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.
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.
This past week has been a bit quieter for myself. Last weekend meant I got to get involved with the Big Garden Birdwatch, counting a total of 43 birds in my garden in the space of an hour. It’s interesting how simply watching what goes on in your garden for an hour can give you a little insight into the different stories that unfold there each day. As I watched I noticed that there were seven different blackbirds (5 males and 2 females) all jostling for food in my neighbours garden, hopping back and forth through my garden. I'd never seen blackbirds be so gregarious in my garden before, and I read that territories are usually well established at this time of year as they start trying to attract their potential mate for the breeding season. So why was their behaviour so relaxed? They barely got worked up when competing over the scraps of food on offer.
Blackbirds are one of my favourite UK birds, with one of the best songs to be heard. This male foraging in the summer time showed a much more territorial attitude to other males in the area than I saw in my garden this winter.
Maybe it was simply that food was plentiful enough to reduce the need for any heated competition between them, though the presence of females would have surely caused a few feathers to fly. Some reading up on their behaviours suggests it could just be that their territories overlap at this point, which happens to be a feeding ground that can provide enough for all. I'm sure they will become more competitive as the breeding season progresses, but it did get me thinking if this is commonly seen behaviour?Starlings were present in decent numbers as were the goldfinches, but the one species that did surprise me were the House Sparrows. Throughout the whole hour, I only counted a single male, worrying as I know there is typically a large social group of them that make their home right around my back garden. Whether the rest of the group were elsewhere, or simply hidden away in the bushes I wasn't sure, but I didn't see any others come or go in that whole hour which is very odd considering there was plenty of food freshly put out for them to eat. House sparrows themselves are a sedentary species in the UK, and don’t migrate as the seasons come and go, occasionally moving when food becomes scarce.
This close up head shot of a male house sparrow was taken during some routine data collection on a bird ringing exercise in Portugal.
In a garden environment such as this though, where food is plentiful, their absence is concerning. It just goes to show how there decline in numbers over the last 30 years has impacted upon local populations that one would assume to be fairly safe from decline. I never really thought that I would be excited to see a house sparrow the same way I am a tree sparrow, but if they are becoming a rare sight even in my own back yard, then it may well end up being that way unfortunately. As this post goes out, I'm preparing myself for a trip to Somerset with a small group of keen conservationists from the group “A Focus On Nature”. The trip promises to be a great experience, as long as the weather doesn't make things too difficult. There will be more about the trip in next weeks blog, so stay tuned.
For now, I’ll leave you with an image I worked on this week. A lace webbed spider that I found in my bed!
For more of my images or to contact me directly, check out my website at www.edmarshallwildimages.co.uk or even like my Facebook page Ed Marshall Wild Images.