Another Flower in the Wind?

This time last year I posted a note on the increased numbers of plants spotted flowering in the UK on New Year’s Day. Today the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland released the results of this year’s plant survey.

Just to keep things in context…

Average expected number of species flowering – 20-30.

2015 number of species flowering – 358

2016 number of species flowering – 612!

 

I also spotted a report on the BBC News website this morning on how Britain’s birds have been coping with our weirdly warm, wet winter. What the dickens are swifts doing in the UK in December? They should be in Africa! Apparently summer migrants are still here (or back early?) and winter migrants haven’t arrived in their usual numbers (presumably because it’s mild enough in their summering grounds they don’t feel the need to head for gentler British climes?)

It’s nice to see more birds sticking around rather than leaving, perhaps, but the milder weather has also increased disease rates amongst wild birds, which isn’t so good. Garden pests also haven’t had enough of a frosting to keep their numbers down – let’s hope that the increased bird numbers helps to predate the slugs and snails to reasonable levels!

Storm Jonas is currently giving the west of the UK a hammering but, so far (touch wood!) up in the north-east corner here it’s merely windy and warm, not yet sodden. I expect local river levels to rise soon all the same, as it’s raining over the snowpack in the Cairngorms – bad news for the snowsports industry, as they’d barely got the slopes open before this thaw and wet weather hit them, forcing them to close again.

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New Year, New Normal?

I’m referring to our weather.

There’s a basic difference between weather (the stuff that goes on from day to day) and climate (defined as averages taken over at least a 3-decade period). Admittedly, what we’ve been experiencing recently by way of floods might just be weather.

On the other hand, the fingerprints of climate change appear to be all over this year’s weather (if you’ll forgive the mixing of metaphors).

It gets wet in the wintertime. This is not news. Being an island sat in the path of prevailing maritime winds, the UK can achieve ‘wet’ all year round but generally we do get more in the winter than the summer. We had floods in 2012-13 that were pretty devastating. We had floods in 2013-14 that were even worse. Now we’ve had record flooding across a massive sweep of the country starting in 2015 and more still forecast for the next few days at least.

In case anyone missed it, there was a hurricane in the Atlantic in January 2016. They aren’t supposed to show up until June. There was also an iceberg spotted off Newfoundland, where it shouldn’t have been until April. Greenland suffered a mysterious melt-water event just after Storm Frank dumped a load of hot air over that area of the world, at the beginning of the month. Hurricane Alex dumped more hot air into the Arctic last week. Arctic sea-ice, which should be growing rapidly in the depths of the Arctic winter, is at very low levels and practically stalled for a bit in early January (look at the graph of sea-ice extent on the link and you can see the growth of ice flat-lined for several days).

I’m not just listing random events, by the way. All will become clear.

All of this brings me to Storm Jonas. Like Storm Frank, Jonas started life by walloping the US East Coast and is now moving offshore, through very much warmer than usual North Atlantic waters, heading for a meeting with a pool of colder than usual water in mid-Atlantic. When Frank encountered the cool pool, the effect was to supercharge the storm with increased winds and moisture, and Frank then blew right into Britain. Jonas is forecast to do exactly the same, and should (if the forecasts are correct) be landing on our heads from about Tuesday onwards, before swinging up the coast of Norway and delivering, yet again, a dollop of hot air from lower latitudes into the Arctic.

There’s two different points here.

The first one is, should the UK be expecting storms to come off the US continent, spin up again in mid-Atlantic and smack heavily into the UK as a regular thing from now on? We’re on the side of a hill, well above local water courses, but we now know which of our sheds goes below the water table level first and if it rains non-stop for eight days, as it did during/after Frank in this area, we’re going to need a sump-pump in that shed. I’m still in the process of fitting a raised floor to Jet’s cage, because he did not take kindly to 2 inches of water underfoot! The freezers are up on bricks as a temporary measure to keep them running safely. (Bailing out a shed, on and off, for two days is not an activity that I enjoy very much.) Should we be planning for average precipitation to go up from here on in?

Of course, the point about storms gaining force in mid-Atlantic before they hit us brings us to the cool pool. This is an area of the North Atlantic that’s been anomalously colder than average (one of the very few places in the world that still is!) for a couple of years now. It seems to be cooler because it’s fresher water than the normal run of Atlantic seawater, and it’s fresh, cold water because it’s melting off Greenland. Fresh water is less dense than salt water, so Greenland’s run-off is sitting on top of the warmer Atlantic salt water like a lid.

This brings us to the second point about these storms. Since the 1940s, when the Arctic temperatures started being recorded regularly, the temperature in the Arctic has risen to or above freezing 3 times, all in December. Storm Frank made it four times, just barely getting under the bar at the very end of 2015. Jonas might do it again this coming week, which would be a first for the records. (Hurricane Alex, incidentally, pumped air across Western Greenland that was 16-22 degrees C above average – but didn’t quite get the temperatures above freezing).

