Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Endangered species of Russian wildlife

Wildlife in danger in Russia

Although Russia is such a massive country with so many forms of natural habitat and countless types of flora and fauna, it is also home to the last surviving populations of many endangered species of wildlife. Hunting, habitat loss, pollution, pesticides and Climate Change have taken their toll just like in so many parts of the world today.  But let us look at some of the incredible creatures found in Russia whose very survival is threatened.

Siberian Tiger


Siberian Tiger (Photo: Public Domain)

The Siberian Tiger or Amur Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), lives as its names suggest in Siberia and specifically in the Amur region.  It is the largest type of big cat in the world. In the 1940s it was threatened with extinction but due to conservation efforts the species has made a recovery, although numbers are still very low and an estimated number of 562 Siberian Tigers is all that are left. The Siberian Tiger's Conservation Status is "Endangered". 



Siberian Tiger Quest in 2012

Oriental Stork

The Oriental Stork (Cyconia boyciana) is a truly beautiful bird that is now an endangered species with only about 400 pairs left. It used to live in China, Japan and Korea, as well as Russia, but it is believed to be extinct in Korea and Japan. 


Oriental Stork (Photo: Spaceaero2)

The Oriental Stork's decline has been attributed to hunting and habitat loss and the species is listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as "Endangered".

The Russian Desman


Drawing of the Siberian Desman (Photo: Public Domain)

The Russian Desman (Desmana moschata) is really a type of semiaquatic mole. It is one of the two surviving species of desman, with the Pyrenean Desman (Galemys pyrenaicus) being the other. Although nowhere near as badly in decline in numbers as the Siberian Tiger and Oriental Stork, the Russian Desman has a "Vulnerable" Conservation Status and is down from 70.000 in the 1970s to just 35,000 in 2004.  This species was once hunted for its fur but nowadays pollution, loss of habitat and invasive species, such as the Muskrat, are threats to its survival.



Russian Desman


It is found along the banks of ponds and streams in the Volga, Don and Ural River basins. It lives in small groups and burrows in the banks of where it is living. The Russian Desman feeds on fish, amphibians, insects and crayfish.


Saiga Antelope


Saiga Antelope (Photo: Seilov)


The Saiga Antelope (Saiga tartarica) is an antelope species that is listed today as "Critically Endangered."  It once formed massive herds and lived in a vast area of the Eurasian steppes. It is now only found in one part of Russia and three areas in Kazakhstan.  It is extinct in China and southwestern Mongolia. 

This antelope was hunted in very large numbers and its horn is popular in Chinese traditional medicine. It has been used as a substitute for rhinoceros horn. Hunting of rhinos and Saigas for the superstitious belief  that the horns of these animals have miraculous powers has caused a terrible decline in numbers of these mammals.


Why did the Saigas die? 


The Saiga is also prone to unexplained die-offs when large numbers of the animals drop dead. Many Saigas died like this in die-offs every year between 2010 and 2014. It is bad enough that humans have taken such a terrible toll on this species without mysterious mortalities killing them like this too.


Monday, 28 December 2015

The once Common Eel is now Critically Endangered

The European Eel is no longer common

The European Eel (Anguilla anguilla)  used to be known as the Common Eel, and when I was a boy this was an apt name, however, this is no longer the case because this species of eel is now listed as Critically Endangered. In 2010, Greenpeace International added this fish to its red list. 


European Eel (Photo: Public Domain)


European Eels have a most unusual lifecycle. The adults spawn in the Sargasso Sea and the baby eels travel across the oceans to return to fresh waters far far away. How they navigate is not understood. They drift as larval eels for around 300 days before transforming into a stage known as "glass eels," which occurs when they approach the coasts.  Eventually they enter estuaries in the UK and Europe and transform again into elvers in the fresh water. The eels travel upstream and will also travel overland in storms. They live in rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds where they grow much larger and are known as "yellow eels," but after between five and twenty years or more they become adults that must return to the sea. The final stage is known as the "silver eel," and these eels swim all the way back to the Sargasso Sea where they breed and then die.



When I was younger the European Eel used to be one of the most easily found freshwater fish. You just had to go to any river or stream and turn over a few stones and you would be likely to see young eels or elvers.  In Cardiff, where I lived, there is a weir in Llandaff, and every year countless thousands of elvers used to try and ascend it. To do this they would leave the water at the edge of the weir and slither up the mossy wet rocks and wall.  If you put a bucket or net underneath and disturbed the mass of young eels at the top you would quickly get a net or bucket full of them. That was how easy they were to catch. Nearly every rock in the river would have elvers hiding underneath it or larger eels.  That was then but it is a very different story today, so what has happened? 

