Monday, 26 October 2009


Hi everyone,
Sorry I haven't been posting recently I moved both house and country and have been rushing around with job hunting, costuming and trying to find volunteering opportunities.
Things are now starting to get into a rhythm, so I hope I can start posting again soon.
I do have lots of articles and reviews just waiting for me to sit down and write them, and my volunteering to talk about.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Return of the Aurochs

After my recent article on Aurochs in Germany, I have just discovered that a herd is being established in South West England.

The herd, along with water voles and beavers, are at Uppcott Farm, near Liftondown in Devon and would be worth a visit.

Full Article from the Times here

My article on Aurochs here

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Earth News

The BBC has revamped their news website and now has a decidated section for 'life on Earth'

Earth News

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Getting Involved Part I - Join a Group

I am lucky in that where I live (Al Ain, UAE) there is a very active natural history group, which organises field trips and lectures on all sorts of interesting subjects. I have blogged on these trips before and I record what I see on field trips in my online notebook.
But even if you live in the city there may be a conservation group that you can join to both meet like minded people and explore the greener parts of your city.

Most counties in the UK have a dedicated Wildlife Trust and you can find your local trust here
The wildlife trusts helps people to engage with British Wildlife and learn about conservation through activities such as surveying wildlife. They also manage nature reserves and publish books and reports on their activities.

If bats are your thing there are a lot of regional Bat Groups under the UK Bat Conservation Trust umbrella. You can do training courses that will allow you to handle bats (in the UK you need a licence to do so) and they also run the bat helpline that non Batworkers can call if they are having problems with bats or have found an injured one.

The Mammal Society is all about the study of British mammals and not only can you participate in field work such as surveying, but they also run training courses on various aspects of mammal study such as radio tracking or identification.

The Amateur Entomological Society has fairs and local meetings if you are interested in insects as well as publishing a scientific journal. As with most of these societies you can take part in record keeping and surveying, as well general conservation efforts and raising awareness of British insects.

Finally there is the British Herpetological Society dedicated to the conservation of our native reptiles and amphibians. This group also publish a quarterly academic journal, so great for those really dedicated to Herpetology.

If your tastes are more exotic then there are hobbyist's societies such as the International Herpetology Society and the British Tarantula Society that can cater for you.
These groups have lectures, and often arrange trips to Zoos and shows, where you can meet even more people and get involved.

Tell me about what you do to get involved.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Quirks and Quarks on CBC Radio 1

Quirks and Quarks is Canadian public radio's science programme, and is probably one of the best English language science radio shows. The shows covers a wide range of topics with space and nature being among the most popular. The majority of shows consist of ten minute interviews with the scientists themselves. Often these will be projects that are currently in the news, and the website provides excellent links not only to CBC articles and official press releases, but often to the paper that has been published.
The presenter Bob Macdonald is excellent, he does not patronise the audience and is an intelligent interviewer who comes across as genuinely interested in the people he interviews, and doesn't just act the 'everyman journalist talking with those crazy egg head science people' which can happen in some science journalism.

Here is an extract from a January show

Unnatural Selection

"It's perhaps not surprising that humans are having an impact on the evolution of other animals on the planet. What is surprising, according to Dr. Chris Darimont, an NSERC postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is the way we're doing it."

listen to the whole segment here

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Getting Involved Part II - Nature Walk

2. Go for a Walk with a Camera & Notebook

Wherever you are head off for a walk. Keep your eyes peeled for every little sign of nature, even in the city centre. I have seen wild snap dragons growing on the roof of a plastic bag factory and ferns in the roof of a station. Take photos, make notes and share on your blog or a blog dedicated to urban nature.

If you are in country do the same, really stop and examine where you are, sit down and get to ground level, look for insects, smell the smells, avoid cowpats, close your eyes and listen to the birds singing and again take pictures and make notes.

Wherever you have been, when you get home get out a field guide and try and identify what you have seen. If you are having trouble there are various fora dedicated to helping you ID your sightings.

