Friday 29 January 2016

Clay plant pots versus plastic pots

Clay pots or plastic pots? 

Plant in plastic pot (PhotoPublic Domain)

We all know well that there is too much waste plastic polluting the environment, filling the oceans, and killing wildlife, so anything which can help cut down our use of the material has got to be good news.  I have been thinking about how many plastic pots and containers for growing plants in get sold every day and how many of these containers are in use. It must be a a mind-boggling number when you consider how many of these pots are on sale in supermarkets, hardware stores and gardening centres.  Nearly all of that plastic is eventually going to end up in landfill sites or in the environment somewhere!

Clay pots (PhotoPublic Domain)

I remember the days when there were only clay or terracotta pots. I prefer them too. The clay pots breathe and don't allow water-logging to occur, which can easily happen with plastic containers. Admittedly the clay pots can crack and break but broken pieces of pot make great drainage material to be put in the bottom of another pot you are getting ready to plant something in. It used to be standard practice to use up broken pots this way.

Clay pots showing mineral deposits (PhotoPublic Domain)

The only other minor disadvantage of clay pots is that because they are porous they can absorb minerals that leach out of the compost and the water used for plants growing in them. This can create whitish powdery deposits on the outside of the clay pot.  It can be washed off, however.

Clay pots for tropical fish

I remember using clay pots when breeding tropical fish species. A clay pot makes a great spawning site for many types of fish, including cichlids such as the Kribensis cichlid (Pelvicachromis pulcher), which is a very popular and easily bred species.

Kribensis (PhotoAquakeeper 14)

Many types of fish will accept a clay pot as an artificial cave and hiding place. many will make these containers their homes and will defend them from other fish. 

Buying clay pots

Unfortunately it has become a lot more difficult to find places that sell clay pots. I am lucky where I live in Portugal because the clay pots are on sale alongside the plastic ones, even at major supermarkets. I know the type of pot I choose to buy.

If enough people refused to buy the plastic containers and asked for old-fashioned clay ones then the manufacturers would be forced to supply us with clay pots not plastic pots.

Watering cans  (PhotoPublic Domain)

Plastic is not just used for our plant pots because even watering cans are now made of the material.  Seems crazy how a can can be made of plastic not metal, don't you think?

Thursday 28 January 2016

Garden Tiger Moth and its Woolly Bear caterpillar in serious decline

The very large and colourful garden tiger moth (Arctia caja), and its hairy caterpillar, which is known as a "woolly bear," were once very common in the UK but are now declining in numbers fast.

Arctia caja (PhotoKurt Kulac)

The garden tiger has brightly coloured forewings that are patterned in creamy-white and chocolate-brown and the hind-wings are orange with blackish-blue spots. It has a stout, mainly orange body and a dark brown furry thorax.  The colours and patterns are very much given to variation too, although the moth is easy to identify.

This moth is found, as its name suggests, in gardens, but also on farms, in meadows, on railway and river banks and on sand dunes.  It has a liking for damp areas, though the caterpillars can often be seen crawling rapidly across paths and open ground on hot days.

The garden tiger moth emerges from late June to August. It used to be a very common and widely distributed moth in the UK but over the last 30 years its numbers have dropped by as much as 89%.  This is difficult to understand because its caterpillar will eat a very wide range of food-plants, including many weeds, such as docks and dandelions. It will also eat nettles and cultivated plants, such as rhubarb and cabbage. The caterpillar will feed on various shrubs, including the raspberry, blackberry and broom as well.

Garden Tiger Moth caterpillar (PhotoAcelan)

The garden tiger moth caterpillar is known as a woolly bear because it is covered in long black and ginger hairs. These hair are a good protection for the larva and can cause irritation.  The young caterpillars hibernate and feed up in the spring. It is thought that Climate Change and mild winters have caused the decline in this species, which has failed to adapt to the changes in the climate.

The adult garden tiger is so brightly coloured to warn predators that it tastes very bad and is toxic. The colouration and patterns are a very good example of "warning colours."