The more hot air goes into the Arctic, the faster the ice melts. The faster the ice melts, the more fresh, cold water goes into the North Atlantic cool pool. The bigger the cool pool, the bigger the storms, and the bigger the storms, the more hot air goes into the Arctic? (Note that question mark – it’s not proven yet, but I’m starting to wonder!)

As a side note, the bigger the cool pool the more it stalls the Gulf Stream going up into northern waters, so there’s a sort of backlog of hot water sat alongside the US east coast as a result, both raising sea levels and providing lots of energy and water vapour for coastal storms like Jonas.

This is beginning to look suspiciously like a positive feedback loop or, as my mother prefers to call it, a vicious circle.

If it is a positive feedback loop, then each time anything increases in that loop, everything else increases too, which means we can expect more ice melt to lead to more cool pool, leading to bigger storms, leading to more warm air going north, leading to more ice melt….. etc.

It’s always been said by climatologists that the Arctic will see most climate change, faster than the rest of the planet. Feedback loops (all, alas, positive ones) will kick in there before anywhere else. There’s another feedback loop that might tie in with the cool-pool/bigger storms/more ice melt loop, and that’s the simple fact that dark water reflects only 10% of the light (and heat) that falls on it, whereas white snow/ice reflects 90%. Replace Arctic ice and snow with water and the energy absorbed in the Arctic rises, which causes temperature rise, which causes more melting….. you get the picture.

Last week, NASA and NOAA joined the various other meteorological/climate science organisations in unveiling their analysis of 2015 global temperatures and, if you line up the 16 hottest years on record, 15 of them come since 2000 (and the other was 1998, which was freakishly hot due to a very big El Nino that year). Greenland ice melt has been accelerating and Antarctic melt looks like it will be, too.

Time to get that sump-pump fitted in the shed.

Intelligence and Information Sources

A bit of a change from routine here but relevant and important to anyone trying to plan for the future.

Where do you get your information from? Do you read the newspapers, watch TV, listen to friends in the pub? How good is their grip on reality? Are you hearing a load of opinionated BS, or are you hearing thoughtful, insightful comment, or are you getting anywhere within spitting distance of an actual fact?

Let’s be honest; it’s practically impossible to sift out fact from fiction in any mainstream news organisation these days, unless you know the difference before you start reading/listening to begin with. All the same, you can get a long way in the process by considering the source of your information. Is it believable? Is it coherent? And who said it?

I’m going to use a story from yesterday as my case in point. This one had some preppers I know metaphorically diving into bunkers, fearing imminent nuke exchanges as WWIII kicked off and NATO rushed to Turkey’s aid against Russian attacks.

Russian Jet Shot Down by Turkey

What happened? Who knows?

(Just as an aside, I still haven’t worked out how, assuming it was true, the Turks shooting down a Russian jet could be construed as Russia attacking NATO. Boot’s on the other foot, surely?)

For most of yesterday, various media organisations picked up this headline and regurgitated it in various ways, with varying degrees of confidence, bombast and caution, depending on their editorial policy and political leanings. I spent most of the day filtering through various sites where I’ve learned to go and find alternative information and what it boils down to is this.

Someone on Twitter reported seeing a flash in the night sky in northern Syria, near Aleppo, after seeing some fighters go by.

This was picked up by social media as “three eyewitnesses in Turkey saw Russian MiG-29 shot down in Turkish airspace by 3 Turkish F-16s which were hovering”.

Hang on a minute…. since when did F-16s hover? Being charitable, this could be a translation error and they might mean ‘circle’, I suppose. Or maybe they can’t tell the difference between a fighter jet and a chopper?

Hang on another minute…. how did eyewitnesses in Turkey see a plane shot down near Aleppo, nearly 30 miles from Syria’s border??

Hang on another minute again….. since when did Aleppo, 30 miles inside Syria, count as ‘Turkish airspace’???

And hang on just one more minute…. hands up anyone who can identify a Russian MiG-29 in the dark as it’s shot down 25-30 miles away!

I envy their eyesight.

Quick check of news reports from the past week or so and I can’t find any mention of the Russians fielding MiG-29s in Syria – they seem to be using Sukhoi 20s, 25s, 30s and 34s.

Could be a Syrian Mig-29, the Syrian airforce does use MiG-29s.

Anything on radio traffic? Apparently not – I regularly check out a forum called DEFCONWARNINGSYSTEM as they have quite a few members who monitor US military radio frequencies; even if the actual communications are coded, you can still note an uptick in activity and correlate that with something actually happening. Apparently the US military is business as usual, nobody’s excited about anything, comms traffic is normal everyday stuff.

