Thursday, 29 December 2011

Birder's Bonus 101

A very windy day at Oxwich. Masses of gulls (a variety of species) gathered in the shallows possibly because a shoal of sprats were driven in (in some places this reflects feeding activities of seals) but other people noted that the accumulations of seabirds were much greater than those normally seen in previous years.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Seeing the Changes 439

The warm Christmas was welcomed by flowering Primrose (Primula vulgaris) in Loughor.

Saving a Rhino?

An excited report that Malaysian authorities hope to 'save' the Borneo Sumatran rhinoceros from extinction by using a newly captured female to breed with a zoo-based male seem wildly optimistic ( It is never easy to breed 'difficult' animals in captivity and any offspring would have a) limited genetic diversity and b) probable difficulties in adapting to a wild existence. Given that the number of such rhinoceros in the wild are estimated to be around 40 individuals, it is likely they will be extinct within a decade. Even the Southern white rhinoceros (illustrated), which is in a far better state population-wise, is far from safe.

Scotland's Legacy

I suppose it was bound to happen, in these cash poor times, but a reduction in the funding of Scottish National Heritage will have a major impact on the ecology of the region ( Many initiatives such as those concerning the encouragement of the Red squirrel European beaver and the Osprey and those directed at the eradication of the Signal crayfish, Rhododendron and Japanese knotweed will have to be curtailed. Such issues were formerly protected from cuts in Scotland but major percentages of the former spending (around 20%) are being 'redirected'.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Eggsalent Piece of Work

It appears that environmental legislation has inadvertently made it an offence for even bona-fide museums to have egg shells from wild UK birds that were collected between 1954 and 1981 ( This seems to have been a drafting glitch that has been seized upon by collectors. Changes are needed as it is difficult to defend retrospective alternations to the law.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Death Strimmer?

I know it's a bit futile to complain, in these cash-strapped times, about any attempt to 'tidy up' the environment. It seems to me, however, that the people charged with clearing vegetation from the margins of cycle paths and public land in many cases do more harm than good (such that the location may take years to recover). Their basic approach generally seems to be to remove as much plant material as possible in the shortest possible time. The net result is that 'rough' areas, that were productive in terms of flower variety as well as insect and bird life, get converted into 'green desert'. It's a pity it can't be done in a more sensitive fashion. Perhaps one could develop a web site listing information about areas or zones that could/should receive more careful attention?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Eating Their Inheritance

There is a disturbing report that lemurs are being eaten as bushmeat on the island of Madagascar to a much greater extent than in the immediate past ( This is said to be largely the result of an influx of humans to the island who challenge the earlier tradition of the islanders that the lemurs are representative of human ancestors (and hence there was a taboo in terms of eating them). Decimation of the lemurs in their unique stronghold would greatly impoverish the biota. Strange how 'free meat' can have that effect.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Naughty Attenborough?

There seems to be an unholy fuss about the Polar bear cub sequence in 'Frozen Planet' being filmed in a Dutch zoo ( I must admit to being less than surprised about this section of the programme. Many 'natural history' films involve quite a lot of artifice - how did that convenient prey insect just land there as the cameras roll? I have argued that one could, by selection of footage, make even an erroneous tale seem convincing. The BBC did detail the origins of the cub shots in a brief item on their web (more than you get in many instances) and I don't think the actual sequence misinforms about what usually happens. Perhaps Sir David's crime is to irritate sections of the media with his observations on climate change?

Durban in the Dumps?

I suppose that an agreement of sorts on climate change measures is better than no agreement at all ( but the finally documented item does appear a bit on the feeble side. Clearly having widespread economic problems at the same time as recognising a need to reduce human impact on the atmosphere is not an ideal combination. I will be surprised if very much that is positive for limiting climate change actually happens. It has been suggested that solar panels in the desert could supply 'green electricity' but preventing the devices being etched or covered in sand by winds might be problematic.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Not So Much Head in the Sand

It has always been claimed that ostriches and emus etc (the so-called ratites), differ from other birds, in that their males achieve penile erection by engorging the organ with blood (as do mammals). A recent detailed study ( ) has, however, confirmed that these birds, like the rest of the Aves, actually use lymph in this process. This suggests that the mechanism evolved early in this vertebrate Class.

Seeing the Changes 438

It must be winter, as male (only the male has proper wings) Winter moths (Operophtera brumata) have started to gather around the light at my door in Loughor.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Enskilling the Welsh Workforce

It is gratifying to be involved (on a part-time basis) with the Advanced Professional Training in Biosciences initiative at Swansea University ( This EU-funded programme aims to develop and deliver modules to help with Continuing Professional Development of bioscience workers in small and medium-sized enterprises in most of Wales. Four modules ('Pest control', 'Wild plant identification', 'Invasive plant species' and 'Laboratory skills') have been successfully delivered to enthusiatic acclaim from the participants. It is obvious, even from this initial list, that the modules are intended for both field and laboratory workers. It is also hoped that their provision will enhance employment prospects of recent graduates (they provide practical skills that can be lacking from degree programmes).

Seeing the Changes 437

Yet another confused plant, Red campion (Silene dioica), at Penclacwydd.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Seawater on the Up?

The last programme in Attenborough's 'Frozen Planet' series ('On Thin Ice') paints a pretty pessimistic picture of global change ( It appears that the rate of ice loss at both poles is accelerating and this is likely to have a dramatic effect on sea levels. It is particularly striking that the decline in ice at the north pole has made it much easier to extract oil and gas which, when burned, is likely to further increase global warming. The 'freeing' of the north-west passage from ice would also increase marine traffic between the Atlantic and the Pacific (furthering the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere). I must admit that Attenborough's graphic presentation of evidence is likely to be compelling to the lay viewer (in spite of the fact that much of the global warming debate has, apparently, failed to convince). His notes that some polar animals have 'adapted' to the changes (mainly by altering their location) but this would not seem to be an option for many human populations. 

Seeing the Changes 436

Another confused plant! Cotoneaster, a Palaearctic alien, is in flower in Blackpill.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Hard Times-Green Times?

There is presently an urgent need to intensify efforts to limit anthropogenic effects on world resources and climate change (not helped by burgeoning population increases). This is, however, occurring at the very same time as world financial pressures make lives very difficult for many people in the so-called 'Western world' (not to mention elsewhere). Studies of animal behaviour suggest that this will be a toxic combination. Species do not show any tendency to take account of longer term issues (it is difficult to think of any evolutionary mechanism that could do this). They are essentially programmed to deal with the immediate needs for avoiding starving or being eaten as well as finding enough resources to breed. Most of the immediate political responses to the current financial problems suggest that 'our' response will be exactly the same. For example, it has been claimed that attempts to limit carbon release into the atmosphere have forced more UK people into 'fuel poverty' (where more than 10% of their income is spent on lighting, heating and cooking). It has also been suggested that we in the UK need a relaxing of the planning laws (including the protection of 'green belt' land) to generate affordable housing and to improve transport links. The prognosis doesn't look good.

Seeing the Changes 1470

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