.

.

Monday, 16 June 2014

My Speech to the Recorders' Conference

Back in April of this year, the Greater Manchester Local Records Centre organised a Wildlife Recorders' Conference at Manchester Museum. I was asked to give a speech and you can read it below (well it took me long enough to write it!):

"I want to start by introducing you to a great Mancunian – a person who some of you may, possibly, have never heard of.

His name was James Crowther and he was born in 1768, in the cellar of a slum property near Deansgate. Most of his working life was spent as a porter on the canal at Knott Mill. His life seems to have been an extraordinary mixture of hardship and joy. He was an exuberant free spirit and his great passion in life was botany. It was said of him that: “[H]e was characterised by a cheerful, joyous disposition; was the life and soul of any botanical party, and pursued both botany and entomology with the greatest ardour.” He thought nothing of walking 15 or 20 miles, after work, in search of plants. He always received a week’s holiday at Whitsun and used to walk to the Yorkshire Dales. On one of these trips he discovered the Lady’s Slipper orchid.

Another of his finds was the Mudwort – which he found growing on the (appropriately enough) mud by the side of a mere near Knutsford. He told his friend Edward Hobson about this find and Hobson insisted that James take him to see it. In the interim it rained heavily and when they reached the mere the Mudwort was under water. Hobson went off to look for something else but when he came back there was no sign of James. Suddenly the surface of the mere erupted and up came James triumphantly clutching a specimen of the Mudwort!

Another lake which featured in James’s life was the one in Tatton Park. One day he arrived in the park with a home-made contraption – a long wooden pole with brass fittings. He was almost immediately grabbed by two gamekeepers who accused him of poaching fish and dragged him before the owner of the park, Mr Egerton. James explained to Egerton that the contraption was for retrieving water weeds – not fish. Such were his powers of persuasion, and so impressed was Egerton by his knowledge and enthusiasm, that he told his keepers that James was not be molested again and was allowed to enter the park any time he chose.

Gamekeepers were an occupational hazard for James and they invariably accused him of poaching. Once he was chased across 3 or 4 miles of open country and only just managed to escape. On another occasion he, and his friend Richard Buxton, were searching for Cloudberries on the moors above Stalybridge; they strayed onto a grouse moor and were apprehended by an irate gamekeeper who refused to believe that they weren’t poachers. They knew that the rich guarded their land zealously and that the penalties for poaching were severe. On this occasion they finally managed to talk themselves out of a dangerous situation.

James had many friends who shared his enthusiasm for plants and natural history. Two of these friends were John Bland Wood, a medical doctor from Salford and the aforementioned Richard Buxton, who was a poor shoe-maker from Ancoats. Both of these men published floras of the Manchester region and James contributed records to both publications.  Both of these books give us a tantalising glimpse of this part of the country before industrialisation and urbanisation wiped out many of its natural riches.

The confrontations that James and his friends had with gamekeepers reminds us that, from the middle of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century, the rich and the nobility contrived to have acts of Parliament passed which allowed them to enclose lands which had formerly been held in common. These enclosures too often had a devastating effect on wildlife and natural habitats. We don’t know what James and Richard and their associates thought about this, but one of their contemporaries did make his views known. This was John Clare, a farm labourer and poet from the village of Helpston - which lies to the north of my home town of Peterborough. John kept a nature diary for a few years and his poetry reveals an intimate and detailed knowledge of his local wildlife – particularly of birds. One of his greatest poems, entitled ‘Remembrances’, describes the catastrophic effect that the Enclosure Movement had upon his beloved local countryside:

Inclosure like a Buonaparte let not a thing remain
 It levelled every bush and tree and levelled every hill
And hung the moles for traitors – though the brook is running still
It runs a naked stream cold and chill.

