Campaigning for commons: anti-GMO protest

By chance when I was visiting the Strathcona farmers’ market yesterday in Edmonton, Canada, I found myself in the midst of a campaign.  This was a march against genetically-modified (GM) crops, Monsanto and the failure to label GM crops so people are unaware of health risks.



About 100 marchers with banners swung round the block, calling out ‘We want the label, before they go on the table’ and ‘No, no, no to GMO’.   They stopped outside the office of the premier Rachel Notley in 82nd Avenue.


They stood on the steps, which made a good photo opportunity.


Unfortunately, Rachel Notley didn’t come out but she will have got the message and I hope she is sympathetic.

This lady gave a spirited interview.

This lady gave a spirited interview.

The car drivers were respectful of the marchers, except for one who tried to run them down.  The police were not obviously present and this cop had got his priorities right, booking an illegally-parked car.


I spoke to one of the organisers who said it was a group affair, with Occupy Edmonton, Greenpeace and Seeds, Feeds and Needs all involved.

It was fitting that this protest should take place at the same time as our commons conference in Edmonton.  Our soils, seed banks, pollen and gene pools are all commons which are being privatised and stolen by commercial, multinational interests.

The marches across Canada are reported here.

Posted in campaigns, Canada, common land, commons, International Association for the Study of the Commons | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Arriving in Edmonton

I arrived in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on Thursday evening, 21 May, for the biennial conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons.  Once again I am being generously funded by the Elinor Ostrom Award.  I travelled with John Powell from the Countryside and Community Research Institute of Gloucester University (CCRI).

The next morning the Edmonton Journal carried a story that the National Geographic has chosen the city as one of the top ten places to visit this summer.   So far, I am not convinced.

I am staying on the University of Alberta North Campus, which is to the south of the North Saskatchewan River, whereas downtown is to the north of the river.  There is an extensive park along the river valley which I shall write about later.

The main road through the campus, 87th Avenue, is wide with some unusual and unlovely buildings.

The Van Vliet physical fitness and wellness centre, known as the Butterdome

The Van Vliet physical fitness and wellness centre, known as the Butterdome

For a city of 900,000 population,* the streets seem fairly quiet. The side roads through this part of town are attractive, lined with trees .7 treesThere are some nice houses too, reminiscent of our plotlands.

8 houses

Downtown architecture on the other hand has little to commend it.



The province’s legislature building has a certain grandeur.  It was built between 1907 and 1913 in the beaux arts style.  The first floor is faced with Vancouver Island granite and the upper floors are of sandstone from Calgary.  It is literally at the top of the town.

Legislature building

Legislature building

Edmonton developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Its wealth is from the oil industry, the vast and devastating oil sands, such as the Athabasca oil sands, of North East Alberta.  The oil industry is facing a major problem: British Columbia will not allow it to construct a pipeline through the province to extract the oil.  There is an increasing threat from fracking.  I expect to hear more about this at the conference this week.

The politics of Alberta have recently swung to the left after many years of a right-wing government, with the election as premier of the New Democratic Party’s Rachel Notley. I am told that this may be because many younger people voted this time, and that the population is getting fed up with austerity and the NDP will spend rather than cut—if only we had a government which saw such sense.

*The census metropolitan area has a population of over one million, making Edmonton the northernmost north American city with a population of over one million.

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Hunting for house martins

I drive home from work every day through the pretty village of Stonor in south Oxfordshire, but I have never looked carefully at the houses.  Now that I have claimed this grid square for the British Trust for Ornithology’s house martin survey I find that there is a lot of interesting architecture and variety in this small village.

The village of Stonor from the south

The village of Stonor from the south

The aim of the survey is to estimate the current UK population of house martins, which is now amber-listed in the UK following declining numbers elsewhere in Europe.  The survey, which is based on randomly-selected one-kilometre grid squares, develops a small-scale study which was carried out between 2009 and 2013.

Once you have chosen a square, you are required to carry out a recce visit from mid to late May to look for any signs of house martins and identify potential nesting habitat, and then make two visits, in June and July, to see if they are nesting.

I carried out my recce on 12 May on a beautiful evening.  I walked the length of the road northwards looking at the houses on the left, and then back looking to the right.

