Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Oligarchs, think tanks, marketing and global warming

Somewhere near you?
Sixty five years ago I had my first school chemistry lesson  with, "Doggy Collins"  a scary old Welshman. I clearly remember two topics that are relevant today, the gases comprising the earth's atmosphere and the, "scientific method".

The air we breathed then contained approximately 300 ppm of carbon dioxide it now contains 400 ppm, a 25 per cent increase in 65 years. This is a scientific fact, in other words there is a very strong probability that it is true. Doggy's scientific method involved three steps;

  • Observe the situation
  • Formulate a hypothesis 
  • Test your hypothesis by experimentation 
I should add a fourth....... present your methods, results, discussion and conclusions to the scientific community to seek consensus by peer review.

Scientific consensus about climate change has strengthened considerably since 1990, ninety seven per cent of published climate scientists  now agree that climate change is being driven by human activity ( Anthropogenic Global Warming).

Meanwhile there is a vociferous minority, in the USA  and UK denying that this is the case. They  are presumably happy to accept scientific consensus if it benefits their health or wealth but not if it means radical lifestyle change and inconvenience. People on every continent are experiencing the effects of climate change; from wildfires in California, to drought in Somalia and melting ice at the poles.

Closer to home; in the 1950s Crofters in this village made hay and grew oats, the climate was good enough at the appropriate time to make hay and harvest oats. Now it could not be done, the summers are too wet for haymaking and September too wet for harvesting cereals. Our annual rainfall in the W. Highlands has increased by 45 per cent in the last 20 years. We don't have significantly more wet days but when it does rain the rainfall is much heavier. 

Who are the deniers?....... and why do they do it?

In the USA and the UK anthropogenic global warming denial is generated and lead by right wing  think tanks and media funded by oligarchs and business corporations who have a vested interest in avoiding any mediation, it would lower their income and increase their costs. So, the "think tanks" churn out misinformation ( fake news) to create doubt about the science. This benefits their owners by decreasing support for mediation measures. The myths and misinformation are readily adopted by populist right wing politicians..... you know who they are!

The think tanks, right wing media and their supporters use the same tactics that gave us consumerism.... marketing!. They influence public support by casting doubt on the consensus among scientists. In the UK it has been found that only 11% of voters believed that the scientific consensus was 90% or more....... very effective marketing.  The gap generated between the public perception of scientific consensus and it's reality has delayed effective action to mitigate climate change.

If you are part of the consensus and recognise the global climate crisis you can outwit the  deniers by countering myths and misinformation, but more effectively by inoculating people against new myths......... explain how science works!  here is some ammunition  .....The effects of climate change NASA















Friday, 5 July 2019

Members of Parliament debate the potential extinction of red squirrels

At the end of February the UK experienced it's hottest ever winter day. On the same day there was a debate in Parliament on the climate change emergency.

I counted 35  of our 650 MPs in the photograph of the debating chamber. The other 625 were probably too busy having lunch with lobbyists or filling in their expense claims; the best part of their week.
Westminster Debate on Climate Change, The Guardian.

Earlier this week there was a briefing for MPs on the potential extinction of Red Squirrels in England, I can't find out how many attended but you can find a transcript of the debate on line at;  Debate on potential red squirrel extinction . Transcript of debate on potential red squirrel extinction

In the one and a half hours available there were over thirty contributions from the politicians present. They concluded that the threat to our iconic red squirrel population from the invasive, alien greys must be removed.

Invasive alien grey squirrel
If you write a blog,  each day you get a summary of how many people have read posts in the last 24 hours and which posts they have read. Since the first of three posts about the red squirrels in the Coquet Valley and their potential extinction was written in October last year; someone, somewhere in the world has read about them every day.

It seems that people find it easier to identify and engage  with, small, furry, bushy tailed little mammals and their plight than with the human existential problem of climate change. Politicians certainly do.

For a really accurate, concise and readable account of the grey squirrel problem and possible solutions you can read the MPs briefing paper yourself.Briefing paper on the extinction threat to red squirrels









Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Wild flowers, insects and birds return to traditionally managed grassland



Colourful pre-industrial diversity surrounded by deep green desert
Industrialised agriculture in the UK began after WW2, until then we had traditional low input, low output farming, a time when farmers didn't have to keep accounts or pay income tax, yields were low, machines were powered by horses, weeds were removed with a hoe and wildlife generally flourished.

My childhood saw the horses replaced by tractors ( small grey ones mostly with motor car engines), combine harvesters replaced binders and threshers, this "mechanisation"  led to loss of habitat and enabled intensification. Then the widespread adoption of
High energy input........ no diversity
fungicides, insecticides, herbicides and intensive use of nitrogen fertiliser on grass and arable crops in the late 60's led to widespread loss of birds, insects and flowers.

Even in the remoter livestock farming areas of the north and west intensification has resulted in a landscape of dark green fields ( because of high nitrogen fertiliser use)..... a deep green desert dominated by grass, cow parsley, stinging nettles and low diversity.

Low energy input .......... high diversity
High diversity needs low soil fertility. When fertilisers are applied the more vigorous crop species and weeds out compete everything else..... result ......... loss of species.

But this week, in the Coquet Valley in North Northumberland we visited an island of colourful diversity in the sea of green..... Burradon Windyside Farm near Thropton. Here  Kevin Wharf has transformed what were once intensively managed barley fields into floristically rich meadows.



