Storm Angus

Storm Angus.  Well, after a night of listening to the wind in the trees and the rain lashing down, I received text at 6-30am from my colleague Sally saying as she lives not too far away, she’d go and check the electric fencing on the 3 coastal pony grazing sites near Beachy Head.  7-30, she text to say she’d sorted the battered fences at Frances Bottom.  8-30am and another text, saying that the cliff top fence at Shooters Bottom towards Belle Tout was in one hell of a mess, so I phoned and said I’d set set-off immediately to assist her.  This fence would have taken the full brunt of the storm.

When I arrived on site at 9-30, I’ve not seen electric fencing so blown about, some it in small heaps even with the odd metal stake still attached and within it!  We basically had to untangle the three lines of wire and tape, and re-erect most of the 850 metres of the cliff facing fence, we finishing at about midday.  Conditions were very windy at first and quite cold but at least it was dry.



These two pics I took just before 9-30, before starting work and showing the white surf on the rocks below Belle Tout and the fencing largely laying on the ground.

We then went on to Birling Gap and fortunately Nick the looker there for today is quite practical and he’d turned the power off and had just about finished re-ercting sections by the time we arrived. Fortunately, it usually works that the ponies move away from the wind thus retreating from where the fence is being damaged and where they could get out.  Just for good measure, I then walked the 1700 metres of fencing at Ashdown Forest on the way home.

Statistics.  The shipping forecast was for the possibility of a Force 10 Storm but out at the Greenwich Light Buoy, 20 miles out from the coast off Peacehaven, the maximum wind speed briefly recorded was at 7am and at 75mph, technically into the Force 12 Hurricane zone.  (This, it has to be remembered is over open sea where wind speeds are a little higher).

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Watch the short accompanying video in the link below!

Inside the Arctic Seed Vault Designed to Save Humanity From Extinction.

Written by MOTHERBOARD, November 11, 2016.

In the Arctic Circle, on the far-northern Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, a drab facility carved into the mountainside could be humanity’s last hope in the event of a global catastrophe. This is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a roughly 400-foot-long building designed to store seed samples for 4.5 million different varieties of crops from around the world, or 2.5 billion individual seeds. The vault even contains seeds from North Korea.


Among the crops stored in the cavernous underground ice tunnels at -18º C (-0.4º F): 150,000 samples of rice, and 140,000 samples of wheat. Now you can take a look inside as Motherboard tours this awe-inspiring facility.

The goal is to create a kind of genetic vault of human agriculture, or a “Noah’s Ark” of genetic diversity, as the Global Seed Vault has been called.

For the non-farmers out there, you may not know that crops need genetic diversity to survive and thrive—that is, even a single type of plant (say wheat) needs to have several different genetic varieties to avoid being wiped out by pests and disease. Fortunately, there are a handful of gene banks around the world collecting and preserving seeds in order to ensure agricultural genetic diversity continues into the future. But what happens if one of these gene banks is destroyed?

That’s where the Global Seed Vault comes in—it will be there to act as a kind of failsafe, or “backup” in the event that other gene banks around the world are lost. In a time of great uncertainty, it’s a ray of hope for how humanity can come together across borders, and use science to ensure the survival of our species.


Is Meat-Eating Eco-Friendly or Not?


BBC Radio 4’s ‘Inside Science’ last night was interesting.  Another interesting article in the above programme was about the climate-warming effects of animal husbandry for meat.  For instance, is the UK’s predominantly grass-fed livestock more eco-friendly?  What about cattle and sheep grazing on land fit for no other purpose?  Do listen!

What Are Swifts Up To After They Leave Us?


BBC Radio 4’s ‘Inside Science’ last night was interesting.  Amongst other things, it had a piece about work that Lund University in Sweden is doing on the life of swifts.  They have put some tiny data loggers on some birds and then retrieve them when the birds return to nest the following spring.  They have brought to light new information about the birds flying time and their whereabouts in their African winter quarters.  Do listen!

Building a CD Library: Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony and Cuckmere Haven!

Building a Library: Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony.

Mark Lowther makes a recommendation from the available recordings. Despite the sound of the famous Westminster chimes, the composer said that while the title may suggest a programmatic piece it was intended to be heard as absolute music. He suggested that “Symphony by a Londoner” might be a better title.