One of many endangered species

Like so many once common species, the European Eel is now rarely seen in Britain today and its numbers have dropped very dramatically.  Since the 1970s, it has been estimated that eels reaching Europe have declined in numbers by over 90%, possibly as much as 98%. This is surely a warning sign that all is not at all well, when it comes to the natural world and the flora and fauna of the UK.

So what has gone so wrong and where have all the eels gone?  The reasons are many and include: overfishing, hydroelectric dams and barrages blocking the way for the eels to ascend and descend rivers,  parasites, pollution and changes in the currents in the oceans. Whatever the cause may be, the eels have gone, and with them has gone the food source for many species of water birds, including Kingfishers, predatory fish, like the Pike, and even some mammals too, such as the Otter.  The eel is an important part of a food-chain, and without it other species are sure to suffer.  

Saving the European Eel


Fortunately all hope is not yet lost for the future survival of the European Eel. Fish passes are being increasingly installed in rivers with weirs and dams, so that eels and other fish, such as salmon, are able to get upstream.  

The number of eels is being monitored and there are projects in operation to save the European Eel. Restocking inland waters with young eels is one method that is being put into practise. 

The Guardian has reported that conservationists have suggested that the decline in numbers of the species has been halted and possibly reversed.  I hope this is true but it is far too early to know for sure! 



Friday, 25 December 2015

Christmas Butterflies

Red Admiral



Red Admiral (Photo: Public Domain)

The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is often the last butterfly to be seen flying in the UK and parts of northern Europe. This colourful insect can be seen in December in mild winters and Butterfly Conservation reported on their Facebook page that the organisation had received recent reports of butterflies being sighted and they shared a photo of a Red Admiral.

The Red Admiral has Christmas colours too because its wings are boldly market with red and white on dark brown and black. This pretty butterfly, which is also found in Asia and North America, is a migrant to the UK but it can hibernate so is a resident butterfly as well. It is one of the last species to be seen in the late autumn, and can be seen feeding on ivy blossom and on windfall fruit. It also flies on sunny and mild winter days.

The Red Admiral's caterpillars feed on Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica). 

Painted Lady


Painted Lady (Photo: Public Domain)

The Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) is not a butterfly you will see in the UK at Christmas, but here in Portugal it is still about in December and I saw one the other day in a sunny spell in what was otherwise a cold and foggy day. It was a very pleasant surprise and got me thinking about this butterfly that is a very successful species unlike so many butterflies that are rapidly declining in numbers.

The Painted Lady is another migrant to the UK and Northern Europe.  It comes from North Africa and the Canary Islands but its northerly migrations have taken it as far as Iceland where it is the only butterfly species that has been reported. The Painted Lady has been found in most parts of the world and is almost global in its distribution.

Unfortunately, unlike the Red Admiral, the Painted Lady is unable to survive British winters in any stage of its lifecycle.  It is a truly remarkable butterfly though because scientists have discovered that it uses the jet stream to carry it on its migrations. The Painted Lady leaves Britain in the autumn to fly south and it does this by being carried in the fast-moving air of the jet stream.  

Besides the Painted Lady's extraordinary migrations, the species does so well because its caterpillar will feed on a lot of different food-plants, including species of thistle (Carduus). Sunflower (Helianthus),  Mallow (Malva) and Burdock (Arctium). Like the larvae of the Red Admiral, the caterpillars of the Painted Lady will also eat nettles. Caterpillars of the Painted Lady are often sold by butterfly supply companies such as Worldwide Butterflies.  They are ideal for schools where children can study the insects and watch them transform from caterpillars into chrysalises into adult butterflies. 

Butterfly World Project

Many butterflies are in danger of becoming extinct in the modern world due to habitat loss, pesticides, herbicides, disease and Climate Change, so they need all the help we can give them. Butterfly World Project in St Albans was set up to help butterfly conservation but has been forced to announce its closure.  Please help by signing the petitions to stop this happening.  I have written all about it in a previous blog here




Monday, 21 December 2015

Where does all the plastic go?


Plastic trash (Photo: Public Domain)

Where does all the plastic go? 
Into the sea, into the sea.
How does it get there, who threw it away?
Was it you or was it me?


Oceanic Gyres of Trash (Photo: Public Domain)


Plastic houseplants, why not real plants?
I saw the fake ones at the store,
Shoppers must want them, people must buy them;
I don't want to see any more.



