Friday, 29 July 2011

Gannet Guilt

A few posts back on this blog and you'll see I spoke about how many of our gull species have benefitted from Accidental Nature. In their case, largely by us humans providing a food source either from fishing boats or landfill sites. For the species as a whole this has benefitted them, and this idea that a whole species can benefit from accidental nature is a common theme. This means that on balance most individual in a population are benefitting, but at the same time, there will moments when individuals do not benefit from Accidental Nature - and this was very evident for another seafaring bird species yesterday.

I have no doubt that Gannets have had one or two free meals from following fishing boats and taking discards. On the whole gannets as a species have probably benefited from Accidental Nature. But, out walking the dog yesterday I came across the poor soul pictured here. The bird clearly has some kind of fishing tackle wrapped around his bill, clearly it has divided at great speed to catch a fish in a net, or on the end of a line and it's bill has got caught up. What's more, if you look closely you'll notice the lower bill has actually been snapped in half. This bird is a casualty of Accidental Nature.

I tried to rescue it, rather like we rescued the seal at the weekend. But the bird could still fly and stepping foot within 20 meters of it sent it flying back out to sea. I watched it drift back in to the beach over the next few minutes. desperate to rest on shore. It was clearly exhausted, unable to feed because of the rope and line around its bill. It's only chance of survival would be to be caught and taken to a rescue centre, but this was not going to happen, not until it was too tired to fly. And even then, with a broken bill, once rescued I suspect it would never make it back to the wild and perhaps the kindest thing to do would be to put it down.

I felt terribly guilty that i couldn't help this gannet. I just had to walk away and leave it. The RSPCA tried to help but as far as I know they were unable to get any closer to it. This bird had a terrible accident and will likely die a long slow death. It would be easy to get angry at the fishing industry and wish it didn't exists  - but, as sad as that is, I will continue to consider that Accidental Nature may well be helping Gannets as a whole species because the easy food source fishery discard gives them outweighs the horrific injuries to this one bird. With Accidental Nature you always have to think of the bigger picture. Yes, all fishermen should be careful with keeping tackle out of the way of birds, but to stop fishing could be harmful in the long term.

This link shows a scientific research project looking at Gannets and Fisheries discard and how the birds who represent a success story in recent years may begin to suffer with the new regulations banning discard.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Nuclear Nature

I've had an email this morning from Trust for Cheryobyl Children asking if I would donate one my pictures (i sell framed photographs, mostly seascapes) for an auction to raise money for children caught up in the continuing consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. It's harrowing tale to hear about what happened to the families hit by the radiation fall out, but it is also a story that has had a profound impact on wildlife too, one that is very Accidental in nature.

When the nuclear re-actor exploded in 1986 a huge area of land was instantly declared an exclusion zone. Humans were banned from entering it. In effect, this created an enormous nature reserves, albeit a radioactive one. Since that point in time a huge number of scientific studies have been carried out in the area to try and understand how nature has coped with the effects of radiation and lack of humans.

Obvioulsy, in the immiediate blast area many individual animals died during the event. The surrounding forest of Scotch Pines died very quickly, turning a deep red in colour and giving the area its new name of the red forest. No doubt many mammals, birds, amphibians fish and reptiles were killed too. But after the initial blast of radiation, what has happened?

A few years down the line scientist visiting the no-go area started to notice animals seemed to be doing just fine. Wild Boar populatiosn had exploded and predators like Lynx and Eagle Owls, that had never been seen before in the area, had set up home. It seemed that the radiation levels were not harmful enough to outweigh the advantage of taking humans out of the landscape.

As the years passed other studies suggested a decline in some species like the Barn Swallow, which indicated that perhaps not all was well. Was biodiversity struggling more than some scientist suggested?Maybe, but then the paper apparently failed to address the fact that Barn Swallows need humans to flourish. Barn Swallows are themsleves very much "Accidental Nature". Dairy farming, which provided feeding habitat and a home to the swallows had been erradicated from the area, so perhaps it was no surprise to learn they had not done so well out of Chernobyl. The same was found for house mice. None in the abandoned houses in the exclusion zone, but plenty in the inhabited houses outside it. It was a lack of people having a negative effect on species, not the presence of radiation.

