Heatwave: Spring was freezing. Summer’s boiling. We’d better get used to these surprises



Heatwave? Yes! Part of climate change? Very likely, in my opinion – and the evidence seems to back this up 

A heatwave warning for north-west England has been raised to “level three” by the Met Office.

Western England and Wales were the hottest part parts of the country on Friday, with the east marginally cooler…. In my city of Shanghai,it’s been in the high 30s with 40 degrees expected for 3 days in the next week.

Level three warnings are in place for the South West and the West Midlands, but warnings for south-east England and London have been reduced to level two.

It was the hottest day of the year in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

From Michael McCarthy of The Independent 

In April 1989, when the  then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher was still in the full flush of her discovery of the threat of climate change, she hosted a seminar on global warming for the cabinet, at 10 Downing Street. They all had to attend, like slacking schoolboys. The grumbling must have been memorable.

The seminar was addressed by Mrs Thatcher’s favourite diplomat, Sir Crispin Tickell, a former UN ambassador who was himself seized of the climate threat, and by her favourite scientist, Jim Lovelock, the man who conceived the Gaia theory of the Earth as a self-regulating organism.

I was doorstepping the meeting, as we say in journalism – waiting outside in Downing Street – and eventually Jim Lovelock ambled out. I went over to speak to him followed by a posse of TV reporters, one of whom, an American, stuck a microphone in the Lovelock face and demanded: “Professor Lovelock, waddle be the first signs of global warning?”

Jim Lovelock uttered a single word. He said: “Surprises.” The TV reporter was bemused. He said: “Waddya mean, surprises?” Jim Lovelock said: “We had a hurricane here recently. It was a surprise. There’ll be more. Good day.”

In the years since that encounter I have grown ever more convinced of the wisdom of Lovelock’s brusque response, indeed it is the single wisest thing I have heard in two-and-a-half decades of covering the climate issue. And I am put in mind of it by the extraordinary weather events of recent weeks.

You may have forgotten, but it is barely a month since a conference at the Met Office suggested that the unbroken succession of wet summers since 2007 meant that there had been a significant shift in British weather patterns towards a damper, cooler summer climate. But now, after the coldest spring on record, we suddenly have searing heat, once again.

This has certainly surprised me; but then, the recent run of wet summerssurprised me even more when it began – I remember precisely – with the first monstrous downpour on 10 May 2007 (the day Tony Blair announced he was resigning).

That was such a shock because everything in the previous year suggested that 2007 might be the hottest summer ever. Consider. The previous July was the hottest month ever recorded in Britain, and 19 July 2006 was the hottest-ever July day. The autumn of 2006 was the warmest on record, and the winter of 2006-7 was the second-warmest. Spring 2007 (March, April and May) was the hottest spring on record, April 2007 was the hottest-ever April, and the 12 months from the end of April 2006 to the end of April 2007 constituted the single hottest 12-month period ever noted down in this country.

Under the circumstances, I wrote a piece as April ended, saying that we might expect a record hot summer of maybe 40 degrees C, or 104 degrees F. We put it on The Independent’s front page; and then the heavens opened. I duly felt foolish, and learned my lesson.

It’s not that I now feel that global warming will not happen; with the 36 billion tonnes (and increasing) of CO2 we are pumping into the atmosphere annually, nothing is more certain, unless the laws of physics are torn up.

It’s just that I feel it very probably won’t happen as anyone has predicted. The process is non-linear, and there are too many intangibles, too many buffers in the ocean-atmosphere system. It’ll come as a surprise, like the sea invading the Manhattan subway last October was a surprise. Calling it, is a mug’s game.

The current heatwave is already starting to feel unusual. Maybe the British temperature record will be broken this year. Maybe it won’t. Maybe something else will happen with the climate, which is itself a surprise. But if there is a surprise – don’t be surprised.

Twitter: @mjpmccarthy @NAEE_UK 


AFRICA: Disaster, humans and nature … Nigeria floods bring crocodiles and hippos into homes

English: The front end of a Hippopotamus
English: The front end of a Hippopotamus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Map locator of Nigeria.
English: Map locator of Nigeria. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dangerous animals, including crocodiles, snakes and hippos, have found their way into homes and communities in central Nigeria after devastating flooding, residents say. BBC Reports

Comment: Animals are not in themselves ‘dangerous’, but obviously unexpected interactions between them and humans can be tricky to say the least….

