Wednesday, 22 November 2017

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 hunting ban on Brown bears (and other carnivores) (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/22/how-the-brown-bear-became-public-enemy-number-one-in-rural-romania). It is estimated that there are around 6000 Brown bears in that country (there are paid tours to see them in the wild) but rural folk have claimed that stopping the activities of local hunting associations has destroyed the 'natural balance' between bears and people. Bears are blamed for 'attacks' on people, livestock and crops and some locals are developing poisonous baits to kill them. Getting people to tolerate potentially dangerous animals is not easy (especially if they dont see an economic benefit).

D-Days?


Vitamin D can be manufactured under the skin by exposure to UV light. People living nearer the poles (especially if they have darker complexions), are likely to have to take in more of this material, in the winter (when sunlight in weaker and clothing heavier), via their diets, if they want healthy muscles and bones. In deed, it has now been suggested that this vitamin has a beneficial effect, preventing rheumatoid arthritis, meaning that people should be encouraged to take supplements, especially when days are short (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/nov/21/vitamin-d-may-help-prevent-rheumatoid-arthritis-suggests-study). Some people have even suggested that vitamin D should be added to some common foods (as iodine is added to table salt).

Monday, 20 November 2017

Seeing the Changes 1242


Saw literally 100s of the alien Ring-necked parakeet (Psittacula krameri) roosting by the M4 motorway near the turn off for Windsor. Saw two of the same beasties hassling a Grey squirrel in Crystal Palace park.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Seeing the Changes 1241


There are some impressively bright lichens on the wooden bridge in Bynea.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Face Off?


Disturbing news that academics have apparently been able to sufficiently differentiate folk as introverts or extroverts, on the basis of a single Facebook 'like', and to subsequently get the cohorts to show a 40-50% increase in positive responses to targeted advertisements (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/nov/13/facebook-likes-targeted-advertising-psychological-persuasion-academics-research). These academics did not have a financial interest in the research. The study seems a little preliminary as the 'likes' were associated with fairly 'blatant' indicators (such as liking the Lady Gaga site) and the targeted advertising also (for beauty products or gaming apps) seemed pretty focused to appeal to the type of personality. Having said that, a pattern of 'likes' (often over many years) could be very revealing, enabling manipulators (advertisers, politicians, trouble-makers and criminals) to focus their attentions on likely 'marks'. It is probable that this has already happened. We do seem to need to think further on such issues. Think carefully, if you are tempted to 'like' this!

Monday, 13 November 2017

The Codger's Cogitations 1.


I had a very interesting conversation recently with a  younger person who claimed that they "believed in Science, as they didn't believe in anything else". Age slows down the mental responses but I wish I could have made the following points (not because I don't value Science also but because lay people need reminding) at the time. The first is that Science has no role in 'magical thinking' (this is one reason why some mathematically-based studies, like Economics, are not really, in my view, the province of Science). The second is that Science deals in probabilities (and probability and risk are poorly understood issues by some scientists as well as the general public). This means that your scientific 'fact' might always (however, improbably) be wrong. This is a feature actually used to attack Science by people who want a world of absolutes. The third is that scientists are, by their training and predispositions(?) nit-pickers, so you can always find someone who takes a contrary view or places an emphasis elsewhere. Add in the fact that Science, as presented to the public, generally involves simplifications and you have a somewhat confusing mix!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Museums in a Time Warp?



It is disturbing to note that, even with potential support from the National Lottery and other bodies, around 40% of regional museums have been forced, by financial restrictions, to cut their opening hours (https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/nov/12/new-battle-hasting-save-museums-cuts-reduce-opening-hours). Museums (along with libraries) are institutions that are ripe for cutting when local government funding becomes inadequate (most cannot charge general admittance as they have been designated as being 'free' ). Another way of enthusing the next generation outside the capital consequently appears to be in serious jeopardy. Museums are not simply, in my view, replaced by apps.

Scratching the Bottom


The great success of Blue Planet 2 on BBC has apparently provided a big boost for companies offering commercial submarine tours in many parts of the globe (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/12/blue-planet-submarines-tourism-oceans-tourism). Tours may shortly be available to view the wreck of the Titanic deep in the Atlantic as well as to marvel at marine life in the Pacific, the Arctic and the Antarctic. In one sense, it is nice that people are enthused by the programmes but there are some downsides to this trend. Rather obviously, the increased submarine activity might well further damage (mechanically and by chemical and light pollution) some of the chosen locations. In addition, the punters may well not realise that the action in the programme is, in many cases,  the result of careful editing of hundreds of hours of recording  (they may consequently be disappointed by what they see). Finally, some of the new aquanauts are likely to be physically and emotionally problematic submariners.