There are some links below all about these difference of opinions:

You will notice from reading them that the subject of Chernyobyl and its positive or negative impact on wildlife is still hotly debated, but 25 years on from the disaster it seems the idea of Accidental Nature is hard at work either way. Stories of wolves and bears in the exclusion zone are an exciting accident of humans being erradicated from an environment, falling numbers of swallows is sad for the population in Cherynobyl, but maybe a reflection of positive impact we can have for some species when we are present.

No doubt the research work into the wildllife will continue, and I'm glad the Trust for Cheryobyl Children continue there work so long after most of the world must have forgotten about the people effected. I need to go and find a picture for them to put in their auction. You can see their web-site here...

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Windfarm Accident for seals?

So, there I am thinking that my seal rescue has nothing to do with Accidental Nature. It seems I must think again. Now, this is not down to scientific fact, just a brief conversation, but listen to this.....

Windfarms are being built off the Kent coast at a rate of knots. The picture here is the view from my house and it shows one of the largest off-shore windfarms in Europe, all part of that Kentish eco-energy effort. Good news for carbon emmissions but what effect are these structures having on the sea in which we've put them?

Well, the brief tit-bit of Accidental Nature I've heard is that chalk reefs are beginning to build up around the turbines. As they do the seabed becomes more shallow, that means more fish, and more fish means - more seals. Seal numbers having been rapidly increasing around here in the last decade and there are no doubt many complex reasons as to why, but if building windfarms is one of them then what a superb piece of Accidental Nature. It might make up for the impact that turbines are suspected of having on birds in flight and noise pollution. I know I am touching on dangerous ground with this, wind turbines create a lot of hostilty from wildlife groups, but if there is a positive to be found in them then lets celebrate it because one thing is for sure, we're going to see an awful lot more of them as the UK has to chase it's targets for reductions in carbon emissions. 

So, the fact that I now see seals on a weekly basis, sometimes daily, in a seaside town that delivered no such delights as a child, could be related to windfarms. It is certainly a sign that more seals are breeding here. In turn that means it becomes more likely the folk living round here are going to find young pups washed up on the beach, like our little lady from yesterdays rescue. So, the seal rescue does have a link to Accidental Nature after all, as, I believe, so much of our natural history does if we take the time to look at how our social history fits into the world about us.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Waiving or Drowning? Seal Rescue

OK, so there's not much "accidental nature" about this story, but if a seal pup gets washed up outside my house and i snap a photo of the addorable little thing, how could i not share it.... And getting washed up was an accident on its behalf - so hey - why not!

It's Common Seal breeding season around the UK coastline and sadly that means an awful lot of young common seals will be found washed up along our beaches. Unlike grey seal pups born in the Autumn (who are largely encouraged to stay out of the water for the first 3 weeks of their lives) common seal pups are expected to swim within hours.

Common seals will often pup on tidal sand backs, just like the Goodwin Sands off Deal where i live. If the mothers don't keep an eye on them, or the weather is bad, when the sand banks get covered by the tide, its very easy for them to become seperated in the waves. The pups are washed away, can't fend for themselves and starve or drown from exhaustion.

This one pictured must have swum some 4 miles or more from the Goodwins over to the mainland outside my house, and is clearly just a few days old. It should have a good rotund barrel like shape with no neck, but is clearly undernourished and in desperate need of a feed. It was struggling to haul itself out of the surf and clearly didn't want to get back in the water - it was exhausted.

There is a strict code to follow with these events. You should never try to approach the pup or pick it up. Wait to see if the mother is close by, sometime she will be, and you standing about watching is keeping her away, so stay well back. If she doesn't return its time to call a marine rescue centre - the British Divers Marine Life Rescue is a good one... An expert will come along and assess what needs to be done. In this pups case, its was definitley a question of drowning not waiving! If it had gone back into the sea I don't think it would have lasted the night. So, Alex from BDMLR carefully crept up un the seal, which I was distracting by waiving my jumper about, and then she jumped on it with a towel. Safely wrapped up it was put into a carry case rushed to the scene by another on-looker Jeremy, who had made the call to the bring Alex in. 

