Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Seeing the Changes 1399

Another flowering in Loughor, this time a Forgetmenot (Myosotis sp). Looks like another garden escapee.

Big Farmer?

Yet another claimed horror story concerning the reported historical research practices of 2 big, linked agrochemical producers (Monsanto and BASF). They initially developed glyphosphate (Roundup)-tolerant seeds, whose fields could be sprayed with the herbicide, killing only the weeds (both the seeds and the herbicides had to be purchased from the companies). When the technology started to fail, as weeds developed tolerance to the herbicide, it is claimed that they started work on an alternative, privately knowing that this was likely to damage some US farmers (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/30/monsanto-crop-system-damage-us-farms-documents). What they broadly did was to develop crops that were tolerant to another of their herbicides, dicamba, knowing that its volatile nature would result in it causing drift damage of nearby plants. Emails suggest that the companies were fully aware that their assurances on spraying technology would not solve the problem. They also appear to have discouraged any third party studies on their 'voodoo science' (their words). This is a strange application of science.

Rowing Back Via Covid-19?

It's a bit tough on the Japanese, given the impact of Covid-19 on their Olympics, but their new plan for 'greenhouse gas' emissions targets have been roundly condemned as 'wholly inadequate' (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/30/campaigners-attack-japan-shameful-climate-plans-release). The Japanese were one of the first major countries (they are the 5th largest polluter) to publish their plan in advance of the proposed Glasgow meeting. Broadly speaking, their aspirations don't seem to have improved over what they agreed to in 2013 in Paris (although it is now recognised that this would have been inadequate to limit the increases in the global temperature to a 'safe' level). A number of authorities appear worried that Covid-19 pandemic will be used by countries to 'water down' their emissions targets

Car Equivalents

An NGO has estimated that four global drinks companies (Coca-Cola; PepsiCo; Nestle and Unilever) annually generate half a million tonnes of plastic pollution in six developing countries (China; India; Brazil; Phillipines; Mexico and Nigeria). They claim, that on a daily basis, the waste would cover more than 80 football pitches (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/31/report-reveals-massive-plastic-pollution-footprint-of-drinks-firms). If the plastic packaging was burnt, it would reportedly generate 4.6m tonnes of carbon dioxide which is equivalent, they feel, to the exhaust fumes of 2 million petrol/diesel cars. This, at least, gives people an idea of the size of the problem (but there are, of course, there are many more companies and countries).

Monday, 30 March 2020

Seeing the Changes 1398

Silver birch (Betula pendula) in catkin in Loughor.

Toad Out of a Hole

Yet another benefit to wildlife! It has been suggested that the cancelling of the annual evening April 'bunny run' fell races by the Wharfedale Harriers, as a consequence of the Covid-19 outbreak, will save the lives of thousands of toads (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/30/giant-leap-for-toadkind-after-yorkshire-fell-runs-are-cancelled). The races just so happen to correspond with the toad's migration to a pond near the route in order to mate. It has been suggested that, when the races resume, the course could be changed, moving it away from the breeding site. Other possibilities include holding them at a different time of the year (outside the breeding season) or earlier in the day (so the runners are more likely to see animals that might otherwise be trampled). 

Seeing the Changes 1397


More flowers in Bynea with the appearance of the Hoary plantain (Plantago media) and the Meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris).

Quick! The Humans Have Gone!

There are interesting reports of wild animals in the UK making the most of the relative absence of humans, along with the noise of their vehicles (as a consequence of the Covid-19 lockdown) to maximally exploit habitats (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/29/uk-wildlife-enjoys-humans-lockdown-but-concerns-raised-over-conservation). These include a high incidence of moles foraging on the surface (rather than lurking underground) and ground-nesting birds flocking into areas suddenly vacated by walkers and their dogs. Although public footpaths have remained open in and around many parks, the car parks serving them are mostly closed, greatly reducing the footfall. Our absence (along with our 'best friend') has also reportedly caused foxes and weasels to roam more widely. Of course, there may be problems, especially for ground-nesting birds, if the gates are suddenly thrown open without considering what the animals are currently up to.

