Month: January 2016

Why environmentalism needs a face lift

I was watching TV this week when I encountered an environmentalist character, this character was portrayed as a free loading, lazy ‘hippie’, now yes it was exaggerated, however it got me thinking about how the environmentalist movement has changed, yet is still seems to be defined by this hippie (and other negative) stereotypes. I have been guilty of labelling myself to fit into what I perceived to be the environmentalist movement and many people hold the name hippie as a medal of honour. But I think it is time we stop doing this to ourselves, these names are often used negatively, as a way of devaluing us as just some ‘lazy hippies’, it is an excuse to ignore, make fun of and in turn cheapen our entire field. I was recently at an environmental event regarding the protection of ancient rainforest on Vancouver Island, I overheard a passerby say ‘what are these damn hippies complaining about now’, damn hippies, a lot of people (not me) at this event have a PhD.

Every person I have met in the environmental and conservation field are educated, well-groomed, hard-working and tax paying citizens, certainly not the derogatory ‘dirty hippie’ portrayed in some aspects of the media and public. Perhaps I am over thinking it, maybe being a hippie is a medal of honour to wear for some people, but personally I think it is an outdated and false perception of environmentalists that needs to be altered. It is time we start looking seriously into how we are perceived, not only does the stereotype have the potential to negatively affect our work. But it may also be giving a poor impression to people who may be wanting to join or support us, but instead are put off because they do not fit what is seen as the ‘typical environmentalist’. We need a face lift to show that a person can be an environmentalist and live in the 21st century.

I do think the image is changing to a certain extent, however it is still hard to see in some aspects of the media an environmentalist represented as a sane, hardworking, ambitious adult as you do for other fields. Even in 2016 we are seeing this stereotype on TV and dealing with it at important scientific events, this shows that there is an us and them mentality towards us. This is troubling at a time when environmental issues need a united front.

To make it clear, if we say we need to save the whales, it is not for peace and love or to stick it to the man, it is because we have studied, researched and written peer-reviewed scientific journals showing whales to be keystone species in their habitat, and thus losing them will lead to a collapse of the ecosystem which in turn comes and has severe negative consequences for us. When we make a fuss about the need to protect ancient forests, it is not because we are ‘damn hippies’ who love to complain, it is because we know the complex ecosystem that builds during the thousands of years of ancient forest growth, and losing them in turn causes a loss of biodiversity, contamination of the water table, soil erosion and flooding to name a few.

So let us change our stereotype and stop labeling ourselves as lesser; we are not whiny stereotypes with our heads in the clouds; we are real, educated people who are fighting for a legitimate cause and this should be the face of environmentalism going forward.

My first Youtube video! Looking at 5 extraordinary animal defences! Including a vomiting bird, poisonous frogs and a beetle that explodes acid out of its back end. Isn’t nature wonderful?!

A new project- my Youtube channel ‘The Wild’

So I have taken the plunge and finally started my new Youtube channel called The Wild, each week I will uploading videos on wildlife, animals and the environment. I aim to cover a broad range of subjects within wildlife conservation. It is a little out of my comfort zone so it is definitely a challenge for me, but one I am looking forward to! Six months ago I felt the same way about starting this blog and since then I feel my confidence with it and the direction it is going has grown, I believe my writing has improved and it has given me many new opportunities and the chance to connect with fellow conservationists. I am hoping for something similar with this! This blog will definitely be continuing and I have lots of topics and ideas to write about in the coming weeks.

If you fancy checking out my Youtube channel here it is, with my very first video, if you like it feel free to subscribe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erjmNIqYX5E

Old trees, new park

There are few better feelings than finding a new park right on your doorstep that you have not yet explored. I could not believe my luck this past weekend as I stumbled across a Regional Park I had yet to visit, Francis King Park, the park is about 20 minutes away from my house and for some reason had completely missed my radar. After doing some research it seemed as though the park consisted of a number of simple forest trails, a nice change from the icy sea wind and snow topped hills I have been walking recently.

Once arriving we decided to take the main trail that included a patch of old growth forest, Heritage Grove. The first thing that strikes you when entering the BC rainforest is the amount of green. The ground is covered in ferns, the trees covered in moss and lichen and the evergreen coniferous trees stand tall, giving the forest a green glow from ground to sky. The sun was streaming in and the forest was quiet, the large ferns and trees gave a prehistoric feel, like something out of Walking with Dinosaurs.

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Along the trail the peeping of chickadees and bushtits could be heard coming from the canopy, and the ghostly call of a raven echoed. Looking up into the branches I was hopeful of spotting an owl, especially as I had heard they were common. A few blurry owl shaped pieces of moss, strained necks and near misses with roots later, we decided to give up on the owl search and focus fully on finding some old growth. Old growth forest is the ancient areas of trees that have stood for hundreds of years. They were once found across Vancouver Island, but the continued logging of them has reduced them to a few patchy areas, they are particularly rare around Victoria, because of the high level of development.