It's not just hunting that'll kill the last whale,
Plastic will do it and it's a very sad tale.
What about the albatrosses?
They are dying out too,
They keep on fishing in the ocean's plastic stew.
These birds mate for life, only to watch their babies die,
From the plastic trash they feed them,
But they cannot understand why.


Remains of an albatross chick (Photo: Public Domain)


The plastic bag I bought, it very quickly broke,
If it ever gets burned there'll be poisonous smoke.

Plastic kills the turtles,
Plastic's eaten by the fish,
It is in the food chain,
And in the dinner on your dish.

Into the sea, into the sea.
How does it get there, who threw it away?
Was it you or was it me?





Sunday, 20 December 2015

Paris’s Shortcomings: We Need Conservation, Not Conversation says David de Rothschild


Deforestation (Photo: Public Domain)


An excellent article entitled Paris’s Shortcomings: We Need Conservation, Not Conversation by author and explorer David de Rothschild, has been published by National Geographic, in which he talks about the serious shortcomings of the recent Paris conference on Climate Change. He points out the truly alarming rate at which our forests are being destroyed and species of plant and animal are becoming extinct daily. Nowhere near enough is being done to halt the ongoing destruction and nowhere near enough binding agreements have been made. It has been a lot more talk but not a lot of action!

David says: "...most experts agree that we are losing upwards of 80,000 acres of tropical rain forest every day. Factor in a statistic that says conservatively we’re loosing anywhere between 135-200 plant, animal, and insect species every day, and you realize that between now and 2020, we stand to lose 1,460,000,000 acres of tropical forest and 273,750 species!"



Beekeeper (Photo: Public Domain)


I hear what he is saying loud and clear!  It really saddens me to know how many species we are losing all the time.  You do not have to know much about nature to see that once common birds and butterflies are vanishing, as are honeybees, which we are told is due to Colony Collapse Disorder.

In the UK, most butterfly species are in rapid decline, as are formerly common birds like the House Sparrow.


House Sparrow (Photo: Public Domain)


Every time I talk to my elderly father, who lives in Cardiff, he complains about how he no longer sees birds like blackbirds, starlings, great tits, robins, green finches, wrens and hedge sparrows, all of which used to be regular visitors to his back garden.  When I have visited him I have seen for myself that these birds have gone.  So too have the swifts. These birds used to nest on houses in the street my father lives in. In May you would hear and see them all the way along the road but no longer is this the case.

I have recently blogged about the shocking decline in hedgehogs in the UK. They are now down to less than one million.  These animals used to be a common sight in our gardens at night.

So I know what David de Rothschild is talking about is true. We are losing species daily and we cannot bring them back.  Extinction cannot be undone.  Extinct means gone for good!

I thoroughly recommend De Rothschild's book The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook: 77 Essential Skills to Stop Climate Change, and his Plastiki Across the Pacific on Plastic: An Adventure to Save Our Oceans.  This second book is about the voyage De Rothschild made across the ocean. He saw for himself that the fishes and marine life have vanished. Pollution by plastic and overfishing are destroying marine life daily and little is being done to stop this.  Too little too late is being done to stop the environmental destruction happening worldwide!


Friday, 18 December 2015

Petition to Save Butterfly World Project in St Albans

Butterfly World to close 


Swallowtail Butterfly on Lantana (Photo: Public Domain)

I couldn't believe it when I read the news that Butterfly World was to close permanently. The Butterfly World Project in Chiswell Green, St Albans has reluctantly announced that they will not be reopening next year.  As usual it appears that money is at the root of the problem.  Butterfly World has been failing to make the profit it needs.

Phase IV of the Butterfly World Project was going to be the construction of a 100-metre-wide rainforest bio dome. It was intended to house hundreds of tropical butterflies, hummingbirds, insects, spiders and tropical plants. Sadly it has not attracted the funding it needs to go ahead, and John Breheny, who is the chairman of the engineering project for the centre, has put the blame on a "succession of trading losses."

Clive Farrell

Butterfly World was founded by lepidopterist and author Clive Farrell in 2009, and has attracted over 500, 000 visitors. 



 Farrell, by the way, co-authored The Butterfly Gardener with the late Miriam Rothschild.  I personally recommend this book, which looks in detail at how butterflies can be attracted to our gardens throughout the year, and what the insects really need to thrive. The Butterfly Gardener is an excellent book to get if you want to find out how we can help butterfly conservation.


