Just seen the first bat of 2020, probably a Pipistrellus pipistrellus or a Pipistrellus pygmaeus (based on previous identifications).
I take the bat sighting as a sign of the coming summer. This year is later than most of the years I have recorded when the first bat has been sighted at the end of March. The next thing to look out for is the first swifts returning to nest in Edinburgh.
This year spring has been a long time coming, but finally we have spotted the first bat of 2018!
It was probably Pipistrellus pipistrellus or Pipistrellus pygmaeus (based on previous identifications). It is way later than last year, which was on the 5th April, and other have been even earlier, 26th March 2012 and 30th March 2009.
It is great to have such opportunities to see wild life, such as bats, in the centre of a city which one of the reasons I do so enjoy living in Edinburgh.
The Volkswagen scandal (aka #dieselgate), where the VW motor group was caught cheating pollution emissions tests in the US, has been rumbling on for some time now. The media are having a field day, drivers are starting to believe they should receive compensation. The one issue which has not been fully addressed is who has really been harmed?
Mostly the scandal is being portrayed by the media as a “consumer rights” issue, there is some talk about protection of the environment, although if most car buyers really cared about “the environment”, they would have bought an electric car or a hybrid. Some people have written to the papers to say as much, fully admitting that for most drivers “the environment” is low on their list of priorities and that cheap motoring is far more important to them. Very little is being said in the media about the impact of air pollution on human health caused by motor vehicles – this is the real scandal.
We know that air pollution is a serious issue, that is why there are Air Quality Standards (in the EU and around the world) which are (supposed to be) legally enforceable. Air pollution is an invisible killer, you can’t see it, you can’t smell or taste most of the cocktail of pollutants, but it is killing us. In much of Europe urban air is not fit to breathe, the major cause of this is motor vehicles, especially diesel cars. Although petrol cars are not as harmless as some in the media and the motoring lobby would have us believe, 22% of modern petrol cars fail to achieve emission limits on the road. Furthermore, particle emissions from new petrol engines (gasoline direct injection or GDI) are higher than from equivalent diesel vehicles.
The true scandal is that across the EU there are 500,000 premature deaths every year, also 250,000 hospital admissions which, in addition to the human costs and suffering, also cost the economy 100,000,000 lost working days. This all adds up to over €940,000,000 (£665m) in lost productivity per year. These are the real scandals!
Let’s be clear, Volkswagen is not the only culprit, every major car manufacturer is selling vehicles that fail to meet EU air pollution limits on the road:
All this is happening despite the fact that EURO 6 regulations require cars to be tested under “normal driving conditions” – these rules were introduced in 2007. As yet, the regulators are not using portable emission monitoring systems (PEMS) to measure the actual pollution from vehicle exhausts in real-world driving emission (RDE) tests. Why not? Could it have anything to do with the fact that the supposedly independent testing bodies get up to 70% of their funding from the motor industry? Or is it because of the direct power of the motoring lobby? Either way, our democracy (and our health) is directly threatened by such lobbying, not just at the EU level – Westminster is, if anything, more corrupt than Brussels.
It is time we all stood up and said enough is enough! There are no technical reasons why the existing emission limits could not be met quickly and urban air pollution rapidly improved. Yes it would mean that motoring would become more expensive for individuals, but the current situation is that we are all paying the price, not just those causing the pollution. The benefits of private motoring to the few are massively outweighted by the cost to all of us. I agree with Keith Taylor, the Green MEP for south-east England:
For too long European car makers have been ducking the EU’s rules to enable them to keep their highly polluting cars on the road. The huge scandal with Volkswagen on car pollution rules must focus the minds of EU politicians and the British government. Air pollution kills tens of thousands in the UK every year. With the added unchecked emissions from Volkswagen cars, I worry about how much worse the situation actually is.
We need a truly independent European type approval authority, this should be funded by a levy on each new vehicle sold, paid for by the manufacturers with robust regulation to ensure independent testing. This should also be backed up with strict annual testing of vehicles, to ensure they continue to meet acceptable pollution limits. The current MOT test is not fit for purpose and needs to be brought up to date, with heavy penalties for both tester and motorist, if they are caught trying to cheat the system.
