Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Wildlife watching from "Ranger Hamza's" sitting room window.

Wild goats where they should be... not in town
It's quiet out there with very few people about and wild animals are moving into urban spaces.

Today's "Guardian" newspaper has a photo of a gang of marauding goats taking over Llandudno in N.Wales.......wild goats in town.

I have just had a text from my brother in N.Wales , he says this is a true story, not a Grauniad April 1st spoof . 

Llandudno is now a,"Goats town". His pun not mine.

Closer to home, my neighbour Hamza (aka "Ranger Hamza" of BBC Ceebeebies) is locked down at home watching and filming wildlife from his sitting room window.

Fortunately he's not alone, he has a" live in "pine marten in his loft. You do know when there's a pine marten in the roof they make lots of noise.....a sound like a corpse being dragged across the ceiling, just before they go off to work in the evening.

https://www.facebook.com/hamzayassinphotography/photos/a.167055510115366/1613626398791596/?type=3&theater

She visits Hamza on her way out in the evening ( pine martens are single mothers) he tells me that it took 5 minutes to set up the camera and two hours for her to come out. You can meet her on Hamza's Facebook page by following the link above.

From his window Hamza has a view from the tidal lagoon just outside, south down the Sound of Mull to Ben Tallaidh and east to the top of Ben Hiant. Working from home he has been able to watch and film:......

White tailed sea eagles                                    Otters
Red kite                                                            Mink
Whooper swans                                                Dolphins
Red breasted mergansers                                   Seal
Wigeon
Teal
Hoodie crows                             
Evening on the Sound of Mull and Hamza's pine marten is off to work





Carrion crow
Water rail
Sparrow hawk
Buzzard



Sunday, 29 March 2020

Coronavirus caravanners not welcome

For one passenger and no cars
We've been doing self-isolation in the UK for a week now, it's felt like a string of Church of Scotland Sundays.

The village shop / post office is doing a sterling job supplying the basics but I had to go to Tobermory yesterday for fresh fruit and veg. On a normal Saturday morning at this time of year a dozen or so villagers are waiting for the ferry. Yesterday I was on my own.... I had the ferry to myself for the 35 minute journey both there and back.

In Tobermory the Co-op supermarket was allowing 6 or 7 people inside at a time to protect staff and customers, the main street was almost deserted and people were careful to maintain two metres separation from each other.

Yesterday we had had a total of 33 confirmed cases of Covid19 in the Highland Region; not surprising that it's relatively low,  we have probably the lowest population density in the UK, 9 persons per square kilometre and even fewer here on the peninsula.

I'm told there are 700 inhabitants between the lighthouse and Salen, the next village, 30 km away. If the peninsula is on average 5 km wide that's roughly 150 sq km, 4.5 persons per sq km, about the same as Lapland.

It you think I'm wrong feel free to comment, it's something for you to do in quarantine.

Queuing for the supermarket
Having distance between us is normal compared with the London Underground, Glasgow and New York. London has almost 4,000 people per sq km. So perhaps it's easier to keep 2 metres apart when we meet here.

Last week after the movement restrictions were announced we had a lemming like migration of motor caravans from the South, refugees from Covid-19, mainly with white haired, bearded drivers like myself, in the "vulnerable" Over 70, crumbly" category. They were not welcome;.. think about it..,.,.

In normal times our health services here in the Highlands are overstretched because of distance and scarcity of resources. If one of these people had a heart attack or symptoms of Covid-19 that could occupy the ambulance service or the helicopter for at least half a day. Our nearest major hospital is in Inverness and it looks after people from here to Shetland. N. Shetland is nearer to Oslo then Aberdeen by the way.

Tourism is the main source of income in the Highlands and everyone is welcome in normal times. But not at the moment.

P.S.  

I should have added that there were no cars on the ferry. Currently only the vehicles of Isle of Mull residents are allowed on to the island except for those of essential workers and for the delivery of essential supplies. You may be asked to show your driver's licence as this has your permanent residential address. The same applies to all of the islands and the Ardnamurchan Peninsula at Corran Ferry.








Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Too many deer......too few trees

No trees too many Red deer 
If I look down from my bedroom window in the small hours of a moonlit winter's night there are large grey shapes mooching around in the field that runs down to the sea.

During most of the year these red deer are cautious and keep away but tonight they are hungry, perhaps even starving. They have come down from the hill jumping barbed wire fences, browsing  and trampling  my newly planted trees.The night visitors

Until two or three years ago there was only a small population of deer at the west end of the peninsula but without effective culling there's been a population boom as in the rest of Scotland.

A deer trail down from the hill
follow the black lines and you'll find the deer
It's been estimated that since the 1960s Scotland's deer (red and roe deer) population has doubled and we now have more red deer than at any time since the end of the last ice age. Until recently trees could be planted here  (on the west end of the peninsula) without a two metre high fence to keep deer out.