The creatures were carried along flood-swollen rivers, say the authorities.

“There is now a hippopotamus in [my] house,” Benue state resident Wuese Jirake told the BBC. “I hope that when it is tired, it may leave my home.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the flooding.

Hundreds also died in the worst flooding in decades.

Vast tracts of farmland have been completely destroyed.

‘Hope it will leave’

Mr Jirake told the BBC he had returned to his home to find it occupied by the hippo.

“This morning I visited my house. It is still inundated with the flood waters above my waist. There is now a hippopotamus in the house,” he said.


He said he had reported the situation to the authorities.

“I hope that when it is tired, it may leave my home. If there is any other way of dealing with the problem, the authorities need to pursue that because it is beyond my abilities.”

Similar situations have been reported in the towns of Makurdi, Agatu, Logo and Adoka, says the BBC’s Is’haq Khalid.

Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency says it is working hand in hand with the Benue state government and other relevant agencies to ensure the flood victims return to their homes.

The co-ordinator of the agency in north-central Nigeria, Abdussalam Muhammad, told the BBC that it was not safe for people to go back to their houses because of the presence of the dangerous animals.

“Presently there are crocodiles and snakes as well as other dangerous animals brought in by the floodwaters that are living in those houses, so, if the people return, it will be harmful to them and they will put their lives at risk,” he said.

He said people should wait for instructions after the floodwaters have subsided.

David Attenborough and butterflies

He is the world’s most famous defender of the natural world – but for years, Sir David Attenborough harboured a secret guilt about it.

On his early expeditions from the 1950s onwards as a travelling naturalist for London Zoo and the BBC, he had amassed a stunning collection of spectacular tropical butterflies, which he retained into the years when butterfly-collecting became socially unacceptable.

David Attenborough's Life Stories
David Attenborough’s Life Stories (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They included exotic swallowtails, fabulous blue morphos from South America and even more impressive, several New Guinea birdwings, which are the biggest butterflies in the word – including a specimen of the famous Rajah Brooke’s birdwing, whose wings are black with electric-green triangles and measure seven inches across.

When Sir David began, in the 1950s, many people in Britain collected butterflies and mounted them in cases in a tradition dating back 200 years, but as time went on views changed and collecting became taboo. So Sir David banished his collection to the loft, but remained anguished about what to do with it.

“I had collected a great number,” he said, “and when it became apparent that this was a terrible thing to have done, I put them in the loft. And I thought, what do I do with these ..they were marvellous things! I had ornithopterans [birdwings].” He said: “This was a great guilt in my life.”

Twenty years ago, however, his guilt was eased. Sir David said: “I happened to meet an entomologist from Cambridge University, and looking deep into the glass of wine, I said I’ve got this problem…

“And he said, I will solve your problem. I will save them for science and they will be used for science. And I gave him the whole lot, and with his students from the entomological department, they mounted them properly, and he put them to good use. I don’t necessarily know that they went into any important collection, but they went into academia. They went into scholarship.”

Sir David, president of the charity Butterfly Conservation, spoke to The Independent about his collecting earlier this week after launching The Big Butterfly Count, the annual survey of the insects, whose British populations are likely to have been very hard hit this year by the excessively rainy weather.

“In my early expeditions I was collecting animals for London Zoo, so it was part and parcel of the same thing,” he said. “I got armadillos, and snakes and boa constrictors, and butterflies.” He said his collection amounted to “maybe a hundred”.

He said he loved butterflies so much because “they are something that is a spark of wonder of the natural world which can fly into anybody’s life.”

He went on: “You don’t have to be wealthy. They come into everybody’s lives once a year, and a buddleia bush covered in butterflies, which I remember as a kid, was one of the most breathtakingly beautiful things anybody could see.

“A whole host of people across the entire social spectrum used to collect butterflies. They can’t any more, quite right, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t as enchanted by them as they ever were.”

Source : http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/sir-david-attenboroughs-secret-guilt-he-used-to-be-a-butterflycollector-7942242.html

No sell-off of UK forests, promises Caroline Spelman

Forestry Commission
Forestry Commission (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Environment secretary says forest estate ‘will stay in public hands’ following recommendation from expert panel. The Guardian reports

England‘s publicly owned forests and woodlands will not be sold off, the environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, said on Wednesday, after the independent panel she appointed recommended it remain in public ownership.