Clive Farrell at the launch of Butterfly World


Celebrity Support for Butterfly World

As well as attracting thousands of visitors and the support of countless members of the public, Butterfly World has been supported by a number of well-known celebrities, including Sir David Attenborough, Professor David Bellamy. broadcaster Alan Titchmarsh and actress Emilia Fox. 


David Bellamy talks about Butterfly World

Petition to Save Butterfly World from closure

With butterflies disappearing in the UK and throughout the world in alarming numbers, we need more places like Butterfly World not less. Many people still think that we can turn things around and save Butterfly World, and so a petition has been launched.


Small Blue Cupido minimus (Photo: Valerius Geng)


Please sign Petition To Save Butterfly World and help by circulating this news! Blog about it, Tweet about it, share on Facebook and let us help Butterfly World to make a comeback, just like the many species, species such as the Small Blue, it was helping to do so!

And sign this petition too:




Sunday, 13 December 2015

British hedgehog numbers in serious decline

The British Hedgehog is no longer common

Hedgehogs were once a very common animal in the UK, and in the 1950s there were an estimated 36 million living in our gardens, parks and countryside.  Very sadly this is no longer the case and The People's Trust for Endangered Species now believes there are fewer than one million left.  The alarming decline in hedgehog numbers has been reported on in The Guardian and by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.


Hedgehog (Photo: Public Domain)

Threats to the hedgehog

Like so many endangered species of wildlife the hedgehog has many threats to its continued survival. Pesticides, such as slug bait,  can potentially harm hedgehogs that inadvertently eat poisoned slugs and snails. Even if the slug killer doesn't kill a hedgehog directly, the slugs and snails it does kill could have been food for the spiny animal. Habitat loss and degradation is another problem hedgehogs face. Many gardens are now paved over or kept so tidy that the number of insects and other invertebrates that hedgehogs feed on are drastically reduced in numbers. Hibernating hedgehogs can get burned to death if they are sleeping under a large pile of branches, twigs, leaves and other rubbish that someone has accumulated as a bonfire. 

Flooding caused by Climate Change is another threat to sleeping hedgehogs. Although the animals can swim to safety they are unlikely to be able to do so if water floods where they are resting or hibernating. The hedgehogs would be drowned in their sleep.

Hedgehogs are a very adaptable species that can live in a very great range of habitats and eat a wide variety of foods, including slugs, snails, worms, insects, centipedes, frogs, mice and snakes even. They can climb and swim. They wear a spiny suit-of-armour as a means of defence. They were once very common and widely distributed in the UK, however, like so many forms of British wildlife they have been unable to adapt fast enough to survive the sweeping changes humans have brought to the countryside.

Roadkill


A hedgehog after dark (Photo: Public Domain)

Hedgehogs are one of the main animals that become victims of roadkill. Hedgehogs are mainly nocturnal creatures and this means that drivers have less chance of seeing them in the road ahead, and in any case, the animals are very bad at getting out of the way, even if they do sense danger. 

The number of hedgehogs reported as roadkill has fallen drastically too, which suggests that their populations have seriously dwindled in numbers. The animals are not there to run the risk of being killed crossing a road to begin with!

Hedgehogs in popular culture

Hedgehogs have been featured in popular culture in Britain in literature, poetry and song. Beatrix Potter's Mrs Tiggy-Winkle is a character so many children have loved.  Folk-rock icons The Incredible String Band wrote a song entitled The Hedgehog's Song that was included on their album 5000 Spirits



The prickly but cute little animal is a firm favourite of very many people, so it is really saddening to know that the number of hedgehogs in the UK has dropped so dramatically. 

Fortunately, very many people are trying to do something to reverse the decline in hedgehog numbers and to save the little animals before it is too late.  Campaigns have been set up like this one.

It is hard to imagine a British countryside where hedgehogs are an extinct species, so let us do what we can to prevent this ever happening! 






Monday, 7 December 2015

Help save the last wolves in Norway from hunters

11,000 people want to kill half of the last 30 wolves in Norway

Wolves have declined in numbers in many parts of the world and are extinct in the UK and other places where they once lived. In Norway, they are down to just 30 animals but that has not stopped over 11,000 people wanting to hunt half of these remaining wolves and kill them!


