Say no to dirty coal at Hunterston

Some background info, courtesy of the RSPB:

“Developers are planning to build a huge coal-fired power station at Hunterston in North Ayrshire. If built, this would have a devastating impact on one of the best areas for wildlife on the Firth of Clyde and destroy a huge part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Inter-tidal habitats like this are vital for wading birds, such as redshank, and curlew. They also act as ‘service stations’ for thousands of ducks, which use them to top up on energy during their long migrations.

Coal power stations like this are the dinosaurs of the energy industry, because they pump massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. The developer will have to fit technology to help capture and store these carbon emissions. But these technologies aren’t yet commercially or technically proven at this scale, and crucially, would only be required to deal with a small proportion of Hunterston’s emissions. Millions more tonnes of CO2 would be released – so much for Scotland’s ambitious targets to stop climate chaos.”

And think of all the lovely pollution!

If you object and would like your voice to be heard, click here to fill out and submit the RSPB’s prepared template.

Fake plastic seas

Julia and Pam off InnellanAs much as I’d like to post about numerous exciting paddling trips since I last blogged, I’m afraid such trips have been a little thin on the, er, water due to my succumbing to a cold bug which I have now generously passed on to Alan. I did manage to go out on a pioneering all-girl paddle with Julia last weekend, which consisted of a pleasant (albeit chilly) outing  in local waters. The promising conditions of the previous week had been replaced by something much more akin to November weather, where icy winds and rain prevailed. Nonetheless, we bravely soldiered through the elements (and the volcanic ash), Julia with her gammy knee and me with my sniffles. Alan was still off the water due to his injuries, but helped us with the kayaks at either end. Together, we are a team!

Julia off KirnJust when I’d thought that the little lightweight cold that I’d had nearly 2 weeks ago was history, it took some anabolic steroids and came back with a purpose. And so I have spent this week hacking and snuffling. Not only that, with the warnings of my MS nurse ringing faintly in my ears, I realised that my eye had gone a bit “wonky” again. Consulting with Dr Google, I have confirmed that the common cold can aggravate MS symptoms. I have certainly learned something. Hopefully, it will all go away soon.

Not being out on the water has left me with too much time on my hands to surf the Internet and come across the following stories. If you are in any way attached to the concept of saving the planet for future generations, then I warn you – they make difficult viewing:

I’m not going to lie to you – this depresses the bejesus out of me.

Why is  humanity the only species that is so intent on trashing its own nest? Not only that, we’re taking everyone else – all our fellow earthlings – down with us.

It’s all so overwhelming at times, it feels like our pathetic little gestures to help the environment are pointless. But are they? As I view the videos above, I’m tempted to conclude that picking up the odd plastic bag out of the sea is meaningless. If, however, by doing so I saved one animal’s life, it is definitely worth it. If it simply stopped garbage from washing up on a pristine Hebridean beach, it’s worth it. So, I will keep on plucking the plastic bags and bottles out of the sea when I come across them, I’ll refuse plastic bags at source (the supermarket), as well as the ubiquitous, all-pervading plastic bottles.  And, who knows – going out on a limb here – maybe if enough of us keep doing this, we could turn the plastic tide.

I’ve blogged before about the rubbish in our seas, and the situation will only get worse. Unless of course our ability to produce these insanely vast quantities of plastic junk is somehow limited. In the recent past, both the US Department of Energy (see p.8) and the US Joint Forces Command (and Richard Branson!) have warned that we are about to enter into an era of ever-diminishing availability of cheap oil. With plane-free skies courtesy of the (unpronounceable) Icelandic volcano, we were perhaps given a slight foretaste of the future in recent days. As much as our lack of planning for this inevitability will make it in many ways painful for humanity, Mother Earth may well breathe a small sigh of relief.

“And it wears me out, it wears me out.”
Fake Plastic Trees, The Bends, Radiohead

They shoot seals, don’t they?

In my ongoing attempts to save the seals/seabirds/whales/dolphins/trees/planet one blog entry at a time, I want to highlight this latest piece of information, recently exposed in the news.

“”We believe there is a mass slaughter of seals in Scotland, up to 5,000 each year.”

