Nowhere quite like Norwich

In September I enjoyed a great trip to Norfolk to catch up with two of my favourite people; one living in Norwich who I’ve known for over 10 years and the other from a gorgeous little village called Acle, who I met doing my Masters in Manchester, and they had lots of fun things planned to show me the best of their local areas. I’m always one for an adventure of course!

 

First stop was to Acle, a cute little market town just outside of Norwich and surrounded by farmland and winding country lanes; just my kind of place!   This entire this place is like stepping back in time, like you expect a quaint period drama to occur at any second. Driving from here to Great Yarmouth, involved going down New Road, which is known for being one of the longest, straightest roads in England, but this isn’t what its known for locally. When driving towards the coast, it easily becomes a game to point out as many windmills as you can, a strange game, but with approximately 15 or so all around, it makes it a pretty unique view.

Image

Arriving in Great Yarmouth wasn’t exactly eye opening, but Fritton was another story entirely. This quaint English village is home to Fritton lake, 2.5miles long and home to kingfishes, heron and even eels. We visited here on a lovely sunny summers day, enjoyed a great picnic and took it upon ourselves to master the art of not only kayaking but also using something called a katakanu – don’t ask! It was a lovely place to visit and I would go back in a heartbeat.

 

That evening I heading back to Norwich city centre to stay with one of my oldest friends. She took me to a fantastic tapas and cocktail bar called 42 Kings Street where every few months that create mouth-watering and brain teasingly curious cocktails. We subsequently enjoyed a beetroot and dill martini as well as a Kentucky buck with bourbon. Curious tastes, but so inventive and well put together that I really must recommend them, along with the very tasty midnight tapas that we had alongside them.

Image

The following day by friend took me to the edge of the Broads. Cycling from her home in Norwich it took only half an hour to reach the beautiful area of Whitlingham. This man made broad was home to some lovely wildlife, particularly the cormorants, that looked like sentinels each on top of its own post around the edge of the lake. We enjoyed a walk around the entire lake, followed by a boat trip on the lake itself. But this was not just any boat trip, this was a solar powered boat, “the first in England” our guide was quick to tell us, something to be smug about clearly. It was a pretty area, but unfortunately busy with families and children ruining any peaceful moment.

https://i1.wp.com/www.tournorfolk.co.uk/whitlingham/whitlinghambroad.jpg

Luckily the cycle back was finished off perfectly with a home cooked roast like no other and a cuddle with King Julian the cat, topping off nicely a weekend in Norwich.

Image

I will continually pop back up there every year until my friend gets sick of me. It’s a wonderful city and a beautiful county. A real gem in East Anglia.

Posted in Fresh Posts, Random, UK Holidays | Leave a comment

Conservation Update Q1 2014

A new year, a new bunch of interesting additions to my ever growing mental library of interesting science and conservation related information. Check out my top 5 things to kick off the New Year!

1. Bear Baiting in Romania and Pakistan – WSPA

This year, I started working for a new charity, the World Society for the Protection of Animals, set on preventing animal cruelty globally. One of our biggest wildlife projects involves ending the vicious blood sport of bear baiting, after successfully ending bear dancing in India. By using dogs to attack bears as entertainment is popular in rural areas of Romania and Pakistan. In order to avoid mauling or owner deaths, the bears have their teeth and claws removed and are kept in appalling conditions, gradually weakening them, making them ideal bait for fighting dogs. Of the 8 species of bears in the world, Asiatic black bears are often used in baiting and are subsequently listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list. WSPA has successfully set up sanctuaries in both Pakistan and Romania to house bears rescued from bear baiting. However, it is important to note that WSPA’s aim is to have the bears willingly surrendered to them and not a simple case of stealing the bear away. This way they are able to educate the owners to alternative means of generating income for their families, rather than resorting to capturing another wild bear. This way bear baiting could hopefully be eradicated from history.

If you want to donate to WSPA’s efforts to end bear baiting once and for all then visit our website for more information: http://www.wspa.org.uk/wspaswork/bears/bearbaiting/

bear_baiting_2_175_tcm25-1382

2. New Cross Gate Cutting – railway cuttings, useful little spaces, forgotten microhabitats

I wanted to make sure that although now I work in the city, I don’t lose my skills and knowledge of outdoors conservation. For that reason I began working for London Wildlife Trust as a conservation volunteer for their south London team. So far we have worked mostly as New Cross Gate Cutting nature reserve, a small snippet of green alongside the railway in New Cross. It’s actually quite large once your inside, but unfortunately due to low staff, the reserve is rarely open to the public, making me appreciate volunteering that little bit more. It never fails to amaze me how these places can really ben in such a big and busy city, tricking you into thinking your further out of the city than you actually are.

