Monthly Archives: August 2017

28th August, 2017.

Following the death of my sister on 15th November 2008 – see Doris Clarke, A Life in Publications – I had a commemorative bench installed on a grassy area near the village pond (like the one above), this along with two other people whose relatives had recently died. Greta, my half-sister, had died one month earlier on 15th October – see Richard Sidney Clarke in Publications.

Benches are very important, thankfully a fact recognised more by local authorities today than 40 years ago. They can be very simply planks supported at either end or, at the other end of the scale, very ornate and expensive – but basically they just need to do their job. For example the many commemorative benches ranged along the rising cliff-top at Sewerby Hall, Bridlington are a delight as are the ones above Thornwick Bay, Flamborough. They provide a service that one can take for granted until you arrive at a place without them. Some of the public benches installed by Hull City Council in the newly pedestrianized areas of the town centre are extremely elegant and particularly good because they are high-backed and you can rest your head – they must have been very expensive. Recently Barton Town Council has paid to have erected at six point along the Humber bank metal slat benches, thoughtfully located and securely installed. Very good.

Presumably metal benches reduce the likelihood of vandalism – although I think this might be on the decrease generally in society, or am I wrong? Like discarding litter in public places vandalism of public facilities is often considered to be an ‘English disease’, let’s hope it’s not a feature of the national psyche promoted by Brexit.

When walking through Baysgarth Park, Barton with my dog I often see teenagers congregating at certain ones of the picnic benches, I’m not aware of ant vandalism and I think they appreciate the public facility – bench and park.

Given fine weather I like little more than sitting on a public bench and watching the world go by – am I getting old? Of course I am, so what!

27th August, 2017.

The final ‘evolution’ based blog for now.

Homo sapiens is a real ‘new kid on the block’ in evolutionary timescale. Homo sapiens (a term first coined by Carl Linnaeus, spg, well ahead of Darwin’s research and his Origin of the Species, homo defined as Man and sapiens as wise) is the only surviving member of a evolving family of ‘hominids’ across the last five million years. Homo sapiens earliest bipedal (standing erect on hind legs) ancestor was Australopithecus, a species that became extinct about three million years ago. Sub-species Homo habilis (3 – 1.5 million years ago) and Homo erectus (1.5 – .5 million years ago) also became extinct. Neanderthals (see above reconstruction), Homo sapiens’ nearest ancestor, adapted stoically to conditions experienced during the final historic glaciation, the Devensian, and there may have been some inter-breeding between residual populations and migrating Homo sapiens groups heading ‘out of Africa’ as the last Ice Age retreated. In fact Homo sapiens was anatomically far less able to cope with extreme cold than the Neaderthals, however Homo sapiens was far more adaptable and able to out compete their evolutionary ancestors in the post-glacial environment. Rather as the grey squirrel has ‘out-competed’ the native red, so Homo sapiens ‘out-competed’ the Neanderthals.

The rapid rise and fall of these evolutionary ancestors of modern Man is remarkable, but examples evolution in action.

Although some other creatures have/had larger brains than Homo sapiens in proportion to their body size (including Neanderthals) Man’s brain is said to be the ‘most complex organism in the Universe’. So was Man a super-being implanted into the evolutionary process by some intervening force?, or are we, like the other billions of life-forms that have existed on the planet, a current evolved species?

Early on in the post-glacial changes to the environment Man had the ingenuity to adapt the environment to provide for his immediate needs, much of this ‘achieved’ in Mezolithic and Neolithic times.

Today Man is the least endangered species on planet Earth.

20th August, 2017.

The ebb-and-flow of the Ice Ages and Interglacial periods over the past two+ million years has resulted in some species extinction as the climate change was too rapid for natural speciation to take place. Woolly mammoths are a well-known example.

Are we living in a current mass extinction era? Despite the efforts of global organisations such as World Wildlife Fund and Compassion in World Farming the answer is ‘yes’. The scientific name for the current high rate of extinctions is the ‘Halocene extinction’. The reasons behind this mass extinction are mostly not forces of Nature, although Climate Change’ may well play an increasing role. The reasons mostly follow from the domination of the planet by one single species Homo Sapiens (Man), the needs of this single dominant species for living space, food, shelter and recreation can rapidly habitat degradation if not complete loss of habitat. Once species’ populations become very small and/or very dispersed then the genetic health of that species is compromised, this resulting in more rapid decline. Unrestricted hunting and the consumption of a natural feature for excessive human consumption also contribute. There are many examples of the latter, one being the ‘delicacy’ birds nest soup which has as its basic ingredient the nests of Asian swifts (spb) where the bird uses its saliva to bind the nesting material. The above image is of a Bengal tiger, an ‘Endangered Species’.