I have just listened to Radio 3’s discussion of recordings of Vaughan-Williams London Symphony, a piece finished in 1914 and which I find particularly moving.  Interestingly, of the two versions I possess, they were both highly praised.  The presenter’s first choice however, was by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley and recorded in 1957, (he being a champion of British music).

Composer Vernon Handley at Cuckmere Haven.

Composer Vernon Handley at Cuckmere Haven.

He died a few years ago, but I was honoured when in 1987 I negotiated and attended a small BBC film unit, which filmed him on the beach down at Cuckmere Haven discussing the music of composer Frank Bridge who used to live at nearby Friston.  In between shoots, I was lucky enough to be able to talk with him; one thing he said was that in another life, he would have loved to have worked in wildlife conservation!

Red Meat Triggers Toxic Immune Reaction Which Causes Cancer

Red meat triggers toxic immune reaction which causes cancer, scientists find.

By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor, 29 Dec 2014.

Red meat has been linked to cancer for decades, with research suggesting that eating large amounts of pork, beef or lamb raises the risk of deadly tumours.

But for the first time scientists think they know what is causing the effect. The body, it seems, views red meat as a foreign invader and sparks a toxic immune response.

Researchers have always been puzzled about how other mammals could eat a diet high in red meat without any adverse health consequences.  Now they have discovered that pork, beef and lamb contains a sugar which is naturally produced by other carnivores but not humans.

It means that when humans eat red meat, the body triggers an immune response to the foreign sugar, producing antibodies which spark inflammation, and eventually cancer.  In other carnivores the immune system does not kick in, because the sugar – called Neu5Gc – is already in the body.

Scientists at the University of California proved that mice which were genetically engineered so they did not produce Neu5Gc naturally developed tumours when they were fed the sugar.

“This is the first time we have directly shown that mimicking the exact situation in humans increases spontaneous cancers in mice,” said Dr Ajit Varki, Professor of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of California.

“The final proof in humans will be much harder to come by.  This work may also help explain potential connections of red meat consumption to other diseases exacerbated by chronic inflammation, such as atherosclerosis and type 2 diabetes.”

“Of course, moderate amounts of red meat can be a source of good nutrition for young people. We hope that our work will eventually lead the way to practical solutions for this catch-22.”  Red meat is a good source of protein, vitamin and minerals, but an increasing body of research suggests too much is bad for long-term health.

Health experts recommend eating no more than 2.5oz (70g) a day, the equivalent of three slices of ham, one lamb chop or two slices of roast beef a day

A study published by Harvard University in June suggested that a diet high in red meat raised the risk of breast cancer for women by 22 per cent.  In 2005 a study found those who regularly ate 5.6oz (160g) of red meat a day had one third higher risk of bowel cancer.

The average person in the UK has 2.5oz (70g) meat a day 3oz (88g) among men, 2oz (52g) among women) but 33 per cent have more than 3.5oz (100g) a day.

Previous research has suggested that a pigment in red meat may also damage the DNA of cells lining the digestive system.

The new research was published online in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Erosion of Chalk Cliffs in East Sussex – New Research

Cosmic clue to UK coastal erosion

By Jonathan Amos, BBC Science Correspondent

7 November 2016

Recent centuries have seen a big jump in the rates of erosion in the iconic chalk cliffs on England’s south coast.  A new study finds that for thousands of years the rocks were being beaten back by the waves at perhaps 2-6cm a year.  The past 150 years has seen this retreat accelerate 10-fold, to more than 20cm a year.

The speed-up was clocked with the aid of a smart technique that tracks changes induced in rocks when they are exposed to energetic space particles.

The research, led from the British Geological Survey and conducted by Martin Hurst and colleagues, is reported in the leading American journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The group believes the findings will help us understand some of the coming impacts of climate change.  “Our coasts are going to change in the future as a result of sea-level rise and perhaps increased storminess, and we want this work to inform better forecasts of erosion,” Dr Hurst, currently affiliated to Glasgow University, told BBC News.

The research was centred on East Sussex and its towering cliffs at Beachy Head and Hope Gap.

Originally laid down 90 million years ago, these soft chalk faces are now being eaten away by the relentless pounding they get from the sea.cliffs-1Rood and Hurst on the platform.  Image copyrightMARTIN HURST ET AL

Image caption

Care is needed because the platform’s exposure can appear more recent than is really the case.