The panel said the sell-off had “greatly undervalued” the benefits that woodlands provide for people, nature and the economy and that investment would repay itself many times over in terms of public benefit. It called for the forests to be held in trust for the nation and for public investment to manage and expand the woods.

Spelman said: “Our forests will stay in public hands. We will not sell the public forest estate.” The move completes the U-turn – brought about by huge public outcry against a wholesale sell-off – by ruling out the sale of the 15% of England’s public forests that had only been suspended in February 2011.

James Jones, the bishop of Liverpool and chair of the panel, said: “Our woodlands, managed sustainably, can offer solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing society today. There is untapped potential within England’s woodlands to create jobs, to sustain skills and livelihoods, to improve the health and wellbeing of people and to provide better and more connected places for nature.”


The panel, made up of the heads of countryside and conservation bodies and forestry and rural business interests, called for the forests to be held in trust for the nation. “Forest management should be taken out of the sphere of direct political interference. The tree cycle is wholly different to the electoral cycle: that is what has blighted the management of woodlands. We have to look to the next 50-100 years,” said Jones.

The panel proposed an organisation with a 10-year legal charter governed by trustees, akin to the BBC.

Spelman had wanted to raise around £100m by selling off the nation’s woodlands, after her department suffered the greatest budget cut in Whitehall in the 2010 comprehensive spending review. But protests across the country led her to tell parliament in February 2011: “I am sorry, we got this one wrong.”

The panel found that the £22m cost to the state of maintaining the forests was “very modest and delivers benefits far in excess”, estimated to be at least £400m a year in increased health and wellbeing for people, clean air and water, flood protection and timber. The benefits of woodlands was estimated at £1bn-£2bn a year by the government’s ownlandmark assessment in June 2011.

Spelman said the government would respond more fully to the panel’s report by January 2013.

Mary Creagh, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, said: “Over half a million people signed a petition against this out-of-touch government’s plans to sell off England’s forests. Our forests will play a pivotal role in the green economy and our low-carbon future and we look forward to working on a cross-party basis to protect them.”

The panel said it was struck by the “heartfelt connections” between people and woodlands and received 42,000 communications from the public and interested parties. The panel said the government must invest a further £7m each year until 2020 to give it “financial breathing space” in safeguarding the public forests.

“At the moment the Forestry Commission is paying for the public benefits and to do so they are selling off land. That is a contradication in terms,” Jones told the Guardian. But the panel also said the government should encourage “new markets” to secure its long-term income and Spelman said: “We need a new model that is able to draw in private finance, make best use of government funding and facilitate wider community support.”


“We have made real, substantive progress but we are not out of the woods yet,” said Jonathan Porritt, one of the leaders of the Our Forestscampaign. “There are some weasel words about appropriate sources of private funding that leaves an awful lot to worry about.” Porritt had accused some NGOs of “betraying” their members by initially expressing interest in acquiring woodland the government wanted to sell. “But they have now moved a long way. It will not be easy for the government to play fast and loose with the forests now.”

The panel said woodland cover should be expanded from the current of 10% of England’s land to 15% by 2060. Data published this week shows that just 13% more trees were planted in England in 2012 than in 2010, contrasting with Scotland and Wales which have expanded their wooded areas by increasing planting by 233% and 250% respectively over the same period. It noted that just 20% of the nation’s timber comes from the UK, stating there was a “big opportunity” for the forestry sector to deliver more.

The panel also called for greater public access to privately owned woodland. England contains about 1.3m hectares of woods and forests – an area about twice the size of Devon – but the 82% in private hands provides just half the accessible woods. “If private woodland owners benefit from grants there should be a condition that their land is accessible,” said Jones. He also said more must be done to protect ancient woodlands, only 15% of which are protected as sites of special scientific interest.

Jones stressed the international significance of England’s forests. “We cannot lecture the rest of the world on deforestation if we don’t put our own house in order. We have 9% woodland compared to 38-39% in Europe.”


The report was widely welcomed by NGOs and countryside groups. “We’re delighted government has agreement to give their privatisationplans the chop,” said the Friends of the Earth campaigner Paul de Zylva. “England’s woodlands are precious national public assets that provide real value for money.”

