Monday, 20 November 2017

It's time to plant trees and to learn how to do it!

November is the start of the traditional tree planting season for bare root trees that are two to three years old. Normally, planting of bare root trees ends in March when the plants wake up after winter and start to grow again..

A bare root transplant
But things are changing. Mechanisation and industrialisation of the tree nursery business means that a much smaller number of very large nurseries on the best agricultural land now produce many millions of trees each and they have been able to extend the winter and planting season by keeping "bare root" tree plants in cold stores up until June or even later

Then there are trees grown in germination / propagation modules under plastic tunnels These can be planted at any time as they are well rooted in a ball of growing medium but these are much more expensive and difficult to handle on the planting site. A tree planter can carry 100 or more bare root plants in a bag over her shoulder but plants in modules have to be palletised and are a bit of a logistical nightmare on large, remote planting sites.

For my tree scheme the seed of the ,"native broad leaved" species that I plant must have a known provenance; in short the seed is collected in Argyll and is certified as such. It can then be sent anywhere to be propagated for two or more years before I plant it.

Because I am not a forester I went on a tree planting training course last weekend to learn how to establish a wood and a few basic rules emerged; plant good quality trees with well developed roots, smaller transplants are better than long whippy ones, don't let anything (voles, deer, sheep etc.) eat them, control the weeds and finally the actual planting is a skilled job. Rachel in the picture plants between 1,000 and 2,000 trees a day depending on conditions, I'll get her to do mine.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Nutritional wisdom of poultry .......low cost and low carbon egg production.

The first limiting factor in animal production systems is dietary energy. You can feed all the protein, minerals and vitamins you want but unless animals have enough energy in their ration they will not thrive and produce,

In egg production systems we feed a balanced energy rich, protein rich pellet fortified with minerals and vitamins...... everything the hen needs for egg production. These "layers pellets" make up about 70 per cent of the cost and 70 per cent of the carbon footprint of egg production.

There is an alternative to proprietary rations for for free range hens A large poultry farmer in the Netherlands has 24,000 free range hens fed on biscuit and bakery waste ( high in energy). Because they are free range they can also eat insects, worms, frogs....even mice and plant material to balance their diet.Low carbon, low cost eggs Research shows that hens can select an optimum diet if presented with several different feeds, they learn to do this over time

Real "free range" they go everywhere
My own hens have access to layers pellets and mixed corn ( whole wheat, kibbled maize, oats high in energy). They eat more of the mixed corn than the pellets and still lay perfectly well so are they showing "nutritional wisdom" and balancing their own diets with the wide selection of proteins available out there?

Given the scientific evidence that hens can and do select an appropriate and balanced range of proteins in their free range environment so I am tempted to feed only mixed corn which is cheaper than pellets and has a lower carbon footprint than pellets.


Forbes,J.M. and Covasa,M. Application of diet selection by poultry with particular reference to whole cereals, World's Poultry Science Journal, vol 5, issue 2, 1955, pp. 149 - 165

Friday, 3 November 2017

Yoga for owls........ the ,"Half bound lotus" posture.... really!

If you go to a yoga class you will have seen the, " half bound lotus stretch" before ... but "chair pose with dump" is rarely seen in class.

Perhaps we can make a calendar with these clips.

Why do barn owls (Tyto alba) live, hunt and breed in barns?

Stealth hunting 
As I have said before the weather in the W. Highlands makes the place unfit for human habitation in winter, it's cold ,wet and windy. It's the same for barn owls. Because they evolved as stealth hunters with silent deadly flight in warmer , drier climes their feathers are not waterproof and their insulation is poor. Heavy rain, snow and strong winds make vole hunting difficult and energy expensive.

Field mouse about 15 % of owl dinners
It has been estimated from barn owl pellet analysis that voles make up about forty five per cent of the barn owl's diet ,the rest, mainly shrews and mice are found in the same grassland habitats.  These largely nocturnal hunters need to catch 3 to 4 voles each night which is difficult in autumn and winter when voles are  less active and harder to catch.All you ever wanted to know about owls

Historically the solution was to hunt in winter around and in farm buildings. This was an effective strategy for thousands of years when corn was stored in ricks and barns which in turn were heaving with rats and mice. If you have a bird table in the garden you could be feeding owls as well as tits and finches . Spilt seed attracts mice and mice attract barn owls. Barn owls in winter

Yesterday there were two barn owls using the barn from dusk at about 5.30 pm until 8.00 am this morning, we know this from the timing of the video clips. During the day the hens are fed in the barn, they spill feed, the feeders are there 24/7 and this attracts mice.

So my barn provides protection from severe weather and a regular supply of food. This is unusual as most modern barns are not accessible to owls. Mice and rats are controlled with poisons.

The owls also conserve energy by hunting from perches on fence posts in daylight but they are prone to mobbing by crows, rooks and gulls. During daylight they are prone to predation by goshawks and occasionally buzzards .

Last night's video shows an owl comfortably at home in the barn preening, defecating and doing yoga while keeping one eye on the floor for mice.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Two barn owls displaying aggressive behaviour over a dead mouse

The trail camera was busy again last night in the "Owl hotel", not just one owl in the barn but two and they are squabbling over a dead mouse.