Working there is tough work, but rewarding. I learned valuable skills on how to make steps, use old sleepers for new purposes and even basic tree monitoring skills, knowing when it becomes a hazard. We were shown how to use various tools from sledgehammers to sawing stakes. And despite the weather being up and down it’s always a fun day out, especially meeting great new people. I really recommend volunteering to anyone looking to get a bit more out of their weekends/free time. Not to mention the money you save on not going to a gym!

P1090521

3. Predatory Hawks – Hidden Kingdoms, hunting in packs

After watching the surprisingly mesmerising wildlife documentary Hidden Kingdoms, I was fascinated to discover a species of hawk that has an unusual predatory behaviour. In the US, New Mexico lives the Harris Hawk, a species known to hunt its prey in packs, much like the behaviour of wolves. Although its usual prey is small reptiles and mammals, this novel behaviour means they can successfully take down larger prey. It is believed this behaviour has evolved from the pressures of survival in desert landscapes where food sources are scarce. By taking turns being point guard, it allows one individual to rest at a time, increasing the productivity of the “hunt”. This cooperative behaviour is an effective and impressive strategy showing the sheer incredibility of this majestic species.

220px-Harris's_Hawk_(Parabuteo_unicinctus)_3_of_4_in_set

4. Wildlife photography exhibition 2014

This exhibition is held over several months from Autumn to Spring, and I just managed to get there on its penultimate day. This day happened to be a Saturday and ultimately the Natural History Museum, where is it held, was practically heaving with eager families. Despite this, my fellow wildlife loving friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. Set in a large dark room, divided into smaller sections by wall drapes and walls, and ultimately allowed your eyes to truly focus on the creativity and individuality of each image, all of which managed to convey fantastic messages and activities of wildlife in their natural environment.

To see some of the images, obtained from all around the world, I was most fascinated by those taken by photographers aged only 10 years old. How is it that a 10 year old was able to capture such a fantastic image with such meaning and unique compositions? I have had my DSLR camera for 2 years now and would never imagine being able to produce something so wonderful.

My favourite examples were as follows (Photos courtesy of NHM website):

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

I sincerely recommend this exhibit for any wildlife lovers, or anyone with a remote appreciation for nature and our environment. It’s a truly eye opening exhibition, packed full of efforts to educate people about the importance of protecting our environment and understanding sustainability and balance when it comes to the way we utilise our environment such as ecotourism and agricultural practices. If one person can come away from that exhibition and feel differently about nature, feel positive, then that is a true success.

 

5. The evolution of the red squirrel

At a recent lecture at the Linnaean society it was apparent that too few conservationists think about evolution and extinction when talking about endangered species and conservation. A huge example of this is the infamous Red squirrel; known for being extremely endangered due to being highly outcompeted by the Grey Squirrel, as well as being highly vulnerable to Squirrel pox; a disease regularly spread by Grey Squirrels who are in fact immune themselves.

As a result, many restrictions and protections have been put in place to protect such a vulnerable and dwindling species, but alas, with putting them on a protective bubble, contamination is bound to occur and this is indeed the case for the Red Squirrel population on the Sefton coast. Here there as a loss of >70% of red squirrels as a result of one grey squirrel, carrying small pox, entering the site. The effect was instantaneous and catastrophic leading to panic across conservation experts and ecologists.   However, the National Trust are now detecting that through natural selection, some squirrels have actually evolved to be resistant to the disease.   This is a hugely positive sign that this rare species might not be doomed after all!

To read more check out the National Trust website here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/article-1355813511001/

Red-squirrelPhoto’s from ARKive, London wildlife trust, Wikipedia and NHM website

I hope you enjoyed my top 5 for this quarter, see you in June for Q2’s conservation update.

Posted in Conservation & Research, Fresh Posts, Random, Volunteering | Leave a comment

Natural History of an unnatural England – Lecture from National Trust’s David Bullock

I recently attended a lecture at the Linnaean society about the “National Trust – an unnatural England”. This was given by the Head if Nature Conservation (UK Wide), David Bullock.

He talked about huge and forgotten influence of the National Trust properties on nature and conservation across the UK. Owning so many properties, scattered throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Island, there are admittedly some black holes e.g. Cumbria. Highlighting that there are in fact 8 species found only in the UK; including thatch moss, the lesser horseshoe bat and wild asparagus – so it is vital that we protect our little island. Much of the National Trust land is in the uplands and 60-80% is farmed – often referred to as MAMBA (miles and mile of bugger all!)

