A Driving Instructor's Blog

Nature

Naruto the macaqueThis story beggars belief. It started in 2011, when a British photographer went to Indonesia to photograph macaques. After a bit of bonding, he managed to get the monkeys to press the camera shutter, and the image above is the now infamous “monkey selfie” that has caused the trouble.

In 2014, David Slater, the photographer, asked Wikipedia to remove the image from their site since he had not given permission to use it. Wikipedia – which is renowned for being written by monkeys anyway – refused, arguing that the copyright belonged to the macaque in the photo, and not to Mr Slater.

As an aside, I wonder if Wikipedia got the monkey’s permission to use the photo?

Although the US Copyright Office ruled that animals cannot own copyright, it didn’t stop PETA finding someone who would represent the monkey – whose name is Naruto, by the way – and sue Mr Slater back in 2014. The case has dragged on and on since then. Well, we’re talking about America here, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that you can’t just state the obvious and say that “monkeys can’t own copyright” and throw the case out. As a much more detailed account of the story indicates, if they did that, PETA would just sue again and again. All they’d have to do is find someone else to stand up on the monkey’s behalf, and everything would just kick off again, and since PETA obviously has nothing better to do with its time, it wouldn’t hesitate to do that.

The best part is that no one is actually certain that the monkey, Naruto, is the one in the picture.

With hindsight, it would probably have been better if Mr Slater had not tried to have Wikipedia remove his photo. But then again, why should a bunch of arseholes get everything their own way just because they ARE a bunch of arseholes, and are prepared to prove it to the power of ten by involving other arseholes if you point it out to them?

The big question is: if the monkey won, who’d get the money? What would a monkey do with several million dollars? Buy a huge banana?

I have a solution to this potential nightmare. They should decide in the monkey’s favour, then award all damages to Mr Slater – since he is the only one in all this who actually had the monkeys’ welfare in mind. PETA would win, so it couldn’t sue again, and Mr Slater would not be anywhere near as much out of pocket as he will be if he has to pay the scumbags at PETA.

Unfortunately, I am only joking. If the monkey were to win, there’d be a flood of similar cases as a result of the new precedent. And then we might end up with a Planet of the Apes scenario, where they start to get involved in politics. One might even run for POTUS. Oh, wait…

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Our Silver Birch in June 2017This is getting a lot of hits this year (2017).

Back in 2014, our silver birch tree began to yellow and drop leaves in mid-June! We were worried, and Googling for an answer was next to useless.

Most of the technical advice was North American, and focused either on the Bronze Birch Borer (a beetle that feeds on white birches), or the perils of trying to grow trees in arid and/or swampy regions. Our trees had none of the beetle infestation symptoms other than leaf drop, and although the British never shut up about the bloody weather, we were not growing ours in either a desert or a mangrove swamp.

Since I first wrote this article, I have discovered that yellowing can be caused by two different things. You can’t really do much harm if you just apply both of the remedies I uncovered, though.

The type we had was where the leaves really do turn a bright, canary yellow – just like they do in Autumn – and begin to fall off the tree. As I said, it started in mid-June, and although the yellowing/leaf drop wasn’t as widespread throughout the tree as it is during Autumn proper, it was worrying all the same. I can’t honestly remember where I found this now, but somewhere in the hundreds and hundreds of forum pages and obscure “ask the expert” sites rattling on about the bloody Birch Borer I came across two ideas that made absolute sense, and which can be implemented without calling in David Attenborough and Rentokil.Fertiliser and Iron Treatments

Summer leaf-drop and leaf yellowing is usually caused either by a deficiency of nitrogen in the soil, or a deficiency of iron (or a combination of the two). You can remedy nitrogen deficiency using ericaceous fertiliser (for lime-hating plants, which is what birch trees are). It is available from various manufacturers, such as Miracle-Gro, and can be bought from most decent garden centres and from many online retailers (including eBay and Amazon, where I get mine). It only costs about £6 a box, and there’s enough to manage a handful of trees for at least a year. You can also get liquid and slow-release varieties.

Bear in mind that normal fertiliser is no good – it has to be the ericaceous stuff – and you just dissolve it and water it in around the tree. Remember that the roots extend outwards quite a long way and you’ll need to cover a wide area. The slow-release granules of the same fertiliser are just sprinkled on the ground and watered in, and they apparently work for up to 3 months.