Casting the Dye

Reports that the police have dyed the waters of the Blue lagoon on Hurpur Hill, Buxton black are disturbing (https://www.derbyshiretimes.co.uk/health/coronavirus/police-dye-water-buxton-blue-lagoon-deter-swimmers-during-coronavirus-lockdown-2521350). I can appreciate that, in these days of the Covid-19 pandemic, they would want to deter reported groups of swimmers from gathering in the location but, even if the dye is harmless to humans, one cannot be sure that the chemical or its obscuring effects would not be detrimental to other animals and plants in and around the pool. If this had been done by anyone else, it would have been classified as vandalism or a polluting event. 

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Birder's Bonus 196



A Little egret (Egretta garzetta) was busy in the Loughor estuary whereas a Redshank (Tringa tetanus) was more relaxed.

Follow the Virus?

It's a long and complex story, with many areas of uncertainty, but the development of the Covid-19 agent appears to be in the tradition of viruses 'jumping' between domesticated animals and our own species (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/28/is-factory-farming-to-blame-for-coronavirus). In deed, one school of thought believe that the first Influenza viruses can be linked to the Chinese domestication of ducks some 4000 years ago. Although it's debatable, Covid-19 probably went from bats to pangolins to humans. It is argued, by some folk, that factory farming of chickens (good incubators in their dense monocultures of viral strains that also facilitate transmission by the close proximity of birds to human workers) by big organisations may have provided an impetus. In China, undercut smallholding farmers appear to have been pushed into farming wild animals (by these exotics being branded as 'luxury' products rather than subsistence items) in locations nearer the forests populated by virus-transmitting bats. None of this is certain but it does seem evident that we need to look carefully at our methods of raising animals for human consumption, if we want to limit the abilities of viruses to move to human hosts.

Water(short)fall

It may seem odd, given the anguish caused by this winter's flooding, but the National Audit Office are predicting (as has been the case for a number of years) a profound shortage of water especially in SE England within the next 20 years (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/25/parts-of-england-could-run-out-of-water-unless-urgent-action-taken-report). This will be caused by a combination of increased demand (more people and activities) and a climate crisis-induced reduction in water supply. They predict that the water companies will need to take 500m litres less from rivers and aquifers if there is not to be a total collapse of biodiversity. This will be accompanied by a 600m litre daily reduction in rainfall. If it's not one problem, it's another!

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Greening the Rooftops?

Green roofs have long been in vogue in Scandinavia but there now is a plan to upscale the approach for much larger buildings in the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/27/utrecht-rooftops-greened-plants-mosses-vertical-forest). I have long had a sneaky regard for Utrecht having lived there for a few months in the early 1970s. Many of the things they are attempting on living and transportation seem to be innovative and brave.

Will Climate Change Get the Same Treatment as the Covid-19 Pandemic?

A group of UK scientists, in an online forum, have strongly suggested that the response to the Covid-19 outbreak needs to be replicated when it comes to the potentially more dangerous problem of climate change (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/28/coronavirus-tackle-climate-crisis-and-poverty-with-zeal-of-covid-19-fight-scientists-urge). Whilst wholly agreeing with their sentiments, I just can't see this happening. I suspect that when the virus problem is (hopefully) cracked, there will be a rush to get the economy working again (to pay for the eye-watering 'cost') and that corners will be cut. Short-termism will rule again?

Conservation in a Covid-19 Crisis

Problems seem to be developing all over the world for conservation workers as the Covid-19 pandemic spreads (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/28/wildlife-rescue-centres-struggle-to-treat-endangered-species-in-coronavirus-outbreak-aoe). Funding for these activities often depends on ecotourists and those have largely disappeared. In addition, the movements of the conservationists themselves (for shopping for food and equipment as well as visiting the animals) has been greatly curtailed. It's not looking good for many formerly viable programmes.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Pre-Emptive Strike Against Vaccination for Covid-19?

It is disturbing to read that, before a vaccine for Covid-19 has even been developed (and this would be the only relatively safe way of giving a population 'herd immunity' to the virus), the 180k US and UK followers of the Stop Mandatory Vaccination Facebook group (and others) have been pushing weird claims and quack 'cures' (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/27/report-coronavirus-quack-cures-immediately-says-uk-government). Some have, for example, it is said, claimed that the virus was developed by the Chinese to damage the US Economy and that China's 5G networks can be used to turn off the oxygen supply to people in intensive care. Amongst the stranger cures they advocate are the drinking of lemon juice, 'liquid silver', hot water and elderberry soup. They also reportedly suggest protecting children by placing sliced onions on the soles of their feet and/or rubbing their backs with lemon and lavender oil (to move the virus away from the head?). This is yet another obstacle (no, it's not April yet) that needs to be overcome before we have any chance of dealing with this pandemic. What the internet gives on one hand, it takes away on the other!

