Books Environmental politics History Science

Notes from Rain: Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison

p. 32 “One reaons we know how much rain has fallen where, and when is the British Rainfall Organisation: A quintessentially eccentric body and one of the first examples of what we now call ‘citizen science’. George James Symons, who began his working life in the Meteorological Department of the Board of Trade, set up the Association in the middle of the 19th century in response to public concern that rainfall was decreasing across the British Isles. He recruited a small network of initial observers, then wrote to The Times in 1853 listing the further locations he wanted, calling for observers ‘of both sexes and all ages’ and offering to subsidise the cost of instruments. By 1867 he had 1,300 observers, nad had to leave his post at the Board of Trade; by his death in 1900 there were 3,408, drawn from ‘nearly every social grade from peer to peasant’… In 1916 the BRO was called upon to determine whether the use of artillery on the Western Front was somehow responsible for one of the wettest winters on record… the opinion given … was that there was no connection. The following winter would prove less wet, despite the artillery barrage of the Somme, but bitterly cold .. continued to publish its records until 1991.”

p. 55 “The aptly named George Merryweather displayed his storm forecaster, the ‘Tempest Prognosticator’ at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Looking not unlike a miniature merry-go-round, it consisted of a circle of 12 pint bottles, each containing a little rainwater and a single leech. His idea was that, on sensing electrical activity in the atmosphere, the leeches would crawl to the top of the bottles, triggering whalebone levers connected to a bell on the topmost dome; the more times the bell rang, the greater the likelihood of an approaching storm. … believed that it could easily be connected to the telegraph network in a way that the bell in St Paul’s, London, could be rung to signal an approaching storm. But then, he also believed that arranging the bottles in a circle would allow the leeches to see one another and not become lonely.”

p. 62 “Because they need their food to be over 50% water, rabbits like to feed at dawn and dusk when the dew is down.”

p. 75 Dartmoor “became a vital source of sphagnum moss during the First World War when it was gathered in great quantities, dried and sent off to be used as wound dressings due to its abosrbency and healing properties; its been shown to slow the growth of fungi and bacteria. Twelves species are found on Dartmoor, and all can hold eight times their own weight in rain.”

p. 82 “A recent study by the Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, showed that one square metre of inrtensively improved grassland held just 47 litres of grassland compared to the 269 litres per square metre held by unimproved ‘rhos’ pasture with its naturally occurring purple moor grass and sharp.flowered rush.”

Books Environmental politics History Politics

Notes from Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

p. 16 “Tecla [elephant] was communicating. ‘The humans are getting between you and your baby; come and do something’… When an individual knows another’s relationship to a third – as Tecla knows who the baby’s mother is -it’s called ‘understanding third party relationships’. Primates understand third-party relationships too,and so do wolves, hyenas,dophines,birds of the crow family, and at least some parrots. A parrot, say, can act jealous of its keeper’s spouse. When the vervet monkeys that are common around camp here an infant’s distress call, they instantly look to the infant’s mother….When free-living dolphin mothers want young ones to stop interacting with humans, the mothers sometimes direct a tailslap at the human who has the baby’s attention… When the dawdling youngsters are interacting with dolphin researcher Denise Herzing’s graduate assistants, their mothers will ocasiionally direct these – what could we call them reprimands? -at Herzing herself. This shows that thedolphins understand that Dr Herzing is the leader of all the humans in the water. For free-living creatures to perceive rank order in humans – just astonishing.”

p. 22 “Honeybees will interrupt a colleague’s waggledance if they’ve experienced trouble at the same flower source, such as a brush with a predator like a spider. Honey bees subjected by researchers to simulated attack show, said researchers, ‘the same hallmarks of negative emotions that we find in humans’. Even more intriguingly, honeybee brains contain the same ‘thrill-seeker hormones that in human brains drive some people to consistently seek novelty. If those hormones deliver some tingle of pleasure or motivation to the bees, it means bees are conscious. Certain highly social wasps can recognize individuals by their faces, something previously believed the sole domain of a few elite mammals.”