Leaves suffering from chlorosisLeaves that look like the images here are probably suffering from iron deficiency – known as chlorosis. This is easily dealt with by buying some sequestered (or chelated) iron, such as Maxicrop, shown above. It comes as a liquid, and you can mix it with your fertiliser and water it in all in one go. Plants need iron to produce chlorophyll, and since chlorophyll is why the leaves are green, not being able to produce it means the leaves become less green and take on a yellowish hue, especially when lit from behind, eventually looking like those shown.

Close-up of leaves suffering from chlorosisNote also that a soil nutrient deficiency may also lead to new leaves being small and misshapen, instead of the classic Birch leaf shape. Some of ours were like that.

In our case, after a single application of fertiliser treatment, leaf drop stopped immediately in that 2014 season (after the already-dead leaves dropped). The tree even threw out some catkins, which had been absent up until then. In 2015, I started feeding every few weeks from March with both fertiliser and iron and we had no leaf drop at all. In 2016, it was the same, with very fat catkins hanging from the branches, along with quite significant new growth. As of May 2017 our tree is putting out a lot of new leaves and has lots of catkins. The photograph at the top is our tree as it looks in June 2017. And here’s a close-up of the leaves.

Close-up of our tree's leaves in June 2017Does that look healthy, or what? And remember that we had a serious case of summer leaf drop during the same period in 2014!

You can also treat the area around your trees with iron sulphate. This replaces iron in the soil, too, but it also acidifies the ground over time, which is good for ericaceous plants. It’s also good for your lawn – iron sulphate kills moss and makes the grass come through much greener.

It’s funny looking back, but I used to think that if you planted a tree you just forgot about it and let it grow. In fact, it turns out you need to look after them almost as much as you would a tomato plant or an ornamental cactus! And judging by the number of hits I’m getting this year, a lot of other people are just discovering the same.

Let me stress: you have to keep the treatment going about once a month between March and September. And as a final footnote, be aware that in very hot weather or during drought trees can become stressed and a few leaves my yellow and drop. This isn’t too much of a problem, and a weekly deep-watering is all that’s required (hosepipe bans notwithstanding).

Can you rescue leaves which have turned yellow?

No, probably not. Not the ones which are canary yellow, anyway, since they’re already dead and will have to fall off the tree. How long that takes will vary, and a little wind can speed things up. The important thing is that by feeding the tree you can stop any further yellowing – and believe me, the first time you do it the effects will be quite noticeable.

I would imagine that chlorosis could be reversed if it is caught early, since the yellowing is not due to leaves dying – they’re just iron-deficient. In that case, you might be able to save some yellowed leaves by applying the chelated iron treatment. However, if not treated then the leaves do die and fall off easily once they are predominantly yellow.

Do you have to keep treating the trees?

Yes. If you don’t, the problem just comes back depending on how long the previous treatment lasts for, and that is dependent on how bad the deficiency is, how big your trees are, what else is growing there, and how your soil drains when it rains. Huge trees will suck up all the nutrients, and if you’re raking up and binning the leaves each year nothing gets returned to the soil. It stands to reason, really, but I was as blind to it as anyone else until I encountered the problem.

Treat your trees from March until September. Feed at least once a month (and water regularly in hot weather anyway, as they do need moisture).

Can heat and drought cause them to lose leaves?

Yes. If they are stressed you may get them dropping a few leaves. It’s a good idea to water them deeply during hot, dry periods. Once a week should be enough.

Is there any other way to deal with the problem?

You have to get nutrients and iron back into the soil. Yes, you could use your own mulch or bought compost, but obviously this is not so attractive in a normal garden (removing it is what got you here in the first place). It would also take longer to have an effect. But it would still work, given time.

When do Birch trees normally start to shed their leaves?

The short – and very obvious – answer is: in the Autumn. It can vary a little up and down the country (just as Spring tends to start earlier the further south you are), but in the Midlands they usually start to show sprays of yellow from early October. The leaves will begin to fall from that point – very lightly at first, then increasing as the yellowing spreads.

In 2016 (almost overnight during the first week or so into October), ours produced a lot of yellow on the inside, whereas the outer canopy remained green – it looked rather nice. The neighbours’ trees had much sparser canopies than ours and they had clumps of yellow all over.

Autumn officially begins in mid- to late-September and you probably can’t do much to fix your trees after August if you’ve got the early yellowing problem. I’d still recommend a good feed or two, but not beyond the end of September. But be ready to start feeding from March.

