What do you see?

If you look at this, what do you see? A pile of money, sure.


To me this is more that just money: this is a symbol of us coming together to stand up for what we believe in. This was given to me during the march yesterday asking for action against Climate Change.

The man looked scruffy. He was walking slowly, diagonally weaving across our procession, fumbling in him pockets. With my prejudice filled eyes, I presumed he was either homeless or very poor. Little did I know he was trying to offer money, not take.

He handed it to me saying “this is for your cause”.

We weren’t asking for money, yet he felt so compelled at the sight of us, although he couldn’t join our march, to help in some way at least.

This man was not wealthy, in fact looking very much the opposite, believed in us and did what he could. This man is a symbol of what we were about: taking responsibility and doing our bit, even without being asked.

And look what it turned into: not a tidal wave, definitely a step in the right direction.






Nature – must we fear what we don’t know?

There are wild boar on Dundreggan estate. Well, semi-wild due to legislation only permitting their release into an enclosure. The sign on the gate warns to not enter and they are dangerous… yet my second day volunteering on the estate involved entering the wild boar enclosure.


Big cats are seen as a threat both to our own lives and that of our livestock, location dependant. Yet keepers who have reared lions and tigers from young have been seen to play fight with these ‘beasts’.  Kevin Richardson aka The Lion Man is described on his website as: “Flouting common misconceptions that breaking an animal’s spirit with sticks and chains is the best way to subdue them, he uses love, understanding and trust to develop personal bonds with them.”


I am not advocating cuddling a tiger or approaching wild animals without caution. Needless to say the keepers of these animals, I include myself in this now, have a relationship with the animals that is known based on at least semi-domestication. Society appears to create a sense of fear over the potential threat that any organism beyond – and even including – humans has against us. This attitude creates a sense of isolation from all other species and the dangerous illusion that we can live independent of them.

The idea that we can hide in the safety of our homes, behind the safety of our guns and our traps, and truly disconnect, also disconnects us from the fact that we are animals too. The fact that these lives that we take and real, just like ours.

Russia attempted to created automatic weapons not unlike those in the movies that shoot upon movement. This was rejected based on the grounds that the machine could never appreciate the life that was taken. This was rejected, yet every day we disregard the life that is lost from others.

The examples I mentioned above are semi-domesticated, but this ability for us to connect does transfer to wild animals – organisms beyond other humans. Bear man lived with bears over summer for 13 years. True he did end up being killed by a bear, along with his girlfriend… but he knew the risk he took  was too dangerous. In short, he returned to the forest when the food was becoming scarce and his death was highly avoidable. A documentary “Grizzly Man” described his relationship and interactions with the animals through the use of the videos he produced whilst living in isolation with the bears. It has been said that the best response to a bear is to stand your ground and show your size and strength. This approach was used by Bear Man, who then followed this with intimate interactions with the bears to show his respect for them. All of which were successful until the final mistake that was made due to him ignoring his own knowledge.

So why do we fear them?

I argue that knowledge and respect can overcome the barrier between humans and nature.

The failure of the relationship between man and bear was food scarcity. An issue which is not getting any less prominent with the destruction of habitat and removal of food sources. It is easy to ignore our role and claim that the animals are vicious purely because it’s nature.

Of course there will always be an element of viciousness, or perhaps assertiveness misinterpreted, as this is the way they must be in order to survive and compete for resources. However if we were educated into the impact of our lives on not only the physical ability for species to survive, but also on the behavioural changes that occur as a result of our actions, we will understand that we harm them far more than they harm us. And this harm that we do provides additional pressure and leads to an increase that harm will come to us.

If we step back from our laptops and our smart phones and really look at the world, we will see what we do. We will see what is there and what we are afraid of. And maybe we will see that the greatest fear is that which we created.

“Sure you can paint on the wall”

The Dundreggan lodge is an artistic residence, as you might expect from a conservation charity, with trees painted on every wall of the lounge.


Considering how distinctly tasteful the lodge décor was – typical cosy-cottage feel furniture and classy outlines of trees only in black and white – I was unsure as to what the reaction would be to this piece. Especially considering the ‘arty’ room that had a more similar style still greatly varied from the colour I almost literally threw on the wall…

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I was pleasantly surprised when all the staff that saw it oozed with enthusiasm over attempting to determine what the species were, and who got involved with the project.

It’s not really surprising: This was after all a place where it’s considered normal practice to discuss nudism in a completely dignified manner; sing songs made up by the volunteers; and, so I’ve heard, sway around like trees. It was inevitable that the new addition of a room brightener would be greatly appreciated.

Now to cover the rest of the walls!

