Cheeky Chestnuts… Naughty

There’s something comforting and yet majestic about the fabulous horse chestnut tree, I find. These ancient wonders fill our parks in both the city regions and countryside – but of course, this being a London wildlife challenge, we will be talking about the city trees (naturally…)

Everyday on my commute to the University College of London (where I’m currently interning) I have to walk through two parks. Both of these parks are ‘fenced’ by rows of beautifully established horse chestnuts trees. However, today I couldn’t help but notice that autumn had come suspiciously early in the world of a horse chestnut tree. The leaves are golden and crispy and had already fallen off. Something is wrong here… So what could possibly be causing this early ‘wintering’ of trees?… Climate change?

Nope! On further inspection and just a hint of research (because help me I need a proper job… and indeed a life) I found the cause to be the famous ‘Horse chestnut leaf miner’ (Cameraria ohridella) – an exotic insect pest which specifically resides in horse chestnut trees. It was first reported in the UK in 2002, in the London Borough of Wimbledon, and has since spread north, south and west to most of England. Bollocks.

Photographic evidence….

© Eve Sanders (ToobysTravels)

Beading Nuisance!

Although plastic was invented in the early 1900s, it wasn’t until the early 1950s that the world really developed an appetite for this exciting and versatile new material (Cole, et al. 2013). Back then, global demand was just 1.5 million tonnes annually. These days we’re using some 322 million tons a year of the stuff (Cole, et al. 2013) – that’s a lot of plastic. Recently, the media has been buzzing with shocking stories about the negative impact on our oceans of all this plastic and one type of plastic waste in particular; ‘microplastics’ has really caught the public’s attention. But how big a problem is it?

There are several sources of microplastics, perhaps the best known being those purposely made tiny ‘beads’ that are used in commercial products such as toothpaste, exfoliators and laundry detergents. These get washed down sinks and drains and end up in our oceans (Cole, et al. 2013). Another source of microplastic pollution is the huge amount of tiny fibrous microplastics that are shed when we wash our clothes. One average 6 kg wash can release up to 700,000 microplastic fibres alone (Napper and Thompson, 2016)!

The second source of microplastic pollution starts life as larger forms of plastic such as drinks bottles, food containers, toys and utensils. Once discarded these are broken down into smaller and smaller fragments (plastics that are 5mm or smaller in diameter are considered microplastics) (Cole, et al. 2013).

The main problem with microplastics is that they take years to biodegrade (450 years for an average plastic bottle!) making them a serious and long-term problem (Jambeck, et al. 2015). If current production and management of waste trends continue as they are, approximately 12 billion tonnes of plastic waste will be in our landfills or the natural environment by 2050, of which between 5 and 13 million tonnes being tipped into the ocean (Jambeck, et al. 2015), a staggering statistic!Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 14.03.17

The effects of microplastics on the marine environment are still largely unknown, but what is known is that microplastic pollution is found across the globe; even in the remotest places like the polar regions and the deep ocean (microplastics have been recorded at depths of more than 500 meters) (Jambeck, et al. 2015).

 

 

 

Figure. 1. A typical use of microplastic beads. Once spat-out and washed down the sink, they can end up in our oceans within a matter of days …

It has recently been discovered that microplastics are ingested by zooplankton, which form the base of the food chain and therefore are carried on up through to the larger predators such as dolphins and even blue whales (Cole, et al. 2013). Researchers have even shown that microplastics can be ingested by humans through the seafood and shellfish we eat (Cauwenberghe and Janssen, 2014). The same study showed the average European consumer to be ingesting 11,000 microplastics annually (the potential effects on humans are not yet fully understood) (Cauwenberghe and Janssen, 2014).

With all this in mind, it’s crucial that we urgently find solutions to the plastic misuse issue. Industry must do its part of course, but It’s down to all of us to clear up our act; to get better at recycling, not buy plastic bottles etc and to change our thoughtless consumption of plastics to ensure cleaner oceans for future generations.

© Eve Sanders (ToobysTravels)

Off The Beaten Track – Iceland Adventure (and a Half..) 2018

Alriiiighty then.. this blog post could actually be useful for any perspective Iceland tourists, so turn down the no doubt banging tunes, pop down the telegraph (or whatever newspaper floats your boat) and listen up!