Rebagging

There has been a relatively (until now) successful attempt to reduce the use of plastic bags because of their impact on wildlife especially in the oceans and rivers. Unfortunately, it is now reported that, in the USA, that right-wing 'think-tank' groups have been using a fear of Covid-19 to bring back the plastic bag (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/27/rightwing-thinktanks-use-fear-of-covid-19-to-fight-bans-on-plastic-bags). As appears traditional in such cases, this involves a distortion of the existing Science. The virus can actually persist on a plastic surface for a relatively long period (up to 3 days) whereas its life is only a few hours on cardboard. There is actually little information about how long this agent remains viable on a cloth surface but, in spite of this, reusable bags have been banned (to be replaced by plastic) in a number of states.

Eating Plastic

More than 8bn tons of almost indestructible and toxic plastics have been produced since the 1950s and much of it has been lurking in landfill dumps. Scientists have now identified, a new strain of bacterium that can gobble even polyurethane and use the energy to power itself (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/27/scientists-find-bug-that-feasts-on-toxic-plastic). This is an interesting development but it is estimated that it will take at least 10 years of development to use the bug safely to remove this ubiquitous material (so, the best plan for now, is to reduce its production).

Birder's Bonus 195

Dark ducks (probably Gadwall Anas strepera) on the Loughor estuary.

Seeing the Changes 1396



More springing in Loughor, with the blooming of a Red dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum) and a visit from an Early grey moth (Xylocampa areola).

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Anti-malarials and Covid-19

A claim by the US President that anti-malarial treatments , such as Chloroquine, can help to cure Covid-19 patients has reportedly led to some people and countries (Indonesia) stock-piling these drugs (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/mar/25/can-chloroquine-really-help-treat-coronavirus-patients). This has led to shortages for people who really need this agent and at least 1 death in a person who took a version not intended for human consumption. The evidence for these agents being, in any sense, beneficial is extremely limited and is largely based on anecdotal evidence. They (and other candidate compounds) may have a role in the future but the last thing health systems need are people experimenting with themselves.

Putting the Wind in Their Sails

Generally good news that the generation of wind power is up by around 20% across the world this year (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/25/worlds-wind-power-capacity-up-by-fifth-after-record-year). This is reportedly mainly down to major expansions of off shore and land-based turbines in China and the USA (so, there is still plenty of scope). One has to remember, however, that the construction of the turbines generates 'greenhouse gases' and this has to be deducted from the account before they actually become 'green'.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Seeing the Changes 1395

What appeared to be Hoary stock (Matthiola incana) in flower in Loughor. It's more likely to be a garden escapee (Honesty?)

Seeing the Changes 1394

In Loughor, Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) flowered.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Pushing It!

It is of interest to note that tiny,fossil beasts in the sandstones of South Australia, dated at 555 million years, appear to be currently the oldest bilaterally symmetrical (with a distinct front and a back end) animals (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/mar/23/fossil-ikaria-wariootia-bilateral-organism-human-relative). The beast, about half the size of a grain of rice, has been named Ikaria wariootia, but, I think, that describing it as one of our oldest ancestors is pushing it a bit. Being bilaterally symmetrical is a feature that we (along with worms, arthropods, molluscs and vertebrates) share, but the feature is broadly a characteristic seen in animals that have directional movement. There is no reason why it could not be evolved on several occasions

No More Excuses?

Some people have argued that developing electric cars for transport and heat pumps for warming accommodation would not reduce carbon dioxide emissions sufficiently to be worthwhile. A study, involving several European universities, appears to have shown that the savings are generally substantial, even if non-renewables are used to generate the needed electricity (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/23/electric-cars-produce-less-co2-than-petrol-vehicles-study-confirms). The only place where this did not currently apply was in highly coal-dependent Poland. There appears to be little doubt that we should be rapidly expanding these technologies at the expense of petrol-fuelled cars and gas-heated homes.

