Wednesday, 19 September 2012

100 most endangered animals

The 100 most endangered animals have been published. You can see the full list here: Guardian, most endangered species, and see pretty pictures of a select few here: Most endangered in pictures.

As I was flicking through the pictures I became interested in how many of the species were from each biological group, as it seemed to be fairly biased towards mammals. And so I counted them all. (One species I cannot identify: Gocea ohridan, any pointers would be great.), and here's how it lies:

Amphibia - 9
Aves - 10
Bryophytes* - 1
Crustacea* - 1
Fish* - 12
Fungus* - 1
Insecta - 9
Mammalia - 21
Mollusca* - 3
Reptilia - 7
(Vascular Plants* - 23)

* - These species have been lumped together into larger groups than class for simplicity.

So there it is! Some of the groups are put together, but this is for ease of the reader as well as myself. I wish now that I had separated the vascular plants into at the very least flowering and coniferous, but I cannot face going through the list again! Sorry. Leaving those out at the moment, you can still see the clear bias towards mammals. And why not? Many people love mammals, me included (wannabe mammologist, yes...), but who really has that same passion for crustacea? Or fungi and bryophytes. They're just not such attractive groups to survey.

So while the list is interesting I really view it as being interesting for seeing what groups are the most studied the world over, and which ones don't attract so much attention. Even when the population sizes were being reported on, mammals and birds were pretty much the only ones which had conclusive estimates (is that an oxymoron?). Most of the others just had 'unknown'.

Our own 'Most Endangered'

And now we in Scotland are faced with the probable extinction of our beautiful Wildcat. And due to it 'only' being a subspecies it doesn't belong on the list, but for all that know of its peril it's sad indeed. In a matter of days it's estimated population level has fallen from an acceptable 400 to a completely shocking 35. And although they haven't surveyed Caithness and Sutherland yet it's not hopeful at all.

I said all this to someone the other day, and they asked what was being done about it. At the moment the Scottish Wildcat Association  are meeting with SNH to try and push for licenses to live-trap the cats. This is to build up a genetic story of what the cats are, and what makes a Scottish wildcat. But is there no other positive action we can take to help save this iconic (sub)species? 35 individuals. Do we have any other hope than to bring them in to safety, undertake a massive neutering programme on any feral and stray domestic and hybrid cats found in the wider area (remembering that cats looking for a mate can travel huge distances), and then release the wildcats to give them a chance? It's a scary thought that one day they'll be gone. The association are looking for volunteers of any kind to help them with their work. Will you help?  


I think the scariest thing about being alive today is that we are in the sixth massive extinction and there is so little that we can do to halt things. We can all make a difference in our own way, and change in action is the only thing that can save us, but even if all of us stopped driving, and eating meat, and throwing plastics in the bin and into the sea, we could not change the thing that is already in motion. We need to learn to adapt and to choose what is important and what we could live without. So while the whole world is needing to adapt to rising temperatures and more extreme weather we are not immune - we also need to change in order to allow both us to survive and as much of everything else as possible. Scary thoughts indeed.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Let us start with a quote...

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain

I have, for many years, believed that, though I didn't know who had written it, or the whole thing - what I knew was "It's the things that you don't do that you will regret.". Same idea, and after these adventures that I've been having recently I wholeheartedly believe it once more.

Perhaps the reason that I've not felt like myself for the past three years or so is because I've put my wilder impulses to the back of my mind, saying that that's not how an adult behaves, and yet, why is it not? And I'm not that much of an adult yet! I'm relearning that I don't have to plan everything, that I don't have to have a solid life plan set out that I must follow. I'm relearning how to go with the flow and seeing what happens, something that you have to be able to do when your project experiences a hitch, or when you make a major mistake and end up doing something completely wrong.

So I'm starting to allow my dreams to leak out from my head, I'm allowing them to become a bit of a reality. For example, I want to work abroad, so I'm looking into doing that. Once I return I want to work for a consultancy, but I want to be able to do more plant surveys (Phase 1 and the likes) so I'm making moves to improve my skill set so opening me up for other opportunities. I'm stopping saying no, and instead saying "Yes!".