The garden tiger moth is one of many British moths and butterflies that have been declining in numbers and are no longer as common s they used to be, which is a worrying trend.

Monday 25 January 2016

Habitat destruction is a very serious threat to the survival of many species

What local habitats have you seen destroyed? 

If, like me, you are very concerned about the vanishing wildlife around the world and the increasing threats to so many species of flora and fauna, you will know that habitat destruction is one of the main threats that plants and animals face.  I expect there are places you can remember that have been destroyed by housing developments, urban expansion, new roads, and other forms of 'progress'. What local wildlife habitats can you recall that are no longer there? 

Common Lizard (PhotoS Rae)

One location in Fairwater, Cardiff, I spent a lot of time in as boy I used to call the “Coal Yard.” It was actually an abandoned railway siding on the other side of the railway line that ran parallel to the lane that backed onto the house where I lived with my family.  High steel railings blocked access to it from a field that was on one side and a road with another fence of metal railings was at its bottom. The only easy way in was going over the railway bank and railway line. This left the Coal Yard like a mini nature reserve where few people ever went.

Female Wall Brown (PhotoJorg Hempel)

I used to cross the railway to get there and would discover all sorts of flowers and creatures living in the Coal Yard, including common lizards (Zootoca vivipara), small heath (Coenonympha pamphilus), common blue (Polyommatus icarus) and wall brown (Lasiommata megera) butterflies, and rest harrow (Ononis spinosa) and bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) wild flowers. All were common enough species then, though the wall brown is one of the British butterflies that has suffered an alarming decline.

Rest Harrow (PhotoPublic Domain)

For many people, the Coal Yard was just some waste ground at the side of a railway line but for me it was a wildlife habitat that has been destroyed. To the creatures and plants that were there it was home. To a property developer it was somewhere houses could be built and money to be made. Nowadays it is the site of blocks of flats and neatly tended lawns.

Ponds at Llandaff Weir

A pair of Common Toads (PhotoPublic Domain)

There were two ponds on the banks of Llandaff Weir that were once home to many forms of aquatic wildlife, including common frogs (Rana temporia), common toads (Bufo bufo) and the common newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) and palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus). The frogs and toads bred in the larger of the ponds, which was also home to various dragonfly and damselflies, water snails, water beetles, and the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus).

Sticklebacks (Photo Public Domain)

I use the past tense because these ponds were destroyed when the bank of the river was bulldozed flat. I cannot be sure of the reason given in the local press for this but I seem to remember it was supposedly to improve the bank with a view to a new pathway or road that was planned. All I knew for sure was that these two pools were where I used to find all the creatures mentioned. It was there home. It had been destroyed and it saddened me. I remember wondering where all the amphibians would go when they returned in spring to their breeding places to find they had gone. There was no freshwater suitable left, only the river which was too fast and polluted for the frogs, toads and newts. I have often wondered where do amphibians go when they find a place they have known is no longer there? What goes through their little minds?

Now, it can be said, that all the species I have mentioned were common species, but that is not the point. The problem is, and it is a big problem, is that the more habitats like these, that get destroyed, the less places the wildlife can live.

Both these locations, the Coal Yard and Llandaff Weir, were within a short distance of each other, probably about a mile. I point this out to show how wildlife habitat destruction is cumulative. That is just two examples of what has gone from where I lived as a boy. Multiply this sort of destruction all over the country and you have a main reason that many types of wildlife are endangered.

This is why it is so important that nature reserves are set up and maintained and that, if we have gardens, that we leave plenty of room for wildlife. A garden pond can be just what a toad, frog or newt needs for its survival.

Here is a good example of a threatened wildlife habitat so please sign the petition!

Sunday 24 January 2016

Why Darwin and David Attenborough have doubts about God

Charles Darwin doubted God made the ichneumon wasps

Naturalist Charles Darwin, who became a famous historical figure because of his Theory of Evolution and his book On The Origin of Species, came to think of himself as an agnostic, when it came to his religious views.

