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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Training and job creation

While I was lighting the log burner this morning, I paused to read an article on a paper I was using to start the fire.  The article was on the connection between training and jobs.  The article suggested that all that is needed to get the unemployed working is to give them the appropriate training.  Fine as far as it goes but it is missing the point by a country mile.

As long as there are no jobs to go to, all we create is some better qualified out-of-work people or people who will leave the country to somewhere that jobs exist or remain in the country, drawing welfare and assaulting their wives and children from the frustration of not being able to provide for them.

Here in New Zealand, we have been both throwing away existing jobs and ignoring obvious measures we could take to create jobs.   I'm pretty sure what the motivation is but more of that later.  Let's examine some concrete examples.

Our Fisheries
You would think that a sophisticated, modern country like New Zealand would fish her own waters.   We have one of the largest Exclusive Economic Zones in the world and definitely one of the largest in relation to the size of our country. Only a couple of the Island nations of the Pacific have larger economic zones in relation to their size and none come near to the absolute size of New Zealand's economic zone.  Instead, of looking after this vast resource, what do we do.

We allow foreign fishing boats to fish in our waters, many of them from Korea,  employing desperate workers from third world countries.  The abuses of these workers by their Korean officers have been an ongoing scandal in New Zealand and there is a case in our courts at present with a couple of confiscated boats been held until the Korean fishing companies pay the wages promised to their workers.  The treatment of these indentured workers has been beyond belief.  The ones that dare to talk, have told  of workers even being killed and tossed overboard.

The New Zealand government in her usual fashion has put a sticking plaster on the problem and insisted that all boats that fish in our waters must be registered in New Zealand.  Cameras have been installed in some, but far from all, boats.  In cases where the cameras have shown violations, they have been completely ignored by the government.

We even had an observer on one of the most abusive boats and somehow, her information never got to the appropriate officials or they ignored what she said.

And do you think that these foreign fishing boats look after the fisheries resources of New Zealand.  Of course not.  The first of these boats that was revealed to be treating her workers abysmally was later found to have caught a particularly valuable net of fish and so jettisoned her already frozen catch to make room for the more valuable fish.

And do we really think that they land all their fish in New Zealand as is required by the New Zealand regulations.  Pleeeese.  Give me a break.

We are in danger of following the Canadian example.  On the Grand banks off the coast of  Newfoundland, the Canadian Fisheries Department, one of the most sophisticated in the world, cow-towed to crass commercial short term interests and allowed that legendary fisheries to be destroyed.

 If we restricted fishing to our boats, the fishing pressure would lessen, stocks would increase and our own fishing boats would find a very nice increase in their catch-per-unit-effort.  In other words, their boats would be more commercially viable. Politicians are not expected to be fisheries experts but at least they could listen to those that are.  At least they could show a little simple common sense.

Our Rail Stock
New Zealand has entered into an upgrade of our railways including engines and other rolling stock.  What a great move in an era in which we must reduce our output of Carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  Even if these are diesel engines, their output of Carbon dioxide per ton-kilometer of goods moved is far below that of trucks.  When we use electricity to power our engines the reduction is truly amazing.  New Zealand generates about 70% of her electricity renewably and rising*

*note that in a recent extensive poll in the UK, 73% of the population, both rural and urban, said they were very much in favor of on shore wind turbines while at the same time the government promotes nuclear and fracking.  Something rotten in the state of UK here.  I bet our stats would be similar.

We could eventually go the extra mile and have containers, carried by rail, delivered to their end destination by electric trucks.

So what do we do.  We contract to have the rolling stock built overseas.  The NZ Rail workshop in Dunedin and the city of Dunedin commissioned a report by the BERL institute to calculate if this would be a good thing to do.  The bottom line of the report was that with all the spin offs to the New Zealand economy, we would have to be able to obtain the rolling stock for 38% of the local cost before it would be worthwhile to buy them overseas.  Think taxes going into the exchequer from all the workers in the NZ rail workshop and all the sub contractors, Reduced welfare payments for people now not out of work, efficient repair and maintenance and so forth.

But the spin offs would have gone far beyond this.  Our manufacturing industry would have had to upgrade her construction techniques, electronic capability and a whole range of other skills to make modern rolling stock.  All this added capacity would have spun off into other industries.  Who knows.  We might have even eventually started to produce The Affordable Electric Car, called, of course, the Kiwi.

Mind you, we mustn't be too starry eyed about our own KiwiRail workshops.  I live in a railway town and some of the old timers tell of the incredible abuses of their position that occurred some of the workshops with engineers using the equipment during working hours for their own businesses, not turning up for work but getting paid and so forth.  I have no idea if such practices were common recently but it is hard to get back a reputation lost.

