An Ordinary Person’s Views on Living With Minimal Environmental Impact

  1. Written by .

    In the last week I have been out and about a bit more getting some time in the great outdoors.  This has been aided by some new insect repellant that seems to be working so far.

    In the past week I have completed another bumble bee survey – better than last month but only half the number seen last year, spent a happy couple of hours just looking and photographing around Daventry, to be completed on Saturday with a WildSide recording sessions with the fab and enthusiastic Ryan Clark.

    I’ve uploaded all of my sightings (or at least those that I can identify or have a semi-decent photo for) either onto iRecord or the local Biodiversity Records Centre, as well as entering my BeeWalk data so I am keeping last week’s resolution.

    One of the joys of recording nature is that you are constantly discovering new things.  During the BeeWalk this month we found a long-horned beetle that I’d not seen before, last month was my first Mother Shipton moth.

    Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn Beetle

    On Monday I was quite excited to discover that there were quite a lot of bee orchids flowering in Daventry (for once the mowers hadn’t done for them) and, quite unexpectedly I found a pyramidal orchid next to them.  I am reliably informed that this might be the first record for this in the Daventry area.

    Pyramidal Orchid

    Then, during the recording session at Mill Park Nature Reserve in Long Buckby, I found a small magpie moth.  Completely new for me, and although quite common in the county, still something to get excited about I think.

    Small Magpie Moth

    And, the more you look, the more you learn and then the more closely you look.  A virtuous naturing circle.

    My next task is to start making a full list of the species I have seen and then keep it up to date!

    No comments.

  2. Written by .

    Despite my best intentions, for a nature lover and local organiser of a survey for Butterfly Conservation I am not very good when it comes to recording and submitting my own sightings – whether it is birds or bees, or anything in between.  It’s not as if there is a shortage of ways to submit and record data.

    When I do record my data I tend to use either the appropriate survey scheme site (i.e. the Butterfly Conservation site, BTO BirdTrack site, or the Bumblebee Conservation Trust BeeWalk site) or the iRecord site but there are many other recording schemes and apps out there that will automatically plot your position and give a more accurate location.

    But, the very first recording I did was with the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar.  This  has been going for twenty years now and, with a database of 2.7 million records, has shown the effect of a changing climate on the various events that happen each year in the Natural World.  Whether it is the first or last sighting of swifts, your first orange-tip butterfly or when blackberries ripen, there are a host of events to choose.  I haven’t logged into Nature’s Calendar for many years, but having just read an article in the British Wildlife Magazine highlighting some recorders with over 2000 records clearly showing the shifts with changing temperatures I am shamed into digging out my password, logging on and making a list of the things I can easily record in expected chronological order – something to do on my day off tomorrow!  Perhaps this will encourage me to keep better records – I can feel a new notebook coming on…

    No comments.

  3. Written by .

    I was fortunate enough to tag along a guided walk with the eminent cuckoo expert and behavioural ecologist Nick Davies at Wicken Fen.  During an hour and a half’s walk he imparted a wealth of information about cuckoos (and does a fantastic cuckoo call that had me and the cuckoos fooled) and their ‘hosts’ at Wicken Fen, Reed Warblers.

    Reed Warblers spend their winters south of the Sahara and then travel back to Europe each spring – they come back to the same spot each year to breed – an amazing bit of navigation!  The males will sing and sing until he pairs up.  Then his songs become much shorter – one way to tell an unpaired male.

    Reed warbler nests are beautifully woven around reed stems, the female starting off by anchoring in some spider silk and then weaving the nest around herself to make perfect fit.  She lays one egg per day until she has four eggs.  Unless, of course, she is spotted by a cuckoo.  The cuckoo, who only lays in the afternoon, waits until the nest is unguarded, swoops down, swallows one of the reed warbler’s eggs and replaces it with her own.  All in a matter of seconds.  If the cuckoo has missed her chance and the eggs are all there, she will eat all of the eggs to force the reed warblers into starting a second batch, then, she will be watching and waiting for her opportunity.  Each cuckoo will only parasitise the one species – at Wicken it is Reed Warblers.  The cuckoo’s eggs will be a perfect match for colour and marking, but are almost imperceptibly bigger.

