Thursday, 31 December 2009

Downunder Logic?

Sorry but I couldn't resist this one! Reports on the news about Sydney (Australia) welcoming in the new decade with 5000kg of explosives to generate a 12 minute firework display that was beamed around many parts of the world (http://www.news.com.au/national/sydney-fireworks-to-awe-a-billion/story-e6frfkvr-1225815042186). The display uses lots of blue (a difficult firework colour) and microchips (to enhance visibility). The Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, stated that she "hoped the theme would encourage people to think about the environment and turn over a 'new green leaf'". That is a pretty odd way of attempting to get environmental messages across to the masses!

Happy 2010 to All in the Blogosphere!

With my last post of 2009, I would like to wish all readers an excellent 2010! May things improve at all levels (from person to planet)!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Cat Flap Flap

Developer, Redrow, is apparently intending to construct 450 homes in Farnborough, Hampshire with the purchasers permanently banned from keeping any dogs or cats (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6968548.ece). This is said to be because the development is about 1.5 km away from a 8300 hectare area of protected heathland that is home to the Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata), Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) and Woodlark (Lullula arborea). It has, of course, been estimated that cats account for vast numbers of small mammals and birds each year and dogs can be an important source of disturbance. Even the RSPB, however, feel that such a ban is unenforceable. Perhaps such a statement of 'intent' plays well with planning committees?

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Railing Against the Unfairness of it All!

There seems to be developing momentum in the campaign against the proposed £60 bn high speed rail link between London and Scotland (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6968490.ece). The proposal is welcomed by the Scots on economic grounds. The idea of reducing the need for many of the internal air flights within the UK also seems sensible in terms of minimising carbon dioxide emissions but (apparently) the proposed routes will 'clip the edge of the Lake District National Park' and plough through the Chilterns in Buckinghamshire. The development is said to inevitably 'rip up the finest countryside' but, I suspect, that the fact that a number of extremely rich people live near the possible route is a bigger threat to the proposal. NIMBYs rule OK?

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Move to Survive

The Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution in the USA have unveiled a study looking at the likely impact of the spread of global warming on the survival of individual species of animals and plants (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/23/global-warming-spreading-quarter-mile-year). They estimate that the average impact of warming spreads at around quarter of a mile per year; so species will have to move faster than this, if they are to survive (pretty obviously, movement is harder for some species than others). Their studies also suggest that species in mountainous areas (where the velocity of the 'wave' of global warming spread is slower) are much less vulnerable than counterparts from flat flooded grasslands, mangroves and deserts. The study also maintains that most protected areas for important organisms are too small and fragmented to easily accommodate the necessary movements.

Birder's Bonus 63





A pair of Common merganser (Mergus merganser) were seen on the ice-surrounded Loughor estuary. There were also Common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos). Starling (Sternus vulgaris) sang in the trees. A young, female Blackbird (Turdus merula) was so engrossed in feeding that she allowed a very close approach. On the last of the ice days (Christmas), there was much wader activity on the deserted beach at Pembrey. Post ice age in Loughor, we had repeated visits to our peanuts by a Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major).

Monday, 21 December 2009

Seeing the Changes 252



Lots of snow and ice here on the shortest day. Strangely, in Loughor, a brave, green caterpillar climbed towards the light and the Ivy-leaved toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) was in bloom.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Seeing the Changes 251


Had the first local sprinkling of snow. In spite of this, a few Giant willow aphids (Tuberolachnus salignus) were clinging on in Penclacwydd. In Bynea, only Gorse (Ulex europaeus) was in flower.

Climate Change: Not the Way We Are Programmed?

There appears to be an element of gloom and despondency about the outcome of the just-completed Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/copenhagen). I have had discussions with folk close to me about why so many people either claim that they do not believe that humans have contributed to climate change and/or dislike the messages that the 'global warming lobby' put out. When you get a cold snap, like the present one in northern Europe, it's even difficult to get people to accept that global warming is happening. My personal view is that nobody likes messages like 'prepare to enjoy yourselves less and accept that your standard of living must fall'; 'accept that there are too many of you' or even 'it will be OK because, when the human species has gone, the planet can return to equilibrium' (possibly ruled over by the octo Einsteins). I made up the last bit. Humans, like every other species on the planet, are guided by Darwinian principles where getting a big share of resources to improve your chances of leaving more copies of your genes is generally of paramount importance. Altruism (especially towards people we don't know very well) about something as complex and intangible as 'climate' doesn't come at all easily. In addition, our political systems make it dangerous for 'leaders' to resist a consensus view. Marcus Brigstocke's take on the Copenhagen SAT conference, as seen through the eyes of Dr Suess (on BBC 4's 'The Now Show'), is the only thing that has raised a smile in me (catch it, if you can locate it).

