Tag Archives: pollution

Leaf blowers – disturbing the peace and fatal to insects?

There is a petition doing the rounds at the moment hosted by the 38 Degrees organisation calling for a ban on leaf blowers, citing their detrimental effect on insects as the raison d’etre.  I’ve signed it, mainly because of the noise and the air pollution effects, especially as “Leaf Blower Man” goes past my office frequently at this time of year😊

The Leaf Blower Man in action outside my office and the aftermath – I wonder what happens to the leaves next?

You may, (or perhaps not), be wondering what has brought about this most recent media outburst against leaf blowers.  Taking this as a great opportunity to procrastinate still further, I tracked down the first media mention about the dangers of leaf blowers to a newspaper article published in the German newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine on November 14th in which it reported a press release, dated the 16th October, from The German Ministry for the Environment and Nature Conservation, strongly advising people not to use leaf blowers because of the danger they  cause to the environment, not just from pollution but because of the harm they do to insects and other small animals.

Der Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz (BUND) fordert nun nicht nur Privatleute, sondern auch die Kommunen zum Verzicht auf den Einsatz auf: „Laubbläser sind nicht nur ohrenbetäubend laut und verschmutzen die Luft durch ihre Verbrennungsmotoren, sie schaden auch der Bodenbiologie gravierend“, sagt die Artenschutzexpertin des BUND, Silvia Bender. „Denn neben Blättern werden auch Insekten und Spinnen aufgesaugt und gehäckselt sowie Pflanzensamen zerstört.“ Ohnehin seien die Geräte überflüssig: „Wir empfehlen daher Grundstücksbesitzern und auch Kommunen dringend, auf Laubbläser und Laubsauger zu verzichten und stattdessen wieder zu Rechen und Harke zu greifen.“”

“The Federal Government for the Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND) now demands not only private individuals, but also the communities to abandon the use: “Leaf blowers are not only deafening loud and pollute the air through their internal combustion engines, they also harm the soil biology seriously,” says the species protection expert of the BUND, Silvia Bender. “In addition to leaves and insects and spiders are sucked up and chopped and plant seeds destroyed.” Anyway, the devices are superfluous: “We therefore recommend landowners and communities urgently to dispense with leaf blower and leaf vacuum and instead to rake and rake again.”

If you want to read the original source it is here; it also extols the virtues of the exercise you gain from raking up your leaves 😊

Although it had taken almost a month for the German press to latch on to the story, presumably they were waiting for autumn to properly kick-in; BBC World ran with the story on 15th November and the first British Newspapers by  18th November and a feature piece by Kate Bradbury in the Daily Telegraph appeared on November 26th which finally prompted me to put fingers to keyboard 😊

Kate mentioned in her article that there was no scientific evidence that leaf blowers directly harmed insects and after spending some time with Google Scholar and Web of Science, I can confirm this. Perhaps someone might like to do a project on it?  I’m sure it might appeal to a keen undergraduate or MSc student.  Kate correctly points out that leaves form leaf litter and as she aptly puts it “are natures’ winter blanket” providing shelter for countless animals. Including vertebrates. Those insects that overwinter on the ground, or in the upper layers of the soil, despite their fantastic anti-freeze chemistry (Leather et al., 1983) are also very grateful for a nice thick layer of leaves to help buffer the effects of a cold winter and keep them hidden from natural enemies (Thomas et al., 1992). Additionally, leaf litter also provides a valuable food source for the very important, and often overlooked ecological recyclers such as the soil dwelling flies (Frouz, 1999) and of course, the invaluable and underappreciated earthworms (Cothrel et al., 1997).  An example of how important leaf litter is for insect survival, is the way in which the horse chestnut leaf miner can be controlled in gardens and parks by the removal of the leaves from under infested trees as soon as leaf fall has ended (Kehrli & Bacher, 2003).  Leaf blowers may not be harming insects and other invertebrates physically, (although I imagine that being blasted by what must seem like a hurricane, can’t be a totally benign experience), but they certainly have the potential to reduce their populations, which given the current worries about Insectageddon (Leather, 2018), Is not something we should be happy to encourage.

So, if they are not physically damaging our invertebrate friends, and there is, as yet, no scientific evidence that they do so, how are leaf blowers harming insects and their allies.  Leaf litter is an invaluable resource, it not only provides nutrients for plants and helps sequester carbon (Berg & McLaugherty, 2008), and as I mentioned earlier, it provides livelihoods for fungi, bacteria, insects and other invertebrates, and the litter grazers in turn, provide tasty meals for other invertebrates further up the food chain* (Scheu, 2001; Miyashita et al., 2003).  By removing fallen leaves to satisfy health and safety directives and/or some folks preferences for tidy pavements and lawns, we are at the same time as we pollute our atmosphere with nasty hydrocarbons, depriving these useful organisms of much-needed resources ☹ Whilst I sympathise with local councils and their desire to keep their citizens safe from potentially slips and falls, I really don’t see the need for leaf-free lawns and parks.

