Monday, 17 April 2017

I am part of the problem......Burning wood to heat my home isn't as green as I thought

For almost ten years I have been heating my house plus hot water and cooking with wood. I thought that I was doing the right thing and that all that work chainsawing, splitting  logs and stacking gave me a  carbon neutral fuel.

Wrong!... it has gradually dawned on me ( I'm a slow thinker) that I am part of the climate change problem. For a given heat output, burning coal would emit fewer particulates and less carbon dioxide.

Fuel miles!
Wood fuel returns carbon to the atmosphere that was absorbed when the trees were growing but the carbon released by the trees that I am burning today will not be totally reabsorbed for fifty to a hundred years so the atmosphere is taking a big hit now. It wouldn't be so bad if I was planting more trees to capture that carbon when the trees grow.

Then there are the fuel miles used to deliver the wood probably a 300 km round trip with a huge truck burning 100 litres of diesel to bring it's 25 tonne load. Then there's the chainsaw fuel at about 1.5 litres per tonne and the log splitter at 0.5 litres / tonne fuel miles add up quickly.

The greenest way to burn wood would require me to have about 4 ha (10 acres) of my own sustainably managed woodland. If I plant it now there may be thinnings to harvest in 30 - 40 years. I don't have a mature sustainably managed woodland. So what is the green alternative?

I have to make a choice between an oil or LPG fueled boiler or air source heat pump plus  a dual fuel (LPG and Electric) range cooker, with a wood burning stove as back up for power cuts.

Monday, 3 April 2017

New lambs an old shepherd and the last lambing.

Shepherding is hard manual work, the ewes weigh 70 kg., the lambs are fast of their feet and the Shepherd at 74 is decrepit; lame, shortsighted and increasingly deaf, he isn't strong enough or fast enough. This is the last lambing. He doesn't cope too well with the sleep deprivation either. After inspection of the lambing ewes in the small hours it's difficult to get back to sleep.

A better looking more stylish old shepherd, he must be French
In the autumn the breeding ewes, the tup and the lambs will be sold.

It will be a sad day when they all go but here's an upside; more time to sit and think, more time to just sit perhaps and more blogging indoors on wet days at the table in my overheated kitchen.

You may have noticed a not very subtle change in the content of these pages, there has been less crofting and more ranting about politics and environment. Having a rant is one of the few nice things about being old. You don't have to give a damn about what anyone thinks of you (except your partner) and you are sure that you have useful stuff to pass on;  all backed up by facts of course.

It's the job of the media, particularly the Press to hold politicians to account but with the internet and blogs we can all have a go . I don't "tweet".  You can't say anything sensible with 140 keyboard characters it's for celebrity seekers, self-publicists and professional charlatans, you know who I mean.. Even teenagers have moved on from "Facebook" it's just not cool in 2017.

The aim of our work with the sheep this week and next is to deliver them into the world alive with minimum human interference and then to keep them alive because the first two minutes of their life are the most precarious. So are the last two as you know.

President Trump has a plan - "Make China Great Again"

The American journalist H.L. Mencken had an apt one liner for any given situation, my favourite  - "there's a simple solution to every human problem; it's neat, plausible and wrong!

No simple solutions...... no denying it
Luckily the US judiciary and even Republican politicians know this and the administration's ill thought through proposals so far have been stalled or rejected.

Trump has reversed the Obama  "Climate Protection Plan" which he denounced as "bullshit" taking US climate change policy back to industrial revolution levels....  when there wasn't any of course.

At their root our environmental problems are unintended side effects of new technology. I challenge you to come up with one that isn't!

Trump's new environmental policy ( or lack of it ) could have the ironic unintended consequence of, " making China great again."

China is the biggest global CO2 emitter, the USA is second. While the USA is trying to revive  an uneconomic coal industry with coal  in free fall. China  is forging ahead with emission control , low carbon renewable technologies and policies. China could dominate the global clean energy market.

The US by rejecting renewables in favour of dirty fuel could find it's exports penalised by border carbon taxes and lagging way behind the rest of the world in the development of low carbon tech.

Climate change denial is a childish temper tantrum, rage at the inconvenience of  truth and reality.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Brexit - Political folly, economic catastrophe and bleak prospects for large predator re-introduction to Britain

Three days ago I posted a blog about the re-introduction of white tailed sea eagles to Scotland, since then there have been over 100 views ( it's not exactly gone viral! but does show a  level of interest).

Across Europe rare and endangered species are being successfully re-introduced and revived. Only Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands and Britain have no breeding population of at least one large carnivore species. (Chapron ).