We think that one of them, the one on the left is older and the one on the right is probably a juvenile as it seems to be more submissive. It we could see the colours of the wing coverts perhaps we could be more exact.

If there are any owl experts out there perhaps you could give us your view?

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Barn owl watching and partying.......... wildlife watching after dark

Barn owls fit in well with the photographer's millennial  lifestyle, coming home from  from another party at about three this morning . He got this short video with his camera phone.

The owl flies out of the barn then up the road and perches on a branch of a big sycamore.

Under the rafter where the owl perches he found pellets (bundles of regurgitated bone and fur) so it was probably there for so time sitting out the storm.

 He then set up the trail camera directly opposite the perch with a dead mouse for bait but it looks as if tonight something else took the mouse or the owl swooped in too quickly for the trail cam.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Roundup ready crops........ Monsanto's unholy grail

This week the European Union could revoke the licence for the use of the weedkiller glyphosate (ROUNDUP). Glyphosate (ROUNDUP) is a non-selective, post emergence, broad spectrum, systemic herbicide.  in other words ," if it's green it's almost 100 % certain that glyphosate will kill it" and its probably killing us too.EU vote on Roundup

Roundup is used world wide
If you are under 40 years old you have  been ingesting glyphosate in one form or other for the whole of your life'; in biscuits, potato crisps, bread and vegetables.If you are a farmer, gardener, green keeper or forester you have been directly exposed to this chemical in  it's concentrated form and when diluted as a spray.

The holy grail for the agro-chemical industry since Roundup was first marketed has been crop plants that are tolerant to glyphosate. These genetically modified "Roundup Ready" varieties have two big advantages for Monsanto; increased sales of Roundup and they can sell the GM crop seeds with the chemical as a package. For the farmer there is 100 per cent weed kill and the crop survives.

They have a virtual monopoly. Currently in the USA 90 % of soya beans and 70 % of the corn crop are "Roundup Ready". They are doused with glyphosate, and farmers have to go back to Monsanto for their chemical and seed package each year, they have become a captive market, almost sharecroppers.Roundup Ready Corn

Tomorrow in the media you will see the response of the agro-chemical industry (MONSANTO), the farmer's unions and a few tame politicians. They will reject the science behind the vote and argue that the world cannot be fed without Roundup. There are alternatives to Roundup readiness and we can feed the world without it. More on that later.

Friday, 20 October 2017

No more pine martens until the Spring!

Production team head for the hills
You must have read enough about pine martens by now. But! the photographer is relentless in his pursuit of wildlife imagery and Big Al is ever keen to shoulder massive loads of kit up the hill.  So here we go again.

Having re-housed Peanut the one eyed pine marten we now know that martens find our den boxes  attractive, secure and comfortable homes.  The photographer is convinced that any boxes set up in the woods at this time of year will be full of marten kits in May.

He's never short of ideas. Next project is a huge marten den in his Mother's roof space, it's interior done out like the inside of a hollow tree and 24 /7 filming of the squatters.  I digress..... back to this afternoon. We succeeded in hauling the 20 kg wooden box four metres up an ash tree clinging to a rock outcrop. You have to  assume that house hunting martens are seriously agile.

The box is securely lashed to the tree. Next we sprinkle peanuts around the base  and smear the trunk with organic peanut butter.... only the best will do. Trail cameras will monitor the action,  the tree is only metres from a game trail that's well used and trodden.

Now we wait. You know when the martens are in residence, they soon dump a pile of scat on the roof and you can see this with binoculars. More news in Spring 2018.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Build a hut in the woods...... new planning regulations and code of good practice

Do you ever dream of owning your own cabin in the woods? A place where you wake up to birdsong and sit on the porch under a dark sky sparkling with stars. on....

Last weekend we had the annual gathering of Re-foresting Scotland, at Comrie in Perthshire. The theme was "re-wilding" but there was also a session on"hutting" and the recent changes in planning law and building regulations to allow people to build simple huts in the countryside for recreational purposes.

After WW1 there was a working class movement in Scotland to get out into the countryside to walk, climb, camp and build simple accommodation for holidays. It has become a Scottish tradition and Re-foresting Scotland's , "1,000 huts campaign" has been driving new developments to make it easier to get planning permission and a building warrant.

The best known hutting community is at Carbeth in Stirlingshire, This community of small huts was established in the 1920s  mainly by people from Clydeside, in 2013 they bought the land that their huts were sited on. Since then hutting has become recognised as a legitimate, valuable and desirable countryside

Canadian version
My Russian friends have their own, self built dachas in the countryside, N. American cousins have lakeside cottages, Germans have their " kleingarten" here in the UK it has been almost impossible to have anything other than a static caravan on a manged site. In Scotland  you can now self-build a woodland hut. But there is still one big hurdle....... finding a site in a countryside where land is so scarce.

Re-foresting Scotland presented a new document at the conference, " New hutting developments : Good practice guidance on the planning, development and management of huts and hut sites".