Shiny, leaf-free (almost), and safe for humans versus beautiful, leaf strewn and good for earthworms and their ilk and aesthetically pleasing (to me at any rate).

And if you must keep your pavements leaf-free then why not use a quieter and less polluting alternative such as a human with a stiff broom or if a mechanical alternative is the only option, then an electrically powered mechanical road-sweeper is an acceptable substitute.

I like this one as it is a Scarab 😊

Leaf blowers have been used to harm insects, albeit on a larger scale than that wielded by the local council worker or gardener, and in conjunction with a vacuum device.  Inspired by the use of tractor driven vacuum machines developed to control Lygus bugs in strawberry fields (Pickel et al., 1994), Phyllis Weintraub and colleagues (Weintraub et al., 1996) developed a tractor-propelled blower-vacuum combi to manage insect pests in celery and potato crops. The insects are first dislodged by a blower and then vacuumed up for later disposal ☹  More recently, a similar technique has been used to control Colorado Potato Beetles.

There may be no scientific evidence to show that leaf blowers used as intended are bad for insects but on the other hand there is no evidence that shows the opposite, and given the noise and atmospheric pollution they produce and the undoubted harm they cause by litter, my sympathies lie with those wanting to ban the things.

I think that most entomologists would say that the only good leaf blower is one that has been reverse engineered to be a G-Vac and used for insect sampling.  I suspect that insects would have a different opinion as most of those insects we catch usually end up dead, even if it is for the good of science 😊

My colleague Andy Cherrill demonstrating his patent G-vac or ‘Chortis’ as we call it 😊

 

References

Berg, B. & McClaugherty, C. (2008) Plant Litter – Decomposition, Humus Formation, Carbon Sequestration. Springer, Berlin 338 pp.

Cothrel, S.R., Vimmerstedt, J.P. & Kost, D.A. (1997) In situ recycling of urban deciduous litter. Soil Biology &Biochemistry, 29, 295-298.

Frouz, J. (1999) Use of soil dwelling Diptera (Insecta, Diptera) as bioindicators: a review of ecological requirements and response to disturbance. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 74, 167-186.

Kehrli, P. & Bacher, S. (2003) Date of leaf litter removal to prevent emergence of Cameraria ohridella in the following spring.  Entomologia experimentalis et applicata, 107, 159-162.

Leather, S.R. (2018) “Ecological Armageddon” – more evidence for the drastic decline in insect numbers. Annals of Applied Biology, 172, 1-3.

Leather, S.R., Bale, J.S. & Walters, K.F.A. (1993) The Ecology of Insect Overwintering. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Miyashita, T., Takada, M. & Shimazaki, A. (2003) Experimental evidence that above ground predators are sustained by underground detritivores. Oikos, 103, 31-36.

Pickel, C., Zalom, F.G., Walsh, D.B. & Welch, N.C. (1994) Efficacy of vacuum machines for Lygus Hesperus (Hemiptera: Miridae) control in coastal California strawberries. Journal of Economic Entomology, 87, 1636-1640.

Scheu, S. (2001) Plant and generalist predators as links between the below-ground and above-ground system. Basic & Applied Ecology, 2, 3-13.

Thomas, M.B., Sotherton, N.W., Coombes, D.S. & Wratten, S.D. (1992) Habitat factors influencing the distribution of polyphagous predatory insects between field boundariesAnnals of Applied Biology, 120, 197-202.

Weintraub, P.G., Arazi, Y. & Horowitz, A.R. (1996) Management of insect pests in celery and potato crops by pneumatic removal.  Crop Protection, 8, 763-769.

 

 

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How to ruin the planet in three easy steps

In the space of a week I came across three items that made me despair even more than I normally do for the healthy future of our planet.  Coincidentally I was reading Neal Stephenson’s novel Seveneves, which is also about the environmental destruction of the Earth as we know it, albeit by an external disaster and not by our own efforts.  In his novel, the World’s leaders come together to save some of humanity and the planet’s genetic resources, and not destroy it as we seem hellbent on doing.

Item 1

Browsing in a local supermarket I came across what was to me, a new phenomenon, so-called Smartwater!

planet-1

This is an example of how the fetish/obsession for bottled water has gone way over the top

Step 1 – find a natural spring
Step 2 – extract the water
Step 3 – distil the water to remove the natural ‘impurities’ (sodium, calcium carbonates etc. which are electrolytes) by steam distillation (requires energy, probably from non-renewable sources)
Step 4 – put back the minerals (electrolytes) that were removed by the distillation process
Step 5 – bottle in plastic (not glass) bottles
Step 6 – sell at inflated prices to mugs

What is wrong with tap water folks? 😦  If as some feel, that the tap water has a strong taste of chlorine, leave it overnight before using it.