Our Lumber Industry
We have just had a massive (in terms of the damage it did) earthquake that trashed Christchurch.  In the early days of Christchurch, there were some tremors and people built as best they could at the time to survive earthquakes.  However as usually happens, we forgot or thought, somehow in one of the most seismically active countries of the world, it wouldn't happen again.  We started to build with unreinforced masonry.  The inevitable happened.  When a relatively small earthquake happened right at the south of Christchurch where the flat meets the banks peninsula (an extinct volcano), the vertical acceleration was an incredible 2g and buildings fell right and left.  What an opportunity.

The most resilient material to rebuild the city is engineered wood.  That is to say, laminated beams for the skeleton and engineered wood cladding for much of the rest.  In Vancouver Canada, I saw a 7 story building going up, completely of wood.  What an opportunity.  We could then have been levering off this experience to send custom engineered wood to other earthquake prone countries to build or rebuild their structures.  Instead what do we do.

We sell our raw logs to China and receive value added products made from our own wood back from them.  Our mills have been closing in droves and we hardly have an industry left compared to what once was.

Incidentally, China has an interesting "ploy" she uses in this and other industries.  I can't swear that it is done on purpose or if it is just the way things  happen but here it is how it unfolds in relations to our lumber industry. Put milk powder, meat or any other commodity in place of logs in the following paragraph and you are pretty well on the money.

China has huge monetary reserves from selling their goods to America and other countries.  This money is devaluing from day to day and is likely to crash at some point.  America is deeply in debt, a highly corrupt society and if they loose their status as the holder of the world's reserve currency, the dollar will plunge in value.  China knows this and wants to trade this ephemeral wealth for solid value.  She pays top dollar for our logs and of course, is competing with our local industries.  It is a free market so, of course, our loggers sell the logs where they can get the best price.  This causes our whole down stream wood industry to collapse.  Then what happens.

China, generously proposes to build a large modern lumber mill in New Zealand and of course ensures by doing so, a vertically integrated supply of wood for her country in which she can take the profits in China instead of New Zealand.  And we are immensely grateful to them for doing this. (this is not what might happen, it is already happening).  Ditto with milk products.

These are just three examples but you can see the trend.  What we need is a government with concern for the bulk of her citizens and a vision that extends to more than a 4 year election cycle.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Otter river Beavers of England

In a previous blog, I wrote about the Tay-catchment beavers in Scotland.  Now the English have got in on the act.  A couple of beavers 'appeared' in the Otter River, on the South Coast of England in Devon.  This has resulted in three breeding pairs at present (Sept 2016).  In a great move, the Powers-that-be have allowed the introduction of a second pair further up in the catchment so that when the two populations meet, there will be greater genetic diversity in the united populations.  First a little information on where you can see these beavers.

You head for Devon on the South Coast out toward the West and set your navigator to Otterton.  It is a village near the mouth of the Otter River.  There are a number of places you can stay and I can heartily recommend the Kings Arms.  Book ahead because tourism is picking up with people coming to see the beavers.
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Kings Arms in Otterton

To see the beavers, I would highly recommend getting there before first light in the morning.  You will also see beavers in the evening and even occasionally in the middle of the day but morning seems to be the best time.  Starting from the Kings Arms, you walk west along the main road (back the way you entered Otterton) past a working flour mill on the left and across the bridge that crosses the Otter River.  Just past the bridge, you will find a gate on your right and beyond the gate a well trodden path.

Head upstream (downstream is also a nice walk and you can walk along side a wetland and down to the sea).  As you head upstream, you will pass a weir that directs water to the flour mill in Otterton.  It has a fish ladder built into it.
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Otterton flour mill weir with fish ladder

A short way further on you will pass a wooden bridge over the Otter.  It arks up to the East side which is considerably higher than the west side where you are walking.  From here on, keep an eye on the small trees to the left of the path.  You will see beaver cut branches here and there.
Wooden bridge across the Otter River

Keep going (20 minutes to half an hour from the gate at the start of the path) until you come to a well trodden place on the side of the river.  If you sit on the edge of the river and look upstream you will see a bed of bull rushes and on the East side of the river, a small beach.  The beavers often haul out there.  If you look a little way down stream, you will see a pile of branches up against the far bank.  This is where their burrow* is located.

* When first introduced to a new area, beavers often make burrows in the river bank for raising their young.  Later, when they dam feeder streams, they construct a lodge in the pond they have created for their nest.

In larger rivers, beavers make burrows in the bank. 

