Thursday, 27 December 2012

Seeing the Changes 537

Amazingly late in the year, saw a Bumblebee feeding from Heather growing in a pot in our Loughor garden.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Homing in on Horn Protection?

There is intriguing news that a co-founder of the Zululand rhino reserve has been given permission by the US Government to purchase the Arcturus T-20 military surveillance drone with a view to facilitating the protection of rhinos from poachers ( Record numbers of rhinos have been killed this year for their horns. In Chinese medicine, this compacted hair is viewed as a cure (when powdered) for a number of conditions including fever (the aphrodisiac claim is not taken so seriously) and brings a very high price. The reserve would have to obtain permissions to fly the drones in South African airspace and I suspect (and hope) they would not be fitted with missiles. It is interesting that military pieces of kit can sometimes play a role in conservation.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Fishing on Land

There is a report ( that a company called Fishfrom is considering farming Scottish salmon in  large, hanger-like constructions divorced from direct contact with the sea. The fish would be reared on cultivated Ragworm and, it is claimed, the technique could avoid many of the current problems of salmon fish pens (Sea lice infections, interrring with wild salmon viability, decimation of certain salmon food species etc). The 'fish factories' would recycle most of their water and use a combination of solar and hydro-electric power. It is claimed that many of the up-market UK retailers would be attracted to its product. I suspect that this might well be the shape of things to come but I wonder what hidden problems might arise in the future? Cultivating Ragworm and Salmon at high densities always seem to attract difficulties. Fish welfare is likely to be easier to monitor in such a system.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Seeing the Changes 536

Some of the Gower ponies seem to be having a tough time at Bynea. Finding food appeared difficult and one animal appears to have died (possible starvation or drowning?).

Galactic Mistake?

The news that Virgin Galactic is going to offer 'space' flights to paying trippers ( and the UK Government is encouraging extracting gas from oil shales by 'fracking' ( don't seem exactly supportive of limiting 'green-house gas' emissions? It does seem strange that commerce can always trump environmental concerns.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Seeing the Changes 535

Frosty start to the day but the Ivy-leaved toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) remained in flower in Loughor.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Nit Picker's Corner 1

There has been a lot of news this week about the Duchess of Cambridge suffering from hyperemesis gravidum. This was described by the BBC and elsewhere ( as 'acute morning sickness'. Medically, however, acute means 'short lasting' (it's the opposite of chronic or 'long lasting'). They obviously mean't 'severe' and did correct it in later bulletins.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Natural Pun 2

Heart of oak.

DIY Pollution?

It is claimed that the popularity of Do It Yourself programmes (and tightness of money?) has encouraged people to do their own house plumbing with sometimes awful consequences to nearby rivers ( A failure to understand the pipework apparently sometimes leads to thousands of houses (said to be 3000+ in a specified period in the Thames Valley area) discharging raw sewage and the soapy contents from washing machines into rivers (such as the Chess). This can result in eutrophication, death of a range of invertebrates (often important prey species for other animals), exposure of aquatic organisms to sex-change associated chemicals (e.g. contraceptive pill metabolites) and losses of fish species (to the horror of anglers). It is, of course, not impossible that some 'cowboy builders' might achieve precisely the same outcome. Perhaps we need more regular checking of these discharges? One thing is certain namely that buildings can challenge the health of nearby waterways.

Gross National Happiness?

The tiny, Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is advocating a happiness measure based on issues such as care of the environment ( I can see the approach being useful in a small, relatively homogeneous community that largely makes its way by carefully controlled ecotourism but suspect that the approach would be more difficult in much larger, diverse countries where there likely to be much more variation in what people want (or think they want) to engender happiness. Some of Bhutan's thinking (albeit less defined) does seem to 'spill across' its border into neighbouring Sikkim.

Housey Housey

Quite a fuss seems to be developing about the UK Government claim that more building on undeveloped countryside is needed to satisfy demands for new housing by our increasing (but fragmented) population ( There is no doubt that provision of affordable housing in pleasant surroundings is likely to be a vote winner but it might be worth considering whether this would really help the situation. How many people would have the flexibility to take up residence in semi-rural locations (recognising that home working is only an option for certain types of employment)? Some people would argue that the UK actually has too few greenish areas as it stands. The UK obsession with detached houses with gardens is not even replicated in our near neighbours in Europe! It is also pretty evident that we don't always use our existing housing stock very efficiently (some is unoccupied and some under occupied). If it is true that city centre shops are largely doomed to be replaced by out of town shopping malls, there may be more scope for creating new housing on these brown field sites. Perhaps some further thought on the topic is required?

