Nature Blog Network Future Earth

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Truffles at Dawn

As dawn disolves the Transylvanian night tall, forbidding trunks of oak, beech and hornbeam emerge from the surrounding woodland. Bears and wolves live here and deep-seated fears from ancient myths lurk in the shadows. We shiver in the cab of the battered 4-wheel-drive that steers us past a local shepherd, his dogs escorting us noisily along the track. One resonant, silencing bark in response from the deep-chested hungarian vizslas in the back and we enter the woodland. The turreted landscape below is cloaked in low-lying morning mist and, as we cut the engine, the only sound is of silence as the dark forest wraps around us.

Released from the confines of the vehicle, smooth-haired "Matty" and wire-haired "Sisi" scope out the terrain, rustling through the carpet of dry leaves, noses down and tails on the level, at once alert, focused and joyful. They know their business and relish every moment. Cornell leads us along the forest track as morning light starts to percolate between the branches. No tangled undergrowth here; the canopy is high - oak driven upwards to match the skywards spread of the hornbeam, not wasting time or energy in side branches along the way. These are oaks beloved of carpenters and builders, straight and true, left to mature for a hundred years.

At their base are wraiths of movement. Matty is seven, has worked with Cornell since she was a puppy, and is a mistress of the art. He watches her closely as she quarters the gentle slopes, then pushes her quivering snout into the layers of leaf litter and pauses. Usually he is in time to mark the spot and feel amongst the leaves to collect the earthy brown truffle growing on buried roots. Sometimes she saves him the trouble and presents him with her find, collecting a tasty dog treat and a touch of Cornell's hand in recompense. Often she will dig enthusiastically to uncover deeper treasures. It has been unseasonably dry for nearly two months and Cornell is surprised that the moist vizsla noses remain so effective in the dry leaf mould. "It's easier when the snow comes" he offers "less competing smells, they find them more quickly".

Wire-haired Sisi is only two. In the forest shadows she disappears against the crackling leaves, camoflagued by a broken outline of silvery hair and constant movement. As if covered in tumbleweed and on a secret mission she goes her own way, emerging with earthy mouth that speaks of truffles known but not delivered. "I need to spend time with her on her own to train her properly" Cornell admits "but it is difficult to leave Matty home alone when we are going to the forest". Meanwhile, Matty is inadvertantly tackling the training of her canine companion herself. Digging into a promising lead at the base of a trunk, the two work together, but it is not a truffle that emerges in that soft vizsla mouth; it is, or rather it was, a velvety mole, woken abruptly to face its last day. Matty was not about to deliver that prize quite so easily, but Cornell guided her back to business. Sisi lagged behind, rolling luxuriously in the patch of late summer leaves, topping up her coat with aroma of mole.

Reluctantly leaving the forest to return to work and workshopping, we ease our way back along the bumpy track to the village, surprising a Roe deer, leaping over shrubby pasture and into cover. A forester for many years, these truffling excursions with his vizslas are Cornell's solitary lead-in to the hustle of the autumn day. We have intruded but we are grateful and carry delicious memories away - along with a couple of nodular truffles nestling at the bottom of our jacket pockets.

Cornell is part of a talented team helping local communities in rural Romania retain small-scale farming and traditional cultures by making them more profitable. Good for nature and for local economies alike, the Adept Foundation helps retain high nature value grasslands, working with a variety of partners including Fauna & Flora International.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Nurdles in paradise

So, if you thought of nurdles at all, it may have been as a benign cricketing term ('nurdling into the gap' can be a good move for batsmen). Not so benign in this form. Take a good look at the small (approx 3mm across) pellets of plastic in this (8cm high) bottle. Look around you wherever you are and you are likely to see the same colours of plastic in household or garden goods.

These are 'nurdles' - mostly pre-production plastic pellets - collected in 20 minutes from a random metre square of remote beach on the eastern shoreline of Scotland. They are washed out of transport tankers and off docksides straight into the ocean and journey around the globe. Nurdles join micro-plastics from cosmetics and the many items of plastic garbage from our disposable society that are polluting our seas. They have been found choking small marine creatures that mistake them for food - and carry an additional payload of hydrophobic chemicals that attach to them in the ocean.

Suddenly "nurdling into the gap" takes on an altogether more sinister meaning for humans dependent on marine productivity. And if only plastic could be converted to Ashes as easily as the English cricket team's nurdles are in Melbourne this week.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

There is no green without blue

Adding Oceans to Future Earth's labels and highlighting this great site from the Blue World Alliance on the horror of ocean plastics.

The pic (packet was not planted) was snapped on the shores of West Kalimantan a couple of years ago- ancient natural roots despoiled by flashy modern rubbish.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

A Handel on Copenhagen

Last night, as the Copenhagen summit was struggling to conclude a deal on tackling climate change, my brother, son and I struggled through the icy streets of Cambridge to Kings College Chapel. Handel's Messiah reverberating around those majestic walls on a snowy winter's night is the closest approach to a religious experience for one whose religion is music.

But my thoughts were wandering, considering the stone masons for whom it must have been a life's work to chisel away the interior decor of vaulting colums to create the chapel in the 15th Century. Then, almost inevitably to the corridors of Copenhagen, and finding myself helplessly raging against the leaders of nations unable to subsume short-term perspectives for the longer term health of our shared planet. The words to Handel's masterpiece (penned by Charles Jennens in the 18th Century) started to assume a strange shape, with "Climate Change" replacing mention of the Deity ......

"But who may abide the day of (irreversible, man-made climate change) coming? and who shall stand when (climate change) appeareth? For (climate change) is like a refiner's fire.....

Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people.....
(Climate change) will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land; and (climate change) will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come...

