Challenging Habitat Blog

Some people combine serious thought with fun and art…Phil Hambling is one of them:

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Everyone on board has received basic sail and safety training and we’ve had quite an interesting start to our voyage.

Sea cadets Ollie taking the helm.

Out of Cumberland basin and under the Clifton suspension bridge, down the Avon and into the Severn Channel…

Jo Morley from City to Sea, with whom we are collaborating on the Darwin200 voyage saw us from Bristol’s shores.

…where the ‘fun’ started, with a lot of people looking and feeling decidedly ropey.

(no pictures!!!)

A night sail under starry skies, bioluminescence in our wake and seasick feelings were left behind.

We rounded Land’s End in the morning in the company of common dolphins, gannets and a fulmar.

Sails set and the voyage becomes more sustainable.

We’re all busy with the watch routines, setting and handing sails, daily cleaning and helping in the galley.

That’s an important learning process for the three young scientists, who will lead the citizen science programme during the Darwin200 voyage. Their understanding of how the professional crew is working the voyage crew will help the smooth running of the scientific programme.

I am here to hand over the citizen science programme I wrote for Seas Your Future to the science coordinators, recent graduates of ‘salty’ degree programmes with decidedly biological flavours.

Discussions with Rachel, Miles and Hannah are stimulating and every day, we’re learning something from each other.

I’m mitigating my carbon footprint with monthly donations to Tree Sisters, a charity that works for environmental sustainability through reforestation in projects that also address social and economic sustainability as they foster equality, communities, mental and physical wellbeing.

Tree Sisters have extended Earth Day into Earth Week and you can double your donation with match funding HERE.

Thank you, Adam Benjamin, for introducing me to Tree Sisters and to your Dancer’s Forest project!

Today, 22 April 2021, is Earth Day.

Everybody (well, almost, or not even that) is in on it:

The Independent reports on Greta Thunberg’s criticism of US fossil fuel subsidies, The Telegraph sports the ’10 best sustainable beauty brands*‘ and The Guardian promotes policy goals and a new sense of working for the common good to solve the climate crisis. Even Apple celebrates Earth Day with a its ‘Environmental Justice Challenge for Change’.

I hope that there will be a lasting legacy, that we don’t treat yet another Earth Day as we’re largely treating ‘Mothering Sunday’ – make a fuss, then put it on the shelf for another year.

The thing is: the climate crisis is not someone else’s problem and the causes of it are not someone else’s responsibility. Both are mine. Both are yours, too.

The easy thing I’ve done is to donate monthly to a charity that plants trees. I want to compensate my carbon footprint, not just this year, but all my years…planting trees on my own land, I’ve racked up 22 years…only xx to go (but that would be telling) with getting other people to plant trees for me.

It’s a start, but there is so much more to do, not least of all to reduce my footprint, rather than just lazily compensate for it with money. So, to learn what else I need to consider and can do, I’m going to help an organisation to audit their footprint. My focus will be on a somewhat off-the-beaten-track activity, which will be rather illuminating: it’s the team of Antarctic Quest 21 – an expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula in the name of climate and pollution science. Read more about this here: antarcticquest21.com.

*Who says we need to improve our beauty? – but that’s another story (or rather, rant) about the ‘industry of influencers’ that make us believe that we are in some way deficient…and need to buy their stuff to correct that!

At the University of Plymouth, we will celebrate World Ocean Day with a conference for schools that showcases our expertise in marine research and technology in the Faculty of Science and Engineering.

Our exciting programme of talks covers all scales: local to global, pole to pole, plankton to top predators and eons of time in evolution. It also celebrates human ingenuity for investigating and solving the plant’s most pressing challenges.

Learn more and join us at the event via this LINK.

Littering is one of my pet-hates. This reminds me: I’ve said that before, during the first COVID-19 lockdown in the first series of ‘Outdoor Daily’ (now, there is consistency for you…).

Anyway, littering is unnecessary, careless, inconsiderate, unsightly, polluting, damaging to wildlife…need I say more?

The featured image shows a common occurrence in the Tamar Valley, where my daily walks with my dog T’isker take place these days. They are the plastic skeletons of shotgun cartridges and their contents. I find them in fields and along hedgerows, on field margins and in the reed beds of the estuary and the beaches of the Cornish coastline.

Likely sources are people using shotguns for controlling vermin (rabbits, rats, perhaps some crop-threatening birds) and people shooting for fun (pheasant and partridge, also rabbit and wild geese).

Question is: how many of the people using shotguns and other guns in the countryside are actually picking up their spent cartridges?

My friend Alan told me that it is a no-no to not pick up your spent cartridges…

Between 2008 and 2019, UK sales of cartridges and other ammunition were worth between a stunning £51000000 and an even more stunning £79000000. Wow! I don’t know whether this includes ammunition for the police (I doubt it) or the armed services (I doubt that even more).

