Friday, 31 October 2008

Seeing the Changes 152


More fungi in Loughor and another victim of the cold snap? A dead Common shrew (Sorex araneus) on the cycle path near Bynea.

A Copper-Bottomed Wine Case?

Tests have revealed that many table wines (both white and red) contain potentially dangerous quantities of metal ions (notably copper and manganese) that have been linked to conditions such as Parkingson's disease and rheumatoid arthritis (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/oct/30/wine-foodanddrink). The worst offenders were wines from Hungary and Slovakia whereas tipple from Argentina and Brazil had the lowest concentrations. The authors of the study published in Chemistry Central Journal suggest that wine labels should carry information on metal ion concentrations as well as alcohol content (they suggest that the very combination of ions and alcohol can be problematic). I suspect that the metals could be relatively easily removed during 'manufacture' but wonder whether comparable studies have been carried out on vintage wines. The timing of this paper is of interest with respect to another recently released study (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/oct/31/women-pregnancy-alchohol-birth-defects) suggesting that an occasional drink (this is likely to be 1-2 glasses of wine per week) during pregnancy does not have any negative impact on the cognitive abilities or behavioural attributes of the child at 3 years of age (although it was admitted that the women who occasional drank during their term were more likely to come from a 'professional background', suggesting the potential influence of social advantage). Apparently, baby boys (in particular) benefit from an occasional drink in the womb!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Seeing the Changes 151


The first local heavy frost of the year! Unseasonal snow in other areas of north and mid Wales. The first snow at this time of the year in the London area since 1934! In Loughor,a Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) appeared 'chopped down' by the cold snap.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Deep Purple?

There is a another GM story (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn15040-purple-tomatoes-could-ward-off-cancer.html) about UK scientists (at the John Innes Centre) inserting a gene from a Snapdragon flower to create purple tomatos, high in anthocyanin antioxidants. The scientists involved found that mice that were prone to a cancer lived longer when fed with this fruit and hope for similar beneficial anti-cancer effects in our own species. Having said that, the evidence for a protective effect of antioxidants in 'super foods' (like Blueberries), although apparently convincing in theory, is not good. It will be interesting to see how this mixture of Super versus Frankenstein food/Nutritional hope versus Science fact pans out.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Thinking About Coral

The Carnegie Institution at Stanford University has predicted that the increased acidity of seawater generated by human carbon dioxide-releasing activities is likely to result in the loss of 90% of coral reefs (http://www.ciw.edu/news/coral_reefs_unlikely_survive_acid_oceans). The reduced pH makes it impossible for the coral organisms to generate and maintain their impressive exoskeletons. Many other animals are dependent on the habitats created in the reef systems. Destruction of coral would occur even if the targets of reducing carbon dioxide emissions to levels thought appropriate to limit climate change (as currently advocated by the UK) were achieved. Losses of the reefs would have some quite devastating consequences on the viability of oceanic islands (in terms of food and protection from wave action).

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Red Menace?


There is a great deal of varied postal debate (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/oct/26/wildlife-red-squirrel) in response to an article by Tim Adams about the proposed cull of the Grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) to benefit the indigenous Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), allegedly directly endangered by the introduction of its American cousin. Amongst the 'factoids' thrown into the equation by the very diversely-motivated writers are that all species have at one time introduced themselves to the UK, that the reds were at one time culled because of their perceived damage to trees and bird's eggs and the claim that the reds are developing immunity to the 'deadly' parapox virus (blamed in the greys). I predict a riot.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Seeing the Changes 150


The Autumn orange-red fungus (a Hygrocybe) and lots of cyanobacteria colonies (probably Nostoc) were evident in Bynea. There were also remnants of many flowers including Bramble, Meadow buttercup, Ragwort, Scentless mayweed, Daisy, Ox-eye daisy, Red clover, Yarrow, Gorse, Creeping thistle, Slender thistle, Red campion, Ribbed melilot and a yellow crucifer.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Seeing the Changes 149


The season of "autumn mists and fruitfulness" in Loughor was marked by a visit from a drab, brown Lesser yellow underwing moth (Noctua comes) and the sprouting of Little Japanese umbrella (Coprinus plicatilis) on the football pitch.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Seeing the Changes 148



Bright, cold, almost Scandinavian, weather with some odd insect behaviour. A Red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) flitted around the trees in the sunshine. A Common wasp (Vespa vulgaris) went in aerial pursuit of an adult Cranefly (Tipula spp).

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

All Hail the Tree!

The case has been made by Johan Eliasch (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/15/climate-change-deforestation) that a good part of the solution to potential emissions-related climate change is the protection of forests as these act as the planet's 'lungs' and around 17% of current carbon emissions are generated by deforestation. Eliasch reckons that giving carbon credits for conservation of woodlands might be helpful. He also argues that individual countries should be free to devise the best way to protect their 'own' forests (as a counter to charges of "green colonialism' directed against Europeans) but this seems to me to be a tad optimistic in hoping for enlightened behaviour. One should also recall the fact that forests in some parts of the globe (notably those near the equator) show a much greater up-take of carbon dioxide than those growing elsewhere (at higher latitudes). So some trees are more important to us than others. Will there be different carbon credits associated with them?

The Barrage at Severn

More detail on the debate is available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00dzyxv . It will be interesting to see what actually happens with respect to the 'credit crunch' as there are already suggestions that the European wide economic downturn might well lead to a 'relaxation' of carbon emission targets (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/oct/15/climatechange-carbonemissions).

Monday, 13 October 2008

Disappearing Dorset

It is timely to note (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/oct/13/conservation) that the National Trust has suggested that 200 miles of the south-west of England's coast is likely to disappear in the next 50 years due to rising sea levels. The endangered locations include Studland and Brownsea Island in Dorset.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Seeing the Changes 147


A warm weekend so the Common darter (Sympetrum striolatum) were still active in the sunshine.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Seeing the Changes 146

Yesterday's late hot spell of weather caused a green caterpillar to emerge in Loughor.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Hamster Jam?

It seems that animals including chicks and hamsters have been deemed 'dangerous pets' (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/oct/07/children.health.pets) for young children (who are likely to kiss them and to pop their unwashed hands in their mouths) by the American Academy of Paediatrics as they carry disease (e.g. Salmonella) and can be prone to 'bite, scratch or claw'. I personally don't think that 'traditional pets' (cats, dogs and parrots) are actually notably safer. It would be a pity, in my view, to limit children to a very prescribed list of acceptable companion animals. Perhaps better control of child-pet interactions is more appropriate?

Express Extinctions?

Disturbing news from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/oct/07/endangeredspecies.wildlife) that a 'conservative estimate' predicts that substantial numbers (between 25-33%) of land and marine mammals are 'critically endangered' and will be likely to face extinction in the near future. Their increasingly precarious status is largely blamed on human activities (climate change, hunting, fishing and deforestation) that seem very difficult to stop. Newly discovered species of mammal and Asian primates seem particularly at risk but, in contrast, a minority (some 5%) of threatened species belonging to this Class now have stable or increasing populations (as a result of conservation efforts). The report also notes that these are difficult times for many amphibians, birds and fish. I suspect that the prognosis for a good many species is not good.

Bear-faced Robbery?

Yet another example of the tension between people and conservation is seen in the recent responses of people in rural Romania to a hunti...