At present (Sept 2016), the adult pair at this location have five kits.  Generally when beavers are introduced to a new area, their population expands at about 25% per year.  This only requires one surviving kit every two years.  Clearly the potential for an increase in population is much greater.  The kits stay with the parents for an additional year and help them to look after the next batch of kits.When the adults are building dams, lodges and food stores, they help with this too.  They become sexually mature around the end of the second year and the parents drive them out.

A second place you can see beavers is from the middle of the wooden bridge.  You may need a pair of field glasses.  Look upstream to where there is a wee beach.  They often haul out there.

Before I start, have a look at these beavers.  This footage was shot by Sylvia Meller, wild life photographer extrordinaire.  I had gone to England with no thought that I would be able to go and see the beavers of Devon and didn't have a camera with me.  Spot the dummy.  However these pictures are far better than anything I could have shot.  Look up other works by Sylvia.  They are great.

The territoriality of beavers, the fact that they drive out their young after they have reached maturity,  has an interesting consequence.  Once the available location in rivers and streams are occupied, the population overshoots slightly each year and then falls back to its carrying capacity.  Unlike many other animals, you can't have a population explosion of beavers.

A caution
The beavers in the Otter catchment are becoming habituated.  That is to say, they are becoming used to humans.  Like any mammal they learn and as long as they aren't harmed by humans, they will show their natural behavior in full view.  This presents a magnificent opportunity for school trips with all the ecological opportunities any teacher could ask for.  Beavers are shy creatures but can become very tame.  Just one caution though.  They are a trifle touchy when protecting their kits.  Best to keep your favorite dog on a leash when watching beavers.  In the water, a beaver has all the advantages and you may have a vet bill if your dog threatens their young.

These beavers, thought are wary of humans so if you want a great experience, sit still where your silhouette is broken up (beside or in front of a tree), talk quietly and whisper to your kids.  They will usually catch the mood and whisper back. Using a flash light will often scare the beavers and they won't come out again for a while. 

Helping the Beavers
Beavers do so much good for the environment and for an individual farm that you may desire to encourage them to create a pond on your farm or in the head waters of your catchment.  The only way you can increase the beaver population is by making new areas attractive to them.  The best way is to truncheoning in a new forest of deciduous trees on the banks of a stream).  Tiny seeps that hardly deserve the name of a stream can be occupied by beavers if the habitat is provided for them.

Dam Building
I just read a web site (which shall remain nameless) that stated that the European beaver Castor fiber unlike the America beaver Castor canadensis does not build dams.  I hate to rain on your parade guys but  European beavers definitely make dams and be thankful that they do.  Almost all the massive benefits that beavers bring to a catchment depend on the fact that they do make dams and thus create ponds. In a new area, beavers tend to build their burrows on the banks of the main river but once these locations are taken up, they will move into the secondary streams where they build dams to make ponds for their safety.  Let's catalog the benefits from beavers.

Water flow regulation
Beavers store water on the land in a number of ways.  This is particularly important in the catchment of the Otter.  The underlying strata is mainly sandstone and water doesn't infiltrate the aquifer quickly, unlike outwash plains such as the ones found East of the Rockie Mountains in the USA or to the East of the Alps in the south island of New Zealand.  In the Otterton, most of the water from high rainfall events shoots down to the sea in a day or two.  Of course, if these are unusually high rainfall events, they cause flooding.  So how do beavers store water.

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Without beaver dams in the catchment, heavy rainfall causes floods downstream

First, of course, are the ponds they create with their dams.  Depending on the topography of the particular area where they build their dams, they can store considerable water.  Beaver dams are somewhat leaky so some water is leaked downstream and water also seeps downward into the underlying strata. holding the water on the land allows time for the water to infiltrate the 'reluctant' aquifer.  

Secondly, the ponds raise the water table in the surrounding land.  Water tables intersect streams at the surface of the water in the stream.  As the water rises in a beaver dam, the surrounding water table rises as well.  In particularly propitious cases, a field which had to be irrigated, now doesn't need it since the field crops can access the underlying water table.  Water then leaks back into the stream, down steam from the beaver dam.
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Much of the water stored by beavers is in the surrounding water table

Thirdly, the dams simply roughen the macro contours along a stream.  Even if all the dams are full when a rainfall event occurs, just having all these dams in place slows down the water flow to the sea.  All these effects lower peak flows and raise low flows.

Check out this rather neat cartoon

And fourthly on a long term basis, beaver ponds catch bed load, suspended sediment, wood chips, scats of various animals, spawned-out salmon and so forth creating a deeper and deeper sponge.  Over time, this water retaining sponge increases.  The effect of the beavers dam to regulate water flow increases over the years.

