Wednesday 29 April 2015

Fly-tipping is illegal but on the increase - a sign of the times!

Illegally dumped rubbish. Photo by Steve Andrews

Fly-tipping or illegal dumping is on the increase in many places. It is unsightly, a potential health hazard, damaging to the environment and against the law.

Sadly our countryside, back lanes, roadsides and other areas of public space are getting filled with rubbish. Litter is bad enough, especially plastic items that can end up in rivers and drains and make their way to the sea where they can kill turtles, seabirds and whales, but all sorts of domestic and industrial garbage and waste materials are getting dumped. 

Plastic bags can easily get blown into waterways or end up in the branches of trees or stuck in bushes and hedgerows.

It is mainly domestic rubbish that gets so irresponsibly dumped like this but also materials from industry and construction gets thrown away too. Besides looking like the mess that it is, illegally dumped rubbish attracts rats and other pests, and can contain dangerous toxic materials that can be a serious health risk to animals and humans.

Large items, such as mattresses, old cookers and fridges, are just as likely to be dumped as bags of smaller types refuse.  Clothes, kitchen utensils, toys, garden rubbish, broken glass, carpets, rugs, bricks, building materials, televisions, tyres, broken flowerpots, tiles and furniture are some of the items and materials that are often thrown away like this.

Fly-tipping in Portugal Photo by Steve Andrews

The varied and beautiful countryside of Portugal, where I am now living, is so often spoiled by this serious problem. Back home in the UK the situation is just as bad. 

A report by The Guardian newspaper states that fly-tipping is up as much as by 20% in England after many years in which it was diminishing. 

Higher taxes on legally dumping rubbish at landfill sites, as well as cuts in local services are blamed for the problem. Closures of recycling depots and not as efficient local rubbish collection services have helped increase the problem of fly-tipping too. 

Although flytipping is against the law and local authorities will take action to prosecute offenders, it is often difficult to find out who the culprits are and much of the activity is carried out under cover of darkness. 

It is difficult to understand the people who care so little about the environment and the health of others with the eyesores they create with their illegal dumping of trash. 

Personally it makes me very annoyed seeing how this problem is getting worse. It really ruins my day when I am out enjoying a walk but come across a mouldering pile of refuse cast into an area of natural beauty!

So what can be done about this?  Of course, if we see it going on we can call the police, or if by some chance we know who is responsible then it can be reported. Unfortunately this environmental crime is so often carried out under cover of darkness.

Perhaps local groups of volunteers can be organised to help clean up countryside sites too? 

It is really such a shame and a sad sign of the times to see our rural areas being turned into rubbish dumps!

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Forests in Portugal growing on sand

Sand bank in a forest showing the depth of the sand and what the trees are rooted in. Photo by Steve Andrews

In some parts of Portugal there are mixed evergreen forests that are growing on sand and very sandy soil. There are some of these woodlands around Quinta do Conde, a town in the municipality of Sesimbra between Lisbon and Setubal. 

For some reason there is very little information available on the Internet about these areas of forest and heath, although I would have thought they would be especially interesting to naturalists, as well as anyone who likes rambling in the countryside. Although you are miles from the sea you are walking on sand!

Not in sand dunes but inland. Photo by Steve Andrews
 The forests merge with sandy heathland and offer a very interesting habitat for many plants and animals. In many places the ground is nearly pure sand and, although this is inland, it looks far more like an area close to the sea.

Cork Oak Photo by Steve Andrews
 There are a mixture of evergreen trees that somehow manage to thrive despite the poor quality of their soil, evergreen conifers including the Stone or Umbrella Pine (Pinus pinea), as well as the Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) and Cork Oak (Q. suber), the Eucalyptus and other trees. The undergrowth consists of many shrubs and wild flowers and is very colourful in spring.

Silene species Photo by Steve Andrews
 Pink-flowered Catchfly species, (Silene), and the bright blue Scrambling Gromwell (Lithodora diffusa) provide floral eye candy, along with the white, pink and yellow Rockrose species (Cistus spp). The French Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) can be found on the outskirts of these woods and in clearings.

