environment

Nature Notes: Painted Ladies & Butterfly Bushes

It’s easy to see why butterflies have an appeal despite being bugs. The gentle, unthreatening way they move around and the diverse and spectacular colouring of the wings of some.

We have inherited a plethora of buddleia and it’s no wonder they are known also as “butterfly bushes”. I can’t remember seeing as many different butterflies before, outside of a butterfly house. They come to drink nectar out of the buddleia blooms; great tortoiseshells, peacocks, red admirals and painted ladies.

I read that it’s a favourable English Summer for painted ladies, a once-in-a-decade abundance partly due to the wind. Who’d have thought a good wind would benefit such fragile wings? It’s a long flight from North Africa otherwise.

The buddleias come from China. Originally, I mean. Ours probably came from a garden centre down the road. Probably just one or two as they are demons for self-propagation, as any trip along a railway in town will show you. They’re not fussy about where they settle in, even growing out of the sides of viaduct brick walls. Railway maintenance consider the species a nuisance.

We take out several plants leaving a few choice specimens where we can see the butterflies from our window, or from seats in the garden. Buddleias need attention, maintaining a good, constrained shape rather than a gangly, overbearing upstart. Pruning and dead heading also encourages fresh blooms, and more butterflies. That’s what you want – a butterfly bush.

Save the environment, curb your blogging addictions.

You may have noticed I haven’t been blogging this week. This is because I am saving the planet, for our kids.

Not really.

It’s just that I’m in full time employment for now, it’s summertime and the light evenings are long and beautiful, and I have the garden to sort out.

I did read a funny news article this morning concerning our collective internet use and its effect on global greenhouse gas emissions. Apparently, a research group has calculated the total carbon dioxide produced by online pornography is equivalent to that of Belgium. I wonder why Belgium; did they show up in data as being particularly interested in streaming erotica? Of course, to get a decent any handle on the seriousness of that statement we would first need an idea as to whether Belgians are light, heavy or moderate web users; it might be bad, then it might not be as bad as all that.

They say that all of the global internet use accounts for 4% of global carbon dioxide emissions and we should cut back. The greed for ever higher quality is unnecessary. No doubt most of what goes on with the internet is unnecessary. Take Facebook.

But it is hypocritical to look down our nose at scrolling kitten portraits, images of moody landscapes captioned with pithy statements in Helvetica 32pt white font, gifs of strangers doing silly things, over and over, silly gifs of people doing mundane things, over and over, etc., etc., without regard to our own unjustifiable addictions, abuses and wastefulness of the online resources.

Crudely worked out, if everyone cut back by 25%, the impact might drop from 4% to 3% – of course, I have no idea how the red hot throbbing machinery of the internet works in reality. Maybe the burners have to keep firing full blast regardless of fluctuations in use. But at least there’d be a slow down in future demand, if not a levelling out.

The end is coming, I can almost sense it.


Porn Produces Same Amount Of Carbon Dioxide As Whole Of Belgium, Study Finds (The Independent, newspaper)

Doing Almost Nothing for the Environment

Last weekend, firing up the Mountfield, I took aim and cut as graceful an arc as I could with a mower having a fixed wheel on each corner. We are “wilding” part of our front lawn and I was striking the dividing line.

It’s a trend. Now that we’ve started, we notice quite a few gardens have done it, many with an advanced growth of red poppies, cornflowers, and daisies. I expect there are other wild plants in there too though too short and too far away to see.

To speed things along, ready seeded turf can be laid, or you can sow wildflower mixtures from a seed packet. It’s much more interesting to watch how things develop by nature, I think, though there is a temptation to give it a helping hand. Of course, some intervention is necessary to stop the dominant weeds taking over, like dandelions. Though it can be a very useful plant – and not that unattractive I think – a lawn full of dandelion heads gives the ready impression of a neglectful gardener rather than a wilding one.

