Posts Tagged ‘Conservation’

Rescuing birds

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

great tit recovering on my hand

great tit recovering on my hand

A few days ago, a great tit collided with our living room window. It’s always heart-wrenching to hear the thud of a bird against the window, fortunately it doesn’t happen often. This poor fellow was on his back for a while, moving only slightly, and we weren’t sure if he would make it or not. But what do you do when this happens? Should you leave the bird to recover on its own, or try to help it?

Michelle, at Rambling Woods – The Road Less Travelled, is a great source of practical advice in such matters. She posted an article earlier this summer about a study by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on why birds hit windows, and what you can do to prevent it. Just last week she posted a detailed guide on how to help an injured bird, covering everything from songbirds to raptors!

There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye, if you really want to maximise the chance that a bird will survive you need to know what you are doing with it. Bookmark that page if you think you may ever need to help a bird! Michelle herself seems to be quite a dab hand at helping wildlife, just a day after posting the guide, she and her husband managed to rescue a great blue heron. That’s a 4-foot high bird with a wickedly pointed beak and lightening reactions. Definitely not something I would want to tackle. Well done, Michelle!

I hadn’t read her bird-rescue article when our great tit had his collision, it came out just a day or two after I needed it. But Dweezeljazz and I do know the importance of making sure the bird is safe and warm, while not adding to its stress by handling it if that can be at all avoided. We have cats in our neighbourhood that have been known to come into our terrace, and a stunned bird would be easy pickings for them. It was also a cool day with a fresh breeze, and since the bird wasn’t showing much sign of recovery, we decided we had to try to help it.

I went out and picked him up to keep him warm in my hand. He was conscious, and responded by looking at me, but was happy to stay in my hand. After some time, we decided to bring him indoors and put him in a box so he could recover there. As Michelle points out in her rescue-guide, bringing a bird indoors is perhaps not the best thing to do. If it panics indoors it could injure itself again trying to escape. That’s why we kept the box right by the door, ready to open the door the moment he showed signs of wanting to leave.

He was actually so relaxed on my hand that I didn’t want to force him off, so I stayed there, letting him sit as he wished. I was worried he might have broken a bone because he sat with one leg forwards and one backwards for some time, so I didn’t want to force him to move in case I injured him even more.

Eventually he righted himself on my hand, then a few minutes later he hopped onto the rim of the box. We opened the door, and he flew away. We were both very relieved that he seemed to be OK.

I think we saw him again an hour later. The great tits like to take sunflower seeds and perch on the bamboo canes in the garden, holding them between their toes while they hammer at them with their beaks. We saw one who was a little unsteady on his feet, using his wings to stop himself wobbling from time to time, as if he was having trouble using a hurt foot. Other than that, he seemed fine, taking several seeds one after the other. My guess is he’s going to be OK, and that makes us both very happy.

great tit on bamboo cane

great tit on bamboo cane

An Unusual Farm

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

I know of a farm where they don’t feed the animals. They even allow predators to roam freely, taking up to one fifth of their stock. And they’re proud of it.

That sounds pretty awful, but it’s not, it’s actually very good news. You can hear all about it in this video of a talk by Dan Barber. Dan is a New York chef who is quite outspoken in his views on the way we produce food today. He’s also a nice guy, which comes across clearly in the video. If you’d rather read a transcript, here it is.

The farm Dan talks about is Veta la Palma. It’s a fish-farm on the Guadalquivir river, in Spain. It produces 1,200 tonnes of sea bass, bream, red mullet and shrimp each year. Miguel Medialdea, the farm’s biologist, explains that they don’t need to feed their fish because of the way the farm is set up.

Miguel himself says that he is not an expert on fish, but he is an expert on relationships. By working with nature to build a sustainable ecosystem, instead of working against it to maximise profit, Veta la Palma produces fish in a way that also benefits the wildlife of the region.

In fact, their farm is one of the most important private estates for bird life in Europe. Before the farm, there were only 50 bird species there, now they count 250 species. This includes flamingos that commute 150 miles daily from their nesting sites to feed there, following the A92 highway.