Simon Pryor, at the National Trust whose chief executive sat on the panel, said if the government implemented the panel’s recommendations: “The nation’s protest last year will not only have saved the public forest estate, it will have triggered a step change in the way we treat woodland in England.”

Source : http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jul/04/no-sell-off-forests-spelman

David Attenborough’s 60-year career celebrated in BBC series

David Attenborough's Life Stories
David Attenborough’s Life Stories (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wildlife presenter will review advances in science and return to the Borneo jungle in the three-part documentary

The BBC is to broadcast a documentary series looking back over SirDavid Attenborough‘s remarkable 60-year broadcasting career, including a return to the Borneo jungle, where he first encountered an orangutan in the wild in the 1950s.

In the three-part BBC2 documentary, Attenborough will review advances in programme-making technology, science, and the study of natural history and the environment over the past 60 years, and revisit award-winning shows including Life on Earth, The Blue Planet and Frozen Planet.

Along the way Attenborough, who celebrates his 86th birthday on 8 May, will recount anecdotes – including being rejected early in his career by BBC Radio because his teeth were judged to be too big – an alleged defect fortunately overlooked by the BBC’s nascent television service.

“It is in the can, all done. It really covers the three areas which fascinate me, the technology, the development of science during my lifetime, and the environment,” he said.

He is also presenting Kingdom of Plants 3D on Sky Atlantic later this month and at a launch for the show last week he paid tribute to the scientists who have been willing to share years of research with him during his career, making his TV documentaries possible. “My job could not be done without the scientists. Provided the scientists believe you are playing fair, they are not in any way possessive of the difficult things they have discovered.”

Attenborough’s career is perhaps unique in UK broadcasting in its breadth and longevity. After establishing himself as a BBC natural history presenter in the 1950s, he studied for a postgraduate degree, returning to broadcasting as BBC2 controller in 1965.

During his tenure the channel was the first in the UK to switch to colour, in 1967, and commissioned shows including Monty Python’s Flying Circus and landmark documentaries such as Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation.

Attenborough was promoted to director of programmes in 1969, overseeing all BBC TV output, but returned to programme-making four years later. He developed and presented Life on Earth, broadcast in 1979, which in its scope and ambition set the benchmark for the landmark BBC natural history documentary series his name has been synonymous with ever since.

Attenborough, 60 Years in the Wild will air in October, spanning a broadcasting career that began when he joined the BBC in 1952. He returned to the Borneo jungle for the documentary, to shoot new footage where he was filmed with an orangutan for the 1956 BBC documentary Zoo Quest. Later in the same series Attenborough came face to face with a giant lizard, the Komodo dragon.

The new series covers the developments in programme-making Attenborough has lived through and exploited, from the early TV cameras used for Zoo Quest, which only recorded noisily for two minutes at a time, to the latest high-definition, 3D and micro-camera technology.

It also charts the rapid advances in science he has witnessed – ranging from discoveries about the structure of DNA to a better understanding of continental drift – since he was a zoology student at Cambridge university, and the often grim environmental consequences of rapid economic and population growth.

Attenborough is working on the new series with Alastair Fothergill, a longtime collaborator and BBC Natural History Unit executive producer, who told the Guardian that in Borneo Attenborough was filmed standing in the exact spot in the river bed where more than 50 years previously there was pristine jungle, but which is now planted with oil palms.

The series also features archive footage from Attenborough’s many documentaries and interviews recorded in his study at his home in Richmond, London.

Fothergill said: “David is unique. Think about it, he has seen more of the natural world than anyone ever before him. He was able to make use of the start of commercial international air travel. He started just after world war two, when much of the natural world was still pristine, there was such a different feel. In his life time he has seen all that change.”

On the perennial question of when Attenborough will retire, Fothergill, who has worked with him since The Trials of Life series in 1990, admitted he thought last year’s Frozen Planet would be his last major BBC series.

However, Attenborough, who will be travelling to the Galápagos Islands for his next Sky 3D documentary, was sounding as sprightly as ever. “Retire? The world is infinitely complex. Major things have happened in the last 50 years year … extraordinary.”

Source : http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2012/may/05/david-attenborough-bbc-series?newsfeed=true

Cull Latest : The badger goes to court….

