Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Planet Enemy Number One?

A WWF report suggests that humans have eliminated as much as 60% of the natural populations of all other animal species since 1970 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/30/humanity-wiped-out-animals-since-1970-major-report-finds). This decimation is largely a consequence of many current farming and fishing practices (activities that are commonly eulogised). The result is a terrible reduction in biodiversity but also strongly suggests we are interfering with the cycles on our planet that maintain viable conditions for ourselves and much of the living world. In one sense, we are like a rampant weed that is out of control.

Soy Long

We tend to think that many of the climate-modifying changes in South America are purely driven by local self-interest but much of the incentive to increase soya bean production can actually be directly linked to the production of cheap meat and eggs for European markets (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/26/soy-destruction-deforestation-in-argentina-leads-straight-to-our-dinner-plates). Soya bean is used to feed cattle and hens but leads to the destruction of biodiverse areas like Gran Chaco in Argentina. Will trumpeting our complicity change the drive to deforest (legally and illegally)? I really don't think so.

Sniffing out Disease?

It has now been claimed that dogs can be trained to sniff out whether a patient has malaria by giving them access to the individual's worn socks (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323501.php). This, along with the observation that they can also identify men with prostate cancer, suggests that sniffer dogs (although they are not cheap to train) might well replace some of the high-priced electronic analytical equipment in our hospitals.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Disease?

Just heard a BBC interview on radio 4 on women, over 34, in some areas of the UK, being refused In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) procedures in spite of NICE suggesting that some cycles should be available to all women under 40 (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-45977524). These local variations are  presumably a consequence of difficulties with funding (it's a relatively expensive procedure and not having children is not really life threatening as is the case with cancer or diabetes- although it is sad for people who really want them). Having said that, I was surprised to hear a fertility problems  referred to as a 'disease'.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Seeing the Changes 1380


Very crisp but sunny in Bynea, so I was somewhat surprised to see an active Red admiral (Vanessa Atalanta) along with my first Small copper (Lycaena phlaeas) of the year.

Simply Ignore the Scientific Concensus If it Loses You Votes?

News that Welsh farmers are also demanding a badger cull  (as is already the case in sections of England) to 'protect' their dairy herds from bovine Tuberculosis (bTB), in spite of the mass of evidence of its ineffectiveness (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-45588403) seems to be at one with a current political trend (whether it concerns air pollution, climate change, vaccination rates or food safety et cetera). It seems to me that there is an increasing tendency by politicians (with their focus on the next election) to either ignore what their or independent scientists tell them if a powerful lobby group (car manufactures, farmers, fishermen, frackers, miners, oil companies et cetera) with its associated votes or finances is set on the opposite action (in the case of badgers and bTB, most experts working in the area believe that the cull has actually done nothing to reduce the actual incidence of disease in dairy herds and may, in deed, have had detrimental effects). Politicians seem to adopt one of two strategies namely a) find a minority dissenting voice in science and amplify it or b) more subtly, use a measure that obscures the lack of effect (most of the public will not look too closely).

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Seeing the Changes 1379

Another fungus makes a foray in Loughor (possibly Psathyrella pygmaea).

Friday, 19 October 2018

Manifestly Excessive

The squashing of the custodial sentences given to three fracking protestors in Lancashire, on the grounds that they were 'manifestly excessive' (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/18/this-is-just-the-beginning-freed-activists-return-to-fracking-site) appears to right a serious wrong (the individuals were first offenders, apparently of good character and endangered nobody in their activities). What is less easily corrected, however, is the suspicion that the initial trial had a vindictive element as a) the three were reportedly tried under an ancient law that could, in theory, have resulted in life imprisonment; b) the judge involved had close family connections to the hydrocarbon industries and c) traditional extenuating factors were ruled out in the trial. It almost appears that someone (in authority?) wanted to deter people from even considering protesting about fracking.

Re-Cyclist?

It's nice that the UK Highway Code (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2018/oct/19/the-highway-code-review-is-good-news-for-cyclists-but-should-just-be-the-start) has finally got round to suggesting that motorists should not pass cyclists too closely or 'door' them (knock them off, by suddenly opening the car doors without checking for proximity). To really encouraging the uptake of more cycling, however, several other issues need attention, namely a) reducing the noxious and health-damaging car-related fumes on our roads; b) generating 'real' cycle paths, especially in cities, that do not share the road with cars and trucks; c) giving (as in the Netherlands) priority in many traffic situations to the cyclist and d) further encouraging companies to make showering and changing facilities available for their workers.

