Sea Eagle chicks reintroduced to the Isle of Wight

Sea Eagles have been brought back to the Isle of Wight, 239 years after they were last seen there, as part of a program to reintroduce the birds to England’s south coast. Last month, six chicks were brought to the island from Scotland (where they were reintroduced from Sweden in the 1970s), and 60 will now be released over five years. The birds, which vanished from the UK due to persecution by humans, can have a wing span of 2.4 metres, making them Britain’s largest bird of prey.

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It’s time to outlaw barbecues!

Next time you fire up a barbecue, consider the environment toll. Scientists from Manchester University have calculated that a typical family barbecue, consisting of cheeseburgers, followed by strawberries and cream, releases as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as a 90 mile car trip.

The team factored in every component of the meal, and found that, unsurprisingly, burgers were the worst culprit. Not only does barbecuing them release CO2, but cattle belch out huge volumes of methane (a ‘greenhouse gas’), while producing the grain to feed the cattle (and to make the buns) sends out more CO2.

The team calculated that swapping burgers for chicken would reduce emissions to the equivalent of a 51 mile car drive. Eating vegetarian sausages, and forsaking extras such as cheese and cream, would bring them down to 33 miles!

Call me a killjoy but is it time to outlaw barbecues?

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Deep coalmine gets go ahead in Cumbria despite protests!

In spite of the apparent commitment and promises by Mrs May for the UK to become carbon neutral by 2050, Britain’s first new coalmine in 30 years has been given the go ahead. The £165m Woodhouse colliery was backed by Cumbria County Council’s Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat members.

The developer, West Cumbria Mining Limited, said the site, along the coast from Whitehaven, would process 2.5m tonnes of coking coal a year for the UK and European steel industry. This would replace imports from the US, Canada, Russia and Columbia. To mitigate some of the impact of the plant to the environment, the owners have agreed a deal for a 50 megawatt solar farm nearby to provide about a third of the projects energy needs.

The mine is to begin production in about two years’ time, subject to environmental certificates, and is expected to employ 500 people with an estimated 2,000 more jobs in its supply chain. Deep coal mining in the UK, a sector that employed more than one million people across several thousand pits a century ago, ceased in December 2015 with the closure of Kellingley colliery in North Yorkshire.

Coal made up 38% of global energy production some 20 years ago and, following an expansion across the developing world, astonishingly still does today!

I include myself as a climate change campaigner and none of us should turn our back on the current crises and impending species loss and all that would entail. Overall, campaigners have called for steep reductions in coal burning to prevent global temperatures increasing by more than the 2 degrees limit set at the 2015 Paris climate summit. The burning of fossil fuels releases millions of years’ stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. CO2 along with methane, nitrous oxide, water vapour, ozone and CFCs are the constituent gases involved in global warming (now generally referred to as climate change) by absorbing  and trapping radiated heat in the atmosphere; otherwise known as the ‘greenhouse effect’.

We’ll continue to follow with interest! See also my blogs:

Clean energy overtakes fossil fuels!
CFCs and their effect on the ozone layer

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Clean energy overtakes fossil fuels!

The UK is generating more energy from zero-carbon sources than fossil fuels for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, the National Grid has announced. In what has been described as an ‘historic milestone’ on the way to a net zero carbon future, gas and coal generated 46% of Britain’s power in the year to the end of May, while zero carbon sources generated 48%. The remaining 3% came from biomass burning.

A decade ago, coal plants generated almost a third of the UK’s electricity. Now there are only seven left* – two of which are earmarked for closure – and in the first five months of this year, they provided only 3% of UK electricity. Wind turbines, having generated a meagre 1.3% of our electricity in 2009, now produce 18.8% of it. Nuclear power reactors provide most of the rest of the zero-carbon energy. The debate continues about the cost/output of renewable sources with huge investment required for nuclear power plants, not to mention the potential hazards. Many oppose wind turbines as being a ‘blot on the landscape’ and their positioning is crucial for this reason not to mention the potential danger to migrating birds and other hazards. We watch with interest!

*NB – since writing this blog the government has given the go-ahead for the first deep coal mine to open in 30 years in Cumbria in 2022. Could this tip the balance back the other way?

Wind turbines – a blot on the landscape or objects of beauty?

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The return of England’s wildcats!

