Hoping for Hope!

From the age of about ten I got hooked on helping, developing a passion for volunteering once I realised that little old me could actually make a worthwhile difference in this crazy world. I must thank the www.wwf.org.uk as they were the ones who put on a sponsored walk in my local park and this gave me the opportunity to take part in something which had a tangible result. Raising money and giving my time gave me a buzz back then and has done repeatedly over the years for the many community and charity projects I’ve been involved in.

Creating a community orchard
Creating a community orchard

So 34 years on from that WWF walk I’m currently working full-time fundraising for a Hospice charity but I have been looking for an interesting challenge for a little while now. I’ve jumped out of a plane for NSPCC and climbed the highest mountain in North Africa for Rainbow Trust, helped build our local Community Centre and done several years political volunteering standing for elections etc. amongst other things but it’s been a few years since I’ve felt excited about a new…big project.

Rainbow trek in Morocco (I'm in yellow)
Rainbow trek in Morocco (I'm in yellow)

As I know I can’t actually fix the entire world (although I do sometimes lay awake at 3am trying to work this out) I would have to say the two things I currently focus on are animals and children. My previous job was fundraising for an animal sanctuary and I’m a dedicated vegan. I also have two rapidly growing children who are my world and I cannot bear to see children suffering anywhere on the planet.

Getting political !
Getting political !

So having been looking for something to help with for a little while two programmes touched me and gave me the direction I’d been looking for. First of all watching TV presenter Saira Khan in Adopting Abroad being handed a tiny baby left on the orphanage steps in Pakistan completely broke my heart. As a lifelong feminist, the fact that this was a baby girl really hit hard, one of the lucky ones not left to die alone soon after birth on a rubbish tip in a culture which values males far above females.

The second programme was Kolkata with Sue Perkins which highlighted the work of The Hope Foundation with street and slum children in this Indian city of 15 million people. I was sold. Hope needed volunteers and I had my cause.

So I’ve applied to spend 3 weeks in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) volunteering plus fundraising in advance and trying to help raise the profile of this incredible little charity which I will tell you more about over the next few months. With working full-time and having a family I can only commit to the minimum volunteering stint of 3 weeks. So while I wait for the interview and reference process to be completed, I’d love to hear comments from you of the things which have made you jump up off the sofa and do something useful with your life and any tips and advice on travelling and staying in India also appreciated. Please post your comments below…

Sue with the street children The Hope Foundation helps
Sue with the street children The Hope Foundation helps

Will Devon County Councillors protect badgers?


The badger debate comes to Devon….as Devon County Council have to decide whether to allow culling on their land. There was a cabinet meeting yesterday which Ottery St Mary Councillor Claire Wright has reported back on in her blog www.claire-wright.org

Labour Councillor Jill Owen (St David’s & St James – Exeter) proposed a motion to prevent badger culling on Devon County Council land arguing that the badger cull was ineffective and lacking in evidence, as well as inhumane. She proposed looking into alternatives such as vaccination instead. The cabinet was presented with a 6,000 name petition from 38 Degrees and various councillors spoke in favour of the motion.

Claire says “Devon County Council conservative leader John Hart has deferred the debate until the full council meets on Thursday 20 February. There were some brief speeches of support from opposing groups. Cllr Owen spoke, as well as Cllr Andy Hannon (Labour – Priory St Leonards Exeter) and Robert Vint (Green Party – Totnes) and I also said a few words in favour of the motion. You can pick up the webcast of the cabinet meeting this morning here. It should be available shortly –http://www.devoncc.public-i.tv/core/

Badger cull begins

A very sad day…………..the badger cull has begun. I’ve followed this emotive issue through all the high’s and low’s and like many others hoped that we’d never see the day when our government allows thousands of previously protected wild animals to be slaughtered when there is no evidence this will make any difference to the Bovine TB situation – in fact it could make things much worse. It will also cost an incredible sum when there are other options on the table – like biosecurity and vaccination. Please sign this petition if you want the government to discuss ending the cull http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/38257

I went to a Candlelit Vigil march in Minehead last night, it started off on a high, feeling positive and meeting people we’ve met at other events and meeting new people too. I was surprised to see pro-cull supporters in the crowd too doing a terrible job of blending in, taking lots of photos of us all ! There was a lot of press around and Maria below was interviewed in this video http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23847028 The march itself at dusk with everyone holding candles was quite moving. There was about 300 of us there, all ages, all walks of life, all united in thinking this cull is very very wrong.