  And since Clare’s day, losses of wildlife have accelerated, especially since the Second World War when so-called ‘agricultural improvement’, and latterly rampant development, have become the norm. Recently, a wide-ranging alliance of wildlife conservation groups published a report entitled ‘The State of Nature’ - a comprehensive audit of what has happened to the natural world in Britain over the last half century. The report was co-ordinated and produced by the RSPB but 24 other bodies took part, ranging from the Bat Conservation Trust to the British Lichen Society.

The report is, essentially, a catalogue of loss. It examines the fates of 3,148 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and plants in the British countryside since 1962. It concludes that 60% of these species have declined in numbers, 30% have declined by more than half and 10% are threatened with extinction. Populations of many species – like the House Sparrow or the Garden Tiger Moth - which were common only a couple of decades ago are now in steep decline. I note, in passing, that such a report would not have been possible without the work of thousands of wildlife recorders, working over decades, to accumulate the necessary records.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by these grim statistics. It’s sad to relate that our species has been wiping out other species for a very long time. It is now, more or less, agreed that when humans migrated out of Africa, between 100 and 200 thousand years ago, they exterminated large animals (mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths etc.) on five continents. A paleobiologist, named John Alroy, told the American journalist, Elizabeth Kolbert that this ‘megafauna extinction’ was a “geologically instantaneous ecological catastrophe too gradual to be perceived by the people who unleashed it.” But the rate of destruction appears to be exponential and we’re now on the part of the curve where it starts climbing close to vertical; the on-going catastrophe is now perceivable well within a single human life-time. There have been five major extinction events in the history of Planet Earth and we’re now living through the sixth. And there’s no doubt that our own species is causing this one.

But there’s something very odd about this sixth extinction. Others were caused by insensible natural forces – climate change, volcanism, asteroids etc. but what makes this one unique is that it is being studied, in meticulous detail, by elements of the causal agent! I wonder if there’s any evolutionary significance to that fact – I don’t know – ask me again in another 100,000 years!

But there’s more to recording than just cataloguing loss. Sadly, we live in a culture which is currently so uncivilised that it doesn’t recognise, as James and his friends did, and modern people like you and I still do, the value of the natural world for its own sake. We have to justify the conservation of landscapes and habitats by proving that they are notably biodiverse and worth conserving; and that means record keeping.
Everyone in this room understands where James’s mad enthusiasm came from and why he derived so much joy from the natural world. A world sterilised of its wildlife, and containing only humans and their artifacts, would not be worth living in – and would probably not even be survivable. And that’s why we have to stand against the rising tide of destruction. Record keeping may seem a rather mundane and bureaucratic activity – but it’s a powerful weapon in our armoury.

Dave Bishop, April 2014

References:

1. ‘The Late James Crowther, The Naturalist’: Obituary in the Manchester Guardian, Jan 13, 1847 (Thanks to Andrew Simpson for directing me to this remarkable document).

2. ‘The Selected Poems and Prose of John Clare’: edited by Eric Robinson and Geoffrey Summerfield, Oxford University Press, 1967.

3. ‘The State of Nature’: Report from the RSPB and Partners, 2013 (www.rspb.org.uk/images/stateofnature_tcm9-345839.pdf)

4. 'The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History' by Elizabeth Kolbert, Bloomsbury, 2014

Friday, 9 May 2014

RSPB in the Mersey Valley

Recently Manchester City Council issued the following press release:

PRESS RELEASE BEGINS
Manchester City Council invites the RSPB ‘home’

Manchester City Council and the RSPB are set to develop an exciting new vision to connect people with nature in the Mersey Valley.

The two organisations will work closely with local people and groups at Chorlton Water Park and Fletcher Moss, to explore ways of encouraging people to do something positive for wildlife, reconnect with nature and help look after the Mersey Valley by getting actively involved.

This summer, two events will be held to launch the partnership and celebrate the RSPB’s 125th anniversary, with the organisation ‘coming home’ to Fletcher Moss, Didsbury - the place where the RSPB was founded in 1889, in protest against the barbarous trade in plumes for women's hats.

