A Meadow of Roses and a Meadow of Grasses and Wildflowers

A world filled with contrasts.

Imagine a meadow filled with roses! 

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Photo: By Gavin McWilliam

The Savill Garden is an enclosed part of  Windsor Great Park in England. The garden was created in the 1930s by Eric Savill and you find woodland, ornamental areas with a range of different gardens such as the New Zealand Garden, as well as a pond.

In 2011, a new contemporary rose garden was designed by Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam. The garden can be described as a meadow of roses. The scent of 2, 500 different rose bushes is filling the air. A leisurely stroll through a perfumed meadow  on a warm summer’s day is surely one of the most delightful experiences in life.

The roses are planted in big bold drifts of deep plum and soft pinks, apricots and tangerine orange, and pale yellow and white. The roses are surrounded by yew hedges and drifts of ornamental grasses.

Imagine a meadow filled with grasses and wildflowers.

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Photo: Mark Robinson  Meadow flowers in a Dorset field.

Meadows are an intrinsic part of the UK’s natural heritage. Once upon a time, you would find natural wildflower meadows in every parish. Today, only around 2 percent of the meadows that were found in the UK in the 19302 remain. And many of the grasslands are not rich in species anymore. Wildflowers meadows are still being destroyed and threatened by urbanisation,  agricultural practices, invasive species and climate change.

Meadows support a range of wildlife apart from wildflowers, for example,  birds, bats, fungi, bees, flies, beetles, spiders, moths, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals. Meadows that are rich in genetic diversity and species also store carbon and help with water retention to prevent flooding and they are also a habitat for crop pollinators. Losing the wild flowers means that we lose access to traits that could help to build resilience in our crops.

Meadows are also important for their beauty. Meadows filled with swaying cornfield flowers have inspired writers such as Constable and Shakespeare. And meadows continue to inspire poets, writers, and artists.

A wildflower meadow in your garden can offer an alternative to lawns and borders.You can create an annual meadow and this works well in rich soil. Perfect if you are converting an old border into a meadow. Perennials  thrive on poor soils and the grasses compete less with the wildflowers.

Sarah Raven is an English gardener, cook, writer and TV presenter, go here to read an article written by her about how to create a mini wildflower meadow. Happy planning and planting.

Happy planning and planting.

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Photo: Samuel John  Meadow

 

Lack of Sand

Are you taking sand for granted?

It might be easy to overlook the beauty of sand, and it might also be easy to think that there is sand in abundance. Surely we, will never ever run out of the sand.

But we are running out of these little gems. If you look at grains of sand in the microscope a colourful and beautiful world emerges and each grain of sand tells a story about the Earth. Where does it come from? Where is is going?

Shell on the sand covered by the ocean waves
Shell on the sand covered by the ocean waves

Sand is used in many different products, from plastics to food and toothpaste. The construction industry has an insatiable appetite for sand which is used to make concrete. The construction of highways is another huge industry that uses an enormous amount of sand. 

Sand of originates from the mountains. The beaches in Europe are filled with grains of sand that come from the Alps of the Pyrenees. Millions of yeas of erosion have created stones and sooner or later ends up the sea. Once a stone reaches the sea  it is slowly transformed and eroded and eventually it becomes a grain of sand. Waves and tides transport the sand and it ends up on the beach.

To satisfy the demands, the attention has turned into digging for sand in the seabeds. There are several problems linked to using sand from the seabed. Firstly, valuable sea organisms live in sand,  sea turtles and small fish, and the whole ecosystem can collapse if you use this sand. Another problem is that the sand layer is often very thin. Finally, sand is constantly moving and if you dig out sand from the seabed, the howl will quickly be filled with sand take is transported via the waves and tides from the beaches. This means that the beaches will begin to shrink.

There is also sand that is regarded as bad sand since the grains are round  desert sand. A country like the United Arab Emirates has therefore bought sand from Australia to build artificial islands despite that the country is located in the desert and surrounded by sand.Thus, there is a huge demand for certain types of sand which highlight the importance of changing our perception of  sand as something that can be used endlessly.

If we continue to remove sand from the beaches, the effects of climate change will be even worse. In Indonesia, 26 islands have so far disappeared due to sand mining. So it is time to search for new materials that can be used instead of sand.

