Chairman’s Report Online AGM 24 April 2020

It was with reluctance that your Executive Committee took the unusual step of asking you to participate in an online AGM.  I am sure you will agree that under present circumstances it is the best way of concluding the business of the year. 

A year which I think it is fair to say was a good one for QE. 

This was due to the dedication and verve of your Executive.  A huge thank you is due to them for this year’s success.  I recommend that they be re-elected en bloc! 

With that renewed vigour QE now has fresh momentum and looks forward to the time when Covid-19 is behind us and we can move forward again at full throttle.

Objectives Redefined:

One of the first things we did was to restate what QE is about.  Our strapline is good, Building Sustainable Lifestyles, and expresses the essence of what we wish to do; but what does it really mean in terms the action QE should take?

We decided that to build sustainable lifestyles we had to raise the level of awareness of the causes of Climate Change; to alert our communities to their impact on its wellbeing; and above all, to promote action to mitigate that impact. 

What did we do to carry out those objectives?

Events:

We held six highly successful events, all related to that strategy.

  1. The first took place in July when the Amazon rainforest was being destroyed at the rate of a football pitch a minute.  We invited Dr Amy-Jane Beer, a distinguished biologist, author and campaigner to speak on the “Forest of the Mind – People & Trees”. She focused attention on how important trees are to the continuity of Nature; how they form an ancient and integral part of our cultural heritage; and what a huge debt we owe them.

    They are multi-taskers she said:  not only do they absorb carbon; combat flooding and pollution; nurture wildlife; make landscapes more beautiful and resilient; but they also provide us with food, medicines and oxygen!  “For every tree that is cut down 1,000 should be planted”

    Out of this inspiring event grew QE’s Tree & Hedgerow Planting project, of which more later.

  2. In September we joined with Taunton Transition Town, Forum 21 and other environmental groups in a “Going Green” event in the centre of Taunton to exhibit and explain materials and concepts that enable sustainable lifestyles. Visitors to QE’s stand were invited to calculate their Carbon Footprint and see how their own lifestyle impacted Climate Change.

  3. Early in October we celebrated our annual fun Apple Pressing Day; and later that month turned our attention to what I believe was a significant milestone in QE’s history: a workshop on “Improving Your Carbon Footprint”. “Significant” because it brought laser focus to the heart of the matter: our own behaviour, and how our own lifestyles affect Climate Change.

    The event had been preceded by a survey conducted by QE among the 300 or so recipients of its newsletter.  That “community” was asked to calculate its footprint using WWF’s calculator https://footprint.wwf.org.uk/#/, and submit the data to us for statistical analysis.

    The result was impressive: 102 recipients took part. Together their lifestyles emitted an average of 11.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. Not only did it raise their awareness of the way in which their behaviour impacted Climate Change; it resulted in several of them making written pledges to improve their footprint over the next 12 months. It was a wake-up moment for many of us, underlined in this Covid-19 time by hard evidence: after only a few months of low emissions, we have blue skies in Beijing and dolphins in Venetian canals!

  4. In January we showed a powerful, much garlanded film of a young couple’s quest to make their dream of living on a fully sustainable farm come true: “The Biggest Little Farm”. It is a true story of human endeavour and carried an important message about our need to manage land more naturally. I recommend it highly.

  5. The last event before lockdown was held in early March. It followed on naturally from the talk earlier in the year by Dr Beer on trees. This time we wished to focus on the importance of the soil in Climate Fightback.

    We invited Dr Lynne Boddy, Professor of Microbial Biology at Cardiff University to talk to us about “The Hidden Kingdom of the Soil”.  She started with a quotation from Leonardo da Vinci: “We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than the soil underfoot”; described how miles of fungal mycelium link plants and trees in a “wood-wide web”, a network essential for life; and ended with the chilling thought that if we continue with current methods of farming, we have “only 100 harvests left”

Projects:

Our projects too were all geared to helping build sustainable lifestyles.

  1. Tree & Hedgerow Planting:  This is a new project triggered by members of our Executive Committee while mulling over Dr Beer’s talk and savouring a pint.  They proposed that each village should have its own wood and put it into action.

    After a shaky start, we widened the initial objective to include the planting of trees and hedgerows to reduce runoff and help natural flood management. This more specific focus brought us into contact with WWT’s Two Valleys project which is DEFRA and Environment Agency supported, and through whom we are currently working with a handful of landowners.

    As soon as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, its reach will be extended. Plans have already been made to meet with the Quantock Hills AONB, the National Trust, Natural England, and Friends of Quantock to survey tree planting possibilities in a variety of areas.

  2. Cycle Path: QE launched this project seven years ago. Its aim was then, and still is, to act as the catalyst for the construction of a cycle path from Bishops Lydeard and Cotford St Luke to Taunton.

    It has four objectives: achieve greater road safety as cyclists are taken off that dangerous stretch of the A358; offer safer and healthier commuting to and from Taunton; reduce carbon emissions through taking cars off the road; and provide local communities with an opportunity for exercise and entertainment.

    QE paid for a feasibility study which was done by Sustrans (the custodian of the National Cycle Network) which we are happy to share with all interested parties.

    We are currently in contact with landowners to take it forward to the next stage. However, for it to gather the desired momentum we very much need the support of Somerset West & Taunton District Council, and invite it to help us, especially as the project fits perfectly with the objectives of its new Local Plan.

  3. Schools:  We made a special effort to involve schools in the work we are doing.  Both Danesfield School, Williton and Taunton School expressed interest.  A series of short talks were given to pupils at Danesfield and six girls and a teacher from Taunton came to our Carbon Footprint workshop.  We have tried to do more with them but have been met with lukewarm reception.  We shall have to re-examine our approach in the coming year.