This is the latest statement from the Green Party on this situation:

25 August 2013

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, speaking tonight as protesters gathered before the planned start of the slaughter of up to 5,000 badgers in six weeks in Somerset and Gloucestershire, condemned the cull plan as inhumane and unscientific.

Bennett said: “I completely understand the distress that the continuing problem of TB in cattle is causing to farmers. But wanting to do something should not be pushing this government to make the terrible decision to go ahead with this cull, which could actually magnify the TB problem.

“As the Randomised Badger-Culling Trial (RBCT) concluded, the focus of funding and research should be cattle-based measures to control TB, and funding for badger vaccination trials should be restored.

“The planned actions in Somerset and Gloucester are inhumane and not backed by the scientific evidence.”

Caroline Allen, veterinary surgeon and Green Party Spokesperson on animal issues, said: “This is a massive undertaking and there are so many ways in which this cull could go wrong.  The ‘perturbation effect’ is likely to result in the incidence of TB actually increasing.  When you bear in mind that the measure of success is a reduction in TB of around 15%, i.e. leaving 85% of the disease untouched, this all seems completely nonsensical.”

Bennett added: “This government, whether it’s on energy policy, on welfare benefits policy, or on drug laws, far too often ignores the evidence. It’s this policy – and approach to policy-making – that should be culled, not the badgers.”

Badger march
Me and Maria (left) at the march in Minehead

Green MEP slams EU for supporting bullfighting in Spain

As thousands of Londoners prepare for holidays in Spain, Jean Lambert, the Green MEP for London, has criticised the European Union for propping up the bullfighting industry in Spain. Ms Lambert’s criticisms follow the publication of a report (1) which suggests that bullfighting would be unviable without the generous subsidies given to the industry by the European Union.

The report estimates that bullfighting receives over £100m worth of subsidies from the EU, predominantly through the Common Agricultural Policy. They are not given specifically for the bullfighting industry – but are channeled into it by the Spanish Government which, along with the European Commission, could stop the flow of EU cash.

Ms Lambert has joined other MEPs in writing to the EU’s agriculture minister (2) calling for an end to EU subsidies for bullfighting. Commenting on the report Ms Lambert said:

“Whilst people across Europe are wondering where they’re going to get the next meal from the EU continues to pour our money into bullfighting: this has to stop.

“Bullfighting is barbaric and cruel and, without the prop of EU farming subsidies, it’s a failing business. The EU must immediately withdraw funding from bullfighting and redirect the money towards sustainable agriculture producing affordable food.”

Another member of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, Raul Romeva, said:

“It is unacceptable that EU funds continue to be used to prop up this brutal practice, which flies in the face of EU commitments on animal welfare. This report makes clear that bullfighting would not be financially viable without subsidies, with public interest and support seriously waning.

Given EU funds of at least €130 million per year – and probably much more – continue to be channeled to the bullfighting industry, it is clear that this is also a question for the EU and the Commission must stop trying to duck responsibility for the issue.”


(1) The study can be accessed at the following link:


(2) The letter can be accessed at the following link:


One year on as a vegan

It’s not far off one year since I went from vegetarian to vegan (read my post from a year ago here) and I’ve stuck at it !! After 27 years as a veggie, I took a month long vegan pledge in March 2012 with the help of Exeter Friends for Animals (EFFA). The annual pledge month is coming up again in March so let me know if you’re interested in trying it by adding a comment at the end or simply click on the image below to go directly to the EFFA page.


So why did I make the change to veganism? Well – day old male chicks being dropped live into mincing machines and unwanted male calves being shot shortly after birth so I can eat eggs and drink milk was a fairly big factor. I’ve done what I can as a veggie for almost three decades but I couldn’t escape the deeper consequences of the ovo lacto vegetarian foods I was eating any longer really. Almost a year on – my conscience is a lot lighter although I’m still wrangling with things like wearing wool and eating honey.

One of my reasons for trying a healthier vegan lifestyle was to lose weight and I have lost just over a stone so far which I’m really pleased with. One not so good consequence is having low Ferritin levels – although this could have been the case for years as a veggie, it’s only this year they were checked as part of a blood test after I had a virus. The amount of ferritin stored reflects the amount of iron stored and although I’m not anaemic, I am watching my iron levels a bit more closely and trying to eat more iron rich foods. I’m also taking a multi vitamin with iron.

