Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Chagos: With or Without People?

The debate about whether Britain should create the world's largest marine reserve in the Indian Ocean around the Chagos Islands raises some interesting issues ( Apparently, 10,000 people have signed an online petition (supported by a collection of 9 conservation groups operating as the Chagos Environmental Network) in favour of protecting this area of 500,000 square kilometres with its 55 islands and the world's largest atoll, from fishing (largely for sharks and sea cucumbers) and people. A variety of levels of protection from making the proposed reserve a complete 'no take zone' to allowing deep sea fishing in particular locations and times have been suggested. The proposed reserve has a very diverse fauna and very low levels of pollution, partially related to the fact that the indigenous human population (around 1000 at the time) was evicted in the 1960's and 1970's to create a military zone (including Diego Garcia, the leased US base with its resident personnel). The Chagossians are understandably deeply unhappy about this (they have often finished up in relative poverty on Mauritius or the Seychelles) and have attempted to have the eviction declared unlawful in UK courts (currently without success). They are now somewhat further irritated by the suggestion that allowing them back would be to the detriment of the reserve (as they would want an airport, tourism, fishing rights etc). It will be interesting to see how this one 'pans out'. There is no doubt that humans are a real problem for fragile ecosystems but any plans for a reserve could be negated by a) a decision of the UK or European courts or b) human activities elsewhere in the globe.

The Uncertainty Principle and Climate Change

The Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK government (Professor John Beddington) makes a useful point about the much trumpeted 'erroneous claims' in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports ( He feels that part of the difficulty of this (and other areas of science) relates to communicating uncertainty in a complex and changing problem. He suggests that the IPCC should often follow statements about particular phenomena (such as the melting of the Himalayan glaciers) with words such as 'there's a level of uncertainty about that'. Beddington maintains that this might reduce the power of sceptics to convince the general public that they are being misled by the 'climate change lobby'. He also feels that, on balance, nothing that has been presented thus far provides a real case for inaction.

Winging It!

It's odd the things you run across (literally)! Whilst jogging along the cycle track running along Swansea Bay, I found the above neatly removed pair of wings. Looks as if a Carrion crow has picked a pigeon clean.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Living Jewels?

A report ( that a woman crossing from Mexico to Brownsville, Texas declared a live beetle, chained to her sweater, as a broach encrusted with paste 'gems' has aroused some concerns. The animal was confiscated by the local Plant Inspection Station as the woman did not have 'pest importation' documents. The beetle's fate is unknown but the woman was allowed to continue her journey as she had committed no offence. People from US Welfare Groups have expressed concerns about the ethics of this 'mutilation' but a) 'bugs' are often disposed of by people with little apparent agonising (so valuing such beetles might actually be beneficial to the species) and b) beetle decoration is said to have a long history in some parts of the world (Jackie Kennedy is reported to have been presented with one covered in real emeralds). I suppose that the American agencies were more concerned about the possibility of an agricultural pest getting into their country rather than the welfare of the beetle. It is presumably quite hard to identify a jewel-encrusted beetle as a living entity.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Floaters and Sinkers?

It is interesting to note that 5 severely damaged Florida turtles have been transported to Weymouth Sealife Park in Dorset to live out their days on display ( This may have stemmed from a recent move of a displaced turtle in the opposite direction (flown from Weymouth to Florida). The 5 turtles had reportedly been damaged by collisions with powerboats in Florida, often leading to a fracturing of their shells or even paraplegia. A number were unable to dive to obtain their food because of buoyancy problems and have been assisted in this action by the application of weights to their shells. The claimed reason for this exercise is that the turtles had outgrown their Florida tanks and would get a better quality of life in the specialist turtle attraction in Weymouth. The displayed turtles might well encourage UK visitors to financially support conservation of such reptiles in the wild. One has to balance this against the facts that the Florida turtles were transported by air and road to Weymouth, they are a foreign species, damage makes them unlikely to breed, they are unlikely to fully replicate the behaviour of undamaged animals (perhaps giving visitors an erroneous impression of the species) and that, by remaining in Florida, they might have encouraged responsible operation of powerboats. They will at least get to eat broccoli in Dorset!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Birder's Bonus 65

In Loughor, the sun brought out foraging bands of Long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus), flitting from bare branch to bare branch. It also seemed to stimulate territorial behaviour in pairs of European robin (Erithacus rubecula). Saw Barry Stewart who informed me about the Gower Ornithological Society blog ( that has lots of material on the recent cold weather-related movement of unusual bird species into the area.

Seeing the Changes 253

With the disappearance of most of the ice, the Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) were revealed to be in bloom in Loughor.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Low Budget Swanlake

The icy conditions have produced a few odd bird sights including domestic geese spinning in a mini-lake within the frozen Singleton Boating Lake and tentative Moorhens (Gallinula chloropus).

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Polar Weather

There have been claims that the weather is colder currently in the UK than it is at the South Pole (a factor used by some to cast doubt on 'global warming'). There are little ice floes on the Loughor River but one should remember that it is high summer at the South Pole. The web cam of Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) at Edinburgh Zoo also adds to the current ambiance (

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Birder's Bonus 64

The Swansea University campus was invaded by a flock of Redwing (Turdus iliacus) busily scrabbling through the fallen leaves.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

A Strange Mallard

The end of the year saw the sad news of the demise of 'Edwina' a 22-year old, tea-drinking Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) from Ringwood in Hampshire ( This old bird was apparently buried under a duck ornament in her owner's garden. The story is just a smidge anthropomorphic.

Monday, 4 January 2010

The World is Not Their Oyster Anymore

Reports that the French Government has agreed to replace the 'test de la souris' for oyster safety are, if anything, overdue ( The test was entirely based on injecting three fully-sighted mice with 'concentrated oyster fluids'. If two or more mice died within 24 hours, a temporary ban was applied to local sales of the shellfish. This rather crude test, with its tiny number of subjects, is claimed to have led to many false positives in which oysters were condemned without there being any real evidence that they had accumulated toxins from harmful micro-algae. It is maintained that this forced a number of oyster producers into bankruptcy. It is proposed to replace the mouse test by a, yet unspecified, 'advanced chemical test'.

Bee Bereavement?

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