Item 2

The belief by some commentators and members of the UK  electorate, that the European Union has environmental policies designed to thwart  business rather than protecting the environment.

planet-2

 

Item 3

The long-running debate about where to site another runway in the UK to expand runway capacity by 2030.  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/09/heathrow-airport-expansion-plan-may-be-put-to-free-cabinet-vote

planet-3

Not a beautiful morning, rather a sign writ large upon the sky, of how much environmental harm we are doing to the planet.

Rather than expanding runways and airports to encourage growth in air-traffic and the use of fossil fuels, we should be thinking of ways to cut it and reduce our carbon footprint.  Cat Stevens was thinking about this very issue in 1971 in his fantastic song “Where do the Children Play?”

Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass.
For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas.
And you make them long, and you make them tough.
But they just go on and on, and it seems that you can’t get off.

Oh, I know we’ve come a long way,
We’re changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?”

 

On the plus side some nations seem to be taking a more responsible approach to the exploitation of finite resources.  I am happy to say France, the location of our future retirement home, is leading the way in reducing the use of plastics.  They are also way ahead of us in encouraging the use of solar energy by homeowners.

planet-4

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/france-becomes-the-first-country-to-ban-plastic-plates-and-cutlery-a7316816.html

It was also cheering to see that others share my views about the evils of air travel, as shown by the following two letters from the Guardian newspaper.  Perhaps all is not lost.

planet-5

planet-6

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/12/the-world-needs-leaders-who-refuse-to-fly-not-another-airport-runway-for-the-uk

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Mee(a)ting Issues with the British Ecological Society – Why I boycotted the 2015 Annual Meeting

Normally at this time of year I would be recovering from the enjoyable after-effects of the British Ecological Society (BES) annual meeting, too much talking, too much eating, too much coffee, too much beer and wine and not enough sleep.

This year however, I denied myself the traditional end to the academic year as I decided to boycott the meeting. As someone who has, since 1977, missed only a handful of meetings, this was a big personal sacrifice, but I felt very strongly that I needed to make a protest , hence the one person boycott! So what prompted this action?

I was fully intending on attending the meeting in Edinburgh, having spent ten years living in Peebles and working at the Forest Research Station at Roslin, Edinburgh is full of pleasant memories for me. I logged on to the site to register for the meeting and was stunned and annoyed to come across this statement:

Food Policy In an effort to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the BES has decided to remove all farmed ruminant meat from its catering. Ruminants and their farming are key producers of methane. We run several large events a year, serving thousands of meals to participants and are keenly aware of the impact of human activity on natural systems. We will continue to cater for non-vegetarians, but will remove farmed ruminant meat from menus and will also only serve MSC certified fish. We take seriously our commitment to greening our events and hope you understand and support our decision. For more information on the background to this decision, read the paper by Ripple, W.J. et al: Ruminants, climate change and climate policy. – See more at: http://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/events/current_future_meetings/2016-annual-symposium/registration/#sthash.WioDx4lA.dpuf

Two things about this statement really got my goat (ruminant pun intended) – first, the non-democratic nature of this decision, the membership were never polled about this and second, the patronising and insulting statement, “We will continue to cater for non-vegetarians” This is tantamount to the comments by the vegan Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Kerry McArthy who suggested that meat eaters should be treated like smokers. As ecologists, and presumably all scientists with some biological background, the people running the BES know that we are omnivores by nature, look at our dentition and gut structure folks!

Meat Fig 1

 

I would also point out that the UK dairy herd is bigger (1.9 million) than the beef herd (1.5 million) and that you can’t have one without the other. The UK is the world’s tenth largest producer of milk (2.2%). So why not ban all dairy products and make delegates drink their tea and coffee black or with a vegetable based milk substitute? What about ruminant derived products? Whilst we are about it, how about penalizing delegates wearing wooly jumpers, leather shoes, leather belts and carrying their cash in leather wallets, purses and handbags?

