Friday, 31 August 2018

Depends Where You Are?

The clash between English and French scallop dredging boats in the 'English Channel' seems somewhat predictable (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/aug/28/french-and-british-fishermen-clash-in-scallop-war-skirmish). The English are incensed because they are legally fishing (albeit in a very destructive way) as they are in an area not too close to the French coast. The French are incensed because they have been banned from taking scallops from this very same area to enable the species to recover (something that won't happen with their competitor's blitz). It is difficult enough to get fishing communities to look after the species they ultimately depend on, without engineering such a conflict of interest.

Seeing the Changes 1367


Timings seem all messed up. Earliest colour change on leaves in Loughor and latest first appearance of Painted lady (Cynthia cardui) in Bynea.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Kids Kiddied on Energy Drinks

Interesting news that the UK government is to attempt to ban the sale of (high sugar/ high caffeine) 'energy drinks' to children (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/29/ban-sale-energy-drinks-to-children-uk-government-combat-obesity). This is mainly advocated as a move against the obesity challenge but it has also been reported that a can of such drink is the sole 'breakfast' of some children (grabbed on the way to school?). Such concoctions are also likely to increase the incidence of diabetes and to damage the attention spans in their drinkers, Given the ease with which the manufacturers have convinced the general public of their 'benefits' (providing, in a simple sense, energy and reducing sleep), it will be interesting to see how effective any new regulation is. I suspect that some adults will buy these items for children (as families of football-playing children, in my experience, seem prone to do). Will purchasers need proof of age?

Medieval Strip Fields on Island of Portland

This ancient field system has also persisted on the island of Portland in Dorset (the Mesolithic reconstruction in the foreground depicts a much earlier human life-style). So the development on the Gower is an interesting experiment, encouraging biodiversity that might well be tried elsewhere (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/29/return-of-strip-field-farming-creates-haven-for-rare-species-in-south-wales).

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Worm's Eye View?

The National Trust at Rhossili, on the Gower, over-looking Worm's Head have reconstituted the medieval strip field system in an area called The Vile (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/rhossili-and-south-gower-coast/trails/rhossili-headland-walk). The intentions (by recreating boundaries that fell into disuse with a fashion for bigger fields and monocultures) appear to be to a) improve interest in and the appearance of the area; b) demonstrate that the system can be economically viable and c) make the location more supportive of pollinator species. It is reported that the crop of Sunflowers (intended to generate saleable bird food) has proved very popular with visitors but I seriously doubt that this crop was present in this region in medieval times. In one sense, however, this doesn't really matter.

Seeing the Changes 1366

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) was in berry in Bynea.

Birder's Bonus 185

In Bynea, there were a few Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) foraging among the thistles.

Seeing the Changes 1365

A massed emergence of what appear to be Solomon's seal sawfly (Phymatocera aterrima) in a hedge in Loughor.

Paraenvironmentalism?

A tiger, in an Indian zoo, with a paw damaged by a poacher's trap is set to undergo surgery and to be fitted with a prosthetic paw (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/28/tiger-injured-poacher-to-get-fake-paw-india). This is technically interesting but will not do much for the survival of this species in the wild.

The Air is Thick?

A disturbing study from China has suggested that exposure to air pollution, as well as damaging physical health, has a powerful detrimental effect on intelligence, especially in adult males (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/27/air-pollution-causes-huge-reduction-in-intelligence-study-reveals). China, admittedly, has some pretty impressive and chronic air pollution, especially in its cities but the finding certainly has resonance in the UK (and elsewhere) to locations that are well-frequented by cars and trucks (including many inner-city schools). Yet another reason why government should be pressured to 'clean up its act'?

Monday, 27 August 2018

Scoop!

A report by 'Which' has revealed that, when they tested 24 products purchased in the UK, labelled as 'vanilla ice-cream', 10 contained no cream or fresh milk and 7 contained no vanilla (https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/aug/27/one-in-five-vanilla-ice-creams-has-no-vanilla-cream-or-fresh-milk). Prior to 2015, when labelling laws were changed, this would have been illegal. It is implied that the change was to enable vegan and reduced-fat products to acquire the label (to facilitate 'healthier' eating?). I can understand why cream and fresh milk might be replaced but surely (in spite of its expense) vanilla ought to be an ingredient of an item with this label.

