Category Archives: environment

Butterflies, gardens and sunshine

A couple of weeks ago we had a White Admiral in the garden. It was flying gracefully over the brambles that fill the gaps between the trees in the garden. It was the first time I’d seen one.

Then a couple of days ago, we had a Silver Washed Fritillary in the same sunny gap in the trees.

Then today, a Purple Hairstreak.

So, you’re thinking, why get so excited ?

Well. It’s the first time I have seen two of these species, and the first time for 40 years since I have seen a Silver Washed Fritillary. That on its own would be brilliant, but what really got to me, was that these butterflies are probably only around here because we have managed to grow their perfect food plant environments.

White Admirals love the longer Honeysuckle that climbs up the bushes around woodland glades. Silver Washed Fritillaries feed on the Common Dog Violets that we have made room for by managing the woodland floor, and the Purple Hairstreak is to be found in the Oak trees that we are opening up by removing the Alders.

I wanted to share because I am so pleased that we can manage our garden to make it such a great habitat for the butterflies.

This is on top of the annual influx of tiny toads that sweep across the woodland floor each year ( though seemingly every other year they are way more numerous ).

Add the Grass Snakes, the Newts, the flowers in the meadow, and the sun shining through the trees, the world is just wonderful to be in.


Chris Packham, conservation and cuddly mammals

I just spent an evening listening to Chris Packham talk about his photographs and conservation issues.

Some may know him from his very reasoned argument that we spend too much time, effort and cash trying to save Pandas. I wholeheartedly agree with him ( and managed to tell him so tonight ).

I enjoyed his very serious points about the potential of extinction of wild tigers. We have so many in captivity that they probably won’t die out totally, just in their chosen natural habitat. I share his frustration with attempts to save the Wildcat, as it easily interbreeds with pet and feral cats. I have little time for pets that have been introduced into important environments : for instance I would ban all tourists from selected Galapagos islands, and make sure we cleared all of the cats goats and rats. I’d love to do that with Madagascar too, but I think it would be an impossible task.

But why I chose to write this was that I was actually quite disappointed by the reaction of the audience to many of his photos. Chris, if you do happen to read this, I hope some of your audiences see what a challenge we have to save environments and animals dependent on them. I hope that the ‘oooo’s and ‘aarrr’s heard tonight are not totally representative of how we Brits view the natural world. As a set of cuddly mammals

OK – so thinking that Big Cats are cuddly is fine, because. to be honest, they are… and having photos that show them ( literally ) in their best light, is a great start. But I wondered, while people were cooing over the pictures, if they grasped the enormity of what we are doing to the world. Drat, I’m on that same old hobby horse again. I must feel really strongly about how we are not looking after the planet.

What I heard was a shared passion for natural history. A shared love of animals whatever shape, size or smell. A shared concern for how we can make a serious change in conserving and increasing numbers of animals. I hope that the people in the audience work this through, and relate it to how they might alter their behaviour to help.

Chris suggested making sure the audience set their children or grandchildren free in the countryside to climb trees, to fall out trees, to get dirty, to collect things : to wonder at the world and develop a love for nature. That is just what I used to when I was growing up and never really lost the love of our countryside and the fauna and flora in it : and it is just what many kids simply do not get an opportunity to do : but they would love it if they did.

Let’s hope that at least half of the audience concluded that they need to change, even slightly, how they view the world, how they bring up their kids, how they think about food production and how they can help conserve those cuddly mammals they all cooed over. If they did, then the world will wake up a little easier tomorrow morning, knowing that the legion of its supporters expanded a little overnight.

Friends, Foxes and Flying Squirrels : and business doing the right thing

As I sit here in the just after midnight hours, listening to the foxes barking outside ( no doubt going through all of the bins and bags that they can get their teeth into ) my mind wanders to a couple of things that happened today.

One : continuing my wonder at how the mind works, I have been trying to remember the name of a girl I knew at Uni. A girl I spent a lot of time with – though by no stretch was she a ‘girl friend’. I couldn’t for the life of me remember. Then today, I was walking in a Northern UK Town and passed by someone who was so like said girl … I instantly remembered her name : Gill. How could I have forgotten her.

Second : Heather Clancy blogged about business’ leading role in making sustainability happen. She mentions Jonathon Lash’s three threads, but for just for today, I’ll take on the first one. I have something to say about the other two as you may guess.

It may not be the many and various governments but business, and I add, the population that may make the change.

The driver for both is money. I’d love to think that the driver is our will to make the world better for our children, to make sure that Polar bears live for another million years, and that Flying Squirrels don’t fall out of the sky from heat exhaustion, but I’m not that naive ( or optimistic about current human nature ).

I am concluding that the best way to make sure that rivers continue to flow, that the oil doesn’t flow in the wrong places and that the foxes still bark, is to point out how much money we waste and how much we can individually save by doing those things that just happen to help put the planet right.

I just hope that those who think this doesn’t apply to them, those who don’t care, or to who are too selfish to even think about it, start to understand.

