Monday, 30 December 2013

And Another Thing!

In the same Countryfile programme, they also suggested that the Beaver was being 'returned' to our ecosystems after 400 years but seemed to treat 'escaped' wild boar as a totally novel invader. They did suggest that the boars were useful as they gave Oak trees a missing transport system for their acorns. I did think that squirrels, Jays, deer etc managed to do this to some extent. I'm feeling a bit "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells", a pity as I normally like the programme.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Countryfile Bumpkins

I was some what surprised, when watching the Countryfile programme on animal conservation winners and losers ( ) to see, in a section on the re-introduction of the Large blue butterfly to the Cotswolds to see a Large skipper (Ochlodes venatus) dismissed as a 'moth'. 

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Seeing the Changes 626

I have never seen the ditches along the cycle track near Penclacwydd so full of rainwater.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Seeing the Changes 625

Awful weather in Loughor but the Winter heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) was in flower.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Sex in the Grass!

Earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) mate in my garden! A bit of a risk at this time of the year.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Birder's Bonus 137

With the calming of the weather, One Grey heron (Ardea cinerea ) and Six Little egrets (Egretta garzetta) were fishing off Loughor bridge.

Seeing the Changes 624

Had a visit from a male Winter moth (Operophtera brumata). It's amazing how they thrive in cold, wet and windy conditions.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Birder's Bonus 136

Spring tide on Loughor estuary and ducks or geese shelter from the strong winds.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Rights and Wrongs?

It has been reported ( that a 'human rights lawyer', Steven M. Wise is petitioning for chimpanzees to be granted protection from 'unlawful detention' and be freed. I have much sympathy with the plight of (genetically) our closest relatives on the planet and there is little doubt that some animals are kept in inappropriate conditions but there are a few problems with this move. Giving 'human rights' on the basis of genetic commonality is a bit arbitrary (we share 30% of genes with yeast) and, as many people have pointed out, rights generally imply responsibilities (difficult to enforce in non-humans). Where would the captive 'chimps' be released to? Chimpanzees are powerful animals and beasts that have been in captivity for periods of time would find it extraordinarily difficult to survive in 'wild' locations, even if appropriate locations can be found (even then substantial and expensive pre-release training is needed). A  blanket ban on captivity might also make a range of conservation attempts directed to this species very difficult. It seems to me that what we need is enlightened and humane treatment of animals rather than lawyer's devices.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Rising to the Boris Bait

I promised myself I would not rise to Boris Johnson's comments about IQ and the worth of members of the human species ( ) but I find myself compelled to comment (in spite of it striking me as self-serving). I 'failed' (actually I was classed as 'borderline') my 11+ twice (once at 11 and once at 13). In mitigation, I was on strong medication (phenobarbitone) at the time. To continue with the fishing analogy, I remember being confused by a particular question in the General Intelligence section circa 1956. "Which one of the following is the odd one out? Whale, kipper, salmon, cod or plaice?" Even Molesworth 'knos' it could be any. A mammal, a smoked food, a fish with myoglobin migrating between fresh and salt water, a pelagic fish with white flesh captured by trawlling and a bottom dwelling fish with both eyes on one side of the body! What is a biology-mad kid to make of this? Relegated to a Secondary Modern, I luckily received unpaid coaching from a teacher (Mr Cooper in his spare time) with 2 English 'O-levels' and managed another 3 in addition, enabling me to do 'A' levels at a Technical College (granddad paid for my text books). This mean't I was the first member of my family to go to University (again, luckily, Hull didn't require a Modern Language- I hadn't done one). Obtaining a first class honours degree, mean't I was given the only available studentship to do a PhD. I then became a University academic, generating more than 200 peer-reviewed papers, helped write the 1st 2 QAA benchmarks for Biosciences, became President of an International Society and helped edit an International journal for more than 30 years etc. It seems to me, that early allocation to the 'select' and 'reject' groups is not always 100% accurate.

Taking the 'P' Out of PISA?

It's that time of the year again (shortly after 'manic Monday') when the Pisa 'comparisons' between school systems in many (but far from all) of the world's countries are made on the basis of testing samples of selected students in mathematics, reading and science ( ). In fairness, even the people who run the tests point out some of the problems (e.g. some languages are more phonetic than others, some countries show big geographical diversities in attainment, different levels of extra-curricular coaching is evident in some groups, happiness doesn't always equate with success in the tests, many subjects are not tested, the tests don't attempt to measure creativity etc, etc). Yet everytime these tables are published, the media and politicians of all stripes go bananas. The power of a table!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Making Pigs of Themselves?

There has been quite a lot of media attention on the suggestion by 'some top chefs' ( ) that, rather than putting food waste into land fill, it should be heat-treated (to remove potential pathogens) before being used to feed pigs. Food waste, in the UK, used to be used in this fashion but people became resistant to the idea in Europe as a result of the 'mad cow' debacle. Pigs are fattened on human food waste in several states of the USA and in a number of non-European countries. It is argued that using food waste here would reduce the amount of soya etc that has to be grown to feed pigs in areas like ex-rainforest zones of Brazil. I personally think that this is a reasonable idea but it might be difficult to ensure that all pig rearers effectively and efficiently heat-treated the material before feeding it to their animals.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Seeing the Changes 623

Flowers seem to be behaving strangely in Bynea. Oxford ragwort (Senecio sqalidus ), Scentless mayweed (Matricana perforata ), Bramble (Rubus fruticosus ) and Michaelmas daisy (Aster nov-belgii ) were all in flower.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Horse Sense

The debate about eating horse meat in the UK has been reignited ( ). The major real objection in the earlier debate really concerned people being misled about the origins of the 'beef' in their ready meals. In essence, it seems very wasteful to destroy this pampered protein because it has been a 'pet' (essentially, the animal would be buried or burned). The only doubt I have about whether making the carcass more valuable by making it saleable to UK consumers, is that some drugs used in veterinary treatment would be contra-indicated for the human food chain (so needed treatment might not be given).  