It’s worth noting that a few isolated yellow leaves on a tree which fall in windy weather are not really indicative of a major problem. When you have sprays of yellow, or if you’re losing dozens of leaves in one go, that’s when you should take action.

How do you apply these treatments?

You make up the required solution as directed on the pack, then water it into the area specified. A single watering can is usually spread over 10 square metres (a medium sized tree probably requires watering over as much as 100 square metres). You can also buy mixer units which have a small tank and connect to your garden hose. You put the concentrate into the tank and the device mixes it with water as you spray the ground under your trees.

What I do is make up a concentrate in a 5L container, then use 1L of that in a 15L watering can topped up with water. It’s quicker this way. I put 14 large spoonfuls of Miracle-gro and about 250mls of Maxicrop in the container (marked with 1L divisions) and make up to 5L with water. Once dissolved, I just pour out 1L into my watering can, top up from the garden hose, and evenly spread it over about 10-20 square metres, making sure I include flower beds as well as the lawn. I do it once every four weeks throughout the growing season (March-September).

For the iron sulphate, I dissolve 375g in water in the container made up to 5L, and again use 1L portions in my watering can made up to volume from the hose. I apply this treatment once a month or so – staggered with the fertiliser treatment. Iron sulphate will kill moss within a few hours, so don’t worry about any black patches that appear – it’s just dead moss, which can be raked out.

I try to time applications of fertiliser to just before (or during) rain to be sure it is fully watered in where the tree can get at it. Otherwise, I put the sprinkler on for a bit. I let the iron sulphate go to work on the moss and let the weather take a natural course – acidifying the soil is a longer term thing.

My tree is losing branches and twigs

If the tree is weak then it is understandable that twigs and branches might fall off. Once they’re stronger this will stop.

Another likely problem, though, is crows. Yes, the winged variety. From March they will be nest-building, and they are very, very selective in their choice of twigs for the purpose. We get great amusement watching a pair that have nested near us for the last 10 years or so. They will tear off a hundred twigs and drop them until they get the one they want. It’s nature, so we don’t worry.

Mind you, I’ve never seen a crow carry off a branch – they stick to the smaller stuff – so if your tree is dropping large branches you might need to get a tree surgeon in to have a look at it.

Are the leaves changing early this year?

This was a generic search term used to find the blog in mid-July 2017. The short answer is no, they are not – not in July, anyway.

In hot and dry weather, many trees can become “distressed” and start to shed leaves. Silver birches are affected by this. Also, greenfly infestations can also cause leaves to die and fall. If a lot of leaves are turning yellow on the tree then you have a problem – quite possibly the one which is the main subject of this article. However, a few leaves falling is probably nothing much to worry about.

Update: As of the end of August 2017, it does seem that yellowing has started early this year on some trees. Some birches are showing sprays of yellow, and other tree types are showing sprays of red and yellow.

Update: Autumn yellowing has definitely started as of mid-September. Our Birch, and those of the neighbours, are starting to show sprays of yellow. Many other trees are showing yellow and red. It’s certainly earlier than in the last few years.

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I wonder if anyone proof-reads BBC articles anymore? They’re riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes, with numerous typos thrown in for good measure.The Moon

But it’s the content that has me worried. Take this article, entitled How to see biggest supermoon in almost 70 years.

Well, just like on any other night, the usual trick is to go outside and look upwards towards that big, round, glowing thing in the sky and hope that there aren’t any clouds. I almost feel embarrassed at having to explain this.

Incidentally, the photo above is one I took last year. I didn’t have any trouble finding the moon in this instance, nor did I have to look up how to do it.

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The local BBC News site had a warning after some local troglodytes were seen waving bags at stags in Wollaton Park. Bear in mind that it is the rutting season, and the last thing any sane person needs is a pair of deer antlers up their backside.Stags fighting

But this bit is funny:

Kath George, museum assistant at Wollaton Hall, said…

“Our advice is always the same, no matter what the season, or whether the deer have children with them – DO NOT approach them!

“They are wild animals…”

I always thought a young deer was a fawn. But it seems that we’re now anthropomorphising them for some reason.

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The answer is when it is Trent University – which is more of a glorified sixth form that takes people from around the country instead of just locally. I say this after seeing this story in the week. It laughingly refers to the people ultimately responsible for killing a hedgehog as “researchers”.