About two months ago I was sat in a cafe eating a rather splendid cheese, sausage and salad toastie in Plymouth (in Cafe Americano… but any way, back to the story) when my dear friend and fellow student Shynn came to join me for a coffee (she decided to order a toastie too, but I won’t go there..). As a natural break in conversation arose (as we both took a bite from our rather delicious toas… oh never mind) Shynn turned to me and rather out of the blue and completely casually said “wanna go Iceland in a month with Alfred and I?” I paused. “Yeah alright” I replied and that was that. Alfred is Shynn’s partner who also studies at the same university as Shynn and me and is half Icelandic so pops back to see his mum once a year. After Shynn’s casual invite I didn’t think much of it as exams and deadlines started to bunch; but before I knew it we were stood in some weird airline checking in queue and having those cheeky issues that you realise are the price to pay when you fly with a cheap airline that you’ve literally never heard of in your life…

Shynn, Alfred and myself arrived in Iceland on the 6th June and Alfred’s Mum was extraordinarily welcoming and lovely. First thoughts of Iceland? It wasn’t that cold! Not surprising as it’s currently summer there, but a rather depressing yet fascinating talk with Alfred’s Mum lead to me learning that the summer temperatures have been steadily increasing over recent years parallel to global warming. In fact, in just 150 years it is expected that all of Iceland’s beautiful and majestic glaciers will be completely gone, having melted. This will cause severe impacts to the wildlife and ecosystems, not to mention the tourism and enjoyment the glaciers bring to visitors and locals alike.

On our first day we did a lot of hard core sleeping, all of us completely shattered from having just finished university (literally two days previous to boarding the plane!) When we eventually did come around, Shynn and I caught the local bus into Reykjavik and once we had helped some poor, very lost, old American tourist find her destination, we cracked on with exploring this interesting and cosy capital. Reykjavík is absolutely beautiful. Mountains frame your every view and the shops are all quite modern and ‘quirky’. The highlight though I must say was finding this cracking bakery which sold cinnamon buns fit for a god (honestly, just one singular bite sent me somewhere I’ve never been..) You can find this bakery off one of the side roads from the cathedral (insert name) which sits proud on the very top of the hill (you can’t miss it). There’s also a penis museum. Enough said.

Above: me looking like a knob outside the Harper Building (built for concerts and exhibitions).

Alfred very kindly drove us around during our trip and as a local himself, he was able to show us some of the amazing areas that are off the beaten ‘tourist associated’ track. We were based in the South of Iceland and I have to say the scenery is quite something (a bit like a supped up Dartmoor, with the similar rocky and mossy ground). If you’re into a cheeky smidge of twitching (bird watching) then a trip to Iceland should definitely go on your bucket list (we saw puffins!!). I’ll pause here while you go and add it. Go on!

Now a few touristy areas we did check out included Thingvellir which is where the two continental plates are present (Europe and America). From here there is an obvious path you can follow to see some of the fabulous views of the biggest lake in Iceland (the walk can be as long or as short as you like and it’s well sign posted). You can also check out the old little church in the valley. We had a great walk through the canyons which supposedly separate the plates. One thing that did make me sad during this hike was seeing the enormous visitor center they are currently building due to the massive recent influx of annual tourists. But hey ho… Oh and also… unless you want to spend £3 on going for a piss, I hope you like a wild bush wee. Might be worth keeping a few bob on you anyway though… just in case your bowels promote a different and more complicated substance… Het hem..

Above: a rather interesting rock formation……. Come on now..

After visiting Thingvellir; we carried on driving to the geysers (a hot spring in the ground where the water is at boiling temperature and occasionally spits out when the pressure builds up beneath). These were cool. I advise seeing them if possible.

On a another day we visited Gullfoss Falls. A ginormous waterfall also on the golden circle (a popular tourist route). Stunning views of this vast water mass are possible from a easily accessible path that goes right up close to it (you get wet so wear a rain coat, unless you need a shower). On the drive back from Gullfoss we stopped off at Kerid Crater (an extinct volcano after erupting 6500 years ago) and walked around the perimeter. Fab views and a fairly easy hike, this is definitely one for photos! A slightly dodgy path leads you down to the pond which now sits in the middle of the crater. You do have to pay to do this walk but it really wasn’t much at all (about £5 I think).

Now onto my favourite day (this really was the most fun!) We visited Heimaey (by ferry) in the Westman Islands (a beautiful small archipelago off the South Iceland coast). Here, there is just so much to see and do. The hiking is out of this world (plenty for the adrenaline junky). Lots of incredible volcanos to see, lava fields and wildlife. The Aquarium is well worth a stop off too because you can get face to face with a rescue puffin and also learn about the tradition of local children collecting lost baby puffins and releasing them at sea (daaaw!) Whilst on Heimaey you can also try out the local tradition of cliff swinging (grab a rope, jump and hope for the best) called ‘Spranga’.

Just to finish off this essay of a post (if you haven’t already fallen asleep); Whilst in Reykjavik I highly recommend the Perlan Museum where they have a man made ice cave you can explore. The temperatures in the cave drop to -15 degrees and it’s a lot of fun (no… really!)

In summary; visit Iceland. It’s fun. Not sure how to finish this post really, but I’m gagging for a cup of tea, so I’m going to (needs must). Bye!

TT Xx

© Eve Sanders

Housebuilding comes at the expense of our natural habits!

I was very happy to have my voice heard with a topic I feel very passionate about. Housebuilding on Devon greenfield sites has become a serious issue (and I suspect not just in Devon) and threatens the local wildlife by drastically reducing important habitats. These new houses are erected in their thousands and are sold for a minimum of £250,000 with a majority being upwards of £400,000!! Not exactly helping the housing crises!