Category Archives: rewilding

Loch Ness Mystery Solved! Perhaps

Well, it didn’t take the New Zealand Scientists very long to reveal their findings after all.

But then again, it wasn’t very exciting, or inspiring, so why hold back?

Their DNA sampling of the water of the lake showed no sign of genetic material from a Jurassic era reptile, or a shark, or a sturgeon – the latter being my guess…

But there were lots of eel DNA, so they reckon the mysterious creature might be a giant eel…

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Spot the eel? Neither do I…

 

Really?

Not very impressive deduction, in my opinion. Of course there was lots of eel DNA, just like there was lots of trout DNA if they were looking for it. Eels are common fish in such catchments. But do they grow to the size where people might see one from a great distance?

I’ve no idea how long a freshwater eel can actually grow, but this story shows a near-record size, caught in Australia, and it’s less than two metres long. So the adjective giant is hard to be precise about….

So, if there is one or two really huge eels in there, they might leave their DNA, but so would all the small normal sized eels we expect to find there with or without any giants or monsters….

The findings haven’t really found anything, other than they’ve not found anything. You can’t prove a negative, as they say.

It does add one more plank to the argument that there is nothing big enough, at least not a population numerous enough, to produce the quantities of DNA that makes it simple to find in the mass of water that is Loch Ness…

Still waters run deep, as they say, and Loch Ness is one very deep lake.

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Latest look at Loch Ness

it’s amazing to say that in 2019, there are still questions to be asked about the Loch Ness Monster

But there are.

Scientists are still seeking to uncover exactly what gave rise to the story, what was and is being sighted from the shore and from boats out on that lake that made people report a large animal – be it a reptile, mammal or fish?

Now it seems that they have discovered evidence to support at least one of the hypotheses of what exactly this phenomenon is – using DNA samples, to see what kind of species might be swimming around, shedding skin cells or scales into the water which might float around and be picked up by their collectors.

My guess, is that they’ll keep the news back for a long time.

If they do produce one, my guess is that it will be a sturgeon, or a small group of sturgeons, that have swum up from Moray Firth at Inverness. Though the lake has few nutrients with which to sustain a large population, it might keep one or two alive for a few years.

 

What’s your guess?

Could there be a large creature hiding out all these centuries, only to be betrayed by its own DNA trail?

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Can scientists really hope to catch a few skin cells in all that expanse of water?

Here is something to ponder….

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This is not a scientific work, but it could be

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inhale

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I can’t Breath

 

I cannot respire

Fast enough to inhale

All the perfume

I desire hanging

From blooms

On my short cycle

Under a stand of trees

Between streets

Breathing fumes.

The Many Versions of the Werewolf Tale

I was in the Basque speaking area of Navarra last weekend, up in the hills.

Very green.

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We went to visit a museum made by a very interesting guy called Iñaki Perurena, whose famous in the region for having Guinness World Records for lifting stones, among other things.

He has some amazing sculptures and lots of interesting paintings of characters from Basque Mythology on huge rocks dotted through the woods.

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The Basques have a lot of strange characters that live in the woods. A much richer diversity than the simple fairy and leprechauns of Ireland, to be honest.

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They have a type of Faun, mermaids, goblins, their own Santa Claus character, a cyclops, giants…

And…. another creature who you might bump into while walking the woods in such remote areas where houses are separated by large tracts of land, and visiting your neighbour involves a trek up a mountain.

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Gizotso, is werewolf  in Basque, and is said to be an extremely strong savage beast that lives in the woods and is made by sexual intercourse between humans and wild animals.

I’ve a long-held interest in werewolves, of course, and my kids speak Basque in school, but I’d not heard of this particular thread of the great tapestry of werewolf tales.

It’s fascinating how many different versions there are of this story. One of the things that unite all human societies are the similarities in our fireside tales of others who live just outside the light spread by our hearths. And the werewolf is perhaps the most ubiquitous of all, more than even the dragon.

At the same time, it’s disturbing how easily every society can alienate others and reduce them to the status of “savage animals.”

Perhaps it not so difficult to see how such stories of werewolves can spring forth in our imagination from simple ingredients such as deep woods, woodland dwellers, people we don’t like, and people we desire.

Of course, nowadays, nobody believes in werewolves.

 

 

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The Hedgehog and the Tiger

My son is three and a big fan of animals. We read a lot of animal books… He’s seen lots of animals on the farm and in the zoo. But others, well, let’s say we haven’t bumped into them yet.

 

The Hedgehog and the Tiger

 

Flipping through children’s books, each

Bucolic page fairy-tale picturesque:

Rare as hen’s teeth to see a hen in

The same frame as a cow or pig;

More common to see the cage. A

Cow in a sunlit meadow would

Count its blessings if it could ken

Cattle mass confined in feeding pens.