Plastic Purloiners

Criminals often appear a little like viruses- wherever resources become evident (in this case, money associated with disposing of the 11 million tonnes of plastic packaging used in the UK per annum), they pile in to exploit it. There has recently been a drive in the UK to deal with such plastic waste (largely on the basis of seeing the detrimental effects of this long-lasting pollutant on emotive marine animals). It now appears that some of the UK companies that export plastic waste, have been playing fast and loose (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/18/uk-recycling-industry-under-investigation-for-and-corruption). It is alleged, in an Environmental Agency report, that plastic waste exporters (6 of whom have had licences suspended or cancelled in the last 3 months) have been claiming to export 35,000 more tonnes of plastic waste than the amount recorded by customs as leaving the country. The exporters generate perns (plastic waste recovery notes) on the basis of tonnage that are then cashed in by claiming cash (currently around £60 per tonne) from retailers and manufactures as 'their' contribution (although this is probably passed on to the consumers in higher prices) to dealing with the packaging problem. Consequently some perns appear to be counterfeit. In other cases, UK plastic waste, rather than being recycled, has been allowed to 'leak' into rivers and seas (totally at variance with what the public expected and paid for) or illegally exported to the Far East (to a largely unknown fate).

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Southern Sanctuary?

The UK government is apparently supporting a suggestion to set up a 1.8m square km (the square is important as we are dealing with an area rather than a straight line!) reserve in Antarctica to protect Blue whales, Leopard seals, Orca and penguins by banning fishing and hunting in that area (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/17/uk-government-backs-antarctic-wildlife-reserve-worlds-biggest). This would also be a beneficial development for the planet as the seas in that location absorb enormous amounts of carbon dioxide. Having said that, it doesn't actually cost the UK any money (they have not been so 'green' on their home turf) and there is no guarantee that all other countries will support such a move.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Landmark

Thanks to all the readers.

Seeing the Changes 1378

Spotted a big, orange spider (probably Araneus quadratus) amongst the brambles of Bynea.

Facing up to the Future

Recent claims by psychologists reckon that, on average, people can recognise the faces of about 5000 people (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/oct/10/how-many-faces-average-person-recognises-5000). I am pretty certain there is a considerable variation as people (like myself) with Aphantasia can probably identify fewer and I have seen reports on the employment by the police of so-called 'super-identifiers'.

They Cannot Be Serious!

It seems astounding (even to hard-headed industrialists) that the UK government is reportedly planning to take an axe to the current subsidies designed to encourage people to switch from petrol and diesel cars to electrical and hybrid vehicles (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/12/scrapping-uk-grants-for-hybrid-cars-astounding-says-industry). I seem to remember that a) the government claim they are moving to a zero emission plan for transport; b) there have been a plethora of recent claims about the effects of air pollution (especially transport-related) on early deaths and ill-health in the UK and c) the IPCC has suggested that the need to take action on climate change is somewhat urgent. Collective attention deficient syndrome?

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Seeing the Changes 1377

Torrential rain in Wales and the house becomes surrounded by Honey fungus (Armillaria mellea).

Mum's the Word?

Scientists have, reportedly, be able to successfully raise baby mice with parents of the same sex (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/oct/11/mice-same-sex-parents-born-same-sex-reproduction-humans). Apparently, the offspring of pups with two mothers appeared viable but those with two fathers died shortly after birth. Such experiments are a really long way from doing the same thing in humans (and this may not prove possible) but, perhaps, the role of male humans can eventually be dispensed with?

Dear Deer

It seems remarkable but trophy hunters also  reportedly operate in darkest Bedfordshire (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/oct/13/price-list-shoot-rare-deer-trophy-hunting-woburn-abbey). A company is said to be offering the opportunity to shoot an impressively mature  Red deer stag for around £9000. I suppose that the argument used is that the money can be ploughed back into conservation (actually an expensive activity given the need for salaries and work in the environment) but it doesn't sit too happily with the claimed aims of the Woburn Abbey group.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Robo Bees?

