A grain of truth

The dry spring weather in England (while I was driving through the rain in the USA) prompted fears about the grain harvest which, it is good to record here, have proved to be largely unfounded.  As in any year there have been winners and losers across the country but the UK wheat yield is estimated to be just 4% below the 5-year average. And oilseed yields have been very good.

And the price that you get for your grain today is over two and a half times what you would have got in January 2000 – the International Grains Council’s daily grains and oilseed index stands at 274 (January 2000 was a baseline of 100).

And here is a link to an interesting blog about grain markets.

Predicting grain yields and prices seem to be at least as challenging as predicting bird numbers – although the overall trends for yields and prices is up and the overall trend for farmland birds is down.


Blogging for Nature review in Birds magazine

The latest RSPB BIRDS magazine, the one with two long-tailed tits on the cover, has a review of my book Blogging for Nature.

If you aren’t an RSPB member (why not?) then I can tell you that the review tells you to go out and buy 20 copies now for all your relatives’ Christmas presents and describes it as the best book ever.

But if you are an RSPB member then you can find out what it really says on p98 of BIRDS magazine and discover another way to get a copy aside from clicking on this link and buying the book from lulu.com.

Alongside the Blogging for Nature review are a bunch of other book reviews of some very nice books – mine is the cheapest thoough!


Raptor haters (?) nominated for Fields Medal

In their most recent outburst of anti-raptor letters the Daily Telegraph publishes a mathematical breakthrough deserving recognition.

A letter states ‘ There are an estimated 80,000 sparrowhawks in Britain. They require at least one kill per day. The arithmetic is simple and compelling: 80,000 multiplied by 365 equals more than 29 million dead birds a year.‘.

The Fields Medal awaits.


Another membership

Last week I went to a trustees’ meeting of Pond Conservation and felt guilty that I hadn’t yet got around actually to joining.  So now I have.  I am a fully paid up member of an excellent but small conservation organisation.

It’s interesting that we use (actually, I don’t) pond life as a term of abuse. Why don’t we use wood life, soil life or seashore life as an abusive phrase? I guess it’s because the bottom of ponds are thought of as slimy and smelly.  Am I selling this organisation to you?

The thing is, that Pond Conservation is about a lot more than just ponds – it’s about all freshwater life – but ponds are very familiar and everyday places to start.  And they are neglected too.  If every garden pond and every pond in the countryside were full of life then we would have much more wildlife around us.

Excuse me for going back to a bird example but there is good evidence that tree sparrows, one of the farmland birds that has undergone massive declines in numbers, produce more young when they nest close to water bodies and the reason for that is that the water bodies have large insects such as dragonflies that can disappear down baby tree sparrows’ throats.  So countryside ponds, garden ponds and village green ponds will not only have life in them they will enhance the wildlife all around them (and tree sparrows aren’t at all slimy).

Pond Conservation’s Million Ponds Project is an absolutely fantastic project and has involved a large number of partner organisations from the Ministry of Justice (fair rights for ponds!) to the British Aggregates Association (we dig ponds?!).

Rather spookily, just as I typed the words ‘million ponds’ in the paragraph above a press release arrived in my inbox telling me about a joint project between Pond Conservation and the RSPB (funded by Biffaward) – so there can be no clearer sign that I should tell you about it.  It’s part of the million ponds project and will create 15 new clean water ponds at the RSPB Cantley Marsh nature reserve.  This project will benefit, it is hoped, Norfolk hawker dragonflies, grass snakes, rare aquatic stoneworts, otters and a few birds too.

If you have a pond or if you have £24 per year then why not have a look at Pond Conservation’s excellent website and sign up!


PS  Pond Conservation is looking for a trustee with financial expertise to act as an Honorary Treasurer. Contact me if you are interested.


Importing diseases

The government is about to spend a pittance on a very serious problem – but it should be celebrated as a start.

Our trees are under threat from imported diseases – perhaps from some diseases that stand a better chance of becoming established under new climate scenarios. So Defra and the (unreconstructed) Forestry Commission have published an Action Plan.

The action plan reads as though it has been written by someone fixated with trees as the issues it discusses and the remedies needed are general issues rather than tree-specific issues.  Now if we had a Forest and Wildlife Service….

But the analysis is right – we risk importing diseases because we bring lots of foreign plants into the country.  Globalisation is bad news for wildlife when it means that a new disease can arrive from anywhere in the world.

Bird flu led to the welcome banning of the trade in wild birds.  Do you miss it? Are you straining at the leash to import a parrot which ought to be flying around the forests of west Africa? I bet you aren’t.  Are our economic woes due to the loss of economic activity caused by such draconian measures?

But plants don’t cough and so we continue to import non-native plants into the UK and then spread them around the country in places called garden centres.  There is a case to be made that gardening is one of the least green activities we carry out with its reliance on imported plant material, peat, water, chemical fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides – but let’s leave that subject for another time, perhaps.

But it is clear that there is a wide range of non-native plants that cause considerable economic and/or wildlife damage. Economic damage up to 2 billion pounds a year.

One of the problem species is a nice plant called Crassula whose English name is either New Zealand Pigmyweed or Australian Swamp-stonecrop – an interesting antipodean choice. Back on the side of the world where they play rugby very well Crassula is fine – it’s actually quite pretty.  But over here it runs amok like the All Blacks will against France and completely dominates water bodies.  Do tell me – what is the Big Society solution to this problem?

The CLA President William Worsley, who is, in his own special way, a bit of a tree-hugger, welcomed Defra’s announcement and spoke gushingly of Forest Research.

I’m a bit unclear about the research aspect of this problem. I hope it isn’t shutting the stable door after it has already got mildew.