How green is our compost?


I’M not sure why, but last week’s column (about cricket, motor racing and sheep) prompted reader ‘Mozzy’ to comment: ‘I’ve lived in my London house, small garden a long time. Recently I am getting bindweed popping up in a few places. I remember it as a child elsewhere on waste ground, looking quite attractive with its white flowers. So whilst musing on it, I wondered if it is coming in with these rubbish peat-free composts, from other people’s gardens. It is collected here as green waste. Plus other weeds I’ve never seen before such as borage, but not the edible one.’

On interrogation, Mozzy revealed that councils sell the green waste they collect to the peat-free compost manufacturers, something I did not know. This inspired me to do a little digging (pun intended).

The government is banning the sale of bagged compost containing peat to amateur gardeners at the end of the year as part of ‘wider efforts to achieve Net Zero’. (The horticultural trade has extended deadlines up to 2030.) So the little people will need to rely on peat-free composts from January 2024.

These are blends of plant-derived materials such as bark, coir (extracted from the outer husk of coconut) wood-fibre and ‘green compost’ mixed with inorganic materials such as grit.

Green compost is supplied to the manufacturers by many local authorities. The Royal Horticultural Society (which is well on board with the climate change message) says it ’tends to have a high nutrient content and high pH, making it an excellent soil improver or mulch. There is an industry standard (British Standards Institution PAS100) for green compost that enforces consistent and regulated processing, in order to encourage its use in potting composts’.

In Lancashire the green bin waste is taken to an ‘open windrow in vessel’ composting facility. The Biffa waste disposal firm’s website describes the in-vessel composting process: ‘Incoming wastes are sorted, shredded to achieve a maximum particle size, mixed to achieve the correct “recipe,” and then loaded into composting tunnels. Air is drawn through the feedstock with the rate of air flow being controlled to ensure an optimum treatment temperature. Following the completion of an initial composting period, the material is removed from the tunnel, remixed and returned to another tunnel for the composting process to be completed. The treated material is then stored for a period of four to eight weeks to enable final maturation to occur, whereupon the product is screened and sieved to remove any contamination.’

Other websites are very similar. What we are not told is how hot the material becomes in the composting process, and this can be crucial. The seeds of field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), pictured below, need a month at 145 deg F (63 deg C) to kill them. That’s hot.

I don’t know if it is field bindweed or hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium), below,

that is infesting Mozzy’s garden, but in either case another problem is that the tiniest piece of root can shoot, and I am not sure that the composting process described above is enough to kill it. You can read more about both varieties of bindweed on the RHS website here. 

I’m not saying we should continue to dig peat until it is all gone, but I do doubt the competence of local councils to contribute an important part of the mix of peat-free compost without making a mess of it.


THE highlight of the week was seeing an otter in the Ribble. I have been told many times that they are around (I wrote about them here) but this is my first sighting in the river in the ten years or so we have lived here. At first I thought it was a piece of wood floating along but then its tail flipped up as it dived.

Sheep of the Week

TO MY regret I have never been to Exmoor, but it looks wonderful. The National Park is about 270 square miles and rises to 1,703ft at Dunkery Beacon. The climate can be pretty harsh and it is often cloudy.

The Exmoor Horn sheep is one of Britain’s oldest native breeds and has been farmed in the area for thousands of years. The modern breed was developed in the 19th century, and with its wide face and curled horns (the ewes’ horns are smaller) has been described as ‘looking you in the eye’ with the ‘irascible, defiant grumpiness’ that has helped it survive bleak weather. On the uplands the sheep are pure-bred but on lower pastures they are often crossed with Blue Faced Leicester rams (which I wrote about here) to produce the highly-rated Exmoor Mule. In 2005 there were 19,000 ewes but numbers are on the increase, partly due to the resurgence of interest in mutton, which apparently is particularly good from the Exmoor Horn. It features on this website (with which I have no connection). 

Unusually for a hill breed, the Exmoor Horn produces a fine quality fleece and the resulting yarn is said to be hard-wearing but soft.

They are docile and friendly, as you can see in this video (the sound quality is lousy but Hector the sheep is most appealing).

You can read more at the Exmoor Horn Sheep Breeders’ Society website. 