English: Caroline Spelman, British politician ...
Image via Wikipedia

The badger is back in the news, and not because it’s loved… The counties for the planned cull have now been revealed – see my Learn From Nature blog

Below … the badger goes to court!  

The battle for the badger has begun in earnest, with the opening shot of a high court legal battle being fired, a complaint made under European wildlife law and a new public opinion poll showing just 12% of people think killing badgers should be the main focus in attempting to reduce the spread of tuberculosis in cattle.

How did it get to this? Pretty easily. The government was under severe pressure to tackle what is truly a terrible problem for infected herds – they have to be slaughtered at great financial and emotional cost to farmers and to the taxpayer, who paid £90m in compensation for the 25,000 cattle killed in 2010. Environment secretary Caroline Spelman had a world-class scientific trial, conducted over 10 years, on her desk showing that persistent culling of badgers over a decade can cut bovine TB by about 16%.

So far so good. But to expand the cull using the trap-and-shoot method of killing employed in the trial would be even more expensive than doing nothing. So the government gave the go-ahead for the cull using “free-shooting” – a man in a tree with a high-powered rifle. At this point, the “science-led” tag Spelman used to justify the go-ahead disappeared in a puff of gun-smoke, and that’s not just me saying it but lots of the scientists who ran the 10-year-trial.

There will be a tiny trial of free-shooting, but if it is shown to be ineffective, the whole cull is fatally wounded. That’s one of the three legal grounds the Badger Trust is using to seek a judicial review in the high court of Spelman’s decision. As it happens, even if free-shooting is judged acceptable, the government’s own impact assessment shows the culls will still be more expensive for farmers than doing nothing and taking the hit – hideous as that is – of TB infection. And that’s without accounting for the legal challenges and the high costs of policing shooter-versus-activists stand-offs in the woods at night.

What does the public think? A new poll, published on Tuesday, shows us that 31% support the cull, 40% oppose it and a lot of people – 29% – don’t know. The poll was a professional one, run by YouGov, for the animal protection charity Humane Society International (HSI), whose UK director Mark Jones said: “The majority of the public oppose killing badgers, but the poll also indicates a significant level of indecision or confusion and I suspect that this stems from uncertainty surrounding the issue of whether or not a cull is ‘science-led’. Defra has consistently claimed that its cull policy would be science-led and yet the scientific legitimacy of culling badgers has been vociferously questioned by highly respected scientists and conservationists such as Lord Krebs [who led the 10-year trial] and Sir David Attenborough.”

YouGov also asked people what they though should be the main tool for dealing with bovine TB. Culling was backed by 12%, as was restricting cattle movements and reforming farm practices, and 15% didn’t know. But the most popular choice by far was vaccination, which was backed by 60% of people in England.

Vaccination programmes are taking place right now and trapping and injecting badgers is expensive, though it can hardly cost much more than trapping and shooting them. Back in 2010, the previous government said an oral vaccine would be ready by 2015, which could be left in bait, a much cheaper way to innoculate the animals.

But the new coalition government cancelled five of the six vaccination trials set up. Spelman now says a useable vaccine is “years away”, which certainly helps bolster the case for shooting badgers, if not pleasing the English public. I estimate the cull will cost £92m, plus legal and policing costs, over eight years, while vaccination research is getting just £20m.

HSI has also brought a complaint against Spelman via the Bern Convention, which binds the UK government to regulate any exploitation of badgers to keep populations “out of danger”, unless certain conditions are met.

So, we have a “science-led” cull disowned by the researchers who led the science and one that will cost more than doing nothing. Everyone’s first choice – vaccination- has lost funding, and the row is now in the expensive realm of the courts. This is not on track to end well for badgers, cattle, farmers, scientists or the taxpayer.

Source : http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2012/feb/28/badger-cull-tb-legal-challenge?newsfeed=true

Eagle educators increase awareness in Scottish schools

‘Birds of prey, I have heard it said, swoop down and kill sheep….so people might be next’…. Misconceptions about the natural world, based on ignorance, can spark worries and produce total myths.  |LearnFromNature | 

Improving our appreciation and awareness of the natural environment, comes from learning the real facts about the creatures we share the planet, and clarifying the misconceptions that are often created based on ignorance.  The BBC and First News brings this report

For my blog post, see this 

For factsheet , click here