The BBC, poor English, Rhinos and Chinese Medicine

So I am watching the BBC news as I regularly do. Getting annoyed and distracted by it too, as I do all too often do these days.

The reason is simple. Not only do they believe that their viewers should not see reports that contain pictures of dead or dying people or animals or parts of the same ( which they never show by the way, unlike Al Jazeera TV who have a great belief in showing it as bad as it is ), but they also believe that if there is the slightest chance of viewers being upset by the pictures, the have to warn them before the report.

They warn them within the most stupid statement a broadcaster has ever dreamt up.

“This report contains graphic images”

People !!! You at the BBC are in the TV business, of course TV reports contain graphic images. That is your business. Graphic images ! You have managed to reduce the size of the irrelevant and distracting tickers that ran along the bottom of the screen, so can you please work on your use of accepted English words.

This time the report was of Rhino poaching in Africa. Terrible, terrible. We do not have the right to kill these fantastic animals to tear off their horns for some spurious use in Traditional Chinese medicine.

We don’t have the right to chase any animal to extinction in the mistaken belief that rhino horn cures a variety of ills, or the tiger penis cures impotence. If the tiger is as important to Chinese culture as the dragon, maybe that same belief will be the driver to make tigers extinct, just like the dragons …..

Stop it. Stop it before it’s too late. And don’t rely on tigers being kept captive in Vietnam. It surely is not a sustainable solution.

If you want to try natural remedies, try the plants. That is a much more rational and promising approach to getting people back to health. Many of our drugs have been derived from plants. They work rather well, are mostly easy to look after and propagate and grow in almost every country you need them to.

Maybe I’ll discuss the anthropogenic extinction event another day …. just so long as I don’t get onto the correct usage of “less” and “fewer” in the media … they really should learn to be more responsible with their use of language.

I like our garden.

Thinking more on it, I love our little wooded garden.

To have a whole, compact ecosystem just outside your front door, back door, bedroom doors and on your roof is really something special. This morning we had a young fox by the back door.

The other day we had a very noisy male Tawny owl watching us manually remove slugs from our veg beds ( in the dark, of course ). We had a Grass snake recently, often get Slow Worms, have a pleasant plague of tiny Toads, as well as some adults. Newts keep turning up all over ( and yes, I do know that they are protected ). We had two young Pike in the pond before the  lack of rain meant it drained away.

There is a Kingfisher flitting up and down the canal. We had a Wood mouse on our terrace a couple of weeks ago. A Harvest mouse on the roof. Add all the birds that bred this year, from Nuthatches to Wrens ( shame the Great Spotted Woodpeckers lost all of their chicks this year – probably to a Magpie that managed to get into the hole in the Crack Willow they were in )

With the Meadow Browns, Red Admirals, Commas, Small Coppers and the rest, to the Darters, various Damselflies and Grasshoppers, we get a lot of flying insects too. Pity we haven’t managed to get the Stag Beetles to take up residence yet, but we have lots of rotting wood waiting for them.

I always wanted a garden like this – and we’re doing pretty well at getting it sorted. Add the organic gardening practices, and it’s amazing what turns up on a quite small plot.

Now if we can get more people to let their gardens go a bit more wild, plant a few more native plants that the Bees and  Hoverflies can enjoy, and get their kids to spend a few more minutes observing, the world will be a happier place.

Oil, BSODs, Bias and irrational media presentation

One of the things that I am not happy with is irrational, even hypocritical, representation of news stories. I also have a thing about the words that many broadcasters use to make the story more dramatic.

The classic one that has been going on for some time is that of the awful oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Any oil spill is bad, and we have had our share here in Europe. Tankers with single skin hulls crashing on rocks are the favourite. ( who on earth thought that carrying nasty crude oil on a ship that had only inches of metal between its cargo and the sea was a good idea ? )

So, oil is bad, and spilt oil is even worse.

But in the case of BP, I can’t believe how bad some of the US news coverage that I have caught has been. To suggest that Tony Hayward is solely responsible for the leak is beyond stupid. ( I will accept that he has to carry the can for the problems though ). Please.

Do we think that he took the decision to run Windows-based PCs  that BSOD causing control systems on the Deepwater Horizon ? Did he decide the precise location for drilling in the Gulf ? Was he at the meeting where the decision was taken to disable alarms so as to not disturb the sleeping workers ? No, I thought not. He may be a hands on  CEO, but I am pretty sure that even he cannot cope with all of the operational details of all of their drilling activities.

So no. He was not personally responsible for the problems as seems to be the thrust of some commentators. And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should grow up too.

I guess the man who decided to put the oil pipeline through Michigan will be getting the same treatment. Certainly I have seen more affected Swans in one report about that than I have seen affected Pelicans from many Gulf reports ( Does anyone have any real numbers on this ? Maybe the IBRRC knows )

Back to Tony Hayward though. He did make a few blisteringly good faux pas though. The first was a pretty simple underestimation of the difference between colloquial English and current American. “I want my life back” meant “I am spending all of my time managing the disaster and I’d like it to be fixed soon”. It’s not as selfish a statement as portrayed by the US media.