Incidentally, by catching sediment and bed load, beaver dams extend the life of downstream hydro electric dams and help maintain their capacity.  If a hydro dam becomes filled with sediment, it's water storage capacity decreases and hence its function as an energy storage device.  Also be evening out flow, there are less instances where water has to be wasted over the spill way.  More water is available for generation or irrigation.

Beavers sometimes abandon a site in which case, over time, the dam breaches and the beaver pond becomes a wetland with all the benefits this brings.  Wet lands are rich ecological environments, slow stream flows, catch sediment, hold water and in short, still fulfill many of the beneficial functions of beaver ponds.  Generally, after a while, as the deciduous trees move in from the edge of the wet land, a new colony of beavers will establish themselves in the same area and create a new pond above the wetland.  The deep, water storing sponge grows and grows.

Fora and Fauna
A beaver dam, obviously, gives rise to a location with dependable deep (a few meters) water.  Where before you had a stream, riparian zone and surrounding fields or towns, now you have a new environment.  In addition, you have more dependable stream flows between beaver dams than in streams where there are no beaver dams, with none of the exceedingly low flows which kill fish and other wild life or floods which destroy people's structures.

In the pond, animals such as water voles and muskrat can prosper.  Water birds find shelter from predators in the middle of the pond  and will nest in the reed beds that develop along the margins of a beaver pond.  A whole range of invertebrates, which only prosper in still water can grow and form part of the food chain for larger animals.  Dragon flies, which are excellent predators of flying insects such as mosquitoes and biting flies can lay their eggs and increase their populations..

A detritus cycle develops in the pond based on the bits of cellulose (water log wood chips, leaves, twigs etc) that the pond catches.  This cellulose based detritus feeds a wide variety of fauna. 

A beaver pond becomes the 'go to' area to sit and watch wild life.

Benefits to Salmonids
Here is where the beaver pond really comes into its own.  Many of the salmonids lay their eggs in redds.  These are gravelly areas in a stream.  Factors that decrease the success of hatching include floods which wash out the eggs from the redds,  low water which doesn't provide enough oxygen to the eggs and silting  which smothers the eggs.  Beaver ponds ensure an even  flow of clear water.  This is especially important today with increased silt from farming.  Beaver ponds catch this silt and protect the redds.

Once the eggs have hatched, the tiny salmon are prone to predation from the water and from the air.  The beaver pond provides water which is too deep for wading birds and creates many many niches in the front wall of the dam, in amongst the branches of the lodge and in the  food store of branches.

In areas where the streams freeze in winter, the beaver pond provides water deep enough not to freeze.  Check out this beautiful Youtube video of beavers repairing their lodge in the winter.

Nutrient flow
Most of the time, nutrients flow from the land to the sea.  Beaver dams help reverse this one way flow.  Spent salmon are caught in beaver ponds instead of being washed down to the sea and enrich the pond.  The adult salmon provide the nutrients for their soon-to-hatch young.  Animals which feed in the pond, spread their dung upslope.  Altogether there is a flow of nutrients upstream associated with beaver dams.

Education about beavers
I have heard  fisheries biologists, who should know better, and anglers argue that a beaver dam stops the upstream migration of adult salmon. It is not for nothing that the Atlantic salmon was name Salmo salar .  In Latin it means 'the leaper'.  For a sex crazed Atlantic Salmon that can jump great waterfalls in a single bound and which is heading upstream for its once in a life time act of procreation, a beaver dam is just a little morning warm up.
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Atlantic salmon leaping a water fall in a single bound

I think where the confusion arises, is that Salmon will rest in the plunge pool below a beaver dam for a while before continuing upstream.  Sometimes they wait for a wee freshet from a rainfall event to point the way.  Not a bad adaptation when you consider that the stream above the beaver pond will be fuller following a rain.

It is interesting that anglers, who quite correctly have been removing tires, old car bodies and other junk from their streams, also remove fallen trees.  You can see one such case along the Otter.  If you look at the opposite bank as you walk up the stream, you will see the butt of a tree that has been chain sawed off.  Have a look at this web site on 'big wood'. 

Benefits of large wood in streams. Illustration © The Nature Conservancy (Erica Sloniker)
"Big Wood" is of great benefit to salmonids

Pacific Salmon Migration
Incidentally, with the decrease of ice in the Arctic Ocean, Pacific salmon have been found for the first time in streams flowing into the Arctic Ocean and even as far as Greenland.  Since we are not going to mitigate the melting of the Arctic, this migration is bound to continue.  It wouldn't be too surprising to find, some decades hence, some strange salmon swimming upstream in British rivers.

