Friday, 13 April 2018

Not many people know this..............Neonicotinoids in Scotland's woodlands Part 1


Forest industries in Scotland make a huge annual contribution to our economy through; timber growing, timber processing, employment in forestry, recreation and tourism. The forest industries support 26,000 FTE (Full-time equivalent) jobs and create an estimated Gross Value Added (GVA) in our economy of £1bn each year. It's important and it's big business but like all industrial activity it has the potential for vast environmental damage.Economics of forest industries in Scotland

Our national forest estate looks pristine, natural and healthy but there is something unseen and potentially damaging going on...... the deployment of neonicotinoid pesticides to control the large pine weevil (Hylobius abietis).

This beetle eats the bark of all tree species but is particularly damaging in commercial industrial forestry. Sitka spruce the most numerous and widespread commercial tree species are especially vulnerable to beetle attack and are being treated with a neonicotinoid, (Gazelle) in forest nurseries and commercial woodlands.

Bark weevil reproduces rapidly in the stumps of recently felled trees and it is necessary for then to die out before replanting or the new  plants will be ring barked and killed.
Neonicotinoids have been found to directly affect honey bees and indirectly song bird species in the UK and throughout Europe. Is widespread use of neonics in forestry going to have disastrous unintended consequences on wild life and the environment as they have in industrialized agriculture? , not least by killing non-harmful and beneficial insects. Insect pests of trees in Scotland

There are people who work in forestry who think that neonics are potentially damaging to human and ecosystem  health and that non-chemical physical barriers to the beetle, nets and wax treatment should be standard practice as in Scandinavia.

Last week I was working with Rachel Watt planting trees on my croft. Rachel is a forestry contractor with 35 years experience, she told me about this problem, it was the first that I knew of it. Most of what goes on in the Forest Industries is completely unknown to the majority of us so I have asked Rachel to write an insider's story of neonics in our woodlands. See the next post.











Tuesday, 3 April 2018

A long walk in the Pyrenees

Back in the depths of winter ( 13th January) I perhaps rashly, posted a blog proposing that I walk from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean through the Pyrenees along the route of the GR 10, Le Sentier de Pyrenees. From Hendaye-Plage to Banyuls-sur-Mer it's a journey of 995 km in 55 daily stages and 53,000 m of climbing. I can see what you're thinking..... "He now knows what it involves and wants to back out".Do you remember an inn Miranda, January 2018

No, I still want to do it, but more slowly than in 55 days; perhaps 60 or 65 days in June, July and August. I do have," form " as a GRdiste, the Tour of the Glaciers of Vanoise, the Route Stevenson through the Cevennes, hut to hut in the Alpes Maritimes and the toughest, the GR 20 across the mountains of Corsica. But the last was twelve years ago. So I do need your help; and perhaps Mac Hoskins would like to join me for one of the stages?

At my age there is no way that I want to carry a tent and all of the gear for that distance over so many mountain passes. The solution is to use Mountain huts, gites d'etapes, hotels and where necessary cabanes ( bothies).  According to the guide there are only two nights when a cabane is necessary. However; since the last trip when mountain huts in Corsica cost slightly less than £20 a night, huts and gites in the Pyrenees cost £40 a night, add travel, insurance and a modest per diem allowance of  £10 a day and you have a total expedition cost of £3,500. Too much for a Crofter on a pension alone.

Craigard

Is there anyone out there who wants to spend a month or two months of the coming summer renting and living in my house and being a Crofter? This would help to finance the expedition, you could take over the blog for two months, look after the hens, do shepherding, fishing, walk the hills and take care of Miss Mimi my hybrid wild cat. Craigard Croft on Google Earth

From the kitchen window


When Hamsa gets back I'll ask him to make a short video of the croft, inside and out and then I'll post a link so that you can have a close look at it. In the meantime, Jacqui Chapple who runs Steading Holidays is going to look after inquiries and handle any  Steading Holidays



Friday, 23 March 2018

Where to find and see red squirrels in Scotland..... "squirrel hot spots".

