Saturday, 29 November 2008

Seeing the Changes 158

A very severe frost last night. It didn't deter the Shaggy Ink cap or Lawyer's wig (Coprinus comatus) and the Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) in Gorseinon. The horses, however, had their overcoats on and a European robin (Erithacus rubecula) followed my leaf scraping around in Loughor. Disappointingly, there seems to be lots of fly tipping around this area.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Dear Deer?

It is reported by DEFRA ( that the burgeoning numbers of wild deer may represent a hazard for dairy farmers in terms of the transmission of Bovine TB. They point out that culling deer (apparently, there are more deer in the UK now than at any time since the Ice Age) is likely to be more publicly acceptable than the culling of badgers (badgers being actually a more strongly protected species in terms of legislation). It is certainly the case that deer are prone to infection by Bovine TB (as well as Foot and Mouth disease) and could be regarded as potentially important reservoir hosts. Curtailing of hunting with dogs also seems to have led to an increase in deer numbers as well as their distribution. The UK is also 'blessed' with a number of deer species that are essentially the progeny of exotic escapees (animal 'weeds'?). Having said all that, I suspect that culls of deer are likely to be resisted in some quarters.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

A Lizard is Not Just for Christmas?

A report on the BBC (apparently based on increased sales of crickets as food items) claims that reptiles (snakes and lizards) have overtaken cats and dogs as the new pets of choice in today's busy UK. Basing the evidence entirely on food sales does seem, however, a bit shaky. It is true that you don't have to take reptiles out for a walk and they do seem to be able to 'amuse themselves' for considerable periods (whilst their 'owner' is away at work). Cost (the credit crunch) could also be a factor favouring reptiles as these animals need only about 15-20% of the food consumed by a mammal of comparable weight. Although lizards and snakes are certainly not as companionable as a dog (not many reptile packs!), they often make interesting talking points and can be little 'works of art'. They also may have, however, a wider range of exotic diseases. It will be interesting to see whether trend (if it is a real one) persists.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Seeing the Changes 157

In Bynea, Gorse (Ulex europaeus) was vigorously in flower. There were also more large, interesting (but nibbled) fungi (possibly Blewitt or Lepista saeva). A Nuthatch (Sitta europea) was a visitor to my Loughor garden.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Sparrow Arrow?

Claims that been made ( in a RSPB report that the rise of the ubiquitous alien Leylandii hedge is an important factor in the decline (down by 68% in the UK since 1977) of the once common House sparrow (Passer domesticus). The sparrows continue to produce chicks but many die within a few days of hatching. This is said to be a consequence of the parent birds finding insufficient numbers of insects (notably aphids or greenfly) in gardens to feed to their young. The Leylandii are not attractive to UK insects and shade many other plants that might encourage them. The RSPB advocate people with private gardens planting "native deciduous trees and shrubs" (e.g. Hawthorn, Wild rose and Honeysuckle) along with wild flowers and long grass (although this might make pet cats a greater danger to the birds) to encourage insects and hence this avian species. They point out that a loss of green spaces in cities, conversion of front gardens to parking spaces, road traffic and air pollution could also be factors influencing House sparrow populations in the UK. Changes in agricultural practises also appear implicated in countryside locations. There are certainly some potentially complex issues evident in this account. One thing is certain, everything that humans do (even in their 'backyards') results in winners and losers in the 'natural' world.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Pachyderm Polka?

There is a report ( on work carried out at Belfast zoo claiming that four female Asian (the pictured animal is an African elephant and might well have different musical taste) elephant showed reductions in 'aggressive' and stereotyped (e.g. swaying and trunk tossing) as well as increases in 'normal' behaviour after exposure to classical orchestral music by Elgar, Strauss etc. Apparent beneficial effects of music in a wide range of animals (cats, dogs, cows and horses) are not uncommon but what seems to have been 'played down' in this study is the fact that the elephant would not hear the music in the same way as ourselves. They would not detect some of the higher frequencies but might well pick up sounds that were lower than those responded to by humans. It is also unclear why (as claimed by the author) these sounds would help this widely-ranging species deal with the confines of its enclosure. Perhaps they should be played elephant sounds or heavy metal?

Seeing the Changes 156

Went to the National Botanical Gardens Wales where a 'worm' was evident in a flower (perhaps trying to tell us something?). In spite of that, there were interesting fungi and bananas in the Tropical House. The Honey bees were also still active and some daffodils had emerged out front. Ignoring the weather, a Winter moth (Operophtera brumata) visited in Loughor.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Seeing the Changes 155

An interesting fungus under the trees at the WWT Penclacwydd. Also an alien tree with strange pink pods.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

No Ray of Hope?

Disturbing news ( that many of the sharks and rays found off UK shores are facing extinction. One of their problems is that (unlike most boney Teleost fish) these ancient vertebrates only produce relatively few offspring (they are 'K' strategists). This means that taking them in numbers (for 'sport' or as food items such as skate wings or rock salmon) generally leads to dramatic declines in these top predators.

Monday, 10 November 2008

GM and Deaths of Indian Farmers

There is quite a heated debate, kicked off to a degree by the Prince of Wales, concerning whether GM technology has been responsible for a spate of suicides by subsistence farmers in India ( The impression may have developed in some quarters that the GM crops are directly causing suicides in their handlers but what seems more likely is that it has been linked to financial problems (affecting most of the world at present) in people often operating at the margins of viability. The possibility exists that the farmer 'victims' may have had a too optimistic view of adopting the GM varieties (this might have involved 'over-selling' of the benefits) or simply to have been too 'close to the edge' to make the leap at this time (the GM seeds are relatively expensive and often, because of environmental concerns, have to be purchased anew each season). It would be interesting to have data on farmer suicides in individuals with similar levels of debt who were growing only traditional crops. Even if that were the case, disappointment of hopes in individuals 'taking a punt' might be a factor.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Seeing the Changes 154

A late second blooming of Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) in Bynea.

Knacker's Yard?

There seem to be lots of stories involving attitudes to horses by the public in the UK this week. One touched on the celebration of the 90th anniversary of the armistice, ending the First World War. Apparently, there is now a purple poppy worn in remembrance of all the animals (notably draft horses and mules) dying in that conflict ( Although I am certain that many of the soldiers at that time were close to their animals, it is worth reminding people that, in those days, they were often more regarded as a means of transport (for guns, shells and supplies) than actual participants in the conflict (at least, that's what my grandfather used to say). Their loss (in a way not totally dissimilar to deaths of the troops) was largely viewed as a logistical issue. To some extent, the current concerns about the horses are a reflection of today's changed attitudes to 'companion' animals. Horses have also been linked to more recent events by the news that the current financial crisis is 'forcing' an increasing number of owners to try to place their animals in Horse refuges at a time when those refuges are receiving less charitable money and also are facing increased costs ( There seem to be parallel issues here as, in the past, redundant horses would be disposed of and their carcasses rendered for a profit. Now it is regarded as normal for the animals (like humans?) to have a long retirement period. It will be interesting to see whether the 'credit crunch' results in attitudes hardening.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Where's the Beef?

  Industry 'experts' are claiming that the 'use-by dates' on red meat should be extended (