Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Slap on the Greenwash?


Most environmental groups appear to be relatively unimpressed by the UK Government's 'Rooseveldtian' scheme to 'build, build, build' its way to economic recovery (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/30/environmental-experts-dismayed-by-details-of-johnsons-new-deal). They argue that we will have few opportunities to do something serious about climate change and that most of the announced 'wheezes' seem firmly rooted in an older carbon-based approach to living and working. Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of 'the plan', is the lack of any reference to the manifesto 'promise' (was it only December?) to spend a substantial amount of money improving the insulation standards of UK properties. Our housing standards are amongst the worst in the developed world and we waste huge amounts of energy (and money)  heating our buildings. Rectifying this situation really would be a sign of green intent (in a way that planting a few trees- even if they materialise- would not). 

Shadow Over the 'Sunshine Vitamin'


Vitamin D (the so-called 'sunshine vitamin'), like all these dietary factors, is generally obtained from our food.  It is, however, unusually also manufactured under bare skin (without clothes, lots of sun protection or copious make-up) when stimulated by the UV part of sunshine (this would make it a hormone as well as a vitamin). It has been evident, for some time, that BME folk appear more susceptible to Covid-19 and often suffer a worse infection, than paler-skinned counterparts. The fact that people with darker-pigmented skins produce less Vitamin D in the (relatively) weak sunshine of the UK, seems a prime reason for suggesting that this cheap supplement could offer protection in the pandemic. However, a thorough evaluation by NICE seems to have now established that a daily dose of Vitamin D will not protect people from this virus (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/29/no-evidence-that-taking-vitamin-d-prevents-coronavirus-say-experts). This also adds weight to the view that socio-economic/career-related factors (that increase risk) rather than 'biology' account for the differing mortality rates in BME and other ethnic groups. It's how we live (or are forced to live) that determines most of this difference rather than our genes. Vitamin D supplementation might have limited utility in people who have to remain house or institution-bound in lockdown but it's no 'magic bullet'.

Seeing the Changes 1469



In Loughor, an impressive parasol toadstool thanked the rain and all the leaves of the Horse chestnuts were infested with miners.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Silent Spreaders

 
In the early days of Covid-19's arrival in Europe, some scientists suggested (on the basis of their experiences with testing at a German motor manufacturers with foreign visitors from China), that infected people could spread the disease but be asymptomatic. Their view was, however, generally initially dismissed as it didn't fit with their critic's understanding of what happened in cases of Sars (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/27/world/europe/coronavirus-spread-asymptomatic.html?campaign_id=2&emc=edit_th_20200628 ). This now appears to be a missed opportunity, as the virus had almost 2 months to travel world-wide, before asymptomatic spreading was recognised. With any new disease, we clearly have to attempt to use comparable conditions to guide our thinking. We should not, however, lose sight of the fact that any new disease may have its own unique characteristics. So, perhaps suggestions should not be dismissed before the possibilities have been fully trialled?

Culling Our Way to Conservation?


It is certainly a 'hot' tropic and it's always nice to see the words of one of your ex-supervised students (in this case Carl Jones) cited, but there are pros and cons when one considers using culling of one species to conserve another (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/28/should-we-cull-one-species-to-save-another-huge-mice-killing-birds-gough-island). It is certainly true that humans to some extent 'play God' by deciding which species to favour. We do have a strong tendency to go for species (especially birds, mammals and butterflies) that humans appreciate (and might well pay money to conserve). Often, the choices are reasonable but they can be misguided (e.g. directing cash to conserving animals in a country near the extremes of its range, when it is common elsewhere). All species are programmed to reproduce themselves (using whatever means are available) and this also applies to the 'problematic' (again our choice) candidates for culling. And, yes, culling (especially as conducted in remote locations, like Gough Island) will cause animal suffering. Having said all that, there is also no doubt that many of the problems for endangered species (especially island populations) have been caused by human activity and/or the introduction (deliberate or otherwise) of alien species. Culling may be all that is possible unless we want to see a pretty standard fauna in most locations. I suspect that most agencies know this, even if some of them pretend not to favour culling for PR reasons. 

Cannibal Rats?


Funny how what is quite normal behaviour gets relabelled when people want to make a story (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/29/summer-of-the-cannibal-rats-hungry-aggressive-highly-fertile-and-coming-to-our-homes). It is hardly remarkable that, in Covid-19 lockdown, UK rats have been redirected by their stomachs away from restaurants and beauty spots (closed and unsupplied with the typical human waste) to our homes and gardens (suddenly better supplied with edibles). It is also unremarkable that we humans (many of us having been forced to remain local for extended periods of time) have noticed them more. This, of course, has led to more call-outs to pest control agencies (and stories of rats biting pensioners on their bums as they sit on the toilet or demolishing the seating in a garaged camper van). The description 'cannibal rats' is a bit anthropomorphic. Rats have never turned their noses up at food, even when its the babies of another rat, a stranger or even a mouse. And, yes, mother rats will 'recycle' their babies rather than starve as there may be a chance to breed some other day. The description 'aggressive' is also a bit anthropomorphic. Rats will leap at and attempt to bite, humans or cats but this is essentially a defensive response against something that is bigger and perceived as being more dangerous. They are also territorial and will attack stranger rats who are not members of their colony. Unremarkably, hungry rats will also be more visible as they are forced to take more chances in their unceasing search for food. Being highly fertile (hardly a new observation) is one of the ways that rats deal with a hostile world, inflicting many mortalities on their species. Go Ratty!

Seeing the Changes 1470

Traveller's joy ( Clematis vitalba ) in flower in Loughor.