Sunday at Bill's Mother's: 4th Feb 2024
Swift bricks, designing in danger for walkers, and a welcome to our hordes of new subscribers.
Morning. And welcome to all the new trial subscribers this week. To help you see what you’re getting, I’ve opened up a couple of posts from our archives, for you and our regular readers. One’s about mud, and one’s about the wild animals that used to live in our local countryside, and whether we should bring them back. Brown bears, anyone?
Today we also have a couple of shorter features on a call for the banning of flares (road junctions, not ridiculous trousers, although as a member of the punk generation, I’d ban flared jeans too).
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A Sample From Bill’s Mother’s
This magazine has been up and running for just over a year, launched after my local editor at our big sister newspaper, the wonderful Sheffield Tribune, suggested I add to their own burgeoning long form local journalism for Sheffield with a newsletter about my specialist subject: the wild outdoors of the Outdoor City.
I publish around eight varied posts a month, and reached the ‘Yes! There’s enough interested folk out there to keep going’ threshold a few months ago. I’m now inching ever closer to the 200 paying reader target I need to make this publication a sustainable social enterprise, without relying on click bait and dodgy advertising.
Our hosts, Substack, have even listed It’s Looking a Bit Black Over Bill’s Mother’s as one of their ‘bestseller’ magazines. (What does this mean? I’ve no real idea, but it can only be a good thing.)
I was born and grew up in Sheffield, and climbed enough trees and got lost in the woods enough times to know my home town was an Outdoor City long before it got the official label. I cover subjects around local wildlife, conservation, cycling, running, walking, active travel, all that kind of thing, and hope to do a lot more about local artists and businesses working in the outdoors once we reach that magic target.
So, here are a couple of example posts from the last year, I hope you like them.
I spoke recently to Chet Cunago, from Sheffield Swift Network, who’s just nailed the ‘Local Hero of the Year’ award, from Birdwatch magazine. She told me how for 14 weeks of the year she’s on duty full time, when Swifts arrive in Sheffield on their brief summer visit from Africa.
From May onwards, she helps operate a swiftlet rescue service for babies who fall out of their nests, and she and her colleagues scour the city for early summer scaffolding and building work that has to stop if it threatens a Swift nest.
She says one of her main missions just now is to persuade the council to ensure Swift bricks are fitted to all new buildings. These self contained hollow bricks have a small Swift sized entrance hole, and give the birds a safe insulated nest site that should last for many years.
Lobbying by the Sheffield Swift Network led to an agreement in the city’s local plan that 50% of new builds would include Swift bricks or bat boxes, but the wording is unclear, says Chet, adding that she and colleagues are disappointed with the policy.
If it means a 50:50 split between Swift bricks and bat boxes, she says, “it will ultimately result in only 25% of new builds including Swift bricks, or less where developers negotiate their way out of the requirement, or site the boxes incorrectly.”
The bricks cost around £35 each, and are as simple to fit as a standard house brick, so she and the Swift network seem baffled why anyone could see their inclusion in all new buildings as a problem.
Meanwhile, she’s urging people to consider fitting their own - a brick and fitting will usually cost under £150, she says. Wooden Swift boxes are also an option, but bricks seem to attract a new Swift family quicker, and usually last as long as the house.
Swifts and their close ancestors have been screaming around our summer skies since the time of the late dinosaurs, but they’re now threatened by householders desperate to block up holes under their eaves. Barnsley and Brighton have already agreed to fit both Swift and bat bricks in 100% of new builds, Chet says, so why can’t Sheffield?
Time To Ban Flares
Imagine you’re a child walking to school. And some time ago, a traffic engineer decided it was ok to expect you to sprint 34 metres across a road where drivers would struggle to see you. This, say campaigners from Sheffield’s local Living Streets groups, is so commonplace we barely notice the problem.
Flared junctions are everywhere: cyclist Adrian Lane was killed at one on Ringinglow Road in 2022, and the reconfiguration of Archer Lane to attract car traffic leaves school children trying to cross a wide, flared, junction where drivers approach at speed from four directions.
A flared junction is one that sweeps out into a wide arc where one road runs into another. Fine on a motorway, but on residential roads it’s a relic from the days when speeding up the flow of motor traffic on city streets was seen as a priority.
These days, with one of the worst child road accident records in the UK, Sheffield councillors insist they want to improve road safety. Yet flared junctions that encourage drivers to speed round corners are still being built.
Sheffield will soon host the 2024 UK Walking Summit (on 7th March), hosted by the Living Streets charity. Members of the Living Streets groups from South West Sheffield and Walkley will be leading debates on flared junctions and why road designs still put walkers and children at risk of death and injury, and drivers at risk of running into someone.
I’ll have more on how Sheffield could make walking places nice and easy in future posts.
Round at Bills Mothers’s
The next news update for full members is now out, including a full three weeks of What’s On Out There listings, further news of the new city parkrun arriving soon, progress on the plan to legislate against moorland burning, a new artwork for Ecclesall Woods, and quite a bit more.
Condensed What’s On Out There (from Sun 4th Feb)
If you’re in a group who put on outdoor events and want me to include them, please stick them in the comments below as follows: Date, What it is, Online link. This is a small sample for this week taken from our full regularly updated listings service in Round at Bill’s Mother’s.
Sun 4th - Sheffield General Cemetery - History Tour
Mon 5th - SRWT Volunteer Work Day - Crabtree Pond
Tues 6th - Finding Lost Norton Park at Graves Park - Recording old trees, and tree stories
Weds 7th - RSPB Sheffield Group bird walk - Ecclesall Woods
Thurs 8th - Work morning in Porter Valley
Sat 10th - Learn to Ride cycling (CycleBoost) at Heeley - booking required.
Sat 10th - Forest Gardening morning at Parkwood Springs
Remember our slogan, readers - F.F.S: Forward to Friends and Subscribe!
It’s free to try the out the wild notpaper for Sheffield and the Peak District for a few weeks, and after that it’ll cost you the price of a cheap pint once a month (with a month free if you go annual) to read all the posts, get the full listings service, and do wonders for my stress levels.