If you have been paying attention to some of the recent posts on this site you will be well informed about squirrels and might now want to see some

It's the school Easter holidays soon and if you are in Scotland you can visit a number of Forestry Commission sites where you can see them close up. Scotland is home to 75% of the UK's surviving red squirrels and our forests are being managed to help them flourish. It's in these red squirrel, "strong hold forests" that you can see them close up.

For an interactive map of Scottish red squirrel distribution have a look at this site; it will help you find them. Where to see red squirrels in Scotland

I visited one of these sites at Inchree just south of the Corran Ferry, off the A82 earlier this week. As usual I didn't have high expectations but I was wrong. At one point there were five squirrels only a few metres away from the wooden screen with viewing holes in the Forestry Commission car park.

The best time is probably around mid-day when it's warmer. And!...... if you have a dog please don't let it loose, if you do you certainly will not see squirrels.

I only had my phone camera with me so You have to look very carefully at the feeder in the second tree, there is a squirrel peering out from behind it. How to find the Inchree squirrels



View from the screen

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Silent Spring 21st March 2018............ neonicotinoids again.

I first read Rachel Carson's classic, "Silent Spring" nearly 60 years ago in 1963. It's an account of the indiscriminate use of pesticides in the USA and their devastating effect on wildlife, pets and  people. Today is the first day of Spring 2018 and according to French researchers, Spring in France will be much quieter than 25 years ago. Birds are disappearing from the French countryside at a phenomenal rate.

One third decline in 25 years
Research by the, Centre national de recherches scientifiques(CNRS)  shows a catastrophic decline of at least one third in song birds due to agricultural intensification, particularly the use of neonicotinoids on wheat mono cultures. Bees and other insects in general have declined by 75 - 80 per cent. As a result there are one third fewer partridge, thrush, chaffinch and turtle doves compared with 25 years ago.

Although the adults of the species above eat grains the young nestlings all need insect  protein to grow and survive. We have known this about the grey partridge in the UK for fifty years. The researchers say that the partridge in France is virtually extinct.

These results are based two methods; a long term study over 25 years on 10 ha sites throughout France and citizen science using amateur ornithologists to carry out surveys together with the professionals.

Virtually extinct in France
In order to bring you this piece of bad news I had to translate from the CNRS ( Centre National de Recherches Scientifiques ) press release with my big Hachette dictionary, any mistakes are mine.  My own observations on declining insect numbers are anecdotal and  based on car windscreens. Fifty years ago when cars were slower  we had to stop regularly in summer to clean the windscreen of , "fly squash". Now we don't! ......there are far fewer insects about.

A final thought.........loss of biodiversity on this scale is as catastrophic as climate change, ocean acidification, ozone depletion, global freshwater use, interference with the nitrogen and phosphorous cycles and changes in land use. ......... we are standing by watching while our house burns down.

Click here for original press release
http://www.lemonde.fr/biodiversite/article/2018/03/20/les-oiseaux-disparaissent-des-campagnes-francaises-a-une-vitesse-vertigineuse_5273420_1652692.html#OsAtzzjgMeg4vJBi99


Tuesday, 20 March 2018

An alien invasive species.......... the grey squirrel's days are numbered.

National treasue
Red squirrels are a national treasure, we are brought up on stories of Squirrel Nutkin, in the wild they are pretty,charismatic individuals, we love them and we want them to thrive but their future is threatened by the alien, invasive grey squirrel.

Greys cost the UK forest industries round £14m a year by damaging timber. They strip bark exposing the phloem cells causing damage that isn't often apparent until the trees are felled.

I spent yesterday at a conference where the latest research on interactions between.  pine martens, grey squirrels and red squirrels was presented and discussed. The message was; where European pine marten populations have recovered from near extinction grey squirrel numbers decline dramatically towards extinction, while the native red squirrel population in the same areas increases.Pine marten recovery reverses decline of red squirrel

National enemy
The grey squirrel was introduced to Britain in the nineteenth century and it carries squirrel pox virus, this doesn't harm the grey but it's lethal to the reds when the two populations meet and mix. A whole range of grey squirrel control methods have been used with varying success; shooting and trapping are the commonest. Birth control is on  the brink of widespread use.