p. 85 “African elephants have one particular alarm call that appears to be their word for ‘Bees!’. They run from the sound of buzzing bees, shaking their head as thye go. Elephants also run away shaking their heads if they merelyhear a recording of elephants calling as they run from bees. They don’t head-shake when plated recorded voices of people… Zoo elephants in the United States who’ve never been swarmed by African honeybees do not respond to the sound of bees. Older elephants in Africa respond directly, while young ones look to their elders and copy their response… A friend of mine saw impalas run away when they heard elephants scream at a pack of wild dogs; her guide said impalas never run when elephants are screaming at people or each other. If true, that means that elephants say specific things that impala understand.”

p. 89 “Herman, who studied captive dolphins in Hawaii, found that dolphins understood the difference between ‘Get the ring from John and give it to Susan’ and ‘Get the ring from Susan and give it to John.’ They understand syntax. What most other animals don’t have – and I think we can be pretty sure of this – is complex syntax. Complex syntax characterizes human language. Dolphins mayuse some simple syntax of their own in the wild. Some apes — especially bonobos — can learn to use human syntax. That means something very striking: it means that these creatures have the capacities to mentally manipulate parts of human syntax and respond appropriately … It would make no sense …if it didn’t use syntax with others of its species or with itself.”

p. 102 “The Masai do not eat wild meat; the wild ones are considered ‘God’s cattle’… the Maasai did not tolerate poachers from outside and frequently blew their cover. Thus the Maasai kept poaching in check and Amboseli’s elephants relatively safe – and relatively free to move – compared to elephants in many places. .. Wildlife populations shrank and shrivelled as Europeans took land and shot the animals. Then emerging European pressure to conserve wildlife focused on Maasai lands, which held the highest concentration of free-living animals in Kenya. … They believe that only humans and elephants have souls… Traditionally,when the Maasai encounter the bones of a human or an elephant, they place grass on them to signal respect. This they do with no other animals.”

p. 109 “In the 1960s, Iain Douglas-Hamilton found, in deep forest, a trail smoothly beaten down and at least 12 feet wide. It might have been thousands of years old. Elephant roads once connected the continent, water source to water source. When humans arose, we followed roads made by elephants across Africa, and when the time came for us to venture beyond, we probably traveled out, too, on elephant roads. Now most such ancient roads have fallen silent. Where elephants survive, they cling to islands of habitat cut off from other populations. For centuries now, they’ve been under siege. At the dawn of the Roman Empire, elephants thoroughly inhabited Africa. From Mediterranean shores to the Cape of Good Hope and from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, except for the bleakest lozenge of the Sahara, elephants trod… By a thousand years ago, elephants had already been wiped from North Africa. During the 1800s, southern Africa’s elephants were splintered and isolated… East Africa’s coastal elephants were swiped too… By 1900, the animal that never forgets was forgotten by most children born in West Africa. The 1970s and 80s brought the perfect storm of rising human densities, increasingly deadly weapons,escalating ivory prices, widening international markets, and worsening governments…. Since Roman times,humans have reduced Africa’s elephant population by perhaps 99 percent. Africa’s elephants are gone from 90 percent of the lands they roamed as recently as 1800, when, despite earlier losses, an estimated 26 million elephants still trod the continent. Now they number perhaps 400,000.”

p. 192 “wolf kills often attract ravens  by the dozens. Yet if humans put out elk carcasses, ravens generally ignore them. Ravens don’t trust humans. The memory of the poisoned carcasses must still be a lesson in the raven educational curriculum. In Yellowstone…they’ve taught themselves something new, how to unzip hikers’packs. The relative size of their forebrain – the ‘thinking part’ – in ravens andtheir relatives is significantly larger than in other birds, with the exception of some parrots.  A raven’s brain is the same size, relative to its bodyweight, as a chimpanzee’s.”

p. 224″we’re still uncovering dogs’ hidden abilities. At least one border collie responds to an unfamiliar word by choosing an unfamiliar object. Asked to ‘Get the dax!’ the dog apparently reasons along these lines: ‘There’s a ball here but she didn’t ask for a ball. ‘Dax’ must mean this other thing that I’ve never seen before’. Such skills of inference, scientists write, ‘have only been demonstrated previously for language learning in human children’.