If that’s not a recommendation for the quality of the fish, I don’t know what is!

A Bug hotel

Monday, November 2nd, 2009



Winter is approaching, and change is in the air. We’re wrapping up warmer these days, and we’re not the only ones. Insects, such as this lacewing, are looking for a safe place to spend the winter. This year, I’m trying to help them.

There are lots of places on the web where you can get good information about the type of home that you can provide for insects for the winter. They range from simple things like a pile of leaves in a wire cage to more elaborate and attractive DIY projects like the one at Herbs and Dragonflies. Other sites have more detailed information, such as the Paignton Home Garden & Allotment Society, or the Cheshire Wildlife Trust. For the ultimate in accomodation for garden wildlife, take a look at the invertebrate habitat they designed as part of their exhibit at the 2005 RHS Tatton Park Flower Show.

bamboo pieces

bamboo pieces

I wasn’t nearly as ambitious as that, maybe next year, who knows! I put together a simple bug-home from a plastic container, a few pieces of bamboo, and a bit of string. I started by sawing off the bamboo into sections, just behind the knuckles so that each section is closed at one end. Many of the sections were still filled with pith, I used a long drill-bit to clean them out.

assembled ladybird house

assembled ladybird house

Then I made four holes in the plastic container, two at the top, two at the bottom. The holes are spaced about a quarter of the way around the container, and the pairs of holes line up along the axis of the container. Oh just look at the picture, you’ll get the idea!

I threaded two pieces of string, one in and out of the top pair of holes, one in and out of the bottom. Then I stacked the bamboo in the container, with the closed ends inside of course! Pack the bamboo in tight, so that it holds itself firmly.

I made sure that the string was looped around the bamboo inside the container, so that when I pull it tight it will hold the bamboo tighter together. Otherwise, the string might just tear through the plastic over time, and that would not be good.


ladybird house mounted on fence

ladybird house mounted on fence

Then I simply tied it to our fence. It’s deliberately placed on a slight downward angle, to prevent water running down into the bamboo and drowning any unsuspecting occupants. It’s also close to our wall, and facing it, so that it gets protection from direct rain and winds.

My only question is, how will I know if there’s anyone living in there? Any ideas?

World Oceans Day, June 8th

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

The Aegean

The Aegean

Next Monday, June 8th, is World Oceans Day. At the risk of turning this blog into a diary of global eco-events, I’d like to draw your attention to it.

The idea to have a world-day for the oceans came in 1992 from Canada, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It’s been celebrated every year since then, but this year marks the first time it has official U.N. recognition. Henceforth, World Oceans Day will be celebrated on June 8th, every year.

You might think that since I live near Geneva, about as far away from the sea as it is possible to get in Western Europe, I would not have much to say about the sea. If you think that, you must be new to this blog (welcome!), the sea is one thing I can talk about for hours. I grew up in England, closer to the coast than most people there. Nobody in England is more than 70 miles from the sea, I grew up much closer than that, about one mile away from the shore, on an island, no less. I spent many a childhood summer day freezing in the cold water, picking my way over the stony beaches, trying to see what I could through the opaque grey-green waters of the north Kent coast (not much, as it happens). I collected foraminifera (tiny shells, less than 1 mm across) and looked at them under a microscope. I remember the first time I saw sea-anemones, on the beaches of Jersey on a family holiday. I’ve seen octopus and nudibranchs on crowded Greek beaches, and sharks and dolphins in the Maldives. Oh yes, I can safely say I love the sea.

The oceans are huge. They cover almost three-quarters of the surface of the earth, and something like three fifths of the earth is over a mile below the surface of the sea. There is an awful lot of seawater out there. So why do we need a world-day event to draw attention to the oceans? Well, as it turns out, the seas and oceans of the world are not in good shape, and it’s our fault, again. You can find out more about the threats to the oceans on the Marine Conservation Society website, here are a few of the highlights.