Three families of wildcats are starting to be reintroduced in England this year after the species was declared extinct more than 150 years ago. Conservationist Derek Gow, who is an expert on mammal reintroductions, is building England’s first wildcat breeding complex on his farm in west Devon. He hopes to introduce the cats into the complex this year and then release them into the wild in three years’ time. His aim is to have a population large enough to breed 150 wildcat kittens every year.

These fierce felines were once widespread throughout English woodlands but after centuries of persecution they were declared extinct in the 1860s. The last confirmed sighting was in 1849. The Scottish wildcat, also known as the Highland tiger, is the only native member of the cat family still found in the wild in Britain. There are just a few dozen left.

Mr Gow wants to bring wildcats back to the areas where they previously thrived. “We’re hopefully releasing three litters of kittens into the complex this year, and then eight next year,” he told The Independent. “We’re aiming to get to the stage where we have a cat breeding population capable of producing 150 kittens a year. This should happen in three years and then we’ll start releasing them into the wild. I would like to have wild cats all over the UK,” he said.

Mr Gow posted pictures of his enclosures on Twitter. “Trepidation aside it’s going to look wonderful. We have decided to set one caravan next to the cat breeding pens so that the kittens playing in the evening can be viewed,” he said. Wildcats have been living in Britain since at least the last Ice Age. They were rumoured by some to be man-eating predators and revered by others as quasi-mythical. In practice these cats are incredibly shy and avoid all human contact but centuries of hunting took their toll.

“Wildcats were hunted ruthlessly in the past because they were a very effective predator,” said Mr Gow. “In the middle ages, rabbits provided people with meat all year around and were a ready available source of fur. Wildcats were hunters of rabbits so people worked hard to kill them. Then after the industrial revolution the gamekeepers finished them off,” he said.

English financier and environmentalist Ben Goldsmith who is helping to fund the project said: “We have a moral duty to put right the wrongs that we’ve perpetrated in the past.” “Wildcats are a keystone species and an important predator in the system. If you lose predators from an ecosystem you create imbalance and ecosystems don’t function correctly,” said Mr Goldsmith, who is also an adviser to Michael Gove and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The typical British wildcat is similar in appearance to a domestic cat but they are larger with a wider face and jaw. They have well-defined brown and black stripes and a bushy tail. The species is listed as critically endangered in Scotland. At the end of last year a major study found that the Scottish population had interbred with domestic cats so much that they shared the same gene pool and were therefore “functionally extinct” in the wild.

There are about 100 wildcats in captivity in the UK with stronger wildcat genes. “Most of the wild cats are complex hybrids of domestic cats and the only way we’re going to save these cats from extinction is to start breeding them,” said Mr Gow, who got his cats from a zoo in February. They are already in enclosures but without access to their natural environment.

“The best habitats are in southern England. At the end of the day, wildcats are meant to be here,” he said. “Hybridisation doesn’t occur when you have a healthy population of wild cats,” according to Mr Goldsmith. He said Scottish wildcats hybridised with domestic cats because the population was so weak. “We should see fewer feral domestic cats in the countryside because these pure wildcats will win the competition,” he said.  Mr Gow expects the cats to have a significant impact on reducing the number of grey squirrels, which are a non-native species. A Defra spokesperson said: “The movement and release of any species in England, including wildcat, should follow the International Union for Conservation of Nature guidelines. “These guidelines ensure there are clear environmental and socioeconomic benefits to gain from releasing the animals and that their welfare is maintained.”

A National Farmers’ Union spokesperson said the potential effects of reintroducing a species needs to be fully understood before these animals are released. “Any species introduction, particularly if it has been absent from this country for many decades or even centuries, can have massive impacts on the many benefits that the countryside and farming delivers. The landscape could be very different and this poses potential risks,” the spokesperson said.

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Throwing wildcats to the wolves!

The zoologist George Monbiot is an advocate of ‘rewilding’ the UK particularly in Scotland. He and fellow eco-warriers claim that the lynx and the wolf should be brought home to the UK as lost British native species. Hard evidence of lynx’ presence in the UK is almost non existent however. The introduction of lynx to Scotland would almost certainly spell the end for the already threatened Scottish wildcat (separate blog to follow) as the two species do not co-exist as proved in mainland Europe. The wolf was indeed native to the British Isles but at a time when it was far more biodiverse, more extensively wooded and more thinly populated than today.  Geological estimates vary, but it is thought the wolf’s demise in the UK was was around 1760.

