Where's winter ... plus other things

21st February 2014
I feel swindled, cheated almost. Here we are towards the end of February and winter has yet to make itself felt - little frost, one brief snow flurry, warm temperatures, gales, torrential rain and above all day after day of grey cloudy and gloom. It's all a bit grim isn't it?

Many would say this weather is down to climate change and this is probably true. I say probably because weather is short-term and it is all too easy to extrapolate to the longer-term. But as one of the likely impacts of climate change is more extreme weather events recent years do tend to suggest our climate is changing significantly - over the past few years we've seen intensely localised heavy rain, stronger winds, colder winters and hotter summers. Analysis of vegetation records shows that global climate is cyclical in nature moving through warm and cold phases - this cycle is well understood and easily explained. What is however irrefutable is that the world as a whole is warming more rapidly than it has at any point in the past and it's the pace of the change over the past years that is most worrying. Despite what the (largely uninformed) deniers claim, there is little doubt that this is down to our activities.

I admit to a moment of slack-jawed astonishment when I read that our Environment Secretary in a moment of apparent bewilderment suggested that the impacts of climate change could be good for us in the UK. Notwithstanding the implication that he couldn't care less about anybody else adversely impacted, his statement appears to have been made without any reference to the facts. Computer modelling has shown that one of the key impacts of the changing climate would be a variation in the thermohaline circulation - in layman's terms the ocean currents. It is believed likely that the North Atlantic Drift, which begins life as the Gulf stream and gives us a mild climate for our latitude could be switched off. And that's a benefit how Owen?

To be fair to him that statement is consistent with his other blunders and has led to him being "widely considered the worst Environment Secretary ever" (The Ecologist). His record and that of DeFRA is lamentable and frankly embarrassing, from the shambolic badger cull where he :-

a) ignored previous empirical evidence and current scientific advice that a cull would not work (even the NFU, Paterson's apparent masters, acknowledge that the very best that could be achieved is a 16% reduction in bTB);

b) spent money he didn't have - current costs estimated at £8m and rising with almost £4m spent on policing. One does wonder whether that money could have been better allocated, perhaps to retain some of the Environment Agency jobs he plans to shelve;

c) didn't manage to achieve the %age kill rate he desired - oh yeah the "badgers moved the goalposts";

d) justified the cull on the basis the bTB instance was increasing. That has been proven to be wrong as DeFRA/AHVLA hadn't processed the farm figures correctly. As normal this was blamed on a 'computer glitch' - computers do not have glitches, they always and without fail do exactly what they are told, it's people that make mistakes! A recent revision to the figures since 2011 show that bTB was in fact REDUCING! In all of this it is worth remembering that the badger is a wholly unfortunate and innocent party as the 'b' in 'bTB' stands for 'bovine' - it is a cattle disease, nothing more, nothing less. I could say more about the wider farming industry's recent track record re BSE, Foot & Mouth & now bTB but may leave that for another time;

e) missed debates and now allegedly delaying or hiding the report into the cull - one does wonder why?

... to his views on selling off ancient woodland for development, replacing them with trees planted elsewhere - biological and biodiversity lunacy.

... to his views on rivers simply being there to get water to the sea as quickly as possible - wrong on so many fronts and someone should immediately start thinking about whole drainage basin processes, from headwaters to estuary. Mind you Downing Street also missed the point today when they continue to talk about 'protection' when the focus surely be on 'prevention' - that however is a much bigger and longer-term concept and probably outwith the knowledge and conscience of any one administration, whatever the colour..

... to the recent floods in Somerset where he cared so much for those affected that he only reluctantly appeared weeks after the flooding started and refused to talk to any of the residents, focussing solely on a media press conference. Prince Charles for once got it right in Somerset when he described the lack of action as a "tragedy".

I live in a farming community so am aware of the impact of bTB. It's a disease that needs to be removed, it costs us all too much and the impact on the farmers doing their best to raise top quality livestock must be overwhelming. I have little doubt that badgers do have a role to play in the transmission of bTB but it is a minor role only - killing every badger in the UK would not eradicate the disease and the focus on this cull rather than trying to deal with the major issue I find hard to understand.

And now Peterson has 'done a Lucan' and disappeared - yes he's had an operation for a detached retina, and I wish him a full recovery from that, although that did not stop him travelling from London to his home in Shropshire apparently .... surely the last thing you should be doing after that particular operation?? Hopefully Cameron has reached the end of his tether and will replace him - although there seem few options to bring in someone with the deep level of understanding and empathy for the environment needed in such a key role. Please, not Eric Pickles!

Apologies for the rant but I've been storing this up for a while - always good to get it off your chest - and I'll try and be a bit calmer next month, unless something else annoys me in the meantime of course!! Suppose I'd better get to a few of the bird pictures I could manage this year - many of them taken in Montgomeryshire, with a good number in our garden.

New Year's Day and the the Siskin returned - though for some reason they didn't hang around for long



The Starling didn't murmurate at Aberystwyth the day before the first big storm demolished the seafront, though this Water Pipit did show beautifully



Good numbers of Tree Sparrow on the Kerry Ridgeway



Plenty of the gorgeous Long-tailed Tit around at the moment - announcing their arrival long before you see them



Still awaiting a response from the BTO re 'my' ringed Redpoll - other than the ring easy to identify as is missing the claw from the middle toe on the right foot



This is always a good time of year for the Bullfinch at Llyn Coed y Dinas, near Welshpool - with much of the cover now having died back they are easily visible - although this gloomy day demanded ISO 3200 and 1/100s



Yes I included this image in my Slimbridge blog but I admit to rather liking this shot so please indulge me - shows the truly wonderful plumage on the drake Pintail in all its glory



And so to a bit of snow ...... FANFARE ...... this lasted for little more than 4 hours a couple of weeks ago and not many birds around - with the relatively mild weather the feeders are pretty quiet - but a nice Chaffinch sat in the right place



That same afternoon - honestly - photographed this lovely Great Crested Grebe in beautiful light as it successfully caught a number of Perch



And that's it - welcome any comments you have on this diatribe, I promise to publish them all ...... within certain boundaries of decency of course!

Comments

Photo comment By John Evans: Great pics Mark. Totaly agree on comments re Environment Secretary!He has to go, the buffoon!
Photo comment By Meurig Garbutt: Nothing like a good rant to clear the mind. I fully endorse your comments.Pictures pretty darn good too.
Photo comment By Edward Cottell: The man is a blithering idiot, I'm surprised he didn't find a way to blame the recent flooding on the badgers. It is outrageous that he said ancient woodland could be simply 'transported' to a new location; sounds like ecological genocide to me. Politicians seem to know the cost of everything, and the value of nothing. On a more cheery note, I went down the Slimbridge a couple of weekends ago on that lovely sunny Sunday. Got great views of the Bewick's, Pochard, Pintails, and Cranes. Not quite as close as you did, but a thoroughly enjoyable day!
Photo comment By Richard Davys-Jones: I thought the flooding in Somerset was blamed on gay marriage!! whatever the man has to go, like the pictures Mark, saw my first swallow at Coed Y Dinas middle of last week

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