Dr Hurst’s team was able to estimate the pace of this reversal by examining the amount of beryllium-10 in nodules of flint embedded in the eroded platform in front of the cliffs.  The radioactive element is produced when cosmic rays – that constantly shower the Earth – hit oxygen atoms in the flints’ quartz minerals.  The longer the nodules have been exposed, the greater their build-up of beryllium-10.

At Beachy Head and Hope Gap, the gently sloping platform, which is only uncovered at low tide, extends seaward several hundred metres.  It represents all that is left after millennia of cliff removal.

“The lower rates of erosion that we report – about 2.5cm at Hope Gap and around 6cm at Beachy Head – are averaged over that timeframe – through about the past 7,000 years of the Holocene,” explained Dr Hurst.

“But comparing that to observations based on topographic maps and aerial photography of the last 150 years – the difference is quite stark. These historical observations from 1870 to the present suggest erosion rates of 20-30cm a year at the two sites.”


Flint nodules.  Image copyrightMARTIN HURST ET AL

The team removed flints for beryllium testing in a line perpendicular to the cliffs.  The estimates of change in the deep past are tricky because the platform appears younger than it really is.  This stems from the fact that its surface continues to erode downwards, removing its oldest exposed flints. The regular tidal covering of water also has to be considered because it will restrict the flux of cosmic rays reaching the platform, thus limiting the amount of beryllium that can be induced in the nodules.

But the team is confident in its analysis and puts forward some ideas to explain the recent big up-tick in erosion.  These concern the available gravels at the foot of the cliffs that constitute the beach.  Ordinarily, this material acts as a buffer, limiting the energy of crashing waves.

But there is good evidence that the beaches in this region of the south coast have got thinner through time and perhaps therefore offer less protection today than they once did.  In the modern era, groynes and sea walls have been erected further down the coast and these may have interfered with the along-shore transport of gravels. And further back in time, several hundred years ago, it is possible also that there was a phase of more storms. These could have removed significant volumes of gravel and pushed the rates of erosion into a new, more aggressive regime that persists even now.

Co-author Dr Dylan Rood from Imperial College London told BBC News: “The coast is clearly eroding, and Britain has retreated fast. A nearly tenfold increase in retreat rates over a very short timescale, in geological terms, is remarkable.

“The UK cannot leave the issue of cliff erosion unresolved in the face of a warming world and rising sea levels. Cliff erosion is irreversible; once the cliffs retreat, they are gone for good.”


Mysterious Life of the Swift

27th October 2016.

Swifts stay airborne for 10 months straight!  Common swift now the longest continually-flying bird, spending at least 99.5 per cent of their 14,000-mile migration in the air.


Common swifts have one of the longest migrations in the world, travelling some 14,000 miles every year from the UK to spend their winter in Africa. Whilst this in itself is astounding, new research from the University of Lund has now revealed that incredibly, they spend a whole 10 months in the air without landing. This poses new questions; how do they maintain their energy during this time? How do they sleep?

Flying high.

By attaching microdata loggers to 13 birds, the researchers were able to track their movements over a long period of time. For some birds this was up to two years of travel, during which the loggers sent back data about location, acceleration, and whether they were airborne or not. The results, published in the journal Current Biology, found that some birds were able to continue flying for 10 months, while those that landed for short periods still spent 99.5 per cent of their ten-month migration in the air.

“This discovery significantly pushes the boundaries for what we know about animal physiology,” says Professor Anders Hedenström from the Department of Biology at Lund. “A ten-month flight phase is the longest we know of any bird species – it’s a record.”

Interestingly, the birds that never landed moulted and gained new flight feathers in the wings and tail, but those that landed didn’t. Researchers speculate that this could indicate small differences in body condition, or burden of parasites. Furthermore, the research also showed that the birds’ flight activity was lower during the day than at night, likely a result of the birds saving energy gliding on warm, upward air currents during the day, explains Hedenström.

Sleeping on the job.

However, the researchers remain unsure on how the birds sleep during this time.

“They might do as the frigate bird and sleep while gliding. Every day, at dusk and dawn, the common swift rises up to an altitude of about two-three kilometres. Perhaps they sleep during a declining glide, but we’re not sure.”

Given the accumulated flight distance is equal to that of seven round-trips to the Moon, and swifts have been known to live up 20 years old, it is unsurprising Hedenström and his colleagues hope to explore this field in future research, with many more fascinating questions to ask and answer about the birds’ physiology.

