What’s a Long Time? Or. A Thoroughly Good Rant.

If “a week is a long time in politics” ( first coined by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in the 1960’s), then how long is a year in weather terms?

2020 seems to be continuing the trend for the weather to oscillate here with ever increasing peaks and troughs. February 2019 saw record breaking sunshine and temperatures, with Brimstone butterflies flying around the garden. Click here for more.February 2020 has just finished with the UK Met. Office announcing it as the wettest February since records began, with an average UK rainfall of 202 mm. Click here for more detail on the details. Here the leap year month ended with snow and hail showers, a bitingly cold wind, and a rainfall total well above the summed UK average at 357.1 mm. We’ve seen so few sunrises that when one eventually appeared on the 25th, it had marched its way North over the brow of the once copse topped Banc Cwm-coed-ifor,

and down the other side.

As we waited for the third weekend in February with named storm, Jorge, clobbering the UK, after earlier storms Ciara and Dennis, St. David’s day at least dawned bright and sunny with hopes of something better ahead.

Thank goodness for the delight our early flowers have brought us throughout the month, even after the battering they’ve had to cope with from this year’s weather. Crocus and Scilla have suffered most, (probably no seed production for 2020), whilst the Cyclamen coum have still been fantastic.

The snowdrops are still lighting up the scene en masse, and apologies that we haven’t been able to host another pop up opening as yet – the paths in some areas of the garden are just too fragile after all the recent rain, but a few pictures set the scene.

With photo chances limited by the weather this post will be a mini review, starting with an update on “Whelm”.

How long is a month in a snowdrop flower’s life.

Or indeed a global pandemic?

For any new readers, this is the name I proposed in my end of January post (Overwhelmed?)  for a distinctive Welsh origin snowdrop with an enormously long ovary (Ova – Whelm).

I speculated at the end of that post, with the minimal optimism that I could muster just those few weeks ago, that by the time the flowers faded, the world might have forgotten about coronaviruses, and that my real fears about how the disease might spread would prove to look foolish.

Four weeks on, and very sadly but predictably the situation is still exploding, whilst Whelm, beaten by the wind and wet, is nearly over for this year.

But as a future reference point for me, here are some not entirely randomly chosen snapshots around how Homo “sapiens”(?) has sleep-walked into this coronavirus crisis.

Have a look at the recent and predicted global annual spend on cybersecurity, above. Reflecting how as a species, massive resources have been devoted to protecting our computers and technology against “viruses” and cyber attacks.

Then compare this with the most recently published annual assessment of risks to the global economy presented by the world economic forum in Davos in 2019. That annual meeting of affluent wheeler-dealers, politicians and movers and shakers who influence how the rest of us end up living. Click here for more from their “Global Risks Report” – which intriguingly is flagged up as not being a secure website on our computer…

Look hard and you’ll see that the risks of a global pandemic hardly figure in the top 10 possible events likely to disrupt the way the world’s societies function.

Yet in 2019 the World Health Organisation had given a stark warning in their report, “A World At Risk”, of the imminent threat of a rapidly spreading respiratory spread lethal pandemic which could have huge societal impacts. Click here for more.

And how poorly prepared all countries would be to manage such a novel disease outbreak.

Finally this week, global financial markets are beginning to reflect on how life could seem very different for many of us in the weeks ahead, with the biggest ever numerical single day fall on the Dow Jones American market, on February 27th.

As I hinted at last time, from a disease control standpoint, much of what has come to be considered as normal human behaviour in recent years, even a “right” for normal affluent lifestyles, ignores the impacts that real animal viruses – those tiny and even questionable “life” forms of simple scraps of genome with primitive protein coatings which weren’t even identified until about 100 years ago – can wreak on our complexly organised world.

Just by doing what all “living” things try to do – survive, replicate and exploit the opportunities that their environment presents them with.

And don’t you have to hugely admire the amazing speed with which this tiny ragbag of biologically active organic molecules has been able to whizz around the whole world, and create so much impact, and occupy so much media space, so speedily.

If we thought Brexit news stories and political debate during 2019 was completely dominating all else, we ain’t seen nothing yet!

And all this emanating from something that’s invisible (to us).

Something that can’t move.

Can’t sense.

Can’t think.

Can’t communicate.

Can’t even independently replicate – it just hitches a lift.

And boy, don’t we make that easy for it!

The aesthetically pleasing image above shows numerous (yellow) Covid-19 virus particles emerging from a human cell of an infected American patient in great numbers. Click here for more images produced by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases laboratory.

Consider too the interesting campaign  “Why Wing It?, launched this month by the UK based environmental charity Hubbub. Click here for more. This highlights just how much flying some Brits do, relative to all other nationalities (although apparently 60 % of us never fly), as well as considering how impactful this is for carbon emissions. In particular their campaign aims to reduce the huge number of Brits who apparently now hop on a plane to go somewhere to celebrate a stag or hen party. Why? And thus why not stay at home?

