Sunday, January 28, 2018

Silent Winter - Where have all the birds gone?

For the last several years I've spent an hour of the last Sunday morning in January doing the Big Garden Bird Watch. This year the count has been the lowest ever. We've a pretty big plot, over six acres, and over the years the garden round the house has gradually spread into what 40 years ago was a barley field and is not a mosaic of trees, shrubberies, rough grass and flower meadow with ponds. The ecological diversity has increased immeasurably and its value as a wildlife haven has increased year by year over the thirty years we been here.

But this year, where are the birds?

I walked across the field at first light to the village shop and saw overhead perhaps 150 pigeons and 36 black-headed gulls on the football pitch. There were a couple of dozen of each of jackdaws and rooks flapping about the house and tall trees in the garden. But when I went for my one hour wander round the garden later in the morning I was struck by the stillness. I was expecting something like this as I have noticed that the rate at which the peanuts and mixed seed in my bird feeders has gone down more slowly this winter than in previous years. It's been a mild winter here; the lowest temperature I've recorded has been -1°C and there's plenty of natural bird food about so I've not been to concerned.

So what I saw was:

1 Great Spotted Woodpecker
1 Magpie
3 Blackbired
6 Great tits
2 Chaffinch
2 Wren
2 Robin
1 Pheasant

What I heard were 3 or 4 curlew.

But the significant thing was what wasn't there:

Greenfinch, once our commonest small bird but not been around much for a few years
Blue tits, once more common than great tits
Tree Sparrow, once commoner than house sparrow
House Sparrow, we had three pairs nesting last spring but not here this morning
Dunnock, there's usually been a few about but not today

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Keeling Schadenfreude Game

This graph shows the increase in atmospheric CO2 since 1958. It's probably the best proxy measurement of how we are changing the Earth's climate. The higher number, the warmer we are going to get.

and over the last two years.

It goes up in the northern winter and then drops back in the summer as the great northern boreal forests do their photosynthesis. The increase from one year to the next is our bit from burning fossil carbon in the coal, oil and gas. It's been going up by a couple of ppm per year with the rate increasing slightly. About half the CO2 is absorbed by the oceans, making the water more acid, and the rest stays in the air, mostly for centuries and millennia.  If we are to avoid global warming and ocean acidification we must stop the increase, reverse it and reduce back to the 300 level. Our current activity continues to increase it.

Now here's the Keeling's Schadenfreude Game.

You have to guess what the peak CO2 concentration will be in May 2018.  We'll use the weekly average figure from the data supplied by Scrips from the Mauna Lao observatory, where Charles Keeling first made his observations.

Here are some numbers to help guide your guess, the peaks for the last half dozen years:

Mauna Loa data from Scrips :

Date of maximum

Increase from previous year
12/05/2012 397.28
25/05/2013 400.22 2.94
31/05/2014 402.12 1.9
23/05/2015 403.85 1.73  (La Niña)
28/05/2016 407.92 4.07  (El Niño)
20/05/2017 410.18 2.26

What will the 2018 figure in this record be?

Give your forecast to 2 decimal places.

For the record, I'm guessing 412.74 

See if you can get closer. Send us your guess by posting in the comments below or posting it on facebook in the Climate Geek Group or send a tweet, using #KeelingGame to 
Biff Vernon #FBPE @transitionlouth

The Winner will be announced at the end of May.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Microfibre ocean pollution

There's been some talk about plastics in the ocean recently, particularly in the wake of Blue Planet 2.
Most of the talk has been about the big bits of plastic we can see. Much was made about a report that showed that most of the plastic in the oceans had been washed there from 10 rivers, mostly in Asia and Africa.

I happened to be in Glasgow last week and tried to enjoy the cityscape over the River Clyde. Here's my holiday snap:

All that plastic, and much much more out of camera view. I don't suppose the City Council or other body will see to its prompt removal so it will be all washed to the ocean with the next flood. On a per capita basis, the good citizens of Glasgow (and doubtless the rest of Britain) are probably more responsible for ocean pollution than those who live on the banks of the Ganges.

This week the Government launched its 25 Year Environment Plan. Download the 151 page document here.

There is no mention in that report of microfibres.


Is it an issue that doesn't fit the government's political agenda? Not an issue that the public are concerned about so little political capital to be gained? Is the problem just too hard to find a solution to?

'Out of sight, out of mind' has long been a phrase used by people pressing for better sewage treatment and great progress in this area over recent decades, but microfibres are even further out of sight. How many people realise that the fibres released from a domestic wash can be counted in millions?

Could it even be that the civil servants who wrote the plan and who wrote Mrs May's speech are unaware of the issue? It's hardly credible; there has been plenty written about the problem.

You've not seen much? Oh, let me help; here's my results from a quick search on the Internet. Happy reading.

November 2017
September 2017
March 2017
June 2016
January 2013
September 2011