What was the US President doing yesterday? Burning up the hotline to Moscow heading off WWIII? Nope, apparently (if you believe his own twitter feed) he was talking about the Trans Pacific Partnership being good for US jobs and workers.

Anything by way of comment from the Russians about losing an expensive warplane? Nope. Not even a ‘no comment’.

Anything from the Turks about starting an international shooting war with a country they’ve recently been doing a lot of expensive infrastructure deals with? Have they ticked off the Russians just before the Russians build them a new nuke power station and a whopping big oil/gas pipeline? Not even a ‘no comment’. They’ve got their hands full with terrorist bombings in Ankara, certainly, but you’d think they’d remember if they’d also shot down a Russian fighter.

Anything from Syria? Not that I can find, but then nobody’s reporting anything Syria says anyway. No cheering self-congratulatory back-slapping reported from any of the rebel groups or IS (not that I can actually tell the difference between any of them!) about downing a fighter, either.

No ambassadors recalled for discussions, no diplomatic notes about millions of roubles’ worth of missing jet, no jumping up and down making propaganda hay by the US – in fact, they’re withdrawing their carrier in the Med for routine maintenance and have just pulled their Patriot batteries from Turkey. Worried much? Doesn’t look like it.

My conclusion? Probably nothing happened, or if anything did happen, it most likely wasn’t the Russians and it probably wasn’t the Turks. Could have been a rebel group downing a Syrian jet inside Syria.

Move along, nothing to see here.

I did notice that almost all the mainstream media did put the word ‘unconfirmed’ in front of ‘reports’ in covering this, and the longer that ‘unconfirmed’ lingered without any confirmation, the less seriously I took the original story. It’s a classic example of Chinese Whispers, when you get down to it – but still underlines the basic principle.

The value of the information you get depends on its source. If the source is undependable, you have to treat the information warily. If the information is dependable, then you can weight the information accordingly. If it’s the Express saying the coming winter will be the worst for 50 years, I ignore it completely. The tabloid press in the UK have been running that headline yearly for the past couple of decades and they’ve yet to be correct once. If it’s the Met Office saying there’s a major storm inbound, then I take notice.

Just to lighten the mood (but stay on topic!) here’s a quick summary of the British press:

Take your eye off the predators…..

And you lose livestock.

It’s been lousy weather up here for a few days; rain and wind non-stop for day. Normal autumn weather, in fact. All the same, my mother (who does the chickens) decided last night that she wouldn’t go out in the rain and mud to shut up the chickens. They go to bed in their house by themselves, we just shut the door of their inner run, attached to the house, and let them out again in the morning.

We’ve been phasing this particular bunch of chickens out anyway – they’re older, they’re not laying so well, so I killed the two who like to escape the run and stalk about the garden the other day (they’re in the freezer at the moment, they’ll keep the ferrets fed very nicely for part of the winter) and we were considering when to kill the rest. All the same, it’s beyond annoying to find one of them beheaded and partially eaten at the far end of the run this morning.

My mother’s feeling guilty because, of course, she left the henhouse door open for once.

The ferrets are feeling happy because they’ve got the rest of the corpse.

I’ve shut the lower windows on the rabbitry – they don’t need the extra ventilation any more and I don’t want anything jumping in and trying to steal the bunnies. We’re down to 16 at the moment – next year’s 6 breeding stock and 10 youngsters from Ebony’s second litter who’ll be due for the freezer in December.

I went and poked around the chicken run looking for evidence of what killed the marran who routinely slept in the nestbox – the others sleep on the perch in the run by preference. There were feathers here and there, but then the hens are moulting at the moment anyway. It’s been raining like stink and then there were Mum’s wellies tramping about, plus various live chickens padding around, so finding any other tracks was difficult. I did manage to spot one mammalian paw-print, tucked away in a less-travelled bit of the run under the shelter of an overhanging bush; a long straight imprint from a back leg below the hock, where the creature had shifted its weight back before hauling a dead hen up a slight rise, and at the front end of that, a relatively small, rounded paw-print with four toes and no claws.

Felis catus, the common or garden house cat. It’s uncommon to find a nice clear paw-print from a house-cat since they usually put their back feet exactly the prints from their front-paws, but given this one was wrestling a chicken (presumably dead by then) up a slight incline and round a corner, he (I’m guessing – but we have more wandering toms pass through our garden than queens) didn’t quite manage it this time.

I went back into the house for a camera but by the time I’d come back the chickens had wandered all over the prints and destroyed them. They were possibly attracted there to see what I’d been up to (might have been food….) but hey-ho, that’s life.

Nothing to be done about it but make sure the door of the inner run is always shut in future, whatever the weather!

