‘CELEBRATING Earth Friendly Living’ was the motto for Alton’s first-ever eco fair, held in the Public Gardens on Sunday, and it certainly lived up to its promise.
Organised by the Alton Climate Action Network (ACAN) with Alton Town Council, it included a wide-ranging, colourful, vibrant mixture of things to hear, see and do.
Altonians and others from further afield poured in their hundreds to hear the speeches, listen to the music, visit the stalls and enjoy eco-friendly refreshments.
In the art and craft marquee visitors admired the work of local schoolchildren and the winners of two competitions. The centrepiece was a huge sculpture from waste by Becky Shaylor, of a shoal of 1,000 fish, all cut from drinks cans.
There were more than 20 stalls, all with an eco-friendly theme but with widely ranging offerings. Many were run by individual groups in the ever-growing ACAN network of community groups.
Petersfield Climate Action Network (PeCAN) was there, several wildlife protection groups were represented, and there were eco-friendly goods to buy – bug boxes from recycled wood, eco-friendly soap, and beautiful bee and butterfly-friendly plants galore.
All the stalls did a roaring trade. One stallholder said: “There is a lovely vibe here. People are so interested in the issues and keen to learn.”
The day’s talks and live music took place in the bandstand. Opening the fair, town mayor Cllr Pam Jones shared when she first became aware of the fragility of ecosystems on Earth.
It was when, as a student, she saw “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken” – ‘Earthrise’, a photograph taken out of the window of Apollo 8 as they orbited the Moon.
She finished with David Attenborough reminding us that: “We all have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity, and indeed all life on earth, now depends on us.”
Cllr Jones urged people to learn, take action and enjoy themselves.
In the middle of the day the bandstand was occupied by local musicians, including The Lürxx, who blended rock classics with their own original environmentally-themed compositions; and The Band with No Name, with renditions of golden oldies including Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, dedicated, tongue in cheek, to Southern Water.
A key aim of the day was to give young people a platform to share their views on the environmental crisis. The younger generation were there in force.
Teenager Isabelle had devised the popular Nature Bingo nature trail whose winners received their prizes from East Hampshire MP Damian Hinds.
Seven-year-old Valentina Lewis talked confidently about her Save the Planet poster on display in the marquee.
Winners of the Eco-Hero competition received their prizes from nine-year-old Frankie Morland, each getting a copy of his book based on his song A World in Danger.
Frankie moved many in the audience to tears when he sang this song, plus another written by him, The Ocean, accompanied by his dad.
Equally heart-wrenching was the performance of SOS from the Kids, a children’s eco-band who reached the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent in 2020.
Pupils from Eggar’s and Amery Hill schools spoke about their concerns and actions. From Eggar’s, Daisy stressed the need to make sustainable choices in clothes, food and travel.
Ellie urged people to eat less fish, as fishing nets cause more plastic in the ocean than any amount of plastic bottles and over-fishing is reducing algae, crucial to the survival of the planet.
“It’s scary living on a planet with a sell-by date,” she said, “so let’s do something about it.”
Lillie talked about the devastating results of climate change and made an impassioned plea to reduce, re-use and recycle.
“We all think we’re doing enough,” she said, “but in truth it’s not enough, and we must all ask ourselves what we have done to help. We need also to take a political stand. There is no Planet B.”
Amery Hill’s Eco-Union described its efforts to gain Eco-Schools Green Flag status. Noticing a lack of eco-friendly features in the school, members began by initiating small changes and then involved the whole school. They are now proud to see the Green Flag flying outside their school. Their next priority is to re-wild some of the school’s campus.
The day ended with a talk by the Gilbert White’s House museum director and a performance by Alton Fringe Theatre of scenes from his life in Selborne. Gilbert White wrote: “We are at the mercy of nature at all times. We shall never rule over nature and we must come to know this.”