These rising populations of bear, wolf and lynx in W. Europe are due largely to the EU Habitats Directive which compels member states to protect and revive rare species. When the UK leaves the EU we will lose this compulsion and the possibility of more re-introductions.

On average throughout Europe wolves live on land with a population density of 37 people per km sq., lynx 21 per km sq and bears 19 per km. sq. Population density in the Scottish Highlands is 9 people per km. sq. So you don't need a landscape without people to have recovery of large carnivores in the modern European, human dominated landscape.

The future for re-introduction looks bleak. Last year  a public consultation meeting about the re-introduction of lynx to Kielder Forest in the Scottish Borders resulted in an angry slanging match between those for and those against. The local Tory MP claimed that 90% of locals did not want it, the Lynx Trust claimed that 90% did want it. (Hexhan Courant Mar 2016). Without EU support and with a right wing Tory government which panders to farmers wildest unscientific claims  lynx re-introduction is a long way off.

In June 2016 I voted to remain in the EU, leaving, I believed it would be political folly and bring economic catastrophe, I can now add weaker environmental protection and species conservation.

Chapron Recovery of large carnivores in Europe's modern human dominated landscapes, Science,346, pp.1517-1519, 2014.

Monday, 27 March 2017

White tailed eagle eating a roadkill badger carcass : trail camera image

By 1918 landowners and gamekeepers in Scotland had exterminated this magnificent bird that feeds mainly on carrion, In your bird guide you will find that they are listed with the European vultures not the eagles. Forty years ago a project began to re-introduce the white tailed eagle to Scotland by importing young birds from Norway where they are relatively common.

From small beginnings on the Isle of Rhum National Nature Reserve the birds now hold an estimated 65 territories on the east and west coasts. On a warm windless day like yesterday visitors to Ardnamurchan can be almost guaranteed to see whitetails soaring over the coast on their three metre wings. Mull is one of their strongholds but they do seem to like a day out here on the peninsula.

March is a tough time for hill sheep and red deer, they are at their weakest after the winter, quality food is scarce and the weather can be horrendous so there is lots of carrion. Hamsa captured the white tail in the picture  feeding on a badger carcass with a trail camera one day last week.

These birds are smart as well as strong. During the stalking season from September until February they turn up in response to a rifle shot because they have learned that there will soon be fresh "gralloch" to eat.  (Gralloch is the deer's internal organs that are left behind on the hill by the stalkers. )

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The,"Caledonian Sleeper" - slow train to the Highlands.

Pinewoods and snow from my bunk
Every night except Saturday a long sleeper train leaves London Euston station for the North. In the middle of the night the train is quietly reconfigured at Edinburgh; one section leaves for Inverness, one for Aberdeen and mine for Fort William.

This morning  I had my breakfast, porridge with honey, as the sun rose over Loch Lomond and the train snaked through pine woods below snow covered mountains to Crianlarich.

Then coffee on Rannoch Moor where the winter landscape compares with the "Trans-Siberian" where it pulls out of the Urals into the west Siberian steppe in the early morning. At Corrour it only needed  Babushkas selling piroshki and beer to make it Siberian.

For comfort, convenience and affordability this is the best route to Scotland. It beats flying as ,"walk on cargo", it saves the cost of an hotel, saves a day and you get a romantic adventure, what's not to like about it? For climbers and  winter hill walkers it gives access to some of Scotland's most isolated high mountains, bothies and the wildlife.

Just before ten o clock we slid beneath the north face of Ben Nevis into Fort William station; on time, well fed and refreshed.

If you have a smart phone (I only have a dumb one)  Scottish Natural Heritage have produced an app for you; see "The View From The Train" to accompany your West Highland train journey, at - train/

Monday, 6 March 2017

Navigating very roughly by the moon.

When we were walking through the forest to the black cock lekking site
Hamza asked me where East was so that he could site his hide appropriately for the dawn light.

I don't have a smart phone with GPS and the compass was in my back pack.  so where was East?

It was three days after the new moon, so a crescent moon was visible. It's a little blurred in the photograph because the camera was hand held.

You can use the moon to find South and if you can do that you can fnd East very roughly but well enough for the direction of sunrise.

After the new moon the sun and moon are not together and the moon must be East or West of the sun. In Northern latitudes,if you draw an imaginary line between the two horns of the moon and extend it to the horizon, the point where your line meets the horizon is South of your position.

Give it a try some night and check it with your compass, it might save your life if you are lost in the bush. Of course you have to be able to see the moon, it won't work with an overcast sky or in a woodland of tall trees. Always carry a compass!

If you disagree with my reasoning add a comment.