But heck, getting on a plane – that’s a right isn’t it?

As is sitting in a 5,000 passenger mega cruise ship.

Blow any environmental or disease transmission risks. It’s our freedom at stake here!

Right?

(March 1st – total UK cases 35, no fatalities yet. Globally 87,137 cases – 2977 fatalities, 59 countries affected – WHO situation report – 41 Covid-19 click here,  FTSE 100: 6630) 

Maybe along with Greta Thunberg’s ability to galvanise the younger generation into action, the coronavirus will indeed have altered a few people’s perceptions and behaviour a little once the dust, hopefully by then virus particle free, eventually settles. Perhaps it’ll have shifted attitudes as dramatically as Storm Dennis shifted tons of stone and huge logs on our Afon Melinddwr in a single night, above.

Greta’s decision to visit Bristol last Friday to speak at a meeting attended by many youngsters was an appropriate choice. Our ex home city was the first one in the UK to declare a climate emergency in November 2018, and pledge to become carbon neutral by 2030. More recently North Somerset Council rejected plans for an expansion of Bristol Airport, citing climate issues. Click here for more.

I hugely respect Greta’s devotion to this cause and her clarity of expression:

“We will not be silenced because we are the change, and change is coming whether you like it or not. This (climate – sic) emergency is being completely ignored by the politicians, the media and those in power.

“Basically, nothing is being done to halt this crisis despite all the beautiful words and promises from our elected officials. So what did you do during this crucial time? I will not be silenced when the world is on fire.”

(Even if it seems here it’s more a case of drowning, rather than being on fire…)

Never mind, we currently have a very well educated government cabinet likely to have a good grasp of the likely risks of how a pandemic will progress and how to manage it.

Don’t we?

Well, I note that of the 22 full members and 4 additional politicians who currently sit in on cabinet meetings, we have only 2 with science degrees, and neither of these in biological or medical sciences (one in chemistry, the other in applied physics and electronics – mind you, can any reader name who these two are off the top of their heads?) Click here for more.

No matter, we have 5 lawyers, 6 graduates in economics/politics, with a smattering of classics, history and english, and fortunately a single mathematician who can no doubt interpret the plethora of statistics now emerging about the way the disease is spreading. In addition a couple with an agricultural background and a couple of business men.

So things should all be fine… For anyone as intrigued as I am to follow the statistics, with a feeling that it’s difficult to get a good factual review, the most comprehensive site I’ve found is this one at worldometer. Click here for more, though you have to ferret around to discover that this is compiled by a supposedly independent company operating out of China. For anyone planning travel abroad any time soon, it’ll also demonstrate how the number of disease free options continues to decline.

Enough!

______________

If it’s been tough for us of late, with weather and light levels, our amphibians have loved these conditions. The frogs began spawning in mid February and were clearly fully in the swing of things by Valentine’s day on February 14th. Although my trail camera did pick up a blurry early dawn snatch and grab raid by a large avian predator, probably a buzzard at the right margin, just before 7 am…

M2E34L15-19R331B309

M2E34L15-19R331B309

and the odd otter print around the pond edges.

____________

We’ve at least had a good range of daffodils out in time for St. David’s day this year – in some years past, we struggled to have any open on March 1st.

Most of the Tomcots in the greenhouse have now been hand pollinated, with the wonderful pink nectarine flowers are just beginning to open.

Sadly our resident honey and bumble bees rarely make it into the greenhouse, and this year we still haven’t seen an emerged bumblebee queen, the conditions have just been too cold, windy and wet.

However a day out to Aberglasney gardens did allow me to capture a big Bombus leucorum/terrestris queen visiting the half open Crocus flowers in the slightly sheltered cloister garden on the 27th.

Our own honey bees have, for now, continued to seize any brief weather windows to forage, and I’ve found the temperatures when they’re out and flying are sometimes incredibly low (3 or 4 degrees C, plus an added wind chill).

This ability to fly at way below the oft quoted minimum of 10 degrees C, has even attracted the attention of the great Thomas Seeley, who wrote a recent article in conjunction with a Scottish beekeeper on this very topic of (Northern climate) bees collecting water over the winter at very low temperatures. Click here for more.  (Cold flying foragers: Honey bees in Scotland seek water in winter).And here for a simple diagrammatic appraisal.The bees will need water supplies to be able to access and utilise in hive honey stores which are too concentrated to be digested in their stored form without dilution.

Exploring this a little further led to discovering some interesting work where bees’ body temperatures were recorded using special infra red photography when they made such low temperature flights.

The bees need to maintain temperatures around 35 degrees C for their flight muscles to work effectively. They will leave the warmth of the hive cluster of bees at roughly this temperature, but this will fall rapidly in external conditions which are so chilling. The IR photographs demonstrate that they selectively maintain higher temperatures in the central thorax (where the flight muscles are located), whilst the abdomen is allowed to become cooler.