Today, the use of copper slag as a substitute for sand in the production of concrete is widespread in Singapore. This approach has opened the door to the use of both natural and non-natural aggregates. I looks like it is possible to use both recycled and waste materials instead of sand to make concrete.

You can read more about the approach used in the video below here.

 

Health Benefits of Nature

Research into the importance of nature for health started about 20-30 years ago. The environmental psychologists and couple Rachel and Stephen Kaplan from the US were pioneers and they showed that being in nature could have restorative as well as reconstructive effects. There was even evidence that an aquarium or pictures of nature in health care facilities could have a positive impact on both patients and staff. Access to the greenery in the office also made employees less stressed, more satisfied with their jobs, and more creative.
Today, in Sweden research is conducted in Alnarp in Skåne and SLU in Umeå that supports the idea that we feel positive effects when we spend time in green outdoor environments or in the forest. Research carried out in Sweden shows positive effect on preschool children, school children and the elderly, where concentration, motor skills, balance are some characteristics that improve when they spend time outdoors. In today’s information society, the brain daily sorts a large amount of information, so-called. directed attention. If it becomes too much, we can suffer severe stress and fatigue. In contrast, when we are out in the forest or wood, we experience something called “spontaneous fascination”. These impressions can be, for example, to see butterflies, hear birds, feel the leaves, smell and breathe fresh air. Although the forest, seaside or meadow offers much information, it seems as if the information does not require the same attention and energy of our brain. It becomes instead a recovery.

What happens physically in our bodies when we are out in the woods?

Nature:

  • Reduces stress and improves recovery.
  • Relaxation, power replenishment. Spontaneous fascination and restorative effects.
  • Reduces pain.
  • Increase motivation for physical activity.
  • Strengthens the immune system.
  • Contributes to increased socio-economic values and social sustainable development.
  • Decreases aggressive behaviour.
  • Improves learning, memory and concentration in people of all ages.
  • Social Ecologists demonstrate the importance of green space in the urban environment. To be close to a green space (no more than 250-300 meters away) have major socio-economic values. This is something that is receiving more and more attention when planning new residential areas.

So make sure that you regularly visit your local forest or wood. Nature is there when you need it.

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Searching for the Lost Meaning

New Year and New Ideas

Cirrus clouds are beautifully reflected in the smooth water of the ocean lagoon. Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon in Iceland
Cirrus clouds are beautifully reflected in the smooth water of the ocean lagoon. Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon in Iceland

One of the hallmarks of a creative approach to thinking is to re-examining and re-thinking your foundation. As it happened I stumble upon the insightful book, After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene by Jedediah Purdy on New Year’s Eve. It provided  new angles that can be explored during this year.

Jedediah  says that we need to re-examine our relationship with nature to solve problems related to climate change. This may sound like an even greater challenge but he shows in his book that our relationship with nature has throughout history been flexible, and we have imagined our relationship with the natural world in several different ways.

Today, many of us sees the natural world as a connected and interdependent whole, yet the threats related to climate change may lead to a shift from this view. Deep and difficult problems may change who we are. This shift in our relationship with nature need to be political according to Jedidiah.

Last year I devoted time to understand how nature solve problems and these words challenged in a positive way that approach. Biomimicry is an approach where you can get ideas to solve problems, it is not an approach where we strive towards mimicking nature. Therefore it is important to be clear about what it is that inspired our new ideas and solutions. The re-thinking that the book, After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene, inspired comes from the idea and suggestion that nature no longer exists apart from humanity. Consequently, the world we will inhabit is the one we have made.

“No part of the natural world tells us how to value it, let alone how to live and relate to one another.”

Jebediah challenges the approach that we can look in nature for our own values, which can be seen in ideas such as paleo diets, ad “natural capitalism”. We can learn from nature and natural systems but these ideas are simply a certain reading of of our own economy back into the natural world. Simply because we find something in the natural world does not mean that we should embrace the general lesson. Certain things in nature are cruel, such as ants that uses the pupae of the colonies they raid, and these ideas can be misused.

The challenges we face require that we create and develop ways to deal with a damaged and ever-changing world.

Go here to read an interview with the author at “The Atlantic”.

Daydreamer’s Science

“Clouds are thoughts without words.”

Mark Strand

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Clouds are constantly changing. merging, rising. falling and spreading. The same shape is rarely kept for more than a few minutes.