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Hunting the Skipinnish oak...... one of Scotland's oldest trees

There's a rule of thumb that says you can measure (roughly) the age of an oak tree by measuring the diameter of the trunk at chest height with the span of your arms. I think you have to be of average height (me). Your arm span equals your height, in my case 5' 8" or 172.5 cm., and each span is worth 100 years of growth.

Soaring above the surrounding thicket of birches
Today I set out to find the "Skipinnish oak" a very old tree in what were once the policies of Achnacarry Castle. There is no signage to tell you where it is, no footpath and no interpretive display board. But the kind attendants at the Clan Cameron museum pointed me in right direction, told me that it was completely hidden by other lesser trees and that I would have to climb the deer fence.

A very old oak is going to be a very big oak I thought. So I scanned the forest canopy. There were three large venerable oaks in roughly the right place but their trunks and lower branches were completely obscured by a thicket of much younger trees.

Taking a bearing on the tallest I set off in a straight line over ditches, rocks, tree stumps and bog to the deer fence. Deer fences are at least 7'  high and if they are in good shape they aren't easy to climb. You have to find a strainer post that doesn't sway and wobble so I set off along the fence. I was in luck a ladder had been built up and over the wire.

Because the deer have been excluded there has been spectacular regeneration of birches, a thicket so dense I had to shoulder my way between them up the knoll to the old giant. My photo doesn't do it justice, you have nothing to compare the diameter of the trunk.

Measured around the huge boss about five feet above ground level
I measured approximately 5 spans..... about 28 feet. or 7 metres in circumference. So it's 500 years old, maybe more.

When Achnacarry Castle was destroyed by the Duke of Cumberland's troops after Culloden in 1745 the great tree could already have been 200 years old and it looks as if its still growing.

NB. The vegetation inside the fence is different from that outside. Inside there is quite spectacular natural regeneration of birch, oak and hazel. Outside the regeneration is much less due to deer browsing there are some oak seedlings and hazel but it is really sparse compared with inside.

If you want to know why it's called the "Skipinnish Oak" have a look at this link...Skipinnish oak

Monday, 25 September 2017

Autumn mist and spider's webs

10.00 am , mainland Britain cut off from Mull....ferry cancelled
It's warm and windless with a sea haar (mist) enveloping the coast. Mainland Britain is cut off from Mull. The ferry has been cancelled. Fence rails, bushes and branches are festooned with spider's webs shiny with drops of dew. It's a perfect W. Highland day.

Garden spider web

Garden spiders are fully grown and hungry for flying insects. They rarely live beyond the first frosts. Overwintering eggs are tougher hatching in the Spring to start the life cycle over again.

Amorbious species have evolved these tangled untidy webs to catch crawling species as they move over trees and bushes.

12 noon mainland still cut off

The sky is a lot bluer than this, it really is a perfect day unless you want to get to Tobermory.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Hooded crow takes an egg away for breakfast

Crows, ravens, rooks and jays (Corvids) are thought by some authorities to be as intelligent as apes. They can solve problems, use tools and think ahead.

Earlier this year Trevor at the Ardnamurchan campsite found his windows splashed with blood one morning.A hoodie crow had been attacking it's own reflection thinking it was another crow. Not all that intelligent you might think it should have been able to recognise itself well some crows been shown to recognise themselves in mirrors.

Hamsa left the trail camera outside his back door one morning last week with an egg to attract the crows. See the video for what happened next and the intelligent way in which the crow made the egg portable.

Before the crow got there my cat "Mimi" a wildcat hybrid also got in on the act. Even serious minded wildcats can be playful

Peanut the pine marten is voluntarily relocated and patient she does come out of the box eventually

Just over a week ago I posted a piece about "Peanut" the pine marten living in the Campbell's roof. Since then things have moved on. I made a pine marten den box. Hamsa put it up on the roof above the valley gutter near where she was entering the loft and now she has moved in.See video clip.

From the top; two side entrances and central nesting chamber
Peanuts and peanut butter were used to entice her to investigate, she must have liked what she found because we now have video of her entering and leaving.

Den boxes have been successfully used to help conserve pine martens and to monitor their population by  the Forestry Commission and the Vincent Wildlife Trust.

In commercial forestry plantations the trees are close together and relatively young there are few trees with natural den sites ( deep holes in the trunk). A scarcity of den sites in tree cavities  is a major constraint on population growth. Den boxes have been very successful in Scotland and Ireland. The martens can safely shelter from the weather and predators (foxes).

In the workshop nearly finished, it needs two more coats of paint
Den boxes have been designed to be weather proof, a similar size to natural sites, well insulated and with two entrances, they like to have a choice of escape exits.

Now that we know she is using the box we can block off the hole in the roof, the pine marten will be safe and the Campbells will be free of an unwanted guest.
For all you want to know about pine martens and making den boxes click here

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The best time to plant trees was 20 years ago....... the next best time is now.

On Friday my Charolais cross bred ewes will be sold at Torlundy mart near Fort William. They are going for two reasons one economic and one personal.

