Challenging Habitat Blog

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

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You may well ask … It’s one of my favourite oak trees on my walks, sun shining through branches, seen through a shard of cobalt blue ‘night soil’ glass washed out of the abandoned daffodil fields in Silver Valley by recent rain.

Sometimes it is useful to look at life through a different lense.

Saturday is burning day!

Have you ever noticed the black columns of smoke rising to the sky in rural England on a Saturday evening?

Saturday is burning day for waste that isn’t legal to burn: bailing plastic, tyres, feed and fertiliser bags, plastic gloves, udder wipes, worming tubes…who knows what else.

The local council offices, the Environment Agency and DEFRA can’t be reached on Saturday evening, so nobody can report the illegal fire while it’s burning.

And in winter, plastic waste can be burned under the cover of darkness without having to stay up late…

… just as happened last night on a farm in the valley.

I smelled the acrid plastic fumes as soon as I stepped into our orchard before dinner, a stink that brought me right back to my childhood, when my dad burned the plastic wrapping of the blocks he built our house with.

That was in the early 1970s, and while the smell should have told us that all is not well with the practice then, detailed knowledge about the toxins released from low temperature open fires are now more common knowledge than when I was a kid.

Not that I want to excuse what went on on our building site – not at all! It was common practice then and it was wrong, even then. I am saying that we should learn something and change or behaviour accordingly.

Today, someone would have to try very hard to remain ignorant of the fact that burning plastic releases harmful chemicals into the air, soil and water.

Just one example of information freely available on the internet: Alexander Cogut (2016) has published a comprehensive overview over global open burning of rubbish, and at that time, approximately 41% of global trash was ‘disposed of’ in that way.

Do we really want to tolerate this on English soil? In 2021?

Cogut’s report highlights that the open burning of waste is carried out at relatively low temperatures and for that reason, releases a variety of pollutants. The main issues are:

  • greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane
  • particulate matter, which is air pollution that can cause severe cases of respiratory disease and coronary disease
  • persistent organic pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins and furans, all of which are known to cause cancer (carcinogens) and have been associated with causing other diseases.

Toxins are known to be particularly harmful to unborn fetuses, infants and children and can cause severe developmental damage in the young – in addition, air, soil and water pollution also damages ecosystems and wildlife.

Even if ignorance persists, ignorance is no defence in front of the law:

The Waste Management (England and Wales) Regulations 2006 classify agricultural wastes as ‘controlled wastes’ and it is prohibited to dispose of it by burning or burying. That includes, among other materials, plastic, foil, containers and even cardboard. Farmers have a legal duty to send waste off their farm, to be recycled, incinerated or go to landfill. Moreover, waste can only be transferred to authorised persons and a Waste Transfer note must be provided to show lawful disposal.

That’s a far cry from what happened last night!

Perhaps burning on site is permitted again since the UK left the EU???

Nope! Just checked gov.uk – as of today, 17 Jan 2021 there are no known changes to EU legislation related to the Waste Management (England and Wales) Regulations 2006.

I am writing here about general principles, not a single incident near where I live – that was just a trigger to get this off my chest!

Saturday is burning day all over rural England!

Update: I wonder how much plastic is used to light wood burners every day ????

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.

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!

Autumn brings into sharper focus that nature wastes nothing and the laws of thermodynamics.

A fallen tree:

Surface for epiphytes
Substrate for fungi
Food for bacteria
Habitat for invertebrates

Matter and energy.

Life cycles. Upcycling. Recycling. Reuse. Circular economy.

Nothing new to nature, just to our society of STUFF.

Careless domestic waste management.

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

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).

This morning the science conference brings together all the projects we’ve been running aboard the Pelican of London.

First off – wind energy with Lorimer and Jasper, here explaining plans for a new wind farm in the Thames estuary.

Find out more about our wind energy activities here https://darwin200.com/understanding-sustainable-energy/

Kerry and Aoibhinn present data of macroplastics collected during systematic beach cleans that will also be reported to the Marine Conservation Society.
Abigail, final year Environmental Science student at the University of Plymouth, talks us through nutrient concentrations around the British coast and relates it to the objectives of Water Framework Directive for coastal and transitional waters.
Thomas introduces the world of plankton with data from Scottish and Irish waters and wonderful images and film taken with digital microscopes.

Find out more about plankton on our voyage there: https://darwin200.com/systematic-plankton-studies/

Joe collated all 110 individual sightings of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sunfish on a database that he visualised on Google maps. The data will be sent to the Seawatch Foundation for further analysis.
Shaolin presented extensive background information about microplastics in the oceans, from sources to impacts. Amazing numbers of these particles and fibers were detected by microscope in dust collected in the mess, the washing machine, deck scrubbings, sea water and sediment.
Molly compared traditional and modern ways of measuring temperature at sea.
The impact of microplastics on the geological record during the Anthropocene is explained with exhibits by Imogen and Penelope. An excellent food for thought with respect to making choices about our personal choices and behaviour, as well as what we want to achieve in life.

Tomorrow, we’ll be filming each projects in more detail.

Featured image: Copyright Dr Rohan Holt. Diver: Kelly Mackay

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.

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