Green with worry


South Woodford resident Bernice Butcher doesn’t consider herself to be an eco-warrior, but she is worried by two issues impacting the local environment, and ultimately, our health

I started thinking seriously about environmental issues in the late 80s when my children were small.  Reflecting on the effect of a road-widening scheme on the character of the area in London where I grew up, I had a sort of epiphany. It hit me that we were sacrificing our health and wellbeing for progress. The car had become our master rather than our slave.

Then I got onto the subject of recycling and the wastefulness of so much packaging ending up in landfill. I campaigned about this, as well as the problem of air pollution, as a one-woman band, pestering parents at the school gates to add their signatures to my letters. Later, I joined the local Friends of the Earth, the environmental group largely responsible for the introduction of our door-to-door recycling bins. Then, after developing an early form of breast cancer, I worked with the charity Breast Cancer UK, which promotes better understanding and recognition of the link between certain everyday chemicals and the incidence of breast cancer.

I can’t say that I was ever a real eco-warrior – too wedded to my creature comforts to become a ‘crusty’ and live in a tree like some of the Reclaim the Streets group protesting against the construction of the M11 link road – though I did sit on a bulldozer once!

These days, it is hard to be optimistic about the future when we are still harming the planet – and consequently, ourselves.  Naturally, I am concerned about the oceans and endangered species, but my focus is on human health.

There are two main issues that worry and distress me: the first is the way we seem hell-bent on degrading the character of our local area by paving over gardens. It seems every day another one bites the dust – before and after photos, anyone? We’re replacing greenery with concrete – and a few flower pots if we’re lucky – destroying wildlife habitats and increasing the flood risk. The car is still king.

The second thing I worry about:  people idling their engines while stationary – I don’t mean at the traffic lights – as if the air we breathe is not polluted enough.  The actor Nigel Havers has been on a one-man campaign, asking motorists to turn off their engines. I do the same – when I’m feeling courageous. It can feel a bit daunting at times, but in the main, the result has been positive. There is a law against this anti-social behaviour, yet local police and traffic wardens I have spoken to do not seem bothered. Even a friendly warning could go some way to reducing air pollution. It was encouraging to see ‘I’m not an idler’ notices at Highams Park level crossing the other day.

So, my parting shot: think it over before you pave it over. And: when you stop, turn if off!

For more information on the impact of air pollution, visit swvg.co/airpollution