Monday, 31 March 2008

Ratty's Law


The news that the Wildlife and Countryside Act is finally going to give full legal protection to the Water vole (Arvicola terrestris) rather than simply protecting its habitat (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/mar/31/endangeredspecies.endangeredhabitats) is most welcome. Anyone who kills, injures or simply disturbs the UK's most endangered Mammal will be liable to a fine of up to £5000 or up to 6 months imprisonment. This is needed as people have used poison indiscriminantly against 'vermin' and have even shot them with air rifles (beebee guns). The animal is already highly threatened by habitat loss and the deprecations of the American mink ('liberated' from fur farms). The Water vole will enjoy its new protected status along with the edible Roman snail, the Angel shark, the Spiny seahorse and the Short-snouted seahorse.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Seeing the Changes 76















In Loughor, Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) and Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) buds continue their emergence. Sun spurge (Euphorbia helioscopia) came into flower in spite of the rain. In Bynea, more flowers are appearing namely Small-flowered cranesbill (Geranium pusillum), Red campion (Silene dioica) and Cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis). From Loughor onwards to North Gower, there were masses of yellow Primrose (Primula vulgaris) in the hedgerows. In Broughton, as the sun came out, so did the Spring squill (Scilla verna), the Sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias) and the Sand spurrey (Spergularia rubra). On Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) in that place, the Common green shield bug (Palomena prasina), the Greenbottle fly (Lucilia caesar) and other flies and bees (including some sex fiends) were all active. A lone Bumble bee (probably Bombus hortorum) was also working this location.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Seeing the Changes 75


The Wood forgetmenot (Myosotis sylvatica) is in bloom in both Loughor and the National Wetland Centre Wales. At Swansea University, the Rhododendron (Rhodendron ponticum) and Three-cornered leek (Allium triquetrum) are in flower.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Birder's Bonus 13

Visit to Langland and got some nice shots of a male Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) on the cliffs.

Cheap Deer?


A recent report (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/mar/22/wildlife.conservation) suggests that up to 50,000 deer of a variety of indigenous and introduced species per year may be illegally taken in the UK by poachers with dogs, cross-bows, 4x4s (used to side-swipe the animals), small bore rifles etc. This may lead to injured animals suffering lingering and protracted deaths. The primary motivation, in addition to the 'sport', appears to be the easily sold (around the backs of pubs?) venison (comparatively low in cholesterol). There is little doubt that deer in many parts of the country need to be controlled as otherwise their burgeoning populations can cause severe damage to the woodland environments they tend to frequent. They also cause a small number of deaths in collisions with motorists on nearby roads. I would not, however, like to see the poacher play the role of the controlling predator. They are neither very efficient nor selective. Perhaps wolves would be a better bet (although they have one or two obvious disadvantages).

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Seeing the Changes 74









Strange weather with bright sunshine, strong winds, flakes of snow and hail. Some Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) buds starting to pop in Loughor. The alien Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica) spikes are starting to re-emerge there. Today also marks the flowering of Spanish bluebell (Endymion hispanicus) and the Grape hyacinth (Muscari atlanticum). Also saw the first fungus of the year, probably Vascellum pratense. In Langland, Rock cinquefoil (Potentilla rupestris), Ramsons (Allium ursinum), Common dog violet (Viola riviniana), Common field speedwell (Veronica persica) and Early scurvy-grass (Cochlearia danica) were all in flower. Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) were also active along the rocky shoreline and Edible crabs (Cancer pagurus) were carrying egg masses.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Olympic Wetlands?


The report (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/mar/17/olympics2012.regeneration) that the 2012 London Olympics will leave "east London an open space to rival Hyde Park" is interesting. The post-Olympic £200m plan for the area around the river Lea includes the offshoot Channelsea river earmarked to be a steep valley with trees to deliver an aura of "seclusion, mystery and ecology" and in close proximity to a reed, alder and dogwood-planted wetlands to "attract swallows and kingfishers" as well as the 'One Planet' ecology pavilion. A combined cooling, heating and power station on site is intended to be partially fueled (along with gas) by willow harvested from the park's wetland areas. Given what else is going into the location (lots of houses, restaurants, a smallish 25,000 capacity stadium, an events lawn for a further 50,000 people, BMX tracks, jogging routes, climbing walls, allotments etc) it may be difficult to deliver on some of the more sensitive bird life (too much disturbance?). Much of the development (although welcome) has the appearance of being a giant gardening/leisure project designed to make the housing and office space in the area more attractive to purchasers. Although the word 'ecology' is metaphorically pasted over much of the plan, this is not ecology as we know it, Jim. I can't help but feel that an opportunity will be somewhat missed!

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Seeing the Changes 73




The nights of the pug moths and friends! A Bordered pug (Eupithecia succenturiata) and a probable Foxglove pug (Eupithecia pulchellata) invaded the house in Loughor. A Shoulder stripe (Anticlea badiata) came to the light. In the same locality, the Ivy-leaved toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) is just coming into flower.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Bear-Faced Robbery!