Wolves (Canis lupus lupus) at Polar Zoo in municipality of Bardu, Troms County, Norway (Photo: Taral Jansen)

Yes, despite the very low numbers of this magnificent animal still surviving in this Scandinavian country, it has been reported in The Guardian,  that 11,571 people have applied for hunting licenses so they can kill 16 of these wolves. That means we have the alarming figure of 723 hunters for each wolf! And, how can anyone ensure that no more than 16 wolves are killed in any case, and what about illegal hunting? 



Norwegian Wolves


The hunting season in Norway started on 1 October and continues until the end of March, so that means six months of extreme danger for the Norwegian wolves. 

Why do people want to hunt wolves? 

Hunting is very popular with Norwegian men who view it as a traditional sport, and presumably makes them feel macho. It is reported that there are 200,000 registered hunters in Norway. Most of these hunters are men, and only 500 women signed up to hunt this year.

Hunting licenses are granted so that hunters can help protect livestock. Sadly in many parts of the world, wolves are forced to kill farmed animals or go without food because their natural prey are so low in numbers and the habitats are so degraded due to humans. Wolves also are forced to scavenge on garbage like foxes. 


Updated range of grey wolves in Eurasia. (Photo: Public Domain)


Norway's wolf populations would stand a better chance if they were in Sweden, Finland or Russia, where the animals have better governmental protection. Wolves are a fully protected species in Sweden where their numbers are increasing. 

Bears in Norway

Bears in Norway are under serious threat from hunters too.  10,930 registered hunters want to track down and shoot 18 Norwegian brown bears


Brown bear (Photo: Public Domain)


Petition to Save the Wolves of Norway

Fortunately, there is something you can do if, like me, you want to help save the Norwegian wolves. There is a petition that can be signed, and sometimes petitions really do get results and are worth signing!









Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Couch Grass for Healthy Cats

Couch Grass is a natural Cat Grass


Cat on Couch (Photo: Public Domain)

If you are a cat owner you have probably seen your cat eating grass, and you may already know that they do this because it is a natural medicine. Many shops sell "Cat Grass" as seeds but this is not the type that many cats will choose if given a choice, though it serves the same purpose and helps with digestive problems. Cat Grass seeds are usually wheat or rye. Couch grass is a common weed that many cats, and dogs too, will graze on if they find it in the garden. 

I once had a cat called Tiggy who was fussy. She would only accept proper couch grass and turned her nose up, literally, at commercially available Cat Grass.  I tried growing these grass seeds available from the stores a few times but she would not touch this type of grass, however, couch grass she would grab at in her eagerness. Several times when she was poorly I saw her get better fast after eating couch grass.  I used to grow it in pots so she had a supply available. 


Couch Grass (Elytrigia repens) Photo: Public Domain

Couch grass (Agropyron repens) is also known to botanists as Elytrigia repens and Elymus repens, and humans also call it quick grass, quitch grass, dog grass, witchgrass and quackgrass.  Whatever you call the plant, it is a very useful medicinal herb, even though most gardeners hate it.

Couch grass rhizomes have anti-microbial properties, as well as being anti-inflammatory, astringent and a mild diuretic.  The leaf blades have these properties too and are the parts that cats and dogs will eat.


Kweek Elytrigia repens (Photo: Rasbak)

Couch grass is native to Europe,  Asia and northwest Africa but is found all around the world today and is considered an invasive weed. It spreads rapidly via its creeping rhizomes and will rapidly regenerate from broken bits of these rhizomes left in the ground. Bad news for gardeners but great news for cats and dogs with a bad tummy! It is quite amazing to see how our pets instinctively know the natural herbal medicine this grass species is.

When cats and dogs eat couch grass they will frequently vomit it back up but this is no cause for concern. The animals are trying to cleanse their digestive systems. They know what is best for them, but not always, because in the house and deprived of couch grass, they will often try eating toxic houseplants, and some of these are very poisonous to them. 

Couch grass is good for us too. The rhizomes have been used as a traditional Austrian remedy for fever, taken as a tea, syrup or in the form of a maceration in cold water. As a medicine for humans, couch grass has been used to treat gout, rheumatism, urinary tract problems, bladder and kidney disorders and skin conditions.

Couch grass is the food-plant for the caterpillars of several moths and butterflies, and the seeds are eaten by many small birds, including species of finch and bunting. It is not just cats and dogs that like couch grass! 

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Grey Squirrels to be culled in the UK in EU plan

Grey Squirrel cull

Like me you may think that grey squirrels are cute animals that you enjoy seeing in parks and woodlands, so you will no doubt be saddened and angry to hear that plans are afoot to cull tens of thousands of them in the UK.


Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) Photo: Public Domain

The Forestry Commission and the UK Government are planning to pay British landowners to rid their estates of the animals and grants will be available for up to five years that will pay £100 per hectare of land.  European Union politicians have devised this scheme and it will also be applicable in Ireland and Italy. 


Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) Photo: Public Domain


There are around five million grey squirrels in the UK. It is being claimed that the grey squirrel is a harmful pest that has displaced the native red squirrel and that causes serious damage to forests. 

But not everyone agrees with these claims, and many animal activists are opposing the cull. It is argued that the grey squirrel is being blamed for a problem they did not cause. Further it is being stated by the Interactive Centre For Scientific Research About Squirrels (ICSRS) that the grey squirrel is actually of great benefit to our woodlands because it is responsible for the regeneration of forests. Scientific studies have shown that the animals are "unrivalled leaders in seed dispersion."  This is because grey squirrels bury a lot of the nuts and seeds they find. The nuts they forget about germinate in spring and can grow into new trees. 




I can confirm this because my father had a grey squirrel that visited his garden each autumn and planted hundreds of filberts that it collected from his tree. This caused the seedlings to germinate all over my dad's garden to his annoyance, though he used to like seeing the squirrel, all the same.

Furthermore, there is much evidence to show that the grey squirrel should not be blamed for the decline in red squirrel numbers that it is said to have caused. Grey squirrels are adaptable and can live in deciduous woodlands and in parks. Red squirrels are more suited to conifer forests and pinewoods than the greys. Humans have destroyed the habitats of the red squirrel with the continuing destruction of forests throughout the UK. 

Cruel methods can be used to kill squirrels in the cull. Shooting, bludgeoning, trapping and poisoning are all allowed. Poisoning with warfarin, a blood anticoagulant, causes the animals to bleed to death in the same way that rats are killed. Squirrels can be killed in the breeding season too, which means that many baby animals will starve if their mothers are killed.

Petition to Stop the Grey Squirrel Cull

A petition to Stop The European Union Squirrel Cull has been set up, so add your signature if you oppose the killing of these woodland animals.


Sunday, 29 November 2015

Ginkgo biloba and herbs to treat migraine

Ginkgo biloba as a treatment for migraine 


Ginkgo biloba (Photo: Public Domain)

Ginkgo biloba is a tree dating back to prehistoric times that is used today in herbal medicine with one of its uses being as a herb to prevent migraines. I use it for this purpose and can vouch for its effectiveness because I take it as a daily supplement and on occasions when I have run out of a supply for some weeks I have ended up getting migraine attacks again.



Ginkgo has been the subject of clinical studies to show whether or not it is of any use in treating migraine and the results are promising.

It is a very popular herbal remedy and is widely available from health stores and counters, as well as from suppliers of herbal supplements via the Internet. It is available as tablets, capsules and tinctures, sometimes combined with other herbs. 



Ginkgo biloba is used to help the circulation by thinning the blood but this means that it can also cause excess bleeding and caution should be observed if you are taking anticoagulant drugs such as warfarin. 

Ginkgo is thought to help preserve a good memory and cognitive function, although clinical studies do not support this. Nevertheless, it is thought to help to guard against Alzheimer's Disease and dementia. 

Ginkgo biloba is sometimes referred to as the Maidenhair Tree because its fan-shaped leaves are similar in shape but a lot bigger than the fronds of the Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum spp.). The Ginkgo is native to China but grown around the world today in parks and gardens. The Ginkgo can grow into a very large tree, attaining heights of 20-35 metres. 


Ginkgo leaves (Photo: Public Domain)


The Ginkgo is deciduous and its leaves turn a glorious golden yellow in autumn.

Hiroshima survivor

As a matter of interest, he Ginkgo biloba tree stands up well to all sorts of conditions including atomic warfare. Six trees in Hiroshima in Japan survived the 1945 bomb explosion. Although nearly everything else in the area these trees were in was killed, the Ginkgo trees, although badly charred, soon regenerated and are still growing today. 

Feverfew


Feverfew (Photo: Public Domain)

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is also known as the Midsummer Daisy, and as its name suggests it flowers around this time with plenty of white daisy-like flowers and aromatic ferny foliage. It is a pretty plant and often grown in gardens where it will self-seed and establish itself. 

Feverfew has gained a good reputation for being a herb that can be taken as a preventative against migraine attacks. One large leaf or three smaller ones taken per day is the dosage, although the leaves taste very bitter and you may wish to find some way of masking the flavour. 