Focalise – the new kind of leadership  

Leaders have been important in leading change from industry to education to politics to social gatherings. Everyone will have their own idea of the traits fundamental to leadership, with common attributes being the ability to delegate; go somewhere or do something first; and planning to achieve a goal. In a world of intelligent people, I question whether this is the best way to tap into the groups potential.

My first day volunteering with Trees for Life was also the first time I heard the term “focaliser”. This was their way of referring to those that would traditionally be considered leaders.

Perhaps there is an element of the hippie attitude embellished here, with the hint of a commune vibe, however their description of what the individual did seemed far more fitting of a leaders in a new era than the previously described semi-dictator role. The focaliser guides the group in their activities, providing guidance based on experience as needed and coordinating activities, but they are seen as part of the group – not above. Similar titles like ‘facilitator’ and ‘engagement officer’ also appear to reflect this ethos.

Have we finally moved on to a society where we can replace leaders in the traditional sense, with this new approach? ‘Leaders’ who respect the value of each individual, allow them to contribute their full potential, and realise we need to open up to the ideas of the entire population to tackle the global challenges we face? After all, who had the right to tell someone that they are wrong.


New people – we’re glad of the entertainment!

“Entertainment”. Not something I expected to be referred to on the first day as a Long Term Volunteer (LTV) for Trees for Life, but I’m glad to be of service.

It’s a bit of a “bubble”, the present LTVs, Will, Trudi and Neil explain, who have been in said bubble for 7 weeks previously. I presumed this had consisted of little contact beyond trees, sheep and the handful of staff.

However after exploring the river on the first night, with the aid of the TFL car fondly named “Myrtle”, it appears to be less of a bubble than first thought. There is after all the whole of the highlands to discover. Last week Will even joined the short term volunteers (STVs) in the most ‘extreme’ worksite, Glen Afric; and Neil ventured away for a weekend. We’ve even begun planning our first weekend ‘bonding’ at a renowned book fair in Aberdeen. Here I thought we were going to spend five week in a forest!


It just goes to show: once modern life is here, there’s no going back and no real escape…


Why vote for a party that “wont get in”

Are you a voter who believes in the ethos and principles of a party, but believe they won’t get in? That vote is far from ‘wasted’.

We are facing economic, social and environmental crisis so action is vital. If you never vote, you never get. Voting brings the chance to change social values from greed, selfishness and fear, and challenge 2 tier class system and privatisation.

Public demand led to alterations to the debates, resulting in the invitation of 3 parties that were considered “minor”. The public coming together and pressurising those in charge led to this change. Staying strong and voting for – and saying – what you believe in will help keep momentum for democratic changes, and community and national action.

“This is the most unpredictable general election since at least the Second World War” says Natalie Bennett. The polls are not pointing to a clear winning and the latest polls estimate only 66% will vote for either Labour or Conservatives in this election. More young voters are engaging now: new generation, new voices, new choices.
The current political system does make it unlikely for parties who have large support across the country, but not centralised in the regions dictated by the election wards. Continuing to vote for what you believe in calls for proportional representation by highlighting the injustice of the current voting system. E.g. 285616 votes per Green MP vs 33370 per Conservative MP (Green World, GW88 Spring 2015).
If we want a different kind of politics, it is in the voters hands: they can change politics for ever.
A nice summary can be found here:
“Here is the first rule of politics: if you never vote for what you want, you never get it. We are told at every election to hold our noses, forget the deficiencies and betrayals and vote Labour yet again, for fear of something worse. And there will, of course, always be something worse. So at what point should we vote for what we want rather than keep choosing between two versions of market fundamentalism? Sometime this century? Or in the next? Follow the advice of the noseholders and we will be lost forever in Labour’s Bermuda triangulation.”

Challenging terms.. Money

Money is everywhere. We use it to buy goods, services and to validate who we are and where we stand in society… Excuse me?!

Money is a tool: it allows value to be assessed. However variation in cross-country with exchange rates overvalue some economies – just think what resources the UK doesn’t provide in comparison to all the countries we import from.


It is illegal to produce money, unless of course you are a bank: a private organisation profiting from the creation and subsequent destruction of money as a result of a loop in the system in the form of an out-of-date law. The law was originally designed to prevent those outside the Bank of England from creating physical money and was not updated to cover electronic money. This is one of the fundamental aspects of Positive Money, who describe themselves as “a movement for a money and banking system that works for society and not against it.”

Services not goods benefit societal challenges as these tackle well-being issues. Societal challenges can be overcome using resources beyond the physical sense: giving someone time as opposed to medication for conditions such as anxiety and depression. This challenges the notion that time = money in that the individual would not benefit from the money equivalent of time.

The real value of money is even being challenged by our own political system, who introduced the Happiness Index in 2010. This followed similar initiatives in France and Canada. Now there is a global happiness indicator called the Happy Planet Index.