Seeing the Changes 1240


In spite of the cold, a Feathered thorn (Colotois pennaria) appeared outside my Loughor house.

Friday, 10 November 2017

How Long Can the Luck of the Creatures From the Dark Side Last?


A recent study by 2 Japanese scientists has found that the dinosaur extinction was a very unlucky event (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/nov/09/unlucky-dinosaurs-no-extinction-if-asteroid-had-hit-almost-any-other-part-of-earth). The 9 km-wide asteroid thumped into what is now the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and, at that time, it was part of only 13% of the Earth's surface where there were enough hydrocarbon reserves to generate a dust cloud sufficient to produce the world-wide climate change (with a chronic cutting off of sunlight and a 10 degree Celsius reduction in average temperature). This led to more than 3/4 of animals on land and in the sea being driven to extinction. Of course, what was bad news for the dinosaurs was very good news for the Mammals (whose retinal structures were rod dominated, suggesting that, whilst dinosaurs were around, had been limited to a nocturnal life-style). And so, we have the age of the Mammals. It is interesting to speculate that, if the asteroid had hit almost anywhere else, we would not now be potentially facing a mass extinction event largely driven by human activities (the so-called Anthropocene).

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

It's Nuts!


There are lots of angry folk complaining that the makers of Nutella spread have 'sneaked in' changes to the formula (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/nov/07/choc-horror-fans-outraged-by-nutellas-secret-recipe-change). The company have reportedly basically increased the sugar content from 55.9% to 56.3% and the fat content (by the addition of skimmed milk powder) from 7.5% to 8.7%, whilst reducing actual hazelnut content. People don't like such changes but the changes are hardly converting a superfood into a health hazard (the sugar content of both versions is 'off the scale'). Given the incidence of obesity and type 2 diabetes, one might have thought the pressure was to reduce sugar content!

Following the Herd?


Sheep don't have very good PR, generally being regarded as being passive and lacking any interest in their surroundings. Having said that, it has been known for many years that mother sheep can distinguish the bleat of their lamb from all others in the herd. Scientists at Cambridge have now demonstrated that Welsh Mountain sheep, not only can visually recognise the facial characteristics of their handler but can be taught to distinguish celebrities (e.g. Barack Obama and Emma Watson) from other folk with accuracies approaching those seen in humans (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/nov/08/is-it-baa-rack-obama-sheep-able-to-recognise-celebrities-say-neuroscientists). This is not only a finding that gives sheep more personality but may also be used to gain a better understanding of Huntingdon's disease (a strain of sheep with this condition has been derived).

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Limpet Mine?


Uses seem to have been found, by the Biofirm Mikota, for the alien Slipper limpet (Crepidula fornicata) that is now almost ubiquitous on Welsh beaches (www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-41787855). The mollusc can be 'mined' for its respiratory pigment, haemocyanin, that can be used in the treatment of breast and bladder cancers. In addition, the collagen from its muscular foot can be extracted for use as a 'packing material' in restorative medicine. They might even manage to get the numbers down.

Foodies Prepare for Brexit?


There has been a spate of stories about people attempting to grow high value food ingredients in the UK. I have recently heard about the growing of the flowers to produce the spice, saffron (repeatedly said to be 'more valuable than gold on a weight for weight basis'). Other folk are encouraging the growth of black truffle fungi in the root systems of imported oaks. Tea is now grown in Cornwall. This, of course, is not to mention the activities of British vineyards.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Climate Change Pessimism Viewed a Crime?


There has been a rather sad account by the birder and essayist, Jonathan Franzen, who clearly feels that he has been attacked by components of bodies concerned about climate change, not because he is a denier, but mainly because he has no belief in 'the 10 years to save the planet' argument (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/04/jonathan-franzen-too-late-to-save-world-donald-trump-environment). He basically argues that the 10 year figure has been quoted for decades, in spite of the situation worsening over that same period. He also thinks that bodies such as the US Audubon Society are too quick to jump to climate change as the peril for birds when habitat loss and hunting are more immediate threats. He is clearly pessimistic about humans getting their collective act together to limit climate change, pointing out that no country has actually committed to leave 'their' hydrocarbons (in the form of oil or gas) in the ground. He apparently believes that countries are driven by short-term financial issues and that even environmental bodies use the 10 year argument to drive recruitment and increase donations. It seems that there is no space for a pessimist (realist?). 