Friday, 30 November 2012

Seeing the Changes 534

In spite of the night frost, in Bynea, Gorse (Ulex europaeus) and Charlock (Sinapis arvensis) were prominently in flower.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Do Male Apes Suffer From Mid-Life Crises?

A large study involving male Common chimpanzees and Orang-utans in zoos suggests that their keepers rate these apes as showing a 'U'-shaped function in their 'happiness' or well-being, generally being most content when young and old ( It is a bit difficult to work out why these animals would show the human equivalent of the mid-life crisis (chasing young women and buying a sport's car?) but it could simply reflect the fact that more male apes reach mid and old age in zoos than is the case in the wild. I suspect that the age profile of these animals in nature and in zoos is very different. Breeding is often very restricted. Another difference, is that it is impossible for zoo-based animals to leave their group even for limited periods.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Flown the Nest?

The RSPB has estimated, on the basis of its surveys, a 44 million reduction (roughly 1 in 5) of breeding birds in the UK since 1966 ( House sparrows, Wrens, Willow tits and Arctic skuas have all shown big declines but some species, including the Chaffinch, have increased breeding activities. The results are not particularly unexpected as there have been big changes over these 40+ years in the UK human population, agricultural practises, urbanisation, pet keeping, gardening practises (including converting land to car parking), waste disposal, increased survival (by eating human waste) of crow family members (with propensities for eating the eggs and chicks of 'song' birds) over winter periods, possible climate change impacts on seasonality of fruits and insects etc etc, Chaffinches may have partly benefited by their efficient utilisation of bird feeders (an option not available to all species). I suspect that the reasons for declines in different species will vary but the basic trend is for a further impoverishment of the UK biodiversity.

Friday, 16 November 2012

America Goes Fracking Mad!

A report that the USA is intent on becoming independent of oil and gas production in other parts of the globe, including the Middle East is interesting( It would, of course, be beneficial to cut out the impact of political vagaries in 'difficult' parts of the world on availability and prices as well as negating the environmental and fiscal costs of transporting the hydrocarbons. Having said that, much of the proposed  independence is linked to a proposed dramatic increase in the fracking of oil shale deposits in the country. Even if this extraction causes no environmental problems (perhaps a big ask), there are claims that increasing dependence on this technology will increase the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere over and above that that would be generated by using traditional hydrocarbon products. I certainly think that oil and gas independence is a benefit that has to be balanced against not making climate change more likely. 

'Bombing' the Galapagos with Poison?

Ecuador is apparently dropping 22 tonnes of specially formulated blue-pelleted (said to appeal only to rats) poison on Darwin's Galapagos Islands ( The hope is to eradicate rats (inadvertently introduced by sailors in earlier times) that are decimating island populations of endemic reptiles and birds. Hawks and Iguanas have been temporarily re-located for the duration. It's amazing how frequently conservation efforts boil down to pest (as defined by humans) eradication! The prognosis is not particularly good as the participants note that, if even one pregnant female survives, the whole process will have to be repeated again and again.

Murmur of the Breeze in the GM Trees?

An Israeli GM company is planning to improve the efficiency of wood production for paper production, pellet burning in electricity generating stations and even fuel manufacture for cars by planting Eucalyptus trees with inserted genes to enhance their growth (in terms of circumference) rate so they mature in 5.5 rather than 7 years ( The company reportedly suggest that countries with good growing conditions for the trees, in terms of climate and soil, could benefit economically. Brazil might be an obvious contender. Although the trees might help to reduce atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide when growing, it sounds as if their use is likely to put a lot of the greenhouse gas back. It should be noted that monocultures of plants (crops) are typically more prone to disease (although I suspect that the claim will be made that resistance can be rapidly engineered) than mixed assemblages. An area of concern is the obvious fact that areas of varied forest would have to be removed to make way for the GM planting. This would remove not only plant species but any the animal species associated with them, with obvious effects on biodiversity. I confidently predict that the GM Eucalyptus forests will not feature populations of Koalas!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Miracles of Miracles

There seem to be two broad responses to the BBC 'Miracles of Nature' ( One is 'why is petrol-head Richard Hammond aka 'hamster' being given responsibility for such a programme, knowing as little as he does about the natural world?' The other is that 'It is nice to see an engineering enthusiast being turned on by the extraordinary abilities developed in animals by evolutionary processes'. I expected to belong to the first group but find myself liking the scenarios developed in the programme and their potential for changing attitudes. The hamster is amusing and shows fear and wonder in appropriate amounts. I particularly enjoyed programme 2 ('Super-Senses) as it featured one of my former Masters students, Kate Evans (, showing Hammond that African elephants have the potential to communicate using infra-sound over long distances through rocks (although the mining application was a bit contrived).