The head is kept at a slightly warmer intermediate temperature, apparently because the suction apparatus which the bee uses to suck up liquids only functions efficiently at higher temperatures. In addition these studies have shown that bees not only know that they can’t carry full loads back at lower temperatures, but also seem to be lighter than normal when they leave the hive – perhaps as a result of shedding faecal loads before take off. All clever strategies to allow them to fly, forage and return to the hive before hypothermia kicks in, and they’re then simply unable to fly back into the warmth of the hive in time. Click here for much more detail on this.

In part misjudging these foraging trip lengths probably accounts for my occasional findings of dead, pollen laden bees at the hive entrance.

With the last 6 months’ dreadful run of weather stretching back to mid September, should our bees make it through the winter, it’ll be an extraordinary tale of survival against the odds. Fingers crossed.

_________

In between all the above, we’ve given more talks in a concentrated period over the last 6 weeks than ever before. The end is nearly in sight, which will be a cause of some celebration.

We’ve really enjoyed doing them, and had a very warm reception from a packed audience at the Farmyard Nurseries’ annual winter gardening weekend for my new talk attempting to draw together ideas from wildflower meadows, pictorial meadows and our own multicultural terrace garden. To suggest a different style of gardening to create evolving plant and animal communities. Rather than the typical buy a plant, dig a hole and plonk it in, that for many gardeners (ourselves included) is how we tend to create our gardened spaces.

However we had a somewhat unnerving experience at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, where just 5 minutes from the end of my snowdrop talk, an audience member sitting just behind me lost consciousness for a few minutes. The NBGW staff were brilliant, had first aiders on hand, an ambulance was called, and all was well in the end. However perhaps I shall now give a warning before future talks, about the possible dangers of me droning on…

It seems today is my ninth anniversary of blogging with WordPress.

How time has flown, and thanks to any who have stuck with me over the years.

Addendum – I struggled for a snappy title for this piece, and am indebted to Tootle Pedal for his comment, below, which made me modify the title as above.

 

12 thoughts on “What’s a Long Time? Or. A Thoroughly Good Rant.

  1. I very much enjoyed your photographs of your snowdrops and crocus, it is an annual treat for me. It is almost the only way I can have the pleasure of sharing gardens with other enthusiasts. We are back in a rainy spell again but the lows are very mild and even our potted lemon tree is quite contented to stay outside. Amelia

    • Thanks Amelia – our Met Office data is now properly out for February and it is striking just how wet and mild ( or at least frost free) it’s been here. I do agree that blogs are brilliant for seeing what it’s like in other parts of the globe, though I don’t know about you, but numbers of long term bloggers seems to decline over time – but maybe that’s just me not spending enough time seeking others out…
      best wishes, and hope you’re now 100%
      Julian

      • I think the new place (I rephrase that to “newish” as I am probably out of date) is Instagram. More photos less talk. Not really such a good place to gather much information on your subject. I think blogs are probably yesterday’s idea but it still works for me to keep in contact with some like-minded souls.

      • Thanks Amelia, and I think you’re right – the move towards bit sized info and photos – I still really like the scope that a blog gives to explore ideas in a bit more meaningful detail, so hope WP hang around as platform – I’d be devastated if it disappeared, though no doubt something else would fill the space,
        best wishes
        Julian

  2. Really enjoyed your talk last week and great to see more photos from your garden above. We are hoping that the bees in our roof have a VERY COLD winter!! Staying positive in the world as it is is better than being one who promotes negativity-: stay calm, plant more plants, enjoy gardening- it will all turn out fine! ( fingers crossed!) Best wishes. Marianne

    • Thanks Marianne – I’m sure your feral bees will have been nice and cosy – much to your dismay! But just think of how they’re contributing to the clearly very hardy local Welsh bee gene pool?
      Lots of positivity still here, paticularly after seeing our bees collecting pollen yesterday at temps of 3 degrees C afterall the weather we’ve had – not that’s real resilience.
      But with a background of self employment and running our own small business and living where we do, we realise that in a real crunch, we’ll have to get by as best we can – so trying to risk assess has always been in my psyche, I’m afraid.
      I hope my occasional forays into topics of such possible significance, with a science basis, falls within my outline of why I do this blog…
      I’m sure they’ll be something completely different to write about next time anyway! As for turning out fine, Like TP I’m currently cautious on both personal and a societal level,
      best wishes
      Julian

      • Thanks Julian. I’m ever the optimist and just want everything to be fine for everybody…’cause if I start to worry I’d never stop! The sun is shining now, there’s hardly any wind and the mountains are glowing not much for me to complain about in my little Llansadwrn world! Best wishes

      • Thanks Marianne – indeed a stunning spring day if a little chilly – honeybees on primroses today -something I’ve never seen before, and I managed to escape with just a thwack on my helmeted face from an errant branch today doing a spot of chainsawing, so am very grateful the day’s been a positive one!
        Best wishes
        Julian

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