Wednesday, 18 September 2019

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 deforestation had occurred (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/17/leading-burger-supplier-sourced-from-amazon-farmer-guilty-of-deforestation). Although it is now claimed that the practice has stopped and the farmer fined and blacklisted, the event does illustrate the nature of one driver that is leading to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Food Glorious Food

The UK imports more than 40% of its fresh food and a report by MPs suggests that its provisioning is threatened by a number of factors, including climate change and Brexit (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/17/uk-fresh-food-imports-areas-at-risk-climate-crisis-mps-warn). About 20% of food comes from areas currently viewed as being clearly at risk of environmental challenges (that area might actually be considerably larger than envisioned). One could argue that that might reduce the import of exotic items with their high carbon footprints but that wouldn't be much consolation to the producers. It seems likely that the British diet (as well as water usage) will have to be reconsidered.

Suborning Science

It is frightening to read of the apparently routine and systematic suppression of 'inconvenient' science on climate change and other environmental issues in the USA (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/17/whistleblowers-scientists-climate-crisis-trump-administration). If issues can be suppressed by political and commercial interests in 'the most scientifically advanced country on the planet', we are in a very dark place.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Subsidised Destruction

A report from the Food and Land Use Coalition (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/16/1m-a-minute-the-farming-subsidies-destroying-the-world) has noted that 99% of the £560bn annual subsidies to farming are for environmentally destructive purposes. Most are used to promote cattle production (with their high methane output- this effluent being a powerful greenhouse gas); forest destruction (removing major opportunities to store carbon and reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) and fertiliser use (with its tendency to pollute water systems). Unremarkably, they suggest that considerably more than the current 1% of subsidies should be used to encourage activities that are beneficial to our finite environment. Profits seem to be the be all and end all!

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Seeing the Changes 1358


In Loughor, Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica) was flowering. Two shrews lay dead about 20cm apart.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Seeing the Changes 1357

At Llangennith on the Gower, masses of large jellyfish were washed up. This caused a feeding frenzy by the sandhoppers.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Anthropocene: The Beginning or the End?

It has been reported that plastics (mainly from clothing) are now being found in the sedimentary rock record (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/04/plastic-pollution-fossil-record) where fossils are found. The rise of human-generated plastics is also said to be evident in plankton samples taken over the decades and now reanalysed for micro-fibres (in earlier years, people would not have thought them worthy of comment). So this really does seem to be the start of the Anthropocene (human dominated) geological era. Whether it will continue or not largely depends on the health of the planet.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Seeing the Changes 1355


In Loughor, lots more fungi and a visit by a Treble bar moth (Aplocera plagiata.

Friday, 30 August 2019

A Pink Gene?

I am somewhat unsurprised that scientists have managed to refute the idea that there is a single 'gay' gene (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/aug/29/scientists-quash-idea-of-single-gay-gene). Here was me thinking that it had all been sorted decades ago with a recognition that, in addition to complex genetic factors, influences like the in utero hormonal exposure, how one is responded to by parents and peers, one's own body image et cetera all play roles (to different degrees) in different individuals. Although genes are interesting, I do think there is a tendency to try to link them to every human quirk. Scientists don't seem capable to resisting the tendency to medicalise.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

French Follies?

It's nice to know that it's not only our own nationals who can be inconsistent about environmental issues. President Macron of France was vilified for months by the gilets jaunes campaign, when he attempted to increase the taxation on diesel and petrol in an attempt to discourage greenhouse gas production by cars and trucks. More recently, he has had his image 'kidnapped' from many townhalls for 'not doing enough about climate change'.

Monday, 26 August 2019

All Shook Up

They may be little earthquakes on the world scale but the generation of yet more illegal tremors near fracking operations close to Blackpool is probably a clear warning (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/26/latest-fracking-tremor-believed-to-be-uk-biggest-yet-cuadrilla-blackpool). The UK, unlike the US, is a small; relatively densely populated country. Fracking clearly to likely to make the rocky substrate of shale underpinned areas less stable as well as potentially contaminating water sources. And we really don't need to add more greenhouse gases by burning the product.

Wind Bag?

There's a typical 'he said it, no I didn't- it's fake news' about the claim that The US President asked why hurricanes were not 'nuked' before they reached the shores of his country (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/aug/26/donald-trump-suggests-nuking-hurricanes-to-stop-them-hitting-america-report). It actually seems a suggestion that is repeatedly made by folk from time to time. I am willing to bet that the residents of Africa (and elsewhere) wouldn't look too kindly on nuclear weapons being used in their back-yard where hurricanes tend to be generated. Exporting environmental problems seems to be a poplar strategy in certain circles

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Sheepish

Researchers at the Roslin Institute have used gene editing to create sheep having the characteristics of Batten disease (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/aug/24/mutant-sheep-may-help-cure-batten-disease-roslin-institute-genetic-research ). Batten disease is an inherited neurological condition found in children that is currently always ultimately fatal. Although the scientists admit that they may receive some criticism for engineering an animal with a fatal disorder, they claim that the sheep may enable them to develop treatments that can help the human victims. They argue that the sheep's brain is similar in size and complexity to that of a child (whereas the organ of a rat or a mouse is not a good match). Having said that, sheep and humans are rather fundamentally different.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Brazil Nuts?