It is a matter of urgency for the European Commission to bring forward proposals for Euro 7 emissions limits so that the limits for diesel, petrol and natural gas vehicles are all the same, and also to ensure WHO health limits are met throughout Europe. Closer to home, we need make all our built-up areas low emission zones. We cannot choose where we breathe, so we must stop vehicles polluting our air. The technology to clean up vehicle exhausts is available and costs little. It is a small price to pay compared to the nearly €1 trillion (£1.36 billion) spent annually on health care and lost productivity. Vehicles with engines, running on whichever fuel, must be stopped from polluting our air or prevented from accessing our towns and cities. We should ALL have the right to clean air wherever we are as we ALL need to breathe.
Don’t just take my word of it, here is Dr Ian Mudway at Routes to Clean Air, Health Effects of Air Pollution.
There has just been a shout of Die Fledermaus from the kitchen, nothing to do with the opera by younger Johann Strauss, but Ulli was on the phone to her mother and spotted the first bat of 2015. It was probably Pipistrellus pipistrellus or Pipistrellus pygmaeus (based on previous identifications). It was earlier than last year, which was on the 15th April, but not as early as some years, 26th March 2012 and 30th March 2009.
It is great to have such opportunities to see wild life in the centre of a city, which one of the reasons I so enjoy living in Edinburgh.
This evening I saw the first bat of 2014, it was probably Pipistrellus pipistrellus or Pipistrellus pygmaeus (based on previous identifications). Interestingly this sighting is later than in the last two years, it was 26th March 2012 and 30th March 2009. Maybe I haven’t been looking out enough.
I take the bat sighting as a sign of the coming summer, a couple of times recently I thought I heard swifts overhead, but have yet to see any, so I can’t confirm their presence just yet.
Update 19-4-2014: Noticed today the swift calls I have been hearing aren’t actually from swifts, they were from starlings mimicking swifts, which is a new one on me. I have heard starlings mimicking a range of other sounds before, including a car alarm.
The observant may notice that there is a wee banner saying I proudly support Earth Hour, and as I write it tells me that Earth Hour 2014 will start in 7 hours and 5 days. When Earth Hour arrives, between 20:30 – 21:30 (GMT) 29 March 2014, this blog will look something like this:
Why, you might ask, am I doing this? Well the short answer is that I am joining millions of people across the world are switching off lights for one hour – to celebrate their commitment to the planet.
The longer answer is that it is a reminder that together we can make change happen, and it gives us a chance to think about the small things we can do everyday to help create a brighter future. And change is needed, currently we in the Anthropocene a geological epoch in which the human species is have a greater impact on the plant than any other group of organises since the rise of the cyanobacteria which formed the stromatolite about 3.5 billion years ago. They change the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, increasing the oxygen levels and so bringing about the rise of multicellular organisms. However, our current impacts is far less benign and could risk bringing about the collapse of the ecosystems which we all rely upon for life. For this reason we need to move to a more sustainable life styles, these need not be any less comfortable than the ones we currently lead, just different we just need to the drive and imagination to move on to the Sustainocene instead.
Remember Earth Hour is not about sitting, shivering in the dark (that is where we are going if we don’t make the change), it is about thinking about how to make the world a better place for all. For this reason I would urge you to sign up to Earth Hour and do the same.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has produced yet another report on climate change. The report states clearly that, based on the evidence, more than 97% of climate scientists agree that human-caused climate change is happening. When I first started at university almost 20 years ago, the nature of climate change was a live debate. However by the late 1990’s, when I graduated, the evidence had become overwhelming and the debate was settled. Since that time, more and more evidence has accumulated, but the policy makers have stopped listening, as we hurtle towards the cliff edge. NOW really is the time to put the brakes on climate change before it is too late…
For the record, I have a BSc in Ecological Science at The University of Edinburgh and an MPhil in Plant Ecology, my thesis was on the potential affects of climate change on mountain vegetation in Scotland, so I am in a position to know what I am talking about.
Last month I wrote a post on the Grow Wild Scottish Vote, the vote has now taken place and almost 20,000 people took part (some of them through this blog). The winning project is the Barrhead’s Water Works project, they will have been awarded £100,000 from the Big Lottery Fund to help their development for the benefit of their local area.
The Waterworks in Barrhead aims to transform an abandoned sewage works into an industrial wildlife area for the community to enjoy, using derelict sewage tanks as giant experimental planters where beautiful displays of Scottish wild flower habitats can be carefully created. The site is located near Dunterlie in Barrhead, which is one of Scotland’s most deprived communities, the project is led by East Renfrewshire Council, in conjunction with Barrhead High School and Still Game community group for older residents.
