Sunday book review – How to clone a mammoth by Beth Shapiro

indexThis is an interesting read. I like learning things and I learned a lot here.

There is quite a lot of chatter about de-extinction – the process of bringing extinct species back to life through some genetic wizardry. Think Jurassic Park with proper science! It sounds far-fetched, and it isn’t imminent, but this book tells you a lot, in a very readable way, about how far-fetched it is.  And I guess the answer is ‘Possible in theory, difficult and unproven as yet in practice’.

I came across this idea when writing A Message from Martha as the Passenger Pigeon is often regarded as a candidate for such treatment – particularly last year in the centenary of the bird’s extinction, when it was, in relative terms, quite newsworthy. The Passenger Pigeon, therefore, steps and flutters in and out of this book to illustrate some of the challenges.

But as always, it’s the mammals that get top billing. How about getting some mammoths back? Wouldn’t that be fun? Well maybe it would, but this is a good lay-person’s guide to what would be involved technically as far as breeding up ‘real’ ‘new’ mammoths.

Shapiro writes engagingly and clearly and ranges across genetics, ecology, ethics and politics. I’m not sure I agree with her about everything but I am very glad she wrote this book and set out the information and thoughts so clearly.

How to clone a mammoth by Beth Shapiro is Published by Princeton University Press.

Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery will also be published by Bloomsbury at the end of July.


Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill




Have You Seen Henry?

Friday 1 May Copy

Left as a present by Henry on top of a grouse butt on Snilesworth moor.

Vote for Hen Harrier as our national bird.





South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands consultation launched

It’s good to see that yesterday a consultation was launched on the South Georgia and South Sandwich Island Strategy 2016-2020 to ‘stakeholders and interested  parties’.

Photo: NASA, via wikimedia commons

I responded to an earlier consultation on the seas around South Georgia and I will be reading this strategy closely.

There are no permanent or indigenous inhabitants of the land in question and so, as a British taxpayer, I regard myself as a pretty major stakeholder in all that happens there. Certainly, I assume that if a bunch of Argentinians turn up on South Georgia again I will be expected to act like a stakeholder – ‘leo terram propriam protegat’ (‘may the lion protect his own land‘) as we always say.

On a quick read through the consultation, it seems that the UK political parties are a bit further ahead on their views for  strong marine protected areas than the consultation paper. No doubt, many of us will make that point when we respond to the consultation.

Watch this space for more on this topic.



Tues 21 April CopyAs Longfellow wrote in his poem Retribution:

Though the mills of God grind slowly;
Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience He stands waiting,
With exactness grinds He all.

And maybe the same is true of the Rural Payments Agency who replied to me on my enquiry into how they are getting on with the Stody Estate case and potential breaches of cross-compliance regulations.


They say:

Thank you for your email dated 20/04/2015 regarding what progress has been made on the Stody Estate case.
As investigation (sic) are ongoing we are unable to provide an update at this time. The relevant team dealing with this matter will contact you directly with a response to your enquiry.



It’s a cold spring


I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time and now I have – and although it wasn’t a complete success, I’m glad I did.

The carefully crafted plan involved combining an evening visit to Cheltenham racecourse with an afternoon visit to the Bill Smylie reserve above the racecourse and Cheltenham to see some Duke of Burgundy butterflies.

As you can see, I found the nature reserve on a sunny afternoon after passing through a maze of Gloucestershire lanes heading ever upwards.  It’s basically just a turn-off from one of my usual backdoor routes to the races.  By the time I arrived I realised I had brought my Cheltenham badge but not my membership card and so I’d have to pay if I were to go to the races – grrr!

I also realised that although it was sunny, and I could feel the warmth of the sun whilst in the car, outside it was a bit nippy and really quite windy. Now I don’t know much about butterflies, but I do know that they are very picky about things like temperature and wind so this didn’t look too good. The lanes had not been full of Orange Tips, Brimstones or unidentified whites on my way up here so the omens weren’t too good.

But the view was spectacular and wasn’t diminished at all by the breeze in my face, whipping over the Cotswold escarpment.

So there I am, standing on a nature reserve, wanting to see some butterflies on a chilly, breezy April afternoon. Under these circumstances I think to myself ‘What would Martin Warren do?’ and decide that Martin would probably come on a better day but if he had to be here today he’d try to find somewhere a bit sunny and sheltered. So that’s what I did. I walked through a meadow of Cowslips and into a little gully that was a bit of a sun trap. I saw a moth fly past, which I took to be a good sign as it showed that lepidopteran activity was possible in these conditions.

