Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Seeing the Changes 179

The Hoary plantain (Plantago media) was in flower in Swansea and Mumbles. In the latter location, Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) was shooting and Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) was coming into leaf. In Swansea, the alien Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum) was in bloom, the flowers of the Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) starting to be revealed, Sea buckthorn (Rhamnus catharticus) coming into leaf and Biting stonecrop (Sedum acre) poking through.

Hot Dogs and Cats on Hot Tin Roofs?

The RSPCA is going to host a one-day conference on 'Climate Change: the Impact on Animal Welfare' on June 2nd. 'Global warming' would certainly have a considerable impact on the lives of 'pets and wildlife' but effects on pets are likely to be the least of our troubles (one could even argue that the western obsession with pets adds to the 'size' of the problems). I know that the organiser's intentions might well to be to get people who wouldn't normally think about climate change to do so by 'empathising' with their pet's plight but the topic does seem a touch contrived. The welfare of farm animals and humans are likely to be substantially impaired by a few degrees elevation in the ambient temperature of Europe (I seem to remember that recent hot summers that were no where near the increases predicted produced a dramatic surge in the deaths of elderly folk in southern France and Greece).

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Birder's Bonus 43

In Gowerton, a cock Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) was feeding in the fields. At the WWT in Penclacwydd, Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) and Ne-ne (Branta sandvicensis) were all proud parents.

Seeing the Changes 178

The Silver birch (Betula pendula) was coming into leaf in Loughor. At Langland, the Annual wall rocket (Diplotaxia muralis) was in flower. Lots of lambs (Ovis aries) were bouncing about in Gowerton where the dandelions were attracting Lonchaea chorea flies.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Taking It Personally

There seem to be a plethora of stories about people being injured or eaten by wild animals. Firstly, there is an account of a fruit picker in Indonesia dying as a result of his wounds after falling from a tree and being savaged by a waiting Komodo dragon (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/24/man-mauled-death-komodo-dragon). Then there was a recent item (http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/World-News/Australia-Crocodile-Attack-Human-Remains-Found-In-Crocodile-Infested-Swamp/Article/200903315242077?f=rss) about an 11 year old girl in Australia swimming in a lake being killed by a crocodile. There is also a graphic picture of a dead Bengal tiger in Assam that had apparently killed two people (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/picturesoftheday/5042558/Pictures-of-the-day-24-March-2009.html?image=1). These things happen to humans less frequently in modern times and there is no doubt that humans kill many more animals than vice versa but people do get very upset in response to such events. All of these animals are, however, big specialist predators that are only doing what they are designed to do. If we want to conserve them, I am afraid that we have to accommodate occasional human fatalities (although I accept that more can be done to minimise their occurrence- like not putting oneself into the predator's range of available options).

Birder's Bonus 42

The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch survey is out today (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article5970549.ece). It basically reiterates that there have been further declines in the numbers of House sparrows and Starlings, in spite of their continuing to occupy the top two slots for species recorded in UK gardens. The more striking news is that the Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus), although not being a 'proper tit', has increased its rank from 14th to 10th by now being spotted in more than 30% of gardens. Their numbers have apparently increased by almost 90%, a result it is argued of a succession of mild winters and the species developing a fondness for bird feeders.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Badgers About- But Not For Long?

There is every likelihood of an acrimonious row developing, given the news that the Rural Affairs Minister in the Welsh Assembly (Elin Jones) is to approve a 'trial' cull of badgers in north Pembrokeshire in an attempt to remove Bovine TB from dairy cattle herds (http://www.newswales.co.uk/?section=Agriculture&F=1&id=16637). This has been met with enthusiasm by farming interests and with dismay by badger groups. It is certainly the case that compensation for infected cattle in this region costs an awful lot of money (around £30m in annual compensation, a fact that appears to be focusing political attention ) and that Bovine TB is also found in a variable percentage of wild badgers. Who gives the disease to who is, however, debatable but, if in doubt, humans tend to blame the wild animal. Even agricultural folk recognise, however, that the TB screening of cattle is not perfect and that movement of these animals may be a factor in the spread of the disease. In general, attempts to control disease in this manner can exacerbate the situation as the removal of animals encourages movement of animals into the vacated area. In England, the alternative plan is to vaccinate badger populations against Bovine TB, a process that might result in stable, disease-free populations of these animals in locations that they share with cattle. Perhaps it might be instructive to see which approach works best.

Seeing the Changes 177

In Mumbles, Common scurvy-grass (Cochlearia officinalis) was quite profuse on the rocks. In West Cross, Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) was in bloom. In Swansea, Grey poplar (Populus x canescens), Beech (Fagus sylvatica), Common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) and Field woodrush (Luzula campestris) were all in flower.

Monday, 23 March 2009

A Black Mark for Greenwash?

It has been reported (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/mar/23/greenwash-advertising) that a Commons Committee is recommending help to protect 'shoppers' from 'greenwash' (the claiming or implying of exaggerated environmental benefits by companies or agencies as in the Shell advert showing flowers emanating from industrial chimneys). They advocate a new independently-monitored labelling scheme and greater powers for the Advertising Standards Agency and local Trading Standards officers to take erring companies to task. They also favour a requirement for motor manufacturers to have to display EU vehicle performance information. All this may help but we already know that advertisers can be quite ingenious about 'selling' their ideas. There is probably no substitute for people finding out more for themselves about products and being initially cynical about any 'green' claims. If it sounds too good, it probably is too good (to be true).