For the purist, this will be anathema.  Of interest, though, are the wide variety of life styles of the Pacific Salmon (also mentioned in the above link).  They range from the pinks and chum which tend to spawn in streams near the mouth of rivers and to swim (at night) down to the ocean as soon as they are hatched.  Sockeye, in contrast will swim down a small stream until they come to a river and then turn upstream and find a lake to reside in for a variable number of years.  Some Sockeye will even begin to treat the lake as an ocean and form a landlocked population.  In which case, on the Pacific coast they are called Kokanee.  I understand that Salmo salar also can form landlocked populations.

Benefits to the Riparian Zone
It is vital for the health of a stream that there is a riparian zone.  Such stream verges shade the water, keeping it cool and of even temperature.  The roots of the growing trees and bushes intercept excess nutrients in the ground water flowing toward the stream from farms.  The trees, bushes and grasses bind the bank together so it doesn't slump and pollute the stream and riparian zones provide not only habitat for wild life but also corridors along which they can migrate.
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A riparian zone is hugely important for the health of a river. 

At first glance, you might suspect that the cutting down of a tree by a beaver is  negative.  The opposite is true.  Virtually all deciduous northern hemisphere trees coppice*.  Not surprising since they evolved with beavers.   A beaver cut tree sends out a plethora of branches.  This has a number of effects.  The tree is now protected from becoming uprooted by a storm and exposing raw earth to the stream.  Light can now reach the under-story so that shrubs and grasses prosper.  Their root masses further stabilize the bank.  The young vegetation is lower where it can be accessed by, for instance, deer and the flush of new vegetation is food and shelter for a variety of animals and birds.  Of course, the new branches supply both food and building material for the beavers.

*Sprout from a stump

When a beaver pushes an unpeeled branch into his dam, it will often sprout and the roots grow down into the dam, greatly strengthening it.  A beaver dam can turn into a hedge.
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Vegetation will often grow on a beaver dam, making it stronger

 Often, though, the beaver will first eat the bark before using the branch as building material.  As the beaver pond matures, many forms of vegetation such as Bull Rushes, Lilly Pads, pond weeds and so forth will take up residence in the pond.  More and more, they form the food of the beavers and bark becomes a smaller part of their diet.  It's a pretty neat adaptation.  In a new location, beavers can use their building material for food until the pond vegetation develops.
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Ponds develop a wide variety of vegetation which beavers and other wildlife utilize

Stream Hydrology and Ecology
The river Otter is an ideal location to have the first English introduction of beavers.  It has been well researched in terms of the relation between stream flow and rain fall events, the frequency of flood and low water events, knowledge of the flora and fauna of the stream, especially the trout and salmon and the flora and fauna around the stream.  If our talks with residents is anything to go on, there is a great interest in the re-introduction of this long missing native of Britain.   The Otter is about 32km long with many small feeder streams.  It is surrounded mainly with farm land and has a couple of villages along its length that are periodically flooded.

No major effects of the beavers will be seen until they decide to move into the feeder streams and build dams.  Because the Otter is so well researched, it will be an ideal case study to document the effect of the return of the beavers.

How to get a beaver pond on your farm.
Now is a great time for the people living in the catchment to prepare the areas they want beavers to settle.  It is very easy to establish a food and building supply for beavers and since they are in small numbers to date, there will be time for a wee forest to develop before the beavers discover the location.  Truncheoning is the answer. No need to plant expensive seedlings.

Find an appropriate deciduous tree.  Beavers most appreciate willows but aspens, poplars,  birch and many others will do.  Avoid evergreens.  Sometimes beavers will utilize them but they much prefer deciduous trees.

Fell the chosen tree, cutting it at, say, knee height.  It will sprout and before you know it, you will have the tree back in all its glory.  cut the entire tree into pieces about as long as your fore-arm.  Small twigs can be cut with pruning sheers, large ones with your chain saw.  Large logs, I usually split in four and sharpen the bottom end with an ax.  Wrist diameter pieces, simply sharpen.  Small twigs, leave as they are.  You can leave the cut pieces in the shade for a couple of days and some people recommend doing this.  I have usually used the pieces the same day.

Head for your chosen site with an iron bar and an ax or sledge hammer.  You need a  location in which there is some moisture in the ground. After a good rain is not a bad time to do this so in England that means almost any time.