HERBIES PICAfter an adjustment period at the beginning, trying to find the nicest milk alternative and trying vegan cheeses etc I do find that my diet fits in pretty well with the rest of the vegetarian family meals. The trickiest part is eating out as most places can manage a veggie meal but find vegans rather challenging. It is always worth asking though as I did have the most amazing salad made for me at Toast recently when I told them I’d like lunch but there was nothing vegan on their menu. This didn’t work so well with Otter Nurseries who have an enormous menu but couldn’t offer anything more than chips for a vegan! They’ve assured me there will be options next time I go for lunch but I’m not sure I want to risk it. I tend to stick to places I know do vegan food  (and soya milk hot drinks) now like Boston Tea Party (Honiton & Exeter), Toast in Honiton, Honiton Wine Bar (lovely hummous & bread), Herbies and The Plant Cafe in Exeter. I also tried Pea Green Boat in Sidmouth. So…..don’t forget to get in touch if you fancy giving the vegan pledge month a try & if you don’t live near Exeter, you can do it via the PETA website – see http://action.peta.org.uk/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=5&ea.campaign.id=14806


Cruelty at Exeter Christmas Market

Those of you who’ve visited the Christmas market in Cathedral Yard may have seen that there is a French stall selling foie gras, another selling exotic meats (e.g. kangaroo, crocodile), a falconry stall with a tethered golden eagle, and a stall selling reindeer skins and antlers.

Exeter Friends for Animals is contacting the City Council about its complete lack of ethical standards, but individual letters/emails of complaint from members of the public regarding any one or all of these issues would strengthen their case.

PLEASE KEEP ALL COMMUNICATIONS POLITE!! and address them to: general.festivals@exeter.gov.uk or Exeter City Council, Civic Centre, Paris Street, Exeter EX1 1JJ

Suggested points to make are:

  • The production of foie gras is so cruel it is banned in this country and many others, and many shops/restaurants have withdrawn it from sale in response to public pressure. (Here’s Kate Winslet explaining why Foie Gras is unacceptable www.peta.org)
  • Exotic meats raise serious questions concerning capture, rearing and slaughter methods – what information can the council provide on these?
  • The noisy, crowded environment of the market is highly distressing and totally unsuitable for birds of prey (or any live animal).

Please add a comment here on the blog when you’ve sent off your email to Exeter City Council. I wasn’t sure whether to add the picture below as it is upsetting but there are some much much worse images of this practice out there. Please take just two mins to email the City Council and tell them to ask the stallholder to remove Foie Gras products from the event. Thank you.


Missing cat in Honiton £100 reward

Molly for sharon

This is Molly. She is three and went missing on Saturday 29th September from Macauley Close on the King’s road side of Honiton. However there is a theory that she could be on the Miller’s Way side of town if she hitched a lift in a removal van than went from her house across town on the Saturday. She also liked to play in the fields at the back of her house and several people have had the same dream about her – that she is locked in an outbuilding, a garage etc.

Molly is brindle/dark tortoiseshell in colour with ginger flecks and green eyes. Her owners are offering a £100 reward. Contact me if you have seen Molly and I can pass the info on or put you in touch with the owners.

Are you coming for a dip?

Beautiful Branscombe beach on a sunny day last summer
Beautiful Branscombe beach on a sunny day last summer

So……..we went over to Branscombe earlier this afternoon. As soon as we got there it started pouring down then sunshine, then rain (you know what it’s like at the moment)! Got out the car and it was quite cold, really windy and the sea quite grey and choppy – certainly too choppy for two little uns who’ve never swam in the sea before. We like to go swimming in a lovely local river when it’s a hot day….so fingers crossed for the school hols coming up in just three weeks.  We’d go to the local swimming pool more often but don’t have spare cash for such luxuries and it’s not cheap for all four of us.

Anyway we prefer the river whenever it’s hot as we get to share it with kingfishers and dragonflies and the kids love the little fishes nibbling their feet. I went swimming with a friend one day last summer and we shared our swim with a very dignified and graceful swan. We all respected each other’s space and she was as curious of us as we were of her. It was quite a magical swim actually.

