Ruff

There are literally thousands of birds around at winter feeding time at WWT Martin Mere. On our recent visit, among the larger ducks, geese and swans there appeared a number of these much smaller waders – ruffs. They seemed rather diffident, as most waited on an island bank for the larger birds to feed before creeping in to find some leftover seeds. The odd one joined in the mêlée, disappearing in a sea of duck, goose and swan legs.

By the time they got close enough to photograph with my Panasonic Lumix TZ80 the light was not good, so my shots are not too sharp.

ruff

Surprisingly, the male ruff is a startlingly attractive bird in summer plumage, with a highly colourful ruff around the neck. I was once so surprised to come across one a few feet away from me at an RSPB reserve, that I simply forgot about the camera easily to hand.

These ruffs were probably winter visitors. The RSPB suggests that the UK’s summer breeding population is very small.

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Message of BBC’s Blue Planet

blue-planet-bbc-america
“We are at a unique stage in our history. Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet, and never before have we had the power to do something about it. Surely we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity, and indeed all life on Earth, now depends on us.”
David Attenborough, Blue Planet II

Internet Addiction

How often do you see people with their faces stuck into their mobile phones, tablets, laptops, ignoring the real world around them – even their own children desperately craving attention. It’s become a real problem over recent years. And I can’t really throw rocks, as I can see the addiction in myself – another message, another email, another blog post arrived, a ‘like’ on my post, another important petition, another request for money, a news update, another try at that Candy game…

As this article in Positive News identifies, this is a big problem for many people, life threatening even for some. But the important thing is to become aware of it and do something about it, retain connection with other people and the real world.Read More »

After the carniverous plenty…

George Monbiot’s article Mass starvation is humanity’s fate if we keep flogging the land to death is a timely reminder that we are on course for the biggest of all disasters. Our increasing population and increasing demand on the natural world cannot be sustained without major change. We need as a species to eat less meat. Period.

The Guardian graphic in Monbiot’s article says it all:

guardian graphic monbiot

So after that stuffed-meat Christmas dinner, maybe you should call time on anything but the very occasional indulgence in meat.

Prisoners of Geography

prisoners of geographyThe book of the above title was on Waterstones’ blockbuster non-fiction table, so I thought I’d give it a go. ‘Ten maps that tell you all about global politics’ seemed a good subtitle. The author is Tim Marshall.

The book actually does do what it says, shows how geography is the major factor in much of global politics, and explains how this works in different areas of the world.

It was interesting to read about the main geographical features and conflicts in each area of the world, although I did get the impression that a lot of today’s political problems are caused not by geography but by the arbitrary lines drawn on maps by dominant Europeans in that brief period of colonial expansion of the 19th century and subsequent decolonisation – such as the borders of Iraq, Syria, lack of Kurdish state, India/Pakistan,…

The relevance of the north European plain for both Western Europe and Russia is quite striking – how easy it is to attack on a wide plain rather than through mountains, as indeed Napoleon and Hitler did at their peril, as supply lines became over-stretched. The importance of a non-aligned Ukraine to Russia is also clearly explained, as is the impeccable logic that led to the recent Russian taking of the Crimea.

And if you want insight into the likely problems in the China Sea and the Arctic Ocean over coming decades, this book gives a fair idea.

I guess the question for humanity is whether we are going to continue to be prisoners of geography, and fight the same battles over and over again, or whether we are going to move beyond that to de-emphasise the national ego in favour of the collective well being that will come increasingly under threat with the changes caused by global warming and pollution. At the end of the day, all these geographies are interconnected, as are all their populations. We are really one humanity living in one world.