To see the various places owned by the National Trust, visit their website here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/places/houses-and-buildings/

So many species have gone extinct in the UK, one he pointed out that was even before the introduction of machinery as a result of the industrial revolution – the corncrake. Previously abundant in lowland grassland throughout England, Scotland and Wales and now confined to Ireland and Hebrides. This ‘landrail’ was popular in cook books and likely now extinct as a result of overexploitation.

The National Trust is currently working on several big projects; a few of the following are highlighted below:

  • Cliveden House is known as the biggest bat roost in UK, with 8 species swarming here between Aug-Sept as part of a mating ritual.  This is the only activity of its kind in the world!
  • Marsden Moor estate has cotton grass replanting on the peat land in an effort to increase the carbon sink (a trait previously unappreciated until the acknowledgement of the true impact of carbon emissions)
  • The most successful scheme of late is the creation of 1000 new allotments which encourage both wildlife and community engagement in conservation
  • The successful reintroduction of the extinct large blue butterfly (from Swedish stock) on Collard Hill in Somerset (although considerations need to be made as to the effect of this non-native genetic makeup)
  • The new visitor centre at Giant’s Causeway in North Ireland has been a real success.  It’s extremely creative architecture was inspired by the vulcanism that occurred 60mya leading to such a unique rock formation.
  • Giant woollen Trilobite at Cloister’s Gloucester Cathedral was knitted communally; a good representation of fossils helping to bring together community in thinking about geology and the environment.
  • Cliveden house – home of the only population of Cliveden snail and also a vital bat roost
  • Tyntesfield aka Hogwarts is famous for its incredibly accurate wall carvings of various species, including some very rare or extinct. It is also apparent that the lesser horse show bats are totally reliant on buildings such as this, in fact there is only 1 known tree roost in Europe!!!

DSCF7310

 

All of these clearly depict the conservation, educational and scientific value of England unnatural history, and being the daughter of an architect and fascinated myself with our countries Architectural Heritage, it is fantastic to be able to link two of my keenest interests.  Knowing that this kind of symbiotic relationship exists makes me appreciate the English countryside even more, and hopefully this will be the same for you!

 

However on the horizon we are frightfully aware of the rarity of these buildings. We are presented with more and more ecobuilds; housing built with good intentions under the premise of being environmentally friendly and sustainable, but are actually unsuitable for many species including bats, spotted flycatchers, swifts and swallows who make use of old houses having overhanging roofs and rafters.

Posted in Conservation & Research, Fresh Posts, Random | Leave a comment

Peace in Portugal

Last summer I went on a week long summer holiday to the Portuguese coast.  The purpose of this holiday was purely to relax, eat, read, repeat. And I think we pretty much nailed it.  Our hotel was in a golfing resort, just out of the main town of Praia da Rocha.  It was peaceful and had stunning views of the coast.

DSCF1490

The beach wasn’t too far away and we enjoyed a couple of days here paddling and sunbathing, but it was very hot indeed for us pale Brits. It took about half an hour to get to the beach town, or the same distance the other way to the slightly more charming Alvor.

DSCF1503

We managed to find a few good restaurants, although unfortunately a lot of the places were dedicated to visiting Brits and the menus reflected this, with fish and chips and chicken tikka masala always on offer.   Yet, this didn’t deter us, as we often found that being friendly to the local waiters meant we were given great service and even recommended local, fresh food.

DSCF1539 DSCF1536

The hotel itself was a luxury find, we paid next to nothing for the room, only to find we had been allocated what I can only describe as an entire apartment: with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a lounge, kitchen, and even 2 balconies with wonderful views. It definitely makes a change from some supposedly 5* places I have paid for in the past, and we were chuffed with the pool and facilities too.  Even the little shop had everything we needed to make lunch every day, not that the breakfast included wasn’t great enough – the pastries and cakes were fantastic!

DSCF1497

I can’t say I’m used to doing “holidays” anymore, where I haven’t planned every last detail, or at least factored in some kind of historical visit or hiking trip.  But with personal stresses starting to take their toll back in London, I really needed a break where my brain was able to switch off entirely.  I could sink into a good book (for some reason I chose Vanity Fair which almost took me the entire trip to finish!) or the pool.  There is nothing better than true relaxation, especially with a good friend, and I honestly think it sent me back to London with a fresh and determined mind, ready for the huge events I didn’t know were coming.  I visited Portugal a few times as a kid, with the family and have never come back without good memories, one good one in fact being the spotting of the Iberian Magpie aka Azure Magpie – a stunning local bird in Portugal.