This year it cost approximately £50 to breed and rear a lamb for sale. It then cost £2 to take each animal to the mart and the auctioneer charged another £3 to sell each one. The sale price was down 14 %  to £43 per head. I made a loss of £12 on each lamb.

Unprofitable and too heavy
The "Single Farm Payment" and the "Less Favoured Area Payment" subsidies that we get from Europe add up to just under £600 for this croft. This leaves a surplus of roughly £400 for a year's work. The subsidy comes from the  European Union. In 2019 when we have left the EU it is unlikely to be paid by the UK government despite it being a vital social subsidy for rural Scotland. This is the economic reason for selling the breeding ewes.

Each year these ewes seem to be heavier, stronger and less cooperative or could it be me getting older?

Keeping poultry is easier at my age and it is one of the two farming enterprises in Scotland that produced a profit before the SFP  last year the other was pigs.

As Crofters we have a sort of quasi legal obligation to carry on an agricultural or business activity on the croft. If this isn't a farming enterprise it can be equestrian, a camp site, a golf course, nature conservation or forestry. I intend to plant trees....... as shelter belts, as a source of native tree seed for re-wilding, as a landscape feature and for timber in 50 to 100 years.

Shelter from the prevailing wind will also increase the productivity of the remaining grassland and hens do like to rake about among the trees, it's close to their native jungle habitat in India.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Pine marten on the roof......................... a musical wildlife video

This is our first attempt at a full length ( 1 minute) wildlife film with a musical backing.

A condensed version of a day in the life of Peanut the one eyed pine marten in the Campbell's roof space. She works the night shift then comes home at about 6.30 am,  squeezes between the roof tiles and the rain gutter to get in  above the sitting room where  it's warm, dry and safe.

She stays indoors until 8.30 pm when she leaves for work. this  involves hunting small furry creatures, small feathered creatures in season and killing my hens if she gets a chance.

We think she has lost an eye as only one is reflecting light.

This is what we do on wet afternoons in the W. Highlands.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

A conservation success story........Europe now has twice as many wolves as the 50 contiguous United States

In Britain we exterminated our large predators long before other Europeans. The wolverine is estimated to have gone 8,000 years ago, bears 1000 years ago and lynx in 400 AD. The last wolf is reputed to have been shot in Scotland in 1680.

European brown bear
In continental Europe large predators survived and in recent years have begun to recover in even the most densely human populated landscapes. Europe (4.3m km2) has  more wolves, about 12,000, than the 50 contiguous United States ( 8m km sq.) with 5,500 individuals.The recovery of European brown bear, wolf, lynx and wolverine populations in Europe is a little known and unappreciated story.Recovery of large carnivores in Europe

Conserving populations of large predators is complex not least because they live at low densities and need large land areas often crossing national boundaries.  In N.America black bears and mountain lions still live among low density human populations but brown bears and wolves have largely been confined within protected areas, people and predators are kept apart, the "separation" model.

Here in Europe in the last seventy years changing values, culture and legislation to protect large predatory species have resulted in a successful "co-existence" model.  Co-existence has led to increased and stable populations of bears, wolves lynx and wolverine. Twenty two countries have brown bears, 23 lynx, 28 wolves and 3 wolverine. The wolverine is limited to Scandinavia by climate and habitat requirements. Wolves have been seen and videoed in the Netherlands, the most densely populated country in Europe.Wolf in Netherlands video

Lynx habitat
Here in the UK our only large predators are eagles but there is a proposal to re-introduce lynx to the W. Highlands where this relatively small large predator could help to control deer numbers which are currently out of control. There is opposition of course from the usual suspects but at least one large estate owner is keen on the idea.Lynx Trust UK

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Tracking pine martens in north Northumberland

A couple of weeks ago I had a phone call from a friend in Northumberland, he'd just seen a pine marten at the side of the road as he was driving home. That happens all the time here in Ardnamurchan but Bob lives in England in the Coquet valley about fifteen miles south of the border. Pine martens were wiped out in England in the 19 th century.

The lambs were sold last week, the weather forecast for Northumberland was good and my neighbour was happy to look after the livestock. So a short scatological expedition to Northumberland looked good. Scatological because if I was looking for pine martens the only evidence I'd be likely to find would be pine marten scat.

Rowan berries
Rowan trees are heavy with berries in September and pine martens love them, their scat is full of undigested skins and easily identifiable. Starting where Bob saw his pine marten I have been walking the logging roads and footpaths of the nearby woods for the past two days.

Wild mammals tend to take the line of least resistance to get from A to B, footpaths and forest roads or well used game trails. I'd be unlikely to see one in daylight and despite the rain the ground isn't soft enough for distinct tracks scat would be the only possibility.

Line of least resistance
There's plenty of evidence of foxes and deer but none of martens. I'll just have to keep trying if I find a trail they they are using I'll then setup the trail camera for a night or two. For more on tracking pine martens by someone more experienced than me have a look at the Vincent Wildlife Trust blog.Tracking pine martens

As I have been often told by archaeologists, " absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!".