Yes, yes, he went to see his family one weekend, and happened to fall on a big yacht to do so …. that was just bad PR advice.

The whole episode will make a cracking case study in the future for some MBA students.

As to some of the comments that esteemed viewers of the news organ of the Fox Broadcasting Company have made, I am a tad speechless at their lack of research.

There are some things that I don’t fully understand either : some of the engineering seems to have been a bit hit and miss. I am certain that there are good reasons for it, but why did it take so long to work out that all they needed was a big funnel to catch the oil for instance ?

As to the real damage, it is to be seen if the oil spill causes any more damage than the projected hypoxic dead-zone in the Northern Gulf due to the fertilizer run-off  down the Mississippi. I guess the dead fish from the lack of oxygen just don’t create the same headlines as an oil spill, even though this happens every year.

I wish the world was not in the awful state it is. I wish that the USA lifestyle did not need the equivalent of 5 planets to keep on running ( and that Europe needed fewer that the nearly 3 planets for the same reason ).  I wish that we had woken up sooner to the need to find better, more sustainable energy sources before now.

But right now, I wish that the media ( and yes I guess I mean the US and UK media ) would look at themselves and start adding rationality and balance to some of their reporting.

GBOB and the elephants

I was at the first GBOB this week. There were some great people there, people making a difference, but I was very disappointed with what they didn’t say. The TEEB Report suggests some great ways to place a monetary value on the environment, and there are some great examples, such as the true financial effect of turning a mangrove swamp into a shrimp farm or China stopping deforestation, or losing rainforest to palm oil production.

BUT : I have a few really big issues with all three of these examples.

1: Yes we know that mangrove swamps provide protection not only for wildlife, but also for people, no disputing that at all. So to attach a very high value to maintaining  mangrove swamps is absolutely necessary. However, the only reason that any one wants to make a shrimp farm from a mangrove swamp is to produce shrimps. One assumes that this is for food and to generate revenue for the local farmers by selling the food. If we did not demand cheap and plentiful shrimp, then the thought of taking a mangrove swamp and turning it into a short-lived ( around 4 -5 years, I gather, before it is too polluted to be useful for shrimp production ) farm would not occur to anyone.

2: Deforestation in China happened because of the huge demand for building materials to support the increased wealth of the country, mostly brought about by the Western world’s demand for cheap and plentiful stuff ( I won’t even start on if we actually need the stuff, never mind if we care what effect it is having on the Chinese, or, indeed, the Global environment ). So when the Chinese authorities realised that deforestation was a ‘bad thing’ for China, they stopped it. ( full details in the TEEB report page 11 ). However, as far as anyone can tell, the demand for the timber did not decrease. They did not take the opportunity to work on different strategies for building, or sourcing more suitable material that would have been more appropriate for their situation. It seems that they the suppliers of the timber simply went to other countries and bought up their timber supplies. Net ? they still use the same volume of timber, but it is now someone else’s problem.

3: Palm oil seems to have a hold on up to 10% of the products seen in an average western food store. In the past few years, it seems that we cannot make a vast range of products without using it. Even Jordans in the UK ( a well-known organic and generally caring food producer use it – though they do say it is from sustainable sources ). All credit to Marks and Spencer in the UK too, who have a policy of removing it from all products where possible. More power to them, and less to the food scientists who presumably found this magic ingredient. I have to assume that the properties of palm oil are so wonderful, that we kind of stopped when we hit on it, and subsequently it began to be incorporated into everything. OK, I agree, it is probably better than using whales for the same purpose, but I do wonder why we suddenly need to rape ( yes, a subtle reference to covering the European landscape with that awful yellow flower ) the rainforest to produce palm oil. Maybe I should research more as to why. In any case though, the thread at the GBOB sessions that I managed to see ( most of the day I was convincing people not to throw their PCs away, but to use them with OPD ) was distinctly “we need palm oil”. This came from both Pavan Sukhdev, lead of TEEB, and from the Rt Hon Caroline Spelman, and neither even began to question the reasons that we “need” palm oil.

I actually find it a little wrong that and ex international banker, probably involved with funding much global destruction in his role of leader of the global markets business at Deutsche Bank in India.  I guess though, it takes a banker to convince another banker,

So after I calm down a little, I have to say the HRH Prince Charles made a very sensible, passionate, and well argued case for the environment ( he may have some very odd ideas about architecture, but he does understand the natural world ). He also suggested that we add a fourth R to Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. That fourth R would be Restore. What a sensible addition to the mantra.

Back to palm oil though. I have two reasons for the need for palm oil. It also explains the need for more timber in China, and the need to turn mangrove swamp into shrimp farms.

1: Population growth. I know I have written about this before, but when are we actually seriously going to look at the problem ?  I know that the Optimum Population Trust is trying hard, and Richard Attenborough has been recently supporting their cause, but we need to listen.

2: Capitalism. OK I have written about this before too. We need to re-invent capitalism to be much more aware of the consequences of growth and, dare I say, greed.

I’ll try not to harp on this anymore.