 

Yet, becoming just as false are

Pictures of our wildlife: brilliant

Butterflies and ladybirds, snails

Spiralling, to lions and giraffes,

Explaining to our children, the

Tiger and elephant, zebra and gnu,

Knowing at least they’ll watch the

Lion King, and visit the zoo, where

These species might cling to existence

In spite of our infantile delight in

Destroying our environment. But

 

What of furry foxes, squirrels,

Badgers and newts, other cute

Denizens of our hedgerows and

Fields? How do we describe these?

Who’s seen a hedgehog in a decade,

Or ever encountered an otter

Of an evening? May as well have an

Irish mole on the page, a polecat, or

Mink, for all the meeting and greeting

Our kids will have with these as

They disappear from all around us,

Unseen and unobserved, unremarked

And impossible to explain when asked.

 

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Not an Irish mole, but even in Spain, it’s hard to actually see one of these children’s book favourites. This my second ever, a victim of the road like so many hedgehogs. The first one I saw was alive – I rescued it from a dog!

 

I wrote this poem a few weeks ago. I was reminded of it the other day when my wife read an headline about Barcelona Zoo, which is going to change after the city council decided it would have to end reproduction of animals not endangered nor capable of being released into the wild. The number of species will dwindle as individuals die or are moved out. Considering the above, perhaps some wild animals that we citizens never bump into any more would be useful for the folks of Barcelona to become familiar with. Perhaps soon enough those once familiar small mammals will be endangered themselves…

Wildlife… it’s just too much work.

In light of the UN report on species extinction just unveiled, many people are talking about how worrying it is that we have so many species close to the brink of annihilation due to our activities.

And at the same time, it’s hard to move people towards doing very much in the way of helping reverse the trend.

Nature is seen as something outside our own environments, nowadays. It’s an abstract idea, or at best something we visit. We’ve become used to not having it especially present in our daily lives. Even a fly entering a classroom is viewed as an event.

And because we’ve gotten used to living without nature, we don’t value it very much, and often see it as an inconvenience.

Where we do allow it to exist in our city, it must be controlled and tidy.

Pamplona is a very green city, with plenty of parks and farmland around us, and mountains visible from almost every street, yet even here, wildlife must conform. The ducks in the park have few places to nest because any undergrowth is cleared, the scrub needed to house any other birds than pigeons, sparrows, magpies and a few blackbirds is practically non-existent outside building lots left abandoned until the apartments pop up in new neighbourhoods.

Take a simple city lawn. As soon as the dandelions bloom it’s time to mow. Citizens complain if the city is slow to mow, since the seed heads look untidy.

I passed a lawn full of dandelions, daisies and clover yesterday.

There wasn’t a bee to be seen. The horse chestnut trees are blooming right now, their scent amazing. But there are very few bees to be seen or heard pollenating them.

 

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a large copse of horse chestnuts full of blooms, but I saw more trees than bees in the five minutes I stood watching. Note the absence of any undergrowth.

Coincidentally, upon arriving home, my neighbours warned me of a swarm which had just settled on the Persian blinds of a nearby (empty) flat, and were going to call the city council to come and remove them. It’s all right having some bees up high in a tree, but down here amongst the houses, they induce fear.

I don’t know where bees used to live in cities, but there were more of them, and they must have lived somewhere. Now, though most people appreciate the work of bees, a hive is only acceptable outside our daily surroundings.

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the dark patch on the very top of the blind is a swarm of bees slowly moving into the space for the Persian blinds to roll up into.

The local newspaper has been busy talking about a bear recently released in France which has the temerity to enter Navarra and attack some sheep flocks. The bears have declined in the western part of the Pyrenees to such an extent that only two males, father and son survive. Two females from Slovenia are hoped to start saving the population, but bears are only tolerated if they stay well away from humans and their buildings.

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There might be some basic understanding that bears should not go extinct in the Pyrenees, though they are close to that right now. Bears are still tolerated in the Picos de Europa, further west of Navarra, but here the local farmers’ union is opposed to this attempt and recovering/rewildling/conservation/call-it-what-you-like-putting-bears-ahead-of-sheep.

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The first photo is today’s back page of the local paper. I will translate the last few lines… the farmers union call on the Navarra Government to ….. “demand the French authorities cease their actions of reintroducing a wild species in a humanized terrain. “We are not in Yellowstone,” they conclude.

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What else can one say about that?

Nothing comes to mind that I could print in that paper.

Bears, you might say, are a pretty big nuisance when they want to be.

They kill sheep, which, whatever one’s personal opinions of them, are the basis of a type of farming that some still cling to. And I will grant that, despite my immediate question as to how they’re alive and thriving in Asturias and Slovenia – surely they’re an inconvenience there, but a tolerated one, by farmers who are used to doing a bit more work to look after their stock.