DSCF1550DSCF1518

Posted in Fresh Posts, Holidays Abroad, Random | Leave a comment

Big Garden Birdwatch 2014

Once again we find ourselves around the time of next RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch.  This is a great way to get people involved in wildlife and in return RSPB gets a shed load of useful and sometimes fascinating data on what birds are happy and thriving this winter.

Rumours have been spreading about the lack of bird activity this year, and fears have arisen that this suggests our birds have struggled to survive.  But this is not the issue! In fact the lack of activity on garden feeders is because this winter has been particularly mild and birds have had an abundance of food, therefore not relying on our additional contributions, so don’t fret!

There is still definitely some activity around and lucky for me this weekend tied in perfectly with the testing of my new lens for my DSLR camera.  Here are my observations on just one mid-morning viewing, and just a few shots I managed to get at the time – pretty chuffed if I’m honest!

  • Goldfinch x1

DSC_0817 (2)

  • Great tit x2

DSC_0765 (3)

  • Blue tit x2
  • Greenfinch x1

DSC_0900 (2)

  • Magpie x1

DSC_0719 (2)

  • Wood pigeon X2

DSC_0917 (2)

  • Robin X2

DSC_0924 (2) DSC_0821 (2)

  • Dunnock x1

DSC_0914 (2)

  • Song Thrush x1

DSC_0902 (2)

  • Black bird x2

DSC_0830 (2)

  • Collared dove X1

If you managed to get a good look this weekend at what was going on on your feeders, then do submit your observations on the RSPB website here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/

As an extra help to bird conservation – when watching the birds in your garden, be sure to look out for any diseased birds.  British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) are looking for this data, hoping to get and idea of how serious the situation is for our beautiful garden birds.  It is vital that you regularly clean you feeders to prevent the spread of disease.   Read this article for more information: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/gardenprojects/10579589/Public-urged-to-look-out-for-diseased-garden-wildlife.html

Good luck everyone and happy twitching!

Posted in Conservation & Research, Fresh Posts | Leave a comment

Wildlife Crime Unit in London

London is home to a vast range of wonderful and unique species, but despite it being the greenist city in Europe it has a major issue with widespread wildlife crime happening across it’s 32 boroughs.  Reading the report put together by WSPA and the Met police, it really puts it into perspective how huge this issue is.
Image
Birds are vulnerable to baiting, poisoning and trapping (especially song birds in glue traps!), and even their eggs can be highly sought after by collectors.  Badgers, the topic of many conservation activists over the past year, are often killed inhumanely, especially in links to railway embankments and London Underground when they chose to build their setts in these areas.  Britain’s biggest land mammal, the deer, is also at risk from attacks by untrained dogs, but also naïve citizens thinking they are rescuing abandoned fauns, when they are in fact jeopardising their chance of survival.  Modern architecture and new developments pose a threat to existing bat roosts, and rubbish in our waterways causes entanglement as well as damage to ecosystems essential for fish.
Some species are even considered pests, or in the case of the watervole mistaken for species that are (i.e. rats), and ultimately killed with traps and poison.  The most persistent issue in London however, is with foxes who are victimised due to negative and misleading media coverage.  Anti social behaviour has also been seen dramatically with wildfowl, where people have been known to beat and attack wildlife in public places.
 Image
There is wildlife trafficking and illegal trade which is evident in London and even fueled by our economy.  With the sale of ivory and animal skins in popular areas of the city, as well as exotic animals being brought in illegally either as pets or bush meat, it is mind blowing to see how such a thriving city can be such a hub of crime usually associated with Asian or African ways.
WSPA UK have worked tirelessly with Metropolitan Police and MOPAC to bring these issues to government, and obtain financial support for the essential wildlife Crime Unit in the met police.  This was finally made successful in Jan 2014.  Through education, law enforcement and changes in agricultural or development practices, wildlife will hopefully be able to breathe a little easier in London now.
With this major success for conservation, I just hope that cities across the UK can see that through policing wildlife crime and enforcing the Animal Welfare Act 2006 effectively, we can really improve wildlife conservation and animal welfare in our great country!
Further reading:
Posted in Random | Leave a comment

Canterbury Cathedral for NYE

Daughter of an architect, I have learnt to really appreciate the inspirational creations of UK historians, particularly that of churches.  Not being religious myself, doesn’t by any account make visiting a church or abbey any less mesmerising.