I SAW this display in Booths supermarket in Clitheroe on Thursday.

Presumably all profits will go to the Distressed Consultants’ Aid Association.

We always enjoy a tour round Booths because it has many products which you don’t see elsewhere, such as duck eggs (delicious fried!) and Tartex, a Swiss vegetarian spread that I love (although the recipe was changed a few years ago to omit palm oil as per the green fiends, and it’s not quite as good as it used to be) plus more mustards and vinegars than you thought could possibly exist. We don’t buy much, though, because the prices can be ridiculous. Earlier last week Alan bought a few slices of haslet (pork meatloaf) in Morrison’s, then found some at half price in the reduced cabinet at Booths – but still more expensive than his purchase.

At the till on Thursday (we bought a bargain pasta dish, duck eggs and some reduced spring greens) the woman in front of us had a box of cherries which we admired. Thinking it was a bit early for English cherries, Alan asked her if they were Turkish. ‘Unfortunately no, they’re English,’ the patriot replied.


Wheels of the Week

I have a great love for steam locomotives, which I can just remember being in use. This is the first in a series on them by TCW writer JOHN ELLWOOD.

I WAS not a Premier League trainspotter. I doubt that I would have made the Championship. Because of a lack of funds and my location, I suspect I was more of a Division One spotter which is appropriate as that is where my home team town Fleetwood FC are currently located.

My first trainspotting expedition occurred at lunchtime during my time at primary school. One sunny day my friend, Mark Ansell, suggested that we cycle to Fleetwood engine ‘sheds’ (we always said ‘sheds’, not shed), about a mile from school. I was pleasantly surprised that access to the sheds was easy and that two ten-year-old boys were given a free rein of most of the premises. 

Although I had always been fascinated by the sight of steam locomotives it was not until this expedition and their close proximity that I felt the urge to become a regular trainspotter. 

Fleetwood ‘sheds’ (in 1960 coded 24F) was not home to any glamorous named engines (‘namers’). It stabled a range of workaday mixed traffic, freight engines, tanks and shunters. However, in summer, it would often host an exotic engine that had hauled the Isle of Man boat train, and the ‘Crewe Fish’ afternoon train was sometimes graced by an ex-works loco from that town, sometimes a deep bronze green ‘namer’. On my inaugural visit I remember being astonished at the sight of one such green locomotive, a member of the Jubilee class.

Like many, I often ignored the humble tank engines and usually did not bother to record their numbers. They always seemed to be poorly maintained and almost always dirty.

The mainstay of Fleetwood’s allocation were the Riddles-designed Standard 2-6-2 tanks. In 1960 they included 84010/1/2/7/8. They were deployed on local services to Blackpool, Poulton and occasionally Preston, as were the two lookalike Ivatt tanks 41260 and 41261.

When I began my visits, Fleetwood also hosted a big London, Midland and Scottish Railway Stanier 2-6-4, 42434, and its Fairburn derivative 42187. The photograph shows Blackpool Central’s (Code 24E) Stanier tank 42455 leaving Fleetwood Station with a train to Blackpool North. The Isle of Man boats would dock not far behind the bridge.

The curiosities, if you could call them such, were two Fowler 0-6-0 ‘Dock’ tanks 47161 and 47165. The job for these outside-cylinder, short-wheelbase engines was to marshal fish wagons along the steep curves of Fleetwood’s fish dock, where my father worked.

At the back of the ‘sheds’, cold and forlorn, was a rare Lancashire and Yorkshire survivor, a 1892 Barton Wright/Aspinall saddle tank 51419. Sadly I never saw it in steam and it was withdrawn in 1962.

Unusually for a depot of its type, Fleetwood had no Fowler 0-6-0 ‘Jintys’ in 1960. Before closure in 1966, it briefly was home to four including this rather decrepit example relocated from Carlisle Upperby (Code 12A). Perhaps they wanted to get rid of it!

In future posts I shall recall other Fleetwood locals and visitors, and the more exotic engines seen when I had the chance to venture to the main line.

The photographs shown were taken by my good friend and fellow steam enthusiast Howard Leach.

Our semi-autobiographical experiences of trainspotting are recorded in Steam Dreams, available from Amazon Kindle

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