Tim Smedley on ‘The Last Drop’
Virginia Kennedy 20/02/2024
Some thoughts after hearing Tim Smedley’s talk about his book ‘The Last Drop’ - ‘Solving the world’s water crisis’ - at Alnwick Playhouse.
Tim engaged us all by giving ‘need to know’ facts and an overall picture which we could take away.
It was particularly apt for me as I have just got involved with a citizen science water testing project in my village of Rothbury, Northumberland. A group of local volunteers under the umbrella of Crag (Coquet River Action Group) are coordinating their efforts to test the River Coquet from source to mouth as an ongoing environmental project. It includes pressure groups, WI groups from villages near the river, several Parish Councils and Biodiversity Groups.
It was apt for another reason. It was my 79th Birthday and I had just received a poem (see below) written by one of a group of friends who come together every Friday to dance. It just so happened the previous Friday our theme was Rivers. We danced the river as representing the energies of our life from youthful, playful source, through all the meanderings to merge with the sea.
By bringing the river into our dance we deepened our connection. I feel as a river swimmer the NAIAD spirit is at hand on land and water.
We have a creative, non-judgemental approach to our dance. Similarly Tim’s presentation avoided an over-politicized negativity and thereby made it accessible and hopeful.
The Arts and Creative energies can be in tune with nature, and I hope to contribute to the bigger picture through a local focus. Tim’s talk reminded us that we are all part of the wider world and that the challenges facing us are both global and local.
For Virginia on her birthday
Once a month, on one of many visits to the river,
She stops in the same place on the same bank for a while,
And, with care, draws from the river some water – a sliver,
Which takes shape as it fills a long and slender clear glass vial.
Scientist, no doubt, a data collector and keeper,
So measured and meticulous do all her actions seem,
But wait - her connection to water is wilder, deeper,
She dives into the river, swims and dances in its stream.
Is she perhaps also a naiad, a river dancer?
If you asked, would she let you join her dance, of river made?
Or would she test you, and with another question answer:
“To dance, what would you offer the river, in a just trade?
For this dance made of glinting ripples, laughing in sunlight,
Of the glide of white swans and the bend of willows, which weep,
Made of the sapphire flash of a kingfisher in its flight,
And the shining silver arc of a salmon’s mighty leap.
For this dance you would join, where each lovely and living thing
Is part of the river, part of its precious health and wealth,
Would you cherish what you would share? What love and care would you bring?
What would you do to dance? How much would you give of yourself?
Charmian Stephenson February 2024
Tim has travelled the world talking to farmers, engineers and activists and his book is packed with personal stories of the struggles faced by communities across the globe as rivers and aquifers dry up and glaciers retreat but also with the ways people adapt and build resilience. Time and again the most effective remedies turned out to be nature based solutions.
Back in the UK a farmer and contractor in Oxfordshire showed Tim three arable fields in one valley with the same basic soil type but which had been farmed differently for many years. The first was under “conventional” farming with average use of fertiliser and pesticides, the second was organic and the third “no till.” They visited during a very wet spell and the conventional field was a mud bath the organic field was not as bad but the “no till” field was dry enough to walk over “with your Sunday shoes.” The use of minimum tilling and cover crops over the years had increased worm activity and organic matter in the soil allowing water to penetrate the ground more easily reducing flooding and, as the water could go deeper, the plant roots grew deeper reducing the effect of periods of low rainfall and increasing the chance of refilling aquifers. What is more the “no till” field delivered the best crop of wheat.
We undertook an audience survey over the Festival weekend with questionnaires given out at each event at the Alnwick Playhouse.
Tickets at the Playhouse were for individual events. We sold a total of just over 800 tickets but as some people went to several events, we estimate that some 500 people attended. 217 survey forms were returned representing some 40% of the audience, a very high response for an audience survey.
The two main questions were
1. On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is poor and 5 is excellent what did you think of the event? The average was 4.8 i.e. the majority thought the event they attended was excellent.
2. On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is not at all and 5 is very significantly, to what extent do you think the event affected your understanding of the climate and biodiversity emergencies. The average was 3.7 i.e. most people did feel the event increased their understanding but it probably also showed that some of the audience were already well aware of the problems. Interestingly the response from the audience for Watershed was 4.4 i.e. they felt their understanding was more significantly increased. The audience for Watershed was mainly the parents of the young people performing including 2 whole classes (i.e. not selected in anyway) from local primary schools and thus represents a wide cross section of our community.
2023 09 01