Challenging Habitat Blog


There is a discussion out there whether some billionaire or other can call themselves an astronaut after getting to the edge of space (or a smidgen beyond) in their own craft.

The world is burning.

The world is flooding.

People are dying because of the impacts of a change in climate that is a direct result of our burning of fossil fuels for the last 200 years.

For me, the debate about space tourism should be about sustainability.

Not about labels.

For me, the question is about the balance between self-gratification and the common good.

Not about gaining wings.

For me, blasting into space to then exclaim your love of the planet is a little off the mark – don’t these people think?

Okay, none of us are perfect: we drive cars and go on holidays, we eat meat and imported fruit out of season, we use single-use plastic and internet server time…we buy stuff we want, not need…

So, this question is important: where do we, as individuals, draw the line between pleasure and sustainability?

Cornwall has moved into Covid-19 Tier 3 today, 31 December 2020, and as a result, we’ve cancelled our plans for New Year’s Eve celebrations at short notice.

Instead, we made good use of the sunny weather and headed for an uplifting walk along the shore.

On the way home, we encountered the pheasant shoot of a nearby country estate in full swing: beaters with dogs, pickers-up gathering dead birds off the public highway, game keepers, shooters with guns…all mixing merrily in tweeds and flat caps, their SUVs parked up by the side of the road.

According to the organisation GunsOnPegs (don’t ask, it’s a website through which you can find shoots and all that goes with it), organising and taking part in commercial shoots is permitted in Tier 3 and group shooting activities are not subject to the limits of the ‘rule of six’. However, taking part in recreational shooting is not a reasonable excuse to leave a Tier 4 area.

So, what’s wrong with that?

Let’s start with the obvious:

  • the principle of rearing and releasing some 60 million non-native birds (pheasants and partridges) every year to support the ‘sport’ of shooting in the UK, in spite of the fact that pheasants are classified as species that imperil UK wildlife,
  • the fact that most of the pheasants that are shot will be buried in large pits, rather than taken home by shooters or sold and processed into food or pet food,
  • the morals of killing for fun, rather than for food or culling for conservation
  • the intimidating stance of some members of such shooting parties:
    a few days ago, I was travelling on the public highway and one of the shoot’s organisers threatend to kick my car while another foul-mouthed me, even though I had slowed down to less than 10 mph while approaching an S-bend in the road that was occupied by about a dozen people with assorted dogs. I’m a dog owner and have no intention to run one over a canine or human member of any shooting party…
  • …I’m sure I’ve forgotten something here…

In my mind, wrong is also the message this activity conveys during a global pandemic: “we do this because we can (afford it) and we don’t care about what the local population are thinking about where we travelled from, nor whether we bring the virus with us”.

What we encountered today was legal, as long as people didn’t travel from Tier 4 to join.

The whole thing just grated a little with me…which will not come as a surprise to those who have followed my previous posts on the matter:
Outdoor Daily from 4 April 2020
Outdoor Daily from 1 July 2020
Rewilding Britain from 14 October 2020
Pheasant shoot and SUVs from 30 October 2020

The Australian government is planning to build a massive concrete airport on Antarctica, The Guardian reports today.

Nobody actually owns Antarctica – it is governed internationally by the Antarctic Treaty.

The Australian government justifies their airport plans by arguing that it is necessary to ensure continuity of access to their research base.

Somehow I don’t fully buy into that argument, nor do many of the scientists and environmentally minded, The Guardian interviewed for their article.

Building that airport will be a slippery slope, a precedent for other big infrastructure projects on the continent.

It has the potential to broaden the pursuit of profit from the exploitation of resources and tourism in the Southern Ocean to the landmass of this great wilderness, with all the usual disrespect for nature and wildlife seen on all other continents.

Can this project, and others not motivated scientific research and unperturbed by consideration of sustainability, be stopped?

I think it is imperative to do so.

Featured image: “Globe centred on Antarctica – Satellite image – PlanetObserver” by PlanetObserver is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Who needs (blood) diamonds when nature sparkles in so many ways?

Without environmental devastation

…without exploitation

…and for free!

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.

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?

One of my ‘pet hates’ is littering. There is absolutely no need for it. Fast food outlets are shut and we are instructed to not make unnecessary journeys and as a consequence, country lanes are not so much littered with single use coffee cups, crisp packs and food packaging that bear the golden arches or any other well-known brands.