    Spot the cuckoo egg

    Once the cuckoo hatches of course it will eject the remaining eggs or chicks from the nest.  The reed warblers will continue to feed their giant youngster, the colour of the gape and the pitch and sound of the cuckoo begging for food fools them into thinking they are feeding a brood, pushing them to bring more food than they would for one chick alone.

    It seems as though all should be well for the cuckoo as there are reed warbler nests every 20 metres or so along the lodes (man made waterways within the fens).  But, sadly it isn’t so.  Cuckoos have suffered a massive decline in recent decades.  Or, at least cuckoos in England have – Scottish cuckoos seem to be doing OK.  Wicked has mirrored this decline.  Thirty or so years ago there were about 15 female cuckoos laying in the fen, with the result that about 10% of nests were parasitised.  Now, it is down to just two cuckoos, with only two or three per cent of nests parasitised.  The difference between Scottish and English cuckoos’ success could all be down to climate change.  The two sets of birds take different routes to their sub-Saharan wintering grounds.  English cuckoos go through Spain, whereas Scottish cuckoos choose a route through the Po valley in Italy.  Much of Spain has suffered severe droughts over the last few decades meaning it is more difficult for the cuckoos to feed and put on enough weight to make it over the Sahara.  However, this might not be the only reason, and more answers will only be revealed as we learn more about this elusive bird.  The future remains uncertain.

    For more information about the cuckoo tagging project see the BTO’s website.

    If you want to learn more about cuckoos, then please consider buying the excellent book, Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature, by Professor Nick Davies.  It contains a wealth of information and is well worth a read.

    One comment — it’s a start.

  4. Written by .

    There is quite a backlash about plastic at the moment, particularly in the media.  Most of it relating to food as this is probably the most visible and to many people (myself included) the most pointless use of single use plastic.  As I have mentioned before, the response of the supermarkets in the main has been to pledge to make their packaging recyclable and any reductions mentioned are usually about weight – which means they will make the packaging thinner, not change it altogether.  It might even mean substituting plastic for other packaging such as glass.

    However, I have recently heard several people complain that the general consensus of opinion is that all plastics are bad, whereas this, they say, is clearly not so.  Plastic wrapped cucumbers are the proof, if any were needed, that plastic packaging reduces food waste (but then so does other types of packaging).  And, with around 100kg of food wasted per person in the EU, we certainly need to reduce such waste.  But, just because the shelf life of a half cucumber is extended by about a week, this doesn’t mean that it the answer.  Back in the 1930s only a few percent of food was wasted.  Since the 1950s plastic packaging use has increased and now about 33% of our food ends up uneaten.  In fact, a recent report (1) has indicated that in some cases such as trimmed green beans, there is more food waste because the beans don’t naturally conform to the size requirements imposed by a plastic tray.  More is cut off in production than would be if the beans were taken home in their natural state and prepared when required.  Equally, food in packaging is of a fixed amount – if you are a household of one or two, then the chances are you will struggle to get through a whole bag before it goes off, increasing the likelihood of waste.

    In Defra statistics from a couple of years ago the main reason cited for food wasted at home (where the majority of food waste apparently occurs) is, for fruit and veg because they were not used in time.  (I think that a lot of this will be salads, but perhaps that’s because I don’t like lettuce, refuse to pay £1 for a bag of leaves that are simple to grow at home, don’t like the massive amount of packaging for just a small amount of nutrition or the idea of the chlorine added to keep them ‘fresh’ and they are prone to give you food poisoning.)  But, for home made meals, and for meat, the biggest reason is that too much was cooked.  Generosity or eyes bigger than tummies?

