Is the Isle of Wight bigger than Rutland at low tide? This question has been having a bit of a battle on the Isle of Wight page at Wikipedia. The Ranger is interested in this question, for, although like much of Wikipedian debate it involves dancing on the head of a pin, it also raises some interesting questions and sheds light on current proposals.
“For many years I have lobbied the UK’s bird charities to campaign to raise awareness about the slaughter of migrant birds on Malta. I have equally tried to stimulate television programme makers to cover the issue – both without success – a sad reflection of our complacent and risk adverse times.
“Well, I’ve finally run out of patience and together with three colleagues and the support of Birdlife Malta this spring I will be making a nightly video diary of the days events on the island which will be posted on . . .
YouTube at 9.00 PM (UK time)
21st and 26th of April 2014
Our mission is to generate a wider awareness of this heinous practice with frank and factual reports from the frontline where our much loved migrant birds are being shot in huge numbers. It will not be pretty, the species killed include many UK favourites and rarities and the hunters are infamous for being confrontational and violent. I don’t care, this is not a holiday, it’s an attempt to bring this forgotten issue to a wider public attention and then to offer a couple of ways the viewers can actually do something to effect positive change.
Please try to watch our broadcasts and please publicise them as widely as possible. I believe that people will be truly horrified when they see what happens on Malta to ‘our birds’, I believe they care and they will do something to change it.
Find out more background to this issue here: http://www.chrispackham.co.uk
This one you must have seen. In 2005, according to the Currant Bun, Brixton grey squirrels were becoming addicted to crack cocaine. The story went global, being picked up by the Guardian, countless blogs, and even Fox News. Almost all, including most of the US sources, reported something along these lines:
Crack squirrels are a recognised phenomenon in the US. They are known to live in parks frequented by addicts in New York and Washington DC.
In a bizarre news item, the BBC reports:
A man has admitted sending a rare venomous spider in a package to a colleague at work. Mahlon Hector, 22, of Leicester delivered the Mexican red-kneed tarantula in a box addressed to a Marks & Spencer branch in Leicestershire. Hector handed in his resignation after dropping off the parcel at the Fosse Park store.
Now that’s curious enough. Curiouser still, however:
A Leicestershire Police spokesman said: “The spider may also have suffered and we would have pursued the matter under animal cruelty legislation but it does not cover invertebrates.”
How crazy is that? Just look at that cute, furry spider and imagine it being shaken up in a box for some weird practical joke! What if it was one of those sweet little grey squirrels, or rats? People would be marching in the streets, probably led by Sir Paul McCartney. Well, the spider was probably OK, but the Ranger is very fond of spiders, and was startled to learn that there’s no way in law to be cruel to invertebrates. Perhaps there’s room for one more pressure group? No more flyswats! Ban the beer-trap! Calamari and prawns will be off the menu when the Invertebrate Cruelty Act is finally passed…
First published 2006. Republished with corrections 2013.
The Times has the courage to highlight the plight of the the edible Burgundy snail (Helix pomatia), pointing out the concerns of Buglife, which campaigned to make it illegal to collect the snails from the wild for eating. It’s a pleasure to see the mainstream media for once taking a stance on invertebrate conservation. David Attenborough’s Life in the Undergrowth is an honourable and outstanding exception.
The Ranger would have found the article more convincing, however, if it had not described Burgundy snails in the headline as “big, tasty snails“, and then gone on – apparently quoting Buglife – to say how to collect them, what parts of the country to look in, and then, just in case you didn’t get the idea, provide a tempting recipe showing how to cook them. Possibly if the same had been done for baby seals there may have been some sort of complaint.
(This story was first posted Nov 2005, and updated in 2008, 2013) Note that since 2008 H. pomatia now has legal protection so do not try collecting them – it’s illegal in England! See more about this interesting change in the law in our second post on this topic.
Today’s the day Chancellor George Osborne revealed the latest government spending cuts.
As usual, we were softened up by horror stories, and as it turned out, they were not far wrong. Others will have their say on whether, say, the loss of a further 144,000 public sector jobs is a good way to stimulate economic growth at this juncture. The news that made me sit up concerned English Heritage, the government body which manages the historic built environment of England.
The BBC reports today that “English Heritage has been given £80m in the government’s Spending Review”. Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said: “The new £80 million investment for English Heritage is fantastic news and recognises the vital importance of the historic environment to our national life.” Who can argue with that? Well, watch me try. This windfall is in fact a part of a process to transfer English Heritage to the charitable sector, and I have some big problems with that.
There’s a bit more detail available, although it’s all pretty new stuff. English Heritage is to become a charity by 2015. The new charity will manage the National Heritage Collection, which includes Osborne House, Stonehenge, and many other monuments and artefacts: as English Heritage does now. Statutory English Heritage responsibilities such as listing buildings will remain government funded – it’s hard to see how they couldn’t be. The new English Heritage charity will have, in the words of the official EH statement: “more freedom to generate greater commercial and philanthropic income”. And the ultimate purpose of all this? The government currently contributes £22m annually towards this work. Government funding for the new “National Heritage Protection Service” will be be reduced after 2015, eventually to nothing.
Look at this gorgeous North American solitary wasp (click the image for a bigger version if you like). Now wonder about its name – why is it named after a bird? After all, cuckoos are hardly known for their brightly coloured plumage. The answer lies in its lifestyle. Cuckoo wasps are so named because they breed by surreptitiously laying an egg in the nest of another (usually) wasp or bee – just as cuckoos do to other birds. Then the young cuckoo wasp larva hatches out, eats the larva of the host animal, and then enjoys the provisions the mother has left behind for her own offspring. From the cell emerges not the expected bee or wasp, but another species entirely – the adult cuckoo wasp.
The cuckoo wasps (and there are many species, including quite a few in the UK) have some special adaptations to help them do this. They have a really long egg-laying ovipositor, that can extend telescopically to let them insert an egg deep into a host cell. They also have the ability to curl up into a protective ball, like some woodlice do; with strong armour on the back, and gaps underneath where they can tuck their legs and antennae safely. It must be a hazardous life being a parasite – those host bees and wasps can bite and sting!