Monday, 25 February 2019

Seeing the Changes 1397


The warm weather resulted in a Hebrew character (Orthosia gothica) coming to my Loughor front door.

Seeing the Changes 1396


In Penclacwydd, Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) was in leaf.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Spring Trap?


The British papers and weather reports are full of excited speculation about whether Spring has come unseasonally early to the UK (without ever mentioning the possible link to climate change). Naturalists (who, with good reason, tend to be a pessimistic bunch) are, however, concerned that a cold, wet March could prove very damaging to some of the early emerging plants and animals (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/22/naturalists-concerned-for-early-emerging-spring-species-in-uk). In the natural world, the more reliable the calendar the better it suits our species..

Weaslly Good News?


A study has suggested that the banning of hunting and curtailing of pollutants has led to a surprising 'bounce back' (since the 1960s) by mammalian carnivores in the UK (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/24/britain-carnivore-badger-stoat-otter-pine-marten-numbers-increasing). Particular improvements in numbers have been noted for Badgers (in spite of the bovine TB-associated culls), Otters, Pine martens and Polecats. This is, of course, not uniformly good news for their prey animals but it does suggest a return (in some areas) to balanced ecologies. I have a slight concern, however, that this type of study tends to paint a rosy picture as it involves enthusiastic trawling for animal sightings for a limited period of time.

Bird Pests?


There is no doubt that there are occasional circumstances when birds (or their eggs) might have to be culled but the report that 'Natural' England (a 'conservation' body) has approved the destruction of some 170,000 birds (some from protected, endangered species) over a 5 year period suggests that the organisation is more than a little too ready to sanction such a course (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/22/conservation-body-issues-170000-wild-bird-kill-permits-in-five-years). Targets include Barn owls, Peregrine falcons, Red kites and swans along with the angler's pet hate, the Cormorant ('taking our fish'). Some of the grounds given seem a touch on the spurious side.

Seeing the Changes 1395


The Loughor Horse chestnut bud accelerates!

Friday, 22 February 2019

Seeing the Changes 1394



A warm February in Loughor. Blackthorn (Prunus spinose) is in flower and Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) buds are starting to unfurl.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Seeing the Changes 1393


Slender speedwell (Veronica filliformis) is in bloom in Loughor.

Old Boilers!


An expert Committee on Climate Change has suggested, that if the UK wants to meet its emission targets, old-fashioned gas boilers will have to be banned from new-build homes (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/21/ban-new-gas-boilers-by-2025-says-committee-on-climate-change). We will clearly need to use new methods of heating homes and cooking. This will, no doubt, increase costs for such homes.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

'Green' Euro Agriculture?


It has been claimed that European agriculture could feed its growing population if it shifted its emphasis away from grain-fed meats like pork and chicken (currently around half the grain produced is used to feed animals) and went 'organic' with people eating more vegetables and fruit  (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/20/european-farms-could-grow-green-and-still-be-able-to-feed-population). I appreciate that there might be real gains (from the current frighteningly awful situation) in insect biodiversity if there was a substantial reduction in the use of pesticides and a switch to growing plants appropriate to the region but the very activity of agriculture has a profound effect on the structure of the land (clearances of rocks and trees, tilling the soil and establishing of monocultures et cetera, et cetera). What we really need to do is to devote less of our land surface to such activity.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Nature's Calendar and Seeing the Changes


I have just noted (hearing a radio interview) that the Woodland Trust is advocating people taking part in a Nature's Calendar programme to log the dates of blooming and/or appearance of a range of flowers and critters (https://naturescalendar.woodlandtrust.org.uk/what-we-record-and-why/). This is not a million miles away from my Seeing the Changes series of posts over the last 6-7 years, intended to establish whether any events are occurring at atypical times. It should be possible to check out my data for this South-west Wales location.

Monday, 18 February 2019

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


Facebook is going through some difficult times at present. A problem of the way it currently operates, is that it can be seized upon by groups who misinform the reader, such as by generating fears about vaccination by focusing on pregnant women (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/feb/12/facebook-anti-vaxxer-vaccination-groups-pressure-misinformation). It has also been suggested that some criminal users on this platform (and others) have been transmitting clips of illegal (in this and many countries) blood sports such as hare coursing and cock fighting (often linked to betting). Both of these are in addition to the recent debates about exposing vulnerable children to images associated with self-harm and suicide as well as possible interference in elections and referenda. All these are the downside of something that can be beneficial in other respects. I await, with interest, to see how the politicians legislate in this area, without appearing heavy-handed.

The Science Roundabout Strikes Again?


Strange how ideas have a habit of coming round again. Scientists have recently suggested that the female reproductive tract in we humans acts like an obstacle course designed to 'weed out' sperm that are not in top physical condition (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/feb/13/female-human-body-blocks-weak-sperm-scientists-find). This would help ensure that the products of fertilisation are likely to be viable. I remember Dr Jack Cohen (then of Birmingham University) suggesting this idea around 40 years ago!

Fulminating?


