October and Windy Weather

Sunday, October 27th. 6-30am and closure to a wet and windy night… Dawn and as I lay in bed, part of the large jackdaw community that roosts near our village, cascadedí from out of a wild, angry sky on to a large oak tree some 150 metres away from the house. A few minutes later, they returned to the air and caught by the still strong, gusty westerly wind, were hurtled downwind, chatting merrily away to one another. In my opinion, jackdaws appear to be some of the happiest creatures alive.


National Trust’s Stance On Fracking

In this press release, the National Trust spells out their considered view on the subject of fracking and is to my mind, a well-reasoned and clear statement. Our Government should note this statement and adopt a similar stance in the debates and policies concerning future national energy issues.

“We [the National Trust] have a presumption against fracking on our land because natural gas is a fossil gas. The mining process also gives rise to potential environmental and landscape impacts.

Fossil gas is a finite resource that can only be mined and not harvested, it is not renewable. Its combustion produces greenhouse gases which we believe contribute to climate change. Climate change has a significant adverse impact on our core purpose of looking after special places, for ever for everyone.

Whilst the use of natural gas might buy time to develop secure, renewable alternative energy sources, it also risks distracting us from focusing on the development of these and on the need for us all to concentrate on using less energy in the first place.

A presumption against extracting and increasing the supply of natural gas from our own properties is consistent with our approach to our own energy use and generation. This is firstly to reduce our consumption of it at National Trust directly managed properties, and then to generate as much renewable energy as we reasonably can in a way that respects the landscape and environment.”


Immune System Benefits from Life in the Countryside

Sep. 30, 2013. Adults who move to farming areas where they experience a wider range of environmental exposures than in cities may reduce the symptoms of their hypersensitivities and allergies considerably. This is the result of new research from Aarhus University. This pioneering result was recently published online in the periodical, The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in an article entitled “Become a farmer and avoid new allergic sensitization: Adult farming exposures protect against new-onset atopic sensitisation.”

The immune systems of people who work in farming are frequently exposed to a wide range of bacteria, fungi, pollen and other irritants which may trigger a response that protects them against hypersensitivity. Working in a farming environment may therefore serve to prevent or dampen hypersensitivity to the most widespread plant allergens: grass and birch pollen.

Positive effect on children and adults. Surprisingly, the positive effect on the immune system is seen both in people who have lived in urban environments and in adults who were born and raised in farming areas. But the real surprise is that the effect is not only seen in children: “Previously, the assumption was that only persons who had lived in farming areas while growing up would benefit from the environment’s protective effect on the immune system. But now we can demonstrate that it’s not too late simply because you are an adult,” says postdoc Grethe Elholm.

It is, in other words, possible to affect the immune system and thereby the hypersensitivity which may cause allergy and allergic asthma, and what is more, this can be done at a much later point in life than previously assumed.

Closer to preventing allergies. This knowledge is now bringing researchers closer to discovering how to prevent allergies. The assumption is that the absence of environmental exposure does not protect against hypersensitivity. In fact, living in an environment with a much higher level of environmental exposure than you are used to can actually be good for your health. In general, exposure to the farming environment dampens the entire immune response to the environment because it stimulates the immune system. “We cannot, however, simply recommend that people who suffer from allergies and hypersensitivities move to farms. Because they may also suffer from lung diseases such as asthma and would therefore become more ill due to the high concentrations of dust and particles found in stables and in agriculture in general,” stresses Grethe Elholm.

Sightings, Monday, Oct 21 2013

After I thought I heard a snatch of notes from a fieldfare last week, today, I saw a flock of some 30-40 fieldfare fly overhead in the same vicinity of Ashdown.

Checked three groups of ponies today. Had to be rather more proactive – in fact tracking on Chailey Common, as here they are very difficult to locate due to the tall bracken. Heard a couple of dogs barking a couple of hundred metres away over my shoulder. A few minutes later, heard a couple of possible pony whinnyings from the same area; changed direction and there in a patch of trees, there they were. Looking out for sounds, fresh hoof-prints, paid off!

New Fossils Push Origin of Flowers Back 100 Million Years

Abstract. ‘October 1, 2013.  Drilling cores from Switzerland have revealed the oldest known fossils of the direct ancestors of flowering plants. These beautifully preserved 240-million-year-old pollen grains are evidence that flowering plants evolved 100 million years earlier than previously thought, according to a new study in the open-access journal ‘Frontiers in Plant Science.’ The oldest known fossils from flowering plants are pollen grains. These are small, robust and numerous and therefore fossilize more easily than leaves and flowers. An uninterrupted sequence of fossilized pollen from flowers begins in the Early Cretaceous, approximately 140 million years ago, and it is generally assumed that flowering plants first evolved around that time. But the present study documents flowering plant-like pollen that is 100 million years older, implying that flowering plants may have originated in the Early Triassic (between 252 to 247 million years ago) or even earlier.’