Mark Carter, of the Hebridean Trust, said the general decline in seal numbers was particularly noticeable around fish farms.”

Following on from my earlier blog post about the massive decline in seal numbers around Scotland, this is obviously a source of grave concern. Whilst fish farms might not be the sole cause, and without getting into a discussion on all of the environmental issues surrounding the growing number of fish farms in Scotland, it’s clear that there is no room for any additional, unnecessary losses in the seal population.

I have written to my MSP to encourage him to pay heed to this, particularly in relation to discussions on the forthcoming Marine Bill which, it is hoped, will be geared towards protecting all marine wildlife. A few appropriate letters to supermarket chains wouldn’t go amiss either. I’m sure that economic concerns will be cited in defence of the fish farms, but recent events (environmental and otherwise) must surely demonstrate where a standpoint that favours economic and profit-related considerations at all costs, including the survival of a species, can lead.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Mahatma Gandhi

The plight of Scottish seabirds

Guillemot adult and juvenile on Clyde

Guillemot adult and juvenile on Clyde

You learn something new every day, and today I learned that a puffin chick is called a puffling (awww …). I found it out when reading this heart-warming article. Other news about the Scottish seabird population has been more heart-rending than heart-warming, as it relates to the huge decline in numbers as a result of yet another disastrous breeding season. The RSPB reports that its coastal reserves have shown that kittiwakes, Arctic terns and Arctic skuas reared almost no chicks to fledging in the far north in 2008. Other affected birds are guillemots, razorbills, and puffins. The cause is believed to relate to a reduction in the availability of small fish with which the birds can feed their chicks. Seabird chicks therefore starve in their nests, or adult birds choose not to breed at all. Lest we all get too depressed, the RSPB are always good at tempering bad news with good, and they also report that seabirds that eat a bigger range of food from a wider area – such as gannets and cormorants – are doing better. Being a glass is half empty type when it comes to environmental news, I find only a small amount of solace in this.

Other than tapping away at a laptop and sharing the woe on the blogosphere, what can be done? Is it too late? Some might say that it is, but I like to think it is not too late to at least make an attempt to turn things around and to help preserve what is left. It takes a village – so how about a village of sea kayakers? I would hazard that most fellow paddlers have, at some level, come to know and appreciate the company of seabirds while out on the waters, therefore, who better to speak up and advocate for our feathered friends? Of course, you don’t have to be a sea kayaker to participate. The RSPB and the Marine Conservation Society have been working hard to promote a Marine Act for Scotland that would protect all Scottish marine wildlife. And if we must speak in the language of government and business, this would also help the Scottish economy, being that Scotland is Europe’s number one wildlife-watching destination. The horrible irony, however, is that some of the measures being proposed to promote renewable energy via marine power (and help avert the climate change that is causing the loss of zooplankton that is in turn causing the loss of small fish) are themselves a potential threat to marine widlife.

The official consultation period for the Marine Bill is over, but that doesn’t stop us from maintaining vigilance and contacting our elected representatives to encourage them to ensure that the marine environment of Scotland, and indeed the UK, is comprehensively protected for future generations – of seabirds and people.

08/02/09 Addendum: Ministers go back on promise to protect UK waters

Massive decline in seal numbers around Scotland

Common seals, Kyles of Bute

Common seals, Kyles of Bute

Reading this news was not the best way to start the week. It’s disturbing in any number of ways, but especially for sea kayakers who have enjoyed the company of these gentle creatures on our travels.

Lately, it’s been feeling like awaiting a storm to hit. Between the global economic crisis, and the equally/more ominous environmental crisis that are both building, it’s hard not to get depressed. I remember what it was like to live somewhere that was frequented by hurricanes. During the days preceding the storm’s arrival, we were warned of its approach and we avidly listened to the forecasts and analysed the indicators (heightened surf, evacuation of ships from the main port etc). There was a sense of unreality, and something like disbelief that anything bad would actually happen. I’m reminded of that feeling now. Perhaps that’s why, when news like this occurs, there is still a sense of shock. At some level, we’ve all been hoping that the storm doesn’t actually exist, or will somehow miss us, or at least our lifetimes.