The pup will have to go all the way to Hastings, the nearest marine life resuce centre to spend a few weeks putting on weight and being prepared for release. I've filmed pups in sanctuaries before, but i've never been involved in helping with a rescue. This little pup must be a fighter to have made it so far to shore, lets hope he makes it OK to Hastings and gets through his weeks in captivity to swim another day. If i ever get to see it again, I hope it'll be waiving, not drowning.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Golf Courses

The idea of Accidental Nature all came from a film I made for Springwatch this year. You can have a look at it here....

It's got some interesting facts on just how much space there is for wildlife on these seemingly perfectly manicured sports grounds.

So, where's your Accidental Nature?

There I was at my son's swimming lesson and I get chatting to my mate Jim about this new program idea, for which i've started this blog. And straight away Jim comes up with his idea for "accidental nature" - Army training grounds. Genius. Of course! The MOD own hundreds of thousands of acres of land which they set up for rifle ranges, assault courses, tank training, camping etc etc etc. In doing so they shelter off huge areas of the UK from urban development and daily general public disturbance, which in turn gives nature a place to breath. If you add into that all the areas owned by the MOD which just aren't used at all anymore - like old bunkers and the like, and you've got even more wildlife habitat accidentally made secure for nature. I've heard stories about orchids thriving in the tank tracks left up on Salisbury Plain as orchids love disturbed ground, and I am sure there must be hundreds more examples like that across MOD land.

It's because Jim was in the forces that this sprang to his mind, and it re-inforces my idea that everyone has a link to Accidental Nature. It's not nature for the scientist and researchers, its nature for everyday people like you and me. What ever walk of life we're in, we will have a story about accidental nature. It could be something as simple as the spider making a web in the spare room you never dust or it could be the railway embankment you see everyday on your commute to work, passing by the squirrels, the butterflies and the foxes as you go. We all have somewhere to see accidental nature, and that nature all has a story involving us humans behind it. So, if we do all have accidental nature around us, where's yours, whats it's story? I'd love to know.

Manatee Muddle

As i continue to get this blog going i want to keep stressing the idea of "accidental nature". Showing how humans are constantly creating habitat for wildlife without intention. I love how this displays the resilience of nature. Yesterday I talked about something really mundane, woodworm, its an everyday story, but very relevant to accidental nature. Today, I'm going to show accidental nature doesn't have to be mundane - it can be very exotic.

Over the last few decades Florida has been draining water from freshwater springs to feed its ever growing human population. And urbainsation has been blocking access to others too. Some of these springs are warm water springs, the destination of Florida's manatee population come winter. They need these warm waters to survive the cold winter months, and will die if they can't find them. As the Springs have been drained, Mantee's have suffered, at least they did until they worked out somewhere else to go for warm water - the out flows of the local power stations. Here, water that has been used as part of the cooling process is discharged into local rivers. In 2005 up to 60% of Manatees were using these warm waters to get through the winter. A very happy accident for the Manatees.

But it is not all good news, not by a long way. The Manatees have to travel further to get to their feeding grounds from here and so spend longer times in cold water and are more likely to get hit by boats. The best solution would be to re-instate the warm water springs, but for the time being that looks unlikely and the accidental jacuzzi's created by the power stations are very important to them. Its a case of taking with one hand and giving with the other here. A real Manatee muddle.

For the story in full check out this weblink:

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Uninvited Guests

OK, you cant simply love all of nature. There are some species that are not on the list and right now woodworm is one them. I've been doing my office up and when I ripped out an old shelf i found fresh wood worm holes all over it - so I've had to spend a fortune on chemicals and time to spray the whole office. The chemicals are nasty but quite frankly, i need a house to live in and its got wooden floor boards throughout. So its death to the woodworm.