Another Referendum

And I’m not referring to the mutterings about Indyref 2 that the SNP are, inevitably, making. They’re as much a one-trick-pony as UKIP and one of these days I’ll do a post about the screw-up they are as a government. Scottish NHS barely getting by, police quitting in droves, education standards plummetting, teacher numbers falling, universities losing staff, GP practices closing…. but that’s another post, another day.

This time it’s the EU referendum, if Cameron ever puts his money (sorry, that should read ‘our’ money) where his mouth is and if the EU doesn’t implode (or explode) first under the current stresses of migration and Eurozone crisis. In a way, I’d be quite pleased if it fell apart by itself since that would save us all the trouble of arguing the issues and falling out amongst ourselves. As a survivor of the Indyref, I know from experience that a referendum is a bitterly divisive process when it involves something that ordinary people care about. The AV referendum back in 2011 was dry technical stuff that only constitutional anoraks got heated about – the rest of us didn’t really see the point of getting worked up about which way to mark a ballot paper.

I will say straight out that I don’t like the EU. I never voted to enter it (I wasn’t old enough) and I would dearly love, for many reasons, to be able to vote to get out of it. Like the Indyref last year, however, there are reasons being advanced both to stay in the EU and to leave it. Some may be specious works of fantasy, as were many arguments last year. Rather than put my brain on the shelf and let my emotions mark the ballot paper, I intend to work through all the reasons on both sides that I can find and come to a reasoned, balanced decision, rather than being blackmailed or brainwashed into things by someone else’s blarney. Or even my own heart.

I think each of the many issues deserves its own post (or, indeed, several) and, in any case, writing about each one will help me get (or keep) my own head straight.

Without further ado, then – the issues as I’ve come across them and thought of them so far (and I may add others if, as and when I come across them):

Sovereignty – the right of a nation or state to govern itself without outside imposition or interference. Leading on from sovereignty, ever-tighter Union and the Euro monetary policy, the woes of the PIIGS and the nature of a federal state.

Business arguments – both for and against. The balance of trade with the EU and outside it, free markets and the common market. The role of Business As Usual in exacerbating climate change, globalism and whether we should abandon current economic/fiscal theories in order to survive.

Immigration, Migration and Border Controls. The right to travel freely, Schengen, etc. A contentious subject that needs discussion on many levels. Involved in this are not just racism, human rights, religion, infrastructure and the Welfare State, but also health, law and order, global overpopulation/overshoot, planetary limits, resources, climate change and a great deal of futurology.

I will try to be objective about each subject but no promises. I am, after all, already biassed and know it, and I’m also a survivalist and an environmentalist so I’ll be approaching each topic from those directions, not from the the normal sheeple perspective.

Climate Catch Up: just in case you thought it was over….

It ain’t.

In fact, the state of the climate is more worrying than ever, as the rate of climate change would appear to be accelerating rather than remaining steady. In other words, it’s getting worse, faster (more details here and here). This, in turn, will cause an acceleration in all the other problems we can already see starting, and which we should expect to get much worse in the next few years – increasing migration, decreasing crop yields, more droughts, more heatwaves, etc.

Globally, we’ve just had the hottest July on record, and those records go back to 1880. July 2015 has been the hottest of all those months, so the hottest month of the last 1,627 months..

Global average sea temperatures were 0.75 degrees C above average, too – the largest departure from the average ever recorded.

If that wasn’t bad enough, it’s almost certain that temperatures will continue well above average for the rest of this year and into 2016, thanks to what started out as a limp-wristed wimp of an El Nino but has now developed into what’s been called a Godzilla El Nino, with worse expected before this time next year. El Nino conditions tend to produce record global high temperatures anyway – which is why 1998 still ranks as one of the hottest years on record, thanks to a monster El Nino that year – but with global temperatures already well above average, nobody seems to know quite how bad the Godzilla of the Pacific might be, this year or next.

Both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice are below average extent at the moment – it’s high summer in the arctic and sea-ice is approaching its minimum, with both the North-West Passage and the Northern Russian Coastal Route open as seaways. In the Antarctic, though, it’s now the depths of winter, yet sea-ice is slightly below average (National Snow and Ice Data Centre has the details).

It’s not all bad news, though. Following the Pope’s recent declaration in favour of taking care of our poor battered environment, Muslim clerics are now standing up for the biosphere, too, with a recent gathering of top clerics from 20 Muslim countries calling on all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world to work to reduce climate change and transition to a zero-carbon economy by the middle of the century.

What effect China’s current economic belly-flop will have on their carbon emissions, I don’t know. It’s probably both good (less pollution from a less-active economy) and bad (less money to plough into greener initiatives and pollution clean-ups) but I expect, as always, that it’ll all be clear with hindsight.

And now back to everyday life….