The outside of a building can be monumental – an icon to spot in the distance, and a jaw dropping sight when standing at its doors.  But, the inside can be even more enchanting, with the usual collection of intricate mouldings, alfresco paintings, gold plated features and beautiful wood and stone dating back hundreds of years.  They are often vibrant with colour and history, and all have their own, very different stories to tell.

Image(picture courtesy of www.machadoink.com)

A brief visit to Canterbury on NYE this year, centred around a visit to the infamous Canterbury cathedral.  Created by St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and subsequently built for the Romans.  With later Saxon ownership and a great fire, it was essentially rebuilt by the Normans in 1070.  Then 100 years later, it became famous for the murder of Thomas Becket, the then Archbishop, within its very walls; said to be the act of King Henry II’s knights for Becket’s supposed betrayal to the court.

Following Henry the VIII’s dissolution Act in 1540, the place was no longer acting as a monastery and became a simple place of prayer which it still is to this day.  Even with substantial damage caused by enemy fire in WW2 the cathedral still stands strong as an iconic landmark today in South East England.

Image

You enter in through the 600 year old nave, immediately overwhelmed with the height of the arches and the flood of light through the stain glass windows surrounding you.

Image

Walking up the centre to the Crossing was fascinating, when presented with such richly carved statues in a stone wall.

Image

Through this arch and on into the Quire was enjoyable sight.  It was clear that here was where regular services occur and where most of colour and vibrant ornaments were located.  The windows here were larger, round and interspersed with various cabinets holding historical artifacts and snippets of English history.

Image

The crypt and treasury down below was also fascinating, being the oldest existing part of the cathedral, yet containing more contemporary wall paintings.

Image

It was such a great encounter, however brief and I would love to explore the rest of the city one day, ideally when the weather isn’t as bad as it was that day!

For more information visit: http://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/

Posted in Fresh Posts, Random | Leave a comment

Conservation Update Q4 2013

Here is my final conservation update for 2013; including four interesting updates from the world of ecology, biodiversity and science!

1. Fungi Identification

So since I worked at the Essex Wildlife Trust back in 2011 as an Education Officer taking groups on woodland walks, I soon began to learn a lot about fungi.  A weird interest for some maybe became fascinating to me, with one discovery after another from giant red clumps on the side of trees that look like someone’s kidney to little completely purple mushrooms in the leaf litter on the ground.  The more I saw the more interested I became and decided it would be a good idea to get myself a starters guide and like keen birders I became a little obsessed with ticking them off one by one.

Fungi are absolutely essential to the natural ecosystem, by breaking down dead and decaying matter and returning vital nutrients to the soil that creates new life ready for the spring.  Without them and their huge network of hyphae connecting like a giant spider web below the surface covering miles in some cases, well life would eventually cease to be.

I won’t bore you with the mass of species and family names of all those I have seen, but I will show you the best of the bunch as they really are pretty spectacular!  All photos courtesy of me and my DSLR.

  • Amethyst deceiver

Image

  • Beef steak fungi

Image

  • Earthball

Image

  • Fly agaric

Image

  • Candle snuff

Image

  • Birch bracket

Image

  • Clouded funnel

Image

  • Panther Cap

Image

  • Glistening Ink cap

Image

  • Artist’s bracket

Image

  • Blusher

Image

  • Shaggy pholiata

Image

  • Turkey tail

Image

  • Jelly Ear

Image

  • King Alfred’s cake

Image

  • Lemon Peel

Image

  • Sulphur tuft

Image

  • Trooping funnel fungus

Image

Fungi pop up around Sept-Nov every year so do keep an eye now for any in your local green spaces or woodlands!

2. The Butcher Bird

Working with wildlife enthusiasts everyday can teach you a lot of things you don’t know.  I currently sit next to an avid birder Peter Beckenham, whose skilled photography and birding skills can be seen below.  He told me about his trip to Thursley Common, where he spotted a rare UK visitor – the Great Grey Shrike; a stunning bird with a very peculiar, yet efficient feeding behaviour.

This medium-sized, long-tailed and black/grey coloured, songbird species is the largest of the Shrike family and often considered a threat by other birds, resulting in it often being ‘mobbed’.  Its large bill and similarities to the corvidae family suggest it’s quite the natural predator, found primarily in heathland and areas of scrub.  But this is not what is most fascinating about this species.

