Some musings on recycling from Catherine:

Photo courtesy of CD

Photo courtesy of CD


Walking round our beautiful park on a beautiful sunny day recently, my black bag of litter began to tinkle and rustle.  It was turning into a two black bag day.     There must, I keep thinking, obsessively, be a use for all this great tsunami of shoddy which is routinely thrown away in our society, on the streets, from households, from organisations.  The Pacific garbage patch floated vaguely into my mind.

As a practical exercise, I extracted a discarded portable barbecue, removed the immolated sausages for the magpies and the great tits who come to my bird table, and surveyed the remaining detritus.

What can be done with a fairly robust metal grille, an aluminium tray, charcoal ash and some half burnt briquettes?   Is it utter trash, or could it be reused?

I stared at the ash.  I seem to remember that charcoal ash can act as a fertilizer, so I can put it on the garden, perhaps.   My father, in rural Ulster, used to put wood ash on many plants and vegetables; his rhubarb had a particularly fearsome reputation.  He had pure wood ash, though, and I would guess that charcoal briquettes may contain additives.   My grandmother used an ash based concoction to clean silver etc as she considered Brasso too expensive.   A student made the interesting suggestion that the finest of the ash could be mixed with paint and used as a face camouflage in secretive urbex explorations, where one does not wish to be identified, if apprehended.  Another former student, an anthropologist who is now working in Columbia, responded to an email on the subject with the information that ash can be used as toothpaste, provided the potassium hydroxide level is high enough.  He also suggested that I buy chickens and let them take ash baths, as it can be fatal to avian parasites.  Neither option seemed particularly attractive at the time.

The foil container, which is technically recyclable, should have a lot of uses.  One suggestion was to use it to sharpen scissors, by folding it into several layers and then slicing it several times with the blades.  Flattening such containers out means they can be put under the covers of an ironing board, so the heat from the iron will be retained longer.  It’s not easy to get them completely flat for this, though.  It looks as if it could serve as a cat litter holder, but knowing how fussy Heaton Moor cats are, they might take one sniff and turn their backs.  It also looks serviceable as a mould for making soap, but somehow one never gets around to making soap.  Another more feasible suggestion was to accumulate several such foil plates and dishes and string them together around a fruit tree, where their rustling noise would deter birds having a snack.   Edward, from New York, reckoned it would be just about fine for storing six baseballs, and for bringing caught fish home from Prospect Park Lake, although he conceded that it probably wouldn’t be cost effective transporting it all the way to the US in the first place.

The metal grille, if one was artistic enough, could be twisted into the shape of a bird, perhaps.  Two of the long pieces could be cut out and soldered to form the bird’s legs and then twisted onto some base wire into claws.  Suitably altered, the grille could work as a hanging jewellery holder.  If it could be cut up, it could be fashioned into soap dishes. All these uses would require soldering and artistic skills which I don’t have.    But metal, of course, can be recycled, if taken to an appropriate recycling centre.

It seems there are lots of uses for plastic bottles.  In a colleague’s office, there is an attractive case brimming with colourful pencils, made out of a litre milk bottle lying flat, with a large hole cut in the top.  The larger bottles, if swathed in colourful raffia or some fabric, could serve as vases.  Cut out the bottom of a number of them, and you have some “clam shell” shapes which can be painted and hung together as a wind chime.  I’ve seen plastic bottles used as handles on a home-made skipping rope, and have known students to fill them with sand or pebbles to create a makeshift dumbbell.

An ever resourceful friend suggested an organic fly trap, which initially seemed fairly easy:  remove the cap and cut the neck off the bottle, about one third of the way down; put some bait into the base, and insert the neck of the bottle, upside down, above it.   Then tape the structure together; cut some thin wire into a U shape, burn a couple of holes in your bait bottle, and hang the whole thing up to lure fruit flies and blow flies.   When full of dead flies, remove, and empty the contents into the soil in the garden:  completely organic!   What should I use as bait, I asked?  Dog poo is best, came the jaunty reply;   it is free and plentiful, it suppurates very nicely, the flies love it, and the smell is so revolting that you will forget you ever worried about litter in the first place. 

Any other ideas for recycling litter?   Another resourceful acquaintance opines that I should just dump the lot beneath the wooden bench when the smokers and drinkers are there.  It’s not as if they’re going to notice.


Some interesting ideas! Thanks Catherine.

