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.

Seeing the Changes 1218

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