What I found out was how this species hunts and essentially stores its prey.  This successful hunter will prey on invertebrates, amphibians, small mammals and even birds.  However, instead of eating immediately, it will take its prey to a thorny bush or section of barbed wire and impale the specimen there, creating a kind of ‘larder’.  This inventive behaviour means that the shrike can build up a store, and return later to feed.

It is likely that this behaviour evolved as a result of shrike species lacking talons or other morphological features that would enable effective killing – giving it the catchy nickname of the ‘Butcher Bird’.

Photo courtesy of Peter Beckenham.  Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) seen on Thursley Common in Surrey on 23/11/13

Image

3. Fish of the Thames

At work, I took it upon myself to utilise the brains of those experienced ecologists and conservationists around me by getting them to do lunchtime seminars that all the staff & volunteers could attend.  They would focus on one topic, whether it was about a particular species, place, project or an entire conservation concept, and so far they have been very successful.

One of the most interesting seminars so far though, has to be the Fish of the Thames talk given by Andy Willmore, our Regional Development Manager for West London and Community Project Officer in the Crane Valley.  I honestly had no knowledge of the extensive biodiversity of the River Thames, considering its severe level of pollution at points would prohibit species from thriving.

The Thames is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom, after the River Severn.  Its source is Thames Head in Gloucestershire as runs about   346 km (215 mi) long.

His talk focused on species in the upper regions of the Thames around Crane Valley and included some fascinating examples, such as:

  • Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) – Salmon are often considered a good indicator species; one whose presence is associated with a clean suitable environment.  When they were spotted again in the Thames it was a good sign that the efforts of cleaning up the Thames were working. And it is important to note that this species naturally recolonized and wasn’t a result of artificial stocking.

Image

Image

  • Rudd (Scardinius erythrophthalmus) – this specialist species has evolved to be a surface feeder.  By having an upturned mouth it is able to feed easily at the top of the water.

Image

  • Pike (Esox lucius) – This large and aggressive predator has been known to feed on other fish, ducks and even small mammals.  It stays stationary for long periods focusing on the prey and then with a sudden burst of energy it opens its mouth, causing a vacuum current that essentially pulls the prey into its teeth lined mouth. Scary stuff.

Image

  • Three Spined Stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) – this is a species you learn a lot about when doing any kind of animal behaviour course, because of its unique paternal instincts.  When the female has laid her eggs, and the male has fertilised them, he sticks around and fans them continuously, bringing fresh oxygenated water over the eggs.  He continues to stick around until the eggs have hatched, keeping an eye on them for several days before letting them venture off on their own.  How sweet.  

Image

Other species include:

  • Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)
  • Grayling (Thymallus thymallus)
  • Grass Carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella)
  • Crucian Carp (Carassius carassius)
  • Chub (Leuciscus cephalus)
  • Dace (Leuciscus leuciscus)
  • Bleak (Alburnus alburnus)
  • Roach (Rutilis rutilis)
  • Tench (Tinca tinca)
  • Barbel (Barbus barbus)
  • Perch (Perca fluviatilis)
  • Common or Bronze Bream (Albramis brama)
  • Ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua)
  • European Eel (Anguilla Anguilla)
  • Minnow (Phoxinus phoxinus)
  • Stone Loach (Barbatula barbatula)
  • Bullhead (Cottus gobio)

Image

Photos courtesy of ARKIVE and Bullhead image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/elater/

4. Biodiversity offsetting Green infrastructure in an urban setting

A big issue in London at the moment is the introduction and possible enforcement of a concept called ‘Biodiversity Offsetting’ – a way for developers to contribute to the environment in the form of credits that they accumulate through the destruction or disturbance of existing habitat(s).

It’s currently only a “proposed” method and is currently undergoing many pilot studies across the UK to assess its feasibility and impact.  Yet, despite being at the early stages still, it has yet already got some severe backlash from conservation and ecology experts across the field.

This complex idea was designed with the intention of offsetting the damage caused by necessary developments in order to meet the urban cities ever increasing demand for housing, schools and transport.  As a result, key and essential habitats are destroyed or fragmented and this has a huge impact on species and habitats.  Ideally using this mitigation hierarchy, development would seek alternatives that would avoid the alteration of key ecosystems, and have the destruction as a final option after all others are exhausted.  As a result of the development, compensation is provided to conservation organisations in order to offset the effects, by either enhancing or creating new habitats.  However, as straightforward as this may seem at first, nature doesn’t quite work so simply as that.  The “eye for an eye” in terms of destruction and creation wouldn’t quite work in terms of say, ancient woodland.  Tearing this down would be catastrophic for so many species and would hardly be possible to recreate elsewhere.  There is also the risk that with accepting this way of working, we are facilitating the destruction of valuable habitat with the expectation of financial reward, and whether or not the reward goes to the right place/habitat/organisation is another matter entirely.

