The Grumpy Old Man

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Grumpy worries about the Environment
Note:this grump was originally published in April 2017, and updated in November 2018

More trees, every little helps

The environment in which we live is very delicate and, as a species, we have spent hundreds of years destroying it. If not destroying it, then certainly we have severely damaged it. It is ironic that we now know for a fact that years ago huge areas of the world were covered in forests. Since then we have slowly and systematically destroyed these forests and thus released all the carbon they have fixed in the timber into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Science is now convinced that this carbon dioxide collects in the upper atmosphere and works like a greenhouse trapping heat and thus resulting in the surface of the Earth increasing in temperature. This will raise the sea level and speed up the melting of the polar ice caps and other glaciers, (an effect already seen.) Science is also convinced that this is leading to severe weather changes. The other effect of this reduction in world forestation is that there are fewer leaves performing photosynthesis. This is the action of the green leaves as they absorb the carbon dioxide from and release oxygen into the atmosphere.

So you may ask what can we do? Grumpy believes that there is much that we can do. It doesn't matter how small each achievement is, provided it is a step in the right direction to ultimately reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

One simple way to do this is to follow the little limerick

plant a tree in two oh one three
plant some more in two oh one four
plant another five in two oh one five

And of course remember the axiom that out of little acorns girt big oak trees must grow. We can even involve our children and the primary schools in such a project. During the autumn, acorns, conkers (horse chestnuts), sycamore wings and ash tree seeds can be collected. In the spring, these can be planted in pots and one can watch them grow. Do remember that it will help them grow if they think there has been a hard winter. You can do this by popping them in your domestic freezer for a week or so in the middle of the winter. These trees take a couple of years to get to a reasonable size and they can then be planted out in your garden, round the school, or any other piece of unused land that you have identified.

On the subject of tree planting, as I drive around the countryside along our lovely new roads I often notice that there are acres and acres of embankment and cutting that do not have any trees planted on them. I accept there are many already planted, but there is still a significant amount of ground on which nothing at all has been planted. It is up to us to put pressure on our elected representatives to encourage councils and road builders to plant these areas as soon as possible.

Grumpy also reminds you that another way to play your part in this crisis is to do your utmost to reduce your energy consumption. You will find a few thoughts and helpful hints on that in my second eco-grump.


Note:this grump was originally published in April 2017, and updated in November 2018

I recently read that Ireland's CO2 emissions have actually risen rather than fallen. The main culprit is deemed the agricultural sector, in particular the dairy herd which has risen, over the last four years, by some 350,000 cows. Cows are notorious for generating the greenhouse gas methane which is some 23 times worse than CO2. Reading this prompted further curiosity which turned up the following couple of articles. Which have supported a view I've held for quite some time that the planting of trees should be proactively encouraged by governments. It is well-known that they absorb CO2 and if you plant enough in the one area it is believed that they can change the microclimate.

Having said that Grumpy believes that agroforestry could be used to a far greater degree and could reduce rather than increase the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

Looking at work being done in the UK on this topic, I came across a very comprehensive article written by a Ph.D. student from Bangor University (my own seat of learning, way back) named Charlotte Prichard. Under Creative Commons license I take the liberty of repeating some of the basic facts from her paper.

Some 12m hectares of the UK is currently covered by agricultural grasslands which support a national lamb and beef industry worth approximately £3.7 billion. However, proposals have been made that this landscape should undergo radical changes to aid the country’s climate change commitments. A controversial government advisory report recently produced by the independent Committee on Climate Change calls for UK lamb and beef production to be reduced by up to 50%. It claims that by replacing grazing land with forestry, the UK will be able to substantially decrease its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The National Farmers Union has responded to the report stating that it has no plans to reduce livestock numbers. However, planting trees is a crucial step in the fight against climate change. Trees act as a carbon sink for CO2 and also provide a source of different biofuel products. Previous planting schemes have seen success, for example, between 1990 and 2010 the area of the UK covered by woodland increased from 2.6 to 2.8 million hectares. But grazing land need not be taken away for the sake of this environmental initiative. Afforestation plans can be sensitive to the aforementioned socioeconomic and cultural factors if a balanced approach is taken.

So what can be done? Agroforestry might be a way to meet the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation to release between three to seven million hectares of grassland for afforestation without affecting the UK’s food supply.

