Leading by example.

One of the quotes by Ghandi that is often cited, particularly within the environmental and sustainability world is

‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’

To be honest it is probably the only quote I can remember reading that is ascribed to Ghandi.  However, it highlights an issue that I see quite often.

I am now lucky enough to work as a Sustainability Manager, I hesitate to use the word professional as I am not sure what constitutes professional sustainability.  But, I digress.  Although I have only worked in this area for a couple of years, a couple of things soon became obvious.  Firstly, almost everything in some way comes back to sustainability – most things are linked; travel, food, climate change, population – you name it and I can probably link it into sustainability somehow.  Secondly, some of the issues seem to be so obvious that you wonder why they are an issue at all.  Why isn’t everyone changing their behaviour to preserve the planet – if not for future generations then at least so I don’t have to suffer in my old age?

But then, and here is where I really want to rant, I look around me at colleagues in the sustainability arena.  I see pictures of them on holiday in places where they could only get to by ‘plane.  Apparently it is their only vice and they do everything else sustainably – BUT this outweighs all the other stuff and then some!  Others get out their latest iPhone, would not even consider cutting down on meat, don’t care whether their food is Fair Trade or locally grown.   I could, and often do go on.  I recently made a comment when a colleague was talking about their upcoming cruise around the caribbean to the effect that I can no longer go on a ‘plane.  They thought that I was afraid of flying (for the record I’m not) – and were gobsmacked when I said that I could no longer fly for ethical reasons.

I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I do try to reduce my environmental impact as much as possible and don’t ask others to do anything or give up anything that I wouldn’t do or give up.

After all, how can I tell people about climate change, try and convince them to adopt more climate friendly behaviours and then jump on a ‘plane to fly halfway across the world for a holiday?  It would be like being an overweight, twenty a day doctor lecturing someone on their unhealthy lifestyle.

What’s not to lichen?

I know almost nothing about lichens.  In fact, up until a couple of months ago I actually knew nothing about them.  So, I have been set the task of finding out as much as I can by the end of this year.  I still haven’t worked out how I will do that, but I am on the case.

I now know that lichens are composed of a fungus (mycobiont) and an algae or cyanobacteria (photobiont) that exist in a symbiotic relationship.  The jury is out as to whether the algae gains anything from the relationship whilst the fungus most definitely gets nutrients thanks to photosynthesis by the algae.  However, the algae might gain a degree of protection from high light levels and periods of drought thanks to this partnership.

One of the commonest and most easily recognisable lichens in xanthoria parietina or the maritime sunburst lichen.  This is a beautiful orange-yellow lichen with obvious fruiting bodies.  It is the one that can often be seen in winter making the trees look as though they have yellow branches.  As well as growing on trees it is also sometimes found on stone.  It is also often seen on rooftops where the lichen gains nutrients from bird droppings.  Lichens are well studied as indicators of pollution, some being more tolerant than others.  The reason that there is so much of this sunburst lichen about, is that it is noted to be very pollution tolerant.

Lichens employ a couple of methods (some lichens employ both) to spread and reproduce.  Xanthoria parietina uses just one of these methods, producing fruiting bodies as per other fungi which then release spores that are dispersed to establish new colonies if they can find a suitable algae.  These fruiting bodies are obvious even to the naked eye.

At one time this lichen was used to treat jaundice because of its colour, but nowadays, in common with many other lichen, it is being investigated for other medicinal properties; in this case for its antiviral activity.

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I learned today that Iachnis Io is more than just a pretty face

Thanks to Radio 4 and Butterfly Conservation’s Richard Fox.  I am talking about the peacock butterfly, one of the four butterflies that overwinter in the UK and, along with the Small Tortoiseshell, the Peacock is the one you might come across in your garage or shed.  (In case you are interested the other two butterflies are the Brimstone and Comma, both of which spend the winter in vegetation disguised as leaves.)

Apparently about half of the adult butterflies overwintering (they go dormant rather than hibernate) are predated and don’t make it through to spring.  But, the peacock increases its chances threefold.  Firstly the outside of their wings is dark, almost black making them difficult to see in the dark places they find for winter.  In daylight their bright markings are thought to resemble eyes and either put off predators or cause them to attack the wings, away from their body.  When they are attacked they flap their wings making quite a lot of noise (you can clearly hear them in the summer when they are feeding in the garden).

All these are things that I already knew about, but what I didn’t know is just how effective the defence mechanisms of the peacock are.  Their bright colours and eye patterns just don’t help when their predators, often bats and mice, are usually looking for food in the dark.  However, the clicking of their wings has been demonstrated to scare off mice and bats – after a close encounter with a predator the butterflies tend to move to somewhere safer to spend the winter.  However, even more amazing, when they are out in the sunshine, not only do the bright colours and eyes help them see off predators such as blue tits, but they have apparently been shown to scare birds as large as chickens causing them to start making the same alarm calls as when they come across predators such as foxes.


I wonder what the chicken sees and thinks it has found?  So, when you next see a peacock butterfly, don’t underestimate it…