Everyone knows about global warming, and the melting of the polar ice-caps. That’s bad news for penguins and polar bears, but also for people. A large fraction of humanity lives near the coast, making a substantial part of their living from what they can haul out of the sea. Rising seas and warming waters will change that. Not only will islands and low-lying regions be lost under the waves, the ecosystems at the coastal fringes will suffer too. Coral reefs, for example, provide living space and nurseries for a great many species, and are essential to the marine environment. Even creatures that don’t live on or in them directly often depend on the animals that do. Excessively warm water leads to ‘coral bleaching’, which can kill it if the water stays warm for long enough. Bleaching events are more common than they used to be, and are predicted to become much worse over time. Despite some research showing that some corals may adapt to warmer waters, there is strong reason to believe that most corals will be killed by warm seas by the end of this century unless we make big cuts in our emissions of greenhouse gasses. Scientists are working to find ways to help coral survive, but they’re racing against the clock.



Globally, there’s an even bigger threat, ocean-acidification. The oceans absorb a great deal of the excess carbon dioxide that we are pumping into the atmosphere, and this is slowly turning the seas more acidic. This slows coral growth because it is harder for the coral to form its chalky skeleton. Other creatures, many of which are right at the bottom of the marine food chain, will suffer the same fate. Acidification of the oceans is a global problem by its very nature. It will affect reefs and other ecosystems worldwide, not just those near to cities and industries.

Overfishing is another major problem for the oceans. By depleting stocks of even a few species, we change the way entire ecosystems behave, often seriously. Tuna have been fished almost to extinction in the Mediterranean sea, and there is little sign that common sense will prevail to reduce the pressure on them. Tuna are predators, high up in the food chain. When you remove top predators, often the result is that a few species lower down the food-chain start to dominate, out-competing other creatures. The ecosystem becomes unbalanced, and may change its nature completely. It may not be enough to simply stop hunting the predators, the ecosystem may no longer be able to recover on its own.

Floating garbage is another serious problem. On the tiny atoll of Midway in the Pacific ocean, albatross often mistake floating plastic garbage for food, which they then feed to their chicks. That kills many of them, not surprisingly. Albatross aren’t meant to digest golf-tees, toothbrushes, and lego blocks.

Even the efforts we go to to protect the oceans and their inhabitants can often be misguided. I’m sure we’ve all heard of dolphin-safe tuna, it even got a mention in Lethal Weapon 2, released some 20 years ago. I’m fond of dolphins, like many people, but I was shocked to learn about just how much damage dolphin-safe tuna-fishing can do. The methods used to catch tuna without harming dolphins have a much higher rate of bycatch than other methods. ‘Bycatch’ is another word for ‘collateral damage’, animals accidentally killed while hunting a specific species at sea. Much of the bycatch in dolphin-safe tuna is in itself seriously endangered, far more so than dolphins themselves. No, dolphin-safe tuna is not a good thing for the marine environment.

Sunset on the Beach

Sunset on the Beach

More and more people are becoming aware of and involved in environmental issues. They are paying attention to the environmental cost of the goods they purchase, insisting on packaging that can be recycled, lower power consumption from electrical goods, or higher mileage from their cars, for example. But what can you change in your daily activities to help the oceans, especially if you live far from the sea? The Marine Conservation Society have some advice, and there’s also a page of hints at The Ocean Project. One obvious thing is to be more informed and cautious in your seafood purchases, both sites have suggestions there. If you prefer to avoid seafood altogether, simply buying organic food is a good idea. That encourages farmers to produce more of it, which means less pesticide in use. Reduced pesticide use means less of it getting into our rivers and from there into the sea, finally ending up in marine mammals like that dolphin we were trying to save a moment ago.

You can find out more about World Ocean Day at the World Ocean Network site. Maybe one of the events that they list is taking place somewhere near you. If not, there are plenty of web-based resources available, like the 24 hours in the Ocean online event from the Musée Nausicaä. I’ll certainly be following that for some of the day.

Zemanta, and the Marine Conservation Society of the UK

Sunday, May 24th, 2009
Zemanta Firefox plugin
Image by Tom Raftery via Flickr

Zemanta recently won second prize in the Change the Web Challenge for web-innovation, and they are giving away the prize money to whichever charities most people vote for. Zemanta, in case you haven’t heard of it, is a tool for suggesting content (photos and links to related articles) to add to your blog, based on whatever you’ve already typed in. It works for WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, and a wole bunch of other blogging platforms. If you’re using FireFox, you can run it as a plugin in your browser, so you don’t need to install it on your blogging host.

