Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Swanning In

On Monday 30th July the M4 traffic travelling towards Wales just south of Reading was briefly brought to a complete halt by a swan landing on the motorway. This is an example of wild animals causing dangers to humans in their cars along with deer in this country. In other countries hazards may include elk, bears, wild pigs, elephant and kangaroo, Although high speed encounters with substantial animals can cause human injuries and fatalities, the impact of roads on animals are at a substantially higher order of magnitude. May smaller animals (e.g. otters, hedgehogs, rabbits, toads etc) are killed in substantially high numbers. The fatalities for tiny animals such as insects must be staggering. Of course, some animals such as carrion eaters benefit from the carnage, The swan in question was shooed on to the hard shoulder of the road. I hope it made a successful escape but taking off would have been very difficult.

Friday, 27 July 2007

The Cat that 'Knows'?

The BBC carried a story about a 'spooky' black and white cat in an old people's home in the USA that curls up outside the door of people who die shortly afterwards. It was implied that the cat 'knew' about the impending death. People can be a bit strange about cats with their reputations at the familiars of witches. It is, of course, perfectly likely that the animal is using its highly effective hearing to detect changes in the breathing patterns as people near the event. Why does the cat curl up outside the door? It is possible that the animal has been 'rewarded' with greater attention when it has done so (in the aftermath of a death, there is likely to be a lot of human activity in the room). A more bizarre (and highly speculative) suggestion is that there cats are derived from animals that obtained part of their food from carrion. Being near a dying animal offers opportunities.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

D Day for Shambo?

It appears that Shambo will be collected, following the Appeals Court ruling, for humane slaughter from the Skanda Vale Temple today (26th July) but it seems unlikely that the bull will be allowed to 'come quietly'. I expect further developments as it is impossible to satisfy both parties in this drama.
Shambo was collected (at the 2nd attempt) by vets with a large police escort for 'destruction' (the term of choice by the media). The event was recorded by the monks and released to the media. So Shambo is gone but the debate lingers on. It has been suggested that other animals and monks at the temple should be tested for the disease.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Bumblebee Bivouac

Twenty-five native UK species of bumblebee have been listed. Three of these species are now said to be extinct in this country, 9 others in a precarious position and 15 in serious decline. A recent article (http://environment.guardian.co.uk/conservation/story/0,,2132575,00.html ) has reported the results of a National Bumblebee Nest Survey that involved 700 UK volunteers checking for the nests of these prominent insects in a garden and at least one other 'natural habitat' (a woodland, farmyard fencing etc). The survey concluded that gardens (36 nests per hectare) and farmyard fencing (37.2 nests per hectare) were the richest sites. Woodland locations only revealed 11 nests per hectare. An author, Dr Juliet Osborne of the Rothampstead Agricultural Research Centre, suggested that untidy gardens were especially important to these insects as they supply the moss and leaves that the bumblebees use to line their nests (that are generally above ground). It was suggested that changes in farming and gardening practices might account for the declines in these important pollinators. I would not wish to argue against the conclusions of this interesting survey but it is worth mentioning that the counts for gardens may be somewhat inflated compared to the other locations. The volunteers are likely to have been able to draw on their detailed knowledge of gardens to locate nests more easily that in the other locations (I suspect that the gardens are also easier to search, being limited in size and with generally clear boundaries).

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Seeing the Changes 36

In Llanelli, the Field rose (Rosa arvensis) has bright red hips. Bladder campion (Silene vulgaris) is also in flower.

Friday, 20 July 2007

The Great Mullein Finally Flowers

The Great Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) finally overcame voracious caterpillars and one of the wetness summers on record to come into flower. It grew four small rather then one large spike.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Seeing the Changes 35

The Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) fruit is now evident in Bynea where Common toadflax (Linaria vulgaria) is in flower. In Loughor, Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) is in berry.

Swimming with Tarka?

There was a story today on the BBC news about a drive to encourage lake and river swimming in the UK (almost as an extension to the 'right to roam' for walkers). One of the locations mentioned was the river Dart ("where swimmers can share the river with otters"). It is appreciated that swimming is healthy exercise (so long as one avoids dangers such as currents, rocks and Leptospira) and river swimming opens up commercial possibilities to land owners but otters are unlikely to share the locations with river swimmers. Disturbance (by humans) is one of the factors that was implicated in the UK decline of this species in recent times.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Shambo Reprive?

On the 16th of July, a High court judge ruled that the order that Shambo had to be euthanased should be put on hold as the rights of the Hindu monks at Skanda Vale had not be 'sufficiently considered'. This 'victory' for Shambo's supporters is, however, likely to lead to an appeal by the National Assembly on the ruling. As mentioned in earlier postings, it is difficult to see how the views of all concerned can be accommodated in a single outcome (the bull living or the bull dying). The government scientist's position is that there is no approved medical treatment in the UK that can be used on the bull to alleviate the risks associated with Bovine TB.
On the 23rd July, a Court of Appeal overturned the High Court judge's ruling, meaning that the destruction order is legal. This whole thing is getting a bit too predictable. Next stop, the House of Lords?

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Seeing the Changes 34

Lots of changes on my return from Libya. In Loughor the Blackberry (Rubus fruticosa) is black and the Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) bright red. In Bynea, the Great mullein is rallying after the caterpillars had their quota. Lots of plants have come into flower including Ribbed melilot (Melilotus officinalis), White melilot (Melilotus alba), Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis), Marsh cudweed (Filaginella uliginosa), Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) and Common sea lavender (Limonium vulgare). There were also many white umbellifers, probably Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) and rather fewer yellow umbellifers, probably Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa).

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Live Earth?

