June, 2009

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  • Future perfect?

    The elderflowers have almost all gone and blackberries are turning from green to purple. I've also noticed the conkers forming on the trees along Hackney's Upper Clapton Road.

    Give him and all our children the future they deserveWhile the elderflowers and conkers are roughly sticking to the traditional seasonal pattern, the blackberries seem to get ever earlier. This week temperatures are due to touch the mid-thirties and last Saturday's rain storm was reminiscent of an Indian monsoon (5cm of rain in under 20 minutes accompanied by marble sized hailstones). This is climate change. Get used to it.

    There are plenty of things you can do to ease the impact. Switching off any electrical appliance, opening windows instead of turning on air-conditioning and all the usual things are great. Planting any available space with flowers, grass, shrubs and trees all help absorb rainwater and reduce air temperatures. It also happens to be one of the best things you can do to help wildlife.

    It's now become obvious how wasteful I've been in the past. Leaving lights on in empty rooms, taps running as I brush my teeth, using a car when I could have walked or cycled. So, now I'm not as lazy nor wasteful and I'm saving money as I save the earth. I wish I could do more, but some important incentives are still missing. Where is the government support to help me invest in water recycling or energy generation at home?

    Well. Politicians have been having a tough time. Like many birds, insects and other wildlife, many are heading the same way as the dodo, or should that be house sparrow, or vulture or rainforest.

    What's needed is a long term commitment to the environment, and urgent investment in managing our life support systems; our seas, rivers, forests, streets, gardens and open spaces. Join us in speaking out for nature, while there's still nature to secure a future for. Add your name to our Letter to the Future and then ask your friends and family to sign too.

  • No half measures!

    Images don't do these birds justice. Just go outside and gaze in wonder as they play up, up above...Mention of a swift half usually brings a chorus of assent, but news that swift numbers have dropped almost half has been recieved with groans of dismay.

    Why should we care? Well, apart from the fact that these birds are absolutely bloody amazing, we should consider that they gobble up bugs flying and floating in the air, such as mosquitoes and spiders.They can eat some five hundred insects an hour when supporting young in the nest.

    They're a crucial part of the natural world and if they nest in your roof, you should thank your lucky stars. I bet you didn't even know they were there for ages. They're pretty quiet on the nest, only screaming as they fly around, swooping, diving and dancing in the air. That's when you know swifts are around!

    They're not related to swallows, nor house martins. Although they appear similar in shape and behaviour. Swifts are members of a small group of birds that are able to enter a state of torpor or semi-hibernation. It's an evolutionary trick that allows them to survive cold snaps if they get the timing of migration wrong.

    Anyway, I've been drawn off the point by my enthusiasm for these small birds. The thing is, their populations' down 47% compared with ten years ago. Something's gone wrong. There are some impacts in Africa that we can address with International Partners, but back here in old blighty there's lots we can do to help.

    First off, please spare a moment to tell us about your sightings of any swifts. Secondly, please don't fill in holes in your eaves, or if you do, please build-in a swift nest box. Thirdly, try managing your garden to support insects by planting nectar rich flowers and not cutting all your grass; allow some to grow and go to seed around the lawn edges. Fourthly, support the RSPB financially or by volunteering. Together we can do more for wildlife.

  • Phew,what a scorcher

    The Met Office has been busy predicting the future - up to 2099.

    Not the cross my palm with silver, you will have a long happy life sort of prediction. The weather sort. It's a double-edged sword of a prediction that follows the forewarned is forearmed theory. Full details have not yet been released but the summary I've seen warns of unbearably hot summers in London (41C or 105F), failing food crops around the Capital and rising tide levels flooding some areas of the city. Insurers are going to have so much fun with this information.

    OK, this aint London it's Shrewsbury, but you get the idea.Remember this is a prediction, and who can forget Michael Fish scoffing at predictions of hurricanes. But, the Met Office is deadly serious so we need to look closely at their work and see what can be done to manage the problems they're highlighting. It will mean being more water conscious, managing our landscape to cope with heavy downpours and creating space to store water for times of need. Our work places and homes will need to be adapted to keep heat out in summer and warmth in in winter and to make maximum use of every drop of water.

    For wildlife, we'll need to ensure there is ample cover, food and water. Planting more trees and shrubs and replacing concrete with plants will all help. The extra plants will also help catch and slow down run-off from heavy downpours and the subsequent evaporation of water from tree canopies will help make the air cooler. Power generation and transport will all have to radically change, but the technology is there to do all of this. The political and financial wherewithal is what's lacking.

    I'm a hoopoe and I'm gorgeous!Urban farming will become more common and partly essential. Shops will sell salad from window boxes, cabbages and peppers from local flowerbeds. There are lots of big and small things we can do to make our futures easier. There's so much carbon dioxide in the environment that a certain amount of change is unavoidable. The trick is to meet that change in a way that is affordable; environmentally, socially and financially.

    Our own research has shown that bird species will change. Some species will find it uncomfortable and they'll move northwards to find more hospitable climes. If we get regular droughts then we can say goodbye to the traditional water and wetland species that have favoured the southeast. We're extremely concerned about lapwings. But nature is never static. It's always changing. We'll see equally amazing species arriving, such as hoopoes.

    My biggest concern is that the doom-laden news due from the Met Office, which is to be unveiled by Hilary Benn later this week, doesn't leave us with a sense of inevitability and a lack of motivation. Understanding and working with nature is key to tackling climate change.