Alas, the absence of ‘daily litter’ sharpens the focus on ‘permanent litter’ of the agricultural variety. From bailing plastic, twine and netting to fragments of plastic sheeting, sacks and containers, the day-by-day running of many farms relies on a wide variety of synthetic materials. Whether discarded deliberately or accidentally, they are found in hedges and on tracks, in fields and in ditches, make their way into water courses and out to sea.

Oh, and then there are the larger items – it’s not exactly littering, more of an illegal waste management issue: bits of machinery abandoned, dumped and stacked. Apart from the visual impact, over time they’ll shed paint, oil, fuel and disintegrating rubber …

Properly disposed of, waste can be a resource through recycling of materials – I can’t quite fathom for what purpose the agricultural industry, that relies on a functioning ecosystem to be successful, messes it up quite like that.

Rant over. A picture of ‘cheerfulness’ below…I wish I could send you its heavenly scent with it!

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.

….for the back story, check out Sustainable Outdoor Clothing ?!?!

3) Elastane – Lycra – Spandex

As part of my forthcoming ‘Antarctic adventure‘, I am sharing my thoughts and insights while considering various aspects of sustainability for my planned journey. With respect to fabrics, two previous posts covered ‘oilskins‘ and clothes that keep me warm‘, but there is much more to say about sustainable outdoor clothing.

So, here I’ll cover the wonderous synthetic fibre that provides elasticity to so many of our ‘outdoor gear’. Elastane, spandex and lycra are all names for the same thing, a fabric made of a long chain polymer, polyurethane, or more precisely, polyether-polyurea copolymer. Technicalities aside, elastane offers high breathability and moisture-wicking abilities and exceptionally high stretchability (6-7 times its length). It is in trousers and tops, tights and socks, all sorts of sports, cycling, swim and yoga wear, leggins and underwear – basically anything that is stretchy, comfortable and functional.

Here are some of the environmental snags of elastane:

  • some potentially harmful chemicals are used its manufacture
  • it is prone to ‘piling’, which means that bits are likely to break off or detatch during wear, tear and washing
  • it doesn’t biodegrade
  • it is more often than not mixed with other fabrics, making recycling difficult.

I had a closer look at my favourite merino base- and mid-layers and found that most were 100% wool, while a few were composed of 98% wool and 2% elastane. The same is true for a number of my trousers and t-shirts, even those made from bamboo or organic cotton.

Before I put elastane on my ‘avoid if possible’ list, I want to explore in more detail how it performs environmentally.

Ingredients and Manufacture

In the manufacture of elastane, macroglycol and diisocyanate monomer are combined to synthesise a prepolymer, which is then reacted with diamine acid to produce chains of polymers before spinning fibres and curing it into solid strands. The material is finished with magnesium stearate or another polymer to prevent fibres from sticking to each other (Hodakel 2020).

While that information may not be useful to the lay person, the upshot is that the manufacturing process is energy-intensive and involves chemicals potentially harmful to humans, whereby the occupational exposure to isocyanates is higher risk than exposure to people wearing the final product. Factories should operate a closed cycle that prevents these chemicals from release into the environment (Hodakel 2020). Whether that is guaranteed in all countries where synthetic fabrics are produced, is another matter…

65% of all fibres produced (~65 million tonnes in 2016) are synthetics (mainly polyester), and these are almost exclusively derived from petrochemicals, and elastane is no exception (Common Objective). Being petroleum-based, these fabrics are part of the fossil fuel economy. Claims of manufacturers that their fashion synthetics are ‘sustainable’ are rarely related to use of non-fossil, natural resources, but to use of recycled fibres – and even that is only a tiny proportion of the overall synthetic fabric production for clothing (0.01%).

The development of 13 different brands/types of naturally based synthetic fabrics is underway (Common Objective), but I’m not holding my breath for getting my hands on affordable, high-performance ‘bio-synthetics’ any time soon. Another question is whether their environmental impact when mixed with natural materials, such as wool and cotton, will be any more favourable than current mixed fabrics.

Environmental Impact during Use

Elastane does not biodegrade and will gradually accumulate in the environment. Just under 60% of the plastic waste ‘soup’ in our oceans is composed of non-biodegradable fibres (Hodakel 2020). In addition to careless waste management (see below), the tiny particles of polyester, nylon and elastane released from our clothing during the wash cycle are the ‘hidden pathway’ we are only relatively recently began to understand (University of Plymouth). The impact on the marine ecosystem in all oceans and on the foodchain, all the way from tiny plankton to our plates is something covered in more detail in recent scientific research (e.g. Botterell et al. 2019).