I still find it hard to accept that there seems to be insufficient room on this planet for both humanity and our fellow creatures. At times it seems hopeless. Yet, we can still all do our own little bit.

Bunking off to Cumbrae and Gigha (Part 1)

A momentous event occurred this week: it stopped raining and blowing a gale for the first time in living memory, or at least in several weeks. A high pressure system finally managed to muster up enough oomph to nudge the all-too-prevailing low pressure out of the way for a bit. This left us with no choice, but we simply had to bunk off work take an official, well-deserved 2-day holiday. It did feel a wee bit like skidging school as we sneaked out the house, surreptitiously securing our kayaks to the car roof and wending our way seawards. We’d originally thought about camping out overnight, but a lack of forward planning/organisational skills narrowed our options and we decided to explore two quite different locales each day instead.

Arran mountains from Cumbrae

Arran mountains from Cumbrae

On Monday, we paddled around Great Cumbrae. Somewhat amazingly, especially considering that we are members of an Ayrshire kayaking club, we had never done this before and therefore felt that it was high time. Yet again, we found ourselves in flat calm conditions. If Nordkapps have feelings, I’m sure that ours would be experiencing anxiety, or even depression over having such soft marks as owners and being deprived of the conditions upon which they thrive. It’s not that we’re avoiding a more challenging environment, it’s more that we’re saving it for company (preferably of 5 star ilk with good rescue skills). Certainly though, a little more chop wouldn’t go amiss, however, the winds have tended to veer from gale force to non-existent of late, with not much in between. And so it was as we paddled our way around Cumbrae to Millport, a place I haven’t been since Sunday school picnics of yore.

We continued south and experienced some highly momentary excitement as the wake of a motor vessel caught up with us. But we soon returned to boring old idyllic, almost tropical, conditions as we made our way around to the western side of the island. This is where matters took a bit of a disappointing turn as we encountered endless amounts of rubbish in the water on the approach to Fintray Bay. It looked like someone had emptied a huge bin full of sweetie papers and crisp packets directly into the river. I have read recently that an excess of jellyfish signifies a degraded ecosystem, and – albeit coincidentally – there were certainly plenty of Lion’s Mane jellyfish in the vicinity of the rubbish tip that we paddled through. This all fed a building sense of despair which was compounded by the discovery of a dead guillemot floating in the water (a seabird whose future is in jeopardy – see recent news item). Like an icebreaker travelling through the Arctic, we managed to cut a path through the jellyfish up to Bell Bay where we stopped to enjoy the view and have a bite to eat.

Isn't she lovely? Nordkapps at Bell Bay, Cumbrae

Isn't she lovely? Nordkapps at Bell Bay, Cumbrae

I do find myself continually pausing to admire and photograph my Nordkapp LV whenever we land on a beach. It reminds me of an occasion in the past when, upon visiting the Grand Canyon, we were amused to see an enormous articulated RV (recreational vehicle) pull up to a scenic viewpoint. The driver jumped out of the cab and, while everyone else was turned to face the amazing scenery presented by the Canyon, he turned in the opposite direction to gaze with awe at his big rig and then take some photos of it. It is just a tiny bit troubling to note that I can now relate, however slightly.

Heading back to Largs

Heading back to Largs

We completed our trip by paddling around the north end of the island, affording us good views of the large pipe-laying vessel, the Solitaire, which has been anchored off of Cumbrae for some days now. Soon we were back over at Largs which was still happily bathed in sunshine.

And today Cumbrae is in the news. Continuing on a cheery environmental note, the scientists at the University Marine Biological Research Station located there are issuing warnings concerning the threat of invasive Japanese wireweed which has spread rapidly up the west coast of Scotland. Users of the sea are being asked to report any findings. I’m not entirely sure to whom, but I imagine that Scottish Natural Heritage would be a good start. Whilst I do take serious issue with certain environmental matters relating to Japan, I’m not convinced that the combined threat of Japanese wireweed and Japanese knotweed is part of a plot to entwine the world in weed. I do, however, wish they would confine their exports to the more traditional cameras and tellies … or at least send us an antidote.

With continuing good weather, albeit in more autumnal temperatures, we set off early on Tuesday for Tayinloan and a visit to the island of Gigha. More to follow …