Disasters

I wrote this post a while ago, but didn’t publish it because it seemed too negative. But then again it is facing the truth, they are coming thick and fast…

Disasters are in the nature of things. Life is evolution and change. Galaxies collide, solar systems merge, orbiting objects crash into each other, storms and subterranean events cause cataclysmic events on planets. So however stable things might seem, it is inevitable that disasters will occur.

california wildfire
Wildfire, Ventura, California, December 2017, NY Times

So is it any surprise that disasters are also caused by human beings. However, we do seem to be particularly good at creating the conditions for them, e.g. we:

  • invest in new sources of fossil fuels that we know are not sustainable, thereby exacerbating the global warming we know is happening – and continue to prevaricate on taking effective action to minimise and mitigate its effects.
  • degrade our soil and food with chemical-based farming, when biological and organic methods are the only sustainable way.
  • base our economic system solely on growth, regardless of the quality of that growth and its ecological non-sustainability.
  • propagate increasing inequalities that history tells us are not sustainable and result in conflict, yet refuse to contemplate alleviatory measures, such as taxes on financial transactions, wealth and land.
  • elect those who base their campaigns around separation and collective illusions, such as making countries ‘great again’, standing above others.
  • fill our seas with plastic, to the extent that our food coming from the oceans includes increasing residues of it.
  • cut down forests to create more land to feed animals for food or grow more oil, thereby removing the planet’s lungs (analogy).
  • globalise everything such that (with climate change) diversity of species is drastically reduced.
  • invest in escalation of arms including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that no sane person would wish to see ever used.

The entrenched status quo appears to be manipulated by the main beneficiaries (the rich and powerful) such that any rapid change of direction is not possible.Read More »

Carpenter Bee

We often see these large black carpenter bees in The Dordogne region – beautiful black insects seeking nectar from the flowers.

They have relatively short mouth parts, as you can see from the photos, so are only suited to certain types of flower.

Glancing at a quick web search, carpenter bees have a bit of a reputation of ‘nectar robbing’ by drilling holes in the side of petals and avoiding pollination, and of being a pest that can be a threat to houses and gardens by making holes for nests in the timbers. I guess there may be some truth in this, but they are solitary nesters, and could the problem be perceived in part because of their colour?

Photographs taken in the Dordogne region of France, September 2017

Hummingbird Hawk Moth

We occasionally get the odd hummingbird hawk-moth in Cheshire. They’re much more plentiful in the Dordogne. Just like a hummingbird, they hover over a flower and reach the nectar with that long proboscis you can see on the photos.

The insects, and particularly their wings, move so fast as they dart to and fro, they are difficult to photograph. The wings are usually in some state of blurr-dom. They beat at a frequency of about 85 per second, so practically the only way to get a clear picture of them in motion is to use electronic flash. Must try that sometime, although at the time the moths are flying it seems irrelevant, as it’s usually very sunny. Actually, I quite like the blurred effect – it seems more natural.

Photographs taken in Dordogne region, France, September 2017

 

 

Speckled Wood

As its name suggests, the speckled wood butterfly is often found near woodland. There are nice patterns on the wings and an unusual glint in six apparent eyes on the wings. These butterflies are much more prevalent in the Dordogne area of France than in Cheshire UK, probably because of the much greater tree cover.

speckled wood

Photograph taken in the Dordogne region of France, September 2017

Damselfly

damselfly

This damselfly was just basking in the sun. The ones with vibrantly coloured bodies tend to be more striking, but the rather more muted body colouring here helps to show off those beautiful lace wings.

Photograph taken in the Dordogne region of France, September 2017

 

Conques

The village of Conques in Aveyron, France, has been a target of pilgrimage since medieval times, lying as it does on the route from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. The isolated position of Conques in hilly terrain means that it has never been subject to much modern development, so the medieval streets are essentially as they were.

conques rainbow

This view is the first the pilgrim coming from Estaing sees of Conques, nestling in the treed valley. We were lucky on our recent visit when, after a day of rain, the sun came out as we reached Conques. The dramatic welcome became spectacular when this rainbow appeared over the village.Read More »