Pound the larger pieces into the ground.  If the ground is hard, the iron bar can be jammed into the same hole a few times, rotating it around after each thump before pounding in your truncheon.  For the smaller pieces, simply make a hole about a third of the length of the truncheon with the iron bar, drop in the twig and soon you will have  a forest to make the most discriminating beaver happy.

Mitigating beaver damage.
Since we have taken over the habitat of the beavers, we will not be pleased if they cause a road to wash away, flood a favorite field or cut down our fruit tree.  Mind you, before you use the following measures, ask yourself if a flooded field might possibly be of benefit to your farm.  There are many benefits to having a pond and/or wetland on your farm.    However, suppose you have decided that you don't want a field or building flooded.  The answer is simple.  You simply install a beaver deceiver.
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Note the outlet.  It's height determines the water level in the pond

Get a piece of that corrugated flexible black plastic pipe which is long enough to reach into the pond, over the dam with its outlet at the level you want to keep the pond at.  Dig away enough branches during the day to lower the water level to where you consider appropriate.  Lay in the pipe.  Pound in a stake on either side of the pipe on top of the dam.  Nail on a cross piece touching the top of the pipe.  The beavers will repair the damage you have made that night.  then get a piece of wire weld mesh with a hole size of  abut 10cm and a bar diameter of six or eight millimeters.  The mesh they use for cement reinforcing is ideal.  Form this into a cylinder, cut out one or two cross bars at one end and pound it into the bottom of the pond at the intake of the pipe.  If you like, you can put a lid on it and pound it in so that it is completely covered by the water.

Remember, you don't want to siphon all the water out of the dam.  The object is to hold as much water on the land for as long as possible.

If your favorite fruit tree is within about a hundred yards of a beaver colony, put a layer of chain link, wire weld or chicken wire around the trunk.  Problem solved.
A simple way of protecting a special tree.

To finish, lets summarize a few beaver facts

1/  Beavers do not eat fish or any other animal.  The only eat vegetation. As the pond develops, they eat less bark and more water plants.

2/  Beavers. once they start building dams, reduce flood peaks and increase low water flows.

3/  Beavers greatly increase ecological diversity

4/  Beavers enhance salmon and trout populations

5/  Salmon and trout pass upstream and downstream over beaver dams.

6/  Beavers are not responsible for Guardia in streams.  New Zealand doesn't have a single beaver and some of her rivers contain Guardia.

7/  Beavers improve riparian zones by felling trees in the riparian zone.  A felled tree will coppice from the stump and be less vulnerable to wind.  It is good to get sun to the understory of the Riparian zone.

8/  Flooding of some feature such as a dwelling or orchard is easily mitigated with a beaver deceiver.

9/  Damage to a favorite tree is easily mitigated

10/  Beaver dams reduce the concentration of nitrates and phosphates in a stream through the agency of the detritus cycle.

11/  Beaver dams in the catchment of a hydro electric dam increase the amount of electricity the hydro dam can generate, the amount of water that can be used and extend the life of the hydro-electric dam by intercepting bed load and sediment.

The future
The people in the Otter River catchment are very fortunate to be the first place in England to see the return of the beaver.  If we are to believe the scientists, the weather is going to become much more erratic and this doesn't only mean more severe rain fall events.  It also means more protracted periods of drought.

No need for a leap of faith.  We already see some of the results with weather patterns getting frozen in one place instead of moving eastward in a regular progression.  A commonly expressed theory is that it is caused by changes in the jet stream.  Whatever the cause, it depends on  which weather pattern lands on top of you as to whether you experience protracted drought or protracted rain.

In addition, climate zones are moving northward at over a kilometer a year and are likely to take some rather severe lurches northward in the future.   Already, some locations in southern England are defined as sub tropical.

It is a bit of a race against time, whether the beavers can occupy the feeder streams in time to mitigate the effects of climate change which are already beginning to manifest themselves.  At least, the Otter Catchment may be ahead of the game.  The rest of England will be playing catch up but will fortunately have the example of the Otter Catchment to draw on.

When first built, before they have time to settle and before roots  grow down into them, a beaver dam can be washed away by an exceptionally severe flood.  When there are beaver dams  all the way up and down the catchment they protect each other, the flood peaks are reduced and all the dams are likely to survive.  Once well established, a beaver dam is unlikely to be shifted by anything nature can throw at it.

As I mentioned, in all of this, the rest of England is going to be playing catch up.  Hopefully, a really intense research program will document the effects of beaver dams as they become established throughout the Otter catchment.  This will be the body of work that other catchments can point to to convince the uninformed of the benefit of the return of the beaver.

In the end it depends on the people in the Otter catchment.  If they establish favorable habitats for the Beavers and avoid harming them, the beavers will return the favor with interest.