Not Lazarus; just me, back again…

It’s been a while. I offer no excuses, since there’s no earthly reason why I *must* scribble my random ideas down regularly – nor for anyone to read them, come to that…

Despite the title, I haven’t been dead or even mildly indisposed, merely getting on with life. There was a family holiday in Argyll, during which I ticked seeing the Corryvreckan whirlpool off my bucket list and my sister and brother-in-law decided to chuck living in the south-east and move to Mull instead. It’ll be interesting to watch them adapt to living on a pretty small rural island after decades in Essex and working in the City, but they’ll probably cope, they’re both intelligent and adaptable adults with plenty of life-experience.

Following my bunny population explosion in April, Ebony went on to rear 5 kits, Trudy and Ivory all of theirs and Jezebel 7 of her original 10 kits. Jezebel also suddenly gave me the first case of mastitis I’ve seen in a rabbit in 40 years of being around bunnies, so once the kits were old enough to wean I culled her – rabbits are fiendishly difficult to cure of mastitis and while I did get antibiotics and anti-inflammatories for her from the vet to keep her going until the kits were old enough, it was obvious the infection wasn’t clearing up so I put her down rather than extend her suffering.

Jezebel’s kits did fine and are now variously in the freezer, the dogs and the ferrets. I’ve sold a few of the rex kits and the others are growing nicely and will be heading freezer-wards in September, except for one harlequin doe kit I’m keeping back from Ivory’s litter as future breeding stock.

Silver’s had three chances to prove himself a fertile stud buck and struck out every time, so he’ll shortly be going into the freezer, too. I picked up a couple of unrelated buck kits from a breeder down south on Tuesday so I’m not relying only on Jet as a stud buck, anyway.

Ebony, who made such an incredible mess of her first litter, has had another litter and pulled herself together very nicely. She has 10 kits in the nest – two black, three ermines and 5 harlies, though one’s a runt. Harlies seem to be the ones that sell so that’s excellent. Ivory’s refusing to mate again and I will probably cull her out and keep one of Ebony’s doe kits to replace her.

Delilah (the sole remaining NZW doe) had a litter of 6, which is pathetic by NZW standards, then lost one but the remaining 5 are now just about old enough to wean and very well grown, so they’ll be separated from her in the next week or so. They should be ready to kill in about 6 more weeks.

Apart from that, the garden is flourishing, the country’s still heading gently to the dogs and I’ve sold both my air-rifles. The air-rifle licensing bill is merely waiting for Royal Assent and then everyone in Scotland with an air-rifle will be expected to produce fire-arm cabinet, proof of “need” to own, insurance, and a cheque-book before they can pick up a tin of pellets….

What kind of government doesn’t even trust its citizens to own an air-rifle safely?  Surely not the one that shouted so loudly about trusting Scots to run their own country…..?

False Dichotomies

Today’s post is a bit of a diversion from the normal run of things, but bear with me. The ability to think clearly, recognise false arguments and counter bad logic is valuable for anyone, in any circumstances.

My father, when we were kids, used to drive us nuts on a regular basis. A simple yes/no question invariably drew difficult answers.

Tea or coffee?   Yes.

Cake or ice-cream?   Yes.

Do you want badgers or hedgehogs?

I don’t believe we ever asked Dad that last one, but it’s the same principle and I’ve put it in for a reason.

I’m getting fed-up of the hysteria over badgers. The UK has badgers. Lots of badgers. 288,000 at least, probably more since that’s a 2011 figure and the badger population is rising all the time, despite 45,000 a year squashed on the roads. Dairy farmers aren’t that happy about the badger population density because badgers, like cows, can catch, carry and transmit tuberculosis. Whether cows give it to badgers or badgers give it to cows is probably irrelevant – though TB has long been known to be a cattle disease, arriving in the human population when we started keeping cattle as livestock, thousands of years ago, even though now most TB in humans (in the UK, at least) is caught from other humans.

Whichever way it goes, a farmer whose cows test positive for TB has to destroy the affected animal(s). So a farmer with TB infected badgers roaming about his farm runs the risk of losing his livelihood as his cows may pick up TB from the badgers. The argument there goes, there’s lots of cows and badgers are cute, so the cows (and farmers) should be sacrificed for the badgers.

I’ve had first-hand experience of badgers and livestock – some years ago we lost our small duck flock in the back garden overnight, together with some chickens. The culprit? We found the cheeky beggar sleeping in the henhouse, curled up in the nestbox with his dinner (one of the ducks) snuggled under his chin, ready for a late snack. It was a badger.

(Newsflash – real badgers are not “cute”, no matter what they look like on TV. They are amazingly smelly and can bite your leg to the bone when cornered.)