“Even dogs have perceptual gaps though. Non-human great apes are good at inferring the location of hidden food by, for instance, noticing that one board is lying flat and another is tilted up, indicating that there is something under it. Dogs are terrible at that (that’s a visual clue; dogs excell at searching by smell. Ravens … are able to figure out which os several crossed strings is connected to the treat. Primates do such tasks easily. Dogs are terrible at this, too (again, it’s purely visual.)

p.270 “Years ago, while doing research that involved tagging migrating falcons, I lured the falcons to my net with tethered live starlings. The frightened starlings did not enjoy this; nor did I. So I put a stuffed starling, wings in flight position, behind the net. Of course, in nature, absolutely everyhing that looks like a bird and is covered with feathers and has a gleaming eye and moves up and down is a bird. Yet the stuffed bird never fooled one single falcon. They all sized it up, at a glance, as somehow not real and ignored it. That is impressive. Other animals are exceptionally good at identifying and reacting to predators, rivals and friends. They never act as if they believe that rivers or trees are inhabited by spirits who are watching. … other animals continually demonstrate their working knowledge that they live in a world brimming with other minds, as well as knowledge of those minds’ boundaries. Their understanding seems more acute, pragmatic, and, frankly, better than ours at distinguishing real from fake….Perhaps believing false things comes bundled with our peculair, oddly brilliant ability to envision what is not yet … No one has explained where creativity arises, but some human minds lurch along sparking new ideas like a train with a stuck wheel. It’s not rationality that’s uniquely human; it’s irrationality. It’s the crucial ability to envision what is not, and to pursue unreasonable ideas.”

p. 276 “Somehow the mirror test became the standard for determining whether an animal ‘has self-awareness’. That’s silly … A creature lacking self-concept would be unable to differentiate itself from anything … a mobile creature unable to differentiate itself from anything could hardly exist. I could not navigate the real world, escape, mate, or survive…. Maybe dogs know that the reflection in mirror is themselves and don’tmuch care. Dogs don’t mistake mirror images for other dogs; they don’t try to greet or attack them, as many birds do. Maybe dogs simply aren’t interested in examining themselves visually, because they’re so smell-oriented. … dogs can recognise images … recognise photographs of dogs, regardless of breed, as all being in the category ‘dogs’, distinct from other species.”

p.306 “Killer whales used to be thought of as one worldwide species. Not it appears that eight or so ‘types’, with differing food specialisations, are likely different species…. some of the largest undiscovered species on Earth have been hiding in plain sight.”

p. 311 “Killer whales maintain a social structure more complex than chimpanzees. And more peaceful. For all their heft and dental weaponry, when they find themselves in close proximity they either socialise or leave… Some native peoples do believe that they are people. Perhaps they intuit that killer whales’ stable, tiered, culturally self-defined groups parallel human society.”

p. 313 “At anywhere between one month and two years, bottlenose, Atlantic spotted, and other dolphins, develop their own distinctive, individual ‘signature whistles’. Signature whistles are a name they create for themselves. The sound is distinctive, and the dolphin doesn’t change it, ever. They use it to announce themselves. … Female bottlenose dolphins stay in their mothers’ groups for life. They develop signature whistles quite different from their mother’s, and thus are easy to tell apart as they travel together. Male youngsters – who will leave their birth group – develop signatures similar to moms’.

“Researchers have recently realised that various bat species, too, sing songs that include individualised calls. For instance, the European bat known as Nathusius’s pipistrelle has a song with several parts: it says, in human terms: ‘Hear ye, I am a Pipistrellus nathusii, specifically male 17. I am of this community, and we share a social identity; please land here.”

