Challenging Habitat Blog

A hike across the island of Kerrara this morning led us to beautiful beaches.

A systematic plastic survey for the Marine Conservation Society was led by Kerry and, sadly, turned up hundreds of individual items of litter.

At least it all entered a managed waste disposal system now.

Meanwhile, Shaolin and I took water samples for nutrient analysis along a transect towards a fish farm.

Along the way, we found stranded crates and marker buoys from the fishing industry.

I’ll report on the results later…

The scenery on our passage to Lochaline is beautiful beyond description…and that was more than enough compensation for not seeing any dolphins or whales today.

Once anchored and after a delicious dinner of fish pie, we challenged five teams to design an efficient, beautiful and/or funny wind turbine.

The efficiency was measured by the voltage produced by running a toy motor as a dynamo.

And the winner was an unlikely looking design called flower power with 26 mV output!

Other designs went for classic shapes or attempts to specifically work with our source of wind, Molly’s hair dryer (the only one on board!)

A fun time that will be followed by the installation of a commercial wind turbine on Pelican in the coming days.

The Darwin 200 team, Stew, Rohan and Stew are producing a series of videos from our voyage of sail training, nature observation and pollution surveys.

Although I was not on board for the first 11 (!) of these, I’ll post them here for their ‘seriously watchable’ value.

Happy viewing!

Darwin 200 Liverpool

Darwin 200 Episode 2 Planning the Science

Darwin 200 Episode 4 Dolphins

Darwin 200 Episode 5 Tackling Plastics

Darwin 200 Episode 6 Life on Board

Darwin 200 in Plymouth!

Darwin 200 Episode 7 Journey to the Scillies

Darwin 200 Episode 8 More Plastic!

Darwin 200 Episode 9 Diving in the Southwest

Darwin 200 Episode 10 Sunfish

Among young people and sailors alike, Liverpool has quite a reputation for its nightlife.

Being locked down on the Pelican of London, we experience the night watch as eerily quiet…

…an odd rat running across the quay…

…the only light show comes from the twinkle on passing ships

…the red lights not an invitation into a ‘district’ but a stop signal on the lock gates.

I enjoy the calm, even though it is a covid-19 induced ‘coma’ for the city.

The Darwin 200 project of ocean science and conservation has arrived in Sutton Harbour, Plymouth.

While sail trainees maintain the rigging, science students analyse nutrients in samples taken earlier.

Wander by to talk to the young people aboard or just marvel at the ship!

Next stop Famouth!

Today, some 22 young people join the tall ship Pelican of London for a seven week long adventure that will stretch and challenge, develop skills and knowledge, build confidence and expand horizons.

The purpose of this voyage around the British Isles is simple: young people are the future and they need to be better at building a sustainable future than my generation to get the planet out of the mess we are creating.

Daily. Still. With full knowledge of the consequences.

Perhaps this is not a true or full representation of the organisers’ aims for this voyage. have chartered the Pelican and partnered with Adventure under Sail for a much bigger collaboration that will see a circumnavigation of the globe in the wake of Darwin’s scientific endeavours on the Beagle some 190 years ago, starting in 2021. You can catch up on their take on this story on their social media campaign during this voyage.

As a result of my connection with Adventure under Sail that go back a couple of years, Darwin200 also partnered with the University of Plymouth, and more specifically, with Environmental Science in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Last year, my colleague Dr Richard Sandford and I ran an ocean science pilot voyage under the Sea the Future programme of Adventure under Sail. For links and images check out an earlier post here. We have based our science programme for Darwin200 UK on the experiences we’ve made then.

Richard will join the ship today for the first three weeks of the voyage from Sharpness to Folkestone and Liverpool, to train young people in ocean science. I’ll swap places with him in Liverpool on 20th August for the northern part of the journey.

You can trace the ship’s location and progress via vesselfinder.

For me personally, the focus of this voyage and my involvement with it, is young people. This may not come as a surprise, as I am an environmental scientist and academic at the University of Plymouth, and my main business is teaching, tutoring, mentoring and coaching young people.

This blog will convey my personal observations, reflections and learning.

Exactly four months of lockdown in the UK and with restrictions easing more and more, many of us are ready to venture out and take off.

I take this as an occasion to suspend my Outdoor Daily blog posts.

For me, it’s been fun and I learned a lot about little things in nature and something about myself.

I’ve discovered the grounding power of gratitude and the joy of seeing beauty everywhere around me.

Thank you for reading my words.

There will be more posts soon, as I start new projects, as and when the easing of lockdown allows.

Stay safe and happy!

St John’s Wort is said, in traditional medicine, to have properties that relieve anxiety and depression.

Perhaps seeing it grow in a richly diverse wild flower meadow may also help to lift the spirit.

It works for me.

In, with, part of nature.


Sometimes I wonder about the efforts to create the perfect garden display …

… no matter how much design effort is put into it, nothing comes close to what nature assembles simply to be.

Let’s say this is a grasshopper, which species I wouldn’t know.

I heard and then saw it, and numerous more, in the flower meadows of a local nature reserve.

Flower meadow in the nature reserve

This area used to be a farm and now it is a haven for wildlife, with its hedgerows, meadows, shoreline of the estuary and small woodlands and quarries.

It also serves the local community as recreational area and it seems that as an ecosystem that provides services to people, too, it all works well together.

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!

What beautifully delicate white flowers!

Fit for a bridal bouquet, if it wasn’t for the toxicity of its sap.

This is the flower of Heracleum sphondylium, Hogweed. Roots, stems, leaves and flowers – all toxic and related to Hemlock, the plant Socrates was poisoned with.

And the ‘critter’?

I hazard a guess at Strangalia maculata, a longhorn beetle, who is obviously not deterred by whatever this plant is producing to deter predation.

But then, it might just be after the pollen, and that’s in the interest of the plant.

Umbelliferous flower head backlit against a sunny sky

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.

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