Forums & ID Guides

Insects & other Invertebrates


Sadly the excellent forum on this site has been hacked.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

On the Track of Known Unknowns

post on Scorpion Geckos removed until Drew Gardner has published in Tribulus.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Miss Potter's Feeling for Fungus

I'm sure you've all read Peter Rabbit, or even seen the 2007 film Miss Potter, but did you know that Beatrix Potter's first love was Mycology?
A swift google this morning lead me to some interesting sites that tell about her research into lichens and fungus, she even had a paper read by the Linnean Society.
Her interest started when she worked as a scientific illustrator and she pursued it by reading papers on mycology, often these were written by foreign researchers as mycology was not so popular in Britain at the time.
Plenty more information on her scientific work can be found here

and here is a brief overview of the masses of information that the Linnean Society has on her and her work.

Sorry about the non hyperlinks but the html just refused to work.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Überoxen, Nazis and the Polish Resistance

It seems like not a month goes by without the media reporting that some extinct animal, maybe, could be, cloned at some point in the near future. Generally these stories are just fluff, but very few people know about the attempts in the 1920s and 30s to bring back the Aurochs, a prehistoric Ox that most domestic cattle are derived from. This being the period between the wars the motivation was not so much conservation, but driven by a desire for something pure and strong, a kind of livestock equivilant of the Eugenics movement which was highly influential at the time, not only in Germany, but also the rest of Europe and America.

The man in charge of this experiment was Lutz Heck, director of the Berlin Zoo from 1932 to 1945. His memoirs 'Animals my Adventure' are an interesting read, in them he recounts his trips to Africa to collect animals, his attitudes to the Africans would make a modern reader uncomfortable, as he had none of the skill of Gerald Durrell in portraying natives as just as human as 'the rest of us'.

The most striking passage in the book is a description of an Allied air raid that hit the Zoo. If you have ever visited Berlin you will know that the Zoo is in the centre of the city, and very close to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which was was used a orientation point by the Allied Air Forces and so the Zoo bore the brunt of many air raids. Many animals were lost, and even to this day there are information boards at the Zoo depicting the damage, to both building and animals, the image of a dead elephant's legs sticking out of the rubble sticks in ones mind.

Not covered in his memoirs are his actions during Nazi Era. When Germany invaded Poland, he took the liberty of raiding the Warsaw Zoo for its best specimens and attempted to make a deal with the director Jan Zabinski. This aspect of his life is covered in the book 'The Zookeeper's Wife' by Diane Ackerman which portrays the lives of the Zoo staff during the war, and the refuge that the Zoo became for the Jewish citizens of Warsaw.

Heck's main interest, as a Zoologist was the Aurochs, he decided that by breeding together varieties of domestic cattle that had characteristics of this ancient beast he could recreate it. This project was begun in the 1920s, and carried on into the 30s with the approval of Hitler and Goering, who hoped that he would be able to create an Aryan Theme park in eastern Prussia, where Germans could go and experience the life of the Aryans.

Ron Jonson goes into detail on this in his radio programme 'Quest for Aryan Cows' which has interviews with Heck's grand-daughter and includes a visit to the park in Munich where the descendants of Heck's cattle live on a island.

Despite their fearsome reputation and the awe in which they were held back in the 1930s, Jon Ronson is not that impressed by them. After all they are really just domestic cattle that are a facsimile for Aurochsen and not the genuine article. Maybe one day we will be able to clone one, but DNA extracting technology would have to be far better than today as the last aurochs died nearly four hundred years ago.

Were we to clone a thylacine or an Aurochs, we would just be recreating the genetic bottleneck that in part led to their extinction and we must think very carefully about how we go about cloning such things should it ever become scientifically viable.

Jon Ronson and the Quest for the Aryan Cow

The Zookeepers Wife - Diane Ackerman

Animals; My Adventure- Lutz Heck

More information on the effects of Nazism at the Zoo, during and after the Nazi Era