p. 338 “In 1979, Dr Diana Reiss starting working with a captive bottlenose dolphin named Circe. When Circe did the behavior thatReiss was looking for, Circe got verbal praise and some fish. When she didn’t she got a ‘time-out’, in which Reiss stepped back or turned away to indicate that Circe had not performed ‘correctly’… Circe didn’t like tail fins left on her mackerel, and by spitting out the pieces with tails, she essentially trained Reiss to cut them off. One day … Reiss absentmindedly gave Circe an untrimmed tail section. Circe waved her head from side to side they way we might indicate ‘No’, spat out the fish, swam to the other side of the pool, positioned herself upright, and just looked at Reiss for a short time. Then she came back. Circe the dolphin had given Reiss the human a time-out. … she had conceptualised the time-out as a way of communicating the idea ‘That’s not what I’ve asked for’ and used it to correct her human friend.”

p. 365 “whales leave us with questions so puzzling they are disturbing. Why would these beings declare unilateral peace with humans and not with smaller dolphins and seals, whom they attack and eat? Why would they single us out to give assistance? And why no grudge? Why, after the chronic harassment, capture, and disruption we’ve visited upno them, do they sho no learned and handed-down fears of humans such as wolves and ravens and even some dolphins seem to teach their young…. gigantic,mega-brained predators … who eat everything from sea otters to blue whales .. who wash seals off ice and curch porpoises and slurp swimming deer and moose – indeed seemingly any mammal they come across in the water, yet who have never so much as upended a single kayak and who appear -maybe – to bring lost dogs home.”

p. 373 “One foggy day, the biologist Maddalena Bearzi was taking notes on a familiar party of nine bottlenose dolphins who’d cleverly encircled a school of sardines near the Malibu pier. “Just after they began feeding,” she writes, “one of the dolphins in the group suddenly left the circle, swimming offshore at high speed. In less than an instant, the other dolphins left their prey to follow.” To abruptly stop feeding, that was pretty odd. Bearzi followed, too. “We were at least three miles offshore when the dolphins stopped suddenly, formed a large ring without exhibiting any specific behaviour.” That’s when Bearzi and her assistants spotted an inert human body with long, blond hair floating in the centre of the dolphin ring. “Her face was pale and her lips were blue as I pulled her fullly dressed and motionless body from the water.” Warmed with blankets and the researchers’ bodies, she began to respond. Later, in hospital, Bearzi learned that the 18-year-old had swum offshore to commit suicide. She survived. Such things are profound.”


Notes from Wattana: An Orangutan in Paris by Chris Hertfield

p. 141 “Captive great apes … are present at the crossroads of several entangled histories, with their personal stories mingling with that of their ape or human partners, inscribing them with a social history as well as a specific cultural history. Nevertheless, we still continue to confine them to a single history: their natural histort, reducing them to representatives of their species and products of their phylogenetic history. Yet the behaviors of great apes, eminently social and flexible, cannot be generalised at a species level. … It is difficult for us to admitthat creatures other than human beings might have a biography. Yet great apes are born, grow up,meet others, form friendships, travel from place to place, developing different character traits, preferences, varied interests, and particular skills.

p. 97 “Knot after knot, assembly after assembly, weaving after weaving, Wattana repeats the chain of movements involved in knotting. Little by little, she refines her gestures, and increases their complexity, developing true technical mastery… simultaneously a rhythmic and a hand-to-hand struggle with the world and its materials, colors, consistencies, achieved with the aid of fiber and cords. … Sometimes she is absorbed in this activity for a whole afternoon, and thus expresses a real taste for the execution of knots. Her sustained attention, the depth of her involvement, and her craving to do it right all testify to this.”

p. 98 Orangutans “their fascination for sophisticated manipulations (their predilection for shoelaces being one example) is far more pronounced than in other primates. This also applies to their greater aptitude for using one tool to create another … p. 100 “plaiting, interlcaing, intertwining,: these are all terms used by primatologists to describe construction techgniques that greay apes use in building their nests. .. Great apes are not satisfied in building a basic bed. They decorate their nests with a plant mattress that some researchers consider artistic. They select their materials according to the available plant life and the shades of green. They then line their nests with Campnosperma branches to protect themselves from mosquitos. .. Some apes systematically bite the tips of the branches used for the fringes of their nest, the edge being composed of twigs of similar appearance and the same length. Some of them fashion a small cushion from plants that they grip tightly against themselves as they sleep. Apes also seem to attach importance to the panorama that can be seen from the bed; they chose the site carefully according to the view. These shelters may also be equipped with ‘roofs; to protect them from sun and rain.”