Maybe this is an opportunity for an artistic event on a ‘recycling litter’ theme?  It reminds me of a rather unusual collection of rubbish that I wrote about here, last year.

Rose-clad obelisks

We’ve been having glorious weather these last few weeks and one of the most beautiful sights in the park has been the obelisk at the far end of the bowling green. Some months ago I wrote about what the Knitting Friends had been getting up to, here, and mentioned that they had paid for a couple of obelisks.

Before he left the park, Peter split a large rose bush, that hadn’t looked at its best where it was growing, and transplanted the stems under and around each obelisk. The knitters and bowlers were interested in whether this would actually work and were very pleased to see that in no time at all, the stems happily accepted their new locations and started producing new and vigorous shoots. The full effect of the roses in bloom was eagerly anticipated. As granny used to say, “Be patient and you’ll be rewarded,” and there’s been a fabulous display throughout July. Well worth the wait!

This is the obelisk at the far end of the bowling green:

obelisk rose 1 IMG_20140705_094722


And this is the view the bowlers get from the green:

obelisk rose 2 IMG_20140705_094746


But, ‘what about the other obelisk?’, I hear you ask.

Well, Peter did say that the rose planted near the pavilion might not be as vigorous as the one you can see in the photos – and he was right! I don’t want to start comparisons here as it’s not the fault of the rose; the spot near the pavilion isn’t as sunny as the far end of the green and the soil is a lot drier so the rose has had more obstacles to overcome. But, it’s doing well and has covered around half of the obelisk. Next year it will be beautiful and happy for me to post its image for the world to admire.

In the meantime, if you are local to the park, enjoy both roses in the flesh. If you’re not from these parts, you’ll have to content yourself with photos of one for now.

“….. Dear rose, thy joy’s undimmed

Thy cup is ruby-rimmed,

Thy cup’s heart nectar-brimmed……”        Robert Browning


And from Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in Singing in the Rain:

” Moses supposes his his toeses are Roses,
But Moses supposes erroneously,
Moses he knowses his toeses aren’t roses,
As Moses supposes his toeses to be!
Moses supposes his toeses are Roses,
But Moses supposes erroneously,
A mose is a mose!
A rose is a rose!
A toes is a toes!……………….”

Watch the film clip on youtube here

On your marks, get set, go!   That’s one,    there’s another……….

Starting tomorrow,  19th July, until Sunday 10th August, you can take part in the big butterfly count. This is a nationwide survey  which helps to assess the health of our environment. It’s been taking place since 2010 and provides invaluable data on the state of our biodiversity. Because butterflies react very quickly to changes in the environment, they can act as an early warning signal.

The survey can be done anywhere – in a park, in a forest, in fields, on a walk or in your garden. All you need to do is spend 15 minutes observing butterflies and making a note of the variety and numbers seen. Even if you spot none, that is useful data. The big butterfly count website has a lovely identification chart you can download and there’s also an app.  Sounds like a brilliant activity for children during the school holidays! You can do the count more than once giving endless scope for entertainment!

A few weeks ago I spotted this little lady in the park:

Speckled wood b'fly IMG_20140612_094442

A speckled wood butterfly, if I’m not mistaken. And, judging by the distinct markings, probably a female. My trusty Reader’s Digest book tells me that these butterflies are strongly territorial and the male often defends its ‘patch’ against other males.

So there’s a strong chance that I might spot more of these when I take part in the count.

Cotton Famine Park

This was the name given to Oldham’s Alexandra Park when it was built in the 1860’s. It was the town’s first public park and built by local people to create work during the cotton famine sparked by the American Civil War. It was later renamed to commemorate the marriage of the then Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra.

The park was recently given more than £2m by the Heritage Lottery Fund to bring it back to its Victorian magnificence and it now has GradeII listed status.

Voting is now open, until July 23rd, for the nation’s favourite heritage lottery project 2014 and the Cotton Famine Park is one of seven finalists in the Heritage category. You can vote for it here.

Oldham’s parks and the work done by the parks department have been highlighted many times in recent years as a shining example of what can be achieved given exceptional leadership. Read more here.

Oldham isn’t far from us, so worth a visit I think.

A burning issue?

Something that has been the subject of occasional (some might say, frequent) thought and discussion is the picnic bench in the park.

