Sunday 8 February 2009

Yorkshire Dales Snow Scenes

Friday 6th Feb was sunny and the snow left from Monday was beautiful. Bill Mitchell and I went for a drive following the River Ribble up from Settle.

A chance to appreciate how we fitted in to the land.

This area was glaciated during the last ice age. Just the tips of the peaks of Pen y hent (left) and Ingleborough and Whernside may have stood up above the ices sheets and glaciers 18,000 years ago.

Some rare arctic-alpine flowers and mosses grow near the summits on the crags.

The natural vegetation in this area from summit to valley bottom should be trees. It is sheep and rabbits that stop them growing now...( and peat in the boggy areas - but there is evidence of trees under some of the peat)

Here is a picture of Horton in Ribblesdale Church, with Pen y Ghent in the background. I once used this view of the church to design a t-shirt for the Pen y ghent Fell race organised by Settle Harriers. Bill showed me an old stained glass window above the brown door - of the severed head of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in 1170. You learn something new every day. The window may have been brought from Jervaux Abbey

The oldest rock is Silurian rock, sometimes (wrongly I am told) called slate, whereas it should be called greywacke, or locally "Horton flags". The big slabs of "slate" are used for the floor in many houses, for rooves, for cattle troughs, for grave stones, and many other uses. It had been used for Horton church roof at onetime but now it is covered with lead.

Above the slate is the Yoredale Series - sandstone, shale and limestone beds repeating the pattern. Near the summit of Pen y Ghent are some thick beds of limestone, then at the top there is hard millstone grit.

The geology affects the landscape.
The glaciers have affected the landscape.
The mangement - sheep and rabbits affect the landscape (No trees).
And Bill alerted me to a fourth factor: - The quarry men.

Land has been quarried since people came here.

For stone walls
For lime for "burning" in the kilns to make the ground "sweeter"
For building up the Settle Carlisle Railway banks and viaduct
For "slate" for rooves
And more recently for roadstone and for the chemical industry

Finally we visited St Leonard's church in Chapel le Dale, two miles from the viaduct.

Saturday 7 February 2009

Britain's Rare Animals and Plants - How they came here

In this blog yesterday I said

"If the whole of Britain sank under the sea the world as a whole would only have lost a few species.

"There are comparatively few species under threat of global extinction in Britain.

In today's entry I will think about the British vegetation and fauna - why it is so limited, how it has come to be here at all - and alert you to some threatened species.

What - Few British Species under threat of global extinction?

A good number of plants, insects, etc are threatened nationally, and within each county, over the past 100 years, on average one native species of wildflower becomes extinct every two years. (I'll write about that later, with examples of species lost in West Yorkshire)

78 UK higher plant species are now designated as threatened with extinction within Britain.

Only a few species in the UK are under threat of world extinction - and of these we should take especial care.

I'll have to look some of these up!! -

Oh I have just learned about the Lundy Cabbage. The Lundy Cabbage Coincya wrightii only grows on the cliffs on the East side of Lundy Island It is endemic to Lundy. (Endemic means Native to or confined to a certain region). - And it has two endemic beetles living on it!..

Actually that reminds me that near to us in Settle, the Rock Whitebeam Sorbus rupicola which grows in the Malham Cove area is another endemic.. It is slightly different to the Lancastrian Whitebeam which grows across the border in Lancashire Sorbus lancastriensis: the Sorbus rupicola grows near Malham Cove so that my guess is that the whitebeam on the vertical part of the Cove face is also Rock Whitebeam,

but without ropes, I cannot prove it...

Why does Britain have such a relatively poor flora and fauna?

Look at the numbers of native wild flowers found in these three countries:

Native wild flowers in UK:1550 (1,756); France: 4,500; South Africa 23,000.,

Doesn't make you very proud to be British, does it!
Source: Earthtrends website using data from World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge.

It is all to do with the ice.

Britain was covered by ice in the last Ice Age, 18,000 years ago, Plants and animal could not survive then.. Land not covered in ice in the south of England had very cold conditions.

Since then, temperate animals and plants have come back into Britain in the last 12,000 years from the continent. If we lose some of these species - and it would be sad if we did - most still exist in other countries. -

One such example of a very rare plant is the Large Yellow Sedge Carex flava. It only grows in two places in the UK, one of them being at Malham Tarn, seven miles from our church. It is a highlight of the Sedges courses I sometimes run. But it does also grow in Scandinavia.

More interesting facts: How did the animals and plants get back to Britain after the ice age.?

Many walked across the Land Bridge from the continent. During the Ice age 20,000 years ago the sea level dropped 120m (400ft) below its present level because water was locked up in ice, and also the sea was colder and so had contracted. There was a land bridge stretching across from eastern England to Denmark and the Netherlands . - Fisher men have found flints, remains of conifer forests and on

Why has the land bridge gone?
- after all it is only say 9000(?) years ago - 360 generations ago since it went. (The land bridge to Ireland was lost 12,000 years ago).. The ice melted, the cold water expanded. Also the ice on the North west of UK, especially Scotland weighed Scotland down so the south east of England stuck up like a seesaw - Now the Scottish ice is gone Scotland and Western Ireland are Rising, the south east of England is sinking. If the sea level has risen this much already - think what global warming will do..)