Update on Monday 11th September

I just found a Northumberland Wildlife Trust press release date 1st July 2010,"Found at last! Pine marten rediscovered in Northumberland." They have unequivocal evidence based on DNA analysis of scat found at Kidland. Pine marten in Northumberland  Not a very effective press release if I only found it seven years later. Or perhaps I'm just not a very effective researcher!

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Pine martens like central heating , insulated lofts and permanent residence.

Pine martens are still an endangered and protected species in the UK. Here in Kilchoan they are more common than domesticated cats. Most residents have experienced living with a pine marten. You may be sitting reading one evening then you hear something like a body being dragged across your's a pine marten.

They don't actually live in pine trees they prefer old buildings and centrally heated houses for the winter. Access is easy most houses over 30 years old provide entrances to the roof space.

Pine marten in the roof space

If you want to remove your visitor you must remember that it has the highest category of protection, higher than the Queen. There must be some bureaucratic process that will enable you to trap and then release it somewhere suitable. If there is I've never heard of it. So what ever you do you mustn't set a wire cage trap baited with jam or peanut butter on toast then release your captive in the woods.

You will just have to live with it like everyone else. As for the smell..... the pine martens don't seem to mind.

Foraging, finding, cooking and eating chanterelles... it's that time of year

I've been complaining daily about the wet summer. But there is a plus side, heavy rain encourages the growth of chanterelle mushrooms.Yesterday I was shown, by someone who knows about these things..... where to find them.Within about five minutes I had filled a large brown paper bag with perhaps one kilo.A slight depression in the woodland floor was lit up with their golden trumpets.... as golden as the yolks of free range eggs.

Beware! there are some highly toxic lookalikes. As well as knowing where to find them you need to be able to identify them. Again you need someone who knows and a guide to edible mushrooms to supplement this. I am not going to help you there it's your  responsibility.

You can store them fresh in a paper bag in the fridge for about 10 days, otherwise dry them in the oven, slowly at 150 C.There are lots of recipes online.

La cuisinere

The simplest recipe is to saute them with onions. I gave mine to Mrs.Campbell who turned out a magnificent quiche with hedgehog mushrooms and chants. I was invited to help eat it of course.

The eating is the best bit...... it would be ill mannered to take photographs. Bon appetit!

If you do go foraging and find them please don't trample on them, please leave some and don't tell anyone where you found them.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Barn owl feeding station

It's pretty obvious why they are called barn owls, they nest and roost in barns, first documented by Ray 1678 (The ornithology of Francis Willugby). Pennant 1768 ( Pennant, T, 1768, British Zoology ii.) calls it the, "white owl" but barn owl is the common usage and barn owl was officially adopted by the BOU (British Ornithologists Union) in 1883.

This is why we have just put up a feeding station in the sheep barn. We know that a barn owl comes in here to roost especially in wet and windy weather and Hamsa wants eventually to set up a hide in the barn.

The offerings on the feeding table are dead mice (humanely killed in a trap in his caravan).

When Hamsa lived in a barn himself at Swordle he used this technique to get some excellent images of the owls who also lived there.

There is also the possibility that owls will find and use the nesting box that's up in rafters.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Consolations of the forest - a Book review

When I read a book from end to end without a break that's a good indication that I enjoyed it and want to share it. If it's my book I give it to someone who will appreciate it, but this one was a library book. It's philosophy and adventure for the dedicated outdoors person,

Lake Baikal
The subtitle is...... "Alone in a cabin in the Middle Taiga". Sylvaine Tesson, French travel writer, adventurer, philosopher and environmentalist spent six months in a 3 m x 3 m cabin alone on the shore of Lake Baikal during the winter and Spring of 2010.

He wasn't entirely alone he was visited by birds, bears and hardy Russian fishermen, during the latter half of his sojourn he had two dogs for company and as an anti-bear patrol.

The hermit was delivered to his cabin in a truck on the ice of the frozen lake from Irkutsk along with basic food, a library of literary and philosophical classics, vodka, Cuban cigars and a satellite phone. That's  a long list of stuff but he wasn't trying to prove he could survive in the Taiga his objective was a meditation on solitude.

There is a catalogue of understated adventure on mountains, in the forest, kayaking, fishing and prodigious vodka drinking with his Russian visitors. His liver must be in one hell of a state. The sat phone played a role too, he was "dumped" in a text message by the love of his life during the longest darkest days of his personal winter.  It's a meditation on that too.

You might ask," if this book is set in an overheated cabin, with seemingly endless supplies of vodka and cigars, where's the outdoor adventure? Read it!

Winner of the Medici Prize for travel writing in 2011 track it down in library or book shop.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Environmental values and the, "new barbarism" - Review of National Monuments in the USA

Giant Sequoia
 33 groves of the world's largest trees under threat in California
Tomorrow (25th August) the review of National Monuments by the US Secretary of the Interior will decide which if any National Monuments are "too big" (over 100,000 acres).I just tried to insert a link here to the National Geographic news site where there are maps and brief descriptions of the sites under review. Mysteriously, this is not possible., but you can get there by googling," national monuments review maps".