So a few challenges to the term “money”:

• Money = a tool
• Time does not = money
• Money does not = happiness;
• Banks exploit an out-dated law to make money out of nothing, literally.

* these ideas are my own, inspired by Tony Greenham, Head of Finance and Business, New Economics Foundation; and  Positive Money.

Vegan?! But real men eat meat!  

“For as long as I can remember I have been male. For most of that time I’ve eaten animals, and for a small percentage of that time I have not. Throughout, my genetalia has changed a lot, but I have always maintained, what my GP considers to be, a healthy human penis. Contrary to popular belief, eating meat hasn’t affected my manhood all that much. Why then do my peers associate the existence, or non-existence of my persistent little buddy, my tenders, my Mr, my Johnson, my jingly jangly… with meat consumption?

To be a male vegan is to invite harassment, it is to invite contempt and unconstructive criticisms at every dinner table, snack and “no thank you”. I have personally received an almost constant bombardment of derogatory slurs from my male friends, family and even complete strangers. Their attempts to emasculate me left me feeling utterly dumfounded on many occasions and hurt on others. I found myself asking, what is it about eating vegetables that causes such an inflammatory response?

As a child I was always taught that being a man was about strength, resilience and power. At least that is the reinforced cultural norm. As I’ve developed as an individual I have realised that being a person, an adult, a fully formed human is what makes you a man. Ironically, being a ‘good man’ isn’t gender specific.

The bedevilment that male vegans endure speaks of a wider cultural contradiction. We believe in equal rights for women and men, but do not practice it. Our language and attitudes betray us. There still seems to be an undercurrent of outdated ideologies that bubble to the surface whenever a man shows empathy and compassion. Feelings are for the baby makers. We as men must be detached, stoic and impassive.  Of the 5,981 deaths by suicide in the UK in 2012, 3,590 of them were male, and although the debate continues on why this is, many attribute it to these gender roles.

If we travel back to the early stages of our evolution and strip the male role to its core, we will always arrive at fatherhood. Being paternal for most is being the protector, the overseer, the territory defender. If this is who we are at our most basic, these protectors of women and children, then by extension we must protect our earth. Without it your family is homeless.

Indulgence isn’t selfless, resource consumption is self gratifying. This insinuation that men shouldn’t feel emotion and exhibit a caring attitude is the real weakness.  If we as men do not allow ourselves and each other to be powerful and empathetic we will ultimately fail our loved ones, and fail as men. To push towards a better future, defying current norms regardless of majority opinion shows more strength and resilience than letting people decide your future for you. Be a man and eat bacon? No. Be a man and save lives, be a man and preserve your children’s home. To endure for the sake of others is a sign of strength, passion and a willingness that can only be powerful.

Robert Jensen once described male society as a game of king of the hill. The man ontop (the alpha) can never be content as he’s constantly watching his back, defending his place in the hierarchy. The subsequent males (betas) will never be content due to their lower status. I have observed and participated in this unspoken game for much of my life.  We subconsciously battle for placement by berating and offending one another. By choosing to be vegan you are removing yourself from this inevitable discontentment. You’re setting your own president. The greatest victory is the battle never fought. So be a man and set your own example.

Besides, studies show that a vegan diet increases blood flow to the penis during intercourse.”

So ‘real men’ are vegan…

  • This piece was brought to you by Dan Roberts, vegan of 5 years. Should you wish contact Dan his email is: daniel_em@hotmail.co.uk

Christmas Tweets with Karma

Still looking for extra karma this Christmas? Christmas is a time of giving, as demonstrated by the number of Twitter Christmas Campaigns this year. Here are my top pick of Christmas Tweets with Karma:


I’m not sure where this campaign came from, but the # thread is full of interesting facts, funny pictures and celebrity endorsements. The focus is on reducing your waste by promoting recyclable items and creative techniques for re-using this Christmas.



Inspired by #RecycleXmas, this campaign was launched last week by UPSU to promote sustainable resource use this Christmas across all students and beyond.



Originally set up by the church, presumably to maintain the focus on Jesus not presents at Christmas, the hashtag is being used by thousands of Tweeters reconnecting with the sentimental (non-religious) meaning of Christmas.

#SpiritofGiving free donations with #12daysofgiving campaign

Set up by the MRSB group, follow these tweets and respond to a #12daysofgiving tweet for the chance to have your name attached to a free $25 donation to their charity of choice. Follow #SpiritofGiving to see people giving all over the place!


UPS is urging Tweeters to tweet their wish with #WishesDelivered, with $1 per wish being donated to charity. And some wishes will get granted! The thread shows true ‘gifts’ this season, like families being reunited, school equipment being provided and communities projects being supported.

So what are you waiting for? Make your mark..