Friday, 15 November 2013

Irreplaceable Wildlife Locations?

It comes to something when lists of 'irreplaceable' environments appear ( ) along with succinct reasons why they are unlikely to survive in the long term. I am somewhat reminded that I am probably watching Sikkim (voted the number one location in the world to visit by 'The Lonely Planet Guide' series and an acknowledged biodiversity hotspot) probably in the throws of permanent and dramatic change. An airport is being built making access to a country one third the size of Wales much easier and an array of hydroelectric schemes are being developed on its rivers (said to be capable of generating 200 Gigawatts of electricity- but most of it to be used elsewhere in India).

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Halloween Moth From Sikkim

The New York Times carried a story ( about a moth (Macrocilix maia ) that appears scarier than it is. We had one come to the moth trap at the Hidden Forest Retreat in Sikkim!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Seeing the Changes 622

The first frost of the year was experienced in Loughor. The Traveller's joy (Clematis vitalba) also known as Old man's beard was much in evidence.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Seeing the Changes 621

More weird aseasonal weather after the big storm. Fly honeysuckle ( Lonicera xylosteum ) is still in bloom and the world is full of fungi. 

Friday, 25 October 2013

Defensive Caterpillar from Sikkim

A better view of the caterpillar that reacts to touch by 'growing horns'.

Himalayan Highlights

A bit of an absence in the Indian Himalayas (Sikkim). The students were excited by the mountains. The mountains, themselves were spectacular. We ran the moth trap, as usual, and caught some impressive moths. We also caught a stray dog. A Praying mantis came to examine our Kestrel recording equipment. We spotted a monster, hairy caterpillar and a green one that generated horns and a smell when threatened. Butterflies were spectacular with a Red lacewing, a Stripped blue crow, a Dark ceruleon, a Red-base jezebel and a brown with blue spots on its tail. We were visited in our accommodation by a Himalayan squirrel and the students enjoyed dressing up as Tibetans.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Birder's Bonus 135

The Canada geese (Branta canadensis ) appear to be moving from the wetlands and passing over Loughor. Much like my going off to Sikkim for 2 weeks.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Friday, 4 October 2013

Seeing the Changes 619

The torrential rain in Loughor has generated a mass out-break of fungi (probably Common funnel Clitocybe gibba ).

Monday, 30 September 2013

Of Cars and Women

The attempts to prevent Saudi women from driving appear to get ever more desparate ( It used to be claimed that they couldn't have a driving licence as checking their photographic profile would involve removing the veil. Now, a cleric suggests there is 'medical' evidence (sources unrevealed and how would they know as there are no samples of women to compare?) that driving damages the ovaries, distorts the pelvis and can result in children with abnormalities! There is nothing on the dangers of driving to the testis (perhaps by over stimulating the organ?) or on the actual difference in risk for women between simply sitting in a car and driving it! This seems to be yet another attempt to distort 'science' to support the unsupportable.  

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Poached Elephant

There is a particularly horrific report of poachers in Zimbabwe poisoning water-holes where African elephant go to drink ( It is claimed that up to 80 animals had died from an important herd of beasts and that several tusks were 'recovered' from investigated people's homes. Conservation is especially difficult when the workers have to deal with this kind of action. 

Second Time Around?

There is a recent report ( on 37 European species that have been helped by conservationists to come back from the brink of extinction. The European bison, European beaver and the Wolf are included as success stories. Less successful has been attempts to 'save' the Iberian lynx. One thing that strikes me, however, is that all the species refered to are vertebrate 'mega stars', so it would have been nice to see some less obvious (but perhaps more environmentally crucial) animals and plants in the list.

Birder's Bonus 134

Lots of Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) activity by Loughor Bridge!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Whether the Weather is Changing

It seems that everyone (from climate change scientists to people with an interest in selling more gas) have an opinion on climate change. We all experience the weather and 'know' what's happening to us. There is a new update on the latest science in this area ( but it seems that more and more of the general public are thinking the the scientists have got this thing wrong. Of course, you can't absolutely prove anything with science but you can determine probabilities. How many of us you argue against the protection offered by vaccinations (I know that small cohorts do) or that antibiotics can be useful in treating bacterial disease? There are areas where the general public trusts the collective view of scientists and others where they don't. Strangely enough, the latter examples often appear to involve situations where the contras have well-funded campaigns by vested interests.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Revealing the Spiders (From Mars)

The one decent thing about unforecasted drizzle is that it highlights the locations of all the Garden spider webs in the vicinity!

Friday, 20 September 2013

A Strange Confirmation?

I find it a bit strange but I suppose that being called 'an Eco freak' by UKIP ( must be seen as a sign that my reservations about tracking are not 'off the wall'.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Cooking Up a Storm in Honolulu

News that 1,400 tonnes of molasses flooded into Honolulu harbour from a leaky pipe linking the material to a ship that was intending to transport the material. This has killed enormous numbers of fish and other marine organisms and has led to worries about encouraging shark attacks in the area ( This is another illustration of how a relatively 'simple' error can have enormous impacts on natural environments (although 1,400 tonnes is an awful lot).

Going Wild in Rural China?

The recent 'freeze' on the production of wild animals for human consumption in rural China appears to be meeting difficulties ( h...