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Octo Einstein

Julian Finn and Mark Norman of Museum Victoria in Melbourne have reported (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091214121953.htm) what they think is the first example of tool use in an invertebrate. They observed several specimens of an octopus Amphioctopus marginatus, in the seas around North Sulawesi and Bali, collecting half coconut shells that had been disposed of by vendors and then carrying them to 'home' locations. When they arrived at their chosen spot, they assembled two halves to make "a spherical hideout". There is no doubt that the octopus is amongst the most intelligent of the animals that lack a back-bone (they are probably brighter than many fish, amphibia and reptiles). The behaviour seems to be an adaptation of the cephalopod using discarded mollusc shells.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Birder's Bonus 62



Lots of activity by mobs of Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus) in Gorseinon and a male Bullfinch (Pyrrula pyrrula) on the prowl in Bynea. Also news from the UK British Trust for Ornithology suggesting that some 16 bird species appear to live longer than previously thought (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/biology_evolution/article6954742.ece). They put this new information down to having developed better rings (there is a bit of a debate about whether rings reduce the efficiencies of these animals). Amongst the new record holders was a Bar-tailed godwit (Limosa lapponica) that lived (it's now an ex-godwit) for 34 years (the previous record for the species was 32 years).

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Jumping Jacks Flash (It's a Gas, Gas, Gas)!!

Disturbing news that Swansea bay (with its SSSI for birds and occasional Harbour porpoise population) has been selected as one of the sites where exploratory drilling to locate coal for potential gasification will be allowed (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/wales/2009/green_wales/8403517.stm). The idea that this is a 'green technology' is stretching things dramatically. Not only will the drilling cause disturbance and potential pollution of the environment, but any gas would be burnt releasing yet more carbon dioxide.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

It's a No Brain(coral)er!

The propaganda is flying in connection with the Copenhagen Climate Change conference. One of the more biological and effective is a little item by Earth Watch in association with the Zoological Society of London (http://www.youtube.com/zslvideo) on the potential demise of coral reefs (there are several versions of varying length). The footage has been shot in real locations and one can't really argue with the basic premise that these marine structures are in all probability on the way out. Check it out and see what you think. You might also want to watch the 10 minute version.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Seeing the Changes 250

It seems to have rained forever! In Penclacwydd, the moisture appears to have encouraged the appearance of Orange peel fungus (Peziza aurantia) on dead Gorse branches.

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen!

Interesting juxtapositions in the Monday 7th December copy of the Independent newspaper. Firstly, they distribute a booklet from the Met Office entitled "Warming: Climate change-the facts". Then a headline warns that, in the UK, the rich and the middle income folk are likely to have to undergo substantial reductions in their standards of living in the immediate future(http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/big-squeeze-hits-middle-classes-and-rich-1835494.html). Thirdly, that Professor Kevin Anderson, a senior climate change scientist at Manchester University, has described the proposed cuts 'on the table' at the Copenhagen climate change conference as being 'token' and incapable of limiting the temperature rise to the 2 degrees Centigrade (http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/greenhouse-gas-cuts-just-token-gestures-1835499.html), guessed to be the maximum that can be reasonably tolerated. Lastly, it is suggested, largely because the server involved is in Siberia and the analysis 'professional' , that the 'convenient' leaking of the UEA Climate Change Research Unit emails just before the conference can be linked to the Russian secret services (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/was-russian-secret-service-behind-leak-of-climatechange-emails-1835502.html). Sounds like a script from 'Spooks'! No wonder bankers are fighting to keep their bonuses. It's all a bit depressing on what is already a wet Monday.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Taking a Pop at Population

A new initiative, the Optimal Population Trust, has been advocated by Saint David (Attenborough) and others (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/03/carbon-offset-projects-climate-change). It enables rich nations and their folk to offset their carbon emissions, not by planting trees, but by funding birth control in parts of the world where people currently have no access to it. The funding would apparently only be directed to people who want contraception (it has been estimated that there are about 80m unwanted pregnancies per year in such locations). The rationale behind the scheme is the calculation that spending £4 on birth control saves around a tonne of carbon dioxide in emissions whereas the same savings would require £8 to be spent on tree planting, £15 on wind power, £31 on solar energy and a massive £56 on hybrid vehicle technology. You get a bigger bang for your buck! It is certainly the case that human overpopulation is a major contributor to current environmental problems (the total savings generated by curtailing population growth would actually be greater than simply reducing greenhouse gas emissions). It will be interesting, however, to see how religious and political groups respond to this suggestion. I suspect it will be regarded as interference in areas supposedly taboo to science.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Womb for Improvement?