They’re strictly protected. You can’t disturb their setts (burrows) nor shoot, trap, snare, drive ’em out with terriers or otherwise persecute them. But there’s no law that says you have to give them board and lodging in your henhouse so young brock went down the drive at high speed with the prickly end of a brush chasing after his tail and we no longer keep ground-nesting birds like ducks. He was probably a young male on the roam for a new sett to move into – young males get moved on to fresh territories by their elders.

Now, I don’t particularly hold it against badgers that they act like the predators they are. They may mostly eat earthworms and beetles but they’re members of the weasel family and they’re carnivores. Show a carnivore a sitting duck (pun intended) and he’ll head in teeth-first. I don’t expect a badger (or a fox) to consider my property rights or the ethics of scoffing the livestock I’ve carefully nourished and cared for without due recompense for my loss. I expect a badger to eat unguarded poultry, just as I expect any predator to be a predator. That why we lock the hens up at night (foxes), that’s why the rabbit shed door isn’t left open (cats) and why I’m careful not to discuss the full extent of my prepping activities with anyone (humans).

Not all predators go on four legs.

Let’s get back to hedgehogs. The UK used to have lots of hedgepigs, or urchins. It was estimated there were upwards of 30 million in the 1950s, when badger numbers were lower, cities were smaller, there were less people and more hedges. Now there’s probably less than 1.5 million. Tiger populations are decreasing more slowly than this! Causes of the decline? Certainly habitat loss, to some extent – less hedges, bigger fields, more intensive agriculture, more pesticides (means less slugs/beetles for hedgepigs to eat). Urbanisation is probably irrelevant – back gardens and parks, provided they’re reasonably untidy, are superb hedgehog habitat. More people…. probably mostly irrelevant too, except more people means more road-traffic and hedgehogs famously have road-crossing problems. But badgers? Badgers eat hedgehogs. They’re the only animal in the UK (except people) which can get past the spiky wrapper to the meat on the inside.

Kew Gardens used to have lots of hedgehogs, apparently. Then in the 1980s, badgers moved in and now Kew, 300 acres of superb hedgehog habitat, has 60+ badgers and zero hedgehogs.

Obviously badgers and hedgehogs have both co-existed in the UK since the end of the Ice Age so it’s possible, under the right circumstances, for them to continue co-existing now. But with blanket protection for brock and an exploding badger population, maybe the time has come to ask, are we over-protecting badgers and what will we sacrifice to keep the badger-huggers happy? Hedgehogs? Farmers’ livelihoods? Poultry?

Are hedgehogs “cuter” than badgers?

Now, I called this post false dichotomies for a reason. Remember that question?

Do you want badgers or hedgehogs?

This is a false dichotomy because, as my father so delighted in pointing out with his frustrating one-word answer, it’s not an either/or choice. I’d like badgers AND hedgehogs, please. In a reasonable balance and, while we’re at it, I don’t mind foxes but only in moderation. I’d like ground-nesting birds not to be wiped out by exploding pine-marten numbers. I don’t see why anglers playing catch-and-release games with innocent fish complain when a hungry otter (shock horror) catches and doesn’t release some fish (and I’ve no time for anyone who spends their time ranting about social inequality and anti-austerity while taking home more money for less work than any other politician in the UK when there’s ex-servicemen living rough. When was the last time a politician showed willing to put their life on the line for the country?)

The relevant word in my answer is balance. Badgers presumably had some kind of natural check on their population during the millennia when they and hedgehogs lived in balance in Britain – maybe bears eat badgers, or lynx, or maybe wolves, or perhaps there were enough aurochs roaming the forests to squash 45,000 badgers a year. Something must have kept badger numbers down enough for hedgehogs to thrive alongside them, but it’s not here now. Whatever it was, it’s a fair bet that humans removed it (or them) because we’ve had such a massive impact on this island of ours since then. We wiped out all the big predators, we cut down a lot of the forests, we built towns and cities (there are urban badgers, if not so many as urban foxes!) and, admittedly, we also hunted badgers and tortured them in baiting rings. I’ve no time for anyone who’s deliberately cruel to any creature, whether it’s pulling the wings off flies or setting dogs on badgers, rats, each other or whatever. If you’re going to kill, it should be for a good reason (“fun” isn’t a good reason) and it should be quick and clean. Kill to eat, kill to protect yourself (I wonder how many of the ardent “animal-lovers” would willingly allow a tiger or a bear to bite them?), kill to prevent suffering, or kill to keep the balance, but I don’t kill for fun – and do, please, note there’s a distinction between killing for fun and taking a pride in killing something well. If you don’t take a pride in killing well, that means you don’t mind killing incompetently. (While we’re on the subject, please do stop and finish off your roadkill, don’t leave it lying in agony for hours while the crows take it apart piecemeal. Animals feel pain and fear just as humans do so show some decency and kill the poor beggars properly. Quickly.)