    Tesco announced this month that they are going to remove the best before date from some of their fruit and veg in a bid to reduce food waste.  However, these still remain sweating in their packaging, whereas the loose apples and potatoes et al don’t have any best before dates.   It would be easier if they just got rid of all the packaging – but if they did that then there would be extra costs for someone on the checkout to weigh the food – or am I just being cynical?   Perhaps supermarkets could start to co-operate and only provide some fruit and veg without the packaging option.  After all, a few years ago you couldn’t buy apples in packs of six, so I am sure we can get used to putting them in a paper bag ourselves if that was the only choice.

    1. http://zerowasteeurope.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Unwrapped_How-throwaway-plastic-is-failing-to-solve-Europes-food-waste-problem_and-what-we-need-to-do-instead_FoEE-ZWE-April-2018_final.pdf

    No comments.

  5. Written by .

    A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation about energy (the type typically generated in a power station, not the personal type) that got me thinking.  This person was in their 80s and had worked in engineering when younger.  He was of the opinion that we (as in the UK) would always need fossil fuels because it wasn’t sunny enough.  It wasn’t a long discussion, and a few years ago I would have been in agreement with him.  But, it occurred to me, for once I was more optimistic than someone else about a sustainable future.

    The reason for my optimism is the pace of change we are seeing.  Despite the government for their own peculiar reasons doing everything in their power to stop renewables and promote fossil fuels (see the latest move where they have decided to fast-track fracking planning applications) it would seem that renewable energy in this country and around the globe is on the rise.  I personally think renewables will come into their own with improved battery technology, although I admit that brings with it another set of sustainability issues.

    So, in the spirit of optimism I thought I would share some recent good news stories that show that there is a momentum growing out there and that we probably do have a lot of the answers, even if we are told things aren’t possible (in no particular order). 

    1.  Windpower generated more electricity than nuclear power in the first quarter of 2018.  18.8% of the UK’s energy was produced by wind; providing up to 43% of electricity on some days.  Whilst this was helped by some of the nuclear power plants being turned off, it follows on from the last three months of 2017 where wind and solar combined produced more electricity than nuclear power.  It shows what can be achieved despite government policy and a collapse in clean energy investment.  Imagine what could happen if we had a government that wasn’t so obsessed with the fossil fuel industry or that believed that renewables were the way forward?

    2.  A new labelling system is out that allows consumers to be able to identify items in packaging that doesn’t contain plastics.  The first use of it has come from Iceland, which has already shown the way by announcing, unlike any of the other supermarkets, that it will remove single use plastic packaging by 2023.  This has shown the power of social media and consumer pressure.

    3.  The EU have voted to keep the ban on the neonicitinoid pesticides that have been linked with the decline in many species of pollinator.  An appeal by the manufacturers Bayer and Syngenta has just been turned down.  (Although the caveat is that the ruling states that bees must only be exposed to ‘negligible’ levels of harmful pesticides.)  Again, huge amount of pressure in the media and by NGOs.

    4.  More than 10 million people are now employed in the renewable energy industry around the world.  In the US, where there has been a recent focus on pushing the fossil fuel industry on the promise of more jobs, there are more people employed in renewables than in fossil fuels in nearly every state.  Meanwhile Costa Rica has pledged to ban fossil fuels and New Zealand is banning offshore extraction of fossil fuels.

    5.  85% of milk distributing businesses have seen an increase in glass milk bottle sales.  MilkandMore, the largest distributor, has seen an increase of 15,000 customers since the beginning of the year – 90% are buying milk in glass bottles.

    So, whilst I admit that it was a bit difficult to find positive news stories in the mainstream media, there are a lot of changes out there.  From Tesla and batteries, to the Circular Economy efforts of Dame Ellen McCarthy, from smaller organisations finding a market for their more sustainable options to Unilever stating that their sustainable living brands are their fastest growing for the second year in a row, the momentum is growing and, every now and again, even I feel a small tug of optimism that perhaps we can overcome those that don’t think change is possible.

     

    No comments.