Seeing the Changes 1364




Torrential rain brought out fungi in Loughor and Bynea. In the latter location, Great mullein (Verbascum thapsus) was in flower (but distinctly stunted).

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Seeing the Changes 1363


Although August, it feels quite autumnish. Fly honeysuckle (Lonicera xylosteum) is in flower in Loughor. The leaf miner-infested Horse chestnut trees are, at least, producing a few conkers.

WTF

News that the household products company Procter and Gamble has applied to Trademark a number of acronyms much used by a younger computer-savvy cohort is somewhat disturbing (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/24/procter-gamble-bids-to-trademark-lol-wtf-and-other-acronyms). I really don't see what LOL and WTF have to do with soap manufacturers! It seems wrong, to me, that terms (and even phrases) that are in the public domain can be 'grabbed' in this way for commercial exploitation. At least the Smiley Face and Jersey, however, have so-far resisted attempts to have them trademarked by other folk.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Seeing the Changes 1362

Slippery Jack (Suillus lutea) slides into Loughor.

Kelpie's Retreat?

A fuss is developing over an application by Ayr-based Marine Biopolymers to Marine Scotland to mechanically strip some 34,000 tonnes of kelp per annum from around Scottish waters (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/24/kelp-dredging-proposal-criticised-by-conservationists-scotland). The kelp is desirable to the company as commercially viable 'alginates' can be extracted from it. Although this stripping represents less than 0.2% of the kelp beds and the proposal aims to be 'sustainable' (by, for example, not returning to locations for 5 years), a number of conservationist organisations have expressed concerns. They are not convinced that we have sufficient knowledge of the ecology of the Scottish kelp beds to judge whether the proposal is genuinely sustainable (to the kelp and its associated animals) and point out the importance of this 'seaweed' in taking up carbon from the atmosphere. 

Spotty Coverage?

As an additional piece of information pertinent to the recently-reported rise of measles infections (linked to declines in uptake of the MMR vaccine) in the US and EU, a recent study by an American body has suggested that the debate surrounding the safety of child vaccinations is being deliberately manipulated by bots and trolls with foreign connections (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/aug/23/russian-trolls-spread-vaccine-misinformation-on-twitter). Apparent 'pro' and 'anti' material is posted seemingly with the intention of fuelling conspiracy theories in a manner not too dissimilar from that used to advance political views.

Larceny in Slow Motion?

A College in Dorchester has reportedly had four (3 female and 1 male) Giant tortoises stolen, 'in the dead of night', by thieves presumed to have operated with wheelbarrows (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/23/thieves-rob-four-giant-tortoises-from-dorchester-using-wheelbarrows). The animals were all 'chipped' (although these could be surgically removed) and one has to presume that they were either stolen for the illegal 'pet trade' or to be ransomed. Either way, it is a sad comment on current society and its values. 

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Climate Change Hits Santa?

News from Sweden that the Sami reindeer herders of the far North are finding it very difficult to find sufficient food for their animals (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/22/sweden-reindeer-herders-risk-starvation-climate-change-arctic). This appears to be a consequence of a severe drought in the area, presumably triggered by disruption of the typical weather patterns (i.e. climate change).

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Turning Up the Temperature?

It has been reported that, what was thought to be the oldest and most stable Arctic ice sheet near Greenland, is breaking up for the first time since records have been taken(https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/21/arctics-strongest-sea-ice-breaks-up-for-first-time-on-record). This will have several negative effects including a) less sunlight being reflected back into space, increasing global warming and b) encouraging more shipping in the seas of this area, together with further opening the possibility of hydrocarbon (and other mineral) extraction. If you take this together with reports that the US is to encourage more coal burning to generate electricity, things don't look too good for the planet.

I'll Just Go For a Lie-Down

A recent study suggests that the most lethargic organisms are more likely to stave off extinction for longer than counterparts who 'burn' more energy (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/aug/22/forget-survival-of-the-fittest-the-laziest-will-inherit-the-earth). The study is largely based on an examination of marine invertebrates but one can see that a lower metabolic rate could well benefit animals (such as those limited to a relatively small sea) who might well find it difficult to ingest large numbers of calories.