After all, if people didn’t kill wild rabbits, we’d have no cereal crops. If we didn’t shoot foxes that raid henhouses, we’d have no chickens or eggs. Pigeons and rooks damage cereal crops, badgers take poultry (and hedgehogs) and deer can devastate crops and young trees alike. We took away the things that kept their populations in balance before, so it’s up to us to provide that balance now – by culling the populations that are too strong, and encouraging the populations that are struggling.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirzig addresses this problem of false dichotomy though the metaphor of the horns of a bull. It’s a very appropriate metaphor, since another word for ‘dichotomy’ is ‘dilemma’, which means ‘two horns’. It’s been a while since I last read the book and I don’t remember exactly how many options he came up with for avoiding having to choose “left horn” or “right horn” of his dilemma, but it was about 13 or thereabouts, I think.

Hedgehogs on the left, versus badgers on the right. Now…. we could refuse to enter the arena. Give them both exactly the same treatment and refuse to face the problem. Unfortunately this will continue the current course and it’ll be curtains, urchins.

We could establish hedgehog reserves where badgers can’t go. Offshore islands, perhaps? Oh, wait, offshore islands are ideal ground-nesting-bird territory and Mrs Tiggywinkle, if you didn’t know, loves eggs. That’s why there’s hedgehog-removal schemes in the Western Isles.

We could re-introduce the big predators that used to keep badger numbers down. Oops, no, remember why we wiped them to begin with? Lynx and wolves take livestock and bears have been known to kill people. Probably not a starter for ten, that one!

We could fall back on culling badger numbers to protect farmers, cows and hedgehogs – we just need to find a reliable, humane and effective method, which was the major problem in the trial culls over the past couple of years. Live trap and then shoot at close range? Go back to gassing setts?

Any more suggestions?

False dichotomies like this show up all the time in real life. In climate change, one of the most common false dichotomies is “natural or man-made” causes. It’s not an either-or question because there are both natural and man-made causes – but the natural ones don’t cause such rapid change that we risk being unable to adapt.

Politics is another area where false dilemmas breed – do you vote Labour, or Tory? Though this, looking at the recent election, seems less of a dilemma now we also have UKIP and the SNP getting major support in some areas! In the States it’s even worse, since they only seem to have Republican and Democrat as flavours.

It’s worth learning how to spot these false dichotomies and find ways around them in any context – anything that helps with thinking in colour instead of black and white is good, as my father used to say!

RIP Tigger – but his genes live on.

I’ve been concerned about Tigger, my harlie buck, for a week or so. He started looking a bit unhappy on his feet and “rough” generally – ungroomed, a bit miserable – towards the beginning of last week so I moved him to a smaller cage where he didn’t have to travel so far between food hopper, hayrack and water bottle, just leaving the door open for a couple of hours a day so he could go sunbathe, socialise or whatever. He wasn’t getting any better though and watching him when he reluctantly moved around, he seemed to be trying to keep his weight on his front feet and off his back legs, trying not to move them more than he had to – which is a problem when you’re an animal that hops in long bounds, normally. That made me wonder if he’d damaged his back.

The cage-rest didn’t help and he carried on looking worse, so this morning I put him out of his misery.

I was right about the back injury – there was a patch just behind his last ribs where the tissues around his spine had swollen and discoloured, and the muscles just behind that felt softer and thinner than the rest of his back so I think he must have slipped a disc or the like. I know from my own experience that injured backs take months to stop causing agony, years to heal and they never come back to 100% anyway, so I’m glad I put the old boy down. He had a good life, he fathered some excellent kits for me, and his genes will continue through Jet, Ebony and Ivory, so for a rabbit he’s left a pretty good legacy!

I’ll keep a harlie kit from Ivory’s bunch, I think – a doe, if she’s got one! – and pick out a good harlie buck from a future litter by Ebony to go with it.

I’ll take a screwdriver to Tigger’s old cage and take the upper levels out of it, then any future occupant won’t run the risk of falling off them and doing its back in, too. If they’re determined to fall off something, they’ll have to go a bit further afield!

What Do You Do When The Taps Don’t Work?

This post is inspired by some reports from the States, not anything amiss in the state of our supplies here – yet, anyway!

I came across an article on the current problems in water supply in Baltimore and Detroit that sparked a bit of thinking on my part. Unlike California, the problem isn’t lack of water, per se. Both Baltimore and Detroit have plenty of water available. The problem here is that maintaining the infrastructure to collect, purify and supply water to a city is an expensive job – maintenance costs, wages, etc – that needs to be paid for, and both Detroit and Baltimore choose to pay for this process via billing customers for their water (Don’t get excited about “free” water in the UK – it’s not free, we just pay for our supply via our taxes). If you can’t pay your water bill, the water supply gets shut off.