The easier way of taking this herb is to buy it from a health store or herbal supplier.

Feverfew is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, and whilst it has been used in treating migraines it will only work in preventing them and needs to be taken on a regular basis for several weeks before it can be expected to work.  Feverfew cannot halt a migraine once an attack is happening.

Butterbur


Butterbur (Photo: Public Domain)


The Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is a perennial herb that produces creeping rhizomes and spikes of pinkish flowers that are formed in early spring before the large rounded leaves that appear after flowering.  The Butterbur grows on riverbanks and along the edges of streams and is a fairly common plant in the UK and Europe. There are also a number of related species in the genus.

Butterbur has been used in herbal medicine as a treatment for migraine and is thought to have an effect on blood flow to the brain, as well as having anti-inflammatory properties. 

White Willow Bark


White Willow catkins (Photo: Public Domain)

The bark of the White Willow (Salix alba) has also been used in the treatment of migraine and for conventional headaches. This tree produces salicin in its bark which is a chemical substance very close to aspirin.  Like aspirin it has the proven ability to decrease pain and reduce inflammation. Willow bark has analgesic properties. 

Willow Bark has been a traditional herbal remedy for many other conditions besides migraines and headaches.  Willow bark should not be used by anyone who is allergic to aspirin, for obvious reasons.


Thursday, 26 November 2015

Mamas from the Heart of the World - The Kogi

Who are the Kogi?

Perhaps you have never heard of the Kogi but if what these people say is true, then the future of this planet and our lives on it depends on their help. The Kogi are a mysterious tribe of people who live high on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain in Columbia, and who believe they are the guardians and caretakers for the whole world. 

 The Kogi leaders are priests known as Mamas. Mama means "enlightened one." They believe that the mountain they live on is the "Heart of the World," and this was why the landmark BBC documentary made by Alan Ereira in 1990 was entitled From the Heart of the World: The Elder Brothers' Warning.


Indigenous Koguis Shaman at Ciudad Perdida (Photo: Uhkabu)

The Kogi are unique in having been able to preserve their culture intact and dating back before the Spanish Conquest 500 years ago. They are a surviving Pre-Colombian culture but they are in turn descendants of the Tairona culture that flourished before this. The Tairona were an advanced civilisation that built cities and pathways of stone in the jungles. These structures were built to last and have survived in good condition long after their builders had gone.


 Statue of the Tayronas in Santa Marta, Colombia (Photo: Public Domain)

The Elder Brother

The term "Elder Brother" is used by the Kogi to refer to themselves, while the rest of the world and the western civilisation they call the "Younger Brother." In their belief system the Younger Brother was sent away long ago, leaving the Kogi Mamas to do their work in caring for the world from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Kogi boys can be selected from birth to be trained for nine years to become Mamas. They are kept in semi-darkness in a cave for this time and attended only by their mothers and Mamas who care for them and teach them about their history and beliefs and about Aluna. Aluna is the "Great Mother" from which all life and all creation sprang. Aluna is the life force behind nature. 


Kogi village huts (Photo: Thomas Dahlberg)


The Kogi Mamas have a complete understanding of the ecosystem and can interpret signs from nature with precision. Their mountain home is like a microcosm of the rest of the world because it really does contain microclimates and varying habitats such as can be found elsewhere on the planet. There are highlands and tundra, there are cloud forests and jungles, there are rivers and lakes, there are desert areas and lowlands, there are coastal regions with mangrove forests and reefs. 

It is possible to predict the health of the planet elsewhere by interpreting how it is on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This is why the Mamas had become very worried. They had seen that all was not well high on the mountain where snow and ice were not forming as they should, presumably due to Climate Change acerbated by how humans are treating the environment and wasting natural resources. No snow and ice high in the mountains and no clouds meant no water for streams and rivers to form from rainfall and meltwater, so no water for down below and without water nothing can live. 


Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (Photo: Public Domain)

The Kogi Mamas believe that because we are creating dams in the rivers, causing widespread deforestation, mining the land and mountains, polluting the seas, and otherwise destroying the environment and our home, that the world will come to an end, possibly as soon as in the next 50 years, unless we change course.

The Kogi tribe had kept itself away from the rest of the world until 1990 when the Mamas decided to break their silence in talking with Ereira and allowing him and his crew to film their secret homelands.


Kogi Warning


Sadly the Mamas have concluded that their message and warning to the Younger Brother was not heeded. This is why, 20 years later they decided to try another approach and have made a new film working with Ereira again. 