The change has been achieved quickly and effectively by using traditional grazing management, haymaking and broadcasting wild flower seeds. Sheep graze the fields during and immediately after lambing in the Spring. The fields are then shut up until late June  early July when a small scale seed harvester collects the flower seed then this is followed by making hay.

Why is this interesting?................. well you may have noticed that the UK is about to commit economic suicide by leaving the European Union. We farmers and Crofters are unlikely to get the level of subsidy enjoyed by farmers in member countries but our Minister for the environment has promised enhanced incentives for biodiversity creation and sustainable farming.  Kevin has shown how this could be done.

No!......  I don't believe the promises of politicians ......... But!..........along with climate change they are going to have to take biodiversity loss seriously and it might just happen.







Monday, 3 June 2019

Hen egg laying rituals and broken eggs

The goats don't seem to mind the squatters
 My brown egg laying hybrid hens lay an egg a day at the moment, there's over 14 hrs of daylight and it's warmer. So each day they go looking for a nest site for an hour or so then end up in the one they used yesterday.

Research shows that hens learn the best places to nest by mimicry. In this case the later laying pullets saw those that started to lay earlier using the hay racks and decided to use them themselves even if very over crowded.

This pre-laying behaviour can last for up to a couple of hours. Then having selected the nest they settle in to the nesting material and squirm about to make a comfortable bowl shape in the hay. The problem with this site is that the eggs sometimes roll through the bars and break.






I did make a lid to keep them out but they were so frustrated I relented and let them in again. I just have to collect the eggs quickly.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

It's the broody season....... time to spend three weeks sitting on eggs in a dark box

Day 2 of sitting on the nest and not moving.... definitely broody!
It's the end of May....... the start of the "broody" season....   Hens now want to sit on a clutch of eggs and hatch them. The don't all go "broody" or start "clocking" some are keener than others but it can become contagious. First sign that one of your hens is clocking is that you are likely to find her sitting on the nest over a few eggs or no eggs at all at night when you lock up.

When you put your hand under her she stays there, pecks your hand and / or protests  by squawking. Looking down on the clocker she looks flattened and spread out over the nest, not quite as flat as roadkill.

If you want her to hatch a clutch of eggs you will need to move her out of the hen house nest box into a purpose made sitting box or even a large cardboard box in a shed safe from predators. Move your hen gently, at night when she is a bit dozy and place her in the sitting box with a few dummy eggs for 24 rs to see if she is going to sit tight.

Keep the eggs to be hatched in the kitchen for 24 hrs to gently warm them. 10 or 12 eggs for a heavy breed hen, then gently replace the dummy eggs after dark. Next morning she should still be sitting scatter some grain on the ground in front of her and make sure there is water available. She will probably not leave the nest for a day or two, this is normal, when she does it will be for 10 or 15 minutes to eat, drink and dump.

Time off.....20 minutes each day

Best to feed her whole grain this keeps the excrement firm, layers pellets will make her a bit skittery. Skitter is an agricultural term for diarrhoea. After 20 to 21 days you should have eight or nine chicks from your setting of 12 eggs. Clockers are cheaper than incubators, more reliable and you don't need a brooder the old hen will look after them.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Goats are friendly, charming and intelligent..... don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Humans domesticated by goats 11,000 years ago 
Estimates vary but it seems that humans were first domesticated by goats between eight thousand and eleven thousand years ago in the mountains of Iran. Being sociable, adaptable, intelligent and able to eat almost anything humans were an ideal subject for domestication and have been captivated by goats ever since.

Of course the goats had to learn to handle dogs because they were the very first wild animals to take over human homes ( caves) which were warm, dry and littered with nourishing kitchen scraps. They handle dogs by never turning their backs on them and head butting to keep control. This means that the goats can take their humans  and dogs for country walks and picnics  on fine days as above.

Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton noticed that domesticated animals were only a limited number of species with certain behavioural traits making them suitable for domestication; they should be sociable (herding), the young should bond quickly and strongly with their parent and should be flexible in their dietary requirements. Galton's requirements for domestication.








Shetland ducks....... a rare breed and slightly confused I hope.

I should know better but last month I slipped half a dozen fertile duck eggs under a bantam hen with little hope of any hatching after the long, rough journey by mail from Shetland.

Then, one morning ten days ago there were four black and yellow ducklings under a fiercely protective hen. In the last ten days they seem to have increased in size five-fold on a diet of chick crumbs and fresh grass.

Ten day old Shetland ducks and surrogate mother
I should know better because ducks have always been a lot of trouble, they make a mess around the steading with a mixture of water, mud and excrement everywhere you walk, they have to be herded into their nighttime accommodation safe from mink, pine martens and foxes but on the plus side they do lay lots of eggs that make the best sponge cakes, they eat snails ( intermediate host of liver fluke) and are real characters.

Hopefully these ducklings will be confused by their hen mother, adopt her behaviour, think they are hens and follow her inside at dusk even after she has lost interest in them.

10 day old ducks now think they are hens, emerging from the hen house




Why Shetland ducks? They are a tough, hardy and productive rare breed so it's worth putting in some effort to keep them going..... you never know...... there may be a need for the genes of tough hardy little ducks that lay as many eggs as Khaki Campbells in the future.

For more information on Shetland ducks  see... Rare Breeds Survival Trust