Not only has the homo sapiens come to dominate and manipulate the natural environment but also ‘he’ has devised a means of global self-destruction in the form of nuclear weapons.

So has Man overcome Evolution?

19th August, 2017.

Apologies for temporary lapse – continuing, but broadening, the swift theme.

From the evidence of fossil remains studied it seems that the modern breeds of swift have evolved from similar ancestors which survived, or benefitted from, the ‘Eocene-Oligocene extinction event’ some 30 million years ago. The history of the evolution of life-forms on Earth has been impacted by comparatively sudden episodes of mass extinctions of life-forms previously existing. The ‘Permian-Triassic extinction event’ of some 250 million years ago is thought to have killed-off some 90 per-cent of species previously existing (although the biodiversity mass would have been less than now). The ‘Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event’ of some 66 million years ago caused the demise of dinosaur species (at the end of the Cretaceous, chalk forming, geological era).

Evolution has happened through the process of ‘speciation’ whereby varieties of organisms arise and thrive when they can adapt to a suitable ‘ecological niche’. Extinction events then must have relatively sudden happenings which intruded on the gradual progress of evolution, this inviting the question as to what caused them? Current thinking seems to be that a huge impact on the surface of the planet resulting in factors such as climate change and ecological degradation may have been responsible. A huge asteroid crashing to Earth, for example, would have had such effects.

The picture above is of a painting by Roelant Savery, a painter of the ‘Dutch Golden Age’ and from the Low Countries, who specialised in botanical and animal subjects. In particular some of his paintings show species now extinct – see, for example, the dodo grazing in the bottom-right of the picture. These he would have known of through the accounts of travellers rather than through archaeological studies of fossils.

In other words Man has caused some extinctions – a subject for next time.

 

12th August, 2017.

The little bit of thought I gave to the blogs on Swallows and swifts led me to think about the broad issue of taxonomy. Taxonomy is the science of classification, a thing which can be applied to any activity but which is often interpreted as the scheme(s) of classification of organic  life-forms – plants and animals. As regards the latter the ‘levels’ of the modern-day classification are; Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species. As to where on the list a particular creature is placed is determined by certain common physical criteria.

As regards my recent blog the Species is Common Swift ( there are many different species of swift around the world, some not being migratory). The other different ‘levels’ in the taxonomy of the Common Swift are; Kingdom = Animalia, Phylum = Chordata (its simplest definition being animals with a backbone), Class = Aves (birds), Order = Apodiformes (long narrow wings and weak feet), Family = Apodidae (highly aerial birds) and Genus = Apus (Greek for ‘footless’).

Categories have been revised over time by a succession of distinguished biologists a fact which can lead to different reference works using somewhat different terminology. A famous person in this regard is the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (see picture) who published his taxonomies in the 1750s.

7th August, 2017. Swifts.

A note to compliment the last blog but unfortunately no photo. The late Joe Curtis of Barton once told me that the migrating swallows arrived on 14th April and the migrating swifts on the 14th May. Although about right I think the date varies somewhat according to weather conditions.

At the moment the swifts are ‘screaming’ overhead trying to get fattened-up ahead of their mid-August migration south to sub-Saharan Africa – probably finding it difficult as all the rain we have had will have reduced volume of insects on the wing, yet another deluge overnight and tomorrow forecast to rain all day. The belief that swifts mate and sleep on the wing seems to be true, although like a lot of animals sleep takes the form of ‘naps’, whereas humans need, it seems, blocks of uninterrupted sleep. If driven to the ground by some misadventure swifts are almost helpless and destined to perish. However they do have ‘claws’ by which they can cling to the walls of buildings and rely on access crevices in buildings to create a nest. So soon it’s goodbye for another year to the swifts, any early leavers finding at the moment around the Mediterranean temperatures of 40 degrees plus!

Swallows numbers here usually decline in the first and second week of the new school year. Maybe some students wish they were swallows.