Sunday, 30 September 2007

Blue Tongue Blues

As well as the Foot and Mouth disease, we now have more then a dozen cases of Blue tongue disease in cattle (mainly around a rare breeds establishment in Suffolk). This often fatal disease has until now been confined to the continent. It is transferred by biting insects including gnats and the involvement of these ubiquitous flying transmission agents will make eradication rather difficult,

Seeing the Changes 49

At Llangennith, the Sea rocket (Cakile maritima) seems to have grown more onto the sand than usual (perhaps the high rainfall). Lots of the very large Moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) were washed up there. In Bynea, yellow morph Cepaea nemoralis snails are racing across the wet surfaces of the cycle path.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Dorset Days

Just returned from the annual field course based on the Island of Portland in Dorset. Attempted never to mention the dreaded r***** word (Oryctolagus cuniculus). These "underground mutton" stand accused of undermining machinery and causing accidents killing and injuring quarry workers extracting Portland stone. Added a few new locations to the itinerary including Broadcroft Quarry that is partially managed by the Dorset Butterfly Group to encourage a number of species of Lepidoptera. The management is mainly consists of encouraging plants that provide larvae or adults with food but also offer basking sites to the latter. These include a range of British flowers including Viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare), Rest harrow (Ononis repens) and Common rock rose (Helianthemum nummularium) as well as alien species e.g. the Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) from East Asia. As it was the end of the season, we saw few butterflies but did spot some blues and a tattered Small copper (Lycaena phlaeas), perhaps a victim of a bird attack. Seeing Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) on ivy flowers on Brownsea island and a darter dragonfly (Sympetrum striolatum) at Monkey World reminded me of how poor a season for butterflies and dragonflies it has been in South Wales. Even allowing for my poor eyesight, I failed to locate the normally numerous larvae of Peacock, Red admiral or Small tortoiseshell butterflies on the profuse nettles around Loughor. A highlight of the Brownsea trip was actually seeing a Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) when I had started to think they were mythical (never having seen one on the two previous trips). Around Dorset, we came across some impressive moth larvae including those of the Pale tussock (Callitearea pudibunda) on Sycamore and excessively hairy animals on the heathland of Studland.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Seeing the Changes 48

My usual running route along the river Loughor has suddenly largely been covered with a new coat of asphalt. It will be interesting to see what effect this has on the vegetation and associated insect life. On Cefn Bryn, there seems to be a lot of activity by Devil's Coach horse beetles (Staphylinus olens) and Great black slugs (Arion ater). There is a colony of Chicory (Cichorium intybus) along the river bank in central Gorseinon. Its location near an ATS garage suggests it may have hitched a ride from a holiday location in France.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Robot Bird Wars?

There was a recurrence on the BBC morning news on 19th September of an about the development of a robot Peregrine falcon ( ) to scare away pigeons from particular locations (notably buildings in city centres that they use like nesting cliffs where they are safe from terrestrial predators). The robot essentially 'sits' in the location, flaps its 'wings' and calls like the falcon (they have been used successfully in a variety of UK locations to deter pigeons and gulls). The objection to the pigeons is that their droppings are unsightly and damages the fabric of buildings. They transmit disease ( some people refer to them as 'flying rats') but other birds, not so objected to, might well do the same. It was claimed that many of these birds are 'failed' homing pigeons. Development of the robot sounds very high-tech and interesting but I wonder why they don't simply periodically display a live bird of prey (like the Harris hawk illustrated) with its handler. This works very well in deterring gulls from nesting on the flat tops of buildings in South Wales and elsewhere. It could be the case that the authorities in cities don't want to risk the bird of prey attempting to make an attack (the public might not like the 'blood and thunder'). If this is the case, one might argue that the approach is purely 'cosmetic' as preventing the pigeons from using successful foraging sites would inevitably condemn some of the birds to starvation and/or reduced breeding efficiency. Employing a real bird of prey at least helps to maintain biodiversity!

Monday, 17 September 2007

Seeing the Changes 47

The day-flying Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma) was very active in the dunes at Oxwich and the rockpools had Snakelocks anemones (Anemonis viridis). In Bynea, the Great mullein has reached the end of the line.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Spit Roast Hedgehog Anyone?

The has been a number of recent postings about the plight of the European hedgehog in the UK. One fate that presumably is not been a recent concern for hedgehogs is to become a meal for humans. It has, however, been recently revealed in a study carried out by a Food Science team at UWIC (,,2169066,00.html ) that roast 'Hedge pig' was a popular food item in Britain for thousands of years. The spiky insectivore was encouraged to unroll by being dropped into hot water, had its throat cut and was then spit roasted like a pullet before being served with a herb sauce. I just hope that the planned TV programme (The People's Cookbook) fronted by Antony Worrall Thompson will not encourage too many modern nostalgic Britons to try it (even with nettle pudding- our oldest recipe apparently developed around 6000BC)!