This could be the prelude to a nationwide programme of mindless environmental vandalism by the Trump administration, national parks, public lands, marine sanctuaries and of course national monuments could all be under threat.

Potentially there is danger in this for the UK. Our right wing conservative politicians get their ideas and some finance (dark money), second hand from the US like the good poodles that they are. Our own protected areas, rewilding proposals and environmental protection could all be under threat. We could be entering an era of environmenttal barbarism.

There was a time when the US led the world in environmental thinking, ethics and policy. It was an environmentalism underpinned by the values and ideas of "thinkers", remember them? ; Thoreau, Whitman, Muir, Leopold, Abbey..... the list is long and the ideas were good.

The response to Trump's executive order and the review has been enormous 450 organisations on behalf of millions of Americans sent an open letter to the White House saying that a majority of citizens wanted more protection for public lands and wild places, not less! So there is some hope.

Public reaction stopped the sell off of national woodland assets

The UK government tried to sell off 637,00 acres our own public lands and forests owned by the Forestry Commission five years ago.   Public reaction was overwhelmingly against and the plans were abandoned.

Monday, 21 August 2017

The climate of the West Highlands was unsuitable for human habitation before we started to change it

Wet day in Lochaber
It's on wet, windy days in Summer more than in the winter that I sit with a mug of tea in the kitchen and wonder if the climate of the West Highlands is unfit for human habitation.

We humans started out in sub-tropical Africa then as population increased we moved north and west into the Mediterranean basin, so far so good still a nice year round climate. More people then meant further northward and westward expansion into Britain and Norway..........a step too far.

These places are cold, wet and windy year round we migrated too quickly and just haven't adjusted to horrors of the Scottish climate. It's no accident that rates of alcoholism increase the closer you get to the N. Pole..

Climate change has only made things worse. According to the Meteorological Office, in the last 100 years Scotland's climate has become warmer with drier summers but heavier winter rainfall due to the increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.Scotland's changing climate

Here on the west coast not only is it wetter and windier but there is significantly less sunshine since I was a boy in the 1940's. Average hours of bright sunshine between 1941-1970 and 1964-1993 decreased by 16%.

Train de Provence
Predictions for the future are more of the same,...... wetter and....... windier but I have a solution for the near future... next month!

Eurostar from London to Nice, you leave after breakfast and arrive at tea time. A few nights Airbnb and daily excursions up into the Alpes Maritimes on the Train de Pignes.

You get off at a delightful Provencal village, have a walk in the sun, a nice lunch then back to Nice for dinner. Chemins de fer de Provence

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Ardnamurchan's Golden eagles have bred successfully this year

A survey of Scotland's golden eagle population carried out in 2015 showed that in 12 years the population had increased from 442 breeding pairs to 508 pairs an increase of 15 per cent. Now that breeding pairs exceed 500 the species is re-classified as  being of "favourable conservation status.Key facts about Golden eagles
 Ardnamurchan Golden eagle

The greatest recovery was in the Northern highlands but west of Inverness to the Atlantic coast the population was more or less static due to a number of factors; overgrazing by red deer reduced the quality of the habitat for eagle prey species, persecution, increased recreational activity, forestry and high Spring / Summer rainfall could have contributed. Hamza's facebook site

In 2015 and 2016 our local pair did not breed successfully. Hamsa, who has been monitoring these birds thinks that their lack of success in the past has been due to poor nutrition and that the provision of carrion as carcasses in Winter / Spring this year was a factor in their success. This has perhaps the added advantage of diverting the birds from killing live lambs during lambing.

There has been some speculation about the possible effect of inter-specific competition between Golden eagles and Sea eagles and the effect that this might have on Golden eagle populations and breeding success. Research in Norway has shown that despite the Golden eagles being smaller, they dominate Sea eagles when in direct competition for carcasses.

In Scotland however, inter-specific competition may play a role the numbers of both species in future when territories overlap and food is scarce.

Monday, 14 August 2017

The problem solving pig and the hens who learned by watching TV

Leaving the European Union will be an economic and political catastrophe for the people of the United Kingdom. It will also be a catastrophe for animal welfare in the UK if the legal status of animals is not safeguarded.

For the last 20 years in European Union law animals have been recognised as sentient beings. This law underpins animal welfare in the EU defining animals as......." having the faculty of sensation, and the power to perceive, reason and think." Legal dictionary definition of animal sentience

I have just signed a petition, along with 34,000 other concerned people, calling on the UK government to safeguard the status of animals as sentient beings. You can do the same.......Compassion in World Farming

Happy high welfare pigs
Everyday I work with animals as I have done for over 60 years. during this time I gradually came to the conclusion that farm animals are much more sensitive, intelligent and perceptive than I or anyone else thought and that industrial farming practices are inherently cruel and unethical.

The problem solving pig
Thirty years ago pregnant sows were mostly kept in steel crates on concrete floors for most of the 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days of their pregnancy. This reduced labour costs, enabled the precise feeding of concentrated rations and was unbelievably cruel. The practice is now banned thanks to EU wide legislation.

