This is the season of resolutions – usually forgotten by the end of January – but this year, stay healthy, get fitter, save money and contribute to fighting the serious threats posed to our environment and countryside.
David Cameron warns us that 2011 will be a year of austerity. Well, he should know. Thanks to his government’s policies, millions of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens are already struggling and, with the public sector set to be slashed over coming months, the pernicious effects of ConDem ideology will soon begin to affect many more of us.
If you need to tighten your belt, try to cut back on your own expenditure as creatively and positively as possible. One of the most beneficial and effective ways of saving money is to slash your car use:
- give yourself a radius of, say, five miles, and resolve to make all journeys within this either by boot or bike and if you do have to drive – maybe to transport a heavy load – then ensure you also use the journey for something else, like visiting the recycling centre, picking up friends/family from the station etc
- share lifts to work, or better still, walk/run/cycle there and back instead
- shop locally and walk/cycle to the shops
- order from (responsible) supermarkets and retailers online – most customers find they save money this way and it obviously makes environmental sense too
One of these least successful, and most expensive, resolutions annually made is to attend the gym regularly. Compare the fall in attendance between January and, say, March, work out how much your increasingly rare visits are costing and resolve to exercise more cheaply, more effectively and more healthily. Use your savings from gym fees to:
- buy a bike – search local adverts and bike shops, eBay or companies like CycleRecycleUk for good quality, used bikes and spares
- kit yourself in good quality, but reasonably-priced running/walking gear – you do need comfortable, waterproof footwear and outer layers, but you can pick up serviceable clothes at Aldi/Lidl and outlet stores
- see our section on Kit: http://www.bootandbike.co.uk/overview/
Better still, join a Green Gym. Initially set up by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), then subsequently often run by local groups, this initiative gives volunteers the opportunity to improve their health and the environment at the same time, by tackling physical jobs in the outdoors that benefit local green spaces. Find out more at: http://www2.btcv.org.uk/display/greengym
For a fraction of the cost of a gym membership you can take out an annual subscription to www.ramblers.org.uk or www.ctc.org.uk where you will find local walking and cycling groups that organise walks/rides and also social activities, give technical advice, advertise gear and equipment, as well as walking/cycling holidays.
These organisations also give members the opportunity to volunteer – maybe even become part of Cameron’s Big Society, although perhaps not quite in the way he envisaged. Coalition plans to sell off national parks and our ancient forests threaten not just the environment, but our long-cherished right of access to the countryside. Equally, reductions in council budgets will result in withdrawal of bus subsidies, preventing many from even reaching the countryside, and the disappearance of rights-of-way officers.
Everyone who cares about the countryside and is horrified at the prospectof their beloved green spaces falling into the hands of developers and big landowners needs to join together to fight these proposals:
- if councils have to cut back on rights-of-way, then we need to provide the Ramblers and others with enough volunteers to take their place and ensure footpaths stay open
- all of us should support action groups, like www.38degrees.org.uk lobbying to keep our national parks and forests out of private hands and exposing rich individuals and companies who avoid paying their fair share of taxes
Public pressure does pay dividends. Cameron, a self-professed huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ guy, has already had to backtrack on his promise to offer an early free vote on lifting the hunting ban. MPs of all political hues have to be sensitive to the views of their constituents and cannot ignore the consistent 75% of the public opposed to hunting, despite the efforts of Cameron’s friends in the Countryside Alliance.
So, make 2011 a year to remember: get fit, stay healthy, try to protect the environment and do your bit to preserve your countryside and green spaces.
Happy New Year.