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way. And (climate change) hath laid on (itself) the iniquity of us all.

Why do the nations so furiously rage together? The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together against (climate change), and against his anointed (the IPCC). Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped".

So, nothing new under the increasingly warming sun, then. Up to us now. Can we persuade our leaders to develop and enforce binding targets? Or will it end in tears and warfare? Will there be people listening to Handel in the Kings College chapel next Century? It might at least be a last refuge from the heat... those high ceilings and thick stone walls are as literally chilling to the body as the thought of "no deal" is to the mind.

Friday, 20 November 2009

The frog prince... from a croak to a chorus.

As a young Cambridge graduate, HRH the Prince of Wales was mocked for talking to plants. Well 'listen up' folks... now beleagured tropical forests are talking to him and they picked the right person. Not only does he know his stuff about organic agriculture, but he has shown real leadership in tackling the rapid deforestation of the planet.

Without political inference or interference, just using his power to convene within both private and public sectors, the prince has set in place a process that provides a viable way of slowing rainforest loss while the world struggles to establish multi-lateral mechanisms and markets for the longer-term. A gathering at St. James Palace today also showcased partnerships that are testing the mechanisms of direct payment for proven results (combined with building capability for "REDD"). Presidents of rainforest nations mingled with world bank boffins, captains of industry and NGOs both global and local, and our own Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change. Some of my takeaway points:

President Bongo of Gabon talked about the "common good" represented by remaining rainforests, but suggested that some of the wealth of developed countries could be similarly regarded as "common good" and used to help the developing countries protect forests. Fair point.

All we need to stem the tide of rainforest destruction is 18-25 billion Euro over 5 years, well deployed. Less than bonus pots available to some giants of the finance sector. This would prevent 7 gt of emissions and turn the global emmisions graph from its rising trajectory back towards less damaging levels.

The window to decide to act is becoming smaller and coming closer. Explorer Pen Halow described the scary results of the Catlin Arctic Survey announced last month. Its thinner than we think and the potential loss of the world's arctic airconditioning system throws into even sharper focus the need to protect our tropical band of climate moderating rainforest.

So how do we come up with these funds? Well, Norway is ahead of us there - already supporting the Amazon Fund and a deal with the Government of Guyana to help them become a low carbon economy. We might need a few more women involved (HRH's gathering had heads of state, chiefs representing indigenous peoples & a diversity of skills on offer but no women speakers and only a few flickers of colourful clothing amongst the black crow suits....!) We might need to highlight biodiversity ... which just seems to be an underlying assumption, following seemlessly from conserved forests, but this is not entirely the case.

Most especially, we need a real deal from the leaders gathering shortly in Copenhagen. We need agreement and action. Amidst all the hurdles of targets and timetables, it could just possibly be that this "interim financing instrument" starts to look enticing and tempting as an offering to rally around. The croaking frog has sounded the alarm and orchestrated a compelling chorus of voices to that end.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The deal with dogs

Emerging into the world this week, this hour-old beagle pup is destined to be a loved family pet. As such, she will be part of a mutually-beneficial relationship with her human family - reducing their stress levels and improving their health (see 'Dogs are good for you', elsewhere on this blog).

As she was born, an article in the New Scientist reported on calculations that average sized-dogs have a larger "footprint" on the earth's resources than most cars. While debatable, that would rather pose a dilemma for those of us enjoying the health benefits of canine companions, while also trying to be eco-friendly and care for the planet. Time to eat the dog then? Possibly so according to Robert and Brenda Vale who did the calculations, although they do include the question mark in the title of their Guide to Sustainable Living.

Eating dog meat is a tradition in several parts of the world, either for the various properties ascribed to it, or as an emergency food, as some polar explorers attest. Occasionally the dogs have their revenge, as eating the liver of sled dogs produces the condition Hypervitaminoisis and the explorer Mertz died from this in 1913. With such a widespread practice what, apart from avoiding the liver, is the problem?

Well, its just not part of the deal. The canine-human relationship has grown up around a variety of needs based on the dog's abilities to sniff out trouble or point out game. In much of the world there is now legislation prohibiting the eating of companion & working dogs, even in Korea and parts of China.

Too late for this one in Vietnam, however. And how long will our ethics within this trusting deal survive if things get really sticky?

(P.S. Predatory cats however are a whole 'nother issue, and I'll return to that when I've plucked up the courage)

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Board(s should) walk

Why a photo of a snail on the edge of a precipice? It is a corporate snail, moving exceeding slow, looking out over the precipice and seeing nothing. It has just ventured out from a bed of lettuce and has no idea that life is not all about readily available greenery.

I spent Blog Action Day talking to a Corporate Board about biodiversity, the environment, climate change and why they are relevant to their business. The Group is a household name in the extractive sector. They have taken an interest in these critical issues, have a thoughtful Chief Executive, dynamic senior managers and some knowledgeable staff, so why my state of frustrated depression?

Seems to me that, given the speed of change on our planet, too many Board appointments are already behind the times, their experience increasingly irrelevant. Even if they do make attempts to diversify the skills available to them, new voices can falter amidst the pompous, patronising pontificating of increasingly antiquated corporate arrogance. Problem is that Boards nurture their own nests..... like the UN, they become less and less likely to rattle the branches that sustain them. They regenerate themselves, like with like. If they move out, it is onto another Board in the city.

Companies need to wake up to this if we are to tackle the ecological and economic challenges facing us now. If you are a shareholder, take a good look at the Board and ask questions. If you are a staff member consider what channels you have to propose new skills that Boards might not know they need. And if you are someone who might diversify a Board's perspective - make it known! Change the corporate climate and contribute to the challenge of climate change.