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Step by step to reduce the carbon footprint; RURAL LIVING Caring for the environment begins at home for the people of one Staffordshire parish. ALISON JONES hears how the community has united to save the planet.

Byline: ALISON JONES

There is an African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. The residents of Whittington and Fisherwick in southern Staffordshire have added a new twist to this with the belief that it takes a village to make a difference to the environment.

They have united in their effort to reduce their carbon footprint, inspired by the people of Ashton Hayes in Cheshire, and their mission to become the first small community in England to achieve carbon neutral status.

Mike Kinghorn, chairman of Whittington and Fisherwick Environment Group, said: "We didn't think we would be able to bring our footprint down to zero - that would be setting ourselves up to fail.

"However, we did think there was a lot we could do to make people in the village aware of how they as individuals and we as a community produce carbon and to get them to reduce it."

The campaign was actually a by product of a successful protest two years ago that had been made by village members against a scheme to fill some picturesque local lakes with fly ash.

"They were part of an old quarry that was being reworked. Part of the proposal by the quarry company was to infil them with pulverised fly ash (a residue from burning coal) from a power station and to restore the area to flat agricultural land," explains Mike.

"We protested because the lakes are an attractive local feature."

The villagers' protest was heard and the quarry company eventually adopted a plan produced by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust to restore the site but save the lakes for the benefit of wildlife. Spurred on by their triumph, Mike and his fellow campaigners - all three of them - decided to see what they could do for the village "on the broader side of environmental issues".

A general awareness of the threat posed by climate change and the production of carbon emissions resulted in a scheme to try to follow Ashton Hayes' example. "In the early days we had someone from the Ashton Hayes project team come and talk to us about what they were doing and that was really inspirational."

Mike admits that in the early days, the response from their fellow residents was somewhat underwhelming.

"We called a meeting and got eight or nine people there," he recalls. However, a concentrated publicity campaign through the parish and church newsletter and in the local paper stimulated interest, particularly among school teachers at Whittington Primary School, who have gone on to form an eco-council.

The WFEG started off simply but practically by focusing on light bulbs and encouraging people to switch to the low energy variety.

"The Marches Energy Agency in Shropshire, who do work encouraging people to reduce energy, have a light bulb library, a plastic box with about 25 to 30 different low energy light bulbs. There is a fantastic range, one for almost every situation - spotlights, candle style, dimmer bulbs.

"We had a Big Green Eco Fair in the village hall to launch the low carbon campaign and we put this on display and a lot of people ordered light bulbs as a result."

In addition to the bulb box there were more than 20 stands manned by energy advisers and producers of solar and other green energy products.

One business, which installs solar panels, received 35 requests from people to visit their homes and assess their suitability for having this form of renewable energy installed.

Also, as a result of this and another launch event which featured talks from Mark Lynas, a climate change expert and author of the book on global warming Six Degrees, and Penney Poyzer, the BBC's Queen of Green and presenter of No Waste Like Home, the WGEG saw their membership swell from 30 members to 150.

"People are becoming really committed," says Mike. "In the period leading up to the fair volunteers were putting in 80 hours a month in support of it on top of their other jobs."

The group's biggest boost was when they secured more than pounds 28,000 from the Staffordshire Aggregates Levy Grant Scheme which they put towards free energy "health" checks for the village.

"We paid the Marches Energy Agency to carry out 120 audits," Mike explains. "The auditor visits someone's home and spends about an hour and a half looking round before giving them a menu of things they can do to cut their energy consumption and therefore reduce their carbon emissions.

"It covers light bulbs, loft and cavity wall insulation, whether the boiler is energy efficient and if they have the potential for renewable energy.

"There are 1,000 houses in the parish. 120 was as many as we felt we could do for the money and also cover training residents to carry on with the audits once run out, which they will do at the end of March.

"Everybody knows that global warming is an an issue caused by the activities of humans using fossil fuel.

"But what we found was there was a lot of confusion about what you could actually do about it.

"We felt we could give people very practical pointers that could save them money.

"The money saved by using low energy light bulbs could go towards insulating the house better; the money saved on heating could then go towards a better boiler and with the money saved from that you might be able to put in solar panels.

"So long as people don't spend the money they have saved taking lots of flights abroad, they will also have reduced carbon emissions substantially (experts estimate by as much as 20 per cent)," he says.

The campaign has also encouraged people to look at ways of reducing energy outside the home by abandoning their gas-guzzling four-by-fours and consider becoming one car families, opting to buy locally produced, organic food delivered through box schemes, or even getting an allotment and growing their own food.

The group have put in a grant application to the district council so they can launch a campaign to eliminate plastic bags, persuading the village store not to stock them and getting shoppers to use long-lasting cotton bags.

The group are also planning a wildlife survey to try to assess how climate change is affecting local fauna.

"The idea is to make being environmentally conscious and green normal," says Mike.

"Ten years ago it was seen as something tree-hugging, sandal wearing, slightly cranky people with long beards did.

"Now it is the other way round. It is the people who don't look after the environment and take it seriously who will be the odd ones out."

For more information look up the group's website on wfeg.org.uk

CAPTION(S):

Above, the vicar of Whittington tests out low energy bulbs in St Giles Church. Left, villagers during a recent awareness event
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 16, 2008
Words:1144
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