The woodworm is of course not a worm, its a beetle. The "worm" confusion is the result of a beetle laying eggs into wood and a grub hatching out. Once hacthed out it this beetle grub will then munch away at the timber. People simply mistook the beetle grub for a worm. And what a nasty little grub it is too if you own a house - it will feast on your timbers for between 3 to 5 years! Once they are finally done stuffing themselves on your house they bore a chamber near the surface of the wood and pupate into the adult beetle, which eats its way out, flying off to find more beetles to mate with. The life cycle then starts again as they lay eggs into the surrounding wood in your house.

They're clearly a very successful little beast, and love the warm slighlty damp conditions our homes offer. Infact they are so successful there have created a multi-million pound human industry around eradicating them, but the fact we provide a home for them is certainly one accident I wish we didn't create. I know you have to admire nature's tenactity if you are going to celebrate accidental nature, but right now........

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Herring Gull

Much of our accidental nature turns people off, Herring Gulls in our urban environment is one example. Many people find them a loud, noisy and even aggressive intruder in what we want to be "our" world. Many animal lovers also mourn the herring gulls decline from its natural habitat to this grimy urban one. But do the gulls worry about any of this. No they don't. They just get on with it. They are after food, shelter and somewhere to reproduce. If we offer them those things they will take it. And think about it, back at the coast where they "belong" why were number so high? Because of fishing boats and the discarded fish they feed on perhaps? Is it any wonder as the number of fishing fleets in Britain crashes that coastal gull numbers are declining and rising in urban areas, especially at landfill sites where we throw away more and more "rubbish". Its likely we have been accidentally effecting gull populations for centuries and the gulls are simply following us and our accidental food offerings about. Once landfill sites close, which they will in 10 years or so, what happens to gulls then. Even more in our towns and cities as they raid our garden bird tables and over flowing dustbins? A massive crash in population? I don't know. What I do know is that gulls and humans have a long lasting relationship. Population Up or Down, is it right for us to interfere or do we just let the accident of gulls and humans play out its course, after all, accidents happen.


Planning to shoot a film at Dungeness for Autumnwatch. Great piece of accidental nature going on there. The nuclear power station pumps warm water from its cooling process into the sea. This warm area of water called "the patch" attracts a lot of marine life which in turn attracts sea birds which feed on it and so it is now a common "hot spot" for seawatching. Don't get more accidental than that!

Trying Again

I started this blog 3 years ago with the intention to link the city world with wildlife, it was called The Wilderness City. I got off to a blazing start blogging daily, and then it all stopped. I hadn't quite got it right, the city is too narrow a subject matter for me. i hope now i have got closer to what it is i want to be blogging about. It is a subject that relates to what went before but is much bigger. It is Accidental Nature. What does that mean. Quite simply it is the social history of our natural history. It is the appreciation of how we humans shape the landscape and wildlife makes use of that. We don't plan to have that wildlife in our lives, but it is. It is accidental nature.

Think of motorway embankments, think of canals, think of railway networks, think of grouse moors, think of traditional farmland, think of landfill sites, think of gardens, think of abandoned quarries, think of golf courses, think of pretty much anything. Whatever it is, after the initial human disturbance, nature finds a way to make use of it. We create spaces for nature whether we like it of not. Many of us then seem to adopt the widllife that moves into our world and become accidental naturalists. Through my work making natural history TV programs I've met many of them, green keepers, pier masters, grave diggers. All developed an interest in the wildlife that came into their world by accident rather than by design. It shows me that wildlife is not the preserve of the scientist or the conservation worker, but of everyday people.

So, from the city to the world it is.....everywhere i look i see accidental nature, a reminder that life on earth is so much more powerful than us human types, it will trump us everytime, in the immortal words of Jurrasic Park - "life will find a way". I think that is a positive thing to celebrate, and as much as we harm this world, we also play our part in its continual evolution. The life that finds a way, will continue to do so, and i want this blog to explore that thought and see where it might take us. I may look at big pictures stuff, how humans landscape the world or simple stories like how accidental wildlife crosses into our everyday lives, just like my son and the fox poo on his shoes in the last blog post 3 years ago. Anyway, it all starts here.....