My square, SU7388

My square, SU7388

It was useful to be able to go along footpaths and bridleways at right angles to the road to see the backs of houses.  Some of them are interesting and unusual, like these almshouses.

The almshouses from the footpath

The almshouses from the footpath

There are no isolated buildings in my square, everything is along the road.

The barns are lovely, but I saw no sign of house martins there.

1 Barns

Nor were there any in a disused farmyard.

4 tumbledown barnsWhat I was looking for were firm, wide eaves, made of wood not slippery plastic.  Few of the Stonor houses have suitable nesting sites.  Many of the new houses have narrow eaves which would cause house martins difficulty; it should be a planning requirement for all new houses to have eaves which are suitable for house martins!

5 new houseNot only were there no signs of last-year’s nests, there were no house martins either.  I shall go back in June and hope that nevertheless there will be some activity.

There were house martins nesting in nearby Turville last year and I hope they will return.

House martin's nest on corner of School Lane, Turville

House martin’s nest on corner of School Lane, Turville

The house martin survey is not difficult and it is interesting to look at an area really closely. Do sign up for a square if there’s a free one that appeals to you.  It’s all on this page of the BTO website.

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David Sharp, father of the Thames

David Sharp—designer, illustrator, writer, campaigner, organiser, walker, vice-president of the Ramblers and much else—has died aged 89.  He was a great man in many respects—and all the greater for his self-effacing modesty. 

His work was the public face of the Ramblers through the 1960s to 1980s.  Chris Hall, who was secretary of the Ramblers from 1969-74, wrote in Making Tracks, published for the Ramblers fiftieth jubilee in 1985: ‘A professional designer and artist David has done more than any single person to give the RA a crisp public visual image over the years.’

RA logoDavid produced countless logos and leaflets—the Ramblers’ trademark rucksack logo, the series of policy documents Briefs for the Countryside, the logo for national footpaths week, the leaflet for national parks day 1972.  He designed and wrote much of South Eastern Rambler and its successor South East Walker, packed with regional news and very popular among those receiving it.  He produced exhibition screens and spoke at publicity day-schools and weekends—without complaint he would come up with brilliant, professional material at short notice and never charged a penny.  His vigorous designs reflected an organisation which meant business.

Backed change
But when the time came to alter the Ramblers’ look and dispense with the rucksack logo (a controversial issue which required a majority vote in favour at a special general meeting), David generously backed the change and urged delegates to vote for it.  I benefited from this as I then snapped him up to revamp the Open Spaces Society’s magazine, and used his excellent, clear designs and mastheads for 20 years.

Far and wide

Case file



Examples of David’s ‘crisp visual images’ from Open Space.


Thames Path 
David was the father of the Thames Path.  He took the ideal, which was outlined in the Hobhouse committee report of 1947 along with the Pennine Way and a few other long-distance paths, and he made it happen.  When he started work on it there were 22 missing ferries, but he found paths and joined them up, working with the planning authorities to win riverside access.

Strand-on-the-Green from the Thames Path

Strand-on-the-Green from the Thames Path

On 24 July 1996, the 175-mile Thames Path national trail was opened at the Thames Barrier.  David was on TV and radio all day; he didn’t seek the publicity but handled it all with calm aplomb.  The official guide was published, with David as the author.  Because he wrote it himself he didn’t give himself any credit, but it was a great achievement.  However, my favourite guide is his earlier one, simply produced in black and white with its fine, firm drawings and clear maps.

Temple Footbridge, from David Sharp's 1990 Thames Walk

Temple Footbridge, from David Sharp’s 1990 Thames Walk

I walked the short stretch of path from Kew Bridge to the Mortlake Crematorium for David’s funeral on 11 May, amid cow parsley and may blossom, and thought of David and his great legacy.  The path was being enjoyed on a Monday morning by numerous runners, dog walkers and ramblers.  It is immensely popular.

Thames Path near Kew Bridge

Thames Path near Kew Bridge

David also played a leading role in creating the 150-mile London LOOP (London Outer Orbital Path); he recognised the importance of countryside within towns and he devised routes which were accessible to all.