And yet, another iconic species is also slowly disappearing in Navarra, according to the same local paper.

Storks.

Now, doesn’t love storks?

They bring us babies, they don’t attack sheep…

And yet, their population is declining in Navarra, too.

Why?

Because they are annoying, inconvenient.

Or at least, their nests are.

So nests are destroyed in the towns and cities where they’ve traditionally nested. Some have made nests in large trees, where these are still available – it’s common for mature trees to be heavily pruned in cities, and really old ones are felled as soon as they show signs of rot for fear of falling and causing damage or injury.

And a pair that can’t build a nest is a pair that has to go elsewhere, or doesn’t breed.

There are seven fewer pairs than last year, for a total of 939.

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This photo is from the linked article, taken in an abandoned factory. When this is demolished, where will the storks nest?

There are many reasons for our ecosystems collapsing. Wilful destruction, wilful ignorance, and wilful rejection of any inconvenience it might mean to our lives. The last is what most of us will be guilty of.

A Poems about Farms and Wildlife

 

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They don’t have to be mutually exclusive…. an orchard with flowers underfoot.

 

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But sometimes farmers feel that they have to plough every patch their tractors fit into, for fear those flowers take energy away from the apples and nuts.

 

Thoughts on seeing a recently-cleaned water pond on Saint Patrick’s Day

 

On a Sunday, the seventeenth, I went for a walk in the countryside about the village.

I walked along the hedges, trimmed now in March before the birds came come along and put a fly in a farmer’s plans.

I paused over an old walled water pond, for the vegetable plot, to perhaps look upon a frog, or salamander.

It was scrubbed clean. The concrete pale below the clear water reflecting the crystal blue.

Not a boatman stroked across the surface, ne’er a leaf lay upon the bottom to hide a frog or newt.

For what would a farmer do with silt? A streamlined machine these fields, these springs,

And cleanliness is next to godliness, of course. The wild world was sterilised of sprits in favour of clean sheets.

The dragons were already gone before Saint Patrick stepped upon a snake.

A day will come when none of us will see one, no matter where we seek.

 

Of course, the day seems to be coming faster than we feared, with the new  UN report about to come out today, Monday, declaring that a million species are about to go extinct if we don’t turn this shit, sorry ship, around toot sweet, as they say.

Which is terribly hard to tell your kids when they ask at the age of eight.

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I didn’t take a photo of the empty pond, but I did help this lad across the road a few days later after some long-awaited rain.

 

 

The Fear of Fewer Humans

I listened to a radio show talking about a book just out, called Empty Planet.

 

Yes, it was about the potential problems of the shrinking population it predicts will happen before the end of the century.

I listened to it, and there was some pushback from a UN demographer saying that it wasn’t going to contract so quickly, and in fact a ballooning population would occur first.

But even if it does happen, if we don’t go to 11 billion – I can’t believe that we are even saying that when we have so many problems already with 7.

So what?

What’s the problem?

 

There are several pundits worried about population shrinking as a disaster. They use the words dire, crisis, timebomb, drastic effects.

People talk about population reduction as if we are going to suddenly disappear from the face of the planet.

We won’t disappear

The world wasn’t empty when there were a billion humans. There were enough for a fucking world war or two. The worst flu epidemic in history killed tens of millions and the world kept going on, with hardly a blip on our population.

The world wasn’t empty in the nineteenth century and we were inventing cars and telephones and all that stuff.

Some of the drastic effects outlined here are about one country losing population while others don’t – a kind of population arms race fear in my opinion.

Our cultures will survive.

No country needs multiple millions of citizens to keep its culture alive. Look at Ireland. It lost half its population in a few decades and still we know what it is to be Irish. There are fewer Irish per square km of Ireland than there are of Spaniards to square Km of Spain, or any other country practically in Europe – 4 million compared to 16 in the same area of the Netherlands.

And within that relatively small population, let’s be honest, how many people do Irish dancing, play the bodhrán or uilleannpipes, or even speak the language very well? (Hint, I do none of these things.)

In our globalised (mostly Americanised) world, most of us watch Netflix, shop in Zara and dance to techno., not to mention eat pizza and curries.

But that’s okay.

It only takes a handful to keep a culture alive.

Many Native American’s have kept their language and customs going despite being nearly wiped out by European invaders.

The highlanders of Scotland kept their Gaelic, kilts and tartan going, despite the crackdown on them in the 1700s.

The Basques were prohibited from speaking, too, yet now my kids speak only Basque in school, and they learn the culture of many villages and towns in the region – carnival means making a different costume every year in my house!

 

People tend to think that the way the world was when they were young is the way it should be.

That’s why some of us don’t notice that the insects are vanishing, that the seas are empty, that sheep are not supposed to be eating every tree seedling that tries to sprout.

