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.