Cornish Men O’ War

cornish men o war 2017Another thing occurred during my half term Halloween holiday (see Spooky Seaside Goings On) that gave me pause for thought. We rented a cottage right by the sea to make the most of any surfing opportunities and beach time. The beach is one of the most beautiful in the UK, with pristine white sand and clear blue sea. Were it not for the temperature, you could be in the Caribbean, it really is that stunning. On our first day at the seaside we encountered something that looked like a rather fancy electric blue/purple and coral pink blown up condom, lying innocently on the beach. In fact, there were dozens scattered along the beach: Portuguese Men Of War. These strange looking jellyfish-like creatures have a very nasty sting. They have been very rare in the UK – it was the first time in 47 years of beach going that I’ve ever seen one. Warmer seas and changing weather and wind patterns have pushed ‘unprecedented’ numbers of the creatures into UK waters for the first time, closing some Cornish beaches in September. After scanning the area and pointing out what they looked like to the children, we let them get on with some serious playing. We went in for a surf. And yet, it seemed to me to be another example of how a changing climate is changing so many things about our environment. The sea will always throw up strange and fascinating creatures from time to time, and there is nothing new in this. But when you look at the the wider pattern, the warming waters around the UK are clearly changing rapidly. Bass were extremely rare in the North Sea twenty years ago, and now there are a number of East coast fisheries where they are encountered throughout the summer and autumn. This year a basking shark was spotted in the North Sea for the first time – another animal that loves the warmer waters of the west coast of the UK. Bluefin tuna are starting to figure regularly in boat catches on west of Ireland, as their migration patterns are changing as a result of rapid shifts in water temperature in a warming ocean. None of these changes compare to the heartbreaking bleaching events of recent decades which have seen huge swathes of coral reef damaged or destroyed by exceptionally warm water across parts of the tropics. Many tropical reefs are not expected to survive 1.5 degrees celsius of global warming – and we are currently heading for 4 or 5 degrees without immediate action from us all. So much of what we are told about climate change seems remote – falling ice caps, dying coral, and starving polar bears are all a long way from the UK. But the signs of rapid change are also all around us now, and we shouldn’t really ignore them any longer.

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Spooky Seaside Goings On

spooky sennen pumpkin 2017I tell you one thing that really freaks me out, even more than killer clowns: the smell of freshly cut grass. Yes, I know it’s normally a pleasant smell, drifting through our window as you work on a warm summer’s day. But the smell of cut grass freaks me out properly when it’s November. Why? Because it reminds me of a time – not that long ago – when grass stopped growing in the north of England sometime around the end of September. Those days are gone, and with climate change induced ‘season-creep’ now in full effect, I’m off to give the lawn yet another trim, once I’ve cleared away the dead sparklers and burnt out fireworks from last weekend of course.

It is cold and frosty today, and the trees are looking absolutely stunning in their autumn colours. It’s the cold, clear, calm sort of day that makes me feel glad to be alive. Just a week and a bit ago we were on holiday, contemplating having a halloween barbecue on the beach. We were much further south in Cornwall, where the gulf stream warms the Cornish coastline in a wonderful way, allowing the palm trees to flourish. The farmer was cutting the grass in the field on the clifftop behind our holiday cottage too – and maybe that is normal for that part of the world, I don’t know. The growing season is obviously longer in the south west,  but given how quickly our climate is changing, it made me wonder how long it would be before Halloween barbecues became a north of England tradition.

The blurring of the seasons (season creep) was identified and forecast with reasonable accuracy twenty years ago by scientific models looking at the impacts of human-made climate change. Regardless of the forecasts, it can still be cold, and I’m hoping for a proper cold winter this year with a bit of snow and sledging – and no wishy washy warm days in January, or yet more horrendous flooding. Let’s see.

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