Check out this great poster.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


There is great excitement over President Obama's visit to Cuba and his talks with Raul Castro.  And in Cuba Obama pushed the American line about the need for Cuba to embrace human rights and democracy.

Did you ever wonder why America was so furious at Cuba.  Her excuses over the last few decades were generally that Cuba wasn't a democracy and she was a communist country right on American's door step.

Pretty wild when you consider that America has, with the possible exception of her Marshall plan in Europe (and the motivations there were otherwise)* has never, not ever, not once promoted democracy anywhere in the world.  In fact just the opposite is the case.  John Perkins in his book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man  describes the process.  First America sends in what he calls the Hit Man.  This is an operative, such as John was, who with a combination of the carrot and the stick tries to persuade a new head of the government, whether elected, appointed or elevated to the position in a coup that he should cooperate with American aims.  This generally involves allowing American companies free rein in the country.

The shoring up of Europe after the war, including Germany had a positive motivation, at least by Marshall, of not repeating the mistakes after the first world way and beggaring Germany, leading to the second.  However the main motivations were A, to have a bulwark against Russia and B, to weaken Great Britain vis a vis her empire and to take over her world interests.  Do you realize that the quid pro quo for Lend Lease was access to British markets and military bases around the world.

If the Hit man doesn't succeed, America sends in the so called Jackals.  These are generally CIA operatives who disrupt the country and get the glorious leader deposed or in some cases killed in order to get a more compliant person leading the country.

If that doesn't work, they use false flag operations and the army.

One of the systems the Hit men use is to give the country huge loans for, for instance, the development of a hydro electric scheme.  The pricing is far above the value of the project and the client country doesn't see a cent (except for bribes to the glorious leader and arms for the army that he uses to keep his own people in line).  An America company such as Haliburton (Dick Cheney) does the work and gets the money.  When the country defaults on the loan (from the American bank mis-named The World Bank) America agrees to take payment in various ways such as the resources of the country.

As for Communism, which America complains about*, the only country I know that actually has had real communism is Israel.  Her Kibutzim were actual communism.  Not dictatorships aka Russia or China.  And Israel is America's staunchest friend.

*The new word she uses to justify doing anything she wants anywhere in the world is Terrorism.

No, the truth is that America was pissed off at Cuba and Fidel because it is the only example I can think of where a local took back his country for the benefit of his own people and kicked out American mining companies and agricultural companies who were ripping off Cuba and turning her people into serfs.

Generally, America loves to have a dictator in charge of a country.  If he can be corrupted, he will spread the largess to a few concentric rings of people and the army and keep control of the country for his own pecuniary benefit and serve the American corporatocracy.  America is not keen on having a democracy because each time there is a change of government, she has to start the corruption process over again and who knows what sort of patriot could be elected and prove difficult.

What America dislikes most of all, though,  is a dictator who is against America.  Fidel Castro once joked that if there was an Olympics for foiling the most American assasination attempts, he would be the clear winner.  And it is unlikely that Cuba would have stayed out of the clutches of America if she had had a democracy.  Only a dictator could act fast and effectively enough to stave off the constant attempts of America to get Cuba back under her thumb.  The Bay of Pigs was a good example.  First America flew reconasance over Cuba, then bombed her air fields and then sent in the rag tag army of Cuban exiles in the certain knowledge that the president would send in the regular army when the Cuban exiles failed.

Fortunately they didn't count on President Kennedy who scuppered that neat little plan.  This is one of a number of  possible reasons why he was shot down in Texas.  He thought of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a bunch of delusional old men and wanted to break up the venal CIA and scatter them to the winds.

What I liked most about the visit by Obama was Raul's comments to Obama.  He told Obama that with respect to human rights, Cuba considers affordable medical care for all her citizens and free education are both human rights and America should up her game before criticizing Cuba.  Sad for Obama since, at least as far as medical care goes, he fought for this.  However he had to 'take it' in his position as president.

Later. Fidels message to the Cuban people was Beware of Americans bearing gifts*.

Now we have the sad spectacle of the primary elections, even in the inappropriately named Democratic party between Sanders and Clinton.  One would expect this from the Republicans but one would hope that a party called Democrat would have more respect for the concept.  Look, for instance at the discrepancy between the voting in each state and the exit poles.  Also have a look at:

Fidel Castro made some pretty negative comments about Obama's visit stating essentially that Cuba doesn't need hand outs from the US. Some commentators in the USA talked as if Fidel was rambling and out of touch with the Cuban people.  If there is a disconnect, it is the Cuban people who are out of touch with their leader.  They would be wise to listen to the old fox.