Peter Hochuli and Susanne Feist-Burkhardt from Paleontological Institute and Museum, University of Zurich, studied two drilling cores from Weiach and Leuggern, northern Switzerland, and found pollen grains that resemble fossil pollen from the earliest known flowering plants. The pollen’s structure suggests that the plants were pollinated by insects: most likely beetles, as bees would not evolve for another 100 million years.

Sustainable Livestock – A Way Forward?

Abstract. ‘Many of us are demanding higher standards for how our meat is produced, with animal welfare and the impact on the environment factoring now in many purchases. Unfortunately, many widely-used livestock production methods are currently unsustainable. However, new research published by the University of Cambridge has identified what may be the future of sustainable livestock production: silvo-pastoral systems, in which shrubs and trees with edible leaves or fruits are grown as well as herbage. Professor Donald Broom, from the University of Cambridge, who led the research said: “Consumers are now demanding more sustainable and ethically sourced food, including production without negative impacts on animal welfare, the environment and the livelihood of poor producers. Silvo-pastoral systems address all of these concerns with the added benefit of increased production in the long term.”

Current cattle production mostly occurs on pastures with solely herbaceous plants, such as grasses, grown as food for the cows. The effects on the local environment of the removal of trees and shrubs and the increased use of herbicides, all result in a dramatic decrease in biodiversity. Additionally, there is also contamination of soil and waterways by agricultural chemicals as well as carbon costs because of the oil-based fuel and artificial fertilisers necessary to maintain the pasture. The researchers advocate that using a diverse group of edible plants such as that in a silvo-pastural landscape promotes healthy soil with better water retention (and less runoff), encourages predators of harmful animals, minimizes greenhouse gas emissions, improves job satisfaction for farm workers, reduces injury and stress in animals, improves welfare and encourages biodiversity using native shrubs and trees.

Additionally, shrubs and trees with edible leaves and shoots, along with pasture plants, produce more food for animals per unit area of land than pasture plants alone. Trees and shrubs have the added benefit of providing shade from hot sun and shelter from rain, important with a warming climate. “The planting as forage plants of both shrubs and trees whose leaves and small branches can be consumed by farmed animals can transform the prospects of obtaining sustainable animal production,” said Professor Broom. “Such planting of ‘fodder trees’ has already been successful in several countries, which is now widely used for cattle feed in Australia.”

One of the additional benefits of using the silvo-pastoral system is that it increases biodiversity. Biodiversity is declining across the globe, and the main culprit is farming; 33% of the total land surface of the world is used for livestock production. If farmers were to switch to sustainable livestock production methods, such as the silvo-pastoral system, the result would be much greater biodiversity with no increase in land use. Professor Broom added: “It is clear that silvo-pastoral systems increase biodiversity, improve animal welfare and provide good working conditions while enabling a profitable farming business. The next step is to get farmers to adopt this proven, sustainable model.” ‘

The paper ‘Sustainable, efficient livestock production with high biodiversity and good welfare for animals’ was published in the 25 September 2013 edition of Proceedings of the Royal Society (Biological Sciences).

Some Opinions On The Future

I came across these three posted comments regarding an environmental story on the BBC News website which, probably capture the attitude and the route that civilisation (and much of world) is upon:

There is no waste bin on planet earth. It’s a closed system. We can’t throw things away – all we can do is move them around. Putting things out of sight means nothing to the rest of nature. Every gram of toxic chemical that’s manufactured has got to go somewhere. ‘Chuck it overboard’ was the attitude of sailors in more innocent days. Now innocence has gone. Adult responsibility is demanded.

Offer the governments of the world the choice between GDP growth of 5% or, a sustainable clean-up of the planet and they’d choose the former every time. Long-term planning doesn’t come into it anymore (if it ever did!). One day, perhaps not even that far away, the chickens will come home to roost. It’s hard to say but we, the human race, deserve everything that is coming our way.

For once, it would be nice if the governments of the world would take heed of scientific evidence about the environment and do something about the mess rather than letting business’ desire for greater profits be what drives our green policies.



This Weeks Pony News

Yesterday, we gathered in and transported 18 ponies from the heathy expanses of Ashdown down to their winter quarters at Castle Hill National Nature Reserve, high up on the rolling, salt-tinged South Downs near Brighton. The Old Lodge Nature Reserve volunteers teamwork excelled as always with the gathering and corral erection. Loading proceed very well with even Pip going up the tailboard without the usual coercion.

I called in on them this afternoon, which was warm and sunny, after the thick fog on the Downs this morning when they couldn’t be located. Within 24 hours of arriving, their topknots are now knotted with the burred seeds of agrimony (Sussex name, ‘church steeples’). There’s no chance of them going hungry here! It’s noticeable this week, that they’re winter coats are growing apace.