  4. Other Eco Groups:  We have always aimed to work together with likeminded environmental groups in the region, especially where our agendas overlap.  I am happy to say that both Friends of Quantock and Forum 21 have accepted our invitation and have appointed ex-officio officers to our Executive. 

Membership:

At the beginning of the year we had 59 members drawn from some 17 villages and towns across the Quantocks and surrounding area.  We end it with 121 members from 26 villages and towns. 

That sounds impressive I know; but your Executive is well aware that this growth may be illusory.  It was achieved by an irresistible offer made during our Increase Membership Campaign:  event entrance cost for membership.  At £5 each they coincided perfectly.  It was a “no-brainer” and conversion took place continuously! 

The proof of its success will come only with the number of renewals.  Of course, we hope that you will not only all renew, but also encourage your friends to join.

Social Media:

We have invested both time and money to bring our means of communication with members and the wider community up to date.  I believe we have achieved a considerable improvement and encourage you to use them.

QE can now boast a new Facebook page!  It is a closed group and is growing into a most useful source of reliable information posted by its members.  At the last count it had 67.  If you have Facebook, or plan to have Facebook, and have not yet joined it please do so via link https://www.facebook.com/groups/331095730922655/about/

We have also rebuilt our Website.  The old one was nine years old, dysfunctional in many areas, and insecure.  The new site is now up and running at the same address as before, www.quantockeco.org.uk.  In March it had 130 visitors, the first month not skewed by frequent designer tweaking visits.  

It is regularly updated for us by longstanding QE member, Mary ter Braak.  We are very grateful Mary.  Thank you for your many hours of expert help. 

Our quarterlynewsletter Eco News continues as before.  We hope you find it interesting.

Copyright:

As you will see from the Accounts, QE operates with little financial room for manoeuvre.  I regret to say our shortage of funds led us to run the risk of using copyrighted material where an image really was worth 1,000 words and was most appropriate for making a point.  We hoped that our low profile, minimal distribution, and rural use would mean that we would be below the parapet, or at least forgiven. 

Not so!  We were caught by robotic searches on behalf of Agence France Presse and Associated Press.  As the Accounts show, a friendly lawyer advised us to settle rather than contest the two infringements dating from 2013 and 2016. 

Your Executive then decided that, and I quote from the Minutes of the its meeting of 2nd September 2019, that “… any member of the Executive who wishes to use images on behalf of QE should request permission to do so from the copyright holder.  If QE is subsequently billed for infringement due to the use of that image, the responsibility for settlement will be solely for that member and not for QE.”

Funding:

Had it not been for the impact of two exceptional items (new website and copyright infringement) QE would have just about broken even.  The reality is that we start 2020/2021 from a much lower base than we did this year. 

Poor liquidity keeps QE constantly on the back foot.  It inhibits us from acting with the drive which we believe the Big Climate Fightback requires.  We should like to organise more workshops, show more films, offer bursaries to school children and undergraduates for given projects, support members to attend events and bring back new knowledge, and invite more well renowned speakers.

We have, since the foundation of QE in 2010, charged just £5 a year for membership.  To give us a bit more flexibility your Executive requests your support for the motion that subscriptions be increased to £10 a year.  This will help our position, although still not as healthy as I would wish; but your Executive felt we could not ask for more!

To help further we shall also ask you to support the motion for Family Membership (£15/year), which we hope will encourage wives and husbands not yet on board, to join.

It has also been decided that at every function we shall have a box marked “Donations”, inviting all who support our objectives to help.  We applied for a grant from SWT Small Grants Fund for the financing of our new website, unfortunately without success.  We shall make grant applications a priority in the coming year.  Any help in this field will be very much appreciated.

Loss of Two Stalwart Members of the Executive:

I should like to pay a special tribute to two dedicated members of our Executive who are standing down:  Carole Darke and Stuart Dowding. 

It was in 2007 when as Parish Councillor in charge of Environment that I set up the Bicknoller Eco Team.  Both Carole and Stuart joined the Team then.  They were both involved in multiple tasks:  the logo that stamped the “Bick Bag”, central pillar of the Team’s “Ban Plastic Bags” campaign was Carole’s idea; while Stuart was key man in the production of a CD publicising the Team’s activities.  In 2010 they both helped set up Quantock Eco. 

Since then Carole has been its Treasurer (and at times Secretary), and Stuart a staunch member of its Executive Committee. 

Carole is a person of considerable talent and a wide range of skills and is understandably involved in a host of village activities.  With the passage of time we all have to let go some of our responsibilities.  Sadly, she has decided that it is your Executive’s turn to be one of them.

Stuart now feels unable to play as active a part as he would like, and therefore wishes to make way for someone else.  In his own words he “will of course be very much “on side ” for recycling, the drive to much lower Carbon emissions and the protection of flora and fauna especially on the AONB” and adds “Q.E has always been a Positive movement.  Please may it continue as such”.

Your balanced reasoning will be very much missed Stuart.  I know the Executive will promise that it will do its very best to ensure that QE continues as “a Positive movement”

Thank you both for your dedication to the cause over 13 years.  There are a few farewell gifts in the wings.  Covid rules mean that they will find their way to your respective front doors on Saturday morning!

Thank You:

Thank you for being a member.  Please continue to give us your support:  there is much to be done.  Covid-19 may well speed a change in attitudes to sustainability and respect for our Planet.  QE should be ready to surf forward on that change.

Until we meet again, stay safe,

Julian Anderson

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