I am rubbish at predicting broad election results. But the mass media is predicting, on early returns, a huge electoral swing in Ireland towards the Green Party — at least in the municipal elections.
As I type these words the other candidates who failed to get elected as municipal councillors in the Irish state — or barely scraped through — will be licking their wounds. The Greens will be celebrating, of course, spouting their analysis of what this means, of a huge change in the Irish people, of climate change awareness ….
And the media will be parroting them.
MORE OF THE SAME
I don’t believe the voting results are because of any great change in the consciousness of the Irish electorate — in fact I think it’s basically more of the same.
Why then the electoral surge towards the Greens? I don’t think that climate change issues — or more accurately the public perception of them — are enough to explain it, though it will no doubt have influenced some voters. I think the fundamental reason is that the Greens are not Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour or Sinn Féin. True, they are tainted from partnership with FF in the past but that was only a couple of them and a lot of water has gone under the bridges of Irish rivers since then.
I wouldn’t trust the Greens in power as far as I could throw an iceberg but I think what I’ve said above is the reality.
The 26-County electorate has traditionally voted either FF or FG into power. The latter normally needed another partner to form a majority, which Labour opportunistically gave them and later the party always paid the price, while a few of its leaders got fat pensions out of it.
Apparently every Irish government since the intervention of Hunger Strike candidates in 1981 has been a coalition, which testifies to an electorate generally unconvinced by either main party. But since the bank bailout, the electorate seems to have been even more disenchanted, voting for outsiders in the race and hedging their bets between parties, like spreading the risk in investments.
In the 2011 General Election, the voters kicked out FF to the lowest vote in the party’s history along with wiping out its Green party partners and, apart from voting in a lot of independents (mostly left-wing ones), they gave most votes to the party most likely to dislodge FF, which of course was FG. And they spread the risk by giving Labour a lot of votes. Despite the hopes of the electorate this coalition basically gave us more of the same — privatisation of lucrative state services, mismanagement of others, expanding housing crisis and austerity measures.
So they put in a lot of SF in another year and what do they get? A party that votes in Dublin to hand over Council land to speculators because SOME ‘social housing’ will be built on it. Resignations of elected representatives through alleged internal party shenanigans. A party that has long ago lost interest in organising a base for anything except voting — a mirror, in fact, of FF in the past. And which, while playing sectarian politics in the Six Counties has supported — and implemented — austerity measures of the British State.
Media commentators will search for many reasons for this change — youth vote, middle-class vote, climate change consciousness and general environmental awareness. I think there is a more fundamental reason which the commentators would probably rather not acknowledge, since it questions, not the viability of this or that party, but the whole system.
I don’t believe the people have any great faith in the Green Party and this elections seems more of the same behaviour of the electorate. Change the faces every so often — and spread the risk.
Nor do I blame the electorate — for what visible and realistic alternative has presented itself?
According to his trade union and other sources, Oscar Reina, spokesperson for SAT (Sindicato Andaluz de la Tierra — Andalucian Workers’ Union) was arrested at midday in Granada today while lunching with some of his colleagues, taking a break from preparations for the big demonstration on December 4th, the National Day of Andalucía as well as postering for a festival against repression planned for December 8th in Marinaleda, at which the band Ska-P will launch their most recent CD.
Reina has been required to attend court since being ordered to do so to answer charges of sending a “disrespectful to the Monarchy” tweet in 2016. H
According to trade union colleague José Caballero, communicated to the newspaper El Salto, he had not presented himself voluntarily to answer the charges in line with his union’s policy of disobedience for the leadership, adopted unanimously some years ago against the rising repression suffered by SAT, with a million in government fines and demands for imprisonment of more than 300 years with nearly 500 trade unionists charged.
The tweet for which the trade union leader is to be tried: “You must feel little shame Felipe de Borbón; you are a disgrace. Your position which nobody has voted for is inherited from an institution that was maintained as a result of a Francoist and terrorist coup.
I would award you the Prize for Lack of Decency and Hypocrisy, with a trip into exile.”
The SAT (Andalusian Worker’s Union) is a trade union operating within the Andalusian autonomous region within the Spanish state and claims a membership of 20,000. It was founded in 2007 and describes itself as: a trade union of class, alternative, anti-capitalist, assemblyist, of solidarity, internationalist, pluralist, anti-patriarchal, confederal, republican, Andalusian nationalist, of the Left and communist. Its General Secretary is Diego Canamero. The union is known for actions such as occupations of unused land and a 2013 raid on a supermarket to distribute school materials on families in need.