Fencing costs are well over £3,000 per hectare, more than the trees, the planting , site preparation and subsequent maintenance. The Scottish Government's planting target is !0,000 ha each year until 2020 then 15,000 ha after that. Fencing will cost £300 million a year for the next four years then £450 million each year afterwards.

There is an alternative to fencing............. In Glen Feshie fifteen years ago the Red Deer Commission, the government body that oversaw deer management in Scotland at the time, began a huge cull after widespread destruction of native plants, trees and  the  arctic-alpine nesting habitat of the  Dotterel ,one of Scotland's rarest breeding birds. A team of stalkers using helicopters and high powered rifles reduced deer numbers from 1,500 to 400 in a year. The results were dramatic.Glen Feshie - Zero tolerance for deer

Deer hait on a barbed wire fence
When I visited Glen Feshie three years later there was widespread regeneration of native scots pines, the arctic alpine flora was flourishing and so were the dotterels. There was still a population of red deer, just fewer, giving a genuine hunting experience for the hunters. As opposed to the "canned hunting" available on many Highland estates where the hunting is more like the ritual slaughter of animals that have been hand fed in winter . The hunters are transported up on to the hill, they seem to have forgotten how to walk and hunt.

Where new woods are being planted fewer than 10 deer per square kilometre means that we can probably do without fences, damage is minimised.

Halving our deer population would mean; reducing the cost of planting, by up to half, more natural regeneration, more  CO2 sequestered and a more authentic experience for hunters.  The great cull doesn't mean just hunting;  wolves could be re-introduced in the highlands. More on that next time......

The rags are soaked in diesel, it's supposed to deter the deer

















Saturday, 11 January 2020

Extinction Rebellion classed with violent extremists.... UK Terrorism police


The UK terrorist police think I'm a potentially violent extremist despite my white hair, hearing aids, poor eyesight, poorer memory, dodgy knee and the occasional corn on my right foot. Why?...

Because I support the aims and activities of Extinction Rebellion along with many other crumblies and their grand children. Who wouldn't, given the evidence on climate change and government inaction?...

Anti-terrorism police have produced a guide to recognising children and adults with, "anti-establishment" views and philosophy who might be keen to take part in non-violent protests in order to pressure government to introduce effective climate change mitigation measures, it's obviously aimed at XR.

So XR have been included in the secret policeman's handbook along with Neo-nazi and violent islamist organisations. Once you recognise these people you are asked to report them to the appropriate authorities. It looks like the thin end of a very authoritarian wedge.

How could anyone consider me "anti-establishment?  Possibly because I think of our new Prime Minister as a mendacious, indolent, incompetent narcissist but this is a perfectly reasonable assessment and a view held by over half of the population.

A peaceful protester outnumbered by not very secret policemen






The cops haven't kicked my door in yet perhaps because their project has been widely revealed and criticised in today's newspapers.

In a rapid about turn they have said that they do not now regard XR members as violent extremists and their guidebook is to be recalled.



Friday, 10 January 2020

National Parks were the best idea the USA ever had.....Why is the Trump administration being allowed to destroy them

I have always been lucky, my mother once told me...." If you fell in the harbour you'd come out dry with your boots full of fish".

Forty years ago I was lucky to be given a Winston Churchill Scholarship to visit the USA to find out about the development of sustainable agriculture. I travelled from coast to coast meeting academics, farmers and environmentalists. I took a small tent and at weekends I camped and hiked in  National Parks from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to Colorado and Californian Sierras.

Half Dome Yosemite NP
The National Parks  were beautiful, well managed, well protected and looking as if John Muir's vision would last forever. However, commercial developments, road building and tourist facilities encroached up to and within park boundaries. It seemed they were in danger of being sacrificed to commercial tourism......outdoor versions of Disneyland. I also formed a lasting impression that without national parks the US might have very little left of conservation value, outside perhaps of Alaska.


Why are you Americans allowing the Trump administration to dismantle the National Park Service, hand political leadership to anti-public land sycophants , natural resources to mining, ranching  and other industries while allowing widespread misuse of the parks during government shutdowns?

Since that first visit in 1983 we took our children camping, canoeing and walking in US national and state parks from S. California to the Boundary Waters, the White Mountains, the Appalachians and upstate New York.

Later without the children we drove south from British Columbia into Washington State from pristine forests, lakes and mountains into a scene of utter devastation south of the border forests had been laid waste and rivers polluted with run off from soil erosion. No one stops there anymore the highway was littered with abandoned gas stations and wrecked vehicles. Don't let this happen within your National Parks. To keep up to date with developments click on the link below.

This land is your land, get regular updates here




Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Climate change denying Trolls are still at it despite the scientific consensus

Each morning I read the online version of The Guardian (UK equivalent of the Washington Post and France's Le Monde)) and The Times,  to get a balanced view of the world.

