Challenging Habitat Blog

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

A day of drizzle and grey skies.

And yet, there is life and beauty in the damp forest.

A massive fallen tree, ‘dead wood’ for years.

Subtle colours, interesting texture and full of life of a different kind.

New habitat.

New life!

We’ll before oaks shed their last leaves, acorns are preparing the next generation.

A lesson in sustainability to all of us from the scale of families and education, organisations and businesses to political parties and government.

I’m just returning from the dentist minding my own business and am stopped by a column of 16 SUVs (you know the type: Range Rovers and Japanese models with names, such as animal, terminator, dominator or whatever…) pouring out of the country lane I need to turn into.

A sure sign that the pheasant shooting season on the grand estate nearby has opened.

Quite apart from the issues I raised recently relating to the negative impacts of releasing millions of pheasants into British ecosystems, the paraphinalia that go with the shooting sport have, in my view, a serious issue with sustainability.

SUVs are largely a status symbol for city dwellers and the vehicles of the ‘sportsmen’ I encountered today were specklessly clean and pristine, indicating that they weren’t exactly utilised for off-roading on a regular basis.

They were large models.

According to recent research, the increase in SUVs on our roads were the second largest contributors of the rise in global CO2 emissions since 2010, behind power production.

If that wasn’t enough, they are largely diesel engines, which are responsible for the pollution of our air with small particular matter that gets into our lungs and blood stream, with the potential to cause many diseases, including cancer, and premature death.

I’m not a fan of SUVs, especially when they are used for journeys that a normal car can do, or for the ‘sport’ of shooting.

I’m back on the Pelican of London for the final day of the voyage: up the Thames, through Tower Bridge (twice) and the final docking at Canary wharf.

It feels strange to be socially distancing from people I lived and worked with, as recently as last week, in a covid-19 free bubble. …and I’m gutted not to be part of the crew maning the yards on our sail through the bridge.

It’s clearly scenic in its own way, and photographers aboard are as busy as ever. As environmental scientist, I preferred the more natural and pristine land and seascapes of Scotland.

The river is busy and unfortunately carries a lot of floating litter. I chose to show one of the less revolting items …

Exciting times: getting aloft for the sail through Tower Bridge!

Getting ready…
… opening just for us…
… Imogen leading a shanty….
…a job well done, just enjoy it now!

As the afternoon fades, we enter Canary wharf to dock for a final time on this voyage.

We’ve arrived!

A final evening of celebrating a fantastic journey lies ahead and then it’s good bye (for now).

We are waking up to a beautiful morning, 25 knots of wind, a following sea and just an hour of foul tide before approaching Pentland Firth.

Perfect timing by an excellent captain and crew!

Pelican is rolling gently, 260 tonnes of ship just powered by the staysail and doing six knots.

I’m loving this, but sadly, it’s too much to stomach for some, so science has to wait until the green drains out of the last faces and the sea state goes down to moderate.

11:30, rounding Duncansby Head with the staysail and topsail and a freshening wind, and with calmer seas now the tide is with us.

The dedicated cetacean survey finished without a single sighting, but still provides valuable ‘absence’ data to the Seawatch Foundation.

After lunch, Mizzen Watch is on and I rotate from port lookout to a challenging stint at the helm in confined waters and then to starboard lookout.

The sun brings warmth between strong gusts and I enjoy watching the fulmars wheeling around the ship.

Fulmars have been wheeling around the ship all day and I enjoy watching their play with the wind and waves.

I read up about their history and discover that they share the common name ‘Mollymawk’ with another bird, the great albatross of the South.

Another beautiful sunset leading into a night under a lot of sail as the winds weaken …

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.

Our scientific observations and experiments are contributing to a puzzle from which stories emerge…

Soon, we will be able to provide a snapshot of water quality data at locations around Britain.

We are compiling a list of bird species seen during our voyage and obtain a count of marine mammals sightings.

Plankton net analyses provides data on groups of plankton and microplastics found suspend in the water column.

Many questions have already arisen:

How will all the plastic reflect our age in the geological record?

Fibres settled out of the air in the mess of Pelican during our voyage.

What can we learn from shedding of microfibers about our next purchase of outdoor clothing?

What processes impact on phytoplankton growth in estuaries?

Actually, what exactly is pollution?

These are just some of the stories championed by our young scientists on board, and we look forward to seeing each of them report to you before the voyage is completed.

Darwin200 day 12: fair winds

My day started at 06:00 with a profile of the water column to check salinity, oxygen saturation, temperature and pH.

After breakfast we commenced to be busy with Happy Hour, which means daily cleaning chores around the ship.

Based on subtle changes of these parameters, we decided to take samples at four different depths, including near the bottom at 25 m and near the surface.

After breakfast, y watch was allocated to scrub the deck during Happy Hour, the daily cleaning of the ship routine.

I took the opportunity to sample what went down the scuppers from the port poop deck with our plankton net. Analysis under by microscope to follow. But it’s not looking too pretty!

Then it was all hands on deck for setting sails: inner foresail and gaff, spanker and three squares. And we pretty much tacked and braced throughout the day, and still going strong now into the night.

An impromptu yoga class led by the ship’s medic Jo on the welldeck made use of the stable motion of the ship running down wind. It finished with a loooooong plank and let’s just say that the young men caved in before the mature women…👍😂💪

After lunch, we run our daily cetacean and macroplastics surveys and analysed samples for nutrient concentrations.

A lovely moment occurred when I spotted two adult bottlenose dolphins with two juveniles playing in our bow wave.

Magic! Especially in the spectacular settings of Skye to starboard and Uist to port.

And now, a big moon and the first stars appear on the darkening sky.

It is a privilege to be here and in such good company!

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