Le Puy en Velay

I first visited Le Puy en Velay nearly 30 years ago, with Alf, as we traced the steps of pilgrims on the route from this starting point to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain – one of Europe’s most popular pilgrimages since the Middle Ages. What a special place to begin a pilgrimage.

st michel aiguilhe

This area of the former county of Velay, in the south western Massif Central, is volcanic. As well as numerous dead volcanoes, it contains various strange landscape features, notably several isolated plugs of rock pointing skywards. On one of these is the chapel of St Michel d’Aiguilhe. The well-formed stairway up this rock brings you to wonderful views over Le Puy and the tiny Romanesque chapel at the top. Linger a while in here and it provides an experience of perfect peace before the start of the journey.

Read More »

The French Village

During over 40 years of driving in France, we have seen, stayed and shopped in a large number of villages and small towns in France. Many of these places are nondescript, but quite a large proportion are quite charming or beautiful, due to their geographical situation – often by rivers, on hillsides or in valleys. The apparent changes in village life over those years have been marked.

salles la source
Salles la Source, Aveyron, 2017

In the 1970s I think we just caught the end of an era. As well as its war memorial, pretty well every village had its own boulangerie (baker) and a bar. French bread does not last more than a day, hence the boulangerie ensured fresh bread every day. And I got the impression that the bar featured in many everyday country lives. Indeed, we used to stop for a breakfast of delicious pain beurre (yes, bread and butter) with coffee at a bar in Normandy about an hour’s drive from our overnight ferry crossing to St Malo.

The one thing you did have to remember, was that everything closed over a lunch time of at least two hours between 12 or 1230 and early afternoon. Vital to remember when you needed to pick up fresh bread, but often forgotten!Read More »

Trees

There is increasing awareness across environmental organisations that the problems they are each individually trying to address are all in fact interrelated. Insects, birds, bees, butterflies, hedgerows, trees, etc etc. The whole web of life is under increasing pressure, both in the UK and across the world. And that is before the increasing effects of the ongoing global warming.

On land, trees and hedgerows pay a major role in maintaining a varied ecosystem and support for all these other species. So it is great to see all these organisations in the UK getting together to produce the Tree Charter.

I won’t try to summarise the charter here. A big highlight for me is the maintaining and creating of routes to ensure the interconnectivity of wildlife. Islands of protection surrounded by development are inevitably at risk as their diversity easily comes under pressure. Hedgerows and stands of trees can thus provide vital links between forested areas. And the islands need to get bigger than they are at present in the UK.

If this charter from hereon provided the guiding principles that all government agencies and business organisations work to, we can begin to reverse the downward trends and safeguard our natural environment for future generations.

Go sign the charter!

Of course, the charter does not cover everything, notably side effects of chemical industrial farming. But it’s a good start.

No, not this way

homo deusWith my interest in ideas of a New Renaissance, I could not resist reading Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book that is clearly widely read judging by its prominence in the local Waterstones.

Harari is an entertaining and informative writer, and I enjoyed reading his description of the emergence of the anthropocene era, and particularly his story following Western culture from the Renaissance, and the subsequent emergence of three interrelated themes of humanism, liberalism and democracy, along with modern science/technology and capitalism.

Harari suggests that liberalism is running into the buffers, pointing at some of the current symptoms that suggest that all is not well with the world. Well we could all make our own lists of those – like increasing inequality, global warming, species extinction, pollution,… The current paradigm or ‘web of meaning’ is no longer effective in addressing the situation we’re in. I cannot but agree with him this far.

But then his analysis suddenly seems to go awry. He suggests that contemporary science contradicts free will and the possible existence of a soul or inner self, that the mind is essentially algorithmic and subject to external control. “… biologists concluded that organisms are algorithms.” Of course, if you set out with a ‘clockwork universe’ materialistic mentality, this is the sort of world view you might come up with.