A specially designed protein that causes infertility is incorporated in a bait for the greys. The baited traps can only be sprung by the greys because they are heavier than the reds. The active ingredient in the bait works once ingested and is then broken down quickly in the body of the grey squirrel, this should avoid, "unintended consequences" such as passing on the birth control effect to other species such as scavenging mammals and birds.

Even choice of tree species by foresters can help to control  the greys, in areas likely to be colonised by greys, not planting large seeded broad leaved tree species,such as hazel and oak, removes the grey's food supply but can favour the red.

National hero
In the Sottish Highlands the recovered pine marten population is likely to stop the invasion of greys. In the Borders, Wales and Northern England it may take 30 - 40 years for pine marten numbers to recover sufficiently to  provide effective grey squirrel control. In the meantime birth control looks as if it might be quick and effective.

The red squirrel and the pine marten co-evolved over millions of years. Reds tend to know how to avoid martens most of the time. The greys evolved in N. America and are not really acquainted ( co-evolved) with the pine marten and are less aware. this seems to account for the martens killing many more greys than reds.

Meanwhile, today we have the first video recording of a pine marten in Northumberland.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOeHr-thGHc&feature=youtu.be+%E2%80%A6


Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Tripylos (1,407m) and a wild mountain sheep

Valey of the cedars from Tripylos
The Valley of the Cedars has two species endemic to Cyprus, the Cyprus cedar ( Cedrus brevifolia ) and the Cyprus mouflon (Ovis gmelini ophion). On a  walk up to the fire lookout on Tripylos summit I would certainly see the cedars in their complex ecosystem  and there would also be the chance, however remote, to see  mouflon.

Cyprus cedars have high ecological and economic value but by 1879 it had been recognised that it was in danger of extinction after fires, grazing and over felling. Since then it has been protected by the Forestry Department in a nature reserve between 900 - 1,400 m.

Mouflon lookout
The very fact that large, rare,wild mammals live in woodland add a great deal to any woodland walking experience even if I don't' see  them it's important to know and feel that they are there. So I set off with little hope of seeing wild mountain sheep but packed my binoculars anyway.

What better place could there be than fire lookout for a 360 degree view of the surrounding forested ridges.  Here the woodland is quite open with glades and scree slopes where mouflon might travel or graze. It is lambing time so the herds tend to be split up with the males travelling and living alone.

A close cousin, the Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep



After 30 minutes or so at the limit of my eyesight and binoculars I found the rounded golden brown form of a reclining mouflon ram in the sun on the opposite ridge about a kilometre away.





Monday, 12 March 2018

Winter hill walking for crumblies............

A "Crumbly" is over seventy years of age, if you are 60 - 69 you are a "Wrinkly". I have noticed that the little green international footpath direction sign features two Crumblies with walking sticks, bad posture and dodgy knees. See below.


For Crumbly hill walkers in Scotland  winter isn't really over until June and by then the last warm, dry day you can remember was nine months ago. So I have been researching an escape for Crumblies with and without dodgy knees. I think I have found it; don't do it in Scotland do it in  the Troodos mountains of Cyprus. It's like California; aquamarine skies, brilliant silvery light and draughts of warm fragrant air welling up from the valleys.

It must have been Napoleon who said, "time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted" it's the second rule of warfare. The first rule is, " don't invade Russia", that was General Montgomery in 1945, but I digress. I have spent a week doing some reconnaissance  for you.

The best time to go is now, perhaps a little later if you want migratory birds or May for flowers, the weather is perfect, shirt sleeves all day,  no heavy waterproofs needed, just a light windproof jacket at the bottom of your pack with factor 50 sunscreen to hand, it's the one your grandchildren use.

The roads are amazing, almost traffic free and no potholes so hire a small car. Even remote villages have excellent roads slightly wider than our single track roads in the highlands this is necessary as Cypriot drivers don't take prisoners when cornering. Drive on the left.

Troodos is probably the best base for a few days, two hours from Paphos airport and a hub for walks. When Cyprus was part of the British Empire the entire colonial administration moved up here in summer to avoid the heat down in Nicosia. The Jubilee Hotel is one of the last remnants of British rule and residence.

The trails are well engineered, they tend to contour around the mountains, are well surfaced so trainers will do and they are well way marked with a combination of sunshine and shade as they weave in and out of the pinewoods