Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fighting the Illegal Trade in Endangered Species

These are stills from a BBC news programme made by a news team that I hosted at East Midlands Airport back in 2001. At the time I was working as the Customs Wildlife & Endangered Species Officer for the East Midlands. I've just had my ageing VHS copy transferred onto DVD and so have taken the opportunity to share.

Although the programme is six years old, the message is still the same: Beware of buying holiday souvenirs made from endangered species.


BBC News 2001>

My participation in the short programme was my first (and only) TV appearance and I still wince at the slightly "wooden" performance!

Monday, January 01, 2007

At Last!

I've finished my degree at last with the Open University: Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Natural Sciences with Environmental Sciences, and have been offered, and accepted, first-class honours. I started this degree in 2001 on a part-time basis and it's certainly kept me busy after work and at weekends. I'm now booked in for the award ceremony at Ely Cathedral.

It's been a very interesting time though, and some of them have been the best times ever. I've studied physics, chemistry and geosciences, but have specialized in biology and environmental sciences. I've studied at residential schools at Heriot-Watt University, The University of Nottingham (both the Queen's Medical Centre and the School of Biology) and the Field Studies Council's field centres at Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales and Derrygonnelly in County Fermanagh. Some of my favourite courses were Ecology, Environmental Science in the Field and The Environmental Web.

I must've enjoyed my studies, as I'm now doing a Masters degree in Science and a Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Studies in Education. Mind you, people do say quality study is addictive... it must be the endorphins.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Cooling off at Wast Water!

Last Friday, we decided to visit Wast Water. This lake is in the south-west part of the Lake District National Park and is England's deepest lake at 78.6 m. It lies over igneous rocks at the bottom of a valley surrounded by the slopes of Yewbarrow, Great Gable, Scafell Pike (England's highest mountain at 977 m) and the Wasdale Screes.

Instead of taking the circuitous route around the National Park, we decided to drive through the Park and negotiate three mountain passes: Kirkstone Pass, Wrynose Pass and Hardknott Pass. This, of course, took longer than going around, but the scenery was more impressive.

Wast Water is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and lies adjacent to two other SSSIs: Greendale Mires and Wasdale Screes. In addition to this, Wast Water and The Screes form a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Wast Water is special as a prime example of an oligotrophic (nutrient-poor) lake. Being nutrient-poor, it doesn't support a lot of plants and animals - it is naturally unproductive. Its water is very clear and soft, and lies over a rocky substrate.

However, there are plants and animals (including uncommon species), and the lake is home to a nationally rare fish: the Arctic charr. The charr are abundant in the lake and share the habitat with eels, minnows, three-spined sticklebacks and salmon. In the margins and around the shore can be found rushes, water-starwort, stonewort, water-milfoil, sedges, mosses, grasses, gorse, bracken and, my favourite, sundews (and other carnivorous plants such as butterwort).

In the hot weather the cool, clear, soft water of the lake (warm in the shallows) was too inviting. And... I must get a canoe!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Feeding time...

My carnivorous sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) is getting bigger now as spring is well underway. In fact, it's now big enough to handle this fly that I caught for it this morning. I keep it indoors, so have to feed it myself :)
I took this photo through a geologist's hand lens, so the fly is really only 4 mm long. Over the next few hours, the glandular tentacles, each with a sticky blob of nectar, adhesive compounds and digestive enzymes at their tips, will slowly but inexorably fold over the fly and consume it alive.

So, question... what's the worse way for a fly to go: spider or sundew?

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Long-awaited bloom

Finally! My bird-of-paradise plant (Strelitzia reginae) has, after several years, decided to flower. The flower started emerging from the bract last week and there's still more to come! Sweet.

Click the image for a closer view.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Visit to Chester zoo

I'd been looking on the Internet for a zoo that was a member of WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums). Members of WAZA are obliged to comply with its Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare. Chester zoo is a WAZA member and is involved in a number of conservation projects. Chester is also an important scientific research facility and the biggest research training ground for zoo-based studies in the UK. Animals benefit from advances made in areas such as environmental enrichment, welfare and conservation.
The animal I most wanted to see was the great hornbill (Buceros bicornis), a hole-nesting bird of the forests of Asia. Chester had one, according to their website, and so on Easter Monday we set off for the zoo.
There were several animals that I was especially interested in, including giraffes, black rhinos, Bactrian camels and, of course, the great hornbill. As it turned out, there were a couple of these and several other species of hornbill too... hornbill heaven :)
The giraffes were particularly interesting, especially when they ran; the movements of their hind legs made them appear to run in slow-motion! Bizarre.
On the other hand, some animals were more elusive in their 'environments' and for several species, including tiger, jaguar, zebra, Andean condor, etc, it reminded me of Jurassic Park where the visitors questioned if there really were any animals at all as the tour vehicles kept passing seemingly empty paddocks. I've no doubts, however, that if I'd stayed long enough I'd have seen them all.
Oh, don't get too close to the fence around the Asiatic lion. It charged at one boy and then decided to reinforce its territorial marker by spraying through the chainlinks! All in all it was a good day. Edinburgh zoo may be the next one on the list.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

View from Blencathra

Good Friday seemed like a fine day for a spot of fellwalking, so we set off on the 35 minute drive to the foot of Blencathra in the Lake District. Blencathra is about 3.5 miles long with rounded slopes on its east and west sides: Scales Fell and Blease Fell, respectively. The mountain has a rounded body, but on the south face four combes cut deep into the mountainside. Gills flow through each combe, separated by three jagged spurs: Doddick Fell, Hall's Fell and Gategill Fell. We followed the footpath up Scales Fell, taking a detour to look down upon Scales Tarn which lies deep in a corrie to the north of Scales Fell.
There were still patches of early spring snow and we stopped here and there for a bit of snowballing. Although the legs were feeling the burn, we pushed on to Hallsfell Top which marks the summit of Blencathra at 2847 ft, the 18th highest peak in the Lake District.

Blencathra also has two other peaks in the 'Lakeland top 100': Gategill Fell Top, 2791 ft (27th) and Atkinson Pike, 2772 ft (28th). The view from the summit made the effort worthwhile as we were able to look down on landmarks such as Threlkeld quarry, Keswick golf course, Thirlmere and Derwent Water. In places the remaining snow was nearly knee-deep (which made for great fun!).

The Easter weekend would see a new set of Open University students arriving to attend an Ecology residential school at the Field Studies Council's Blencathra centre on the flank of Blease Fell... it would seem like they were to have a week of fine weather as they would learn about the practicalities of fieldwork. As the sun started to cast long shadows we set off for home, in the knowledge that we had bagged another of the Lakeland peaks. Next up... Skiddaw, the 7th highest peak at 3054 ft?

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