It seems to be a fact of human behaviour that personal benefit generally appears to outweigh any other consideration (we are no better than any other animal, at genuine altruism). The record fires in the Amazon (the 'lungs' of our planet) are merely a recent example of this as they seem largely generated by farmers burning stubble or even forest, in attempts to generate more land for agricultural purposes (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/23/amazon-fires-what-is-happening-anything-we-can-do). This, of course, reduces the ability of the rainforest to store carbon and to generate oxygen as well as loading the atmosphere with more 'greenhouse gases'. I suspect that some of the peoples of Europe (and elsewhere) are starting to appreciate how the inhabitants of low-lying Pacific islands feel (namely that greedy folk elsewhere have no understanding of their situation and, even if they did, couldn't care less). It does seem ominous that self-centred, climate change deniers (who often appear to hate 'foreigners') have presently assumed control in many parts of the globe. The prognosis for the planet doesn't look good.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Seeing the Changes 1354


Not much change at Crymlyn burrows but Heather (Calluna vulgaris) was displaying well and spotted a first Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria tircis) in that location.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

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 a natural alternative to Viagra (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/15/new-zealanders-warned-about-the-consumption-of-sexy-pavement-lichen). Firstly, there are doubts about its sexual benefits and, secondly, the fungus is likely to be contaminated with urine, dog faeces and pollutants from road traffic. Licking it could make consumers seriously ill rather than converting them to 'sex machines'.

Seeing the Changes 1353



In Crymlyn burrows, the combination of heavy rain and sun brought out Common earthball (Scleroderma citrinum) fungi. On the dunes, Rock samphire (Crithmum maritinum) and Carline thistle (Carlina vulgaris) flowered. Mountain ash (Sorbus acuparia) and Dog rose (Rosa canina) fruited. Robber-flies were locked in a deadly embrace.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

The Ragwort Dilemma


There is another debate concerning whether conservationists should be tasked with removing Ragwort (primarily Senecio jacobaea). It is designated as a 'weed' (the 'Root out Ragwort' campaign) that must be removed. It is the only food of the larva of day-flying Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) which advertises its poisonous nature to birds with its distinctive red and black colouration. The reason it is poisonous is that its larvae (also distinctively coloured and grouped on the food plant) incorporate toxins (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) produced by the Ragwort to protect it from herbivores. The larvae are grouped as ingestion of one caterpillar will cause its kin to be avoided by predators.The reason Ragwort is banned from many locations is that its glycoside can kill horses, ponies and cattle by damaging their hearts and livers. Like most of conservation, it's a question of which organisms you favour and why. Different people will have different answers to these kind of conundrums.

The New 'X' Files?

It has apparently proved possible to separate X and Y human sperm on the basis of their differential movement (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/aug/13/sperm-separation-method-may-allow-gender-selection-in-ivf). This might well lead to the technique being used to specify sex in in vitro fertilisation programmes. Although favouring one sex is generally a bad idea (particularly seen in some cultures), there are some genetic conditions where specifying the sex could reduce the risk of passing on harmful conditions.

OK KOed

News that the OK glacier of Iceland is now defunct is pretty worrying (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/14/glaciers-iceland-country-loss-plaque-climate-crisis). Apparently, the melting of Iceland's glaciers will 'only' add about 1cm to sea levels but this would be pretty devastating for any low lying countries.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Seeing the Changes 1352





More from Crymlyn burrows with Devil'sbit scabious (Succisa pratensis) in flower. Activity by Brown argus (Aricia agestis); Small white (Pieris rapae); Small copper (Lycaena phalaeas) and Green-veined white (Pieris napi) butterflies.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

They Glow in the Dark

Studies have been carried out on 2 shark species, Chain catsharks and Swell sharks, that show bioluminescence (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/08/scientists-discover-why-two-shark-species-emit-green-glow). These fish live in the West Atlantic and the East Pacific at depths where only blue light can reach and on its exposure causes them to glow bright green. The bioluminescence is different from that seen in certain jellyfish (where it is used in medical diagnosis) and may be involved in mate-finding, as males and females have different light patterns. The skin-based chemicals may also play a role in defence against microbial infections.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

That's News to Me?

An IPCC report starkly confirms that the way most of the world farms and eats is in danger of making the planet incapable of sustaining human (and much of other) life (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/08/climate-crisis-reducing-lands-ability-to-sustain-humanity-says-ipcc). The authors particularly point to the problems associated with meat and dairy production (and its growing popularity in some developing world regions) but refuse to advocate legislation to encourage dietary changes (as they are scientists rather than policy makers), somewhat to the chagrin of others (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/08/ipcc-land-climate-report-carbon-cost-meat-dairy). I must admit to finding the current news cycle intensely un-joined up. Items appear on the dangers of climate change and then are immediately followed,without comment linking it to climate change, by suggestions that political changes might result in many dairy cows in Northern Ireland having to be killed. Yet other stories suggest that the newly burgeoning birth-rate in China could offer lots of export possibilities for food products. Perhaps one of the reasons the IPCC report strikes some people as mealy-mouthed is the fact that news items are treated as compartmentalised boxes rather than recognising that most news-worthy events involving humans have environmental, economic, political, welfare, safety and fairness aspects/consequences.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Seeing the Changes 1351

A few more changes at Crymlyn burrows. What looked like Grass of parnassus (Parnassia palustris) was in flower. A bee (Macropis eurpaea) and a Painted lady (Cynthia cardui) foraged.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Seeing the Changes 1350


Down by the Loughor estuary there was much evidence of 'Oak apples' (galls of Biorhiza pallida); the invasion of Painted ladies (Cynthia cardui) and Red admirals (Vanessa atalanta).

Seeing the Changes 1349

 
 
More flowerings in Loughor with Enchanter's nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) and Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum).

Who's a Pretty Boy, Then?

There seems to be another (late) addition to the parrots of New Zealand with the discovery of the fossil remains of a very large bird Heracles inexpectus (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/aug/07/fossils-largest-parrot-ever-recorded-found-new-zealand-heracles-inexpectatus). This parrot weighed about 7kg, was probably flightless and may have supplemented its largely vegetarian diet with the odd mammal or bird.

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 ...