Sometime in the 1990 s I came across a video of a very intelligent pig solving a problem. The video showed pregnant sows in a yard littered with straw and fed by a computer controlled dispenser. The dispenser was activated by a transponder around each sow's neck. It doled out a prescribed amont of feed in every 24 hr period. Labour costs were low, feeding was precise and it was high welfare.

One sow however found a transponder which had fallen off another pig. She picked it up and carried it to the computer to get second helpings. How reasoning, intelligent and sentient is that?

Hens can learn by watching TV

Another video shows a pen of hens feeding from red plastic bowls, these birds feeding were being displayed on a TV screen visible to another group of hens. The researchers then placed different coloured bowls  of food including a red one, in the pen of the TV watching hens. The TV audience went straight for the red bowls. They had learned something to their advantage by watching TV, this is highly intelligent  learning behaviour.

Please support the petition Sign the petition

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Perseid meteor shower is back with celestial fireworks

Shooting star over Ardnamurchan

I first became aware of the Perseid meteors while lying on my back on a rock in Death Valley. It was August and we were on a family holiday when sensible people avoid the place. There was one stand pipe for water, it was marked "hot", we didn't. pitch the tent we just spread our sleeping bags on the flat rock and lay there under a magnificent firework display.

The Perseids are debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet , pea sized bits of rock and ice that hurtle through the atmosphere at a rate or 60 to 100 an hour. It's advisable to find a dark place and to be out there in the hours before dawn.

This weekend 12th / 13th august the shooting star display will be at it's height. The forecast looks good with partial cloud so it's worth a try. This time I'll be lying on my back on a rock above high tide at Sanna Bay sometime after 10.30 pm.

No Death Valley temperatures at Sanna, I'll have an arctic sleeping bad, a balaclava hat and a flask of hot chocolate.
Video of Perseid shower 2016

After the show I will add the images, if any.

Where do we get our environmental values?

In the Pacific N.W.there is ongoing debate about the protection of "old growth" natural forest systems and the economic and cultural vitality of local communities. There is a similar but different debate in Scotland about the proposed re-introduction of the lynx to Kielder forest. and more recently Argyll.
Re-introduction of lynx to UK

The debate is often crudely characterised as being , local red neck loggers or agricultural fundamentalists v urban based tree huggers. The lynx debate is polarised between local sheep farmers and urban based wildlife enthusiasts. At the heart of these debates are different values about forests and wildlife and our human relationships to forests and wildlife.

On the one hand there is a set of materialist utilitarian attitudes and on the other values rooted in ecology and a notion of the intrinsic value of nature. This research in the US has shown that these traditionalist utilitarian values are inversely related to income,urbanisation and education but positively related to residential stability. Manning, R 1999

In other words if you have a low income, a low level of education and you are a long time local resident you are likely to value wildlife and trees for their use value. Those valuing trees and wildlife for their own sake, attributing intrinsic value, generally have higher income, higher educational attainment and are not rooted in the local community.

The authors of the article suggest that if current social trends continue then the "traditionalist / utilitarian" value systems will decline and of course as academics always do, they suggest that more research is needed.

We, especially as grandparents ,can do a lot to influence environmental values, the kind of values that would support re-introduction of large predators and rewilding in Scotland.

It's my belief that environmental values tend to be function of age, gender, geographic location, income and education. Many years ago I did a quick and dirty bit of research with a group of environmental studies students to try to determine what influenced their values and choice of degree course.

Formation of their environmental values was largely down to the influence of their grandparents. and primary education. It's one of the reasons I took my grandchildren for a woodland walk this morning.

Manning,R. et al, Values, Ethics,and Attitudes Toward National Forest Management:An empirical study, Society and Natural Resources,12 1999 pp.421-436

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The UK Government Renewable Heat Initiative - Socialism for the wealthy - diddly squat for the environment

If you have £1,000 in a deposit account getting 1% return it will take roughly 70 years to double your money it's the "rule of 70",  divide 70 by the annual rate of return and you get the years to double your money.

Clear felling for firewood
But if you were a mega-rich UK landowner with  trees, and cash in the bank you could do much better out of the "Renewable Heat Initiative" (RHI). This will more than double your investment in 3.5 years, it has a rate of return of 20% and of course these people don't pay taxes, if they pay VAT they get it all back.Fantastic returns on boiler investment

This scheme is based on the Tory (Republicans too in the US) principle that wealth should always flow upwards to those who already have it. We the tax payers are once again subsidising the wealthy and helping the Government to achieve it's targets, there is nothing in it for us.

A woodlot or forest produces an annual increment of wood throughout it's life, the yield varies according to the species, the site and age of the trees. If you selectively remove this annual increment for firewood then that is sustainable and is making a contribution to carbon sequestration. This can be done by selectively felling smaller trees or "thinning" and thereby increasing the growth rate of those that remain by reducing competition when the last trees are felled they are replaced.

However, if you clear fell a wood for burning within say 12 months you will be releasing  50 - 60 years worth of stored carbon in one event.  You have  fuel miles and pellet processing energy to add to the total.