Waste Management

An important component of sustainable consumption is what we do with ‘stuff’ we don’t want anymore or when it is worn out. Typically, we throw it in the bin or we pass garnments to a charity collection for re-sale or recycling and hope that it will be dealt with appropriately. Typically, we don’t know what really happens to our waste (any waste) in detail. Landfill? Incineration? Recycling? Export as ‘resource’ (what happens in the receiving nation)?

A circular design strategy would include using recycled material in the manufacture of new fabrics and garnments. Mechanical recycling of fabrics is more commonly used than chemical recycling, which is still in its developmental state. But chopping up fabrics means that natural fibres are shortened and damaged during the shredding process and it is difficult to achieve high quality without combining recycled material with high proportions of virgin material (Design for Lognevity 2020).

Blended fabrics containing nylon, polyester and/or elastane in addition to natural fibres have, so far, presented a challenge for recycling, but some progress has been made recently in a quest for circular economy in the textile industry (e.g. RE:MIX, SÖDRA). The aims here are to separate natural fibres for re-use and to produce pre-production pellets of synthetic materials that can be used once more as raw material. It appears that ‘thermochemical’ and ‘enzymatic’ separation processis are being pursued, which, of course, means the employment of heat and chemicals…which means added cost and sustainability issues that have to be assessed using life cycle analysis.

While waiting for a better alternative, and discounting landfill for reasons that are beyond this blog post, for garnments containing elastane that cannot be re-used in some way, incineration may be the safest avenue for waste disposal.

Alternatives to Elastane

At the moment, ‘sustainable stretch fabrics’ are containing elements of recycled materials, rather than naturally stretchy fibers. Synthetics sourced from natural materials, such as sugars, rather than from petrochemicals, are not widely available yet, and they are still ‘synthetic’. So, I wonder whether they’d just be ‘bio-elastane’ – i.e. chemically identical to elastane, and hence would present the same waste management challenges as the existing materials…

I could decide to live without ‘stretch’ beyond the natural stretch that knitware offers. Quite a number of my clothes are doing just fine without elastane. But some functional kit, such as swim suits or gym leggins, won’t function quite the same without elastane (picture it).

My Conclusions

  • If it has to be elastic for functionality, then I will continue to accept mixed fibres. But I’ll make sure that I’ll buy garnment made from pure natural fibres where a blend is not required for functionality.
  • I’ll go for longevity to avoid using resources than necessary. I aim to buy stuff that is high quality and lasts long.
  • I’m looking after my stuff and I mend it – after all, outdoor gear is outdoor gear and not a tuxedo or ballgown! Who cares if there is a hole, lovingly darned, in a merino baselayer? Or a repair patch on a pair of waterproof over-trousers? I’ve even go my hiking boots re-soled (thank you Meindl!!!) after the cushioning layer disintegrated and the soles quite embarrasingly disconnected on a rainy day on Dartmoor – but that’s another story.


Featured Image

“Wavy Lines Lycra” by is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 


Botterell ZLR et al. 2019. Bioavailability and effects of microplastics on marine zooplankton: A review. Environmental Pollution. [accessed 23/02/2020]

Common Objective. Synthetics & Sustainable Synthetics: Global Production.  [accessed 01/03/2020]

Design for Longevity. Close the Loop – Design for Longevity., a blog site advocating circular economy. [accessed 23/02/2020]

Hodakel B. 2020. What is elastane fabric: properties, how its made and where. Sewport – a service company to apparel manufacturers. [accessed 23/02/2020]

RE:MIX. 2019. Separation and recycling of textile waste fiber blends.