p.102 “The majority of behaviors devices and tools (associated with body care, sex, games,comfort) belong to what French philosopher Dominique Lestel would describe as an ethology of comfort… The concern for self by self and the simple fact of existing constitute tasks that our societies tend to forget… Great apes experience a power and a pure pleasure of being, which carries them beyond basic needs; to advance towards what for them represent possible sources of comfort, satisfaction, or pleasure.”

p.103 “Tool ideology.. the direction taken by the discipline is built on underlying sweeping dichotomous categories of males versus female, of hard versus soft, of the public versus the private (intimate) domains. Fibres are considered to be soft materials, in contrast to stone, representing the hard. As proposed by Nold Egenter, it would surely be very fruitful to ponder the question of homoisation using construction as a starting point.”

p. 33 “this case of adoption is not uncommon among the great apes. While some females very clearly turn their backs on motherhood, others are strongly attracted to babies.Some go as far as to take care of three infants simultaneously. .. Even if they have no experience at all, cats instinctively know what needs to be done after the birth of their first litter. In fact, great apes are envisaged as the natural counterpart to humankind, as authentic creatures of nature, entirely governed by instinct and subject to biology. .. Yet repeated cases of ape mothers in zoos that show no interest in their babies, or do not know how to look after them, clearly show the process leading to ‘becoming a mother’ is complex. Moreover, this suggests that the notion of ‘matrenal instinct’ as something both universal and automatic, and as the only foundation for this kind of capacity, needs reevaluation for great apes….even when they do have the opportunity to learn from an effective model, young female apes are still deprived of all that is transmitted through the close proximity of bodies: a particular maternal style will influence the baby more surely if it is incorporated, experienced in the flesh and picked up by all the senses.”

p.121 Siri, a 12-year-old Asian elephant … “the female would often trace lines with a stoneon the ground in her enclosure… he provided her with paper, paints,paintbrushes, or pencils. Without being encouraged or rewarded, she freely drew dozens of compositions on sheets of paper.. She produced these in 20 to 30 seconds,sometimes pausing to examine the paintings. … her pictorial techniques evolved considerably over the course of the sessions. .. elephants know what they are doing and clearly enjoy doing it. .. the French philosopher Etienne Sourian, a specialist in aesthetics, showshow much the aesthetic act seems to be linked to ‘impulses stemming from the depths of life’.”

p. 124 Bottlenose dolphins in Hawaii indulged in making bubble rings. “To achieve this, they produced whirlpools with their flippers and then breathed out air through these eddies with their blowholes. In this way they fashioned circles, spirals, tori, vortices and helices. .. Once the bubble rings had been shaped, the dolphins played with them”.

Books Environmental politics History

Notes from An Oakwoods Almanac by Gerry Loose

p. 37 “the story is told of a fox trotting down the hillside here and along the road past the house over by. The man of the house sees the fox, bold as brass, and fearing for the hens, runs into the housefor maybe a gun, but comes out only with a hearth brush, which he lobs anyway at the fox.The fox, nonchalant, turns, throws a look, grabs the brush in his smirking teeth and trots on his way. When the farm is having a new shed built, two-three years later,a fallen trunk needs to be moved,in a den underneath, dry and in good condition, is the red hearth brush. I think it is in use to this day.”

p. 52 “the naming of animals can have unsettling effects. A ewe by here …. with black and white markings has only an unofficial descriptive name. To burst into the bar to announce’the badger’s had a lamb’ can be the occasion for some perplexed looks among tourists. Likewise, to encounter a man as it’s getting dark, slamming the door behind him and setting off down the road yelling ‘Whisky’ is something summer visitors find only too believable of west-Highland men. They don’t stop long enough to learn it’s his dog’s name.”

p.66 “Frances Pitt, writing in 1946, had seen the last nesting place of the sea eagle in Britain, the west cliffs of North Roe in Shetland. A pair nested there every year until 1908, when a local farmer shot the male. The female, a partial albino,returned each spring until 1918, after which she was seen no more….on Rum, sea eagles were reintroduced in 1975, breeding from 1985. … there’s still only about 200 individuals across the Small Isles, Mull and thereabouts.”