Cared deeply
He also cared deeply about the Ramblers’ organisation.  With his wife Margaret he established the Richmond Group of the Ramblers.  He was chairman of the vast Southern Area, which in 1984 split into a number of smaller Areas, each made up of the county adjoining London with a slice of outer London.  Anyone who knows the Ramblers will appreciate how Areas jealously guard their boundaries and that alteration is extremely controversial, yet David achieved this major change without any bloodshed.

David Sharp relaxing, 2012

David Sharp relaxing, 2012

David also supported the Friends of Barnes Common, close to his home, and produced his last newsletter for them only days before he died.  That’s his robust and elegant logo on their website.

David joined the Ramblers in 1948 when he heard the redoubtable Tom Stephenson speak at a public meeting with a rallying call for the right to roam.  David met Margaret at a meeting of the newly-formed West London group, of which he became secretary; Tom Stephenson got to hear of David’s skills as an advertising designer and called him in to help.  David and Margaret were great walkers and later their children, Jeremy, Anthony and Cathy, joined them on outings in the countryside.

The monuments to David are all around us—the paths and trails, the booklets and leaflets, and he added immeasurably to the Ramblers’ campaigning clout.  He gave his life and his skills to our cause.  We admire him, we respect him and we love him as a true friend of all ramblers.

You can listen to the feature about David on BBC Radio 4’s The Last Word, Friday 22 May (6 minutes in to programme).

David Sharp, 1 March 1926 – 20 April 2015

Posted in Access, campaigns, National trail, Obituary, Public paths, Ramblers, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Environment down the pecking order?

It’s Sunday afternoon, 10 May, and David Cameron has announced eight new (well, mostly recycled) ministers, but the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is not among them.

Number 10. wikipedia

Number 10. wikipedia

While I realise the PM doesn’t necessarily make appointments in order of importance, I also realise that environment is never one of the first announcements.  It will be a wonderful day when the environment minister is announced in the first batch because it  is a sought-after job and is recognised as being of vital importance to the future of our planet, our landscapes, recreation, health and well-being.

Dream on.

Posted in Access, Defra, National parks, parliament | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Voting for path people

While we know before the votes are counted who will be our MP and district councillor in the Hambleden Valley in Buckinghamshire’s Wycombe District, we do at least have the excitement of an election for Turville Parish Council with unpredictable results. Unusually we had a ballot with six candidates for five places; only three of the candidates are existing councillors.

The polling station is at the village hall on Northend Common, one of the many scattered settlements in Turville parish.

Northend Common

Northend Common

To get there I drove along the lovely lime-avenue across Turville Heath common.

Lime avenue, Turville Heath

Lime avenue, Turville Heath

Outside the hall I recognised the red car belonging to the poll clerks: I have seen them here at least twice before.  They would have had a quiet and restful day (the electorate is about 2,030 split between six polling stations), but at 7 pm it was quite busy.  With four people arriving at once there was a queue!

Lime avenue, Turville Heath

Northend village hall

I cast my usual votes for Labour.  For the parish I voted for the candidates who I believe will resist attempts by landowners to close or shift paths on spurious grounds of privacy and security.  Turville Parish Council has a good record of saying no.  It exercised its veto on the closure of the public road to Turville Court and objected to the proposed diversion of the bridleway past Kimble Farm, from the old track into a field.

The bridleway at Kimble Farm

The bridleway at Kimble Farm

There are likely to be more of these pernicious proposals. The Getty family is trying to move the old route of a bridleway at the rebuilt Twigside Farm in neighbouring Ibstone.  It is vital that Turville Parish Council is robust in arguing that paths should stay put.

Postscipt:  the result of the election can be found here


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The night Rainbow Bridge was red

A few weeks ago I visited Oxford’s Parks and walked over the lovely little bridge, known as High Bridge or, because of its shape, Rainbow Bridge.

Rainbow Bridge, from Oxford Replanned by Thomas Sharp (1948)

Rainbow Bridge, from Oxford Replanned by Thomas Sharp (1948)


web bridge







This was built in 1923 to provide employment, and it is a useful crossing of the River Cherwell between Parks Road and Marston to the east.

The Cherwell downstream

The Cherwell looking upstream from the bridge and (right) downstream





However, it is little known that, on 1 June 1953, the night before the Coronation, red republican slogans were painted on the bridge and these remained for many months.   The electricity supply for the floodlighting of St Giles’s church was also cut which no doubt caused some consternation.

The Parks

The Parks


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