Mis-Use of Farm Subsidies – UK Tax Payer’s Money

UAE Prime Minister given £1m in farm subsidies for horse breeding empire.

October 23, 2016.

By Lawrence Carter and Crispin Dowler

Sheikh Mohammed, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, has received hundreds of thousands of pounds in UK farming subsidies.

The Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates has pocketed almost £1m in farming subsidies over the past two years for the UK arm of his racehorse breeding empire, an Energydesk investigation has found.

The billionaire Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also the Emir of Dubai, owns two internationally renowned stud farms based in the UK, Darley Stud and Godolphin.  Between them, these businesses received £923,760 in common agricultural policy subsidies over 2014 and 2015.

The Newmarket-based stud farms host helipads, tennis courts and even an “equine hydrotherapy” pool. Sheikh Mohammed also owns a £45m mansion, Dalham Hall, in the area.

The vast majority of the subsidy they received – £896,008 – came from the controversial single payment scheme, which largely rewards landowners for simply owning land, rather than paying farmers to invest in environmental or other “public good” measures.

Broken system

Campaigners have long argued that this system is skewed in favour of the biggest landowners and farmers, and has failed to halt the steep decline of farmland biodiversity.  The revelations of the scale of Sheikh Mohammed’s benefit from the single payment scheme mark the latest stage of an ongoing Energydesk investigation into the use of farm subsidies in the UK.

They follow an Energydesk probe last month which revealed that more than one in ten of the top 100 recipients of the single payment scheme were controlled by people featured on the Sunday Times Rich List.

The news comes as environment secretary Andrea Leadsom is [was] set to be grilled by MPs on Tuesday about the future of farm subsidies post-Brexit.  The government has committed to fund the single payment scheme until 2020, but is currently considering what a post-Brexit system of agricultural subsidies will look like.

As well as claiming taxpayer subsidies through his stud farms, another company owned by Sheikh Mohammed, Smech Management Company, benefitted from £51,203 in single area payments over the past two years – and £110,301 in overall farm subsidies.


The company manages the Sheikh’s 63,000 acre hunting estate in the Scottish Highlands and was recently granted planning permission to build a six-story garage for the Sheikh’s luxury car collection next to the London heliport in Wandsworth.

Equine swimming pool

Older planning documents obtained by Energydesk show that high-end racehorse training infrastructure hosted at the Sheikh’s Godolphin stud farm was built on land previously reserved for agriculture.  In 2005 Godolphin received planning permission for a “change of use of land from agricultural to racehorse training facility with creation of 2 all-weather tracks and provision of grass gallops, car-parking, covered ride and equine swimming pool.”

Responding to the investigation, the European Commission said that the British government now had the power to cap the amount of money recipients could claim in direct subsidies, but had chosen not to do so in England. The devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all introduced an upper limit on payments, increasing the amount of money available for rural development projects.

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA), told Energydesk that his organisation had “always taken the view that only active farmers should be supported through the public purse under the common agricultural policy, and that the current definition of active farmer leaves a lot to be desired”.

He added that the TFA had consistently called for a limit on the amount an individual farm could claim “so you don’t have the sort of ridiculous situation where someone is able to get millions in public support”.


Concern Over Mediterranean and Climate Change

A warming limit for the Mediterranean basin.

Pollen cores from sediments provide rich detail on the history of vegetation and climate in the Mediterranean during the Holocene (the most recent ~10,000 years). Guiot and Cramer used this information as a baseline against which to compare predictions of future climate and vegetation under different climate-change scenarios. Vegetation and land-use systems observed in the Holocene records may persist under a 1.5°C warming above preindustrial temperature levels. A 2°C warming, however, is likely over the next century to produce ecosystems in the Mediterranean basin that have no analog in the past 10,000 years.


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Paris Agreement of December 2015 aims to maintain the global average warming well below 2°C above the preindustrial level. In the Mediterranean basin, recent pollen-based reconstructions of climate and ecosystem variability over the past 10,000 years provide insights regarding the implications of warming thresholds for biodiversity and land-use potential. We compare scenarios of climate-driven future change in land ecosystems with reconstructed ecosystem dynamics during the past 10,000 years. Only a 1.5°C warming scenario permits ecosystems to remain within the Holocene variability. At or above 2°C of warming, climatic change will generate Mediterranean land ecosystem changes that are unmatched in the Holocene, a period characterized by recurring precipitation deficits rather than temperature anomalies.