It's an Ill Wind

Impressive satellite images of China have revealed a dramatic decline in the levels of atmospheric pollution since the Covid-19 lockdown (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/23/coronavirus-pandemic-leading-to-huge-drop-in-air-pollution). The actual substance recorded is nitrogen dioxide and, whilst it is not a 'greenhouse gas', it is generated by the same processes that produce carbon dioxide. In addition, nitrogen dioxide is one of the pollutants that has been linked, along with particulates,  to respiratory diseases (and reduced lifespan) in humans, especially in people living near busy roads. Of course, any current health gains would have to be weighed against the considerable losses linked to the Covid-19 pandemic but it just shows what can be achieved in terms of air pollution over a very short period of time.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Birder's Bonus 194

A Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) dropped into my Loughor garden for a Starling (Sternus vulgaris) snack.

Seeing the Changes 1393

A Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) basked in front of my Loughor house.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Seeing the Changes 1392


More flowerings in Loughor with Domestic cherry (Prunus sp) and Ramsons (Allium ursinum).

Are Conifers the Only Choice?

Yet another article from a forestry enthusiast claiming that, in order to make a serious dent in climate change, we have to a) accept that non-native conifers are better than native broadleaf trees because they grow quicker and b) agree that planning permission should be speeded up, enabling areas such as heathland and moorland to be populated with and replaced by pines (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/22/conifer-oak-britain-forest-change-to-meet-climate-targets). Trees do, in deed, remove substantial quantities of carbon dioxide from the air but so do other entities e.g. bogs and sea grasses. I personally would not like to see the animals associated with heathland displaced (I appreciate that these relatively treeless areas are human-generated but they do help generate positive responses to nature in a way that acres of conifers wouldn't). There have also been several cases, in recent times, when some of the monocultures of non-native conifers have had to be removed to counter fungal infections. I appreciate that broadleafs also get infections but they are seldom in such obvious monocultures. Conifers may be quicker to plant, faster growing  and can operate at higher densities than oaks et cetera but I think we are more likely to get a higher long-term benefit (in terms of carbon dioxide removal) from mixtures of species in appropriate locations.

Wildlife Invasions

The deserted streets of towns and cities across the world, resulting from the necessary human responses to the Covid-19 pandemic,  are reportedly filling up with wild mammals and birds (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/22/animals-cities-coronavirus-lockdowns-deer-raccoons). The beasties involved depend on geography but include Sika deer in Japan, raccoons and wild turkeys in the USA and Wild boar and Red foxes in Europe. All these animals appear to be creatures that normally live on the margins of built-up areas, commonly moving in under the cover of darkness. The marked reductions in human activity appear to have made them a lot less nervous. If you can go outside, it is said to be a good time to see wildlife.

Seeing the Changes 1391

Spring must be coming as the Field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) were snake-heading their ways above ground in Bynea.

Not the Only Species

Some people may think that the plight of endangered primate species is 'small beer' when contrasted with the threat to humans posed by Covid-19. The threat of extinction to wild animals like the Mountain gorilla and the 'Common' chimpanzee is, however, real.  These closely-related species are able to 'share' human diseases but the only way they could become infected by Covid-19 is by catching the condition from human visitors (https://news.yahoo.com/africas-mountain-gorillas-risk-coronavirus-091258411.html). As humans with Covid-19 can be unsymptomatic for periods of time, it is timely that a total ban on visitors is being advocated. People with cold and 'flu symptoms were already restricted in terms of access, but the coronavirus could be much worse! Just an additional thought. What about endangered primate species in zoos?

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Seeing the Changes 1390

The alien Rosemary (Salvia rosemarinus) was blooming in Loughor.

Second Time Around?

A report that a Japanese woman tested positive for Covid-19; was later recorded as 'clear' and, still later, tested positive again, has caused people to ask whether one can catch the infection twice (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/16/the-big-question-over-coronavirus-can-a-person-get-it-twice). The answer appears to be that this is unlikely, especially in the short term (with, of course, the proviso that the virus doesn't mutate rapidly, 'returning' from some part of the world like influenza). Second infections by viral agents rarely do occur (e.g. Shingles) but these are generally after long periods of time. Immunity developed after exposures to viruses, are generally sufficient protection and long-term persistence of the virus in living tissues has only been demonstrated thus far in bats. One must also note that there are occasional failures in any testing regime and the Japanese woman may have been one such. There is, of course, an awful lot to still learn about this coronavirus.

Victims of Covid-19?