SÖDRA. A sweater can become a sweater again. SÖDRA is an association of forest owners in Sweden, who are into R&D (research and development) of sustainable solutions.–a-sweater-can-become-a-sweater-again/ [accessed 23/02/2020]

Univeristy of Plymouth. 2016. Washing clothes releases thousands of microplastic particles into environment. University of Plymouth Website referring to groundbreaking research undertaken by Prof. Richard Thompson. [accessed 23/02/2020]

Red, or Antarctic krill oil is marketed aggressively. It’s hailed as the new super-supplement for your heart and brain and vision. It has made its appearance on the shelves of whole-food shops, online health and fitness stores and your chemist down the road. True, krill contains high concentrations of vitamins A and E, and 70% of krill lipids are undersaturated fatty acids. However, the nutritive value of krill protein (~12-15% of krill’s weight) is actually lower than whole-egg protein (Suzuki & Shibata, 2009)

Obviously, there is a massive industry harvesting marine resources – fishing is nothing new and ubiquitous in all oceans. I’m no expert on Antarctic ecosystems, but have read enough to know that the Southern Ocean is a fragile ecosystem under pressure due to by climate change. Some scientists predict that a warming ocean will diminish the krill population (Hill et al. 2012) and that makes me think that any competition krill predators receive is not good news.

Let’s explore some facts. Krill being a keystone species in the food web (see illustration), any large-scale reduction in its biomass may force krill predators to shift to other food sources (e.g. copepods, a form of zoo plankton), or face a reduction in numbers. Either scenario has the potential to alter the food web, species composition, biodiversity and ecosystem as a whole.

food web in Antarctic waters

Simplified Antarctic food web, showing the direct dependence of fish, penguins, squid, sea birds, seals and baleen whales on krill biomass as food source. Adapted from

As early as 1982, Beddington and May raised concerns about the effects of the depletion of the food source of (then) over-exploited baleen whales due to industrial krill harvest in the Southern Ocean. Some baleen whales are making a come-back thanks to their protection by international treaties (e.g. International Whaling Commission) and being major consumers of Antarctic krill, are in direct competition with the krill industry.

Today, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) regulates the commercial fishery for Antarctic krill (Trathan 2018). It aims to follow the principles of conservation to prevent the unsustainable depletion of any ‘harvested’ population to levels that cause changes in the marine ecosystem that are not reversible in the time-frame of several decades. Trathan (2018) reports that krill stocks were estimated at approximately 60 million tonnes in 2010 and the CCAMLR catch limit for krill at 5.61 million tonnes was based on this estimate, with further detailed restrictions on specific geographic locations. Nevertheless, there are concerns about the monitoring methodologies and the timing of krill fishing, which, some argue, should be seasonally restricted with considerations to temporal and spacial aspects of breeding and feeding patterns within the ecosystem.

Antarctic krill is not only used as human food supplement, but also for animal feedstuffs, particularly in aquaculture. Aquaculture is one of the fastest growing areas of food production in China, where more than half the country’s overall seafood production is farmed. I wonder whether expanding markets for farmed seafood and ‘super-supplements’ will result in pressure on the CCAMLR to increase the catch limit for krill in the future? How are the power relationships between industry and this organisation? While it appears that currently, krill harvest in Antarctic waters is sustainable (Trathan 2018), how will the ecosystem respond to rising sea temperatures and in turn, how will the CCAMLR respond to that, and is it capable to do this in good time?

For the consumer, this is really about critical thinking, ecological economics and sustainable living, and asking some fundamental questions:

  • For what purpose is Red Krill Oil (you can insert all sorts of other products here) manufactured?
  • What tempts me to purche Red Krill Oil? Is it to fulfil a real need for my body for the nutrition it contains? Is it to strive for a body image that has become desirable to my thinking because of clever marketing by companies supported by ‘fitness gurus’? In other words: does it fulfil my own needs or those suggested by others?
  • Can I obtain adequate high quality nutrition from less controversial, more sustainable sources?

The way I see it, exploitation of fragile and reasonably pristine environments can only begin to be justified if it is absolutely necessary to satisfy basic nutritional needs that cannot be otherwise met. Clearly, the marketing craze for Red Krill Oil is targeting wealthy people in affluent societies that can easily satisfy their nutritional needs in a myriad of other ways. Of course, questioning the sustainability of anything we do and consume is one of the most important first step on the road to more sustainable living.

Featured Image

Antarctic Krill. Antarktický krill” by Norkrill is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0  Creative Commons.


Beddington JR, May RM. 1982. The harvesting of interacting species in a natural ecosystem. Scientific American 247 (5) 62-69.

discoveringantarctica. 2020. Ecosystems and foodwebs.

Hill SL et al. 2012. A foodweb model to explore uncertainties in the South Georgia shelf pelagic ecosystem. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography.