Friday 6 February 2009

Ten Reasons Why Saving the Rainforest is More Vital than Collecting Litter, Changing to Low Energy Light Bulbs or ..... than Protecting Most UK Nature

Saving the rainforest and other habitats of global biodiversity importance is vital.


Much more vital than clearing up litter - or even than replacing high energy light bulbs.

"If the whole of Britain sank under the sea the world as a whole would only have lost a few species."

This sounds a drastic statement - but let's look at ten reasons why saving the rainforest is so vital:

By "Rainforest" I include other threatened habitats of high biodiversity world importance - from montane forest to coral reefs, from Galapagos islands to swamp. - "Rainforest" is shorter and more colourful than "sites of high international biodiversity importance".

1. In Danger of Extinction:
Over 1/4 the world's mammals and
Over 1/8 of the world's higher plants (many now say over 1/4) Source : IUCN

There are very few species under threat of global extinction in Britain.
Therefore - as I see it - it is more important (with time, money and resources limiting) to find ways of saving animals and plants threatened with extinction throughout the world, than to protect blackbirds in one's hedge or spend effort on litter picking.

It makes me so sad when I see church environment policies (and school and village ones) that concentrate only on picking up litter, changing light bulbs and maintaining a wild life area in the church yard - good though these activities are on changing peoples attitudes.

What do you think?

I will deal with the British Flora and Fauna tomorrow, and say why our wildlife is so limited - a little about how it developed and some species that are under threat today.

2. Extinction rates are proceeding at 1000 (maybe 10,000) times as fast as when there were no human beings.
Surely we - Christians and others -ought to be doing more to save species for future generations.
Many of us like to think we are leaving the world a better place. We give money to support big beautiful cathedrals. Think what good causes you have supported. Yet during my lifetime about 1% of the world's species will have disappeared.

3. Species are beautiful and interesting in their own right.

We are no longer able to see the Dodo, the Carrier Pigeon, the Woolly Mammoth - species which have disappeared due to human activity. Is it fair that future generations may not be able to see the Orang Utan, Mountain Gorillas, the Chinese River Dolphin - because we have taken all their habitat. (The world population has doubled in the last 40 years and is set to double again in the next 60 years- so will then be four times as great as 40 years ago)

In the UK butterflies are the group that has experienced the greatest net losses in recent decades, disappearing on average from 13% of their previously occupied 10-kilometer squares.

I have a friend who carries out work on Pyralid Moths of Borneo, photographing and sorting collected museum specimens - yet he wonders if some of these specimens may be already extinct.

4. Species could have uses we do not yet know about

My interest in tropical plants is strongly influenced by a visit I made to a friend in Cameroon. He was paid to collect samples of plants and trees to be pressed and sent back for testing for drugs that could be useful for cancer or aids treatment. More about that in a future entry.

5. CO2 from burning forests causes 1/5 of the global warming.

CO2 produced by burning the world's forest makes up 1/5 of the human made CO2 going into the air each year and causing global warming. This is another reason to keep the forest standing as forest. CO2 and methane from man drained peatbogs adds to the global warming effect effect.

6. Collecting litter is good - not dropping it is better - refusing to buy over-packed goods at the supermarket is Best .-
IT is fantastic how over the last two months most supermarkets have stopped giving customers plastic bags unless they ask for one - and I am the worst culprit for forgetting my shopping bag.

So litter, especially plastic litter is bad -
But loss of species is worse.

If I had £20 to spare I would donate it to a "Save the rainforest fund" rather than a "Keep Britain tidy fund." What would you do?

7. We cannot rely on Zoos to keep our rare species

Look what happened to the zoo in Iraq when the Americans invaded. Or what happened to the botanical gardens during the siege of Leningrad - and the heroic efforts made to save the seeds.

8. It is necessary to have a decent sized gene pool to keep the species going -
Otherwise there can be inbreeding. There may be a hint of this in the bible. If you read Genesis carefully you will see that God asks Noah not just to take pairs of birds and certain animals but seven pairs of each species (Ch7 v 2) Actually a lot more than seven pairs would be needed to stop inbreeding.

9. Why is saving habitats and species more important than changing light bulbs?
After all, using tungston bulbs uses four times as much energy as flourescent bulbs - and can thus b
e responsible for the formation of four times as much CO2 - global warming gas.

Answer: Because all sensible, thinking, people have already have changed to energy efficient bulbs several years ago

So changing bulbs should be a non-issue.

- Roll on the LEDs.. but they are not bright enough yet - hand powered torches and lanterns must be a boon in villages without an electricity supply.

- Apologies to anyone reading this who cannot tolerate the mercury bulbs.

10. Ah that leaves one more reason - I invite you to suggest one!

Comments welcome.