Seeing the Changes 1361

The shape of moths (Agriphila tristella) to come in Loughor.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Spotty Uptake?

Measles was once a disappearing disease, largely controlled by widespread childhood treatment with the triple MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. More recently, however, after a number of vaccination scare stories (for example, linking it to autism) the uptake of MMR has declined to a level where it no longer offers 'herd immunity' to unvaccinated folk. The result is a rocketing incidence of measles with around 41,000 cases (with almost 40 deaths) across the EU in the 6 months until June, 2018 (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/aug/20/low-mmr-uptake-blamed-for-surge-in-measles-cases-across-europe). The highest incidence was in the Ukraine with 23,000 cases. Worryingly, two countries also with high measles incidences (France and Italy) have political parties that advocate 'parental choice' for vaccination programmes (this sounds good but who pays for any resulting medical consequences?). England is not quite in the top 7 for measles incidence but, reportedly, the majority of 'our' cases were teenagers and young adults who missed out on MMR treatment when they were young. A chief MMR antagonist is now said to be US-based.

Snug as a.....?

The recent hot weather in the UK has apparently further stimulated the spread of the bed bug Cimex lectularius (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/aug/19/bedbugs-heatwave-sparks-plage-pest-infestation). High temperatures apparently speed up the life cycle of this opportunistic ectoparasite that feasts on our blood whilst we snooze. The little suckers can reportedly be found in all grades of accommodation from fancy hotels to doss houses. London is said to have a particular problem, as a number of tube lines appear to be 'well infested'. The Circle line and the routes from The Elephant and Castle towards both Lewisham and Croydon are reportedly hot-spots. Rather obviously, the carriages need some basic repeat fumigation to prevent people bringing little 'pets' home with them. I suspect that this is resisted as it means delays to services.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

For the Birds?

The RSPB have warned that three planed bills due in the next 12 months (on agriculture, fisheries and the environment) are essential, if we are to attempt to start to undue the environmental damage that has led to very substantial losses of these organisms in the UK (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/18/endangered-birds-farming-uk-brexit). Somewhat remarkably, even interested parties appear to currently have very little idea what will be in the bills (except for a little 'mood music') and the control of agricultural practices (a major factor in bird loss) will depend on them, especially if Brexit goes ahead (resulting in our being outside any current EU protections).

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Up in a Puff of Smoke?

There has been a suggestion, from a select committee, that the current UK laws on vaping (in England) should be relaxed (to include places like railway stations and areas within hospital grounds) on the bases that a) vaping is much less toxic than cigarette smoking; b) vaping can help some people stop smoking carcinogenic tobacco products and c) Smoking is particularly common in people with mental health issues (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/aug/17/relaxing-e-cigarette-laws-would-cut-smoking-deaths-say-mps). Having said that, there is little doubt that tobacco companies see this as a way of maintaining their profits at a time with declining cigarette sales. There are remaining problems as a) vaping may not be without negative health effects (a recent study suggests an impairment of the immune system); b) passive breathing of vaping fumes may influence the health and enjoyment of people in the immediate vicinity (including children) and c) making vaping possible in public areas may encourage its use (and even lead to eventual cigarette smoking). I am note that it has recently proved very difficult to get a relaxation of cannabis-derived medications in the UK to treat serious medical conditions (such as some types of epilepsy). If nicotine was a recently utilised drug, rather than one that has been around for centuries, I suspect that it would be hard to get vaping concoctions licensed for use anywhere.

Seeing the Changes 1360



A little action at my front door with what appear to be a Neglected rustic (Xestia castanea) and Willow beauty (Peribatoides rhomboidaria) moths, accompanied by a large harvestman spider.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Carbo-Unloading. Is it a Good Idea?

There has been great enthusiasm, in some quarters, for low carbohydrate diets as a method of staying slim and fit. A recent American questionnaire-based study has, however, suggested that people adopting such diets (especially when they replace carbohydrates by fatty meat and dairy products) show (even when corrected for other risk factors, such as smoking) a reduction in their life span (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-45195474). Diets with too much carbohydrate, however, also reduced longevity. This really underlines the point that what you really need is a balanced diet with about half your calories coming from healthy carbohydrates (although nuts appear to be good options).

