Back in Tayport, after the summer months spent on the Orkney Islands, the most common question I am asked is, Did you miss trees? And the honest answer is, not really! Of course, it’s a bit of a myth that the Orkneys are completely treeless, although compared to Tayport, certainly, there are a lack of trees but I think, the extraordinary skies, the ever-present sea and wide horizons lent the drama that trees do here. The question I asked friends in return was, What’s been happening in Tayport? And, it seems quite a lot, not least, the magnificent Climate Festival weekend in September. As someone, with an interest in all things green and environmental, I was keen to find out how the Orkneys faired in this area. So, a quick look at Orkney’s green credentials – in no particular order:
😊In case you missed it on the news this week, Scotland’s first net-zero hospital is, the Balfour, in Kirkwall.
😊No chain coffee shops or fast-food outlets/no out of town malls/an emphasis on locally run independent businesses. (TESO and Lidl were the only 2 shops I recognised).
😊There is a real focus on locally produced – butter/cheese/bread and biscuits/seasonal fruit and vegetables.
😊 Electric car usage is one of the highest anywhere in Scotland and our neighbours were enthusiastic about their one, a used, Kia e-Niro which they charged over night when the tariff was lower. ReFLEX Orkney offered lots of support for anyone thinking of buying or renting one.
😊Orkney Renewable Energy Forum – our Orcadian friends were part of this campaigning group whose latest talk was about feeding seaweed to cattle to minimise methane!
😊EMEC – The European Marine Energy Centre is based in the Orkneys with the latest in tidal/wave/green hydrogen being tested and developed there. Hydrogen fuelled aircraft and drone deliveries are all being piloted at the moment.
😊Many farmers, including our Orcadian friends, work closely with the RSPB to ensure minimum disruption to ground nesting birds and other animals. Only a percentage of road verges are cut and there is a huge variety of wild flowers from early spring through to October. Bees and invertebrates seemed plentiful because of this.
😊Milk refill – we took our milk bottle along to the local shop to get it refilled. No plastic bottles. Reusing glass milk bottles. Zero waste.
😊Community gardens/trusts – a fine example was on the island of Westray where an enterprise, not unlike our own community trust and community garden, flourishes with the bonus of their own wind turbine.
So, the Orkney Isles are an eco-paradise? Ah, well, not quite.
☹Cruise ships – no protests from Extinction Rebellion but plenty of irate letters in The Orcadian. I confess to an ignorance around this subject until these huge ships started arriving in Kirkwall and I am now better informed about the terrible environmental damage they do.
☹Stoat eradication programme – if ever there was a symbol of an ecology horribly out of kilter, this is it. Stoats, not indigenous to Orkney, were introduced, albeit accidently, by man. Now, because there are so many ground nesting birds on the islands, including rarities like the short-eared owl and the hen harrier – remember, not a lot of trees – their populations are being decimated, apparently by the interlopers, the stoats. An eye-watering £6 million and trained sniffer dogs brought in from New-Zealand have been spent on this programme so far. The arguments rage on both sides…
☹a percentage of Orkney’s waste is shipped to Shetland to be incinerated.
☹No cycle lanes or infrastructure for cyclists although on the smaller Northern Isles the roads are relatively quiet and traffic free.
😉To finish on a positive note, thumbs up to one Tayport couple who I bumped into, by coincidence, boarding the Shapinsay ferry. They were travelling around the Orkney and Shetland Islands by bike, leading the way in green travel.
So, although, I may not have missed trees, I am glad to be back in the dynamic and creative community of Tayport.