There’s a good website for anyone who likes swimming outdoors www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com but our secret east Devon swimming place isn’t listed on here. I’m happy to let you in on the secret if you know of anywhere nearby that’s good to swim in and nice and safe for children, we can swap wild swimming info!

Natasha in the river swimming in east Devon last summer
Natasha in the river swimming in east Devon last summer

Their Future – how do you view animals?


I’ve just watched this short film by Environment Films about various kinds of animal exploitation. It’s 10 minutes long and there are some unpleasant bits on animal experiments etc but nothing too upsetting, and I get upset quite easily. The film is designed to make you think about how your everyday life affects animals – and really how we (the human race) treat animals. Please pop back on here when you’ve watched it and add a comment – I’d be interested to hear what you think and we could get a discussion going.


My Vegan Pledge


I’ve taken a vegan pledge this March with the guys from EFFA – Exeter Friends for Animals. I’ve been vegetarian for about 27 years now and I have had a lot of vegan friends over the years, and often wondered what it would be like to live a vegan lifestyle. I was asked to do this month long pledge by Wendy at EFFA and I said yes, I’d give it a try. I’m now a third of a way through my month and it has not been an easy start I must admit. You’d think the transition from veggie to vegan would be fairly painless but I’ve found it…interesting, a learning curve, a new experience – but hey – life would be boring otherwise wouldn’t it !!

Apparently between 1% of UK households contain a vegan whereas 4-12% of households have a vegetarian person living there. Most vegans have lower BMI’s, lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure. Vegans eat less calories, less confectionary, less fat and less cakes – one of my reasons to give veganism a try and I’ll give you the results at the the end of the month (says she who has just made a fabulous vegan chocolate cake – pictured below)


So what am I finding difficult so far – not being able to have a cup of tea or coffee at a friend or relatives house, or at most cafe’s or even at the town council where I spend many an evening! I had some issues with curdling coffee at the start of the month but now I’m only using Alpro soya and microwaving a cup of half water/half soya milk then adding coffee seems to do the trick. I’m drinking other things now – more water and fruit juices which can’t be bad.


I miss cheese – I realised I must usually eat some form of cheese most days even if it is sprinkled on top of pasta bolognaise. I can’t bear the thought of not having a lasagne or cauliflower cheese again, two of my favourite things. Or cottage cheese and a baked potato, a cheese sandwich, cheese on toast or creamy goats cheese and cranberry sauce! Apparently there are vegan cheeses but they look so strange I’ve not tried them yet. I also love Stilton and Brie so these things are hard to contemplate not having ever again…but it is only a month, isn’t it…

So apart from possibly losing weight (due to not being such a cheese monster) I am doing this to think a bit more about how being veggie does still involve the killing of animals in order to produce what I’m eating. I’m not really into eggs much these days but it’s amazing how many things contain eggs – eg Quorn which our family eats a lot of. But I know that for every female chick born – male chicks are being killed at a day old every day….then of course how are those female chickens housed and when are they killed for being too old to lay?

Conveyor belts of male chicks on their way to the gas chamber or a giant shredding machine
Conveyor belts of male chicks on their way to the gas chamber or a giant shredding machine

As for milk – I sometimes see poorly cared for herds of cows literally staggering from their fields to the milking parlour, staggering along pot-holed country lanes laden with udders of milk which are there for the calves which were taken from them and…fattened for meat then killed at a young age. Of course not all cows are kept in poor conditions, some live lives of Riley on delightful organic farms but at the end of the day this is farming – and these creatures are killed when the farmer decides their time is up. THE reason I became a vegetarian is because I do not believe that humans have any right whatsoever to kill animals, for any reason*

Both my children are vegetarian and I tell my 10 year old daughter that it is part of evolution. We’ve worked out, like slavery or the death penalty or other brutal acts of violence carried out by humans, that killing animals is quite simply wrong. What gives us the right to murder a living creature and then eat it or wear it or rub it on our skin in a cream or potion? Let’s just hope the rest of the human race realise soon that they have no right to stop a beating heart and no right or need to eat flesh. And as far as religion goes – a god who tells people (in the bible) “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you” is no god I believe in.


* I do believe in euthanasia if an animal (or a person) is in extreme pain however and in my younger days working as a vet nurse, I have helped suffering animals to die a calm, dignified death. I also helped many animals to live too! People should have the right to euthanasia as well – but that’s another blog….