In the final analysis, the governments of countries have had little choice other than to throw (in different ways and with varying degrees of effectiveness) the entire resources of their health services and other agencies into a direct fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. People have naturally focused on the daily death rate from the viral infection, its very unpleasant terminal symptoms  and the general characteristics of the victims (often described as 'elderly, with underlying health conditions'). But, there are obviously other 'victims'. For many people with treatable health conditions including cardio-vascular diseases, cancers and diabetes, screening and, in some cases, treatments have largely been curtailed. This is not to mention, the profound impacts on looking after (medically and with support) people with mental conditions (in some cases, presumably exacerbated by fear of the infection). What about suicides in people whose viable economic models (in commerce, hospitality and sport) appear to have been destroyed by the pandemic? It is also the case, we might argue, that people will die, in the future, because governments have had to take their eyes off climate change and countering its causes. You can also put into the equation, failures in social care (of children, rough sleepers et cetera) and policing that might well increase the body count. You don't, however, need to become a fatality to be a victim. The fear associated with the pandemic has changed all our lives, preventing normal social contacts (e.g. visits to the elderly in care homes) and interfering with the education, along with the  hopes and aspirations of the younger generation. In a real sense, we are all victims of Covid-19.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Birder's Bonus 193


Birds active on the Loughor estuary. They included the Black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) and the Black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus).

Going Outside

With the likely closures of pubs, cinemas and gyms in London, going outside to 'commune with nature', whilst maintaining a 'safe' social distance (especially as limiting closer contact might have to be in place for up to 12 months), might be one of the few healthy options that remain for many folk in these days of Covid-19  (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/20/coronavirus-anxiety-nature). Although the power of nature to help mental health can be overstated, there is no doubt spending some time in parks is helpful to a wide range of people. It is consequently good news that many bodies (like the National Trust) are keeping their gardens and parks open for the general public to walk in freely at this time.

A Life in Venice

One surprising effect of the Covid-19 outbreak in Italy has reportedly been a self reintroduction by wildlife to the canals of Venice (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/20/nature-is-taking-back-venice-wildlife-returns-to-tourist-free-city). The curtailing of tourism has resulted in motorised transport (both large and small) largely ceasing in the lagoon, resulting in a clearing of the waters (they are no longer churned up). This means that diving birds can return to hunt for the small fish in the waters. It is even said that ducks are nesting in some of the small squares of the city. 

Seeing the Changes 1389



More stirrings in Penclacwydd. Barren strawberry (Potentilla sterilis) in flower and Dandelions visited by Episyrphus balteatus and the Drone fly (Eristalis tenax).

Re-Cycling

Some people in the UK have advocated increasing cycling to facilitate both exercise (and mental health?) in the time of Covid-19 lockdown  (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2020/mar/20/why-not-encourage-cycling-during-the-coronavirus-lockdown). This fits oddly with the announcement that, in France, cycling is to become a banned activity, along with jogging being restricted to a maximum of 2 km  from home (https://www.thelocal.fr/20200319/france-tightens-rules-on-jogging-during-coronavirus-lockdown). Other countries, such as Spain and Denmark, appear to be encouraging cycling as being safer alternatives to sharing public transport. It seems to me, that people will need to be able to take exercise outside their homes (exercise in the home depends on equipment and is just not the same) over what is likely to be an extended period of 'lockdown'. Pretty obviously, mass cycling and running events should be out of the question but individual activity (cycling or running), whilst maintaining social distance, must be broadly beneficial.

A Drop in the Ocean?

A satellite study has recorded that record temperatures melting Greenland's ice has increased the sea level by 2.2 mm in only 2 months (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/mar/19/greenland-ice-melt-sea-level-rise-climate-crisis). This may sound like a tiny amount but the amount of ice melted to produce this effect is astounding. Yet another reason why we need to counter the release of 'greenhouse gases'.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Wildlife Trading

It is important that the Vietnamese government are introducing legislation to ban the $1b trade in wild animals (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/18/billion-dollar-wildlife-industry-in-vietnam-under-assault-as-law-drafted-to-halt-trading). This is following similar changes by the Chinese government. The changes mainly relate to the farming and capture of animals for food (but, even in parts of the UK, so-called 'bushmeat' is said to be illegally available) but the situation in relation to the use of animal products in 'medicines' is less clear. Both uses of wild animals endanger both the animals and humans.

Mining the Virus?

It has been reported that mines in Canada, USA and other countries are hot-spots for the transmission of Covid-19 ( https://www.theguardi...