Under agroforestry schemes, new woodlands are grown and existing trees are cultivated on farmlands. The aim is to optimise farming systems by incorporating woodland into them rather than replacing grazing land with trees. Planting trees and hedgerows improves grass growth, protects against flooding and topsoil erosion, increases farmland biodiversity and provides a source of natural shelter for livestock. And if the trees are used for biofuel or timber they can provide additional farm income.

With Brexit looming, now is the perfect time for agricultural reform as the country revisits current land use policies. As an industry that is currently so reliant on EU subsidies, there is a strong incentive to optimise production methods. Government discussions are already well under way over how to bring together the agriculture and forestry sectors in order to better manage pastoral landscapes. If agroforestry is incorporated in to these new agricultural policies and subsidy schemes there will be huge benefits for farmers, conservationists, the general public and the livestock they rely on.

The comment by the NFU is not surprising and just reflects the approach that has been taken in Ireland where cattle headcount was allowed to increase totally out of control, seemingly, when milk quotas were removed. It ably demonstrates how farmers are taking a distinctly short-term view of increasing their own profit today at the expense of tomorrow's job and the planet.

Grumpy is not and never has been a great advocate of government interference (call it regulation if you like) as he has observed over the years that such interference invariably makes the situation infinitely worse! Having said that, in this instance, there really is little option but for government to take action in limiting the national cattle headcount to a level where the greenhouse gas emissions actually reduce. This would free up land that could then be used for afforestation under much more environmentally friendly agroforestry schemes. There is no point trying to implement a local "guideline" scheme because that is little better than self-regulation and Grumpy has always believed that self-regulation is no regulation.

Unfortunately action is needed like yesterday, so let's get on with it and stop trying to justify paying financial penalties for the over generation of greenhouse gases.

To read the full paper visit

In the same periodical there is also an article written by Philip Dobie of the World Agroforestry Centre giving an extensive overview of agroforestry and its benefits to both the farmer and the environment. I take the liberty of re producing a short extract from his paper as it is again most relevant to the topic;

Planting trees is a crucial step in the fight against climate change. Trees act as a carbon sink for CO2 and also provide a source of different biofuels products. Previous planting schemes have seen success, for example, between 1990 and 2010 the area of the UK covered by woodland increased from 2.6 to 2.8 million hectares. But grazing land need not be taken away for the sake of this environmental initiative. Afforestation plans can be sensitive to the aforementioned socioeconomic and cultural factors if a balanced approach is taken.

So what can be done? Agroforestry might be a way to meet the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation to release between three to seven million hectares of grassland for afforestation without affecting the UK’s food supply.

Under agroforestry schemes, new woodlands are grown and existing trees are cultivated on farmlands. The aim is to optimise farming systems by incorporating woodland into them rather than replacing grazing land with trees. Planting trees and hedgerows improves grass growth, protects against flooding and topsoil erosion, increases farmland biodiversity and provides a source of natural shelter for livestock. And if the trees are used for biofuel or timber they can provide additional farm income.

Agroforestry schemes can improve animal welfare too. The 2018 lambing season resulted in an unprecedented lamb mortality rate. But it has been shown that, by providing a source of natural shelter, lamb mortality rates can be reduced by up to 50% during inclement weather.

This paper can be viewed in full by visiting read full paper by visiting

But it's not only trees, many farmers in the UK have "invested" in the "wilding" field margins. This is a very simple, non-labour-intensive process and essentially consists of little more than allowing the hedges to grow and planting a margin alongside the grown hedge with wildflowers and other seed producing plants (many farmers call the particular plants used "weeds"). Farmers who have tried this have reported that although they have a very small reduction in the amount of land they are cultivating with "crops for cash" has reduced a little, the benefit of the wilded field margins is a significant increase in the insect life and wild bird life on the farm. The increase in insect life they have found produces a significant increase in the efficiency of pollination of their crops and a consequent increase in the yield per acre. Perhaps more farmers should look at this and greater woodland coverage on their farms. Grumpy has heard estimates suggesting up to ten percent of farmland could be used for these two purposes and give significant benefits to the farmer and the environment.

It is a pity that instead of just letting the dairy herd increase willy-nilly in a completely uncontrolled manner the Irish government and others worldwide must introduce regulation on these matters. It is interesting that they are interested in other forms of pollution control, like tighter and tighter restriction on diesel cars, but seem unable or perhaps unwilling to tackle the bigger problem of unfettered growth in the size of the dairy/beef herd.