A recent protest of the union has been against the proposed Lands Law which they say will “sink forever the dream of our Andalusian working population for Agrarian Reform. One cannot understand Andalusia with the struggle for the land and that is more recent than might appear ….”
Andalusia has an unemployment rate of 24.4% (2017 official figures), with male unemployment at 21.6% and female unemployment reaching 27.9%. According to SAT’s figures, 50% of the land is in the hands of 2% of the population and that concentration is increasing. That is an average and in some areas the situation is much worse. One worker a day dies on the land, according to the union and 60% of Andalusians earn less than 1,000 euro a month. Around 40% are so poor they cannot afford educational materials.
The union spokesperson denounced the PSOE (which has the majority in the autonomous government) and put forward a six-point program of reforms demanded by the union which they say will address all these issues.
Reina ended the communiqué by calling on the working population of Andalusia to mobilise militantly and to demand “Tierra y Libertad!” (Land and Liberty).
People visit the Basque Country for different reasons — among the touristic reasons are cuisine, folk culture and beach-type tourism including surfing. For some there may be business reasons and possibly on the other end of the spectrum from them there is the political aspect – interest in and solidarity with their struggle for independence and to a lesser extent perhaps, socialism. Eco-tourism and archaeological interest are probably not high on the list for most people but I’d suggest it would be worthwhile to include sites dealing with such aspects in any itinerary.
Many Basques would tell you that their country has a long way to go in environmentally-friendly practices – or at least in those less harmful to the environment; if true, it serves to illustrate just how far behind the desirable are the practices common in Ireland. Everywhere in Basque village or town, one sees the recycling containers in their five different colours for paper, plastic, metal, glass and organic waste. One frequent complaint is about timber-production forestation practices and though much of the Basque country is green with trees, many of those trees are conifersor, even worse, Basques will say, eucalypts in mono-cultural acres. The latter are indeed widespread and are said to suck the moisture out of the soil so that after they are felled, little else can grow there.
Environmentally-friendly timber production is less intensive and more diverse in species, less harmful to biodiversity of plant and animal life and more protective of the soil from erosion, flooding and desiccation. But to business — and therefore mainstream political interests — it is slower in turnover of profit. The perils of this concentration on early profit gain have been underlined this year with the infestation of the main crop pines, the “Monterey pine” (Pinus radiata) by the ‘Mycosphaerella dearnessii’ fungi and ‘Mycosphaerella pini’, said to have originated in Central America, which turns the foliage (needles) brown, eventually leading to the destruction of the tree.
That all said, at grassroots (forgive the unintended pun) and often municipal level, there is great interest and support for biodiversity in the Basque Country and discussion around the subject is much more socially widespread than one would find in Ireland or in most of Britain (though perhaps not in some other parts of Europe). There are many national parks and reserves of great beauty and even city Basques tend to have a culture of collecting edible fungi in the woods in the autumn and of hill-walking or mountain-climbing at various times of the year. And small farms can be found dotted throughout the countryside.
Education about the environment for adults, children and even tourists is taken seriously and, apart from schools, centres promoting environmental care can be found in many areas. One such site of interest is the bio-diversity and heritage centre of Madariaga, the Ekoetxea, in the Axpe de Busturia area between the towns of Bermeo and Gernika These are interesting towns in themselves of the coast of Bizkaia (Biscay) province and Gernika was of course made famous by its bombing by the Nazi Luftwaffe, in the service of the fascist generals (Franco et al) in 1937, during what probably most people call the the Spanish Civil War and others, the Iberian Anti-Fascist War. Bus and train services connects both towns and pass through Busturia, both services having a stop or station in Axpe. The bus and train services run at mostly half-hourly intervals, the train all the way to Bilbao, on a single track for much of the line, up and down trains alternating.
I dropped in to a charming tavern in Axpe named after the Basque flower, Eguzkilore: literally “Sun Flower”. This is not the “sunflower” which Van Gogh famously painted, so named because it turns to follow the sun through its journey across the sky; the Basque flower (Carlina acaulis)is a member of the thistle family and is thought to resemble an idealised image of the sun. Dried specimens are often found hanging over the front door of Basque houses as a good-luck symbol, quite probably a remnant of pagan sun-worship (like the Irish “St. Bridget’s Cross” and indeed the traditional Basque symbol of the lauburru is very like that Irish symbol too and interestingly, the Basque tradition related to me was that it was borrowed from the Iberian Celts).