I will not pretend to be an expert on this subject, but having witnessed passionate ecologists argue this case, and essentially agree to experiment this new idea, I think it will interesting to see the outcome, and hopefully with careful monitoring and evaluation we will be able to decide whether or not to pursue and continue.  The UK’s ever expanding population is inevitable, so hopefully by working with the Government we can manage to in some way make them give a damn about the environment and our wonderful wildlife.

Some interesting articles on this can be found here from 3 different perspectives:

News: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/12/biodiversity-offsetting-license-trash-nature

Wildlife Trusts: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/biodiversityoffsetting

Government: https://www.gov.uk/biodiversity-offsetting

Image

So that’s it for now.  I will be back with more conservation updates in the New Year!

Posted in Conservation & Research, Fresh Posts, Random | Leave a comment

Street Art in East London

So signing up to Groupon in London has been pretty useful at getting me to places I wouldn’t normally go for a wander.  Prime example is this Street Art walk I went on in East London; starting in Aldgate, heading through to Spittalfields market and ending up in the Shoreditch/Hoxton area.  We had great weather, and a really interesting and sound guide.  He showed us some great and crazy stuff, but the best way to explain it to you would be to show you, so take a look at some of the best street art we came across.

 DSC_0082Ben Eine – Alphabet work

DSC_0092DSC_0158

DSC_0200

ROA– Rat, Stork & hedgehog

  DSC_0114Conor Harrington – calvary

DSC_0141Banksy

DSC_0151Ronzo & Invader – monsters, invaders etc

DSC_0163Mobstr – TEXT DSC_0167Sweet Toof – teeth

DSC_0168Pabalo Delgado – minatures

  DSC_0188Christian Naagal – toadstools

DSC_0187

DSC_0194Jimmy C – bolt and bubble face

  DSC_0203STIK – stickmen

DSC_0205

NEMO – carrots

After leaving the tour, me and my pal did some googling of the infamous Banksy vs. Robbo war  as per recommendation of the knowledgeable tour guide and discovered this great story that sums it up just perfectly… It was a war alright! http://twistedsifter.com/2012/01/banksy-vs-robbo-war-in-pictures/

 DSC_0130     DSC_0106

Definitely recommend you go on this tour, it changes every single day as street art get torn down and “thrown up” again and again, so enjoy!

DSC_0096

Posted in Fresh Posts, Random | Leave a comment

Conservation Update Q3 2013

Here are my top5 interesting conservation facts for July – September.

1. Life at Deep sea vents

It was only in the 1960s that plate tectonics was really understood and maps were created to show the plate divides.  As decades passed more research was focused on these ideas, and most interestingly the ecosystem of hydrothermal vents which truly astounded scientists.  Sometimes as deep as 5000m, these heat expending vents were found to have a vast array of life clustered around chimneys and crevices, thriving off of the thermal energy coming from Earth’s core.  The most iconic of these is the black smoke vents often shown on documentaries, but even more interesting findings have been found at clear vents.  Here species of crustacean smother surfaces, tube worms reach lengths of 2m longs and anemones more intricate than those in rock pools can be found, giving the impression of the presence of alien species – they are truly unique.  Some species are even endemic to single chimney stacks making them really one of a kind.  These areas, although fascinating to researchers, have also become economically valuable, in that they are abundant in rich metals and minerals, particularly the deposits around them on the sea floor.  Mining has been difficult to approve in many areas and most countries have jurisdiction over their surrounding seas/oceans.  However in the middle of the Pacific for example, there is not country to hold jurisdiction, so many efforts have gone in to mining and harvesting the sea floor of its “loot”.  There are risks however to these unique ecosystems in that they depend highly on connectivity, and the removal/destruction of one area due to mining etc, can lead to localised extinction of those species.  I learnt all this from a lecture at the Geological Society on behalf of Shell.  So it is good to see that such huge corporations are investing and are interested in the research into these areas, and the implications to their actions.  It will be interesting to see developments in such a new and undiscovered field of harvesting resources on a global scale.