In case any Trent University “researchers” are reading this, it is probably worth reminding them what a hedgehog normally looks like.A healthy hedgehog

However, this is what one looks like after Trent University “researchers” have got to it.Hedgehog festooned with a radio and various other tags

The dirty silver thing is a radio transmitter, and the various coloured tags are shrink- or heat-wrapped to the hedgehog’s spines. You have to wonder what sort of retard would attach THAT many tags to a single animal. Well, actually you don’t have to wonder too much when you think of sixth-formers pretending they’re scientists.

Wildlife experts have commented that the coloured tags are far too long and would most likely interfere with the animal’s normal behaviour. They could easily have become entangled. Apparently, the radio transmitter was twisted around the animal when it was found by someone in their garden. Experts have pointed out that such a bulky device would have prevented the animal from crawling under low hedges, gates, and fences, and would thus have put it at risk from predators.

The vet who treated the hedgehog removed TWENTY SIX tags.Tags removed from the animal

The hedgehog was:

…dehydrated, underweight, had mange, severe colitis, broken toes on one foot and [sic] intestinal fluke, and died despite attempts to treat him.

This is the part where you need to make your mind up for yourselves. Do you think that a hedgehog festooned with 26 tags, all of them at least six times longer than its spines, and a radio transmitter the size of a matchbox bearing – if you look at the picture – an antenna which appears to be approximately the same length as the animal itself, is going to be adversely affected?

Or do these two quotes convince you otherwise?

Hugh Warwick from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, which part-funded the study, said: “Over 30 years of work there is no evidence that our research interferes with the well-being of hedgehogs at all.

“The heat-shrink plastic tags that are now the standard marking technique do not require plastic to be melted onto the spines and cause the hedgehog no trouble at all. It is not far off humans getting hair-extensions.”

Nottingham Trent University said: “The animal is completely unhindered and able to go about its activities – such as feeding and breeding – in the usual way.

“Research is crucial to furthering our understanding of the threats hedgehogs face and to develop appropriate responses to those.”

Hugh Warwick is clearly one of those pseudo-scientists who likes to anthropomorphise things. However, I think it is safe to say that what was done to this hedgehog had f__k all to do with human hair extensions (which, incidentally, cause MAJOR problems for humans if done incorrectly).

And Trent University – who are clearly too embarrassed to identify the cretin of a “researcher” responsible – have managed one of those brilliant paradoxes. They say they want to further their understanding of “threats to hedgehogs”. Obviously by becoming one.

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Following on from that story about the Americans shooting a gorilla as a precautionary measure n their attempts to deal with crass stupidity on the part of their citizens, at least the Aussies are more sanguine about such episodes.Crocodile - not necessarily an Australian one

Oh, I know they were looking down their noses at us over that bloody Boaty McBoatface debacle, but they’re still refreshingly down to earth otherwise. As this story today demonstrates quite clearly.

If the victim had survived in this case, then she would automatically have been in the finals for the 2016 Darwin Awards. Such was the level of stupidity on display.

It happened in the Daintree National park, in Northern Queensland. The presence of signs, local warnings about it being a known crocodile habitat, Queensland’s “be croc-wise” safety policy, and I would suspect a fair degree of understanding of the dangers of living in Australia in the first place, not to mention those associated with just being Australian at all did not deter this 47-year old woman from attempting to swim in waist-deep water. At night. It seems that the only thing she didn’t do was bring some extra crocodiles with her just to be sure. Unfortunately for her, though, one of the resident crocs was also taking a swim nearby, and saw its chance for a snack.

Unlike the Americans, who you can almost imagine tripping over themselves to get their guns in order to blow away a gorilla who had not actually made any threatening moves towards a four-year-old (some reports say he was actually three) child whose parents had been so monstrously neglectful as to allow him to climb through a fence and fall into a moat surrounding an enclosure, the Aussies are a little more logical over this incident. A local politician, Warren Enstch, said:

This is a tragedy but it was avoidable. There are warning signs everywhere up there.

You can only get there by ferry, and there are signs there saying watch out for the bloody crocodiles.

You can’t legislate against human stupidity. If you go in swimming at 10 o’clock at night, you’re going to get consumed.

Meanwhile, Australian police have been practising the art of understatement:

We would hold grave fears for the welfare of the woman.