Already after seven days there are swaths of clover, buttercups, clumps of violet flowers – which I think are curiously named “self heal” or “heal-all” – and those ubiquitous small daisies kids sometimes make bracelets from. The grass itself is also putting up a variety of seed heads which normally wouldn’t see the light of day given regular mowing. Nature is having a small field day.

The point of this, and the reason we’re doing it, is the first hand experience of not seeing the normal quantity of insects here these past Summers. There are a number of uncertain reasons for this: unduly successive cold and wet Summers, excessive and discriminate use of “pest” controls, exotic diseases, trophic disruption and habitat loss.

Where have the bugs gone? Remember the Summer’s when you had to wash down the car windscreen after a jaunt through the countryside? I tell you, I can drive practically all Summer without needing to do this now.

Understandably, humans have a innate aversion to insects and for agriculturalists and gardeners historically they’ve been enemies no. 1, 2, 3 and beyond. Yet many insects are crucial to our survival, and all of them play important roles in a self sustainable ecological system. It’s fair to say we cannot know if the removal of any one seemingly insignificant bug has a big knock on effect, perhaps quite literally the butterfly effect.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to our third of lawn left uncut – apart from digging out any rogue dandelions. And I don’t have as much grass to mow weekly, which is a very welcome bonus as well. Every bit helps.


hey, that image is not my wilding lawn but something I’d like to achieve.

Venus is Hell

I dropped in on the BBC iPlayer app the other day. It’s been a while as I’ve not been enthusiastic about BBC TV for a long time; it’s played too safe and formulaic.

However, Professor Brian Cox’s latest presenting vehicle, The Planets, caught my attention. The CGI graphics in the previews reminded me of the artist’s impressions of the imagined landscapes of real planets, which featured in the weekly encyclopaedia I was given as a kid. They might have been illustrated by Angus McBride who did the mythical beasts I blogged about before, but I don’t actually know. The landscapes were quite fanciful and earth-like, with graceful though strangely coloured clouds, and often featured multiple moons or planetary rings in the sky.

The Planet‘s planets are a whole different ball game. Based on real information sent back by probes, it shows a stark and horrifically hostile environment on each of our terrestrial neighbours. Venus, for example, is described as “Hell” compared to Earth’s heaven, while Mars, hoped to be the most plausible for human colonisation, appears like a sad, dead wasteland.

I’ve long held the impression that life is a fluke, an extreme, long odds, outside chance and that it ought not to have happened at all. It required a very special set of conditions: a place in the solar system goldilocks zone; the right sized planet; the right amount of essential elements, in the right proportions; water, existing in three states; a magnetic field; and probably a whole host of things I haven’t considered. The fact that life has existed here for billions of years, long enough to enable selective evolution to develop complicated lifeforms, and somehow avoiding a natural catastrophic annihilation may be regarded as a miracle. Though I enjoy science fiction, I’ve often found the facts far more impressive.


On science fiction, I’ve had this idea about the perfect afterlife when a soul is free to wander wherever in pleases. Mine would love to fly to other planets just to see how they matched up with those artist’s impressions.

But then the other day I had a crisis of doubt. How do souls, or ghosts, work? Without a body, they have no sensory perceptions and won’t see, hear or feel anything externally. They are all imagination, aren’t they? Oh well, back to the drawing board…


image: imagined, the brief life of a Venera probe on the surface of Venus, a reality Hell (from The Planets, BBC)

Thawing

Greenland Is Falling Apart.

It was the sort of morning headline that had me spitting hot coffee into my “bursting with sunshine” cornflakes.

I could never help focusing on Greenland on the map, that large chunk of inverted triangular whiteness in the top left, between Canada and the North Pole. Why Green-Land? I had heard that they had named it thus to divert plunderers, making them do a sharp right before reaching Ice-Land. I mean, imagine you’re a Viking tourist who only has a couple of names, which one would you have chosen?

Of course, it’s neither too green nor that large. It’s relative scale is distorted by the Mercator effect of unwrapping a spherical world and laying it flat – it plainly can’t work and so Greenland appears as big as the USA when, in reality, it is only one-eighth.