Needless to say, farmers, walkers and other groups are opposed on safety grounds. Furthermore, the argument that rewilding would boost tourism is somewhat misplaced as both animals are shy and retiring. Surely better to concentrate on the current threatened wildlife such as the harvest mouse, hazel dormouse or the Dartford warbler; perhaps they don’t engender the same romance!

In deepest Devon at the Wildwood Escot Estate live a pack of six wolves; four intact males and two neutered females. They live in perfect harmony without any animosity, aggression or an apparent alpha. They recently arrived from a zoo in Denmark via Sweden and are the subject of collaborative observation.

In the 1950s/60s, L David Mech Phd, conducted studies on a pack of captive wolves in Ellesmere Island, in modern day Nunavut (previously part of the Northwest Territories), Canada. This concentrated primarily on observing the interactions of pack members with each other and with pups around a den. He observed a hierarchy relying on domination and the aggression of an alpha, usually a male. The conclusion was that ALL wolves, and indeed dogs, acted this way. What he failed to allow for was that the pack consisted of unrelated animals living in a false environment. This has resulted in a myth that persists today with some dog trainers emulating this ‘pack theory’, using dominance to obtain results.

So how do the Escot wolves live in peace? One theory is that they do not have to compete for resources or females and all are still young. In time, of course, this may change, so we watch with a great deal of interest and anticipation! (See also separate blog here).

No discussion about wolves would be complete without a mention of Wolf Watch UK. This was established at a centre in Shropshire in 1993 by the founder Tony Haighway. His initial involvement with wolf conservation started with the rescue of a pair of wolves from a closing zoo in Warwickshire. From these small beginnings, Wolf Watch UK has gone on to provide sanctuary for over thirty displaced wolves to date. “They normally arrive in the centre as a consequence of dominance fights, zoo closures or excess breeding. Without our help many of these magnificent animals would have probably been euthanised” Tony states in a recent interview.

The Wolf Watch Centre is located in approximately one hundred acres of remote wooded valley in Shropshire and is staffed by a team of dedicated volunteers. Wolf Watch UK is a private membership wolf conservation group. Access to the project is strictly via the Adopt-a-Wolf membership scheme or approved wolf conservation groups or similar, with permission to bring visiting parties during pre-arranged days.

Tony goes on to say: “We are somewhat unique in our ethos, as it is based entirely around the welfare of the animals in our care and to provide them with sanctuary, we refuse to exploit them for monetary gain. We do not operate along the conventional lines of being a public paying zoo style attraction, but rely solely on membership subscriptions, donations and fund raising from open days, our adopt-a-wolf scheme, photography days, guided tours and associated events”.

The ‘Shropshire Star’ recently reported that the go ahead has been given for the expansion of the centre to include holiday lets and an educational facility. Design consultants have been employed to ensure the building work is in sympathy with the environment. The plans were universally supported by locals and groups including Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Herefordshire and Ludlow College and the local parish council.

Virginia McKenna OBE, founder trustee of The Born Free Foundation, has visited the sanctuary on a number of occasions and in a letter to Shropshire Council the actress said: “I have always left uplifted and encouraged to see such genuine understanding of the individual characters and needs of the wolves. It is, I believe, an ideal environment to bring people who wish to understand more about these animals”.

Picture shows a pair of wolves at the Wolf Conservation Trust, Beenham, near Reading. Visitors can enjoy guided tours, walks, night howling sessions and photographic days.

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Photograph by Richard Jarrold

Man was born free but he is everywhere in chains.

“Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712-1778). Rousseau, a renowned French philosopher and politician, further stated: “A king, far from nourishing his subjects draws his nourishment from them; and kings need more than a little nourishment”.

The public person formed by the union of all other persons was once called the city*, and is now known as the republic or body politic. In its passive role it is called the state, when it plays an active role it is called the sovereign; and when it is compared with others it is called a power. Those who are associated in it take collectively the name of a people and call themselves individually citizens, in that they share in the sovereign power, and subjects, in that they put themselves under the rule of law. However, these words are often confused, each being taken for another; but the essence is to recognize them when they are used in their precise sense.

* Houses make up a town but citizens make up a city.

