With the recent explosion all over our news screens about fracking over the last month or so, and how it is looking to be the new method of obtaining fuel to provide us with a much needed source of energy, I thought it was only appropriate that I did some research into the matter of my own.
Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, is a method of obtaining natural gas or oil (fuel) that is trapped within a layer of shale rock roughly 1-2 miles into the Earth’s crust. The well is firstly drilled straight down to the layer of shale rock, and then horizontally, progressing through the rock layer. The process involves fracturing this shale rock, in order to release the gas, by means of a high powered water jet that is mixed with sand particles and chemicals to encourage the fracturing process. As the rocks break up, the gas is released which is then transported back up to the surface where it can be used. Though this has taken its place in the limelight fairly recently, it is a means of obtaining fuel that has been used for some time now, with energy companies combining horizontal drilling techniques with “hydraulic fracturing” over a decade ago in the U.S.A.
Ratcliffe-on-Soar is a large coal-based power station near Nottingham. It can be seen from the nearby Attenborough Nature Reserve, which has become something of an iconic image, showing the stark contrast between the two sites.
It is a heavily debated topic and rightly so, with those opposing it bringing up the environmental, and public health issues that are a potential risk, and those supporting it reminding us all that it is important to move away from our current dependence on coal that drives our current power plants, and that the potential for economic growth should not be ignored. I’ve decided here, to try and bring the pro’s and con’s that I have found together, so that you can come to your own conclusions on the topic.
I’ve tried to keep this blog post nice and balanced as I know this is a topic that could lead to heated debate. I am a great lover of the natural world and, as a wildlife photographer, there’s nothing I would love more than for our own flora and fauna to be put first in this instance. However, I think that fracking is something that will become more widespread throughout the UK, I can only hope that the value of the UK’s natural environment is kept in mind.
This last week has been an interesting one. With footage and images of the storms that have ravaged parts of the country all over the news, it is all too easy to think about how this has been affecting some of our wildlife. With particular attention paid to some of the coastal areas worst affected by the weather, it would have been nice to do a piece on how this weather has affected the wildlife of these areas. Living in the landlocked county of Staffordshire however, means a quick trip to the seaside isn’t really on the cards for me, so I’ve opted to keep it local. The river near where I live has swelled by approximately 4 feet due to the heavy rainfall, and has got me thinking about how it can affect the wildlife that lives both in and around it. It only takes a short walk along this stretch of river to see the potential impacts it can have upon the local wildlife.
My first thoughts were with the kingfishers that I’ve seen on several occasions along this stretch of river, and how the higher water levels may impact upon their feeding habits. After some thought, a little research led me to an interesting paper entitled "The role of floods in the lives of fish-eating birds: predator loss or benefit?" (Čech & Čech, 2013), which described how kingfishers will adapt their behaviour to maintain their food intake. Typically kingfishers pick off fish from the surface of the river, but during times of flood (which also results in more turbid conditions), kingfishers have been observed to dive into rivers and swim down to feed on prey that lives on the river bed. This being said I hadn’t seen or heard the kingfishers since the heavy rainfall had begun, but other reports stating that kingfishers are likely to hunt in nearby locations that are more suitable (such as canals, lakes, or even garden ponds!) gave me hope.
These two kingfishers were photographed a while ago, roughly around October/November time, and I saw behaviour relating to excavating a nest site. The floods have meant the nest will have been submerged for almost two weeks now, so I fear they will have moved elsewhere along the river to find potential nest sites.
The footpath and river bank itself is about 4 or 5 feet higher than the water usually, so this helps to give an idea as to how high the river has reached. Other concerns are for rodents that live along that length of bank, particularly any voles that may live here. I’ve seen many small holes suitable for voles at various intervals along the bank and can only hope that they haven’t been too badly affected by the flooding.
It’s not all bad though! The surrounding field areas that were affected by the floods turned into a bit of a haven for birds such as black-headed gulls, crows, and magpies. Although these aren’t really birds that pull at our heart strings, we can only look at this as an upside. They are, in my opinion, just as charismatic and interesting as any kingfisher or water vole. That’s all for this week, I can only hope that the weather returns to a more normal state over the coming weeks, that I see the kingfishers sometime soon, and that I finally see this season’s first snowfall in my home town!. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed!
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With the New Year barely put behind us, you may think it a little early to be thinking about signs of spring. You would be right, but the problem is that it seems some of the flowers don’t seem to realise that they are making their appearance far too early. About a week ago I was travelling into the town centre of Tamworth, and passed a patch of daffodils that were already beginning to poke their stems above the leaf litter. We haven’t had any bad spells of frost so far this winter, but I'm sure they won’t be far off. The forecast for the near future seems to be staying true to the mild weather we have been having of late, but it can’t be long now before the cold weather systems bring the snow and frost. Not only do they carry with them the promise of bringing the UK to a standstill, but they also put any early bloomers at risk. It makes me wonder about the implications this has on our wildlife.
These images of plant shoots starting to develop was taken just one day before this post was published. They are at risk of being damaged during the first heavy frost or snowfall that falls during the remainder of the winter season. The winters sun is still low in the sky, and there's something odd about seeing signs of spring when it still feels so cold out.
The reason that I find the potential risk to flowering plants of such concern comes down to those that depend on them for food. The plight of the bumblebee is becoming fairly well known now as their numbers have caused some concern over recent years, with decreases in their numbers corresponding to the decrease in the abundance of flowering plants. In rural areas, bees gain the majority of their energy from the nectar of wild flowers (though these are also in decline), and it is the planted flowers around towns and cities that help to provide urban populations of pollinators with a food source. If last years’ prolonged snowy spell were to happen again this year, I dread to think what it could do to the flowering plants and therefore populations of pollinators in areas where plants are cropping up so early.
I’ve heard from many other sources that even some of our bird species this year are jumping the gun, with eggs already being found in nests by bird ringers and nature enthusiasts. This is bad news for any individuals that decide to lay eggs now, as there is little in the way of food at the minute to not only feed chicks (should eggs even get to the point of successfully hatching), but to provide the required energy to the females to produce the eggs in the first place. Here at the RSPB, we are big on encouraging people to provide bird feed for the birds in their neighbourhood, but it could be even more important than you think!
There is little we can do for birds that are laying eggs early, but it is important that we use this as an early warning system. It is clear evidence that birds are having to adapt their behaviours to changing environmental conditions, and along with changes seen in other species across the globe (such as the migration behaviour of the Monarch butterfly), will prove to be a very important way for us to determine how the Earth’s climate is changing and affecting various locations. I would rather deal with what Winter has to offer over the next month or so, rather than worry about something that doesn't typically hit headlines until it is upon us, but that is the problem. We don’t really think about the issue until it’s already happening. It would be better to start taking notice and planning more in advance for these events, in order to do what we can to help any species that could be at risk.