Have you noticed that America still has sanctions in place against Cuba.  If America was serious about good relations with Cuba they would simply remove these sanctions and let Cuba access the American market with her products.  Instead she is keeping the sanctions in place to be used to bargan with Cuba to get her businesses back into Cuba.  America business would dearly love to get back to the Batista situation in which American business dominated Cuba and Cubans provided cheap labour.  Cuba should listen to her old revolutionary.  He knows what he is talking about.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Our homing muscovy duck

I find this hard to believe and completely unexplainable.  We have a female Muscovy duck who was hatched on our property.  She can just about fly well enough to go over a fence and land on our little pond in front of the house.  She laid 14 eggs under an old three wheeler motor cycle and hatched out all three of them.  Unfortunately she and her ducklings took to roosting at night (is roosting the right word for ducks??)  on our front porch.  What a mess in the morning.

Finally, when the babies were only a few weeks old we decided we had had enough.  We found a friendly farmer who raises ducks himself and has a nice big pond.  He lives 6km away across our main highway.  We crated up the ducks and he  came and got them in his pick up truck.  Two days later they were all back on the pond.

We phoned him and asked him if he had changed his mind.  Not at all, he said.  The ducks just disappeared.  Somehow, she had led her small ducklings on a 6km walk.  Somehow she knew where we were in relation to where she was and what direction to go to get home.  Somehow she didn't loose a single duckling.  I'm in awe of her.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Greenhouse Effect

Much has been written about the green house effect without really explaining what it is and how it works.  I thought I would chip in my two cents worth and hopefully make it make more sense.  I'll start with the Sun which has the mother of all green house effects.  I'll use the sun because it is pure physics with no emotion involved.  Then, when we are in the proper scientific mind set we can look at the earth.

So,,,, the sun started out as a cloud of elements with by far the greatest part being hydrogen.  It collapsed under its own gravity and if you have ever pumped up a bicycle tire, you know that the end where the hose is, warms up.  A diesel engine works on the same principle.  You compress the charge of air about 20 times and it becomes so hot that when you spray in the mist of diesel oil, the oil ignites.  Of course, with a cloud of gas heavy enough to produce the sun, the compression was far greater and the hydrogen at the middle was very hot and very compressed.  It was so hot and so compressed that the hydrogen atoms began to fuse together and produce Helium, releasing large quantities of energy as photons (electromagnetic energy).

This heated up the nearby hydrogen which was hot enough to fuse but not compressed enough.  What is interesting  is that very hot hydrogen absorbs and re-emits the photons produced by the nuclear furnace.  And it re-emits them  in all directions.  Some are sent back toward the core, some sideways and some toward the surface.  All are again and again absorbed, emitted, absorbed, emitted, over and over again.  There are various estimates that for the time it takes for the energy of a photon to reach the surface of the sun but all are in the thousands of years.

Compare this to what the situation would be if each photon created in the centre of the sun was not absorbed by the overlying hydrogen.  As quickly as the energy was produced it would travel through the overlying hydrogen and leave the sun.  Remember that it only takes 8 minutes for the energy of the sun to reach us once it has reached the surface and we are 93 million miles from the sun.  Instead of staying in the sun, the energy would leave the sun in about 1/2 X 8minutes / 93 X 60 = about three seconds.  The sun would cool down and probably the thermo-nuclear reaction at the center would stop.

This is the green house effect. On the Earth, the atmosphere is transparent to most of the light energy coming from the sun so the atmosphere is heated from below as this radiation is absorbed by the earth.  The warmed earth radiates long wave radiation.   If this long wave (infra-red) energy was radiated at the speed of light straight back into space, the planet would cool rapidly.  If on the other hand, some of the gases in the atmosphere absorb and re-emit the energy coming from the planetary surface in all directions, the planet warms up. It is a fact of nature that the wave lengths of energy coming off the earth, mainly in the infra red spectrum is absorbed and re-emitted by the gases we call green house gases.  They include water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide and a bunch of others in addition to Carbon dioxide.

On earth we have the same phenomenon as on the sun but vastly reduced.  Green House gases in the atmosphere  absorb photons in the infra-red part of the spectrum and re-emit them in every direction.  More of these molecules then do the same.  This delays the escape of heat from the atmosphere and causes it to warm.  The greater the proportion of green house gases in the atmosphere, the longer it takes for the energy coming off the earth to reach space and head out at the speed of light.

As the earth as a whole warms up, it radiates more energy.  Eventually we reach equilibrium with the same amount of energy being radiated as is being absorbed but the Earth is now warmer.