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honey bee on lavender

Pollution, bees and foraging.

by Lewis ~ 27 July, 2016 ~ 2 comments

Sadly, our air is polluted with many different chemicals from anthropogenic sources - particularly the burning of fuels.  Many of these chemicals have been implicated as exacerbating a number of health conditions - notably heart disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), stroke and lung cancer.  Common pollutants are particulates (from diesel), ozone and nitrogen oxides.  These pollutants not only affect us but also many different plants and animals.

Recent research at Penn State University has revealed that ozone interacts with plant scents (volatile oils) and degrades them.  As a result the scents are less effective in attracting pollinators (bees and bumblebees) to the flowers. Read more...

Have we moved into 'the human epoch' ?

Have we moved into ‘the human epoch’ ?

by Lewis ~ 1 May, 2016 ~ 4 comments

As a species, we humans have only been present on the Earth for a ‘blink of the eye’ in geological terms.   The Earth is approximately some 4.6 billion years old. Geologists have divided up these years into a number of geological periods or epochs - from the Pre-cambrian (from the formation of the earth until about 540 million years ago) to the most recent - the Holocene, which started at the end of the last Ice Age - about 12,000 years ago.

Modern Humans emerged out of Africa probably some 200,000 years ago, and since that time they have increased massively in number.   At the end of the C18th , there were probably about one billion people; now there are over seven billion.

We have changed the Earth in many ways.  

Nitrates, land use and fresh water systems.

Nitrates, land use and fresh water systems.

by Chris ~ 28 February, 2014 ~ 2 comments

Nitrogen is an important plant nutrient.  Generally, it is taken up in the form of nitrate (NO3) and it is used in the formation of amino acids, proteins and the constituents of the genetic material (DNA).  Some plants fix atmospheric nitrogen through the use of symbiotic bacteria in root nodules. However, modern / intensive farming involves the addition of nitrogen compounds in the form of manure, sewage sludge and chemical fertilisers.

Couple this with the aerial deposition of nitrogen compounds, estimated at 400,000 tonnes / yr from car exhausts etc. (in the form of ammonia, nitrogen oxides) to give the total burden of nitrogen pollution. Pollution from such widespread sources is referred to as diffuse contamination. Read more...

Winter weather, and its effects

Winter weather, and its effects

by Chris ~ 20 February, 2014 ~ 5 comments

In 2010, the blog reported on the exceptional winter weather.  Back then, we had just ‘emerged’ from one of the coldest winters on record. Currently, we are experiencing one of the wettest winters ever.

In December, the East Coast faced storms and a tidal surge (affecting communities from Scotland down to Essex), and then Christmas Eve saw high winds and the cancellation of flights from Gatwick.   January brought some 175 mm of rain in the South East.  The closest comparable January was that of 1948.  A summary of the winter so far can be found at the Met Office web site - here Read more...

To dredge or not to dredge?   Woodland ponds

To dredge or not to dredge? Woodland ponds

by Angus ~ 24 January, 2013 ~ 4 comments

In deciding how much you should be dredging your pond or ponds you may want to do a sort of "loss vs benefit analysis" - ponds which are soak-aways from heavily-fertilised agricultural areas are likely to be poor in wildlife and by dredging you may be able to remove polluted sediments and hopefully create silt traps and ways to buffer the pond from future pollution.  It may be that your pond is in a marshy area and you may be better off digging small shallow pools rather than undertaking big excavations.  Often it is easier  and cheaper to create a new pond than to dredge an existing one.  Digging new ponds can be much more useful to wildlife than planting trees - trees will self-seed if land is left alone whereas ponds are much less likely to create themselves.  Indeed, very often the most useful way of improving a pond for wildlife is to reduce (or remove) overhanging trees which keep out light and can degrade the pond with heavy leaf-fall. Read more...

The million ponds project.

The million ponds project.

by Lewis ~ 29 November, 2012 ~ 2 comments

Over the last fifty or so years, many of our freshwater ecosystems (rivers, streams and ponds) have been polluted – particularly with nitrates and phosphates.  This pollution has lead to eutrophication : an overgrowth of simple green algae and subsequent loss of biodiversity.  The million ponds project seeks to create new ponds, with clean, unpolluted water.

The question might be posed “why not clean up and manage existing ones?”  Of course where this can be done, then it should be done but new ponds allow one to start with a clean slate.  They can be created in places where their water supply will be clean throughout the pond’s lifetime, and generally creation is cheaper and simpler than the restoration of an existing pond. Read more...

Mosses - indicators of nitrogen pollution.

Mosses – indicators of nitrogen pollution.

by Chris ~ 29 September, 2012 ~ 2 comments

Nitrogen pollution, in the form of nitrates, ammonia and various oxides of nitrogen, is a threat to ecosystems, ecosystem services and biodiversity.   Monitoring and measuring such pollutants in rain and air borne particles is expensive and, ideally, needs frequent samples.

It has been estimated that some 400,000 tonnes of airborne pollution are deposited over Britain each year.  Research by Dr H Harmens et al at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (Bangor) has indicated that there may be a simpler and cheaper way of gauging nitrogen pollution  - through the assessment of the state of local moss populations. Read more...

The loss of arable plants

The loss of arable plants

by Chris ~ 7 September, 2012 ~ 7 comments

Recently the blog commented on the loss of wild flowers from country lanes and roadsides - occasioned by seeing nettles and cow parsley for miles, and very little else.  This loss of diversity may be attributed in part to the use of nitrogenous fertilisers and aerial deposition of pollutants.  It is 'rare' to see poppies around the edges of fields nowadays.   So what is happening ?

Obviously, the seed used by farmers nowadays has fewer "wild contaminants" but Plantlife is concerned that various agricultural management practices have placed arable plants under threat.  The need to make economic use of every bit of land, the increased use of herbicides (to control pernicious weeds - such as charlock, black grass, sterile brome) has a knock-on effect on many arable wild flower species, as has the greater use of winter planting.   In some parts of the country, a switch away from arable farming has also had its effects.

Some 150 wild flowers are characteristic of,  or associated with arable farming;  many are now threatened.  The majority of the 'uncommon species' are found in the south-east (crudely speaking - draw a line from the Wash across to the Bristol Channel) Read more...

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