A least one owner of a wood fueled centrally heated castle is Scotland has discovered that he can earn more cash  by leaving his windows open and burning more wood. Of course we are also paying for his central heating. This is,"socialism for the wealthy" and diddly squat for the environment, what the post-Brexit hard right future will look like in spades. But at least the UK government meets it's targets for renewables so that's OK!

Friday, 4 August 2017

Natural poultry keeping...... hatching and rearing

I have been keeping poultry for over sixty years, hatching, rearing, producing eggs and table birds. It has taken a long time but experience has taught me that for the small scale poultry keeper natural hatching and rearing is superior to the use of even the most sophisticated modern incubators.

First invented in ancient Egypt incubators were to supplement natural hatching not to replace it. Of course if you are producing tens of thousands of chicks for sale the use of hens is out of the question. New incubators are expensive, used ones can be dodgy. constant attention to the temperature, humidity and turning routine is called for. Then you need heat lamps, a cage of some description and a draught proof vermin proof shed for 5 to 6 weeks of rearing.

You can safely ignore the advice in textbooks. Eggs can be set at any time of day either by placing them under the broody hen or putting them in a nest at floor level and letting her find them herself. Once she has settled down don't interfere. She doesn't need dusting with insecticide for example and doesn't need the disturbance of a daily inspection. She knows what to do.

She knows exactly what to do
During the first week the hen will rarely leave the eggs to eat or drink, she begins to eat again in week two, by day nineteen she has a voracious appetite for grain.

I put my broodies in a small coop with access to food and water, the coop is then used to provide protection from hoodie crows, sun, wind and rain during the first week of life.. After that the hen and chicks can rake about outside reasonably  safely and supplement their diet with seeds, insects and worms.

After 5 or 6 weeks the hen begins to lose interest in the chicks as they become bigger and more independent, the chicks are also integrated into the social hierarchy of the flock..... simple!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Under regulated capitalism, competition and consumerism are destroying global ecosystems, driving climate change and wiping out species

All of our environmental problems are a result of the unintended consequences of the application of new technology.

Fossil fuels
For example; the greenhouse gases  that drive climate change are the unforeseen effects of the energy use that arrived with the industrial revolution 200 years ago, the massively increased use of fossil fuels.Video-A century of climate change in 35 seconds

A recent example is the use of novel neo-neonicotinoid insecticides that harm honey bees.Recent research- Neonicotinoids harm bees

If you doubt my claim try this; think of an environmental problem that is not a direct or indirect consequence of the application of new technology. You cannot do it. If you think you can......please post it in the comments section.

Neonics kill bees
An individual capitalist or corporation must apply appropriate new technology as quickly as possible in order to gain a competitive advantage. Business does not want to be held back by testing for side effects on the environment. They usually get their way and this results in more environmental degradation.

The market for our basic needs; food, shelter and security depends largely on the size of the human population. Demands of the market can be sated relatively easily. So you have to be sold stuff that you don't really need in order for businesses and the economy to grow. This is consumerism.

Shop till you drop....destroy the planet
ergo Capitalism, competition and consumerism are destroying the planet.

He owns the White House, the Kremlin and Westminster
The, Trump White House is wholly owned by corporate America. In Russia the Kremlin is owned by a kleptocratic oligarch mafia. China practices "State Capitalism" and elsewhere corporate lobbyists call the shots and pull the strings.

The global capitalist system is out of control and  incapable of change.

Effective change would require fewer people with fewer perceived needs and more government regulation of business, that might just save  the planet but how to we get from here to there....Greed rules OK.

Oh... and the people who voted for Trump are still being screwed by his corporate supporters.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Can a Scottish wildcat hybrid go missing? or is she just a "free spirit"?

My cat, Mimi , went missing at the weekend. She habitually turns up every morning, as I am shaving, to demand food, proprietary cat food, none of that wild stuff. Then..... on Sunday she didn't arrive for breakfast. Had she met up with a fox ? a speeding car? or was she caught in a fox trapper's snare?

She is trained to come to the sound of a goat bell. She didn't come.

Mimi at home in the woods
You might think that a wildcat hybrid could look after herself out there in the fields and woods, she has ferocity genes after all. But cats learn survival skills from their mothers in the first two to three months of life. If that period was spent in a domestic environment they wouldn't necessarily get a skill set suited to life in the wild.

Then there is traffic on this narrow single track road where the national speed limit 60 mph applies and some drivers lack basic common sense, There are cat thieves, fox traps, foxes, eagles and weird people with guns who shoot anything that moves.

Cat owners also have a vivid imagination and often imagine the worst case.

At home in the kitchen
Last night at about ten o clock, after I rang the goat bell and she sauntered up to the house to demand food.

We have had two hot sunny days with a cooling north wind, blue sky and blue placid sea. It's been perfect summer weather. So my guess is that she went on holiday. She spent the time sleeping in the sun having found a nest of field mice.

Cats and particularly wild cats are free spirits., This free spirit is recognised in UK law and hybrid scottish wildcats are not included in the "Dangerous wild animals act". They and their owners cannot be held liable for any damage that they might do to your dog for example..