Then we get to the suggestion that organisations are just algorithms, and you could eventually replace the whole structure of an organisation with algorithms, no jobs for humans. Of course, were all this the case it undermines humanism, liberalism and the whole human project. But, come on…

And then there is the suggestion that in the era of ‘big data’ being gathered by such a Facebook and Google, these algorithms will get to know us ‘better than we know ourselves’. The dangers of ‘big data’ are clear enough, in that they may have played a role in the Brexit and Trump phenomena, but what on earth can it mean to know us better than we know ourselves?

Inequality is a big phantom in this context, as an increasingly a rich elite will have no interest in providing for the mass of humanity, as they the elite will no longer be dependent on the labours of so many others – leading eventually to a new caste system. The elite become like gods (hence homo deus), and the rest, and liberal ideals, go hang.

And if you don’t like that scenario, Harari offers an even more disturbing possibility: the religion of Dataism. “The universe consists of data flows, and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing.” This is a world where computers have taken over and the ‘world’ is run totally by algorithms. Insane.

So basically Harari is giving a couple of horror scenarios, nightmares outlining where we don’t want to go. The thing about human beings is that we have the capability to change direction, change the paradigm, change the ‘web of meaning’, change what is considered acceptable and what not.

What he doesn’t offer is any clue to a New Renaissance.

 

 

 

Dowsing

Well, it happens from time to time. Some scientist pokes his head above the parapet and characterises some traditional knowledge as credulous, bogus beliefs, witchcraft or some such. This time it’s dowsing, although it might be homeopathy, astrology, poltergeists, the paranormal, near death experiences, telepathy, precognition, knowledge of a previous life, etc etc.

The pattern is always the same. The scientific materialistic paradigm of scientism lives by the dogma that everything is material and everything will ultimately be explained in objective terms by science. Of course, this is just as much a bogus belief as any of these other systems. Sadly it seems to be espoused by much of the UK’s mainstream media.

If the guy really wants to know about dowsing he should research it, get some rods or a pendulum and try it out, give it a chance. He might get a big surprise. Water companies are commercial organisations and are likely to be seeking the most cost effective way of finding water, leaks etc. If this is dowsing, so be it.

I’m not trying to denigrate science itself, which is a wonderful way of understanding aspects of the world and developing technologies which enhance our lives. It is the closed mind of materialism, and the denial of possible alternative explanations and approaches to the world, that actually contradict the very spirit of science.

Dismissing things because of your own credulous beliefs is not science.

See also earlier posts Materialism, The Master and His Emissary, Battle of Ideas.

 

Driving in France

Somehow it got to be over 40 years since we first drove to France, and being francophiles we’ve done that most years since then. The driving experience has changed somewhat!

It’s the early 1970s. We arrive at Dover for the cross channel ferry. The time waiting on the dockside is busy – cleaning the headlamps, putting on beam deflector stickies, then applying yellow paint to the glass. All headlamps had to be yellow in France, a law designed in wartime to distinguish French civilian vehicles, but retained until reversed by EU conformity standards in 1993.

There was a magic in sailing away from the White Cliffs and seeing the French coast gradually coming into view, followed by the unfamiliarity of driving on the right.

The most scary part was knowing that French drivers treated priorité a droite as a sacred right and, particularly within towns, would zoom out from any old side road without even looking. It was easy to forget, and the odd fright ensued.Read More »

Mrs Cotton

I heard that Mrs Cotton died recently, aged 95. The Cottons were our next-door neighbours in 1950s Lincoln, ordinary people getting on with their lives, friendly enough but not intruding, helping out when help was needed, co-operating when necessary. Reliable.

Mrs Cotton had her mother living with them in the house, until she died. After Mr C died, she lived out the rest of her life in the same house. As you do, if there’s no reason to move.

Reminds me of the guy who served me a pizza in a Lincoln takeaway in the early nineties. He’d lived in Lincoln all his life and said he’d never been out of the city, not even once.

I was perhaps lucky that education gave me the route to escape! But maybe I should stress that the Lincoln of today is no longer so enclosed and provincial, now that it is a thriving university town.