Reuters news agency have reported that a wild bear has been convicted of theft and damage for 'stealing' honey from the hives of a beekeeper in Dnevnik (Macedonia). The beekeeper reportedly attempted to drive the animal away by exposing it to "turbo-folk music", an action that was initially successful but failed when the electrical generator ran out of fuel. The court fined the state the equivalent of £1,750 in damages. This is yet another example of the rather odd responses to humans to animals. It is unlikely the bear has any concept of ownership or property. Presumably, as far as the animal was concerned, the hives were a happy source of high energy food for this opportunistic mammal and the "turbo-folk music" was an unnatural and unexpected source of aural disturbance. The court apparently assumed the bear 'belonged' to the state (perhaps they have no concept of 'wild'?).

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Birder's Bonus 12


Some nice shots of Dunnock (Prunella modularis) at Langland.

Seeing the Changes 72

In Langland, Common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) was in flower.

The 'No Catch' Catch?


It has recently been announced that the company associated with the 'No Catch' cod fish farming exercise (consisting of an 'organic' cod farm and a cod hatchery) in the Shetland Islands (Johnson Seafarms Ltd) has gone into administration after generating £40m of debts in only 2 years(http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/mar/06/environment.ethicalfishing). This development was hailed at its launch as "the world's first organic cod farm" and its product received endorsements and orders from 'top London chefs', Carrefour, Sainsbury and Tesco. Given the initial enthusiasm and orders (it predicted it would be able to generate 30,000 tonnes of 'Britain's favourite fish' per year) it seems initially surprising that this has happened. There have been rumours that elements in the company have had a "luxurious way of doing business" (denied by a director) but the real source of the problems may lie with the fact that the cod is slow (about 3 years to mature) and expensive (fresh fillets currently retail at £20 per kg which is almost more expensive than wild caught salmon) to produce. The 'No Catch' cod were fed on "choice offcuts of mackerel and herring" that challenges (to some extent) their sustainable credentials. One would also have to admit (in spite of the support from the 'Highlands and Islands' body) that, being located in the Shetlands, greatly adds to the transport costs when taking the product to market and marketing the product. There are varied predictions about what may happen ranging from a Norwegian take-over of the more profitable salmon, sea trout and mussel farm elements of Johnson Seafarms but dropping the risker cod farming to a building on the progress made in cod farming by the company to enable "world whitefish supplies to adjust to climate change". It will be interesting to see how cod farming develops but there is no reason why the process cannot be done economically so long as the process is not 'hyped' and people make allowances for the characteristics and needs of the species.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Seeing the Changes 71


The Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is out!

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Lovelock and Love Lost?


There is an interesting interview with the also aging James Lovelock (http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2008/mar/01/scienceofclimatechange.climatechange) author of the Gaia hypothesis. This essentially viewed the Earth as being a 'super-organism' that was essentially self-regulating. He accurately predicted, in 1965, that the environment would be the main problem by the year 2000. Although (after being initially unfashionable) currently regarded as an environmental guru, Lovelock believes that extreme weather will inevitably become the norm and predicts that around 80% of the world's population will be wiped out by 2100. He essentially believes that it is too late (he feels we are past the tipping point) to do anything about these events (we should have started in 1965). Lovelock takes a dim view of carbon offsetting ("a joke"), ethical consumption ("a scam"), green lifestyle ("ostentatious grand gestures"), recycling ("almost certainly a waste of time and energy") and wind turbines (a "waste of time"). As one might expect, the inventor of the CFC detector (important in relation to the impact of these chemicals on the ozone layer) is markedly more enthusiastic about nuclear power (to the horror of some 'greens') as well as technological development in general (although he does not believe that this can prevent his 'Armageddon' of 2100). Lovelock's basic message is that one should "enjoy life while you can" (a bit like the late 1930's leading up to the 2nd World war). He regards the predicted 'mass kill' as being only the latest 'disaster' involving our species and a means of "separating the wheat from the chaff" (implying somewhat dubiously that the 'best' will survive). He is, however, 88 and that might be good enough for him. I wonder whether it can be good enough for the next generation who will not want to feel that they have absolutely no control over events (a bit like going back to medieval times?).

Culling With Kindness?


It has been reported that the South African government has felt it necessary to respond to the increasing numbers of African elephant in national parks and private reserves by ordering a cull (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/feb/26/environment). Apparently, the numbers of these animals has increased from around 8,000 to nearly 20,000 in the last 10 years and the culling of 'excess animals' will only be allowed once other options (e.g. translocation and contraception) have been ruled out. This point has only been reached after "nearly 3 years of widespread consultation and acrimonious debate". Support for the cull comes from a group of Ecologists working at the Kruger National Park that apparently has 5000 more elephants than the location can sustain. They feel that, left unchecked, the 12,500 animals threaten the park's biodiversity by their huge appetites, tendency to uproot trees and trampling. Other conservationists claim that the environmental impact of elephant have been over-stated and animal 'rights' campaigners claim that these intelligent animals with their close-knit social structures should be immune from culls. This latter position, to some degree, fails to consider the 'rights' of other species, the fact that elephant must have been subject to occasional losses even before human intervention (the WWF, who welcome the cull, point out that there is currently an absence of natural predators of mature elephant) and that the parks etc have distinct boundaries precluding migration as a response to local over-population. Some groups are urging a tourist boycott if the culling goes ahead and there is little doubt that ivory poaching is still an issue in some locations. Having said all this, there is no way that humans can fail to impact on these animals: perhaps the mistake is to believe that they are really 'wild' animals in the original sense.

Seeing the Changes 1241

There are some impressively bright lichens on the wooden bridge in Bynea.