Marine Rag and Bone Men


There is a disturbing report that many of the marine war graves of Asia are being rapidly illegally stripped of the metals (https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2017/nov/03/worlds-biggest-grave-robbery-asias-disappearing-ww2-shipwrecks). The graves in question, associated with the remains of hundreds of bodies, are sunken American, Australian, British and Japanese vessels from World War 2. What I did not appreciate is that steel from such ships has increased value as, being produced prior to 1945, is radiation free. The metal is consequently very desirable  for use in the production of Geiger counters and other scientific instruments.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Galloping Greenhouse Gases


Recent reports suggest that the atmospheric concentrations of 'greenhouse' carbon dioxide were in 2016  at their highest level for some 3 million years (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/30/global-atmospheric-co2-levels-hit-record-high). The rocketing CO2  levels (with effects on both climate change and acidification of the oceans) have been blamed on a combination of human activity and the el Nino weather event in the Pacific region but the consequences might well be extreme (and suggest that attempts to limit the release of this gas are currently inadequate). Not a good start for the enlightened 'fight-back' to counter anthropogenic effects!

Cephalopod Capers?


There have been reports of strange land invasions by up to 25 Common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) on the beaches of New Quay in Ceredigion (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/oct/30/mystery-of-octopuses-found-walking-on-welsh-beach). The animals appeared to be disorientated and there has been unsupported speculation about whether this behaviour was triggered by recent storms and/or the confusing effects of the street lighting in New Quay. The behaviour is unusual but is clearly detrimental to the species and needs detailed investigation.

Missing Lynx


A young, female Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) has escaped from a small zoo in West Wales (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/oct/30/lynx-search-for-lillith-continues-west-wales-borth-wild-animal-kingdom). This elusive big cat has been extinct in Britain for quite some time (but some enthusiasts would like to bring it back to our forests). These animals seem good at escaping and are not easy to recapture. They generate differing responses in farmers (who regard them as dangers to their livestock) and the zoo keepers (who worry that their 'harmless' beast might be injured by farmers). Evidence of the confusion is evidenced by one caller who was convinced the lynx was in his garden- it turned out to be a sheep!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Seeing the Changes 1239



Winter is kept at bay somewhat. Winter heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) was in flower in Loughor. A hardy Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) flitted around Bynea.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Acid Trip


There has, perhaps, been too little attention directed to the effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide on ocean acidification, as a consequence of the gas's combination with water to form carbonic acid (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/23/ocean-acidification-deadly-threat-to-marine-life-finds-eight-year-study). The focus has tended to be, thus far, on the difficulties reducing the pH would have on shelled organisms, such as molluscs and crustaceans, but recent studies suggest that many advanced species (fish and marine mammals and birds) would also find it difficult to cope with the changed conditions. Acidification would be accompanied by climate change and the only organisms thought likely to deal with this combination are bacteria and other micro-organisms. Perhaps we would be returning the oceans to the primordial soup! 

Monday, 23 October 2017

Seeing the Changes 1238


An unusual moth came to the light last night.

Seeing the Changes 1237


White dead nettle (Lamium album) still blooms by the Motorway access in Worsley.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Before They Croak


Police in Turkey have reportedly 'rescued' some 7,500 frogs from 5 men with a van and returned them to their wild habitat (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/18/replenish-the-swamp-turkey-returns-7500-trafficked-frogs-to-the-wild). The frog's legs are delicacies in France and China, meaning that the illegal 'catch' had economic value.  I am not sure how effective the return process was- pouring them into a single location is likely to attract lots of predators. 

Oranges are not only Orange


It has been reported (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/oct/18/tesco-stocks-green-oranges-in-drive-to-reduce-food-waste) that Tesco is to stock green-skinned easy-peeler Satsumas and Clementines in an effort to reduce food waste. The fruit are said to be perfectly ripe but the unusually hot weather in Spain has produced the colour change. This seems a sensible move but I suspect that some customers will be resistant to the idea.