The RSPB’s Big Wild Sleep Out will take place in June and a 'Giving Nature a Home' Festival will be held in August.

A series of workshops has also been planned to take place throughout the year, allowing local people and organisations to contribute their ideas - and help shape and deliver the vision for the Valley.

Local friends groups and other key stakeholders are being encouraged to form a Mersey Valley Forum, which will be jointly managed by the council and the RSPB.

Councillor Rosa Battle, Manchester City Council's Executive Member for Culture and Leisure, said: “We're looking forward to working with local people and the RSPB, to continue to look after the Mersey Valley and help develop it for nature in the future.

"We want to encourage as many people as possible to get involved with this summer's events, whether it's by trying some exciting new activities, volunteering to help out, or by contributing their ideas."

The RSPB has already started talking to people and collecting information on site, using questionnaires - and will continue to do this until the summer, with both organisations keen to involve as many people as possible in the Mersey Valley vision.

Peter Robertson, RSPB Regional Director for Northern England, said: “I'm pleased the RSPB is returning to its roots to deliver this inspiring project. Recent studies have shown that Britain’s wildlife is in trouble but we know that together, people can make a difference; so we hope to work with the local community to help give nature a home, whether that’s taking action in their own homes or getting out and about in the valley, and lending a helping hand.

"Staggeringly, 60 per cent of Britain’s wildlife has decreased over the last 50 years, and more than 1 in 10 British species are threatened with extinction. In the same period, Britain has lost 44 million birds and 95 per cent of our hedgehogs have disappeared since the 1950s.

"Some shocking statistics have also revealed that children now spend less time playing outside and have less contact with nature than ever before. We believe that being connected with nature should be part of every child's life and through this partnership, we hope to enable this to happen.”
PRESS RELEASE ENDS

This is very exciting news! The RSPB is the UK's top nature conservation organisation and I'm sure that the Valley's wildlife will benefit enormously from their involvement.

Dave Bishop (FoCM Chair), 09.05.2014

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Male Whinchat on Chorlton Ees

Recently local birder, Pete Hines sent me a link to his You-Tube video of a male Whinchat on Chorlton Ees. This bird is, apparently, a summer visitor to the British Isles. Pete has provided some links, on his You-Tube posting, which will provide you with much more information on this bird. Here's the link to the video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVNYYv_mDLs

Dave Bishop, April 2014

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Book Review- 'The Sixth Extinction'

Review: ‘The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History’ by Elizabeth Kolbert; Bloomsbury, 2014.

On one fateful day 66 million years ago, the Earth’s gravitational field captured an asteroid. It was travelling at around seventy thousand kilometres per hour on a flat trajectory. It slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula and generated a white-hot, supersonic shock-wave which was directed mainly northward. The author of this book quotes a geologist who said: “Basically, if you were a triceratops in Alberta, you had about two minutes before you got vaporized (sic)”. Trillions of tons of sulphur- rich material were blasted into the air, which led to a condition analogous to a ‘nuclear winter’. Whole orders, families, genera and species of plants and animals went extinct – most famously the non-avian dinosaurs. It took the world millions of years to recover from these catastrophic circumstances – but they are probably why we’re here, rather than some descendant of the dinosaurs.

There had, in fact, been four mass extinction events before the one described above. The most devastating was probably the one at the end of the Permian, some 252 million years ago when around 96% of all living things went extinct – although the reasons for that event are not as well understood. When interviewed recently (http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2014/mar/09/elizabeth-kolbert-whole-world-becoming-zoo) the author of this book, Elizabeth Kolbert, stated that life on Earth is “contingent” i.e. subject to chance or unforeseen circumstances. The title of her book is based on the rapidly growing consensus among scientists that we’re now living through the sixth extinction event in the history of life on Earth – and that our own species, Homo sapiens, is directly responsible for it. Our current epoch is increasingly being referred to as the “Anthropocene” because our species is now so dominant and has so modified the planet’s surface and atmosphere that the fate of the biosphere is now in our hands.