It seems that many groups are working to develop robo bees with a view to these being used to assist actual bees with pollination duties (https://www.livescience.com/57827-robot-bees-could-aid-pollination.html). Although this is a very interesting technical development, I suspect that it will not produce major changes on the planet as a) these drones are much more expensive than the real thing; b) they would find it difficult to operate outside monocultured crops and c) they presumably wouldn't be available for pollination duties in most of the natural world.

Less Bang for the Buck?

The suggestion by the NFU that farming has to consider radical ideas if it is not to be seen as a major impediment to the control of global warming is certainly true (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/12/low-emission-cows-farming-responds-to-climate-warning). The hope, however, that 'low emission' cows can safely replace the current crop doesn't really cut it as they (even if they existed) would still occupy the same land mass and consume the same amount of water. The same would apply to 'low emission' pigs and sheep.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Caught in the Web?

A report has suggested that there may be new 'medical' conditions, linked to our increasing reliance on the internet (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/09/cyberchondria-and-cyberhoarding-is-internet-fuelling-new-conditions). Cyberchondria is a term applied to behaviour, where people repeatedly explore the web and convince themselves that they have developed disease conditions that they haven't actually got (such behaviour can be a bit dicey, anyhow, because not all you read on the web is entirely accurate). Cyberhoarding can be applied to situations where the sufferer becomes incapable of deleting anything (just in case it might prove useful at a later date). These 2 conditions are, of course, just extensions of what occurred in some people in response to paper versions of information in the days before computing. Perhaps there are other, really novel conditions lurking out there?

Where's the Beef?

A  report on the production of foods has restated what has been evident for some time, namely that a UK obsession with daily meat and two veg is not sustainable as well as being relatively unhealthy
(https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/10/huge-reduction-in-meat-eating-essential-to-avoid-climate-breakdown). The authors suggest that the consumption of red meat (mainly beef, pork and lamb) should be a weekly treat; replaced at other times, by beans (hopefully not generating substantial amounts of human-generated methane?). This conclusion is based on the very substantial climate change effects of meat production and our urgent need to reduce it. All the red meat source animals produce methane (a very potent 'greenhouse gas') and their husbandry also results in substantial deforestation (reducing the uptake of carbon dioxide) in many parts of the globe. Further, the rearing of cattle, pigs and sheep occupies substantial areas of the planet (greatly reducing the biota of those areas) as well as using (and polluting) about 70% of global freshwater. Given the changing responses to meat on populations in developing countries (they generally aspire to eating more meat) as well as in ingrained habits in the developed world, it is difficult to see people adopting a dietary change of this nature. Cookery programmes will have to change and personal wealth shouldn't dictate who does and doesn't eat red meat (or take space flights?).

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Genetic Traits?

It has been claimed, by some scientists, that genetic research tends to focus on white, European stock, leaving other ethnicities unrepresented (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/oct/08/genetics-research-biased-towards-studying-white-europeans). The claim is that this prevents some groups from fully benefiting from the resulting research findings. I'm sure there is probably (an unconscious?) bias at present but will be surprised if research on people of Asian stock doesn't become more prominent in the near future. Perhaps later UK studies will try to balance the full range of ethnicities (along with gender, age and socio-economic circumstances).

It's Only a Tiny Earthquake!

It's amazing how accommodating this government can be to fracking! Apparently, you are not allowed to object to it happening in your 'back-yard' (or even under your own property) but a minister appears 'minded' to reduce the requirement of frackers to cease activity when seismic shocks at 'low' levels result (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/09/uk-fracking-rules-on-earthquakes-could-be-relaxed-says-minister). The actual 'earthquakes' may well be low level but they surely indicate that a disturbance is occurring in shale beds (and water courses?) in the locality. The response seems greatly at variance with their current support for the 'property concerns' of home owners in the south who don't want wind turbines sited near their properties!

Racing to Disaster?

It's amazing how short the UK news attention span can be. Within a few days of heralding the UN IPCC report, suggesting that our planet has limited time to remain a viable human habitat without dramatic changes in the release of greenhouse gases (involving major modifications in the behaviour of people and governments), the media appear enthralled by the 'space race' between Messrs Bezos, Branston and Musk to make space travel available for those rich enough to afford it (https://inews.co.uk/news/world/sir-richard-bransons-virgin-galactic-weeks-away-from-first-space-trip/). Have they really no idea of the emissions that are likely to be generated by these selfish 'bucket list' exponents and the message this is likely to send?