Female Ichneumon xanthorius (PhotoMartin Cooper

Darwin's studies and great knowledge of the natural world had made him question how a supposedly "loving God." could have made all the parasites, with their complex but, to our minds, horrific life-cycles. In particular, he made mention of the ichneumon wasps as an example of what he meant, and what caused his doubts.

Darwin said"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice."

Ichneumon (Photo:Public Domain)

Ichneumons are parasitic wasps, the females of which, lay their eggs on or inside the bodies of caterpillars of moths and butterflies. The ichneumon grubs live inside the body of their host gradually eating away at the living caterpillar, and leaving the vital organs till the last. When the ichneumon larva has completed its stage as a grub it kills the caterpillar host and emerges to pupate. Instead of a beautiful butterfly the caterpillar eventually produces a weird-looking wasp, with a long ovipositor for a tail. 

Many ichneumons prey on specific hosts, some types parasitise spiders, and some are parasites of other ichneumons. There are many more types of parasitic wasp and fly that use a similar life-cycle and metamorphosis.  In some species the parasite allows it host to pupate and is inside the chrysalis or pupa. 

I learned about these insects when I was a boy and used to enjoy keeping caterpillars to one day see them pupate and then to finally emerge as a moth or butterfly. I was naturally very sad to see that an ichneumon wasp or a parasitic fly took the place of the moth or butterfly, but I came to accept this.  I also came to understand that the parasites had a right to live too, and that they had to feed on something!

Sir David Attenborough's views on God and Creation

World famous naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough describes himself as an agnostic too. Like Darwin, he has an incredible amount of knowledge about nature. He thinks that people who believe every word of the Bible as the truth are irrational. He asks why is it that there are so many versions of the creation story around the world and so many different gods. Obviously they cannot all be true. He points out that when you look at the fossil record you see the same picture all around the world, not a lot of very different stories, that we are asked to believe, usually depending on where we are born. 

Attenborough says“If somebody says to me I believe every word of the Bible is true, you can’t argue against that degree of irrationality… there is actually a way of looking at the natural world and seeing the evidence and it’s all there. And what’s more it’s the same evidence whether it’s in Australia or Northern Europe or wherever. It’s all the same — it all produces the same answer and you can all see the evidence — if you reject that then there’s nothing I can say.”

Sir David Attenborough on God

Like Darwin he is very well aware of the gruesome lives of the many types of parasite in the world too, and asks would a loving and merciful God make these sinister creatures? 
Attenborough has been quoted as saying:
"When creationists talk about God creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that’s going to make him blind.
And [I ask them], ‘Are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball? Because that doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a God who’s full of mercy." (Source :
I find myself in agreement with Darwin and Attenborough! 

Friday 15 January 2016

Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets was published by Moon Books

Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets

My book Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets was published on 27 May, 2016.  It was published by Moon Books in their Pagan Portals series. The cover features some dragon trees, which are described in the section about Herbs of Mars. I became fascinated by these weird plants when I first came upon them in Tenerife where I used to live. They look as if they could have come from another planet! 

Ancient Herbalists

You are probably wondering how there can be herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets, and of course, as far as we know, the Earth is the only planet that supports life as we know it in this Solar System, so what does the subject of my book and the title mean?  Well, the answer is that ancient herbalists, such as Nicholas Culpeper, had a system of listing herbs under different planetary rulers, according to their characteristics. 

For example, according to these herbalist schools of thought, herbs ruled by Mars, the god of war, have something aggressive about their form, such as spines. Red is the colour of blood, associated with war and violence, and the dragon tree (Dracaena draco) has a red resinous sap known as dragon's blood. It also has spiky leaves that are lance-shaped. This made the tree an ideal candidate for being included in the herbs of Mars.

The Dragon Tree

Seven Sections

Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets has seven sections in which I list seven herbs and discuss their uses, and why they are listed under the dominion of a particular planet.  There are sections for the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.  In the section for Herbs of the Sun, the sunflower (Helianthus),  chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) and St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) are included. 