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I saw this on the news this morning. Zoo keepers – sorry, “officials” – shot dead a gorilla in a zoo in Cincinnati, after a four-year-old boy climbed through a barrier and fell into a moat.Harambe - shot dead "just in case" in USA

The gorilla made no threatening moves towards the boy, and was shot as a precaution (hey, this is America, right?) The gorilla, who was named Harambe, was a western lowland gorilla – a critically-endangered species.

No mention is made of the boy’s parents, who really are the ones who should have been in the guns’ sights. What the hell were they doing letting a four-year-old run loose and allowing him do something so ridiculously stupid? And what does it say about the job they’ve done of bringing him up if he was dumb enough to behave this way?

When I was four I wouldn’t have been allowed to run around like that, and especially not in a zoo. And since I can remember when I was four, I wouldn’t have tried to climb into an animal enclosure – my parents would have told me not to, and I would have listened.

Buy hey! This IS America, right?


And it seems I’m not the only one who thinks the child’s parents need a damned good talking to.

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I was doing a bit of online research for some recipes for a slow cooker I just purchased. One recipe called for coconut milk, and I noticed one of the comments underneath:

I forgot coconut milk, will it still work with passata?? HELP PLS

This is what coconut milk looks like compared to passata. In case anyone is wondering, coconut milk is the one on the left.Coconut Milk vs Passata

Furthermore, coconut milk tends to come from something called a “coconut”, like this.A coconut

Passata, on the other hand, is commonly made from things called “tomatoes”, which look like this.Tomatoes

This gives rise to a distinct difference in the colour region when you compare coconut milk alongside passata. There are also a few notable differences between the plants which produce them. Coconut Palm vs Tomato Vine

Coconuts grow somewhere between 15 and 30 metres in the air at the top of palm trees in various tropical and subtropical locations around the world (if you’re still stuck, coconut palms are the ones on the left). Each coconut – once it is removed from its tough outer casing – is hard and woody, and weighs nearly 1.5kg, and each palm can produce fruit for 70 years or more. On the other hand, tomatoes grow pretty much anywhere you want them on bushes usually no more than about 1-2 metres off the ground. A tomato plant can live for a few years, though they’re mostly treated as annuals and new ones planted each year. A typical tomato is soft and squishy and weighs in at around 100 grams. Every 100 grams of coconut contains about 6g of sugar and over 30 grams of fat, compared with about 2.5 grams of sugar and virtually no fat in the same amount of tomato. There are a lot of other nutritional differences.

I wonder if the person who asked that question ever tried the recipe using passata instead of coconut milk?

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I’m still making the most of the clear weather, which is forecast to come to an end this weekend. The moon is almost at its third quarter and the angle of the sun is showing just how uneven the earth-facing side really is.The moon as it appeared on 3 October 2015

I bought a new tripod, and this one is much more solid and easy to adjust than the super-cheap one I was using.

I should point out that I’m only doing this because I was surprised at how much detail I could get when I when I did that test photo last week (before the eclipse). So I thought I’d experiment.

The picture below shows the same area of the moon (two craters, in particular) as they appeared at full moon last Sunday and subsequently up until tonight.Crater sequence

At full moon, the two craters I have outlined are barely discernible as the sun’s light falls directly on to them. As the sun’s position changes, the craters become progressively more visible as shadows are cast by their walls. The edge of what I think is the Mare Imbrium is also more sharply defined, and craters which weren’t even visible to begin with suddenly appear.

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Having seen the effect of the sun casting shadows across the face of the moon I took the opportunity to catch the latest phase tonight. The moon rises later each night, and it is quite low on the horizon – which led to this lucky shot.The tree got there first

Anyway, after moving away from the Silver Birch tree, this is the detail visible tonight.Moon as it appeared on 2 October 2015

I was brought up to believe that although there were craters on the moon, much of it – and certainly the front – was like a big dusty desert. Apollo mission photos did a lot to create this impression.Apollo 15 moon surface photo

When I was a child I used to have a telescope, but it wasn’t very powerful – as I’ve discovered the last week or so, much less powerful than the telephoto lens on my camera. With my telescope, you could just make out mountain ranges at the edge of the sun’s coverage, but little else. How times change.

The areas on the moon you think of as being quite featureless show up as being pocked by craters.The top part of the moon

Even the edges of the “seas” (or maria) are seen to cast shadows, suggestive of steep sides.The bottom part of the moon

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