You can try the interactive demo on their website. Just cut and paste the text from one of your old blog posts to replace the sample text they put there, hit the ‘run demo’ button, and see what pops out. I’m willing to bet you’ll be impressed. Oh, and did I mention it’s free?

So, Zemanta, congratulations on winning that prize, and thank you for a great tool. Now on to my vote. I would like you to donate to the Marine Conservation Society UK, to help them with the work they do. The Marine Conservation Society UK is involved in a large number of activities around the British coast, and beyond. Coastline is something that Britain has lots of, so it’s an important charity!

They actively campaign to persuade the UK government to establish Marine Protected Areas, and encourage people to get involved at several levels, such as reporting sightings of basking shark, turtles, pink sea fan and many other creatures that can be seen in the seas around Britain. They encourage divers to become better observers by learning about their marine environment so they can in turn provide more accurate and useful observations to help drive conservation efforts.

Coral reefs in Papua New Guinea
Image via Wikipedia

They have a lot of educational resources for schools and project-suggestions for college students. They even organise coral reef surveys in the Maldives for recreational divers.

For the less well-heeled visitor to the British seaside, they monitor the state of beaches and publish an annual guide to the best beaches in the UK. This is not just cosmetic, many beaches pose health risks for swimmers, so knowing where to go is important. To help you get there, they even provide downloadable maps for your in-car GPS. How’s that for service!

Zemanta have had over 50 charities proposed to them so far, and will donate to the five that get the most votes. If you think that the Marine Conservation Society UK deserves a donation from them, all you need do is blog about it yourself, to add your vote.

Image representing Zemanta as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

This blog post is part of Zemanta’s “Blogging For a Cause” campaign to raise awareness and funds for worthy causes that bloggers care about.

Celebrating Wildlife

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Field of dandelions

Field of dandelions

Last Friday, May 15th, was ‘Endangered Species Day‘ in America. This event is aimed at encouraging people to learn about endangered species and what they can do to help them. Endangered Species Day is coordinated by, and is held on the third Friday of May every year. It was first celebrated in 2006, so this year sees the fourth edition. The event was created by the US Congress, this year a resolution was introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein encouraging schools to spend time teaching students about endangered species and conservation efforts, among other things. Senator Feinstein has been mentioned on this blog before in the context of another endangered creature, namely, Patricia Rattray.

Blue flower

Blue flower had all sorts of events on their list for this year, educational, inspirational, hands-on, the lot. If you went to any of them I’d love to hear about it. Here’s a quick sampling.

The Wyoming Children’s Museum and Nature Center held presentations on how even one degree of warming can affect wildlife (and what you can do about it). Few climatologists today would say we can avoid one degree of warming, so this is setting the bar low. Even one degree can cause a great deal of harm to ecosystems, and it’s already happening. If you’re in any doubt about that, read these articles about Cedar Canyon Road and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge from The Clade.



For a more leisurely approach, there were events like the birdwalk on the Tijuana river in California, where you could see and learn about the birds that live there. This is actually a weekly event, so if you missed it last weekend you can go another time. Check the Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center calendar for details of all their upcoming events.

Then there’s at least one activity that can only be described as boring. That is to say, it takes place in the town of Boring, Oregon. No, I’m not making this up, the town of Boring really exists. Boring recently began a project to restore some parkland, and if you were there on Friday you could have participated in helping to restore the Boring Trail Station Trailhead Park (a note to the stopextinction siteadmins, you have broken links on that page). You can find out all you want to know about this project at their own webside,

The website has practical advice on things you can do to protect wildlife near you. They list some very simple things, like driving slower to reduce the chance of impact with animals. You’ll probably save yourself money that way too, I did. Another simple thing you can do is to plant native plant species in your garden. Many insects are poorly adapted to non-native plants, so planting native species can encourage them, and the birds and other animals that feed on them.



