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.

Logging the Leaves!

A Birmingham 'inventor' has developed a supposedly 'carbon neutral' way of disposing of the 100 million tonnes of leaves shed annually by UK trees (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1226943/British-inventors-green-idea-using-leaves-make-logs.html). The patented 'Leaf Log' is made from dried leaves (that must take at least a little energy) and an unspecified bonding agent. The logs (sold individually wrapped in packs of 12) are said to burn for up to 3 hours and generate 28000 kilojoules of energy. This sounds like a great idea but, in one sense, the carbon in the leaves is actually being recycled to the atmosphere much more quickly than would be the case if the leaves were dealt with by combinations of earthworms, woodlice and fungi. Of course, in some locations (e.g. on roads and rail tracks) leaves have to be removed and converting this material to logs is probably better than putting the material in land fill. I can't help feeling that composting the material is a better option (in a carbon neutral sense).

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Footballing Dolphins?

I note that my comments on the Pembrokeshire dolphins 'playing football' with jellyfish were reported by the Western Mail (http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2009/10/17/jellyfish-pay-the-penalty-in-ocean-version-of-football-91466-24949850/). I suppose that I ought to have added that such play may serve a valuable function in these animals enabling the participants to explore their physical and sensory capabilities. One could even image the cetaceans using the technique to deal with some fish species or potential dangers.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Ratty's Return?

A British Waterways wildlife survey for 2009 (http://iberianature.com/britainnature/tag/british-waterways-wildlife/) has reported twice as many sightings for the Water vole (Arvicola terrestris) by the public on the UK's more than 3500 km of canals and rivers than were seen in 2008. Most were apparently seen on the Kennet and Avon canal in the deep south. This kind of survey does suggest that a positive change is occurring in this endangered mammal but the numbers are not the result of an exact science (there may be variable effort, differing access to locations or even changes in local enthusiasms in the different years). The survey also records birds (with Mallards, alien Canada geese and Mute swans being the most common species but there being interesting numbers of Kingfishers), frogs and butterflies.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Seeing the Changes 245





In Bynea, there were lots of brown Tawny grisette (Amantia fulva) toadstools. In Loughor, a 2-spot ladybird (Adalia bipunctata) was in evidence along with a mass of the tree-loving fungus Gymnopilus junonius. At Burry Port harbour, many edible fungi with bright yellow gills were seen (Suillus luteus) whilst fossil plants from the coal measures were clearly evident in the sea defences.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Seeing the Changes 244



At Penclacwydd, the Hazel (Corylus avellana) had already started to wave its male catkins and many of the now leafless Goat willow (Salix caprea) appeared to have large accumulations (most wingless but some with wings) of Giant willow aphids (Tuberolachnus salignus) on their stems. In Loughor, Osier (Salix viminalis) catkins were starting to poke through.

Mega Moorhen


Spent Monday and Tuesday at the National Wetlands Centre Wales with level 2 students. Amongst the interesting beasts viewed was a mutant wild Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) with plumage that probably said 'please eat me' to any passing birds of prey (the presence of people and the captive birds may have offered some protection). A typical Moorhen is shown directly above with the oddity above that.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Birdies or Birdies?

The RSPB have suggested that the UK's 2600 golf courses (with a total area of 140,000 hectares) have great potential as wild life refuges (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/02/rspb-bird-golf-course). Although some courses take a great deal of water (this tends to be more of a problem in hotter countries such as Spain) or use excessive amounts of insecticides and herbicides, many or good for birds, lizards and butterflies (especially in the so-called 'rough' areas and water bodies that golfers hope to avoid). a number of golf courses (e.g. the V&A) now very successfully include wild life in their management plans.

Bags I First!

There seems to be a lot of fuss about Wales (http://www.thisissouthwales.co.uk/southwalesnews/Deadline-charging-plastic-bags-revealed/article-1478285-detail/article.html) claiming to be the first UK location to devote energies to replacing 'free' plastic shopping bags with paid-for items that are more re-usable (and hence lessen the drain on oil reserves, limit the need for land fill and reduce the danger to wild life, including jellyfish-seeking turtles). Many other countries (e.g. Ireland and Italy) have have been much quicker to act in this respect and I note that as much as 5 years ago many French supermarkets charged for tough plastic shopping bags that I still use today.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Hen Harrier on the Edge

The Hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) appears to be on the edge of extinction in England with only six breeding pairs being recorded in the last season (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/earth-environment/article6898173.ece). This seems to be partially down to a tough winter for these hunting birds, a relative scarcity of prey and direct (but illegal) persecution of the raptor by keepers of grouse moors. It seems rather sad that there is not room for this bird in our wild places. I have no picture of this bird, so a vulture with something dead is the best I can do.

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...