Runners up for Grow Wild in Scotland were the Frog Pond Rises project in Livingston, West Lothian which will see a much-loved pond and park area undergo a transformation through wetland creation and the design of a wild flower structure. And Belville Community Garden in Greenock which planned to deliver a community garden on the site of former high rise flats in Greenock to encourage community participation in healthy activities. These projects will receive £4000 each to help their progress.
Grow Wild aims to engage young people by providing opportunities to take direct action and transform local green space, giving them the chance to showcase their drive and creativity for the benefit of the local community. The Scottish project was the first to go ahead in the UK, with sites in England, Wales and Ireland will follow in 2015 and 2016. Over the next three years, 250,000 seed-sowing kits will be sent out by Grow Wild partners with the aim of reaching young people, aged 12 -25, creating a new audiences who wouldn’t usually engage with environmental or community projects.
These days I often get e-mails from PR people either offering to write something for my blog about a product they are wanting to push, or wanting me to write something about a product they are wanting to push. Generally these message are of no interest to me and show that the person sending them hasn’t taken the time to read anything I have written or find out what my blog is about. These e-mails are simply deleted. However, yesterday I received an e-mail from Emmy who had taken the time to read some of posts I have written, understood some of my interests, and sent me a pitch on behalf of her client Grow Wild, a campaign from Kew Gardens, in which she to invited me to take part in the Grow Wild Scottish Vote.
Grow Wild, is a campaign bringing people together to do something positive for the place they live by sowing native wild flowers. Funded by the Big Lottery Fund, it offers four local communities across the UK (one in each of the home nations), the opportunity to create and inspirational space by encouraging wild plants. There is more to this that just sowing a few packets of wild flower seed, it is based on enthusiastic community members who’d actively rallied local people to decide what their community should do with the Grow Wild funding. Youth groups, community associations and residents groups, artists, high school design students, and landscape architects have all worked to pull together to create some really inspirational plans.
Hopefully it won’t just be the horticulturists from Kew who will be supporting the winning communities, but they get the scientists involved too and teach the communities about the ecology of their local environments. I won’t tell you which community group I voted for, but encourage you to make your own decision, and please do vote. Voting runs from 14th October until midnight on 3rd November. The winning Scottish Grow Wild site will be announced in mid-November and will open in May next year.
Der Kaiserstuhl, literally the Emperor’s Chair, a range of hills in south west Germany, is the remains of an extinct volcano rising out of the Upper Rhine Plain like an island, and a fine place to go for a walk. The place got its name from Otto III who held a court nearby in 994. At this time he was merely King of Germany and the hills were given the name Königsstuhl, the King’s Chair. Some time after Otto had himself made ruler of the Holy Roman Empire in 996, the name was changed to Kaiserstuhl, although it is not clear if this happened before his death in 1002 (the change in name may not have occurred until the 13th century).
The hills today are a fascinating mix of vineyards, woodland and high hay meadows, with a near Mediterranean climate. This leads to it having an interesting flora and fauna, a number of the species living here have disjunct distributions, meaning that they are away from their normal areas. One such species is the European green lizard (Lacerta viridis) which normally only found east of the Alps, sadly we didn’t get to see any. The Kaiserstuhl is also famous for its orchid flora with over 30 different species having been recorded there. However, as we were visiting in September, we didn’t see any of these either. We did get to see a range of invertebrates, including Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) for which the Kaiserstuhl is well known, and a range of other bugs and butterflies.
Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa)
Streifenwanze or Minstrel Bug (Graphosoma lineatum)
Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus coridon)
Knappe (Lygaeus saxatilis)
Berger’s Clouded Yellow (Colias alfacariensis)
Russischer Bär or Jersey Tiger (Euplagia quadripunctaria)
There where also a number of snails (as yet unidentified) hanging from grass stalks, I am told they do this to avoid the midday heat.
The floral highlight we did come across was Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale).
Given that this is a wine producing area, after the walk you might suppose that we repaired to a hostelry to sample the local produce, but we didn’t. I once asked a German friend (who harks from the Mosel region) and who is something of a connoisseur to recommend a good German wine. His reply was that there was no such thing and that I should stick with French, Italian and Austrian wines, advice I have followed since (when in Germany). So instead we adjourned to sample the café culture of Freiburg, a visit I touched on in the last post, but I feel that is for yet another post.