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Planet Earth

Four steps to make your lawn a wildlife haven – from green desert to miniature rainforest

If you could ask British insects about the habitats they prefer, they’d probably tell you that you can’t improve on grassland that’s rich with wildflowers. For farmers, though, grassland is said to be “improved” if it has been treated with fertiliser and sown with fast growing grasses.

“Unimproved” grasslands are those that have not had their productivity improved for agriculture. They’re semi-natural habitats, because if mowing or grazing stopped, they’d quickly turn to scrub and then woodland. These unimproved grasslands are extremely rich in the number of species they can support, sometimes having well over 40 species of flowering plant in a single square metre.

But since World War II, 97% of unimproved grassland habitats have vanished from the UK. This has contributed to the loss of pollinating insects – and the distribution of one third of species has shrunk since 1980.

Left – Grassland in Transylvania, where agricultural ‘improvement’ has been limited. Right – Potwell Dykes, Nottinghamshire – how much of the UK’s lost grassland would have looked.
Adam Bates

If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, your lawn can be thought of as a small patch of artificial grassland, which will usually have only a few species of turf grass. Most suburbs and villages still have around a quarter to a third of their area covered by grass.

Unfortunately, lawns are largely featureless and offer little refuge for small creatures like bugs and other invertebrates. Regular mowing also prevents plants from flowering and producing seeds, which is why carefully maintained lawns are mostly barren.

A traditionally managed lawn. There are few plant species and little structure for bugs to exploit. Spiders, for instance, have nothing to anchor their webs to.
Adam Bates

But lawns can be made into important wildlife habitat by changing how they’re managed. This is an idea that’s gaining traction – campaigns such as “Say No to the Mow” have made an “unkempt” garden more socially acceptable. For anyone wanting to create a wildlife lawn in their garden, there are four important steps to follow.


Adam Bates

1. Cut higher

The first step is simple. By raising the height that the mower blade cuts the grass to its highest setting – usually about 4 cm off the ground – you can provide more variety in the lawn’s structure and more refuge for other plant and invertebrate species.

2. Include mowing gaps

Fox-and-cubs (Hieracium aurantiacum) help feed leafcutter bees.
Jörg Hempel/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

By mowing less often you can allow plants time to flower and provide a food source for bees and other pollinators. Leaving gaps between mowing in spring gives time for species like the cowslip to flower – a plant which has declined markedly in the UK but which butterflies like the Duke of Burgundy depend on for laying their eggs.

Summer gaps can allow species like cat’s ear and fox-and-cubs time to flower, providing an important source of food for species of leafcutter bee. Deciding how long to wait between mowing isn’t an exact science, but can be judged by seeing whether or not the plants in your lawn have had a chance to flower.

3. No fertilisers or herbicides

“Weed and feeds” are used on lawns in a one-bottle mix of herbicide – used to kill non-grass species that we’d usually consider weeds – and fertiliser, to add nutrients to the soil. Herbicides reduce biodiversity by killing other species, but it may surprise you to learn that fertilisers are no friend to biodiversity either.

When gardening or farming, usually the more fertility in the soil the better, because this promotes greater productivity. In other words, more grass, greener grass, more flowers and larger flowers. The selective actions of the gardener or farmer to promote the target species, whether prized rose or crop, means that only the target species benefits.

Without this selectivity, more fertility in your lawn only favours the one or two turf species that are best able to take up nutrients and outcompete other species. So, more fertility means fewer plant species, despite the more luxuriant green colour.

4. Remove the clippings

Removing the grass clippings after you’ve mowed the lawn also reduces the fertility in your lawn, preventing it from becoming dominated by one or two competitive turf species. Removing and composting grass clippings will gradually remove nutrients from the soil, lowering the fertility with each cut.

Beyond these four steps for improving the value of your lawn to wildlife, there are other things that can be done by the more committed gardener. Leaving small areas of the lawn deliberately uncut – such as strips at the sides or patches in the corners – can help small wildflower meadows to form. Cutting these at the end of summer will prevent them overgrowing into rank grassland with few species.