Suzuki T, Shibata N. 2009. The utilization of Antarctic krill for human food. Food Reviews International

Trathan P. 2018. Managing the fishery for Antarctic krill: A brief review of important environmental and management considerations. Scientific Report, British Antarctic Survey.

….for the back story, check out Sustainable Outdoor Clothing ?!?!


2) Clothes that keep me warm

When it comes to base- and mid-layers, I am for natural materials. Of course, there are functional tech-fibres that feature a range of desirable properties: fast drying, light, warm, wicking moisture away from the skin, odour-killing….but they are synthetic, mostly derived from fossil fuels and become a waste management problem when they are discarded.

Take synthetic fibres impregnated with anti-microbial silver: the rationale is that bacteria, fungi and algae cause stains and odours, and if clothing is impregnated against these, it doesn’t smell or stain. Silver is increasingly used as anti-microbial (not only in textiles, but also in food packaging and preparation areas, exterior paint, etc. ). Textiles are typically impregnated with silver chloride, silver zeolite or silver nano-particles, and all of these leach out to a greater or lesser degree during washing cycles. When silver is retained in sewage treatment works, it may end up in soils in form of sewage sludge fertiliser and some of it is transported into rivers and oceans. Silver is relatively benign to us, but is quite toxic to aquatic organisms, such as microalgae (see references), which form the base of the food chain. I have no desire to add to the metal burden of rivers and oceans and will leave silver-impregnated items in the shops… 

There are other, more general problems with synthetic fibres: resources and manufacture is based on the petrochemical industry and the already mentioned waste management.  Synthetics are incredibly slow to degrade in landfill, and only fit for incineration. On everybody’s mind since Richard Thompson (University of Plymouth) has coined the term ‘microplastic‘ and David Attenborough has narrated Blue Planet II, the release of microfibers from fleeces and other synthetic clothing during wash cycles is adding to the ‘plastic soup’ in the oceans that finds its way into the food chain and onto our plates. Not only oceans. Microfibers have been detected in food chains of wetlands, soil-based ecosystems, in bottled water and beer.  

What is the solution? Wool! More specifically, merino wool. I’m a “sensitive flower” when it comes to scratchy woollen clothing and always wore a turtleneck long-sleeved cotton t-shirt underneath woollen pullovers before I discovered merino. It’s so soft, even I can wear it directly on the skin, it’s so warm that fabrics can be so thin that they dry fast. It’s naturally odour-resistant that you don’t have to wash it every time you wear it – hang it out to air and it becomes fresh again. So, my base-, mid- and insulation layers are merino wool. It’s expensive, so I buy it in the sales. Merino is all the rage now, so not all of what’s on sale is fantastic quality (some of my t-shirts and jumpers had holes “falling” into them without me crawling through brambles), so my favourite brand is Icebreaker, the most durable pure merino I’ve got. And durable is sustainable. 

Ok, how sustainable is merino? According to O Ecotextiles, the global textile industry is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gasses on earth, requiring the energy equivalent of 132 billion tonnes of coal and 6 – 9 trillion litres of water. That’s to produce the fibres and make the yarn, to weave or knit, to dye and fashion, to transport and distribute. It includes mining materials for synthetics and using fertilisers on the fields for growing natural fibres. The energy “contained” in the production is around 63 MJ (megajoule) per Kg of wool yarn, compared to 10 MJ for flax, 55 MJ for cotton, 125 MJ for polyester and 250 MJ for nylon. Given the advantageous properties of merino wool for outdoor adventures, it has a reassuringly lower carbon footprint compared to synthetics commonly used for similar base-, mid- and insulation layers.

Ideally, organically produced wool and natural dyes would be used in processing my merino garments of choice, although I’ve not spotted that happening at Icebreaker yet. Synthetic dyes can be bad news for the environment (something I might explore in more detail some other time). So, although better than synthetics with respect to the carbon balance, durability and waste management credentials, overall, the merino clothes I buy have a long way to go to be as sustainable as they could be.



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Friends of the Earth. Microfibres plastic in our clothes (and what to do about it) [accessed 15/02/2020]

Joyce C. 2018. Beer, Drinking Water And Fish: Tiny Plastic Is Everywhere. The Salt – What’s on Our Plate. [accessed 16/02/2020]

Life Material Technology Limited. 2020. Antimicrobial protection information. [accessed 15/02/2020]

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