Challenging Habitat Blog

I am fascinated by the eery beauty of the shore’s reflections in the mirror of the water.

Horizontal symmetry.

Rocks and branches disappear into the image.

And I see different things every time.

The low midday sun backlights mature fern leaves, revealing the pattern of their sori, clusters of sporangia (spore cases) on the underside of leaves.

They seem ready to go!

Check out the intriguing life cycle of ferns here:

The Darwin200 science crew teams up with the engineer to set up a wind turbine on the Pelican of London.

Watch the project here:

With the beautiful backdrop of the Inner Hebrides, we’ve got a day packed with science and filming.

The diving team is studying the benthos and once more bring specimen aboard. This starfish is regrowing several arms lost in an unknown event.

Water quality analysis near a salmon farm, plankton net trawls scanned for microfibers and plankton diversity, bird watching and cetacean surveys are all adding to our growing data set.

We’ve also started to compare surface water temperatures measured with a replica of the wooden bucket, such as would have been around in Charles Darwin’s times, with modern equivalent and the electronic sensors the University of Plymouth brought on board.

The biggest task today is the installation of our wind turbine, which was greatly helped by the ship’s engineer Daniel.

Once up and running, its operation and purpose was filmed in the style of an interview by Lorimer and Jasper. Watch this space!

Meanwhile, I had a bit of fun running a 12 V fan off the battery we charged with it… Captain Ben thought it hilarious.

The exhaust repair successfully completed, we’ve set sail as soon as leaving the dock and are cruising comfortably South at 5 – 6 knots, now powered by the wind.

Sustainability in practice!

We’ll pick up this theme with the installation of a wind generator aboard in the next few days.

The gentleness of the motion and tranquility of sounds of wind and waves around the ship is good for the soul and everybody’s mood is lifted.

As we are progressing from Lewis to Harris, we get busy with casual observations of cetaceans before we even start our dedicated survey: pods of porpoises, two minke whales traveling together and adult common dolphins with juveniles. Joe identified the sighting of a species new to our voyage as striped dolphins.

The slight sea state allows crew to carry out maintenance aloft.

Meanwhile, voyage crew relax in the sunshine while not task with watch duties.

From my vantage point on the bowsprit, I observe the distinct change in behaviour of a pod of six common dolphins: I first see them cross our bows in NEly direction, turn due north to meet us, then play in our bow wave, turning belly-up and showing their underside for a while, travelling south with us, before departing in SSWly direction.

Is it as much fun for them as it is for us to watch?

Even as the blue skies turn grey nature’s spectacle is awe-inspiring.

Soon we’ll be anchoring and taking more samples for analysis.

It’s Father’s Day in the UK.

One thing I really don’t miss during lockdown is shopping and, by extension, the madness of consumerism on days, such as this.

Christmas, Valentine’s, Easter, Mothering Sunday, Halloween, Guy Fawkes… what did I forget?

All are occasions when we are made to believe that we can’t express our love for people or enjoy ourselves without purchasing stuff we don’t need and we don’t really want, either.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wearing a hair shirt and I don’t live in a cave. I have a car and laptop, a smartphone and Goretex wet weather clothing.

I like to give and receive presents like anyone else and for me it’s always the thought that counts.

But the mountains of plastic junk and knick knacks that go with these occasions disturb me for reasons of resources, waste and sustainability.

‘Non-essential’ shops have opened in the UK a week ago. I’ve not been – I continue my daily exercise outdoors and I don’t need new stuff or a shopping experience for entertainment.

Being in a beech forest, on a cliff top or on my paddle board is precious time to me.

And this will not change when the hold of COVID-19 over the way we behave diminishes.

Then, I will just reintroduce more precious time (and hugs) with friends and family into my life. Including those who live 800 miles from here.

Can’t wait to see you again, dad!

12 weeks in lockdown and I’m looking for the silver lining…

What are we learning?

About the value of life?

About the value of health and looking after mind, body and spirit?

About the value of relationships and society?

About receiving and gratitude?

About giving, kindness and generosity?

About our relationship with nature, our being part of nature?

About what we think need and what we think we want, or do we, really?

About status and money and power and priorities and values and meaning and motivation and what we want our taxes spent on in future.

Damp ferns glistening.

I very much enjoyed the 12 weeks of near- uninterrupted sunshine in Cornwall. It made lockdown bearable.

But soils dried and despite watering, some of the new woodland trees, planted for my carbon footprint offset, failed.

Finally, sustained summer rain that will make a difference to vegetation.

Not only that: drops glitter like pretty gems on leaves…

…and fungi emerged from woodland soils overnight where I walked just yesterday on dry ground.

Water is life!

A shard of pottery in a field reminds me of something in the history of the valley I live in.

Market gardening in the Tamar Valley (Devon and Cornwall, UK) has a rich tradition of growing anything from snowdrops and daffodils to soft fruit and apples. The industrial revolution brought on the intensification of horticulture, with higher demands on the maintenance of soil fertility.

This is where ‘night soil’ came in handy: human excreta, collected by the night soil men from buckets, cesspools and privies in Plymouth and Devonport Dockyards. It used to be transported in barges upstream with the tide and spread around the fields (I just hope that the same barges were not used to transport the food downstream …)

What is the significance of this shard of pottery in this story?

Night soil also contained other wastes: discarded pots, plates and bottles thrown out and broken when no longer useful. If you are lucky enough to have a garden in the Tamar Valley, you are as likely to find a beautiful glass medicine bottle, a clay orange marmalade jar or any number bits of patterned dinner plates, as you are to pierce your fingers on sharp pieces of broken greenhouse glass.

I fancy this as a piece of traditional Cornish blue and white striped crockery from many decades ago…but that’s just a fancy guess.

Happy fetching a stick out of a cool stream. So simple. Just living the moment.

Lockdown has forced (most of) us to simplify our lives. Bare essentials. For some, less than that.

Is there, among all the pain, something to learn, to adopt, to carry on doing, or not doing?

What is important, and I mean really really really important, other than enthusiasm for life, health and wellbeing, family and friends, community and nature?

This little leaf promising to emerge is special! Granted, mature beech trees have been sporting green for some days now, but this little tree has had its roots in our ground for barely 2 months.

We planted a small stand of beech, sweet chestnut and oak trees to offset the rather elaborate carbon footprint I was going to accrue with my extensive travel plans this year, some of which have been cancelled already, others may follow.

Nevertheless, watching these trees grow will be a delight, I am glad they are making a start and they will do a good job, whether or not I’m contributing to the global CO2 emissions by using aeroplanes!

Update on 11 April – truly breaking through now, a branch of our new tree with our 22 year old stand of trees in the background…

One thing noticeable for its absence is traffic on roads and vapour trails across the sky.

I know that this spells hardship for the economy, business, workers, people stranded abroad and all of us wanting to connect with friends and family in person, but I can’t help appreciating the reduced noise and air pollution as a positive (if temporary) side-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Perhaps, individually and collectively, we will learn something about organising work and leisure with less dependence on transportation, a more sustainable way of going about our days, that outlasts this crisis.

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