I guess that its impossible not to comment on the mega event this weekend that is claimed to be Al Gore's 'opening shot' in an attempt to get the world population to recognise its role in global warming phenomena. After all, it was targeted at a potential audience of 2 billion people and involved eight concerts (in Hamburg, Johannesburg, London, Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai, Sydney and Tokyo) on seven continents (a pity, in terms of coverage that they didn't manage one in Moscow and another in New Delhi?). There has been a great deal of analysis of these concerts in terms of the apparent mismatch between their aims (educating people about the problem) and their mechanics (generating large amounts of carbon dioxide largely by virtue of the transport involved in getting the acts and their audiences to the venues as well as some allegedly dubious links to commercial and political interests). Marina Hyde, for example, produced a very striking piece on some of the 'top acts' involved in the exercise entitled 'The artists formerly known as huge carbon footprints' (http://environment.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,,2120951,00.html ). It is certainly the case that some of these 'pop acts' include some notable consumers of 'world' resources and cynics have noted that performing in such television spectaculars can have very commercially beneficial effects on some participants (in deed, it has been claimed to add 10 years to the lives of some waning acts). Doing the 'gig for free' can be excellent publicity. What I saw of the content did suggest that many of the acts were anglophone US or UK (perhaps partly labelling the event as a US/European concern). Already stories are appearing that some questioned audience members have 'admitted' (shock. horror) that they attended more for the music than the message. It was striking that when the TV cut to the audience, they were often people 'mouthing' the lyrics of the song.
So was it a brave attempt to drive home the message to largely ignorant people or a cynical hijacking of an event for commercial or political gain? I suspect a reason for my reticence before leaping to judgement is that I (like others?) have a bit of the puritan and a bit of the cavalier in my make up. The puritan in me, irrespective of my reservations about some of the messengers and how the message is couched, would like to see humankind start to take responsibility for its impact on 'spaceship Earth', and minimise carbon footprints and other indices of resource exploitation. This might well leave 'room' for other wonderful species to thrive in 'wild' places. The cavalier in me sniffs at the idea that part of the world population will reduce its burgeoning lifestyle whereas another part will agree not to aspire to such a lifestyle in the first place. He also notes that, as humans are programmed to be anthropocentric, they are unlikely to voluntarily reduce population size or even curb future population increases. The cavalier also notes that, without population control, the world would inevitably become a less vibrant place and, sooner or later, wild places and many of the species associated with them, would be squeezed out even without the full horrors of climate change.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Seeing the Changes 33

Weather has finally livened up. The sun has brought out Meadow brown (Maniola jurtina) butterflies and the beetle Rhagonycha fulva.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Shambo Shambles 2?

I first raised the issue of the venerated ceremonial bull at the Hindu Skanda Vale Temple that had tested positive for Bovine TB on the 10th of May. The Veterinary authorities had suggested that the animal should be killed, a decision hotly disputed by the monks who threatened to form a human defensive chain, produced an online petition and said they would go to court. The story went ballistic being featured on BBC television and creating large numbers of column inches in local, the UK and even the world press. I suggested, at the time, that the issue would be very difficult to resolve as the two sides were operating from entirely different moral perspectives (namely the sanctity of a particular life versus the convention that sometimes sacrifices had to be made for the common good). Everything then went quiet, giving at least the impression that the issue had been 'kicked into the long grass' until the political elections and the changes in the National Assembly had been resolved. The issue is now back on the agenda as the politicians have reiterated that Shambo should be 'put down' and the monks have confirmed their keenness to challenge this decision in court. The monks claim that Shambo should be allowed to live because he will 'never enter the food chain' (that was unlikely anyhow given their vegetarian beliefs). In actuality this makes little difference as the veterinary concerns are that Bovine TB can be passed by breathing to a wide range of domesticated and wild mammals and even (more rarely) to humans. They will also be concerned that an animal showing evidence of the disease will have impaired welfare. In general, agricultural vets in the UK are not very keen on vaccination as this raises antibodies, and their presence in unvaccinated animals provides an accurate and rapid test for disease exposure. Having said this, expensive and rare mammals and birds in zoos have sometimes been vaccinated against a range of diseases. The surrounding farming community, if they rear cattle, will be well used to the idea that, if their animals develop certain notifiable diseases, vets are likely to order destruction of the herd. This is to prevent possible transmission to animals on surrounding farms. The orders are not optional such that pet or pedigree animals can be exempt. It seems likely that the politicians would like to be seen to be following 'good scientific advice' and to appease the farming community without appearing insensitive to religious sensitivities, This would appear to be a most difficult balancing act!

Monday, 2 July 2007

Introducing Mr Wolf?

Stephen Moss (http://environment.guardian.co.uk/conservation/story/0,,2113209,00.html) has provided an account (covering organisms as diverse as Red kites, Sea eagles, Ospreys, Great bustards, Ladybird spiders, Natterjack toads, Cirl buntings, Water vole, Lady's slipper orchid, Freshwater pearl mussel, Field cricket, Dormouse, Large blue butterfly, Beavers and Fen ragwort) of attempts to reintroduce 'formerly lost species' back into 'their' environments in the UK. The account is interesting in that it reveals some of the 'politics' behind some of these attempts (which generally seem driven by people having particular enthusiasms for particular species). He quotes Roy Dennis (an Ornithologist) who says "We've shown that we can successfully reintroduce lost species, even the biggest, as a part of restoring nature in Britain. We really have no excuse not to finish the work." The question remains how far we should go back? Moss notes that environments might well have changed since certain species were initially lost. It is also important to consider that the reintroduction of certain species or the management used to maintain them will have detrimental effects on other species (e.g. using sheep to closely crop grass to favour the Large blue butterfly can disadvantage rare Orthoptera in some locations).

Seeing the Changes 1218

In Loughor, masses of black flies were emerging from a hedge. In conditions also attracted green lacewings ( Chrysoperla carnea ) to ...