The Eguzkilore tavern is owned by a friendly young couple, a Catalan woman and Basque man: he of course speaks Euskera and Castillian (Spanish) fluently, whereas she is fluent in Catalan, Castillian and English, speaks Euskera well and smatterings of other languages. Although I know from experience that their cuisine is excellent, I ordered only a simple kafe esnea there and after finishing it and a chat, set off up the road to the Madariaga Ekoetxea (“eco-house”), an easy walk of perhaps fifteen minutes. Turning left at the roundabout at the crest of the hill the centre was easily visible by the clock-bell tower and the taller viewing tower.
This latter was a defensive construction quite similar to the keeps constructed in Britain and Ireland by the Norman invaders, livestock quartered below and people living on floors above; one of the staff told me that it had been inhabited until the 1930s. Now the floors have been ripped out except for the top one, accessible by a short journey in a lift and once there one can view around something like 160 degrees: steep hills close by beyond the road, land sloping away towards Gernika and distant mountains on another side, beach of the estuary and some marshlands on another.
The Tower was in fact the last part of the centre which I experienced. It was a showery Sunday in mid-October and the centre was fairly quiet, less that ten vehicles in the car park and nobody but a receptionist immediately available upon entering the building. I used my limited Euskera in addressing her, which is my practice in the Basque Country, and which is usually – but not always – appreciated. The native language has become “politicised” here (as some say it has also in the case of Irish in Ireland), which is another way of saying that it was banned under the Franco dictatorship, that people of a Spanish unionist turn of mind often resent it and native speakers, learners and independentists want to encourage its spread and use in everyday life. Of course in a cultural type of centre in the Basque Country I would not expect any negative response and I was answered politely in Euskera with a quick conversion to Castillian when my limited store of Euskera ran out.
WATER AND BIODIVERSITY
I had seen a small charge advertised outside but there was none on that day or perhaps that time of year to see two standard exhibitions, one on water and the other on biodiversity. The one on water informs visitors that water is a circulatory system: 1) most of it falls from the air in rain or humidity, some of it on to land and some on to lakes or on to the sea; 2) some of that which falls on land is taken up by soil and vegetation and excess runs off into streams, rivers and lakes; 3) some also soaks through permeable or semi-permeable strata of soil and rock and forms underwater reservoirs and lakes. 4) The excess runs out in underground rivers and streams, emerging eventually to empty into seas and lakes, where 5) the sun heats up the top layers again, creating clouds, many of which precipitate on to land, renewing the circle.
The diagrams, photos and videos demonstrated this process well and attractively and there were samples of varieties of sandstone and limestone to examine at close quarters. For me, the photos of underground caves formed by the water wearing away the limestone and the various and sometimes fantastic formations caused by chemical-rich water dripping for millenia were the most impressive along with the few examples of invertebrates adapted to life without light and mammals using natural caves were the most interesting, while others might have found the supplying of water to the public of greater interest (and certainly this is an important issue in many countries and not least so in Ireland).
The section dedicated to bio-diversity is divided into different parts, including a room with video screens showing different types of humans (ethnic, gender, possibly sexuality, culture, age) and others dealing with plant, fungi and animal life. Passing through a type of broad corridor with explanations of what is a definition of biodiversity in many languages, one enters a brightly-lit room seemingly constructed entirely of panels, each one of an animal: birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, insects and other invertebrates. Not only the walls but floor and ceiling appear constructed of the panels, a vibrant bright room somewhat evoking the effect of stained glass with light shining through, a church celebrating the diversity of animal life, perhaps.
Walking onwards, one finds a hall filled with large cubes, standing haphazardly upon one another, each carrying the image of an animal or plant. The names of the species are given in Euskera, Castillian and Latin. I find myself at times wishing to see the names in English and then chiding myself for the unreasonableness of this wish. There are images of plants to be seen too, some of plants which we are informed are native to the country and one found only there.
ATTRACTIONS IN THE WIDER AREA
A slim informational folded leaflet is available in a number of languages, one version being in English and French, not only about this centre but about a network of them managed by the “Basque Government” (i.e the Government of three of the southern Basque provinces, Biskaia, Gipuzkoa and Alava). These are visited every year by 100,000 people, the booklet informs us, 25,000 of which are schoolchildren; the ekoetxea which I visited receives 2,000 schoolchildren out of a total of 45,000 visitors annually.
Another, more substantial booklet available in English which shows signs of translation probably from Castillian gives more information on the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, the wider area in which the Madariaga Ekoetxea is located. This booklet advertises nature trails for hiking or biking, restaurants for Basque cuisine, a cave occupied by prehistoric humans, the Gernika Tree and General Assembly building and museum, markets and folk festivals, cider and wine-houses, painted forest, hermitages, bird-watching and sea activities including surfing and whale and dolphin-watching. Strangely (or not), in its caption about Gernika, it has nothing to say about the bombing of the town in 1937 nor, in its references to human habitation and culture of the wider area, nothing either to say about the Spanish Civil (i.e Anti-Fascist) war or about the occupation of the area by the fascist troops and the repression that followed, nor about the suppression of their language under Franco.