And I think these are all valuable things. Someone once said to me that I think too much, but you know, I really like thinking. And while I am pondering things over in my head more often than not I come up with a solution and solve the issue that's been bothering me. And who doesn't want to think now and again; actually life is pretty dang good?

Monday, 3 September 2012

The Fortitude of Trees

On my travels I always come across incredible, brave trees that are growing in conditions that you really wouldn't expect. It's these that show the strength of slow, patient growth and I always love them. Here's some recent finds: 

Alder and Rowan, Loch Shiel

This is actually a hard one to see. Basically the standing tree is an alder, and at some point in the past a bird has sat on one of it's branches and deposited a dropping which contained a rowan seed. This fell down a crack in the tree, and the Rowan has set seed, but grown at a very horizontal angle along the ground. Both trees are still living, although you wouldn't say thriving, but just completely intertwined with each other.

Collapsed Willow, River Gairn
This is fantastic. As well as being one of the biggest willows I have come across (I think it's a Goat Willow, which can grow to 22m), it has collapsed at some point in its history, fallen down the bank so it's uppermost branches are not it's downward-most, and has sent up hundreds of lateral shoots on the upward facing part of it's trunk. Soon this will be a thicket of straight willow stems, and will completely change the look of this bank as well.
Ash growing in Loch Shiel
Probably when this Ash started to grow the waters were lower, but now the waters have come up and the roots will be waterlogged. It looks healthy still, but unfortunately I don't expect it to survive for long. Ash's are beautiful, strong looking trees when they're full grown though so perhaps it might just find the courage to keep going.

I also often come across roots growing over rock until they reach soil that they can use, roots growing down fence posts until they also reach the soil, and roots growing from bits in trees, this Rowan has a way to go yet but it might get there. Fingers crossed anyway!
Rowan sapling in the nook of an oak, River Gairn

Funnily enough, often these intrepid trees are Rowan's, though it's not so funny when you think of how they travel. Because Rowan berries are eaten by birds, and germinate where the bird defecates, they often land in nooks of trees, on fence posts or on other such places. Generally they won't be able to come to much, but just now and again they succeed. And it's the same with other things if the seed lands where it should not, generally it'll struggle and be unable to grow properly, but just now and again you get magnificent Hollies, Oaks, Ashes, and others that are hanging onto rocks, tipping over the edge of a cliff or are squeezed into a gap too small for the growing trunk. And in these circumstances you come to see just how amazing trees are, in their slow growing patience they can conquer lands that a fast weed would consider unsuitable.

PS. I am of the school of thought that there are no weeds, just flowers growing in the wrong place. No offence was intended with that comment. 

The Wild Places


Recently I have been reading an excellent book entitled ‘The Wild Places’ by Robert Macfarlane, and it really is a truly inspiring read.

He wanted to find the truly wild places in Britain, and in the process walked, slept and swam in some incredible places. Sleeping in a bivouac bag, and swimming naked (a lot…) he adventured from the furthest north to surprisingly southern places, as well as in Ireland.

But it makes me want to wander, and that’s even when I have been wandering. Just to fling on a rucksack and go to some of these incredible places that we are lucky enough to have in our country. The book has inspired me as not only will walking in these places educate us but sleeping definitely will, especially in a bivouac bag.

Imagine sleeping on the beach, watching birds coming in over your head, or in a forest, being sung to sleep by the leaves whispering. Or in the snow, and waking to find a drift developing around you…. Yes, rather inspiring I say!  

The conclusion he comes to is that you do not have to be in a typically wild place (in the middle of uninhabited land with no person near you but for miles and miles), but that we can find wildness on different scales anywhere we go. And that's a truly exciting concept – elusive wildness is within reach, and in some ways the wildness is just waiting for the human occupation of earth to pass before it can reclaim what is rightfully its. 

Now…where's my bivouac bag…?