Shrubby Gromwell Photo by Steve Andrews
 Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) grows in aromatic anise-scented clumps and this herb provides a food-plant for Swallowtail Butterflies (Papilio machaon).   The Swallowtail is a very rare British butterfly but is quite common in Portugal.

Swallowtail Photo by Steve Andrews
 There are also plenty of Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria ssp aegeria) butterflies. The Speckled Wood found here is a subspecies of those seen in the UK and have lighter coloured wings. 

Pine Processionary moth caterpillars In Public Domain
 The caterpillars of the Pine Processionary Moth (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) spin their overwintering nests in the branches of the pines and then descend in March to look for suitable places to pupate. This species of moth is named after the long head-to-tail processions its larvae make. These caterpillars should not be touched because they are covered in hairs that can cause extreme irritation. Look but don’t touch if you find any of these!

Coronella girondica in the Peneda-Gerês National Park, Portugal. Photo by Esv - Eduard Solà Vázquez
  I would think the dry sandy conditions would be good for reptiles so was not surprised to find a Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica) hiding under a slab of stone in a grassy area near one of these forests. 

As its name suggests, this snake is very similar to the Smooth Snake (C. austriaca), which is a very rare species in Britain and confined to a few sandy heaths in England. These snakes are harmless and they feed on other small reptiles and mice.

The forests growing on sand in Portugal make a wonderful place to explore all year around.

Monday 20 April 2015

5 cleanest lakes in the world

Clean lakes are an important water resource for many reasons. They are a great attraction for tourists, a place where many activities such as fishing, swimming and sailing can be enjoyed, and a natural environment for wildlife.  They can also be used as reservoirs.

  1. Lake Annecy

View of Lake Annecy (Photo: Zimmerman76)

Lake Annecy or Lac d’Annecy, as it is called in French, is the third largest lake in France and is located in the mountains of the Haute-Savoie region, of which Annecy is the capital. Lake Annecy is recognised as “Europe’s cleanest lake.”

Lake Annecy is a very popular with tourists who often take part in swimming diving, and other water sports.

Annecy is a wonderful place not just for sightseeing but for learning French and there is a French Language School established in the town.

2. Blue Lake (Tasman)

Blue Lake (Photo: Timothy Musson)

Blue Lake is the name given to a small lake in the Nelson Lakes National Park, which is part of the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Also known as Rotomairewhenua, it is the clearest freshwater lake in the whole world and is sacred to the Maori people. Swimming and diving are not allowed and use of this lake is strictly controlled.

It is drained by the western branch of the Sabine River and is usually reached from the Travers-Sabine Circuit.

3. Lake McKenzie

Lake McKenzie (Photo: Muse Lin)

Lake McKenzie is also known as Boorangoora and is located on Fraser Island in Queensland, Australia. Its sands are white and composed of silica and the water is so pure that many freshwater species cannot live in it.

Many people visit Lake McKenzie to sunbathe on its shores and enjoy its unique beauty. Camping and picnic areas are provided as well as public toilets.

4. Crater Lake

Crater Lake (Photo: Jonathan Miske)

Crater Lake in Oregon is the deepest lake in North America. It is actually a caldera lake and was formed some 7,700 years ago by the collapse of the volcano that is known today as Mount Mazama.

With no rivers going in or out of the lake, it is only filled by rain and melted snow and there is little to cause water pollution. Because of this Crater Lake has become world famous for its exceptional clarity and deep blue colour.

Old Man of the Lake at Cleetwood Cove (Photo: Greg Willis)

Crater Lake is also famous for a full-sized tree that, preserved by the coldness of the water, has been bobbing about in the waters of the lake for over a century and has now worn down to a very large stump and has affectionately become known as the “Old Man of the Lake.”

5. Arnensee

Lake Arnen (Photo:

The Arnensee is a lake in the Berne area of Switzerland, and is also known as Lake Arnen.  The Arnensee is used as a reservoir, but referring to the lake’s great beauty and location in the municipality of Gsteig in the Swiss mountains, it has been called the “Pearl of Saanenland.”