Monday, 12 November 2012

Water, Water Everywhere!

This seems to have been a very wet Autumn (to go with a very wet Summer). I suspect that the wetness will be reflected in insect and bird numbers when Spring comes around again.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Birder's Bonus 122

In Loughor, a Eurasian nuthatch (Sitta europaea) keeps returning to the bird feeder in the garden.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Seeing the Changes 533

The wet Autumn produced masses of fungi in Loughor. We also had our first hailstones of the winter.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

They All Fall Down?

It has been pointed out that ash dieback disease is only one of the latest imported conditions to have substantial detrimental effects on UK trees ( Biosecurity seems very weak in the UK with fungal infections of other trees including the Horse chestnut, Processionary moth caterpillars decimating oak trees in the SE and long-horn beetles arriving from China in wood packaging around imported stones. It has even been noted that it is highly likely that the replanting of native trees from UK seeds can involve their transport to the Netherlands where they are grown up before being repatriated. It is pretty obvious that there is much scope for improving the biosecurity of our native habitats.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Ash to Ashes?

It looks as if it might be curtains for yet another UK tree species with the discovery of the ash die-back fungus Chalara fraxinea in a Woodland Trust area in East Anglia ( The Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) is a common stand alone tree and can be a major component of hedgerows. The fungus can easily spread tens of kilometres as spores on the wind. Although the fungus has been recorded in the UK previously, it has, thus far, been limited to garden centres and imported trees (now banned) and its eradication has been relatively easy. Now it's into wild populations, the spread of the disease will be almost impossible to contain. A substantial proportion of the Ash in Danish forests has already disappeared.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Recent Lack of Actitivity

Apologies for recent dearth of posts, the Sikkim visit was followed by a stay in hospital with gastroenteritis (un-related to India) which has become linked to a new AF heart condition and low blood sodiums. Hope to sort myself out soonest.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Costing the Earth

The UN has warned that climate change is dramatically increasing the costs of basic foods over substantial areas of the globe. Awful summers have disrupted wheat production (in terms of amount and quality) in America, Russia and the UK ( Then, on top of that, some grain is diverted to make biodiesel.

Washed Away!

The plethora of insect life in Sikkim just serves to underline what a truly awful summer 2012 has provided for our invertebrates. Apparently, slugs and snails are thriving ( but butterflies and moths are in a spiral of serious decline.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Seeing the Changes 532

The Gower ponies and their offspring have started to block movement on the Bynea cycle path! Hooligan horses!

Friday, 5 October 2012

More Critters from Sikkim

Got a nice shot of a wild Hanuman langur monkey and some close ups of a type of dove , a yellow-fronted bird and a Drongo (birds). Butterflies were also spectacular including this Paris peacock (Papilio paris) and a male Yellow orange-tip (Ixras pyrene). Shot a very weird dragonfly (a female Anisopteran Palponeura seximaculata ) and some interesting relatives of the grasshopper (colour morphs of Mecopoda).

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Seeing the Changes 531

Welcomed back to Loughor from my travels by driving rain and a bloom of Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) at Penclacwydd. Near the Loughor bridge at Bynea, Gower ponies tucked into the local vegetation.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Himalayan Action

Just returned from 10 days in Gangtok (Sikkim). Ran a very successful moth trap at the Hidden Forest Retreat and a few of the more striking images from here and elsewhere on the visit are included here. The first moth has the splendid name of Baorisa hieroglyphica and was actually found at the Guru Padsamabhava statue that functions like a giant moth trap when illuminated at night. The second moth looks exactly like a rolled leaf from the side. Number 3 is a Lappet moth from Rumtek monastery. Number 4 is Asota caricae and the 5th is probably Vamuna alboluteola. The 6th picture is of day-flying moths with very striking sexual dimorphism from a puja near the city centre. Lastly, there is a hawk moth larva from the gardens of our accommodation. There were also lots of other vertebrates and invertebrates that will feature as I sort them through. This is only a taster!

Where's the Beef?

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