Challenging Habitat Blog

Damp, windy, grey, then heavy rain… perhaps not the ideal day for Valentine’s in lockdown, when the only legal way to be together is outdoors moving along at a 2 m distance?

I’m generally not a fan of the emotional mass frenzy triggered by once-a-year commemorations rooted in something positive but largely promoted and exploited as commercial opportunities to produce, provide and buy more (largely unsustainable) stuff.

For those lucky in love, sharing today is as special as yesterday and expressing love is, hopefully, not restricted to one in 365 days of the year.

For those who are lonely, today’s associations may make that feeling more acute.

So what’s the point of Valentine’s Day?

Maybe away from commerce, there still is a point:

without a single ‘buy now’ click, I walk along in the driving rain and take time to contemplate the blessing of experiencing love in all its forms and at all times of my life.

Cold weather rewards:

I love those little towers of ice extruded from the soil during a mild frost.

I say ‘extruded’ because they are all topped with a little crown of soil (or an acorn), indicating that they have been pushed up.

Perhaps when the ground freezes and the water expands into ice, it can only go up, slowly building overnight?

Near running water, these little sculptures grows to an inch or two before curling over under their own weight (or perhaps in the wind?).

The delicate structure suggest that strands of ice rise from individual soil pores and grow together…

…but if there is anybody reading this who actually knows how they come into being, please get in touch.

Today, I walked past the field in the Tamar valley – a route I have taken many times.

Today a sight deeply disturbed me: a stand of mature trees in the middle of the field had been reduced to half its size.

All around, farmers are cutting down the hedges. Not just brash, but also mature trees within the hedgerows that serve as perches for birds and shape the character of this AONB.

I understand that hedges are treated that way to comply with a higher level stewartship scheme, for which farmers get payment through the Rural Payment Agency for rejuvenation of hedgerows and fencing.

Whether or not the cutting of these emergent trees is intended or not by the Stewardship Scheme, I don’t know. I fail to understand the sense of it.

But cutting down a stand of trees is something else.

It is destructive and depressing in equal measure.

What about habitat, biodiversity, carbon footprint, amenity…?

A sunny day and I’ve been peering into my pond, watching the most amazingly weird life form…

…a transluscent tube, between 7 and 12 mm long, with central rod looking like a gut, but that’s not all…

It lies still for a while, then suddenly it ejects its guts (perhaps the technical term would be proboscis), hooks into something and wriggles with great force.

It’s the only beast I’ve seen so far using its guts as its foot, too: hooking one end into something and dragging itself forward by retracting it again.

Help! What is this thing? Please get in contact if you can enlighten me!

I’m fascinated by lichens, so many shapes and colours, hanging on to so many substrates, present in most climate zones and habitats.

Most amazingly (today, for me), they are living the perfect team: different talents efficiently utilised for a common goal.

There is so much to learn from nature!

(sorry, this is a rather anthropocentric interpretation)

If you are interested in learning more about the real nature of lichen, here is a good link:

The British Lichen Society.

Here and Now

What better role model of this mindful principle than your dog?

Eyes, nose, ears, body, motion, breath, terrain – all as one – one experience.

No thought of yesterday, no dream of tomorrow.

Here and Now.

The winter canopy of the little stands of woodland trees we planted in 1996.

Not that long ago and already strong and tall,

providing habitat for birds and insects, bats and more,

storing carbon, producing oxygen, making soil, shaping microclimate.

Planting trees makes perfect sense.


If you can’t do it on your own land, support others:

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

It is good to see that the public is reminded of the importance of small freshwater bodies for biodiversity by the Helen Briggs at the BBC:

Having created a wildlife pond in my own garden this summer, I have been astonished by the arrival of invertebrates, mollusks and birds within the first few weeks and months of its existence and the colonisation of pond margins with a variety of mosses, ferns and wild flowers.

Pond beetles whirling in my wildlife pond, November 2020

If you have a little space, I’d strongly encourage you to introduce water into your garden – a tiny space a couple of metres across will add a beautiful dimension to the experience of your space and it will support wildlife, such as newts and birds. It can be such a pleasure to watch evolve, get kids involved and learning as your wildlife pond matures…

I also sincerely hope that the protection of water courses on farmland and common land will be high on the agenda in coming years.

Four and a half years after the referendum on Britain’s EU membership resulted in the drive to leave the EU, it is rather telling that the last days of negotiations around a deal with the EU  are labelled ‘final throwing of dice” in this country.

Four and a half years of wasting chances and low probability for success have gone because the intentions of main players were never aligned.

It is sad and frustrating in equal measure that it has come to this.

If we learn something from the year 2020, it should include this: when we focus on what we all have in common, instead on what sets us apart, we can achieve a lot.

What hope for cooperation borne out of empathy and solidarity is there for the even bigger challenges ahead?

I’m thinking of climate change, sustainable development, poverty, inequality, to name a few.

Perhaps we need to start at an individual scale, as hoping for the system that breaks, us to fix us, is futile.

Just after the 8am news on BBC Radio Four, an elephant entered the studio of the Today programme.

During the interview with the education secretary, it remained there, unmentioned.

The interview was about adjusting school exam practice and grading, to take into account the disruption to learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Proposed adjustments are to be made for all students, irrespective of the actual level of disruption experienced in a particular school or students’ access to IT and additional tuition.

The reasonable question how universally applied adjustments would help to level out the differences in learning experience for students in different regions and varying access to educational resources remained unanswered.

Over and over again, the question how the proposed adjustments will be fair, was ignored.

And this is where the elephant comes into sharp focus: it is not fair, will not be fair and never has been a level playing field for all children in Britain, nor in the world, for that matter. Never mind the particular circumstance of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current educational secretary just maintains a tradition, and that elephant remains in the room.

Some students excel in spite of the disadvantages they experiencing, others struggle to fulfil their true potential. This is our common loss, a loss for the whole society.

Featured Image: C Braungardt, South Africa 2009.

(Apologies to all elephants!)

%d bloggers like this: