Despite the disruption caused by Covid-19 in 2020, and now heading into 2021, our new batch of students have still managed to make the most of the unusual circumstances. They started their placement with us on September 1st 2020 and have been super busy throughout! They have received a huge variety of training, including herbicide use qualifications, and there will be plenty more in 2021. Every two weeks the students submit a report on a topic they have been learning about in the field. Come rain or shine, the students have put all their energy into carrying out practical conservation work to protect and enhance the environment around Lough Neagh. Heading into 2021, there will be a lot more desk-based work and they are adapting well to the ever-changing circumstances. Our students are a real asset to our team, bringing enthusiasm, inquisitiveness and craic to every activity and task they are presented with. I am their line manager and had told them at the start of their placement that you need big wings to wing it in the environment sector with the ever changing circumstances and they are definitely growing them. I am proud of the way they take everything in their stride. They make my job enjoyable and are a pleasure to work with! Thank you Lauren, Yamini, Joel and Catherine and keep up the good work.
Watch this video for an excellent summary of everything they have done so far.
A big thank you to Heritage Lottery Fund NI for funding their placement. Without it, these students would not gain the valuable skills and experience they need to break into the world of work.
Thank you also to the other organisations who we work in partnership with to bring variety and learning into the students’ placement. RSPB NI, Ulster Wildlife, Ecomantella, Belfast Hills Partnership, Mourne Lifeguard Training, Armagh Banbridge Craigavon Council, Mid Ulster Council, Feasting on Weeds and so on!
Volunteering During Lockdown – Litter Lifts
Blog by Lisa Critchley
As environmental organisations are beginning to dust off their equipment, sanitise their gloves and get new procedures in place to take their valuable volunteers back out, volunteers need not necessarily wait to get back to action. There are some simple volunteer tasks you can do whilst we are sorting ourselves out! One important task is litter lifts. These are straightforward and can be done anytime you head outside.
I have noticed a significant increase in litter since the lockdown restrictions lifted. There are more people about, enjoying the great outdoors, maybe taking a bottle of water with them or an energy drink. Fast food chains have re-opened, flooding with eager customers, desperate to get their teeth into their favourite food after months of no access. Many other food and drink services have opened their doors as well, offering takeaways in order to adhere to restrictions still in place. It is good news that we can now head out and support our local restaurants and cafes or eat our desired fast food again. However, it is terrible that this supposedly positive story of restrictions lifting, places re-opening and things getting back to normal, comes hand in hand with utter disregard for the natural environment and irresponsible behaviour. The majority of litter I see when out and about is takeaway cartons, fast food chain packaging, single use coffee cups, bottles of water, energy drinks cans, drinks cans and cigarette butts. It is very disappointing that some people are so careless and disrespectful of their local area and scenic spots. They come to these locations, consume their purchase and simply discard it on the ground, in the bushes, on the verge, into the rivers, on the Lough shore. No doubt they chose the location to enjoy their food, drink or exercise for its beauty, so why not keep it that way and take the empty cartons, bottles and cups home? They are lighter anyway!
Litter is a big problem for a number of reasons. It is unsightly and can be smelly, spoiling our enjoyment of walks, scenic areas and parks. It contaminates and pollutes soil and water causing issues for wildlife and plants. It is dangerous to wildlife who can mistake it for food and eat it or become caught in it, both of which can lead to fatalities. It blocks our drainage systems, which can cause flooding. It can be washed into rivers and streams meaning it eventually ends up in our loughs and the oceans, which is again, detrimental to our wildlife and plants.
Lots of litter takes a very long time to break down, for example, even a seemingly harmless orange peel can take 2 years to decompose or a cigarette butt can take up to 12 years. This means that all our irresponsibly discarded rubbish stays in the environment for a very long time, affecting many different wildlife, plants and habitats.
How Can You Help?
If you, like me, are frustrated by the litter you see when enjoying your local walks or visiting a scenic spot, you can do something about it. I know it is not your litter, but it is your world so you can definitely help by picking it up.
All you need is a pair of gloves (these are essential for health and safety) and something to collect the litter in like a bin bag or shopping bag. If you have a litter picker, you can also use one of these. They are not essential but do increase your reach and help if you have a bad back and cannot bend down.
Health and Safety
Before you start picking up litter there are a few things you must take note of:
– Don’t pick up broken glass or other sharp objects. You will put yourself at risk of being injured.
– Don’t pick up dog poo bags with dog poo in them. This is a health risk and disgusting. I have never understood why someone would go to the trouble of picking up a dog poo and then leave the bag. If they are not taking it away again, it is better to leave the poo as it will rot away, unlike the plastic bag!
– If you are working close to a river, as tempting as it is, please don’t reach for litter close to the water if it puts you at risk of falling in.
– Take extreme care if you come across single use gloves or face masks. These hold the risk of being contaminated with Covid-19. Never touch these directly, use a litter picker if you have one and remember to sanitise it after.
After the Litter Lift
Once you have finished picking up litter, tie the bag up securely and put it in the nearest bin, if it doesn’t fit, you can leave it beside the bin and the council will collect it.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me how much litter can be collected in a small area, having led litter lifts for years, however, it may come as a surprise to you how much you find when you start to look. It certainly surprised my boyfriend how much I collected when making the video – in about a 20-metre stretch I lifted enough to pretty much fill a bin bag.
If you do decide to pick up some litter next time you are out, thank you so much for helping to keep our beautiful countryside, and urban areas, clean! I would love to hear about it if you have picked up litter, so please let me know by emailing me.
We are hoping to get small groups of volunteers up and running again very soon. If you would like to volunteer for Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership, please email me and I can add you to our mailing list.
Over lockdown, the practical side of our Litterless Lough project had to come to a stop, meaning many sites that we would normally target for litter lifts have been left unchecked. I have noticed a disheartening increase in litter with the opening of takeaway services and knew I could still do something about it by making this video. We are almost ready to take volunteers back out again but in the meantime or if you cannot join volunteering sessions, you can still make a difference! Watch this video to find out how.If you do head out and lift some litter, thank you so much and please let me know! firstname.lastname@example.org
Volunteering During Lockdown – Himalayan Balsam Pulling
Blog by: Lisa Critchley
Conservation volunteering normally goes on throughout the year; however, as I am sure everyone knows, this year has been quite different. Normally groups of volunteers would be out and about carrying out various, important conservation work such as habitat management, invasive plant species control, wildlife and plant surveys, litter lifts and so on. The fact that these important tasks have been unable to go ahead will have a negative impact on our local environment and disrupt essential work organisations have been doing over the years.
Conservation volunteering is a really important part of protecting our environment and improving our wellbeing. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 outbreak and the lockdown that followed, most, if not all, conservation volunteering came to a halt. This means that many important tasks have been missed. However, there are some tasks you can carry out without your fellow volunteers or team leader. Watch this video to see what you can do!If you are interested in volunteering with LNLP, contact: email@example.com
However, it is not all doom and gloom! There are some simple tasks volunteers can do without the company of their usual group or team leader. One such task is controlling the plant: Himalayan balsam.
What is Himalayan balsam?
Himalayan balsam (impatiens glandulifera) is a non-native invasive plant species. Non-native means that it is not from this country. It was introduced in the 1830s as a garden plant, no doubt brought back from the Himalayas by explorers as a prized exotic plant. It quickly spread from gardens and into the natural environment, taking over areas along riverbanks, wetlands, woodlands and field margins. The Himalayan balsam seedpod explodes when touched, scattering its seeds several metres. The seeds can survive and even germinate in water, which is why it is so prevalent along riverbanks and lough shores. The plant does well in our climate, grows rapidly (from seedling to two metres in one season) and produces large leaves that shade out competition from other plants. It also has no natural threats in this country, such as diseases or insects that eat it, so the population is not naturally kept under control. Its effective seed distribution and ability to outcompete other plants is what makes it invasive.
Why is it bad?
As previously mentioned, Himalayan balsam outcompetes our native plant life. This is bad as it reduces the biodiversity of the area in which it grows and weakens the population of our native flora, affecting the ecosystems in which it is present. Himalayan balsam also has a very shallow root system. This can have a detrimental impact upon riverbanks and sloped areas in which it grows, as, when the balsam dies back in the winter, there is little to no root structure left behind to hold together the soil. This means that riverbanks and slopes will erode more easily.
One argument that some make is that Himalayan balsam provides a good source of food for pollinating insects such as bees. However, it is much better that the insects feed off and pollinate our native flora to ensure a rich and strong biodiversity is maintained in our natural environment.
Identifying Himalayan balsam
Identification of Himalayan balsam is fairly easy, especially as the plant grows bigger. It starts to become more visible during late spring to early summer:
Leaves: generally grow in whorls of three and have toothed edges
Stem: hollow and fleshy, when squeezed it is easily crushed, normally has a pink/red base to the stem
Flowers: develop in summer. They are pink, bonnet shaped and grow at the top of the plant
Seedpods: develop in late summer/early autumn. They are green and explode when touched
What can you do to help?
Now you know what Himalayan balsam looks like, you can start to help to control it. It is very easy, very satisfying and fondly known as ‘balsam bashing’ in the world of conservation.
The shallow root system means the balsam can be pulled up with little effort. Grasp the plant at the base (or as near to the base as possible) and pull it up out of the soil. Break the stem between the roots and the first growing node (ridge around the stem of the plant) and leave on the ground to rot away. Try not to pile the balsam up on top of other plants. It is a very easy task and an individual or small group can clear a large area in a short space of time.
A few things to think about before doing this:
Health and safety
If you are near a water source, make sure you do not go close to the edge of the water and are not at risk of falling in
If you have a bad back, know your limits with bending down or crouching to reach the stem. It may be better to avoid doing this task
Be aware of brambles and nettles in the area so you don’t get scratched or stung
Be aware of any dangerous objects in the area and do not go near to them i.e. broken glass, barbed wire fences etc.
Adhere to government guidelines on social distancing and other restrictions
Do it as part of your exercise allowance
Only carry this out in areas you are permitted to go – as tempting as it is, do not enter private land to carry out the task
Only pull up the plant if you are certain it is Himalayan balsam
Familiarise yourself with the descriptions above
If in doubt, don’t pull it out
If you do end up pulling up some Himalayan balsam whilst out and about, please let me know! Email me to tell me where you pulled it and the rough size of the area. If you have any other questions about this task, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Last but not least, if you would like to volunteer for Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership, email me and we can go from there!
It is Volunteer Week 2020, and what a strange start to the volunteering year it has been! We started off well with our Woodland Workout sessions in January and February but then the storms hit. Volunteer tasks had to be cancelled due to flooding and adverse weather and just as things looked to be calming down, the COVID-19 pandemic crept upon us. The pandemic meant we had to stop all volunteering, head home and baton down the hatches. I think a lot of us only thought it would be for a few weeks, but here we are, a few months later, and only just beginning to rise out of it.
In that time, plenty of conservation volunteer tasks have had to be missed: scrub clearance in the bogs to prevent the encroachment of trees and shrubs, spring surveys of flora and fauna, litter picks to keep our countryside, rivers and Lough clean, planting events in community gardens, wet woodland management and invasive plant species control!
I am Lisa, the Volunteer and Skills Development Officer for Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership (LNLP), and I am sure there are plenty of volunteers missing getting out and about, helping their local environment and plenty more itching to start. There has been little movement on the ground but things are beginning to change as we gradually come out of lockdown. I do hope to get our conservation volunteering up and running again, in some form or other, but in the meantime, there are a number of things you can do to satisfy your desire to get stuck in again!
Whether you are a seasoned volunteer, curious to see what it is all about, wanting a change of scenery, looking to expand your skills and knowledge set or alleviate potential lockdown boredom, have a read through the list below for ideas of how to do your own volunteering in lockdown:
When out and about on your daily exercise, you can begin look at the plants and wildlife around you and try to identify them. The OPAL website is a good resource to begin with if you are not familiar with species identification. Make a note of what you see so you continue to learn. This will be a good basis for survey work, which is one of the volunteer acivities LNLP normally offer.
Watch the birds and try to identify them by call and sight. This will also be a good basis for if you carry out any bird survey work which LNLP do a lot of. Have a look at a video I made a few weeks ago on how to make your own bird feeder. This will attract more birds to your garden and will help with your species identification. Before making my bird feeder, I had house sparrows and starlings in the garden. They love the bird feeder but I have also since attracted great tits, blue tits, wood pigeon, collared dove (not sure if that was for the feeder but they were there!) and a coal tit visited at the weekend.
If you can get hold of a litter picker (you don’t have to have this but it makes it easier and it means you can pick up more stuff), gloves (essential for health and safety reasons!) and strong bin bags, you could do litter picks in your local area. If you do this, please email me and I will give you a bit of guidance and send you a basic form for recording what you collect. I will then feed this into the Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful litter recording platform.
If you have a garden with grass, you can leave it longer in between cuts as this is beneficial for wildlife: insects prefer long grass and an increase in these will attract more birds to the garden too. You could try to identify what plants come up when the lawn is left alone as well as the insects and birds that visit. On the same lines, if your garden is big enough, you could leave an area of your lawn long for insects and only cut it in the late summer.
You could get some wildflower seeds from True Harvest Seeds or Eco Seeds and plant an area of your garden with wildflower seeds. If you don’t have a garden, you can plant these in window boxes or flower pots. The seeds from both of these organisations are native flowers to Ireland which is important for our local wildlife and plant biodiversity. It also means that no non-native species will be introduced to the wider environment. You can then identify the plants as they grow and the insects that visit.
Watch the video I made a few weeks ago on planting for pollinators. The plants I use are not necessarily native but they do provide a good food source for pollinators and are readily available in supermarkets, garage shops and now the garden centres are open, you will have more choice.
Read about the management of habitats in your area so you can familiarise yourself with the type of practical work that is done. You can also look at the websites and social media of various environmental organisations who have volunteer groups to see the type work they got up to before lockdown. Try: LNLP Facebook, RSPB, National Trust, Woodland Trust websites and Facebooks, Belfast Hills Partnership Facebook, website and their YouTube channel have videos of volunteering activities they do.
When volunteers are active for LNLP, we do a variety of seasonal activities. Generally during autumn and winter months we carry out:
Bog management by clearing scrub and small trees to prevent scrub encroachment
Wet woodland management including removal of non-native plant species such as laurel and snowberry
Willow and hazel management through coppicing
During spring and summer months we carry out:
Litter lifts around the Lough shore, riverbanks leading into and out of the Lough and other sites such as woodlands
Surveys – both plant and wildlife
Invasive plant species control such as Himalayan balsam
If you end up doing any or all of these activities, I would love to know! Email me or leave us a Facebook message telling us about your adventures. Additionally, if you would like to volunteer for LNLP when it starts back up again, please don’t hesitate to contact me and ask for an interest form. I will add you to the volunteer mailing list so you will be notified the minute we can start up again!
Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Making Bird Feeders
Blog by: Lisa Critchley
There are plenty of birds in the garden at this time of year: courting, nesting and raising their young. I have watched starlings from courtship to nesting, and over the last week or so, have seen house sparrows bringing their fledglings into the garden to forage for food. Most people tend only to feed the birds during the winter months when food is in low supply but it is still helpful to feed the birds during this time of year, even when food seems plentiful. The RSPB website has a lot of information on summer bird feeding, including what mixes to use and keeping the feeding area hygienic.
No matter how small your garden is, or even if you do not have a garden, you can still improve your outdoor space for wildlife. Even if you only have a window that looks onto a street, you can still get inventive with bird feeders – you can attach them to guttering or use suction pads to stick them to your windows. If you have a tree outside your house, you can hang a feeder off that (check with your council first), you can even scatter birdseed on your windowsills. You really do not need a garden to make your outdoor space more bird friendly.
If you want to improve your garden or outdoor space for wildlife by making a bird feeder, watch the video to see how or read this article!
The bird feeder I will teach you how to make is a dry feeder, so it has no fat binding it together like in winter. This is because the fat may melt in the warmer weather, make a mess and go rank. You will probably find most of what you need to make these bird feeders around your house:
Clean, dry, plastic bottle with cap – a clear bottle is best so you can keep an eye on the feed levels.
Drawing pin to make holes in the bottle
Scissors to make the holes larger
Sticks/old pencils/doweling rods to make the perches for the birds to stand on
String to hang the feeder up
Bird feed – garage shops and supermarkets have bird feed at this time of year. Please note, if you or a member of your household is allergic to peanuts, check the ingredients list as a lot of bird feed contain peanuts
First, make two holes opposite each other near the base of the bottle for the first perch. Use the drawing pin to make the initial hole and scissors to make it bigger; do not make it so big that the perch easily slides out. Be careful using scissors and if you are a child, ask an adult to help you. Turn the bottle 90 degrees and make two more holes above the first for the second perch. Push your perches through the holes.
Turn the bottle upside down and put some drainage holes in the base, do not make these too big or the bird feed will fall out. The holes are to allow water built up from condensation to drain out.
Make two holes near the neck of the bottle; these are for the string to go through so you can hang the bottle up. Take your string and thread it through the holes, it may be easier to take the bottle cap off for this.
Cut a hole above each perch, about four centimetres up. This hole has to be big enough for the birds to get to the feed but small enough that the feed does not all fall out.
Now fill your feeder up and screw the lid back on.
Find a suitable place to for the feeder to be and hang it up. Make sure that the place where you hang your feeder is safe from cats. Hang it high enough off the ground and do not place it too close to a roof or top of a wall where a cat may be able to get to the birds from.
The last thing to remember is bird hygiene. You will need to clean your feeder and ground underneath it every so often to prevent the spread of diseases amongst birds.
It will take the birds in your area a bit of time to find and get used to your new feeder so be patient. Once they find it and trust that it is safe to use, they will come flying in (‘scuse the pun…) to feed, especially as their young will be demanding more and more food as they grow.
The day after I hung my bird feeder up, starlings visited it. They are beautiful birds with their freckles and iridescent feathers and they certainly make a racket! Did you know that they also imitate other sounds around them? I remember thinking it odd to hear a curlew call whilst sitting in my brother’s garden in Northumberland, but then I saw the starling sitting in the tree! As the starlings use my feeder, they end up dropping seeds on the ground and house sparrows have flocked in with their fledglings to eat the fallen seeds. A shy wood pigeon has also visited. These birds were always in and around the garden, I hear them throughout the day in the tree and hedge, but it is nice to see them clearly when they come to eat the bird feed.
Remember to tag us in your bird feeder making adventures and let us know what birds visit your garden! If you need help identifying the birds, the RSPB website is a very useful resource for this.
I want to say a huge thank you to our funders, Heritage Lottery Fund, for making this video and all our continued work possible during the lockdown. We at Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership are very fortunate to still be able to reach out to the public to continue to educate, inform and upskill them in natural and built heritage around Lough Neagh.
The mountains provide a range of habitats for a diversity of different species due to their remoteness and tranquillity, in fact, the Himalayas have been described as one of the most hostile places on earth. In this report I will discuss the impact of life for the species spoken about and how many of their actions for survival relate to the similar reality people all over the world experience too. Also, I will discuss how the way these animals (and plants) have adapted to the changes of their environment and work together to be able to survive. There will be a discussion on how these changes to their environments are as a result of climate change and many human activities adding to this issue.
The sun-baked mountains of Arabian Peninsula
This mountain is home to a range to species but, our focus is on the Nubian ibex thriving here (they are known as mountain climbers and adults are well adapted for climbing mountains). They live in groups on the cliffs with other mothers and their young to prevent social deprivation between each other. They choose to raise their young on the steepest cliffs to provide safety for them, but it comes at a price. There is no water source available at these heights on the cliffs, meaning that they must descend into the valley which is 300m below them and risk their young’s life travelling down such a steep cliff for water. We see this in our world today, where mothers in Kenya and African children must help their mothers to gather water from their only source of water. Many people in developing countries must walk an average 3.5 miles to collect this water.
However, we as a nation have come together to help people suffering, many charities such as trocaire and events such as World Vision’s Global sponsoring walk or running marathons. This is done annually to continue raising money and awareness to bring a more equipped and cleaner water source for drinking for those who need it. Throughout our lives, we have witnessed different communities come together to help fight this crisis others face. From this, we know that the communities today are working together to battle the coronavirus. To show our support, to help the NHS, we do all we can by staying at home to prevent the spread of the disease. We also know the farming community has been working effortlessly to supply the supermarkets with adequate food supply for society. We are showing that coronavirus can be slowed down by following the guidelines and support our key workers.
During the winter months there appears to be a food shortage in this region and species such as the golden eagle will scan the slopes for food. This is not an easy task as there is much competition for food, and although the eagle is a bigger bird when it finds food, crows will be persistent to steal her meal and other bigger eagles may try to steal it. We do not face food shortages in society, but what we do see recently because of COVID-19 is a lot of panic buying. We have witnessed shoppers buying many more of the same item needed particularly toilet roll and baby formula for their food. This is resulting in the more vulnerable, elderly people of society shopping after the mad rush of panic buyers and being left with none of the necessities they need.
However, as stated in the previous paragraph, many people have volunteered to go out shopping for those who cannot go out during this time. We have also seen stores such as Iceland open a few hours earlier only to allow in the elderly that need to shop without the chaos of others.
Mountains of North America
Here grizzly bears will hibernate until springtime when they emerge however it was shown that, although it is rare, in these mountains’ avalanches can occur whilst they are hibernating. However, bears prepare their dens for such events, for example they ensure there’s two separate exits, keeping numerous breathing holes open into their den, and making methodical checks up to the surface occasionally. Like bears, people in society prepare their homes for all safety measures, for example in areas where it is prone to flooding. These defences include planting vegetation to retain water and constructing channels (floodway’s) and more modern flood defences can include dams.
As we have seen from the grizzly bear, we act the same by preparing our homes from protection of natural events. As COVID-19 is a new situation which many of us haven’t faced before, we are learning as a society of how to take more precautions. These have included staying 2 metres (6 feet) away from others when out in public, continuously washing our hands and avoiding handling money, so paying by contactless card when it is possible.
Here seasonal change is swift and dramatic with temperatures dropping to -65°C. The bobcat is a distinctive creature which remains active during wintertime. As it is difficult for the bobcat to find prey in the deep snow, it is forced to use the river for a food source. Due to the volcanic hot springs of the area, this is what heats the river and allows the animals that come out during winter, such as the coyote too, to find prey. Here we can see the environment working together to sustain the life of living things during the harsher winter months. How we can link this to our own lives, is if we look at the environmental impact from COVID-19. This change is slowing things down for people, but mother earth is healing whilst the rest of the world slows down. Unique changes in our world from reducing traffic, airplanes and tourism are allowing for a cleaner and healthier planet that we live on.
Impact from climate change on the mountains
Of all the mountain areas I have discussed, climate change from human activities is destroying their habitats. In the Andes, human encroachment is changing the highest summits. Whilst in the Rockies, rising temperatures is shortening winter hibernation and stifling the growth of food plants, negatively affecting the food chain. Also, in the Andes, rising temperatures are resulting in the glaciers shortening. As the snow retreats further and further up these peaks, it is limiting space for wildlife and a species that is declining greatly because of this is the snow leopard. Primarily they are an endangered species because of poaching and habitat loss, with a limited food supply for them in their environment.
High mountains are a bleak habitat for animal life. Food is scarce and the climate is very cold. Mammals living here have adapted to survive the bitter cold and most have thick woolly fur. It has been made evident that animals thriving in the mountains have adjusted their lifestyle to survive here and that it is possible to do so. Like the animal kingdom, we can work together as a community to help one another during this difficult time of COVID-19. Unaware of when the guidelines for lock down will be lifted, as discussed throughout the report, it is important that we care for those more vulnerable and hit by the disease and support our NHS team during this uncertain time.
This episode of Planet Earth II was all about mountains and the animals that make their lives there. We start off in the Arabian Peninsula where we follow the ibex family. The ibex choose to live the majority of their lives and raise their young on the steepest cliffs where predators have no access. The ibex are specially adapted to be able to find their footing on the steepest mountain sides, however this comes with consequences. It’s hard to access food and they must go down the mountain to do so, where they are faced with predators and the risk of falling. Because of this the ibex only descend when essential. Once the ibex descend, they are immediately met with a predator; a fox. The ibex split up and run different directions making it hard for the fox to pick a target, and they run back up the mountain where it’s simply too steep for the fox to follow. This reflects humans in isolation, we take the risk of venturing out for food very rarely and stay in isolation (like the steep cliff tops) where the virus,( like the predator in a way), can’t find us.
In the Alps, the golden eagle scans the mountains with its specialised vision for food, food is scarce in the snowy mountains so the eagles are adapted to spot it from very far away and dive for prey at up to 150 miles an hour. This speed, second only to the osprey, helps them out-fly any other predators that might have spotted their meal. Once the eagle has found her prey, it isn’t long until other eagles start to gather. She must fight them off for her share, and eventually leaves the rest of the carcass for the other eagles. This is not dissimilar to people fighting over resources during the lockdown, perhaps like the eagle, we need to realise when we’ve had our share so that there are enough resources for others as well.
In North America, we meet the bobcat. His mountain habitat is covered in a thick layer of snow, so most of his prey is not where it normally is. The environment has changed overnight, so the bobcat must come up with new strategies to find prey and survive. First he uses his highly adapted sense of hearing to detect the sound of movement bouncing off boulders under the snow, this is a special adaptation to the snowy landscape. The bobcat catches a mouse this way, but it isn’t enough. He then tries out hunting in the water, which isn’t the bobcat’s forte, in this he is unsuccessful, but he comes up with something ingenious. He travels down the river to where the steam rises and heats the trees attracting all kinds of animals, and successfully catches a squirrel. As he’s adapted to the pine forest, he can quickly shoot up the tree and catch his prey. I think what we humans can take from this, is that we need to think outside the box and adapt quickly to new ways of living to combat the ongoing situation.
In the second episode of Planet Earth II, the main focus was on the adaptations of animals to mountain ranges. With high altitudes the air is very thin and therefore would be difficult to breathe. However, nature always finds a way with many species adapting both physically and behaviourally to some of the most hostile environments in the world.
In the Arabian peninsula, you can find some of the steepest mountain ranges around. One particular species has used this environment to their advantage. The Nubian Ibex, a type of mountain goat, have adapted to the harsh conditions by having small nimble feet, allowing them to be excellent climbers while also providing them with the ability to walk on very thin cliffsides. As there are many predators on ground level, the Ibex raise their young near the top of the mountains. Unfortunately, there is never any standing water available due to the high gradient. Therefore, the mountain goat must make their way down to level ground to drink and this can make them vulnerable to predators. The Ibex moves in herds and if a predator is identified the species scatter back up the mountain to both evade and confuse the impending threat. Humans have been able to adapt to steep mountainous terrain by the use of climbing gear. We use ropes to be able to pull ourselves upwards. Instead of continuously moving up and down a mountain for water like the Ibex, humans have created containers to hold large amounts of water to be stored and so descend further down less frequently if living in mountainsides.
In Europe, the biggest mountain range is the Alps. This mountainside is covered in snow due to a lack of heat at higher altitudes. One species that has greatly adapted to these extreme weather conditions is the Golden Eagle. These majestic birds soar high in the sky with little effort due to their large wingspan. The Golden Eagle has eyes that can see up to 2 miles away which is helpful for foraging for food. Due to limited resources, the eagles mostly rely on carcasses and will fight each other for food. Only the most competitive individuals will survive. Humans can not see as far as the golden eagles and so have invented telescopes and binoculars to observe from a distance. Humans forage for food together instead of competing against each other to help as many survive as possible in the harsh conditions of the mountain.
Grizzly bears reside in the avalanche prone mountains of the Rockies in North America. They have thick winter coats to keep warm and hibernate in caves when food is in low supply. In springtime, the bears emerge along with newly born cubs. They travel further down the mountain into the valleys as the snow would melt quickly. The bears scratch up against trees to get rid of their winter coats while also leaving their scent to warn other bears of their presence. Thus reducing the likelihood of competition for food. Although humans do not possess thick fur, they have created layers of clothing from the fur of animals to keep themselves warm. When the temperature increases in spring they just simply have to remove the layer.
While the Grizzly Bears are hibernating during winter, Bobcats are still active in the snow hunting for nourishment. They have very sensitive hearing and detect prey through the sound of snow being crushed by animal feet. The Bobcat’s limbs have evolved to jump several feet in order to catch its prey from a distance. In order to conserve energy, this species needs to choses its prey carefully and sometimes be creative in order to succeed. Humans have thought of many elaborate techniques to catch prey. Humans created weapons to kill prey and made traps to lure and catch prey when they are not in the area or asleep. As humans have evolved through increased brain size which is able to store more information and rapid learning, we by far one of the most intelligent species on Earth, able to outsmart any prey.
However, Human activity has even made an adverse impact even on the highest of mountainous peaks. For example in the Rocky mountains there is a rise in temperature due to global warming as greenhouse gas emissions have rose sharply in the past few decades. This has resulted in a shortening in the hibernation period and stunted growth of vital food plants. Glaciers in the Andes have shrunk by 30% along with the overall snow line retreating uphill. This is causing unique habitats to become lost along with the associated plants and animals.
One of the rarest mammals on the planet is the Snow Leopard. They live a life in solitude and rarely interact with each other. However, these large cats have developed a unique form of communication by rubbing their face against the rocks, leaving a distinct smell to inform each other of their location. Even in times of isolation, Snow Leopards are still able to adapt and survive, which is very reminiscent of life today with people staying at home during this pandemic. It is important that we, like the snow leopard can reduce social contact and to maintain survival.
The common factor shared by all these species is that they have adjusted to their individual ecological niches, making the best out of the resources available. Humans too can adapt to the current COVID – 19 crisis by following the correct protocol in order to survive.
There are only fourteen mountains on earth that are over eight thousand metres tall and they are all located in the Himalayas. Lethally cold and scarred by blizzard they are among the most hostile places on Earth, only a few specially evolved animals are able to survive here. Snow leopards are one of the free animals able to survive here, in order to do that they have had to adapt both their behaviour and their bodies. Life at extreme altitudes has shaped some of the toughest animals on the planet.
The mountains of the Arabian Pensinsula are only a fraction of the height of the Himalayas however this doesn’t mean they aren’t as equally hostile: they are mind boggling steep making it nearly impossible to get a foothold in some places. The Nubia ibex have decided to make the hostile environment their home, they use the steepest cliffs to raise their young. The steep cliffs mean the young are far out of reach of any predators, however these steep slopes can cause issues for the young. The slopes are so steep there is no standing water available, in order to source water the ibex family must travel down three hundred metres into the valley. The mother’s goes first selecting what route is safest for her young, the mothers may be accomplished mountaineers but the young are still trying to get the hang of the extremely steep slopes. Just like humans the Nubia Ibex feel the need to protect and provide for their young. Mothers just like the Nubia Ibex will seek out the best possible place to raise their young somewhere that can give their children security and access to resources even if they have to travel a certain distance mothers will do this to protect their off spring. They both share a sense of responsibility and the need to protect.
The highest peaks in Europe are the alps, during winter food is scarce here. The golden eagle will spend every daylight hour searching the mountains for food. She can search over one hundred kilometres in just one day, she can spot prey from over three kilometres away making her a deadly predator. Her biggest worry when finding found is other golden eagles, a find such as a dead fox can attract eagles for miles if she wishes to eat she must fight for it. Only the strongest eagle will win the fight to eat. This shows that when times get tough the animal world and human world are alike, some people will see it as a free for all. During our time with covid 19 has been a clear example of how people can be selfish and end up hoarding food they do not need. Leaving the vulnerable to suffer, it’s every time you go into a supermarket trying to get one packet of pasta or a bar of soap and it’s impossible to find any. Just like the animals we have been fighting each other for food and basic necessities to survive, with some people literally fighting each other.
Grizzly bears descend into the valleys where spring comes earliest, the rockies seasonal change is swift and dramatic turning from white to green in just a few days. The good times do not last in these mountains so the bears are forced to feed as fast as they can. During this time the mother bear teaches her young valuable skills such as how to remove their thick winter coat. Humans don’t have this need however just like the bears parents must also teach their children valuable life skills such as self hygiene, which is just as important and similar to a bear shedding its unclean thick winter coat.
It might seem difficult to comprehend how the animal world and human world are similar considering there is a vast amount of differences. But one thing that tends to co exist in both the animal world and human world is the love and sense of responsibility we all have for our families. Clearly demonstrated within the ibex family and the grizzly bear family, they have this maternal instinct to want to teach and protect their young just like human mothers.
Another similarity is that no matter how much us humans evolve when the going gets tough and our family is threatened we still have our survival instincts. The need to hoard food and literally fight for the best quality stuff available leaving the vulnerable and weak to suffer shows that deep down inside we are still animals.
Due to the increased spread of COVID – 19 virus, the government has taken strict action by enforcing a lockdown across the entire UK. This means that people have been instructed to stay at home unless they need to leave to purchase essentials or to travel to workplaces that are deemed to be vital such as the heath service and certain civil servants who are providing help to the public. There are also circumstances where people are allowed to leave the house once for exercise or to get fresh air as long as social distancing measures are practiced. These policies are introduced to minimise the chances of a huge surge of COVID – 19 cases occurring at the same time and therefore hopefully allowing the NHS to cope with the pre-existing cases.
My fellow students and I have been required to stay at home at present due to the COVID 19 crisis. While we may not be at the offices that does not mean we cannot continue our conservation efforts. My chosen project as part of my placement in Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership involves surveying Brackagh Bog for Dragonflies and Damselflies. Although the Dragonflies do not emerge until late April, I will be continuing to work at home to prepare for the survey work. This includes creating a survey route and constructing a table for my results. When the time comes, I will carry out my surveys two or three times a week as part of my daily exercise with a member of my household for safety purposes.
It is important as an environmentalist to be able to adapt to the changing circumstances and be able to continue to work. I want to thank the NHS for all the work they have done and hope everyone is staying safe.