I raised my concerns via Twitter and Facebook and did have a minor discussion with Andrew Beckerman, the chair of the Meetings Committee, but to no real satisfaction. I pointed out that why should people who enjoy beef and lamb be singled out, when those BES members who fly and drive everywhere were not targeted? I made the decision many years ago that I would not fly if at all possible, basically unless work dictated it, and as a result have flown (including return flights) only six times in the last twenty years. I recycle obsessively and my foreign travel is by train, ferry or Skype! So yes, tropical field work and international conferences on the other side of the world are a thing of the past, but I see no need for flying visits by western ecologists to indulge in brief exotic field work. Either go for the duration of the study or stay at home and discover the wonders of your own back yard, or rather than be an ecological imperialist, trust the local scientists to collect the data for you to number crunch. Or if you feel that your presence is indispensable, then go by ship and take the opportunity to write and read papers on the way 🙂

Although Ripple et al (2014) make a convincing case for slowing down greenhouse gas emissions by reducing ruminant production they do so from the highly biased minority viewpoint of those with “ecological privilege” (Nevins, 2014). They thus singularly fail to address the equally effective and more attainable actions that can be made by targeting travel, especially by air and private motoring Girod et al., 2012). There are over 100,000 flights a day and air travel is set to double by the year 2050 despite the fact that fossil fuels (oil at any rate) will run out in about 40-50 years (the former estimate according to the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, the latter by BP). One might ask then why do we have politicians wanting to build more airports and runways? As an ecologist this does not compute, but then looking at how many of my colleagues boast about their cheap flights compared with my more expensive rail trips, perhaps it does. As Nevins (2014) points out, a privileged few enjoy the ability to travel quickly and comfortably (although I would dispute the comfortably) around the world to conferences and field sites and this has a very significant effect on carbon emissions. Nevins calculated the carbon emissions generated by the Association of American Geographers to attend their 2011 meeting in Seattle as 5,352 metric tons, pointing out that the annual total per capita carbon emissions from energy consumption in Haiti is 210 kg and for Bangladesh 290 Kg, i.e. the air travel alone to and from the Seattle conference per delegate was more about three times the total annual emissions of an average Haitian or Bangladeshi which by any standard is unbalanced and profligate. Whilst other travel forms are amenable to very large future reductions in carbon emissions by improvements in technology, the evidence is that air travel will prove intractable and that the only feasible way forward is to drastically reduce flights made (Girod et al., 2012, 2013). Given that only 2-3% of the world’s population flies internationally (Peeters et al., 2006), this would seem a realistic aim and cause less harm to livelihoods and ways of life of people in less developed nations (note that 31 % of the global cattle herd are found in India, compared with 0.35% in the UK – Table 1). Unfortunately, although many of this wealthy airborne 2-3% are keen to embrace ‘light green habits’ such as home recycling and composting, they are the most likely to indulge in long distance flights and not want to be denied the ‘privilege’ of flying (Barr et al., 2010).

I don’t think that it is in the BES’s remit to impose life style choices on its membership by banning particular food groups. If the BES directorate want to make an environmental point using food as an example, then perhaps they should concentrate on food miles instead and serve locally sourced meat and seasonal vegetables. Delegates at the Edinburgh meeting could then have enjoyed the excellent Scottish beef that is available served with ‘tatties and neeps’ and perhaps also have experienced that particularly Scottish delicacy, the Scotch pie 🙂

Meat Fig 2

I do hope that the BES will reconsider their food policy as I would hate to have to miss any of the many excellent meetings scheduled for 2016.

References

Barr, S., Shaw, G., Coles, T. & Prillwitz, J. (2010) “A holiday is a holiday”: Practicing sustainability, home and away. Journal of Transport Geography, 18, 474-481.

Girod, B., van Vuuren, D.P. & Detman, S. (2012) Global travel within the 2oC climate target. Energy Policy, 45, 152-166.

Girod, B., van Vuuren, D.P. & Hertwich, E.G. (2013) Global climate targets and future consumption level: an evaluation of the required GHG intensity. Environmental Research Letters, 8, 014016.

Nevins, J. (2014) Academic jet-setting in a time of climate destabilization: ecological privilege and professional geographic travel.   The Professional Geographer, 66, 298-310.

Peeters, P., Gössling, S. & Becken, S. (2006) Innovation towards tourism sustainability: Climate change and aviation. International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, 1, 184-200

Ripple, W.J., Smith, P., Haberl, H., Montzka, S.A., McAlpine, C. & Boucher, D.H. (2014) Ruminants, climate change and climate policy. Nature Climate Change, 4, 2-5.

 

Post script

Some meaty facts for the British Ecological Society to ruminate upon.

Meat Fig 3

The global cattle herd peaked in 1990 and has been declining, albeit gradually, ever since.

Meat Fig 4

There are approximately 1 billion sheep in the world, of which 187,000,000 (18%) are in China; in the UK there are 22,900,000. There are 674,000,000 goats in the world, most of which are in the tropics.

Post post script

Annual UK total GHG  emissions from meat eating are 17,052,000 metric tonnes per year, CO2 emissions alone from cars is 164,500,000, almost ten times more and aviation not far behind agriculture.

UK emissions

Post post post script

Here is a link to a paper that suggests increasing beef production could lower greenhouse gas emissions, at least in Brazil – http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate2916.html

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