Let’s just have a little back-of-the-envelope calculation:

  • say 50% of the money spent is on shotgun cartridges for use in nature (around £30 million)
  • perhaps people buy large volume to get a discount, and popular brands go for £200 – £300 per 1000 cartridges
  • so, at around £250 per 1000 rounds, that makes around 120 million individual shotgun cartridges

Perhaps that calculation is inaccurate, so I’ll try another one:

  • some 60 million game birds are reared and released into the wild every year by the industry, around half of which are killed during organised shoots
  • that’s 30 million dead birds, perhaps that means 30 million cartridges fired, but I guess it is more like four or more times that number (Alan also told me that a 1:4 hit rate is pretty good)
  • so, that leaves around 120 million shotgun cartridges spent on shooting pheasants and partridge on organised shoots
  • the rest of the cartridges are fired elsewhere, for other purposes

Either way, we are talking tens of millions of shotgun cartridges fired each year.

How many of the spent cartridges are being picked up? 30 million? 60 million? Most of them?

Either way, there is a mountain of waste generated, including valuable resources for recycling (e.g. metal from the primer)

What happens to those that are left in the landscape? Well, they contain quite a mix of stuff:

  • A plastic (sometimes paper) case
  • Primer (the metal end of the cartridge, steel or brass)
  • Propellant (the powder that goes ‘bang’)
  • Wad (plastic, cork or fibre – determines how the shot disperses)
  • Shot (metal pellets in steel or lead, containing 2-5% antimony, perhaps some nickel or copper coating)

I guess the propellant will get burned and becomes atmospheric pollution, the shot finishes up in the game and on the ground or in the water, the primer, wad and the plastic case drops to the ground or in the water near the gun. That’s a lot of plastic and metal introduced to nature…antimony is quite toxic and so is nickel is.

The good news: there are shotgun cartridge collectors on the market, so I guess some people pick up after themselves. Perhaps a well organised shoot will lay down some rules and see that they are followed. There is a legislative move from lead shot to using steel, which is less toxic and more inert in the environment and therefore less polluting. And the use of plastic wad is increasingly frowned upon, again something that could be encouraged by rules on well managed shoots.

The bad news: I keep finding these debris in nature…and so do other people:

"Shotgun cartridge on beach" by Robin Kearney is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
“Shotgun cartridge on beach” by Robin Kearney is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Featured image: plastic shotgun cartridge wads in the reed bed of the Tamar estuary, UK.

Recent studies, reported in The Conversation, recorded increases in some whale species, including blue and humpback in Antarctic waters and the western Arctic bowhead, fin and minke in the Arctic.

One study indicats that a new generation of blue whales, decimated by large-scale slaughter in the early 20th century, have ‘rediscovered’ the rich supplies of krill around South Georgia.

This is indeed good new.

However (there is always a ‘however’ these days….),

pressure on the populations of the whale’s most important food supplies, Antarctic krill in the South and copepods in the North, is mounting:

I blogged about this before – nearly a year ago…LINK

Everything we do has consequences. They may be big or small, near and visible or remote and out of sight.

Before we do something, we can consider its consequences for nature and ecosystems near or far, for people near of far, for generations to come – in short its sustainability. If we start making a habit of that, we can, collectively, get somewhere with a more sustainable way of living…

Featured Image: “Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)” by Gregory ‘Slobirdr’ Smith is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

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.

As the second covid-19 lockdown in the UK draws to a close, I won’t be alone in, once more, evaluating the important things in life.

For me it’s having positive, loving and healthy relationships.

With nature: being outdoors, experiencing it with all senses, exploring and observing, learning and understanding, connecting deeply and striving towards sustainability.

With people: family, friends, communities, humanity in all its diversity and self.

Clarity. Stripped down to the foundations of happiness, wellbeing and resilience.

Brexit is good for some industries: tarmac, concrete, and chemical toilets, for example.

A 27 acre parking lot for up to 2000 lorries queueing up for customs clearing ahead of crossing the Channel to the European Union is being constructed on a green field site in Kent near the M20 at Ashford, according to the Independent.

Taking back control‘ for the good people of Kent means having no voice where the so called ‘Farage Garage‘ is being constructed. It’s not pretty and it will feature Portaloos to cater for hauler’s most basic needs.

Good job that Kent voted largely in favour of Brexit (59%), including Ashford, and that, of course, will sweeten the blow. For some.

Kent is not the only county with ports to Europe, and 28 other lorry parks are planned in other areas of Kent, as well as in Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Solihull, Essex, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

Shame about all that land that could be more positively used for some of the 30,000 hectares of trees that will be planted annually, as announced recently in the Prime Minister’s ‘Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution for 250,000 jobs‘ (9. Nature: Protecting and restoring our natural environment, planting 30,000 hectares of trees every year, whilst creating and retaining thousands of jobs).

Beyond that, the parking lots will actually increase the country’s greenhouse gas emissions: from quarrying and mining for building materials to the idling of lorry engines for heating and cooling, it is a waste!

Neither will the stationary time improve the wellbeing of the drivers or timely delivery of goods.

One of the unforseen consequences, of which we will discover more in months to come.

Featured Image: “Visit Kent, lorry park of the UK” by User:Colin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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