Some footballers (with their advanced medical training!), e.g. Robin van Persie of Arsenal, are apparently trying a Serbian placental treatment of sports injuries (http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/World-News/Arsenal-Footballer-Robin-Van-Persie-To-Have-Placenta-Fluid-Massaged-Into-His-Ankle-To-Help-Him-Heal/Article/200911315455443). It is claimed that the fluid (from horses?) helps heal soft tissue complaints but there doesn't to be much by the way of detailed experimental investigations of efficacy. I don't suppose, however, that it could hurt.

Friday, 27 November 2009

It Doesn't Bear Thinking About Cobber!

There is an interesting account of the 'koala wars' in Australia (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/23/koala-extinction-australia-political-war). The marsupial Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) was given its generic name, meaning 'pouched bear', in 1816 by the French naturalist de Blainwill but it is, of course, not remotely a bear. It neither looks much like a bear nor acts like one. This eucalyptus-gobbling specialist might well have been more reasonably called a 'panda' had it been named by a Chinese naturalist. The marsupials have generally been given names by immigrants that reflect beasts with whom the namers were familiar in their home locations. In spite of its unpleasant temperament, the koala has had a makeover to become an emblem of Australia. Unfortunately, it is predicted to become extinct 'within 30 years' which is causing local angst (especially as humans are largely responsible for its plight).

Getting the Hump

There has been consternation from PETA and others (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/26/australia-thirsty-camels-animal-welfare) about the possibility that the Australian Northern Territories government approving the shooting of some of the 6000 thirsty feral camels that are besieging the town of Docker River. These 'ships of the desert' are the progeny of animals that were initially imported to help with the exploration of the Australian Outback. They became redundant with the introduction of motorised transport and were released in the hope that they would just 'fade away'. The camels actually thrived and bred in enormous numbers and have been linked (like the rabbit) to habitat destruction (with possible losses of unique indigenous species). More tellingly, unlike sheep, they don't have any economic importance. The beasts are thirsty because of the continuing drought (so shooing them away might well result in a more painful death). It seems to me that there is little else that the authorities can do unless the camels are taken to the equivalent of a donkey sanctuary and neutered.

Bye-bye Dubai?

News of financial problems in Dubai (http://www.economywatch.com/economy-business-and-finance-news/dubai-world-defaults-on-debt-panic-button-has-been-pressed-27-11.html) have been growing of late with the latest development (although relatively small 'beer' in terms of the current financial crash) and have been linked to a world-wide decline in stock values (possibly because many people are on holiday in the USA and the Arabic world, so there is nothing much else to get excited about). I would have thought that these were not great times for one of the less oil rich Emirates to be involved in major building developments including the low-lying artificial islands that they are creating at Palm Island. The link between oil and sea level rise is almost too obvious to note!

Seeing the Changes 249

Visited, in Swansea, by an Autumn green carpet moth (Chloroclysta miata).

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Holy Cow!

There is an interesting illustration (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/uk_politics/8379759.stm) of how not quite thinking things through can (almost) result in some very strange policy decisions. Apparently, the UK Government was initially enthusiastic about a plan to reduce the UK's contribution to global warming and improve the health of the population by proposing a cull of 30% of the country's cattle. Cows, even on 'special' grass, produce methane (from both ends) which is a very potent 'greenhouse gas'. In addition, their meat and dairy products, when eaten in excess, are risk factors in heart disease. A win-win situation? Not quite. It was eventually pointed out by DEFRA that this would be likely to result in a surge in the import of beef and dairy products from abroad (with associated increases in the 'carbon footprint'). This extra production might well be associated with further destruction of rain forest (in places like Brazil) to generate more land for cattle. Ho hum! Back to the drawing board. The cows breathe a sigh of relief.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Birder's Bonus 61

There was masses of evidence of Carrion crow (Corvus corone) breaking Edible mussel and Slipper limpet shells from the beach by dropping them from a height on the cycle path between Blackpill and West Cross. A former University colleague emailed me about a 'crow' (probably the same species) softening a crust of bread from a discarded sandwich in a puddle. These are bright birds!

Seeing the Changes 248


In spite of the wind and torrential rain, fungi were spouting in West Cross and Winter heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) were in bloom.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

A Climate of Fear?

There has been a fuss about the apparent hacking into and release of emails between staff of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Norwich(http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/nov/23/global-warming-leaked-email-climate-scientists). These were seized upon (as was seemingly the intention of the hackers) by 'climate change deniers' (the very term is an example of 'negative apperception' or choosing words that put a negative label on something) as evidence that parts of the scientific community have been involved in a conspiracy to concoct the 'illusion' of human involvement in global warming. It seems evident that some of the emails are questionable (perhaps reflecting a modern tendency for scientists to stray into advocacy when this should be left to politicians and lawyers). Other emails might well be inappropriately 'jokey' as scientists (poor souls) are often prone to 'gallows humour'. The thing I find surprising is the surprise that the hacking occurred (especially in a University).

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Madagascar!

Many children have responded enthusiastically to the computer-animated comedy films by DreamWorks entitled Madagascar and Madagascar 2 with a planned Madagascar 3 apparently featuring Victoria Beckham. In the films, the computer-generated animals (of all types) generally thrive on the island, having escaped from adversity elsewhere. Actuality appears, however, not nothing like so happy. This last refuge of the lemurs (geographical isolation initially saved them from some of the beasts portrayed in the films) is now said to threatened by political unrest, that has led to invasions of land that was formerly set aside to protect these early primates by the previous government
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/17/madagascar-lemurs-conservation-forests-extinction). The main culprits appear to be loggers intent on extracting what remains of the valuable trees (such as ebony) gone from other locations, farmers expanding on to the land using 'slash-and-burn' techniques and people seeking bush meat. Of course, the root problem is human overpopulation compounded by a severe drought that has had major impacts on the island.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Santa's Little Helpers Suffer?

It appears (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/earth-environment/article6917367.ece) that Reindeer imported into the UK, often as augmentations for Santa's grottoes, are prone to premature death. These animals often appear to pick up infections from agricultural stock or suffer from mineral loss (perhaps due to inadequate diets). The requirements of these animals appear not to be well-known as the beasts are generally kept by non-specialist farmers (they might well do better in zoos), more familiar with cows and sheep. This is just another illustration of the difficulties that are sometimes encountered when one removes animals from their rather specialist local environments to very different conditions.

Mini-beast Charter

It has been reported (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/article6917331.ece) that new 'Citizenship' lessons for schoolchildren will attempt to teach them 'respect' for worms, ants and bees (in addition to more traditional 'animals'). It was noted that many children do not currently regard insects, snails and worms as animals, do not appreciate their importance to environments and are ignorant of the responsibility of humans to provide for their needs. This seems to be generally a good idea (if a bit of an oversell of the 'humans as custodians of the planet' idea) but it does sit a bit oddly with TV programmes devoted to the violent deaths of 'pests' such as rats. I also wonder if kids will genuinely get to appreciate the merits of wasps, houseflies, mosquitoes and leeches. In which case, 'respect' for animals becomes a matter of choice.

Birder's Bonus 60

Noticed a group of 6 Magpies (Pica pica pica) busily foraging on the strand line of the Loughor estuary at Bynea. There have been lots of recent reports of members of the gull and crow families getting more inventive in their food-seeking behaviour.

Seeing the Changes 247





The wind and torrential rain have certainly made it the time of the Fungi Kingdom. In Loughor, a Shaggy ink cap (Coprinus comatus) did its impression of a lawyer's wig. In the same location, Blewit (Lepista saeva) and what was probably Leccinum scabrum also made an appearance. There were lots of brown fungi under the Goat willow in the garden. In Penclacwydd, there was a battered Lactarius rufus.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Voters and Science

Democracy is a great thing (the least worse system of governance as I think Churchill claimed). So it's interesting to read that a majority of 'voters' in a Times poll apparently do not believe that humans have any responsibility for climate change (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6916648.ece). Even weirder, the UK political party for whom the individual is likely to vote is said to influence their 'decision'. I can't help remembering that, in a survey of people who claimed to be interested in science (to that the extent that they watched such programmes on TV), as many people thought that the sun went around the Earth as vice versa; most thought that humans and dinosaurs were on the planet at the same time; a massive majority thought you could cure a viral infection with an antibiotic and that you could make radioactive milk safe by boiling it! And we are surprised about the results of a 'democratic' survey of the general population on something as complex as probable climate change?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Seeing the Changes 246


In spite of the weather, Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) were still in flower in Blackpill.

Birder's Bonus 59


Awful weather and a high tide so masses of Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) were gathered in their hundreds all facing the same way. The group was joined by much smaller numbers of Black-head gulls (Larus ridibundus), Herring gulls (Larus argentatus) and Lesser black-backed gulls (Larus fuscus). Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) and Carrion crows (Corvus corone) wheeled around the assemblage with the latter dropping mussel shells on to the cycle path from a height to break them.

A Song Unheard?

There is a somewhat odd finding that highly toxic Pumpkin toadlets from Brazil apparently cannot hear their own mating calls ( https://w...