Monday, 8 October 2018

Twelve Years: That's All We've Got?

The new UN IPCC report reckons that we have only a few years to get the release of 'greenhouse gases' under control if we want to limit the increase in average global temperature to only 1.5 degrees Centigrade (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report). It is interesting that the summary (frightening enough) reportedly doesn't emphasise issues like the possibility of migration-related 'wars' triggered by climate change; the loss of virtually all corals in the oceans or the loss of many important pollinators on land (not to mention the opening up of the Amazon rainforest to 'agribusiness' by a right-wing Brazilian president). Although the scientists generating the report appear to think the changes are doable, by a combination of largely ceasing to use hydrocarbons for electricity generation and transport; planting areas to increase the photosynthetic uptake of carbon dioxide and (as yet un-established) methods of industrially removing the gas from the atmosphere, I am rather more pessimistic. I used to do research on populations of animals and one of the ideas developed by Professor V.C. Wynne-Edwards, around at that time, was so-called 'group selection'. Here, inbuilt behavioural and physiological mechanisms limited population growth, when it looked potentially damaging to the species. The problem with the idea was that developing any such  such 'altruistic' mechanism in individuals could not occur by natural selection. All species (including our own?) appear to be essentially 'selfish', being driven to actions by what benefits us or our close relatives. I rather suspect that a combination of self interest and procrastination will greatly limit our species' ability to collectively do the right thing for humankind and the planet.  

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Seeing the Changes 1376

Late in the season but Pale toadflax (Linaria repens) in bloom in Bynea.

Better Late Than Never?

News that there will be money to help restore the once ubiquitous forests in Scotland and Wales (as well as other areas in Europe) is timely (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/oct/07/caledonias-lost-forest-restored-to-glory-in-rewilding-cairngorms). Although the mounts are only a few tens of £millions, it presumably can be used to buy up tracts of land between the existing remnants (possibly with some moving of folk and demolitions). The resulting forests might well be big enough to rewild with lynx, elk, beavers et cetera, although one should note that viable populations of wild carnivores require very substantial home ranges.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Repository!

We have seed banks, to ensure that, in the event of a catastrophe, we don't lose the genetic diversity of plants. It has now been suggested by scientists that we should develop a store for the range of beneficial bacteria that inhabit the human gut in different populations of our species (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/oct/04/build-noahs-ark-for-beneficial-gut-microbes-scientists-say). These bacteria can do many useful things including reducing our tendency for certain diseases and manufacturing vitamins. Seems a good idea but, the way things are going, there might also be a need to conserve the bacteria involved in biogeochemical cycles. Beneficial fungi might require a protected 'home' as well. Come to think of it, we really need secure protections for all types of organism if we insist on treating the planet as an infinite resource.

Seeing the Changes 1375

Caterpillar makes an Autumn dash across the road in Bynea.

Friday, 5 October 2018

D Doh!

A large meta-analysis has suggested that taking vitamin D supplements in the winter months (when most people in the UK would produce less of this material as a consequence of reduced UV radiation of the skin) has no benefit on bone health (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/04/vitamin-d-supplements-dont-help-bone-health-major-study-concludes). The authors consequently suggest that government advice to take supplements be rescinded. I am somewhat ambivalent about this as a) Dietary advice clearly ought to be evidence led but b) Dramatic volte-faces in such advice cast doubt on any recommendations. Perhaps the initial advice was premature (before the available data had been properly evaluated) or fluctuating advice has been driven by competing interest groups?

Spiders Close London Schools

Exotic False Black widow spiders (not the one illustrated) have apparently closed 4 Schools in East London. The spiders (presumably imported on bananas) are not actually as poisonous as the actual Black widow but can still deliver a nasty nip (as well as being somewhat frightening for pupils and teachers). The schools will re-open once these alien invaders have been eliminated.

Seeing the Changes 1374

No moth at the Loughor light but visited by a Green lacewing.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Dull Dogs

It appears that people often over-estimate the intelligence of their pet dogs (http://www.gdnonline.com/Details/423723/Your-dog-may-not-be-as-intelligent-as-you-think). They do not appear to be especially bright for a carnivore species and can be out-thought, on some tasks, by a pigeon.

Finger Licking Lichen?

People in New Zealand have been warned not to consume 'sexy pavement lichen' in spite of its being claimed by some folk to act as...