Elizabeth Kolbert is an American journalist and author. She is best known for her book on climate change, ‘Field Notes from a Catastrophe’ (2006), and as an observer and commentator on environmental matters for the ‘New Yorker’ magazine. This present book is brilliant, lucid, very readable, scientifically up-to-date, tragic and utterly terrifying. We learn that although certain species, such as the Great Auk and the Dodo, have been deliberately exterminated through over-exploitation in the recent past, more recent losses can be directly attributed to our gross and ruthless modifications of the planet’s surface and atmosphere – in particular there are direct links between species’ extinction and climate change. For example, carbon dioxide is soluble in water and produces a weak acid. As the CO2 content of the atmosphere increases, the oceans become more acidic. This affects the viability of organisms that use calcium in their body plans; shellfish and corals are particularly badly affected. In tropical waters, reefs formed by corals provide ecological niches for thousands of non-coral species; if corals are damaged or killed, all of those dependent species are put at risk as well. Tropical rain forests contain hundreds of different tree species. Each tree species has specific habitat requirements and also provides niches for many other species of plants and animals. As temperature rises, trees which produce few seeds and/or are slow growing are at a serious disadvantage, and, consequently, so are their attendant species. Trees which produce lots of seeds and/or are fast growing can move uphill to cooler climes. But even the latter are still at risk because many rain forests are now so fragmented that there are limited spaces for them to move to.

The much vaunted ‘globalisation’ is a serious problem too. Many organisms have been (often inadvertently) transported around the world and have caused havoc in places in which they do not belong. Currently, Central American amphibians and North American bats are being wiped out by imported fungal diseases.
I took away two surprising ideas from this book:
1. This is undoubtedly the first extinction event in history which is being studied, in meticulous detail, by elements of the causal agent! In her research for this book, Ms Kolbert interviewed many scientists working in the field and accompanied some of them on their field trips. The ingenuity and dedication of these scientists is often astonishing.

2. Time scales can often be difficult, or impossible, to grasp; who can get their head round 66 million years – let alone 252 million years – for example? It is now, more or less, agreed that when humans migrated out of Africa, they exterminated large animals (mammoths, giant ground sloths, moas etc.) everywhere they went. Kolbert interviewed a paleobiologist, named John Alroy, who described this ‘megafauna extinction’ as a “geologically instantaneous ecological catastrophe too gradual to be perceived by the people who unleashed it.” The ominous fact is, though, that extinctions are currently happening within single human lifetimes. 
 
This is an important but scary book. Brace yourself and read it!

Dave Bishop, March 2014

Note: This review first appeared in 'Manchester Climate Monthly'. To find out more about Manchester's premier climate journal, you should e-mail the editor, Marc Hudson, on mcmonthly@gmail.com.

PS: I tried to add a picture of the cover of this book to top of this article but, for some unknown reason, this - bleep, bleep, bleep, bleeping - software wouldn't let me!! 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Fallowfield Loop and 'Greening the Greenways'




The Fallowfield Loop (‘Floop’) is an off-road cycle path, pedestrian and horse riding route from Chorlton-cum-Hardy through Fallowfield and Levenshulme to Gorton and Fairfield in Manchester. It is part of the National Cycle Network of routes and paths developed and built by the cycling charity Sustrans. It is part of National Route 6 of the National Cycle Network which, when complete, will connect London and Keswick in Cumbria.

At 8 miles long the Fallowfield Loop is thought to be the longest urban cycleway in Britain. It was previously part of the old ‘Manchester Central Station Railway’, built in the 1890s and closed in 1968.