Chamomile (Photo - Public Domain)

The first two of these herbs have petals that radiate out from a central disk and that makes them similar visually to the Sun. The sunflower and St John's wort have bright golden yellow petals too, which also got them listed as herbs ruled by the Sun.  St John's wort is a well-known remedy for depression, a herbal antidepressant, so it brings a ray of sunshine into the emotional state of someone who is suffering from melancholy.

Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) is another herb of the Sun. It has markings like sun rays on its flowers and is a herbal treatment for the eyes. It also likes growing in sunny locations. 

Herbs of the Moon have something to do with the night about them or something rounded or white or silvery. The white water lily (Nymphaea alba) is a herb of the Moon and it has white flowers and rounded lily pads.  Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) is another herb ruled by the Moon, and this shrub has white flowers and emits a perfume after dark. 

Herbs of Mercury must communicate and have something to say. Mercury was regarded as the messenger of the gods. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a herb ruled by Mercury. With its feathery foliage, graceful appearance and aroma and flavour of anise, it certainly communicates to our senses. 

Herbs of Venus should have some association with love. The rose is, not surprisingly, listed in the herbs governed by the goddess and planet Venus.

Kindred Spirit magazine

Look out for me in this summer issue of Kindred Spirit magazine, a popular publication about Mind, Body and Spirit subjects. There is a feature about Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets in it too.

Of course, I am looking for further publicity for my book, so please get in touch if you want to interview me about it or can review my work! 

Friday 8 January 2016

Celebrities protest against Fracking - Leo Sayer, Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono and King Arthur Pendragon

Leo Sayer says "No Fracking Way"

Celebrities around the world are joining the general public in campaigning to stop fracking, which term is a shorter way of saying hydraulic fracturing. British rock star and singer-songwriter Leo Sayer. who relocated to Australia, has moved away from pop to protest with his song No Fracking Way. Leo assembled a group of singers and musicians to support him in protesting at the Australian government's policy on fracking.  

Hydraulic fracturing diagram (PhotoMikenorton)

This practice of mining for gas and oil disrupts neighbourhoods with increased traffic, pollutes the groundwater and environment with toxic chemicals, damages the landscape, is a threat to species of flora and fauna, and is even known to cause earthquakes. This is why so many people worldwide are saying a loud NO to it!

Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono and Artists Against Fracking

Don't Frack My Mother

Sean Lennon, and Yoko Ono head a cast of artists who recorded a humorous yet deadly serious protest song entitled Don't Frack My Mother. They are part of a team of Artists Against Fracking and are focusing their efforts on stopping fracking in the New York area, as a first step in a global campaign. Over 200 internationally famous singers, bands and stars of stage and screen have shown their support for this.  It is a very long and diverse list of celebrities from all parts of the entertainment industries behind this and names include, Lady Gaga, Beck, Paul McCartney,  Carrie Fisher, Beastie Boys,  Gwyneth Paltrow,  David Crosby, Ringo Starr, Roberto De Niro, Polyphonic Spree, and the Patti Smith Group.

King Arthur Pendragon

King Arthur at Stonehenge Summer Solstice (Photo Ann Wuyts)

Meanwhile in the UK, eco-warrior and Druid, King Arthur Uther Pendragon, who often features in the media due to his campaigns for Truth, Honour and Justice and who is titular head of the Loyal Arthurian Warband Druid Order, has spoken out against fracking. 

King Arthur shared these words on his Facebook page today:

"Twenty Years on from Newbury, Let not, 'Call me Dave' Cameron forget the passion and the numbers mobilized and let him not think for one moment that we will stand by and let his government 'Frack' this 'once green and Pleasant land' against the wishes of her People. She is 'our' land and will protect those who stand by her side. In Nature we trust, in Government we do not." 

By the way, there is an excellent book about King Arthur Pendragon, which he co-authored with C.J. Stone. The book is entitled The Trials of Arthur Revised Edition.

An here is Arthur in the trailer for a documentary about him.

Petitions to Stop Fracking

Please sign these petitions and let's do what we can to stop fracking!