We are used to having billions of people, used to hearing that there are more than a billion people in both China and India.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A billion human beings is quite enough for Planet Earth..

If we want those folks to live in any way approaching the wonderful lives we are (could be if we tried) living in the western world, then we would be better off with even fewer.

A planet emptier of humans would be able to become one full with the other denizens of our ecosystems we have pushed out during our population explosion.

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I’d rather meet some storks while cycling along a country road than a load of cars and trucks. Or other cyclists!

And, for those who only care about seeing the same species, perhaps this lower density will help us appreciate the other humans around us

For our fellow citizens have become mostly background noise to us: moving furniture and to our lives.

We sit on metros and busses surrounded by others without even catching their eye. We go to coffee shops and bars and exchange few words. The supermarket customer now hardly needs to acknowledge the existence of the cashier, if there is one. Our elevator journeys are a gauntlet of greetings, goodbyes and trying not to look at one another in between.

If we were less tightly packed, perhaps we could become more personable (note the word) and talk to one another, chat with our neighbours, smile on the street as we pass, like people did in the past when they lived in villages, like they still do in small communities.

Remember when we all laughed watching Crocodile Dundee deciding New York must be the friendliest place on Earth, with seven million people all wanting to live together?

 

I see only advantages in such reductions. The only problem is how to get there – and it’ll be most probably abruptly by climate devastation and the loss of biodiversity.

Malthus always gets a bad rap, but as Naomi Klein said, Climate Change changes everything.

 

 

Universal Connections

 

 

Universal Connections

 

I sit upon a hotel terrace,

Gazing out at grebes

Diving between white and yellow

Water lilies, trying to grasp our universe.

 

This Dark Matter they say

Gives gravity to our galaxy

Must mingle with us here on Earth,

Else why do I feel such linking

With other species, the lake life teeming?

 

I am entwined with these trees

More than merely exchanging molecules.

 

Reincarnation is reality. A part of me

Exists outside myself, with which I can commune;

 

Fragments of my former lives abound in this pond,

Fine portions of prior bodies populate the forest.

There’s a strand of me in that serene swan

Stately sliding, signets drawn behind like magnets.

These geese gliding in on the twilight and I

Share atoms. The stones under our feet,

Still throb with the vitality of ancient seas;

Our electrons once spun in the same shells

And yet retain the memory of those orbits.

 

Since the energy of starbursts vibrates on in ourselves,

These connections are impossible to erase,

We are one: our earth, the stars and empty reaches,

Really only fractals of an elementary existence.

 

 

I wrote that a couple of months ago while staying in this hotel, having breakfast on this terrace. Just to show there are positive poems going round my head too!

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It was in the Netherlands, and the lake was man-made, created when dredging to make higher land elsewhere in town. The motorway went past behind those trees, but it was still wonderfully quiet and peaceful, and the waterfowl didn’t care how their home was made. It shows that nature can come back strong when given a chance, even in the midst of our habitations.

Here’s another in the same vein, one of a few I was inspired to write that week…

As you can see from the photo at the bottom, it’s hard not to be inspired in that light.

 

Twinned with an Egret

 

They say every electron has a twin;

In space and time, while even atoms

Exist in two separate places at once.

Well, that would explain this affinity

For egrets and owls and willow trees.

Motes might not have the energy to

Escape gravity, but bits of bodies split:

My twins vibrate in other entities.

 

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The Lepidopterist’s Dream

Turning on a mountain track

We stumble upon a lepidopterist’s dream:

Butterflies abounding, bouncing from

Bramble to buttercup, clover to cornflower;

A dancing profusion of colour in heat

Haze of August morning amplified

By the addition of dragonflies, damsel

Flies, hoverflies and bumblebees, with

A host of other insects humming and

It occurred to me, that there were once

Such sights in my own suburbs, along

The hedgerows down below and beyond.

That once everywhere outside the city

Centre was an entomologist’s dream, and

The countryside the same for ornithologists

Now they lament the stark scenes

Silent callows empty of corncrakes, and

The bees barely seen in park trees,

Moths no longer litter windscreens

Of a night drive, and these hills, though

Still roamed by pigs and roe, seems so

Similar to those of South Africa, they should

Also hold antelope, lions and leopards

And once they did, until all were lost,

Along with the bison, auroch, and rhinos.

 

As for the sea, it also should be teeming

They say in the seventeenth century,

Thrashing tails were seen from shore.

Now trawlers roam for days, and only

Coral reefs this century remain, as

The bramble banks of the sea. Yet

How long can its rainbow dance continue?

We watch their wonderful choreography

Holding on to those tiny joys to keep going

But the world is crumbling, we are bumbling

While the coral is bleached clean. Unless we care

More than before, these brambles will be as bare.

 

 

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if you zoom in, you should be able to see some of the hundreds of butterflies up along this track. I took a video, but it wasn’t very steady…