle choice and is not very difficult to follow.