p.73 “At Ardoe, what I took to be a fish hatchery (it’s that too) turns out to be breeding sea urchines… The plan, with the aid of the millions of eggs these urchins produce, is to stock the waters around farmed salmon cages, where they will eat particles of fish food which escaped the salmon in such large quantities, that together with their excreta, make the seas murky for divers. The urchins will also be fed seaweed … bred specifically for the purpose. … the urchins(and seaweed) … can be eaten by us (and in harder times were) where mightthat leave the salmon and the farmers if we all took to eating them. How would Tesco market small purple spiny creatures and sea vegetables that would be pungent in a very short time from harvest?”

p. 89 “Juniper … In the 19th century it was so common here that sacks of berries were sent to market in Inverness and Abedeen, where they were bought by merchants to send to Holland to make their gin, jenever….This plant, to thrive, needs a certain lack of competition from heathers and grasses when seeds set; a controlled grazing provides that; but latterly the glens and corries have suffered from the sheep and are very much overgrazed, meaning the sheep (and deer) will eat the seedlings as soon as they appear. The fact that this has happened for more than one generation means that all the juniper is old and making little, if any seed. The future may only hold extinction; juniper might only be found in captivity – churchyards, botanic gardens.”

p.112 Brecht also wrote: You can’t write poems about trees when the woods are full of policemen.
Fences are absentee policemen.

p. 142 oak trees seem now to need a great deal of light if they are to grow from acorns which fall from trees onto the woodland floor. Sometimes around 1900 there was an accidental introduction into Europe of American oak mildew, which spread to every deciduous oak in Europe. While not deadly in itself, its effect is to add to the burden of oak saplings attempting to grow under a heavy canopy; the combination of mildrew and absence of light does mean death to the saplings … Acorns carried by jays or squirrels outside the woodland, buried and forgotten, grow percectly well. Oaklings now grow happily anywhere except in oakwoods.”

Books Environmental politics Science

Notes from The Soil, By N.K. Davis, N. Walker, D.F. Ball and A.H. Fitter

p. 49 A mycorrhiza is a root infested with a particular type of generally beneficially fungus … The most widespread and ancient type, although not the most familiar, bears the cumbersome name of vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhiza (VAM)… form no visible external structures, so it is impossible to tell if a plant has the association without microscopic examination of stained roots. VAM are formed by a small group of fungi… can only survive in association with the roots of a plant. Their principal distinction is the size of their spores, which are quite enormous by fungal standards – in one species of Gigaspora they are over half a millimetre across, compared to a typical figure for most fungi of around 1/100th of a mm. … most plants that can form VAM do so nuder natural conditions because the fungus appears to offer a solution to an otherwise sever problem – the acquisition of the essential nutrient phosphorus… occurs in soil as phosphate ions which are so sparingly soluble that they move only very slowly through the soil… normally less than a millimetre through soil in a day … Remarkably, fossils of one of the first land plants Rhynia, about 400 million years old, have fungi associated with their rhizomes that appear almost identical to modern VAM fundgi.

p. 51 The best-known nonVAM mycorrhiza “is the ectomycorrhizal or sheathing mycorrhiza, characteristic of many forest trees, especially the Pinacae (pines, spruces, larchs firs), the Betlaceae (birches, alders) and the Fagacae (oaks, beeches).. almost all are toadstools, members of the Basidiomycetes. Some are well known and distinctive, such as fly agaric which forms a mycorrhiza with birch…. Ectomycorrhizal roots are stubby and often fork dichotomously, giving dense clusters. Each root tip is surrounded by a sheath of tightly woven fungal hyphae and other hyphae radiate away from this int the soil… The fine fungal threads penetrate the soil, picking up the immobile phosphate ions and transporting them back to the sheath. Meanwhile the fungal hyphae beneath the sheath, which are in contact with the root cells, obtain sugar from them to feed the fungal tissues.”