Insect Armageddon?


A 27 year study in Germany has looked, using systematic collection techniques, at the total masses of flying insects (flies, bees, wasps, butterflies and moths etc) to be found in Nature Reserves across the country (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/18/warning-of-ecological-armageddon-after-dramatic-plunge-in-insect-numbers). It was found that, over this period, insects, in these generally agricultural regions, declined to about a quarter of their initial values. Flying insects include many important pollinators as well as acting as items in diets of dragonflies, fishes, frogs, some birds and important mammals (including bats). The authors conclude that they have been witnessing a profound breakdown of ecological systems that are likely to be mirrored in many other countries. They seem uncertain whether intense agriculture (with its monocultures) and/or the use of insecticides have leading roles in this phenomenon.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Seeing the Changes 1236


Hurricane Ophelia also blew a Green lacewing (Chrysopa 7-punctata) into my house.

Birder's Bonus 176


Surprised to see a Common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) dart out of a water-filled ditch by the cycle track in Bynea.

Farting Shellfish


It has been reported by Swedish scientists that shellfish including oysters, clams and cockles produce substantial (but not as substantial as cows) amounts of methane and nitrous oxide (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/shortcuts/2017/oct/16/are-flatulent-shellfish-really-contributing-to-climate-change). These are powerful 'greenhouse gases' that are likely to impact on climate change. The effects are likely to be most powerful in locations where these bivalves are cultured (usually in shallow, enclosed areas of the sea) at relatively high densities. 

Friday, 13 October 2017

Sole Survivor


It probably pays not to get too familiar with your catch. There has been a recent report of a man saved from death by choking by a paramedic after 'kissing' the small Dover sole he had hauled up (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/oct/12/paramedics-save-man-after-whole-fish-jumps-down-throat). The fish allegedly 'jumped down' his throat, blocking his airway. The man was saved but the fish died.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Seeing the Changes 1235


Lots of Sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) around the Singleton Park campus of Swansea University.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Seeing the Changes 1234




After the rain in Bynea, the hairies emerge. Larvae of the Knot grass (Aranicta rumicis) and the Pale tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) moths.

Railway Sandwiches


Good news that all trains will shortly have to stop dropping human excrement from toilets on to the rail lines (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/oct/10/train-toilets-to-no-longer-empty-on-to-tracks), removing it instead from storage containers in depots. I must admit to being totally unexcited by the news that this move will reduce the crops of tomatoes on some lines thought to result from the well-fertilised seeds from consumed cheese and tomato sandwiches!

Rock On!


The good news and the bad news. The good news is that an asteroid, the 'size of a house' (a small bungalow or a mansion?) will miss the Earth today as it passes between our planet and the moon (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/aug/11/close-encounter-asteroid-2012-tc4-size-of-a-house-near-miss-with-earth) being some 44,000 km from our orbit. The bad news, is that we know about this body but many others are, as yet, undocumented. Oh, and by the way, this is a second visit by 2012 TC4 since 2012 and it's getting closer!

Chicken Runny


Apparently reassuring news from the Food Standards Agency that pregnant women; babies and even ye olde folk can again eat boiled eggs with runny yolks (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/oct/11/egg-safety-weve-cracked-it-britons-told-by-food-watchdog). This follows confirmation that flocks in the UK are all routinely vaccinated so as not to carry Salmonella with its risk of food-poisoning (with potentially catastrophic  effects on susceptible groups). Of course, not all eggs on sale here come from UK flocks and people might well not know the origins of their purchased eggs. I must admit that I have always (even since the Salmonella warning) favoured soft-boiled eggs even when driving around abroad!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Sweet!


Sounds like the bee's revenge? Reportedly, 75% of tested honeys (including the whipped variety?) from all continents (except Antarctica, where there are no bees) contain neonicotinoid pesticides (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/05/honey-tests-reveal-global-contamination-by-bee-harming-pesticides). These pesticides (much loved in some agricultural circles) appear to be be implicated in the wide demise of Honey bee colonies but are also not too healthy for humans.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Bags for Death?