Wildlife value can also be added by spreading some locally-sourced wildflower seed on your lawn. If you’re gathering seeds from elsewhere, make sure to ask permission and don’t take too much.

A single suburban wildflower lawn – multiple plant species that can flower and seed, and high structural diversity.
Adam Bates

Enjoying your wildflower lawn

Wildflower lawns can have a variety of other surprising benefits, not least helping to slow global warming. Some studies have shown that lawns are actually sources of carbon dioxide due to the amount of energy needed to power the mower and manufacture “weed and feeds”. Reducing how often you mow, not applying “weed and feeds” and even using a manual lawn mower can change your lawn from a carbon source to a carbon sink.

Having taller vegetation in your lawn shades the ground, thereby reducing evaporation from the soil and reducing the need for sprinklers and hosepipes. Less mowing means less work to do and more time for you to enjoy watching the bees gathering nectar and pollen from your wildflower lawn.

Wildflower lawns, with spikes of colourful flowers and attendant bees, at least to my eyes, are far prettier than a carpet of grass, whether it’s stripy or not. Grass – especially when not in flower – is the most aesthetically boring part of a grassland. The species that have traditionally been disregarded as “weeds” are far more interesting.

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Planet Earth

33ft ‘frozen dragon’ pterosaur found in Canada

Image Credit: CC BY-SA 4.0 PaleoEquii

Cryodrakon was absolutely enormous. 

Palaeontologists have identified one of the largest flying creatures ever to live on planet Earth.

This gargantuan creature, which soared through the Cretaceous skies over 76 million years ago, has been named Cryodrakon boreas, which means ‘frozen dragon of the north.’

Originally discovered in Dinosaur Provincial Park in southern Alberta 30 years ago, the partial skeleton had been mistaken for another genus of pterosaur until very recently when a new analysis enabled experts to finally recognize it as a new species.

Thought to stand 9ft tall and with a weight of 250kg, this enormous flying reptile would have likely feasted on just about anything, including small dinosaurs.

Its 33ft wingspan – which would have made it similar in size to a small plane – is almost three times that of the wandering albatross which has the largest known wingspan of any living bird.

“These are among the most popular and charismatic of all fossil animals,” said Michael Habib from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. “They have been inspiration for countless movie monsters, they were critical parts of global ecosystems worldwide during the age of dinosaurs, so they are key to understanding the ecology and extinctions of that time.”

“Just like flying animals today, [they] could carry important clues about how animals at the time responded to major changes in climate.”

Source: Independent

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Planet Earth

Meteor Fireball Streaking Across the North Carolina Sky Captured by Dashcam

A car dashcam recorded a fireball streaking across the night sky in North Carolina.

An ABC11 viewer recorded the video Thursday night while driving on Raleigh Road in Wilson toward Airport Boulevard.

In the top right of the screen, a bright light can be seen entering the frame and streaking toward the horizon for about three seconds.

According to the American Meteor Society, as many as 20 witnesses from South Carolina to Virginia reported seeing something similar around 8:07 p.m.

With all of the reports are taken into consideration, AMS projects the fireball’s trajectory happened off the coast of Morehead City.

abc11.com

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Planet Earth

Defending the Amazon, Indigenous Rights & Planetary Integrity

As the Amazon Rainforest crisis persists, our inability to protect our planet poses an existential threat to all of Earth’s inhabitants. As the sky recently turned black over Sao Paulo, Brazil because of smoke (thousands of kilometers away) from the fires that is so thick it can be viewed by NASA space satellites, the world’s leaders were assembled at the G-7 summit in Europe, seemingly more interested in exchanging sophomoric insults than solving the world’s most pressing and urgent problems.  According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, almost 73,000 forest fires have been documented this year alone. That’s an alarming 84% increase from what was observed in 2018. 