Evidence that the eggs of Fulmars, nesting in the High Arctic on Price Edward Island, are contaminated with phthalates is very disturbing (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/feb/17/plastics-reach-remote-pristine-environments-scientists-say). The High Arctic is supposed to be a relatively uncontaminated area for seabirds feeding on fish, shrimp and squid, but the birds are presumed to have ingested the chemical from plastics floating in the area. Phthalates are added to plastics to make them more flexible but these chemicals are known to be hormone disruptors that could have a profound effect on the species' ability to reproduce. Even worse, the phthalates can be passed on in the egg to any chicks, meaning that accumulation (c.f. DDT) is progressive.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

'Children' Should Be Seen and Not Heard?


I'm sure that many of the 'children' now 'striking' in many parts of Europe against the apparent inertia of governments to do much that is meaningful about climate change (or even, in some cases, to admit its existence) feel somewhat patronised by the claim that they should not disrupt their studies and instead strive to become scientists (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/15/children-climate-inaction-protests-uk). Scientists are certainly needed but a) very few science graduates are elected to parliament; b) scientists are not generally listened to when it doesn't suit the politicians (the claims about 'traditional ways of life' and reducing costs/taxes seem to hold more sway as more votes are associated with short-termism) and c) the time scale is too long as it takes at least 15-20 years before a graduate might get into a position where they might slightly influence policy. Things are somewhat urgent given the rapidly closing window of opportunity!

Friday, 15 February 2019

Thursday, 14 February 2019

What the Jurassic Coast Needs is an Oil-Drilling Platform?


It is somewhat remarkable that the UNESCO Dorset Jurassic Coast was deemed an inappropriate location for a wind farm (on the basis of  appearances) but the siting of an oil-drilling rig was approved (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/14/oil-firm-bids-to-extend-drilling-off-dorset-coast-despite-risk-to-marine-life-corallian-energy). This pull of oil deposits seems to override any considerations about the need to curtail climate change. It is even more shocking that the company involved, although they had been limited to drilling in the winter months, to reduce the impact on endangered marine species (e.g. seahorses, rays and cetaceans), are now, reportedly, asking for their 'season' to be extended into March (when some migrations are taking place). One worries that 'mission creep' could result in their later requesting permissions to resume drilling in April or May?

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Will Buying Organic Food and Changing Your Garden Save the Insects?


Considerable concern has been triggered by reports that the planet's insect species (on which most terrestrial ecosystems depend) are in rapid decline. It has been suggested that buying 'organic' food, with its less intense use of land and its non-reliance on chemical pesticides, is one way of postponing the insect Armageddon (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/13/buy-organic-food-to-help-curb-global-insect-collapse-say-scientists). It might help a little but organic food tends to be more expensive than conventional foods (so not everyone can afford it) and rapid increases in the planet's human population make this an unlikely solution. It has also been suggested that 'we' could also make our gardens (a very middle to upper British focus) more conducive to insects by cutting the lawn less frequently (I like that) and by using native plants (rather than the imported exotics that characterise most plots). This runs, of course, counter to all the advice offered by the plethora of gardening programmes on TV. I don't doubt that some of us are well-placed do our bit relatively easily but I suspect that the problem of insect collapse requires much more drastic action from governments.


Putting a Spoke in the Plan?


Dutch plans to develop convoys of driverless trucks, headed by a vehicle with a single human driver (to make the most of transport links for industry) are apparently compromised by the ubiquitous bicycle (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/13/bikes-put-spanner-in-works-of-dutch-driverless-car-schemes). It seems that the bicycle is too small, too light and too rapid in its changes of direction for there to be confidence that that will always be responded to by the detector systems of the driverless cars.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Hit for Six!


It is hardly surprising but a new report clearly establishes that insect species are being rapidly decimated on a global scale
(https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-numbers-threaten-collapse-of-nature). They are actually disappearing at a much faster rate than the more newsworthy megafauna (i.e. Pandas, Elephants and Tigers) but they are just less noticeable to the general public. Given that insects (with a biomass much larger than our own species) are food items for many other animals, essential for the pollination of most plants and some are involved in the breakdown of organic waste, it is not an exaggeration when the claim is made that their loss (or even further reduction) will cause the collapse of many of the ecosystems on the planet (and hence human life). Much of the insect decline seems directly related to the activities of our own species in driving climate change, destroying habitats and in agriculture (particularly with the overuse of pesticides). We won't save the planet by going vegan if the insects crash! It might also be noted that we would be foolish if we don't also look after the bacterial species that help maintain life on Earth. 

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Rayban Ray Ban?


Hawaii is considering being the first to develop legislation to ban the killing of any sharks and rays in its considerable waters (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/08/hawaii-law-shark-ray-ban-ocean). This might be the only way to stop the destruction of these ancient beasts (many of which are apex predators). I suspect, however, that there will be problems with the fishing and tourism communities. It will also be quite expensive to 'police' the ban.