Cloudy days may help of think more clearly. Perhaps the dancing clouds are inspiring our creative thoughts to merging and change, while the blue sky and sunshine lures us into taking risks and not thinking things through. You can read more about things that may influence our thoughts in Adam Alter’s book Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave.

In the short TED-Ed talk below, Richard Hamblyn takes about how the clouds got their names. He is the author of the book The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies.

Go here to read about a fascinating cloud called Undulatus Asperatus, or “roughened waves”.

How can the Accountancy Profession Help Conservation? What is Natural Capital?

 How should we use the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things?

If you spend too much of your money, you run the risk of bankruptcy. In a similar way, we run the risk of the collapse of local, regional and global ecosystem if we take out too much of the natural resources without allowing or providing nature with a change to recover. We can try to pay back our debt by planting trees or giving nature time to clean water.  Also, we can embrace ideas from Blue Economy, where the aim is to get rid of the need to use resources (Green economy focus on developing methods that are environmentally friendly).

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Why use a term like Natural Capital?

Is it possible to put monetary values on nature?

Natural capital is an valuation of ecosystems. There are several different ecosystem and each organism has its’ own niche, or role to play. Some ecosystems may be less obvious like the pollination of crops by insects, while others are more familiar such as the food chain.

“It is time to recognize that human capital and natural capital are every bit as important as financial capital”

Ban Ki-moon Secretary-General United Nations

Nature is priceless yet this is not a strong argument to convince companies or governments to make positive changes. Calculating the value of natural capital is one approach to show why it is important to value natural resources, for example, it is estimated that insect pollination is worth  US$190 billion a year to global agricultural output, and a report by the UN in 2010 The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, calculated the value of insect pollination to £134 billion (153bn Euros). To make an impact on a more personal level, the monetary value of insect pollination could be calculated per person. Thus, different approaches could be used depending upon who is going to use the numbers. There is a need for businesses to quantify and value its impact on ecosystems, but also a need to ensure that each and every one of us realize the value. Only by working together on several levels, can we enable a better future for all of us.

Accountants have knowledge that can be used to quantify and value of natural resources. This area within the accountancy profession is important and accountants can actually help to connect the world of natural capital accountancy with how business leaders think and report their performance to the investors and stakeholders. Putting natural capital at the core of decision-making, is one approach to deliver sustainable business models.

On 23-24 of Nov 2015, there is a conference in Edinburgh about Natural Capital. Go here to read more.

There are a couple of blog posts about value on this blog, go here to read more.

Wildlife Thriving around Chernobyl!

In the animal world it seems that the impact of human activity is worse than
the negative effects of radiation!

This somewhat surprising conclusion can be drawn from a recent study of the effects that the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl have had on larger animals. Deer, elks, foxes and wild boars have settled on the site since around 116,000 people fled in 1986. Wolves are seven times as common as in other nearby areas in Belarus and Ukraine. Strangely this place that is linked to so many horrible images and memories have been taken over by animals.  A people-free place where animals can thrive without fearing our activity.

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Photo: Pixabay

It seems that the negative effects on animal populations were not as large as the effects on humans.  This is not the same as saying that the nuclear disaster did not have an impact on wildlife. But the worst impacts on radiation on animals took place the first couple of years after the accident. For example, cattle died after eating grass that had been contaminated with the iodine.  Also mice suffered  many more miscarriages.

The study shows the resilience of nature to deal with things and the impact that other human activities can have may actually be worse such as hunting or agriculture.  The estimated radiation that animals in the area that has been worst hit by the nuclear disaster have stabilized at around milligray per day, which is approximately one tenth of the dose that you would receive if you had an abdominal CT scan. Of course, the long-term effects of a lower daily dose  could still lead to genetic changes that we simply do not see yet. Thus, it is important to remember that although some animals may be thriving in the deserted areas, radiation may have an impact on mutation rates. Currently research is conducted on fish in the area that is compared to control groups in uncontaminated areas. The impact on insects may also be different and a decline in the number of insects have been seen in the affected areas.

Could the animals in the area have developed resistance to radiation?  Probably not since these are large animals that were studied and they breed rather slowly. Yet, the results are surprising and mind-boggling. And also sad because the results highlights the enormous impact our everyday activities have upon wildlife. The results highlights the importance of wild areas and this was not one of the conclusions I expected to draw based on results from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.