 The line had lain derelict for many years until the late 1990s, when a group of cyclists started campaigning for its conversion to a traffic free ‘greenway’ across south Manchester. That group, together with supporters from local civic societies and other community groups, formally became the ‘Friends of the Fallowfield Loop’ in June 2001. The route is now mostly owned by Sustrans, a charity which specialises in building off-road cycle routes. They have partly funded conversion of the route, together with Manchester City Council, Sainsbury’s and others.

The overall aim of the ‘Friends’ is to encourage and support all the partners in the Fallowfield Loop route to provide and maintain a first-class community resource and to encourage As many people as possible to use it.

The Floop creates a linear park and wildlife corridor, linking parks and open spaces. It has an interesting flora – some of which may represent all that’s left of the lost, ancient rural landscape of South Manchester. Some of the intriguing plants that I have found, over the last few years, include:

Hedge Parsley (Torilis japonica) – which is by no means uncommon nationally but is very rare in South Manchester – presumably because its precise habitat requirements are now only met by one little patch of ground by the Floop (?)
 
The scarce, pink-flowered bindweed hybrid Calystegia x howittiorum (although the exact identity of this plant needs to be confirmed).



Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis)


A Sphagnum moss (S. capillifolium)

 

The presence of the latter two plants suggest that the surrounding land was probably once much boggier – and it’s a miracle, really, that they have survived.
An evergreen, Chinese Honeysuckle (Lonicera henryii). This latter plant is obviously a garden escape – but I’ve never found it anywhere else.




Because of my interest in the Floop’s flora, I was delighted to learn, recently, of Sustrans’ ‘Greener Greenways’ project which started this spring (2013) and is a 3.5 year project that they are running in England on certain sections of their cycling routes. The project is funded by the Esme Fairburn trust and has allowed Sustrans to employ two ecologists to run the project. The outline of the project is in stages, beginning with the baseline surveying of the ecological status of 280 kilometres of cycling routes. The chosen sections are not all that Sustrans owns, or has management liability for, but they represent the majority of its holdings and hence some very significant sections.

The roll out of the programme will allow Sustrans to systematically build up their knowledge of the biodiversity of their greenways. They are aware that many of their volunteers have an interest and expertise in this field and hope to engage with that pool of enthusiasm and knowledge as the projects develops.
Once the 280kms of survey have been completed, mapped and analysed – the findings will inform Sustran’s ecology team and allow them to develop fuller management plans for the designated routes. They believe that this will allow them to make very practical but balanced decisions on work priorities for the routes and the wildlife corridors they run through. In turn, these plans will help to contribute to work plans that Sustrans staff and volunteers will be able to share.
Ultimately, Sustrans would like to recruit Wildlife Champions from their volunteer team and/or the local communities along their greenways. Potentially each champion could take on such a role for any given one kilometre stretch of greenway and help to monitor and to care for its wildlife. Sustrans believes that this will represent a great chance to engage with local communities who, in turn, can help them to enhance and protect some wonderful local habitats.

Initial surveys are being undertaken by a paid ecologist. These surveys will not supersede any work already done by any individual volunteers but they are intended to lead to a Phase One baseline. It should be noted that any additional information, that any volunteer or supporter of Sustrans might have, and is willing to share, would be considered very beneficial by the Ecology team. If you have any of this knowledge and think that Sustrans should know about it then, please contact Mike Dagley* of Sustrans in the first instance (for contact details, see below).
The timetable for the Phase One baseline survey is as follows:

August 13-14th Fallowfield Loop, Manchester
September 17-18th Chester Millennium Greenway

November 5-7th Hadrian’s Cycleway, Cumbria
Later this year Sustrans intend to develop Management Plans and specific recommended actions for each route. As well as informing Sustrans about the more nuanced management of their routes, opportunities will be created to form partnerships with Wildlife Trusts, local conservation groups, volunteers and all interested in making more of the ‘linear parks’ that these routes represent.