It’s in the nature of cities in economically depressed areas to have a fair proportion of long-term unemployed, jobless and generally poor people who can’t afford to pay for much. In the case of both Baltimore and Detroit, they’re seriously economically depressed (part of America’s “rustbucket” belt where the death of heavy industry and off-shoring to the Far East has stripped jobs away from the area) and as a result, a certain number of people default on their water bills. There are, by the looks of things, some schemes for assisting those in financial difficulties, but at the end of the day those water pipes still cost money to keep in one piece with clean water flowing through them, so the water companies have to find the money somewhere to keep operating. If people aren’t paying the bills, where does the money come from to pay the workers to fix leaks or operate the treatment plants?

I’m not that interested in the whys and wherefores or the philosophy of paying directly for water or having it tucked into the tax bills. What exercised my mind was scenario planning. Take this a little further (as I suspect will happen to all major cities at some point in the future) and play the mind-games: suppose this happened where I live? Suppose there wasn’t the money to pay for clean water to fall out of taps in endless quantities? As a survivalist, what would I do if the water supply failed, long-term?

Short term, say a few days or weeks, is no challenge at all. We have a big water-butt in the garden and the climate here is soggy enough it stays full, or near-full, all the time, even through we’re using it for gardening and for the bunnies and chooks. We could easily fill up a bucket and pour it into the Berky filter in the kitchen and we’d have pure, clean, safe water for ourselves. If we lived in a city and had some warning (like knowing we’d just had a shut-off notice!) we could fill up containers and store water to tide us over a short break in supply.

But if the supply’s out for months? Or forever? What then?

The usual recommendations are that a human needs 2 litres of water to drink per say, plus washing and cooking water, say about 4 litres a day, per person. 4kg of water. In a week, that’s 28L of water per person. 126L per month. 1,512L per year. Multiply by however many are in your household and then think about the weight-bearing capability of your floors. You really can’t store that much water upstairs!

What if you live in a flat?

And then there’s that perennial problem, the neighbours. If the water’s out for a couple of hours, you can bet someone will pop round to ask if you could let them fill the kettle, because they didn’t have any water stored! All very well when you know they’ll fix the problem in a couple of hours, but what do you do when you’re the only one in the area with a water butt and a filter and the neighbours haven’t had any water for a few days? You can’t go without water for very long – even in a fairly damp, cool climate like the UK, people get thirsty after a few hours and dehydrated after a few more. Bottled water and soft drinks will only last so long and then the local shops will be stripped bare.

After a day or two your neighbours will be losing the plot. Dehydration affects brain function and irrationality will set in. If it’s a choice between drink untreated water or die of thirst, people will drink the dirty water, and since there won’t be water spare for washing, it’ll encourage the outbreak of the diseases of poor hygiene – cholera, typhoid, typhus, E coli and salmonella.

I’ll admit to a big advantage here (and it’s not accidental!); I live in a smallish village in a rural area, not in the middle of a city. We have natural water sources available by way of a small river, various springs and some old wells. I’m not planning on sharing my filter with the village but I can teach people how to build their own, using sand, gravel, charcoal and a bucket, so if (when) our taps run dry in the aftermath of civilisation, hopefully I can reduce the risk of being mobbed by neighbours desperate for a drink.

But what do you do if you live in a flat in a city? How do you supply your water needs without the infrastructure and utilities we all take for granted?

In other news: the bunnies all seem fine and the kits are opening their eyes and beginning to stagger around their cages, beginning the process of driving their mothers slightly demented. I had to pick Jezebel up to get her back in her cage this morning, she wasn’t going back in with those ‘orrible little monsters willingly! In the garden we’re pricking out brassicas and netting them at the moment – both butterflies and birds liking brassica leaves! – and the peas and beans are sprouting nicely. The parsnips haven’t put their shoots up yet but parsnips are often slow so we’re not worrying about it. They’ll turn up in their own good time! We’ve also ordered this year’s tomatoes – last year we were disappointed in our crop from plants bought locally, so we’ve gone back to the mail-order company which supplied our plants the year before, when we had bumper harvests from grafted plants. They should arrive mid-June and we’re looking forward to more big, delicious harvests!

Last August I put some eggs into waterglass as an experiment: my grandmother used to preserve eggs this way during WWII and I’m always interested in food storage methods that don’t rely on a constant supply of electricity so I put 4 dozen away to see how it works. I fished them out a couple of days ago to see the results of the experiment and I’m very pleased: they all looked like eggs, smelled like good eggs, and although when broken the white is very runny and the yolk breaks rather easily (it’d be difficult to get good fried eggs out of them), they taste normal and delicious.

All very good – but then I had 4 dozen eggs to use up! An orgy of cooking and baking ensued and we now have over 9lbs of cakes and another 9lbs of quiche in the freezer.