It has been reported that 'Bags for Life' can prove to be health (food poisoning) risks if they are used to carry raw meat or fish (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/02/bags-for-life-carry-food-poisoning-risk-if-used-for-raw-meat-or-fish). I would have thought that this was obvious and that people would only put well-packaged meat in their trusty bag (fresh meat and fish can be placed in plastic bags without charge). Perhaps the bags should carry reminders printed on their sides but this would detract from the generally positive messages they traditionally carry. 

Time, Life-forms Please!


News that the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine has been shared by 3 American scientists who initially independently attempted to elucidate the molecular mechanism found in the cells of all multicellular organisms that controls the circadian rhythm (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/oct/02/nobel-prizes-2017-everything-you-need-to-know-about-circadian-rhythms). Circadian rhythms are, as the name suggests, close to the 24 hours of the day-night cycle imposed on the life forms of our planet by the Earth revolving as it travels around our nearest star. Most life forms are directly or indirectly dependent on solar energy, so it increases biological efficiency if individual cells 'know' (often without direct cues) when it is likely to be light or dark. Studies (largely with the fruit-fly Drosophila) revealed that proteins released from a 'period' gene rise and fall throughout the day in a negative feedback loop (in the same way that a central heating system is controlled- the hotter the room, the less fuel is supplied to the heater). A second gene labelled 'timeless' also produces proteins that combine with those produced by the 'period' gene, facilitating entry to the cell's DNA in its nucleus to 'switch off' the 'period' gene. 'Timeless' essentially controls the periodicity of the biorhythm. Simples.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Little Landmark


My blog exceeded quarter of a million reads this week. Many thanks to my readers. I hope you continue to find things to interest you on the site.

Wood Burners a No-No?


The Mayor of London has apparently called for a ban on wood-burning stoves in the city (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/29/air-pollution-sadiq-khan-calls-for-ban-on-wood-burning-stoves). It is claimed that the smoke mingles with diesel fumes with a very negative impact on air quality. The move will probably not go down well with trendies. And what about bonfire night?

Phew, Cattle Are Heating Us Up More Than We Thought?


Methane, from both ends of the digestive processes of cattle, is actually a more powerful 'greenhouse gas' than carbon dioxide and seems likely to have a strong impact on climate change. The recent claim that the actual emissions from cattle are some 11% higher than estimated is cause for concern (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/29/methane-emissions-cattle-11-percent-higher-than-estimated). The fact that more land appears to be cleared for the generation of cattle (and associated milk) is only likely to exacerbate our climate problems.

Chickens Come Home to Roost


The domestic chicken (a derivative of the Himalayan Jungle fowl) is, on the basis of shear numbers, the most successful species associated with our own (although relatively few live as the birds shown in the above picture). Admittedly, the success is based on humans eating both the eggs and flesh they produce. There has, however, been a recent uproar caused by reports claiming that some companies (dealing with a wide range of UK supermarkets) mislead customers with respect to the age of the meat and its safety (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/sep/29/chicken-safety-scandal-2-sisters-faces-parliamentary-inquiry-after-revealations). Chicken products can carry risks associated with bacterial (salmonella) and viral factors (bird 'flu). The drive for cheaper and cheaper products appears to make producers 'cut corners' (people might well remember the recent thus about using banned insecticides to control parasites on chicken flocks in The Netherlands). It is a sad fact that people on low incomes are particularly likely to suffer health consequences from some of these practises (although the UK scandal might well have also impacted on some of the more comfortably off). Cheap does not allows have to mean nasty but we should, perhaps, be prepared to pay a little more for safety.

Seeing the Changes 1233



Visited, in Loughor, by a Brindled beauty (Lycia hirtaria) and cavorting craneflies.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Seeing the Changes 1232




Towrds the end of the growing season in Loughor with the appearance of Blackening waxcaps (Hygrocybe conica), the last bloomings of Fly honeysuckle (Lonicera xylosteum) and the odd underwing moth.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Sugar, Sugar


There has been much media excitement about the EU removing its quota arrangement for sugar beet production thus maximising European production and refining of sugar (bbc.co.uk/news/business-41412717). There are a number of potential problems associated with this decision. Firstly, the consumption of sugar in Europe is already much too high with detrimental effects on obesity, incidence of diabetes mellitus and dental health. Secondly, the decision makes sugar cane growing in some countries even less viable. And, thirdly, the land used to grow yet more sugar beet could be used to grow other more needed crops (or even to be kept aside to maintain biodiversity). 

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...