*Mike Dagley

Volunteer Coordinator

Sustrans Northwest England

5th Floor, 30-32, Charlotte Street

Manchester M1 4FD

0161 923 6050

0161 923 6053 (direct)

0787 645 3773


Dave Bishop, October 2013

References:

The Friends of the Fallowfield Loop: http://fallowfieldloop.org/
  

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Review: Manchester Festival of Nature, Heaton Park, Saturday 7th September 2013



Here, better late than never, is my review of this event earlier in the month.

According to the flyer which advertised the event, it was part of the: “BBC Summer of Wildlife”. Nevertheless, the small print on the flyer informed us that it was: “... not being organised or run by the BBC”. The BBC link appeared to consist of an opportunity to: “Meet Naomi Wilkinson from CBBC’s Wild!” Unfortunately, I seem to have missed that opportunity (drat!).
The actual organisers were Manchester City Council in collaboration with Red Rose Forest, Manchester Museum, the University of Manchester, the Environment Agency and Greater Manchester Local Records Centre.

My main involvement was with the latter organisation - which is in the midst of an important 3 year project called ‘Grey to Green’ (http://www.gmwildlife.org.uk/grey_to_green/). The aim of this Heritage Lottery funded project is to: “... encourage and train local people to identify and record wildlife. The project operates across the whole of Greater Manchester with a particular focus upon residents in Tameside, Manchester, Salford and Wigan.” The Grey to Green team has been running ‘bioblitzes’ at various wildlife rich sites, throughout this region, all year.  A ‘bioblitz’ is an event at which a group of naturalists attempts to identify as much of a particular site’s wildlife, as possible, in an approximately 24 hour period. This particular Heaton Park bioblitz was incorporated into the main ‘Festival of Nature’ event. It actually started the evening before when bats, moths and other nocturnal wildlife were detected and recorded. Other groups of plants and animals were recorded on the day of the main event. My contribution was to work with other botanical enthusiasts to record the site’s flowering plants and ferns. I’ve been involved with this project all year and it’s given me the opportunity to investigate and record samples of Greater Manchester’s wild vegetation from Prestwich to Wilmslow and from Wigan to Broadbottom. Even prior to any significant analysis of the data, I think that it may be possible to draw a few very tentative conclusions (at least about the plant life) – but more on that later.
The main festival event itself was, as these things usually are, a bit of a mixed bag. I confess that I didn’t get round to visiting many of the stalls that were present because I spent a lot of my time in the field. Nevertheless, I did get to speak to two ladies on the Environment Agency stall who wanted to hear people’s views on their organisation’s management of local rivers and river valleys.  As it happens, a number of wildlife groups in the Mersey Valley had discussions with the EA last year (2012) about their management of the river banks. The EA were prepared to enter into dialogue and this is currently leading to some very positive outcomes for the Mersey Valley’s biodiversity. I learned from the two ladies at the festival that the EA are now actively soliciting comments on the issues facing local river basins through a consultation. You can find out more on the consultation website at: www.environment-agency.gov.uk/challengesandchoices . If you have any opinions on this subject, please contribute to the consultation – I certainly will be.

I also had an interesting chat with a postgraduate student from the University of Manchester who is in the process of completing a PhD on freshwater algae; he had some nifty little microscopes with screen displays – so that I could see what the microscopic plants, that he was studying, looked like.
There seemed to be a lot of silly, vaguely wildlife-related, things for little kids to do. Children, with whiskers painted on their cheeks, and wearing sparkly cardboard ‘bunny ears’ rushed around stroking stuffed foxes and badgers and viewing various hapless living creatures in a variety of tanks and cages.  I am, of course, a bit of a curmudgeonly old git – but even I don’t disapprove of little kids doing silly things and having fun on a Saturday afternoon! Nevertheless, these silly things are supposed to fill them with enthusiasm for wildlife. Do they? I wonder if the council has ever checked? To my knowledge, the Council has been running these types of events for around a generation now. I wonder how many little kids, who were persuaded to construct and wear sparkly bunny ears 20 years ago, are now enthusiastic and knowledgeable naturalists? I hope that my scepticism is unfounded. If you are an enthusiastic and knowledgeable naturalist, and were inspired to become one through making and wearing sparkly bunny ears 20 years ago, please comment on this post and put me right!