Image

2. Dara O’brien science show – future Fantastic

I don’t know if it’s living in London or working for a conservation charity, but some great opportunities do sure turn up.  Take this show for instance, I managed to get 2 free tickets for me and a friend to get fed and supplied with wine by the BBC and then be part of the audience for a hilarious science show yet to air on BBC.  Being a big fan of Mock the Week I was really excited to meet the host – Dara O’Briain – and he really is that tall in person! The whole session lasted a few hours, in a hot, quirky and what I can only describe as a disused garage.  He got a couple of experts on to talk about mind mapping, crystallisation, future fashion and robots, all great sciency things! Naturally experiments went awry and script mistakes were made, but being presented by a comedian made it a brilliant thing to watch. You can catch the episode I was there for here on BBC2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b038pq2f – so enjoy! #scienceclub

Image

3. Cheating buff-tailed bumblebees!

I have already blogged about my great experience with the Bumble Conservation Trust and all the interesting identification skills that they taught us, however there were quite a few things that interested me that I just had to go home and research about.  The main one being the cheeky story of the buff-tailed bumblebees and their mischievous technique of ‘nectar robbing’.  With their short little tongues they aren’t always able to reach the nectar pools inside long or tubular flowers, so instead of accepting this, they have developed a sneaky technique of getting just what they want.  They basically nibble a little hole in the base of a flower, usually honeysuckle and clover plants and sip up the nectar straight from the reserve.  This isn’t always good news for pollination though. The main reason a flower produces nectar is to attract insects, and in turn as the insect climbs inside the flower, they pick up pollen and essentially distribute from one flower to the next.  So with the buff-tailed bumblebee not following the rules it actually means that it is not pollinating, however research has shown that with other bees and insects trying to make use of this hole themselves and failing, have had to visit more flowers than normal in an effort to find a good nectar supply, which as a result increases levels of pollination.

Image

4. Residential in Hillingdon

One really serious and interesting thing I learnt about conservation this quarter, was the need for some serious arm muscle.  By this I am referring to the levels fitness required to use the essential machinery for habitat management in order to control scrub growth, and manage existing habitats that are vulnerable to more dominant wide spread species.  The main example is the brushcutter – a petrol powered cutter that is so big it needs to be harnessed on your body.  For the annual London Wildlife Trust residential we went to Hillingdon – the idea of this residential is to get office staff off their butts and out into the reserves they are helping to run, and for someone like me who rarely ever gets to see our sites, it was a definite ‘yes’ when the invite went round.  It involves camping and working on the sites over 4 days, where you’re only expected to do one day.  I chose Friday so that I could camp and not have to worry about sorely attempting to get back to work on time the next day, as Hillingdon is pretty damn far from central London.  Quite a few of us turned up on the Friday and as we all got trained up on the monster machines we were very eager to start chopping and mulching.  With our helmets and goggle we were pretty sites indeed, but after 5 hours of cutting through the densest bramble filled fields I have ever seen, in the hot sunshine, we were very glad to get back to camp and collapse next to the fire.  It was a cold night, but we survived, and the amazing fry up in the morning made it all worth while.  I honestly just didn’t realise how much our reserves team has to do on a daily basis, and if it wasn’t for our dedicated and wonderful volunteers so much of the Trusts amazing habitats wouldn’t be the way they are.  I just wish I could help more!

Image

5. Staff day Bioblitz

For my 3rd staff day at London Wildlife Trust, we went to one of our old reserves, Tump 53, located in Thamesmead.    It was my first visit here and on looking on Google maps I immediately thought, wow what a lot of green spaces. Then my colleagues showed me Google images and I saw a lot of concrete instead.  So on arriving there I was pretty apprehensive, then if anything I was even more  discouraged when I saw a lot of run down estate tower blocks, pubs with “locals only” signs in the windows and then poor ponies tied up next to car washes and petrol stations, it was sad. However, walking  with my experienced colleague we soon saw the good parts to the area, and wildlife like Great crested grebes swimming in the river and a female poplar in full seed.  It was great.  The reserve itself however was even more amazing, surrounded by a moat and the remnants of an old wall that held the arsenal and testing facility associated with Woolwich; it was really interesting.  The afternoon’s activity was to split in teams of 5 or so and do a bioblitz of the small reserve, and it was incredible how much we found!  In just a couple of hours we have managed to identify 131 species including the smooth newt, the vapour moth caterpillar, a minnow fish, hart’s tongue fern and some comma butterflies.  These were great chances to learn and improve my identification and monitoring skills by working alongside the ecology experts at the Trust, a very valuable experience.

Image

Stay tuned for Q4 for some more interesting conservation and sciency facts and stories!

Posted in Conservation & Research, Fresh Posts | Leave a comment