Young Brits Emulate Their European Counterparts


It's good that British schoolchildren are joining the 'strikes' of young school and college people to counter the inertia of current governments/ big business when it comes to serious environmental issues (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/08/global-school-strikes-over-climate-change-head-to-the-uk). I can but agree with them that our governments (including that of the UK) seem to do very little (except generate hot air) about issues such as a) climate change; b) encouraging adoption of sustainable/ healthy diets; c) countering air pollution, especially in cities; d) stopping ocean acidification and e) developing appropriate sources of power for their populations (rather than being obsessed with fracking). They might even be able to educate the so-called 'adults'!

More Than Just a Green Roof


'Agritecture' is an idea to make cities more self-sustaining (https://www.theguardian.com/cities/gallery/2019/feb/09/can-agritecture-make-cities-self-sufficient-in-pictures). It basically is an idea involving processes like hydroponics where food plants are grown within some of the buildings. There is scope for doing this and it would certainly reduce some of the food transportation costs (as well as, in some cases, using 'waste' heat). Of course, some of the required minerals, along with water and light would have to be transported to the sites. Its real benefits might well depend on what energy is used to provide the illumination that is needed for photosynthesis. Some of the contaminated city air might also be problematic.

Seeing the Changes 1391


Always nice when the Primrose (Primula vulgaris) blooms in Swansea.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Cleaner Wrasse Come Clean?


It is a somewhat contentious finding, but some scientists have claimed that certain reef fishes (Cleaner wrasse) can recognise their own image in a mirror (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/07/scientists-find-some-fish-can-recognise-themselves-in-mirror). Such an ability has been hailed, in other animals, as evidence of self-awareness and relatively advanced neural abilities (unlike the general view that fish only have a mini-memory). It could be the case that mirror recognition means something else in these fish.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Birder's Bonus 188


Lots of alleomimetic behaviour from flocks of Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) in Bynea.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Swansea Bay: Back in Play?


Just when you thought it was safe for the Swansea Bay SSSI it seems that the advocates for the Tidal Lagoon are to try to do the exercise without Government funding (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/04/swansea-tidal-lagoon-plan-government). It might also be added to by having floating solar panels in the lagoon along with the turbines. Much as I approve the generation of 'green' electricity, I still have concerns about the impacts on wading birds and visiting marine life. I am also worried about disturbing the toxic sediments left over from Swansea's history as the smelting capital for copper. It will certainly change the nature of what is currently an attractive location.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Subterranean Homesick Oranges?


Given the location of their country (predominantly below sea level), a number of Dutch commentators are wondering why the level of support for 'out of school' demonstrations against climate change by their children appears much lower than in counterparts in Belgium and Sweden  (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/03/belgian-kids-march-against-climate-change-why-dont-ours-ask-dutch). Elevations in sea level would certainly be problematic for the Netherlands. Having said that, there seems to be a lower tolerance of truancy by the educators in that country (suggesting that the children could demonstrate at weekends doesn't really cut it!). It could also be the case that Dutch children are more confident that 'their' adults will be focused on this issue (ignoring the sea isn't an option).

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Celebrity Can Damage Other People's Health?


Senior NHS folk are reportedly suggesting that social media companies should ban celebrity endorsements (often for large amounts of dosh) for weight loss and 'detoxification' preparations (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/02/nhs-social-media-companies-celebrity-adverts-health-products). There is often no scientific evidence that the preparations actually work. Some of these concoctions may have placebo effects whereas others are associated with causing or intensifying illness in their ingesters. The health professionals appear particularly concerned about the facts that a) Some sites have millions of 'followers' and these often include young people who regard the site owners as role models, b) Following the celebrities' recommendations can deter the followers from seeking appropriate medical advice and c) It is rarely clear on the site information that the celebrity has received payment for their advocacy.

Apocalypse Soon?


It's a bit 'end of the World' but one can't help agree that the evidence for serious, life-threatening, human generated climate change is overwhelming (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/02/the-devastation-of-human-life-is-in-view-what-a-burning-world-tells-us-about-climate-change-global-warming). The main source of frustration (for some of us) is that many of the current crop of politicians and company representatives appear to treat climate change as an inconvenience but something the next generation can worry about.

Friday, 1 February 2019

UK Near the Top of the Tree for Nature Depletion


It's not often that the UK achieves a high ranking for an assessed feature but we have come 189th out of 218 countries in terms of conserving our natural environment (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2019/jan/31/the-uks-nature-in-crisis-in-pictures). So, in spite of our apparent enthusiasms for natural history programmes (mainly on the BBC), support of the occasional media frenzies on issues such as environmental plastics and the activities of our well-endowed conservation-related charities, we are world class at killing off the nature around us.

Fishy Business



Many people seem reassured by reading that the fish they are eating is taken from 'sustainable sources'. It now appears, following DNA tests that some of the so-called 'rock salmon' sold in UK fish and chip shops is actually sourced from endangered (and protected) shark species
(https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/31/fish-and-chip-shops-are-selling-endangered-sharks-dna-tests-prove). Even some of the sharks fins sold to make sharks fin soup is some endangered species. It seems that DNA studies are likely to reveal that much of what we eat, isn't what we think it is.

Bearly Adequate?

The Bristol zoo proposal to put both Brown bears and wolves into an area of ancient British woodland for the first time in hundreds of ye...