Foot and Mouth Strikes Back!

Just when DEFRA was congratulating itself on an apparently successful conclusion to the Pirbright-associated outbreak (,,2169045,00.html ), things were thrown into reverse by the identification of foot and mouth infected animals on Milton Park farm near Egham (Surrey) some distance north of the original outbreak. Animals at this and the neighbouring Stroude farm (they also turned out to be positive) have been destroyed (there was an especial focus on pigs at the latter farm as this species is a particularly effective spreader of the virus). The authorities are looking again for evidence that the agent might have been transferred on the wheels of contractor's vehicles from the biosecurity breakdown at the laboratories (the virus is apparently also the same strain as that used at Pirbright). Although the virus has an incubation time in animals of up to 14 days (a factor that is used in terms of specifying the protection and surveillance zones), the virus can survive for up to 50 days in water as well as for long periods in damp contaminated hay. There has been further speculation about sabotage (the movement restrictions could not come at a worse time for farmers as movement restrictions will make it very difficult to take animals to market) and the possibility of the disease having reached (or now reaching) wild animals. The Queen's Great Windsor Park, with its large deer herds (in addition to traditional farm animals), is worryingly within the new surveillance zone, a factor making transmission to the susceptible wild deer more likely. It is also of concern that Heathrow airport and the Ascot horse race course are in close proximity to the current outbreak . Movement restrictions in these localities could also be devastating. The news that some movement restrictions in Wales and areas of England outside the Surrey focus have been lifted so that animals can be taken straight to abattoirs will obviously meet with the approval of hard-pressed farmers but it does slightly increase the risk of the spread of the disease. The decision involves a rather complex balancing of epidemiological, commercial and welfare issues.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Seeing the Changes 46

Seems to be shaping up for an 'Indian Summer', with strange mixtures of flowers and fruits around Loughor. Pedunculate oak (Querus robur) has acorns, the Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) 'conkers', Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) little plum-like fruit, the Alder (Alnus glutinosa) rounded female cones and the Scorpion senna (Coronilla ermerus) sports its strange pods. Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), Rosebay willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium) and Creeping thistle (Cirsium arvensis) all have their parachute seeds ready to go. The Japanese knotweed (Reynoustria japonica) is in flower like a snow storm and its fellow alien Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) simltaneously has pink flowers and lots of large white berries. Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymemum) also has both flowers and fruit. Gorse (Ulex europaeus) is coming into flower again and the vegetation is full of Garden spiders (Araneus diadematus) busily 'fishing' for flies including hoverflies such as Eristalis arbustorum. The bushes are bright with Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) berries.

Let there be Light

I had the 25 minute cataract operation on my right eye on the 6th of September in the Swansea Day Clinic. The initial changes in my vision have been very impressive. The 'fog' pervading my visual world has totally dissipated and I now have clear vision (from one 'good' eye and one with a cataract) when I look at scenes. It is only possible to detect a fault when covering the right eye (sometimes inadvertently by the placement of a tea mug). Contrast is much improved (newspapers are now black on white rather than mid grey on light grey) and colours have re-emerged (sometimes garishly). My eyes are still sensitive to bright light and I have to administer a month-long course of eye drops. If things continue to progress, I should be able to give an invited lecture in Yorkshire and attend the Dorset field course as an effective participant. A similar operation on the left eye is promised 'within 4 months' and I should then have better vision than that with which I started. The glasses may go!

Foot in Mouth Disease?

The report on the Pirbright Foot and Mouth disease outbreak in Surrey has failed to reach any definitive conclusions but the favoured scenario appears to be possible damage (caused by plant roots?) to the waste pipe connecting Merial to the Institute of Animal Health. This failure was perhaps compounded by localised flooding, perhaps releasing the virus to the surface via a loose manhole. The suggestion is that the agent was then carried to adjacent farms on the wheels of vehicles of contractors brought in to carry out major (and much needed) improvements to the aging laboratories. This is viewed as a potential failing of 'biosecurity'. All this is very feasible and does emphasise how a chain of difficult to envisage events can disrupt an otherwise apparently safe process ('sods law'). Apparently DEFRA didn't make the monies available (as is now a priority) for repairing the said pipe. This is hardly remarkable, as agencies are generally not given all the funding they require to make improvements. Choices have to be made and I suspect that drains did not rate very highly in terms of 'sexiness'. For the same reasons, the needed storage space is always the first item to be axed by budgetary concerns from the plans of new laboratories even if it is clear that their absence will make the whole construction less effective.

Bee Bereavement?

Bees are very important insect pollinators. Some species are, of course, also commercially-important because they produce honey and bees-wa...