It was a nice place to sit out of the wind and the butterflies ought to have thought so too.  A Cuckoo flew past – aren’t birds easy! And a Willow Warbler was singing like mad on a hawthorn bush – birds really are easy. I heard and then saw my first Whitethroat of the year – birds, easy as anything!

There were flies, I noticed. And a few more moths but I looked carefully for the slope opposite to be shimmering with Dukes of Burgundy – but it wasn’t. It was a bit early in the year in what might well be a ‘late’ spring. And it was generally a bit on the chilly side. So no surprises.

Then a moth settled next to me except it wasn’t a moth – it was a Dingy Skipper. Rather cooperatively it sat next to me while I fumbled with my phone to look it up on the butterfly app to make sure it wasn’t a moth – and it wasn’t. I would prove it to you but then my iPhone battery suddenly went dead – does yours do that a lot?

Dingy Skipper is a good butterfly, except it looks like a moth, and, let’s be honest, if you had to choose between something known as a Duke and something known as Dingy then which would you choose? So it felt, just a little, like a consolation prize. Is that mean of me?

Nice nature reserve though with one of the best views from any nature reserve in England.  I’ll be back and then the grassland will be alive with Dukes, no doubt.


A sun-trap favoured by Cuckoo, Willow Warbler and Whitethroat

A sun-trap favoured by Cuckoo, Willow Warbler and Whitethroat


Henry occupies the butts

Thursday 30 April  Copy

‘So, this is a grouse butt’ says Henry.

Wouldn’t it be a laugh if more people had a look at them and had their photographs taken in them? A kind of ‘Occupy the Butts’ movement?

I’m sure there will be places to put such images later in the year.

Vote for Hen Harrier as our national bird.





Does your CEO tweet?

It may be, though it seems unlikely, that the gene for being a Chief Executive also removes your interest in social media.

Prompted by the arrival of the CEO of Wildlife and Countryside link on Twitter, @ElaineWCL, I thought I’d just run through the other CEOs of wildlife conservation organisations who are on Twitter (and not just in a personal capacity). This is what I found:

BTO, @_AndyClements, 3650 followers, 5064 tweets

Butterfly Conservation, @martinswarren, 1475 followers, 4686 tweets

RSPB, @mike__clarke, 1366 followers, 841 tweets

WWFUK, @DavidNussbaum1, 1365 followers, 581 tweets

Buglife, @MattEAShardlow, 1088 followers, 3831  tweets

Wildlife Trusts, @stephhilborne, 511 followers, 91 tweets

Marine Conservation Society, @SamFanshawe, 155 followers, 207 tweets


They aren’t the most active bunch of tweeters in the world, so Elaine may be catching some of them up quite quickly, but they may be worth a follow.  I would rate Matt Shardlow, Andy Clements and Martin Warren as good Twitter accounts to follow – but it all depends on what interests you.

Have you spotted any other tweeting wildlife CEOs out there?


Client Earth – exhausted but victorious?

1280px-ExhaustI suppose that it is just possible that a UK run by Nigel Farage or Gideon Osborne might care more about its citizens and set even lower targets for nitrogen dioxide than those set by the straight-banana people in Brussels – it’s possible but very unlikely.

A UK spokesman said ‘Killing our citizens has been a traditional policy for UK governments ever since there was a UK and we aren’t going to put up with a bunch of overpaid eurocrats with their environmental red-tape, trying to put an end to it. Spring is a particularly good time for breaking the Directives to which we signed up, knowingly and willingly.  How many old people can be killed by air pollution is a real sign of a man’s masculinity.’. A spokesman from BirdLife Malta said ‘I don’t know why they joined the EU if they aren’t going to stick to the rules. We are organising a tourist boycott of the UK.’.

But seriously, well done to Client Earth for their long legal battle.

I drive a diesel, quite an old diesel, which I bought in good faith because I thought its lower carbon footprint was a green choice! Not the first, and probably not the last, time when best intentions lead to worst outcomes.


Grocer Gold and Green?

Duncan Farrington

Duncan Farrington

Very glad to see that my local Leaf farmer, Duncan Farrington (as featured in Chapter 8 of A Message from Martha) has been short-listed in the Grocer Gold Awards 2015.

Duncan is a modern farmer – entrepreneurial, green and hard-working.

It will soon be time for me to see whether he still has perhaps the only pair of Turtle Doves in Northants on his farm.