Coincidentally, across the Atlantic, ‘Fete de la Nature‘ took place in France at practically the same time. This is an all-weekend event, and again there are a variety of events. It’s a year younger than Endangered Species Day, having started in 2007, but boasts an impressive 300,000 participants in the past. Among the events taking place near me there was a chance to see chamois at the Col de la Faucille.

Of course, by now, those events have been and gone. Not to worry, there’s still plenty of opportunity to learn about the nature near you, endangered or otherwise. Many of the events organised for either Endangered Species Day or Fete de la Nature were organised by clubs or societies, who have an ongoing program of events. If you look them up, you might find something interesting. If they were one-off events, maybe you can contact the organisers anyway, and ask them if they plan to repeat it? If they get a demand, they might just do that.

If that doesn’t lead to something, why not just go out there and take a look for yourself? There’s plenty to see, and if you’re handy with a camera you can always find something worth photographing. Some of the best blogs out there are by nature-lovers, take a look at “Chipper’s Alley” in Oregon, “Everything is Permuted” in England, “2nd star to the right, straight on till morning…” in Malaysia, or “My birdpics” in Sweden for some of my personal favourites. Have fun!

dandelion flowers

dandelion flowers

HR 669, A Threat to Your Pet

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

If you live in the United States, HR 669 may eventually kill your beloved pet. Don’t get it confused with swine flu (H1N1) or avian flu (H5N1). No, HR 669 is not a virus, it’s a bill currently inching its way along the process to becoming law, one which could make it illegal for you to keep your pet.

So what’s HR 669 about? The supposed intent of the bill is sound, namely to prevent invasive species from establishing breeding populations in the US. This makes sense – though it’s coming a little late, Florida probably has more non-native species than anyone can count. Unfortunately, the bill is very ill-conceived. It will not solve the problem, and as many have pointed out it will in fact make matters worse.

I heard about HR 669 from GrrlScientist’s blog, she has been writing about it a lot recently. In “HR 669: The Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act” she describes the main features of this bill. I won’t attempt to reproduce her comprehensive analysis here, you should read her post if you’re interested. And if you live in the United States and own a bird, lizard, hamster, fish, or practically any animal other than a cat or dog, you should definitely be interested!

The bill assumes that all non-native species are a threat to native American wildlife, and that they should be banned until proven to be harmless. The bill doesn’t distinguish different regions of the US, so an animal that has the potential to establish itself only in Hawaii, or Alaska, will be banned, even if it couldn’t survive anywhere else. The United States has a wide range of ecosystems, so practically any animal you can think of keeping as a pet could survive somewhere in the US, and is therefore likely to be banned under this bill, should it become law.

Animals which are banned will not be allowed to be imported or exported, traded, sold, or bred, and of course, not be allowed to be released into the wild. If you have one of these banned animals when the bill becomes law, you can keep it, but only if you can prove you had it before the bill is passed. Do you happen to have a receipt for that parrot you inherited from your grandmother 30 years ago?

HR 669 doesn’t stop there. Even if you can prove it, you will still be subject to all the above restrictions. Also, you will not be allowed to transport the animal across state boundaries. Forget about moving to get a better job unless you want your pet to be euthanised. No, you can’t give it to someone else, that’s not allowed either.

If this has you at all concerned, please read the above post on GrrlScientist’s blog, and consider following the link to take action to oppose this bill.



GrrlScientist has some follow-up posts that are worth reading too. In “World Parrot Trust Speaks out Against HR 669” she reproduces a letter from the Executive Director of the World Parrot Trust, in which he adds his voice to the opposition. I find it particularly poignant that parrots will suffer because of this bill. Those of you who know Jasmines’ Story will know that we tried to export her to the US, where we knew she could have lived in a healthier environment. We were unable to do so because the US was not accepting imports from our part of France, for fear of bird-flu, and in any case her exportation would have been a slow process because African Grey are on the CITES lists. Jasmine might have lived had it not been for that restriction, and if HR 669 becomes law, many other animals already living in the US are likely doomed to a similar fate.