As Indigenous groups and conservationists scramble to defend the lungs of our planet, Brazil’ President Jair Bolsonaro audaciously shrugged off the news and blamed NGO’s and Indigenous groups for the glaring uptick in fires in the Amazon. Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has promised to roll back environmental protections and indigenous rights in order to exploit the Amazon for increased farming and mining, and he has made good on that promise.

Invasion of indigenous territories are on the rise in Brazil, and indigenous groups are increasingly under threat as titans of industry within mining, logging, and animal farming continue to encroach upon indigenous land and destroy precious parcels of the Amazon for commercial exploitation.   Bolsonaro has emboldened these invasions. Recently, a group of heavily armed miners invaded indigenous land in Northern Brazil and assassinated one of the community’s indigenous leaders.

Indigenous peoples in Brazil are once again on the front lines today of one of the most brutal attacks on their rights and on the forest in recent history. We’re now seeing the drastic rollback of 30 years of progress on human rights and environmental protection in Brazil under Bolsonaro’s regime, which romanticizes Brazil’s past when military dictatorship took helm and presided over wanton destruction of the forest. The Munduruku people have been resisting encroachment and destruction of their land for centuries, and their fight (along with other indigenous groups and the very spirit of the Amazon jungle itself) is more urgent than ever as Brazil’s government and commercial industries continue to violate with impunity.

The tragedy currently taking place in the Amazon is indicative of a broader cultural problem in regards to our relationship with our planet. 1/5th of all the world’s plants and birds and about 1/10th of all mammal species are found in the Amazon. Earth has lost half its wildlife in the past four decades. Based on an analysis of thousands of vertebrate species by the wildlife group WWF and the Zoological Society of London, our way of life has presided over the destruction of 60% of our animal populations since 1970. The report calculates a global “ecological footprint,” which measures the area required to supply the ecological goods and services humans use. It concludes that humanity currently needs the regenerative capacity of 1.5 Earths to supply these goods and services each year.

With the planet’s population expected to grow by 2.4 billion people by 2050, the challenge of providing enough food, water and energy (while sustaining planetary health) will be difficult. This should be the real “RED ALERT” placated all over the media, as the shocking and rapid decline of planetary biodiversity poses an imminent catastrophe that plagues all of us, requiring urgent and bold alterations to our way of life.

That being said, we have more than enough resources to profit food and shelter to billions of people. Solutions done seem to be the problem, it’s human consciousness, greed and ego.

Outrage is an understandable response to the Amazon crisis, but not sufficient to redress the problem.  We need to take individual action in our daily lives by altering our lifestyles. One of the most under-reported aspects of Amazonian deforestation is our addiction to consuming meat. Beef, soy, palm oil and wood drive the majority of tropical deforestation.

Animal agriculture is devastating for the Earth. Raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk uses about 70% of agricultural land, and is a primary factor in the proliferation of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.

“1.2 billion farmed animals are slaughtered globally every week for human consumption. In one week, more farmed animals are killed than the total number of people killed in all wars throughout history. Although these animals are treated as commodity, they are — in fact — sentient beings — like your pet cat or dog. We tend to assume that only vegans and vegetarians follow a belief system — but when eating animals is not a necessity (which is the case in much of the world today) — then it is a choice, and choices stem from beliefs. “Carnism” is a dominant philosophy — as eating animals is just the way things are — yet it runs contrary to core human values such as compassion, justice, and authenticity. And so — they need to use defense mechanisms that distort our thoughts and numb our feelings so that we act against our core values without fully realizing what we are even doing.” ~Dr. Melanie Joy  

The challenges that face our planet, our indigenous family, and our own imminent future are immense. It is easy to feel discouraged, angry, and hopeless about the state of the world, but the ability to harness humanity’s intelligence, creativity and compassion to steer the planet in a new direction is with us right now. We can take individual responsibility today, which can resonate immediately and create waves of influence that can lead to a collective change in behavior and attitudinal shift towards our relationship with nature and with ourselves.  This change starts from within, and this work begins with each of us making the choice to defend and protect this wondrous planet which has so graciously hosted our livelihood.

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