p. 52 It does seem that extomycorrhizal trees are better able to colonize poor soils than VAM trees, and this is probably because the former get more benefit from the more active fungi. Of course there is a cost to this: the ectomycorrhizal tree probably has to give up more of the carbon that it fixes than does the VAM tree so the latter may be at an advantage on better soils.
Another remarkable feature of mycorrhizas that has recently come to light is their ability to link plants together. .. BY labelling trees with radioactive isotopes, it has been found that materials can pass from plant to plant by means of these links… there is intriguing evidence that seedlings establish in swards more readily if they become mycorrhizal than if they remain uninfected… If this turns out to be widespread and important phenomenon t may force us to rethink our view of plant communities: ecologists have in the past tended to view them as dominated by intense competition between plants; it may be there is more cooperation than we thought.”

p. 57 Soil fauna – flatworms, rotifers or wheel animalcules, hairy backs, land nemerteans, eelworms, earthworms, bear animalcules (Tardigrada), woodlice, terrestrial sand-hopppers, mites, spiders, millipedes, centipedes.

pp. 158 Like an unpredictable genie, pesticides have proved to be a somewhat mixed blessing, for their overall effects can seldom be fully predicted. There are few if any pesticides that are completely specific to their target organisms: discrimination between harmful and harmless organisms is rarely adequate.

Books Environmental politics History Science

Notes from The Running Hare: The Secret of Farmland by John Lewis-Stempel

p. 25 All farms used to have an untidy corner where machinery went to die, and where thistles and nettles grew. Intensive farming has all but done away with these little no-man’s-land nature reserves; modern farms are as obsessively tidy as showroom Hygena kitchens.”

p. 26 “The Romans, who may well have introduced the hare to Britain, were keen hare-eaters. … Pliny the Elder advocated a diet of hare as a means of increasing sexual attractiveness…. Pliny’s ther proposition concerning hares was almost entirely contradictory: he declared the animals were hermaphrodites – a belief which eventually got worked into Christianity. Hares are a recurrent motif in British church architecture, standing for reproduction without loss of virginity .. p105 As with many animals sacred to older religions, medieval Christians changed the hair into an animal f ill-omen, saying witches shape-shifted into hare form to suck cows dry. Sailors considered hares so unlucky they could not be mentioned at sea. And not just sailors; country folk refused to call the hare by its name. p. 227 Hares have large hearts to enable them to achieve such speed. Up to 1.8% of body weight, compared to 0.3% for a rabbit.”

p. 56 “how ploughmen used to tell whether the earth was warm enough to sow (they’d drop their trousers and sit on the ground: if the bare bottom could bare the earth it was warm enough.”

p. 84 To walk behind a horse and harrow is to bring one into accord with all the ages. .. In harrowing half an acre Willow [Shetland pony] and I walk five miles. No one except kings and clergy was fat in the time of the horse… I am happy harrowing, an emotional state which may, according to scientists at the University of Bristol, be enhanced by soil itself. A specific soil bacterium, Mycobacteriyum vaccae, activates a set of serotonin-releasing neurons in the dorsal raphe nucles of the brain, the same ones targeted by Prozac. You can get an effective dose of Mycobacterim by walking in the wild, or gardening. “
p. 126 “The first wildflowers in my personal ploughland … are scarlet pimpernel, and common field speedwell, both delicate bejewelled creepers over ground, one red, the other blue. Their seed has been harboured safe in the earth for years: common field speedwell can germinate after 20 years. … as common on roadside verges as it is in arable fields, and travellers in years gone by sewed the flower into the lining of their coats as a charm.”

p. 137 Corn marigold is as old as British agriculture itself, since it was probably brought here by the Neolithic people. Arable farmers, however, have never warmed to its sunny splendour, since the fleshy leaves impeded the harvest reaping. Henry II issued an ordinance against “a certain plant called Gold”, requiring tenants t uproot it, which was probably the earliest enactment demanding the destruction of a weed. In A Boke of Husbandry, 1523, John Fitzherbert included ‘Gouldes’ in his blacklist of plants that ‘doe muche harme’.”
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