Still, it’s big enough that when you read it’s falling apart you sit up and take notice. There’s a lot of ice melting and flowing into the sea. That ice helps maintain global temperatures within our comfort zone by reflecting solar radiation. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

There has been crazy talk about wrapping Greenland in a great white sheet, or painting the whole place white in reflective paint. It may come to that. But people actually live there, indigenous people. For me, it’s difficult to understand how anyone ended up there in the first place, coming out of Africa and all, and even more puzzling why they stayed, but they’re there, their choice, their home. And now it’s falling apart. And it’s probably all our fault.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #84 – “Ice breakers/Cracking Ice/Thawing”

image: the church at Nanortalik, Greenland

Lines

Quiller pulled open the drawer of his great walnut desk and withdrew a short ebony tube. Next, he withdrew a squat glass bottle of some dark fluid. I looked up and met that familiar stern gaze. At length, he turned again to the bottle, removing its cap. He picked up the tube and then I noticed it had two halves; with a couple of twists, he separated these to reveal a brilliantly golden triangle at one end. I was fascinated to watch him place this end inside the bottle’s neck and pull on a tiny lever concealed along the tube’s length. He then handed me this tube, minute flecks of blue liquid adhering to its glinting, triangular point.

While I marvelled at the device in my hand, Quiller had slid a large sheet of white paper in front of me. I looked up at him again. He tapped the sheet.

“Please write out one thousand times, ‘I must cease abusing this planet’s resources, either wilfully or mindlessly, for the rest of my days.’”

(173 words)


Written for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers – Photo Prompt #190

We are all guilty, me too.

I know that “lines” are a universal punishment for kids having watched the opening credits of the Simpsons with Bart writing them on the chalk board before whizzing off on his skateboard. Officially, in my school, it was called “imposition”, and done at home on paper and given in the next day. It was, I think, considered the most lenient and less serious punishment but I would happily have been detained or whacked any day. Lines is a form of prolonged psychological torture.

This week’s photo prompt provided by Yarnspinnerr. Thank you, Yarnspinnerr.

The rules for FFFAW are all explained HERE and please click on the blue FROG button below to read other stories submitted.

Smoke to sticks: changing habitats.

It’s been more than a quarter of a century since we exchanged a suburban environment for a more agrarian one. From London to Gloucestershire, with a briefer residence in North Wiltshire in between. We love it, and I can honestly say I don’t take it for granted. I cycle about our little patch of the Cotswolds and go walking around the greater part of it. More than ever, and more than anywhere else, it feels like home.

Part of my yearning to get out of suburbia was the monotony and homogeneity of the place; its utter dullness. Entertainment was a choice between the cinema (if you could find one before they closed it down), the bowling alley (ugh), the leisure centre, or one of the least terrible pubs serving not entirely undrinkable beer. If you needed more cheerful entertainment, it meant either going right into Central London or getting out altogether.

We’d been here a fair number of years when an old friend and his older teenage kids came to stay. I planned a little cross-country bike ride taking in a pub halfway. At one point, my friend asked his son if he could see himself living here to which the son replied, “Yeah, it’s okay, but what is there to do here?”

I was taken aback by this response, and a little offended, I admit – the fact we’d cycled the best part of an hour along dirt tracks, in and out of woods, around a lake, through farmyards and saw a great deal of wildlife, none of which could be done in suburbia, appeared lost on him.

It’s a long time ago now, and he has grown up and chose to travel around a bit, but his words have inexplicably haunted me. I made mental lists of what there is to do and there was nothing I could think of in the suburbs that isn’t available here. Yet there is a mountain of things to do here that is difficult, if not impossible, in the ‘burbs we came from.

I imagine suburbia breeds a distinct tribe of people, as likely do inner cities, semi-rural and rural environments, each seemingly intolerant of the others’. It’s a funny world; each to their own.