Brum Brum

At last, it appears, someone in the UK is getting serious about air quality. It has been reported (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-44524898) that Birmingham is to introduce charges for people entering specified clean air  zones with high polluting vehicles (particularly certain cars, trucks and buses) on the calculation that the polluter should pay. Although this is a reasonable step (air quality causes premature deaths, expensive-to-manage illnesses and lost economic activity) it might well be seen by the relatively wealthy as simply a local 'tax' (and people in some shops have already complained that it might hit trade). Certainly, there needs to be a rapid improvement in non-polluting public transport in the area. The Scandinavians, as is often the case,  established this type of arrangement years ago!

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Leather Little Protection

Many people profess their enthusiasms for marine life such as turtles. But the discovery of a majestic but dead Leatherback turtle in Cornwall originally led to a suspicion that it had been killed by ingesting plastic. The animal feeds largely on jellyfish and, in the water, a plastic bag may look much the same to the beast (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/shortcuts/2018/aug/14/plastic-warm-seas-propellers-cornwall-turtle). Necropsy confirmed that the turtle had, in deed, consumed some plastic. Wounds on its 'shell', however, revealed that this animal was probably terminated by collision with a boat's propeller. So that's alright then?

No End to the Rainbow?

Concerned about local customers being fobbed off with Rainbow trout when buying salmon? The Chinese answer is to officially classify both salmonid fish as 'salmon' (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/14/china-rainbow-trout-and-salmon-the-same-thing). This is in spite of the two species having completely different life-styles, one being a migrant between salt and fresh waters and the other limited to riverine/lake environments. I suppose it makes as much sense to reclassify wheat and barley as 'rice' (after all, all are grains)?

It's An Ill Wind?

The hot UK summer of 2018, whilst being problematic for farmers, gardeners and fish, has been a boom time for archaeology (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/aug/15/millennia-of-human-activity-heatwave-reveals-lost-uk-archaeological-sites), revealing, from the air, unsuspected locations of farms, settlements, burial grounds, Roman manors et cetera. This is due to slight variations in the heights and types of vegetation occurring in such locations, creating patterns that can be viewed from slow flying aircraft. As at least four more years of hot summers are predicted, this will only increase our knowledge of human activity in these islands.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Seeing the Changes 1359


In Bynea, Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) was coming into fruit. Visited by a 14-spot ladybird (Propylea quatuordecimpunctata) in Loughor.

Monday, 13 August 2018

White Out!

Although warming of the seas around the UK coasts have resulted in the sighting of 10 new shark species new to our waters, it has been predicted that we will not be welcoming the Great white to our shores (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/12/warming-seas-10-new-shark-species-british-waters-great-white). Although this is in some senses disappointing (the top predator is an impressive beast), it might at least stop our newspapers going ballistic about the dangers to innocent tourists. The shark is much less dangerous to humans rather than vice versa.

A-salting?

It may be controversial but a new paper claims that salt levels in our foods are not as damaging as has been claimed (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/aug/09/salt-not-as-damaging-to-health-as-previously-thought-says-study). People have been trying for some time to get food producers (who use the compound as a taste enhancer) to greatly reduce the salt content of their products. They have done this because it has been claimed that salt increases blood pressure, a risk factor in both coronary heart disease and stroke. The study suggests that the benefits of reducing salt are only evident in countries with very high levels of salt in their foods (such as China). In countries with less salty food (like the UK), it is claimed that there is little point in seeking the elimination of this compound (I am sure this will go down well with many food producers).

Seeing the Changes 1358


More blooms spotted on travels. Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) was seen in Mumbles and Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) in Gorseinon.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Seeing the Changes 1357










Late summer in Broughton on the Gower. Dwarf mallow (Malva neglecta); Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia); Lady's bedstraw (Galium verum) and Cnidium (Cnidium dubium) were all in flower. The berries on Black bryony (Tamus communis) hips on the Burnet rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia) had also appeared. The pupae of Six-spot burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae) were all over the vegetation and there was a large gathering of Bloody-nosed beetles (Timarcha tenebricosa). A large bumble bee made the most of a break in the weather.

Amazon Burgers?

It has been claimed that some of the beef supplied to McDonald's and Burger King by a Brazilian company came from land where illegal ...