Photo: Patrick Hendry, Unsplash
Today's Times ran a  report by the United Nations on global greenhouse gas emissions and how they have reached a record high. Our global annual output of greenhouse gases is 53.5 bn tonnes and is set to be 59 bn tonnes by 2030. The "Paris Agreement" was for 40bn tonnes by 2030 to limit global warming  to 2C and avoid catastrophic climate change.

At the end of the piece there was an unbroken run of 12 comments all denying the report's findings,  claiming that climate change is a myth or attacking the integrity of the journalist who wrote it. This is classic climate change denial strategy as begun by ExxonMobil in the early 70s and modelled on the tobacco industry attempts to keep us smoking; despite lung cancer.

The primary tactic of environmental scepticism is........ "deny the evidence and deny the environmental problem"....... Then the deniers manufacture uncertainty by calling on us not to rush to judgement by claiming that more facts are needed.

Have a look at today's Times article then read the comments below it and judge for yourself, does it look like  organised scepticism of Troll factories supported by individual  contrarians who may be afraid,  angry or just scientifically illiterate.

UNDP Global Outlook Report 2019

I can't give you a link to the Times article because there is a paywall around their website, you'll have to buy a copy I'm afraid.

For an appraisal of the history and denial strategy of contrarians have a look at this link....

How the fossil fuel industry blocks climate change action.

The comments in the Times are true to form
  • It's not true, it's a myth
  • The evidence is widely disputed
  • This is a conspiracy
  • The journalist lacks integrity he / she is just recycling PR material
It has to be mostly paid for Trolls writing this , who else would spend their day churning out the same old stuff?  Their output falls into three categories:

It's not just "big oil" coal mining is still expanding
Lying
Generally you can find "outright denial" or conscious denial in the face of the facts or events, this is lying (See; D. Trump).

Bullshit
Instead of outright denial, the denier can choose to interpret the facts of climate change  in order to distract. For example the accumulation of Co2 in the atmosphere is due to rising temperatures. not vice versa. 

Deceit
Deniers can accept the facts of climate change then proceed to present them as something else altogether by minimising or dismissing the need to act when the facts say that we should. Most of us are guilty.

For example, I take the train on European journeys instead of flying and kid myself that I am doing my bit.  The emergence of Extinction Rebellion has made more of us think about our response to climate change, self-deceit is becoming increasingly untenable in the face of a moral imperative.   



Thursday, 14 November 2019

Travels with a donkey......La Route Stevenson

Sunrise over the Morven Peninsula 15/11/19
It's the 14th November and already this month I have filled the water butt with a hosepipe for the livestock  three times.  It's been unusually  dry for three weeks,  at a time when we are normally deluged., the sun is shining in a cloudless sky and it's 4 degrees outside.

Thoughts turn to summer 2020, France and a walking holiday but this time with a difference.....I want to take donkey.
A long walk in the Pyrenees without a donkey

Robert Louis Stevenson is  perhaps most famous for his novels Treasure Island and Kidnapped. He may be less well known as a pioneer travel and outdoor writer. "Travels with a donkey in the Cevennes", written in 1879 was one of his first outdoor books, an account of his 120 mile walk with the donkey Modestine from Le Puy to St. Jean du Gard through the Cevennes.

Modestine was his essential pack animal because he didn't travel light his heavy extra large sleeping
RLS
bag was made of sheepskins, he took wine, brandy, a leg of mutton and a revolver he really needed a donkey. We don't really need one, we travel light and unarmed, overnight baggage can go by courier van to the next stopover. I just like the idea of an asinine companion.

RLS cursed Modestine roundly every day and  he goaded her with a stick; she was too slow and stubborn, he didn't realise that she was on heat for at least part of the time. In 2020 a hired donkey should, I hope be more amenable as long as the donkey driver follows some basic rules. Don't overload her, don't creep up on her from behind especially when she is eating corn, don't try to stroke her face her shoulder or neck are are preferable.

At the end of their trek in St. Jean du Gard RLS was sad to see her go when he sold her and described her thus....

She was patient, elegant in form, the colour of an ideal mouse, and inimitably small.
Her faults were those of her age and sex; her virtues were her own.






My walking companion an experienced horsewoman is more practical than me and thinks that a donkey may be more trouble than it's worth. I'll have to work on this.

"The Route Stevenson" the GR 7 follows Stevenson's route closely and the original book, only 176 pages in the copy that I have , could be used as a guide but my map reading is never brilliant so I've bought the french Topo Guide, it's detailed and the maps are excellent...... we'll take both!

 While planning I also have to bear in mind that I am now a "crumbly" (over 75 years) and I think we should do one half in the early summer and if we do the second half... in the autumn. The stages will be shorter than those of the GR7, the accommodation comfortable and the baggage goes by van.  This is as a result of my biting off more than I could chew on the GR10 in 2018.

The best Gites d'Etapes are fine but mountain huts are out and in some places hotels and inns will be used. It has taken me a rather long time to realise that  it's worth paying for a good bed with en-suite bathroom. Food is normally excellent everywhere except in mountain huts.
A summer in the Pyrenees