Rousseau c1770 – a heedless philosopher but never lived to see the French Revolution
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CFCs and their effect on the ozone layer.

The environment is a huge area of study; it is cross discipline covering geology, physics, chemistry, biology, politics, economics, geography, philosophy, ethics………the list goes on. A definition of the environment is threefold: 1. A computer environment consisting of systems and programs 2. The external conditions, factors and surroundings in which people, animals and plants live or work 3. For the purpose of conservation and ecological studies – the influence of external factors affecting the behaviour, development and habitat of animals and plants.

Climate change is one aspect of item 3 above. There are many reasons for climate change both natural and anthropological (man made). CFCs are one of these. Chlorofluorocarbons are volatile gases containing chlorine, fluorine and carbon. They are found, for example, in aerosols and fire extinguishers as propellants, air conditioning units, degreasing solvents and refrigerators, causing depletion of the ozone layer.

The tropospheric ozone layer acts as a shield blocking harmful ultra violet rays (UV-B) from the sun allowing life on earth to exist. Scientific evidence suggest that man made compounds can be highly stable lasting many decades and reaching higher levels of the atmosphere than naturally occurring compounds. Unnaturally large amounts of chlorine reacting with ozone causes depletion of this layer. It is estimated that some 80% of chlorine is man made whilst the remaining 20% comes from the oceans and volcanoes! CFCs are not limited to ozone depletion and have a higher potential to increase the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide. Effects of ozone depletion and high levels of UV-B include increased incidents of skin cancer, cataracts, premature skin aging, damage to the immune system, creation of ground level ozone in the form of smog and damage to aquatic and terrestrial plant life.

Interesting to note that James Lovelock’s research in the Arctic and Antarctic during the 1960s and 1970s concluded that CFCs are NOT hazardous. However, Sherry Rowland and Mario Molina, in 1974, discovered that CFCs have a lifespan of some 100 years, giving them ample time to to diffuse into the troposphere. Indeed, their low initial reactivity was considered an attractive feature in the early days!

Manufacture of these gases has been phased out under the Montreal Protocol as a result of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1987. Climate projections now indicate that the ozone layer will return to 1980 levels by between 2050 and 2070. The interim replacement for CFCs are hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) but will ultimately be supplanted by hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) having a nil ozone depletion potential. Furthermore, manufacturers of air conditioning units, refrigerators and fire extinguishers are required by law to have certification and are obliged to recycle and ultimately dispose of these units correctly.

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Orcas develop a taste for shark’s liver!

The great white shark’s reputation as the ocean’s most fearsome apex predator may not be justified. Biologists have discovered that the sharks are terrified of orcas (also known, disparagingly, as killer whales) for good reason. It seems that orcas have developed a taste for the sharks’ nutrient-rich livers. Researchers who tagged great whites off the coast of California for more than a decade noticed that whenever orcas appeared, the sharks would abruptly vanish, often not returning for months. They didn’t observe any orcas killing great whites, but discovered that in 1997, fishermen in the region had observed a pair of orcas beating to death a great white and then feasting on its liver; and that in South Africa in 2017, five liverless great white carcasses had been washed ashore after a pod of orcas had been seen nearby.

Orcas appear to have developed a surgical technique for removing a shark’s liver: they bite their victim near its pectoral fin and then squeeze the organ out through the wound. “It’s like squeezing toothpaste”, said Salvador Jorgensen from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who led the research.

 

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Scotland’s wild salmon in crisis!

Fewer wild salmon were caught last year than in any of the previous 70 years, renewing fears that the species is in crisis. Some 37,000 were caught in 2018, two-thirds of the average over the previous five years, and far fewer than the 111,400 caught in 2010. A major factor in the decline is thought to be last year’s unusually hot summer, which caused some rivers to dry up, and left many migrating salmon trapped in estuaries. Indeed, 2014, 2015 and 2016 have turned out to be the hottest years, in terms of average temperatures, since records began. Yet there is clearly a longer term trend at work, and conservationists have warned that a range of factors are to blame, including pollution from farm waste, an increase in man-made obstructions in rivers and the spread of parasitic sea lice from salmon farms on Scotland’s west coast. Dr Alan Wells, chief executive of Fisheries Management Scotland, called for conservation of wild salmon to be made a “national priority”.

Picture shows salmon decimated by sea lice!
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