Aluna

Aluna is the title of the new movie made by the Kogi Mamas working again with Alan Ereira.  The Kogi are very frightened by the way the Younger Brother is continuing to destroy the natural world but know that we do not understand the forces we are unleashing.  They believe that unless we change course and listen to what they have to say then the world will end.

The Kogi could see that the Younger Brother failed to listen to their words and spoken warning in From The Heart of The World so in Aluna they are trying another way to communicate to us. They want to visually show us what they are talking about.

Julian Lennon


Julian Lennon in a Recent Picture (Photo: Julian Lennon)

Singer-songwriter, musician and photographer +Julian Lennon, who is a son of the former Beatle John Lennon, has been actively involved in supporting the Kogi and the campaign to get their message in Aluna widely heard. 


Julian Lennon's ALUNA Support Message

Julian says: "They have the answers. This is a warning that should not be ignored."

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

A Silent Spring for Seabirds

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring


Rachel Carson (Photo: Public Domain)

Rachel Carson's best-selling book Silent Spring gave a grim warning about the dangers of pesticides when it was published in 1962. It correctly predicted that DDT and other pesticides would take a terrible toll on wildlife, and in particular birds. Without birds singing it would be a Silent Spring, and hence the title.  Her book spurred on the environmental movement in a massive way, caused many changes and became a modern classic but it couldn't predict the extreme danger from plastic pollution that was fast approaching. In the 1960s when Carson's book came out less than 5% of seabirds had plastic inside them but by the 1980s it had increased dramatically to 80%.

90% of seabirds have eaten plastic

National Geographic has recently revealed in a shocking report by Laura Parker that today as many as 90% of marine birds have eaten plastic. That means most seagulls, gannets, shearwaters, terns, albatrosses, frigate birds, petrels, kittiwakes, razorbills, boobies, penguins and puffins are likely to have swallowed plastic. The birds mistake plastic for sea creatures and fish with dire results. They are unable to digest plastic, unable to excrete it and so the toxic material accumulates somewhere inside them. As the plastic builds up with each plastic item swallowed so the room for real food gets less. Plastic also contains toxins that can gradually poison a bird to various degrees and lead to its reproductive failure. Sharp-edged plastic items can puncture internal organs and lead to bleeding and death.


Washed up plastic trash (Photo: Public Domain)


This is happening worldwide because waste plastic is being carried down rivers, streams and sewers into the oceans, in addition to the discarded plastic rubbish from ships and left carelessly littering beaches and coastlines. Plastic is washing up on beaches and looks almost like dead fish. Plastic items including bottles, bottle-caps, cups, bags, straws, lighters, spoons, toys and pieces of plastic packaging are floating around or washed onto beaches and look like food to a hungry seabird. 

It is not just at sea because gulls that are so well-suited as scavengers, and which are increasingly colonising our cities and feeding from rubbish dumps are mistaking plastic for food too with disastrous results as can be seen in this video.


Seagull eating a plastic bag

It is estimated that by 2050 every seabird will have eaten plastic!

Albatrosses


Remains of a Laysan albatross chick (Photo: Forest & Kim Starr)

The magnificent albatross, in all of the species, is a type of seabird in which plastic pollution is causing widespread fatalities among the chicks. Parent birds are feeding all sorts of plastic items to their hungry babies not knowing that they are actually killing their young ones. The baby birds cannot regurgitate the plastic trash and cannot digest it either. The rubbish accumulates inside them and they become undernourished, stressed and eventually die.  The helpless parent birds can only look on in horror!

The following video shows how bad the situation really is:


Plastic in albatross chicks at Midway Atoll

All types of albatross are recognised as endangered species. Can you imagine a world without these birds? Can you imagine a world without seabirds where we can no longer hear the cry of the seagull?


Seagulls in flight (Photo: Public Domain)


 Can you picture rocky cliffs and islands no longer used as breeding sites for seabird colonies?  Plastic is one of the many serious threats to seabirds of all types and, the way things are going, it looks as if these birds are heading for extinction unless something can be done to halt their decline. 

Whales and turtles


Footage of whale who died after eating plastic bags

And it is not just the seabirds that are in danger because of plastic trash that they eat. Whales and turtles, as well as many other types of marine life are eating the material. Beached and dead whales are being found with masses of plastic bags and other rubbish inside them and turtles too are suffering the same fate of dying after consuming plastic. These marine reptiles eat the material after mistaking it for jellyfish.


Sea turtle eating plastic