BBC BLOGS - Gregory's First Law

Archives for May 2012

Meet mini-Springwatch

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David Gregory | 14:16 UK time, Wednesday, 30 May 2012

We've been doing Springwatch reports on Midlands Today now for about five years. In that time what's really changed is the amount of technology our viewers have started to play with. In the first year I remember people physically sent in pictures of wildlife through the post.

Likely an escaped pet rather than a wild midlands parakeet

Today we can get beautiful pictures emailed or tweeted to us within seconds of the item being broadcast. As an example not long after we broadcast our parakeet report on Monday we were emailed this picture taken shortly after our report went out.

But perhaps the greatest advances have been made in the availability and affordability of cameras to watch wildlife. Much of this kit is now equal to what is available to broadcast professionals. This year I've even noticed a trend towards capturing amateur footage in high definition.

Perhaps the best example of what can be achieved is Kate Macrae's garden near Litchfield and the subject of our latest Springwatch report. Kate has 16 cameras in her garden to capture the wildlife that visits and she then broadcasts the result as clips or live onto the internet. Her office control room really does resemble a mini-Springwatch gallery.

Perhaps not surprisingly such a set-up proved of interest not just to us but also to the main BBC Two Springwatch team. In fact they were so impressed with Kate's small-mammal cam set-up they've borrowed the idea and created something similar at their base the Ynys-hir reserve in Wales. So keep an eye peeled for the Springwatch "mammal stump."

You can find Kate's website here and Springwatch's live webcams are here or on the red button.

UPDATE: We've just had an email from Hazel Jackson our wild parakeet expert from earlier in the week. She says the bird in this photo is likely a "red front kakariki bred in this colour mutation" and almost certainly an escaped pet. If you recognise it do get touch!

Worrying about weeds on a warming planet

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David Gregory | 16:59 UK time, Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Experimental greenhouse at Wellesbourne

The web of chemistry and biology that lets our plants decide it's the right time to emerge from seeds is extraordinary. It's also delicate and vulnerable to problems posed by a warming planet but at the same time its also supremely adaptable.

Believe it or not a tiny seed deep under the ground can detect temperature, sunlight and even the presence of other competing plants. There are millions of weed seeds in a hectare of land all waiting for the perfect moment to make a break for the surface.

At the University of Warwick they are working across all sorts of scientific disciplines to understand more about this complex feat of nature. As the researchers based at Wellesbourne explained to me they are bringing together the ecology, physiology and molecular biology of seed dormancy cycling as well as the mechanisms involved in its regulation. Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council or BBSRC.

They also have a sophisticated building that allows them to simulate the impact of global warming on weeds. It's a green house that's open to the natural environment at one end and then inside a clever heating system creates a simple temperature gradient from one end to the other. Basically you can walk from present day to temperatures to 2080 (or at least one prediction for 2080) which is about four degrees warmer.

It leads to an extraordinary change in the seeds. Those at the warmer end of the green house are much more advanced but they may be changed in other ways, such as how the seeds of these plants react to the usual triggers to germinate.

So will we see more problematic weeds in a warmer world? Well more research is needed. It's certainly possible some weeds could become more of a pain for farmers and gardeners. But we could also see the reverse happening. What this research will do is equip future farmers for some of the problems they might face.

Where do wild parakeets come from?

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David Gregory | 17:20 UK time, Friday, 25 May 2012

Wild parakeet

Wild rose-necked parakeets are an increasingly common sight in the Midlands as we've touched on before. But now we've conducted DNA analysis on feathers shed by parakeets living in the Black Country and the results are fascinating.

They suggest our Midlands parakeets are genetically related to the birds which make up the majority of the thriving population in London and the South East. So our birds are not recent Midlands escaped pets, they are in fact the exiting colony spreading up the M6.

DNA also reveals just why parakeets are doing so well in the UK and how a few escaped pets a long time ago have now become a thriving population of 32,000 birds. The population is still likely to inbreed because it started with just a few birds. But it appears the occasional injections of new DNA from recently escaped pet birds is just enough to allow the population to thrive rather than become so inbred it can't survive.

Conservationists call this "genetic rescue" and it's a technique they use with rare species. Introducing one or two specimens from captivity to small wild populations. It's what's allowed the parakeets to go from a handful of birds to entire flocks.

If you have spotted parakeets in your garden or park and can collect fallen feathers then you can help this research too. All the details of where to send your feathers can be found here.

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