Birder's Bonus 41

Lots of birds hanging around in pairs such as Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and domesticated Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) and Sandy Water Park. Others, such as the Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus) and the Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) were collecting material that might be useful for nest making.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

The Elephant in the Room

The burgeoning world population of the human species is graphically illustrated by the population clock (http://math.berkeley.edu/~galen/popclk.html). There now seems little doubt that population growth in our species is at the root of many of the world's current and coming environmental problems including the availability of water (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7865603.stm). People have argued long and hard about whether there is such a thing as an 'optimal' or an 'appropriate' population level for humans for the entire world or for geographical sections of it (such as the UK). Extreme views range from 'technology and human ingenuity can deal with any number of people' to 'there's nothing one can do about human populations and their demands but eventually they will destroy themselves and a good deal of the planet'. I can't be as optimistic as the first group but find the second group a recipe for leaving everything to 'fate'. It seems to me that human population growth has to be recognised as a serious issue in any debates about global warming and global resources (whether we are talking about renewable or non-renewable components). What to do about it, however, is highly contentious in terms of human 'freedoms' and 'humanity'.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Seeing the Changes 176

The first butterfly of the year! A fresh-looking Comma (Polygonia c-album) in Clyne woods. In Langland (and all over the Gower), Gorse (Ulex europaeus) was putting on a floral spurt in the sunshine. There were also Common comfrey (Symphytum officinale), Ramsons (Allium ursinum), Rock cinquefoil (Potentilla ruprestris), Sweet violet (Viola odorata) and Shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) in bloom. In Bynea, shoots of Field horsetail (Equisetum arvense) were breaking through the tar macadam. There was also a 2nd butterfly, a Small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae). In Loughor, there were masses of Grey field speedwell (Veronica polita) and the first Wood forgetmenot (Myosotis sylvatica). In that location, the efforts of leaf cutting bees were much in evidence and the bronze medal for butterflies went to a Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni).

Birder's Bonus 40

It must be spring! Two Herring gulls (Larus argentatus) were 'going to work on an (goose) egg' in Singleton Park.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Seeing the Changes 175

The first visit this year from a male Early thorn moth (Selenia dentaria) in Loughor. In Swansea, the ornamental Cherry (Prunus sp) is in flower.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Zap That Mosquito!

Given the Comic Relief focus on the ravages of malaria in Africa, it is interesting to read (http://www.comicrelief.com/donate/malaria_no_more) that one of the claimed 'spin offs' of the US 'Starwars Defense System' may be a laser device to burn the wings off homing mosquitoes 100 yards away (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123680870885500701.html), having identified them and locked on to their buzz. The approach (a WMD or Weapon of Mosquito Destruction) is reportedly one supported by Bill Gates and the UN. I have to note, however, that, in situations where people apparently find it impossible to get access to low-tech but cheap mosquito nets, the idea of surrounding remote African villages by laser defense systems seems just a bit unlikely. Would they have reliable electricity supplies and people who would maintain and repair the equipment?
Incidentally, on the Comic Relief programme, the phrase "No parent should have to bury their child" was used several times (as in 'Lord of the Rings'). I certainly have every sympathy with the emotion expressed (I don't think I could handle any such thing at all well) but, having worked on the geneology of my family, I have been struck by the fact that the early deaths of infants and children was actually quite a common event in the UK only a couple of generations ago. The idea of infant death as being 'impossible' is a very recent and still quite regional concept.

Unhappy Hour?

Professor Sir Liam Donaldson's (the Government Chief Medical Officer) recommendation (following a similar idea from Scotland) that the minimum price of a unit of alcohol throughout the UK (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/4993299/Governments-top-doctor-recommends-price-hike-for-alcohol.html) seems broadly to chime with the attempt to 'price out' the negative health effects of chocolate. There is no doubt that alcohol (a fairly ubiquitous pretty non-specific drug) has considerable health effects in large numbers of people and these place considerable pressures on health services (e.g. liver transplants, broken ankles etc), police and court services (although the claimed link between alcohol and 'aggression' is not as simple as is being recently portrayed - alcohol does not convert choirboys into raging berzerkers!) and social services (dealing with marriage breakdown etc). My only concern is whether pricing is the appropriate way of dealing with these issues. I have some questions. What about the rather obvious fact that specifying a minimum price per booze unit will hit the poor to a much larger extent than the wealthy? I don't see any evidence that 'binge drinking' (something I seem to remember as being long the the British psyche, rather than being a recent 'invention') is less evident in the well-healed than those having modest means. How will the unit price be controlled when relatively massive amounts of alcohol can be brought in from abroad (again, perhaps, more so by well off folk)? What will be the situation with respect to 'home brewed' alcohol (that seems likely to take off again, if this recommendation is acted on) and how active will the police have to be (there will be expenses here) in relation to illegal distilling (which can have attendant dangers, due to impurities in the product)? Is this a case of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing?

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Seeing the Changes 174

In Loughor, the White sticky catchfly (Silene viscosa) was in flower. In that location, had the first Twin spot quaker moth (Orthosia munda) of the year and what looked suspiciously like an alien Harlequin beetle (Harmonia axyridis). The spring-like sunshine also brought out many bumble bees along with a female solitary bee Andrena haemorrhoea, Cluster-flies (Pollenia rudis) and the hoverfly Melanostoma scalare. The weather, in Bynea and Penclacwydd, resulted in lots of Common field speedwell (Veronica persica) flowering. In Swansea, the Three-cornered leek (Allium triquetrum) fills the air with the smell of garlic.

Seeing the Changes 1218

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