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It is very easy to spot old growth trees amongst the new and as we turned the corner there they were; huge dominating trees, with a deep, thick bark. Coming face to face with one of these trees is one of the best experiences with nature I have had. It never gets old, and to see them with the new growth gives a completely different perspective. I could sit and look at them for hours, they are inspiring. I could not believe that after 3 years of living here, this was the first time I had visited this park and I cannot wait to get back and walk again amongst the giants of the forest.

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Endangered Scottish orca dies from entanglement

The endangered resident orca population in Scotland has been dealt a huge blow, after a female ‘Lulu’ was found washed up dead on a beach in the Western Isles. Lulu is a member of the only resident orca population found off the UK and Ireland. The population are at risk of extinction and are not believed to have had offspring for over two decades, the current population stands at just 8 individuals.

Tragically a necropsy by the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme gives convincing evidence that the orca died as a result of entanglement. They state that deep, granulating wounds around the tailstock and tell-tale twin linear abrasions on the underside of the tail fluke are consistent with a rope entanglement around the tail and trailing behind the animal, probably still attached to something at the other end. This entanglement would have made swimming very difficult and ultimately would have caused the orca to drown. As no ropes or fishing gear were found on the orca it cannot be concluded whether entanglement was due to fishing gear, abandoned or ‘ghost’ gear, or other marine debris.

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The number of marine mammals worldwide reported to be entangled or to have died as a result of marine debris is increasing, they are often a result of fishing gear, rope, or rubbish found in the ocean. On Christmas Eve an orca washed up in South Africa, and was found have yoghurt cups, food wrappers and a shoe in its stomach. This problem is being seen everywhere, and is a huge issue for marine mammals around Vancouver Island as well as the UK. For one of the UK’s only resident orcas to die as a result of entanglement must be a wake up call for us to clean up our waters. For many years the ocean has been used as a giant rubbish bin, there is support for change, a petition is currently running to propose a ban on plastic microbeads, and The Wildlife Trusts are pushing for more protected marine zones around the UK coast. Even so, protected areas will not be able to escape the huge amounts of marine debris, and only stricter measures on what can be put and left in the ocean will make a difference for wildlife.

New Year birding

Hello 2016, and what a lovely start to the new year we have had on my patch. After seemingly endless storms (nothing like the dreadful floods in the UK however) and an earthquake, finally the sun has made an appearance! With the break in the weather I set out to do some birding, hoping that the storms will have brought in some interesting migrants. I visited one of my favourite parks, Cattle Point/Uplands Park.

This small rocky viewpoint has a fantastic view of Mount Baker in Washington State, the large volcano that dominates the landscape around Victoria, and is known as a good site for birding.

After scanning the water the usual species could be seen, loons in the distance, large flocks of wigeon and bufflehead about 100 metres from the shoreline, whilst a handsome male hooded merganser was showing off to six, seemingly less than impressed females close to the rockpools. Harlequin ducks were dotted around the point, some in the water and others on the outer rocks. The sun was beaming down, the sea was looking  peaceful and without the below freezing windchill one could have almost mistaken it for summer. The sound of oystercatchers squabbling filled the air, only matched by the loud peeping of killdeer.

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Hooded merganser (male with white and black head)

To my surprise I spotted a large group of surf scoters in the distance, this coastal duck is often seen wintering in Vancouver and further north on Vancouver Island, but I have never seen such a large group in this area before. They were certainly a nice surprise, a neat looking duck, male surf scoters have a really interesting shaped and coloured beak. The beak is mostly white, with a large orange and red stripe through the middle, and one large black dot either side. A mixture of males and females were present. Interestingly when they fly they make they make a strange whistling noise that correlates with their flapping.

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Surf scoter

My attention was suddenly drawn away from the water by a strange-looking bird perched on the rocks near me. This bird looked thrush like, but was a strange shape, different to the usual thrush species I see here. What is that I wondered? The bird’s back was facing me and I could clearly see a striped/speckled back, it turned slightly, revealing a bright yellow front with a black ring near the throat and a long beak. My bird identification for western Canada is improving but is not perfect so I was unsure at first what this bird could be, when I moved it was certainly an adjustment going from knowing UK birds to not really knowing Canadian birds, however I had seen in my books a standout species, the Western meadowlark. It stood out to me because of its beautiful yellow front, could this be my mystery bird I thought, after having a no more than 10-15 second look in my binoculars I grabbed my camera, and then I endured every birders’ nightmare, a group of people ran across the rocks, bye bye birdie. I let out a sigh as my beautiful yellow fronted, potential Western meadowlark, flew out to sea towards the other side of town. Oh well, I got to see it briefly and that is the important thing, checking my ID book I could confirm it was my first ever Western meadowlark. After researching the species, I found that it seems to be unusual in the area, and is not believed to have bred here for many years. The species may not be particularly rare, but to tick off another bird was very exciting, and I hope to see it again when I return in a few days, and hopefully I can get at least 30 seconds of viewing time!

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The beautiful Western meadowlark (not my picture after my bird was chased off!)

 

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