One peculiar and unaccountable aspect of this festival was a tent full of drummers (!) What their remorseless, monotonous, interminable thumping had to do with wildlife, I will probably never know. For a while they could be heard all over the park and I narrowly escaped being driven completely mad. I briefly toyed with the idea of applying a penknife to all of the percussive surfaces in the tent – mercifully, I came to my senses and realised that I didn’t really want to go to prison for drumicide (there is, of course, no such crime as “drumicide” – I made it up!).
The ‘star’ of the show was, of course, Heaton Park itself – or rather it should have been. It is, I believe, the biggest park in Manchester. Nevertheless, the bits that I saw were not very biodiverse and maximising their biodiversity did not appear to have any sort of priority. As far as I was able to tell there were three main types of habitat in the park: lots of obsessively mown grass, some overgrown, gloomy tree plantations and some unmanaged, scruffy bits. The dominant flora was a rather dismal assemblage of (all too common) plants which, I’m afraid, I could have, more or less, predicted before I laid eyes on it. I can recite species off the top off my head: Common Nettle, Broad-leaved Dock, Creeping Buttercup, Meadow Buttercup, Yorkshire Fog Grass, Timothy Grass, Soft Rush, Greater Plantain, Ribwort Plantain etc., etc., etc.  The ubiquity of this assemblage, in so many sites in Greater Manchester, is, I fear, an indicator of how species-poor our local biodiversity has become.  

Significant populations of the two alien, vegetable thugs, Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed, were evident in a number of places. It is possible to control the former, if the will exists to do so, but controlling the latter can be difficult and expensive.
The most interesting plant find of the day was also an alien. It occurred on a little patch of disturbed ground in the midst of a sea of closely mown grass. The plant in question turned out to be Cape-gooseberry (Physalis peruviana - see photo above). This species is unrelated to gooseberries but is, in fact, a member of the tomato family. Its fruits are like miniature yellow tomatoes and are edible. It’s originally from South America but I believe that it’s now grown commercially for its fruits in various parts of the world (e.g. South Africa). I’m not sure if it’s grown on any significant commercial scale in the UK. This was only the second time that I’ve seen this plant, in the wild, in Manchester. Curiously, I found my first one, in Hulme, about a week before.  I looked it up in the ‘Bible’ i.e. Prof. Clive Stace’s monumental ‘New Flora of the British Isles’ (3rd ed., 2010). I learned that it is: “Intr[o]d[uced]-nat[uralise]d; imported as minor fruit and casual on tips, nat[uralised]d in Herts; occasional in Br[itain], mainly S[outh] ...”

So do my two finds suggest that it’s moving north? Some authorities believe that some alien plants, will respond to climate change by doing so in the near future. Well, no - to advance such a hypothesis, on the basis of two finds, would be ridiculous! But ask me again in a few years time.
I learned on the grapevine that this event had cost the Council around £10,000. I rather wish that they’d spent the money on improving the park for wildlife.

Dave Bishop, September, 2013    

Friday, 30 August 2013

Unravelling the Web of Life

Marc Hudson, of Manchester Climate Monthly, has just sent me the following link to a sad and terrifying piece by the Canadian biologist, Neil Dawe:

http://www.oceansidestar.com/news/web-of-life-unravelling-wildlife-biologist-says-1.605499

Please read it!

It may seem overly dramatic to compare the Mersey Valley to the wilds of Canada - but my experience of our local green haven, over the last 40 years or so, is eerily similar. We have lost so many species over that time and all we've got now is a species-poor tangle of nettles and brambles.

I've come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as 'progress' any more - just accelerating environmental destruction.


Dave Bishop, August 2013