This was installed in 2010 when the tennis quadrant was remodelled and improved. The idea was that there should be a pleasant spot to sit and eat while observing the tennis and ball playing activities nearby. And indeed, for a long time this has been a pleasant spot used by families with small children on sunny afternoons. But, in the evenings and at night, it becomes a place for groups of young people to congregate. And yes, they do eat here but some of the other activities that take place are, at best, described as anti-social and at worst, criminal.

This is the state of the table now:

picnic table burn IMG_20140708_092703


At some stage over the last couple of days, someone thought it a good idea to set fire to it, or, to place a barbecue on it – the damage will be hard, if not impossible, to put right. And the cost will have to be borne by the Friends of the park, if they decide that it’s something worth doing, because it’s pretty certain that the council won’t pay for it.

The big question is whether it’s worth doing anything at all.  The young people using the area don’t seem to be at all interested in keeping it in good order. The table has already been sanded several times to remove offensive ‘artwork’ but it remains a magnet for mess and damage. The litter keeps being picked up, daily, so that in the daytime the spot isn’t an eyesore. But then in the evenings, it’s the same broken record of litter, debris, rubbish, etc., etc. Even Sisyphus would have given up by now!


What would you do?



The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has just brought out a report on the state of the UK’s  public parks. Read a concise summary of the report and findings here.

Parks have always been a priority for the Heritage Lottery Fund – over £620million having been awarded since 1996 across the UK, with the Big Lottery Fund adding a further £80million in England. This funding has been matched with time and money from councils and community groups.

Heaton Moor Park was fortunate to receive Lottery funding for the refurbishment of the tennis court quadrant. This has resulted in many more people, of all ages, coming to use the park’s facilities: the tennis court is in daily use and the picnic bench frequently attracts a variety of users, as does the ball play area.

However, the HLF report shows that the investments of recent years, in thousands of parks and green spaces, may now be at risk.

This is something that the Friends group has been concerned about for some time. To this end, more efforts have been put into raising funds for park maintenance and attracting volunteers to help on work days.


Regular users of the park may well have come across the odd rodent from time to time but sightings have become more frequent of late.

Bowlers were quite shocked to witness a rodent leisurely making its way across the green one sunny afternoon, totally unconcerned about interrupting an important match.

The knitters, who don’t shock easily, observed a fair bit of rodent traffic across a path one fine morning – whether this was one rat making multiple trips or a procession of several, they couldn’t decide. There was some speculation that the rat or rats were practising for a panto appearance; the keen watchers called out ‘It’s behind you!’ several times but, when the rest of the group turned around to look,  there was nothing there!!

The rats we have are probably the common brown rat, Rattus norvegicus. Although we are all aware that there are rats around, seeing them out in the open, in broad daylight, is something else and reminds us that they are a public health hazard. They carry very nasty, sometimes fatal, diseases.

ITV broadcast an interesting programme about ‘super rats’ only last week citing research from the University of Huddersfield which has found that rats in several parts of Britain have genetically evolved to withstand commonly available poisons. The research was led by Dr Dougie Clarke who has been aware of this problem for some time, describing it as a time bomb. Read about more about the making of the programme here.

Genetic testing of rats in the sample areas found that some towns had rats that were 100% resistant to over-the-counter poisons. Our part of the north-west wasn’t in the sample but we shouldn’t assume that our rodent population is any different to those tested.

Obviously, this is something for the council to deal with and the problem has already been reported.

I don’t know how the council will deal with this but, the use of poisons, as well as possibly being ineffective, can be detrimental to wildlife. Anything that eats a poisoned rat will also ingest poison.  There could be an opportunity here for a return to traditional methods of elimination such as mechanical traps or even employing musicians to entice the creatures down to the Mersey.

The main thing that we, park users and workers, can do to help is to remove what rats are eating –  food discarded in the park is an open invitation to a rat; overflowing bins, piles of rubbish, untidy bird table areas – all contribute to making life easy for the Rattus family.

We do actually have a resident rat catcher who is very good at the job and has caught a fair number of the creatures already:

Lucy rattter IMG_20140529_105324


This is Lucy, a Jack Russell terrier cross, who is doing her bit to eradicate the rodents. She is very keen and seems to enjoy the work but it’s obviously too much for one small dog.

Maybe the groups of young people who congregate on the bowling green could be encouraged to do a bit of rat catching? Or, a local business could sponsor a competitive event with a rat statuette for the winner – there was something similar in WWI so it’s not that far-fetched an idea!

Any other suggestions?



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