Archive for June, 2008

On the urbanisation (and significance of) birdsong

Monday, June 30, 2008

From the Guardian -

New research shows that male birds trying to compete with traffic and city sounds are singing louder and at increasingly higher frequencies, which could harm their vocal cords and hearing. As a result their songs are becoming more chaotic and less diverse, which makes them less attractive to female birds and damages their mating opportunities. Some birds, including robins, are choosing to sing at night instead of during the day. This not only makes them more vulnerable to attack but, because the birds need to be awake in daylight hours to feed, creates stress and exhaustion.

‘The difference between urban and rural birdsong is becoming so great that the two groups could now be unable to communicate, leading to inbreeding and a weakened gene pool,’ said Dr Sue Anne Zollinger, of the University of St Andrews, who has studied the impact of environmental noise on birds’ song learning and development. A group sharing a small gene pool, said Zollinger, was less likely to be able to adapt quickly to new diseases or environmental pressures, putting them at risk of being wiped out.

[...]

Mark Constantine, author of The Sound Approach to Birding and founder of the Sound Approach database, the fourth-largest natural sound archive in the world, said: ‘Birdsong is used as an indicator of quality of life and has been proved to reduce our blood pressure. When we live in the centre of large, urban areas, we get more stressed and it’s extremely good to have birdsong around us. The impact on humans of birdsong is massive. It harms us, as well as the birds, if their songs become simpler, shriller and louder.’

Having recently moved to a rural village from London, it’s not only the birdsong that’s different (it’s more varied, given the greater variety of birds – which is nourishing). The pace of life is noticeably different, of course.  But it’s also, I’m sure, people’s capacity to perceive the variety in their surroundings; how much of urban life is given over to an ever-narrowing focus on human fashions, technologies, and discourses, marginalising the ‘more-than-human’ world? And marginalisation of the more-than-human world tends to equate with a high environmental impact: as Lucy Siegle pointed out in a parallel article, urban noise is highly correlated with our so-called ‘carbon intensity’.

Gooooooooooaaaaaaallllll!!!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

On this evening, when Spain won their first major soccer title for 44 years, here’s a fun video to celebrate -

Now you know how many will feel when Obama is elected President.

The Woodland of Wishes in today’s Guardian

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mark Cocker’s Country Diary -

Our neighbouring parish is laced around a rather confusing network of roads where I invariably seem to get lost. But if the village lacks a centre, the villagers themselves certainly don’t lack heart or organisational ability. Last weekend they put on their fifth and, in my opinion, finest sculpture trail. The idea originated more than a decade ago with a more modest project to showcase some of the beautiful gardens in Bergh Apton. The event worked brilliantly and in subsequent years they added a cultural dimension. Now it is one of the biggest sculpture exhibitions in Norfolk and surely one of the most important arts events in any British village.

This year they weren’t blessed with the weather. When the vehicle behind us became mired en route to the car park and its hopelessly spinning tyres set up a thick spray of Norfolk mud, it seemed a perfect metaphor for the wider sense of frustration. Fortunately, on the last of three weekends the sun shone, 1,000 cars filled the field and the roads were thronged with cyclists and walkers.

People at the entrances to the dozen gardens often asked you which was your favourite piece, suggesting a hint of friendly rivalry between the burghers of Apton. I must confess, despite the glorious range and quality of the work, I almost plumped for a non-sculptural feature. No, not the string quartet, nor the brass band, nor the vast throng besieging the ice-cream trailer. The Wishing Trees were an inspired bit of old English animism: we were invited to express our heart’s desire on lengths of calico attached to the spreading limbs of summer greenery. (One touching piece read: “I wish my grandad would come back to live [sic].”) At Bergh Apton last Sunday it certainly felt as if some dreams had come true.

Aspiring to peasantry – how ‘small can be bountiful’

Friday, June 13, 2008

According to Monbiot, who tackles worldwide prejudice against peasanthood:

[...] Though the rich world’s governments won’t hear it, the issue of whether or not the world will be fed is partly a function of ownership. This reflects an unexpected discovery. It was first made in 1962 by the Nobel economist Amartya Sen(2), and has since been confirmed by dozens of further studies. There is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and the amount of crops they produce per hectare. The smaller they are, the greater the yield.

In some cases, the difference is enormous. A recent study of farming in Turkey, for example, found that farms of less than one hectare are twenty times as productive as farms of over ten hectares(3). Sen’s observation has been tested in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Java, the Phillippines, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay. It appears to hold almost everywhere.

The finding would be surprising in any industry, as we have come to associate efficiency with scale. In farming, it seems particularly odd, because small producers are less likely to own machinery, less likely to have capital or access to credit, and less likely to know about the latest techniques.

There’s a good deal of controversy about why this relationship exists. [...]


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