An information panel tells visitors that there are 3,335 different mammal, bird, fish, reptile, amphibian, fungi and plant species etc. in the the Urdaibai reserve and that 85 are in danger of extinction or are of special interest. Some panels showing examples of these would be welcome as would more about the wildlife native to the area (like what species are the owls one can hear hooting at intervals through the night from the forested hill above Axpe, for example).
They are all around us; they live but they are not animals. Nor are they micro-organisms – we see them clearly all in many places. They can grow on organic and none-organic surfaces. We might think they are plants – algae, moss or fungus but they are none of those — they are lichens. There are about 20,000 known species1 and they cover an estimated 6% of the Earth’s surface, able to exist in environments as different as beneath Artic snow, on salt spray-showered seashores and windswept mountain rocks and in tropical rainforest. An estimated 6% of the Earth’s land surface is covered by lichen species.2 Some are long-lived and include the longest-living things on Earth. There are species that require nothing to cling to while others can live inside rock, in the spaces between grains.3In Ireland, 1,134 separate species of lichen have been recognised, according to the National Biodiversity Data Centre – i.e over 5% of Earth’s estimated total species right here on this little island.4
When we look at some growing on tree bark or rock, we are tempted to think of them as fungus, algae or even moss. Mosses are ancient enough life-forms and are plants, which algae are too and almost certainly much older. Fungi used to be considered plants but are so no longer and in their structure and digestion and also genes, are more akin and more closely related to animals. This will not be good news to vegetarians or vegans but the evidence is difficult to deny.5 Indeed there are some feoilséantóirí (word in Irish for a vegetarian and more apt in the context of this sentence) who already dislike eating many fungi because the texture reminds them of meat.
But lichens are neitherfungi nor plants.
So if lichens are not plant or fungus, what are they? Another kind of life-form? Well yes … and no. They are a combination of both, fungus and plant. At some point in the evolution of life on earth, logically after plants and after fungi had evolved, somehow some species of fungi combined with some species of alga and/or cyanobacteria6 and produced a symbiont or biont: lichen. Scientists maintain that the 20,000 estimated species did not evolve from one common ancestor but that different species appeared separately at different times during the history of the Earth.
Plants draw their nutrients from sun and elements in the soil (or in some cases, in the water). Fungi, like animals, cannot get their nutrients straight from sun or soil and need to break down their alimentation materials, whether flesh or plant, in order to feed on them. In doing so, fungi are important decomposing agents – in fact, the principal ones.
Vascular plants need roots not just to cling to soil but even more importantly, to draw up water and nutrients but algae don’t; when they have any kind of roots, it is to cling to a surface and that is exactly what the lichen needs too. Fungi extend and feed through root-like growths usually under the surface of what they are feeding upon, extending from the tips; they are not roots, however and break off easily.What we see of fungi is usually the spore-bearing parts above the surface, often much the smaller part of the organism.
Plants seem to grow above ground also by elongating their tips but in fact are extending from further back, adding cells to cells to lengthen the body. All plants need a constant supply of water (cacti and succulents store water but still need to draw on the supply to live). Fungi need damp conditions. But when combined into lichens, the new species can live without water for a considerable time. So, a marriage, as they say, “made in Heaven” … or perhaps in a Hell, an environment of very dry and hot conditions alternating with the very wet and cold , where the newly-wedded ancient algae and fungi set out to build their homes.
Some lichens contain not only algae combined with a fungus but also a cyanobacterium; this partner is capable of fixing nitrogen extracted from the air and is a valuable addition to the menage-a-trois.
It has been remarked by some that the marriage of plant and fungus is not an equal one, is not true symbiosis, since the fungal partner or symbiote benefits more than does the algal. The algal symbiote produces sugar through photosynthesis and the fungus only chitin, or ‘hard‘ structure, it is argued. However, if both partners (or three) are content with the arrangement, is that not a happy marriage? More seriously, the fungal partner may contribute other factors to the symbiosis of which scientists are only just becoming aware – for example, chemicals to repel organisms attempting to graze on them and protection from the sun.
And scientists do not treat them equally either, since the species of lichen is always determined and named by them according to the species of fungus, not of the alga or bacterium.
COLOURS IN THE RAIN
So, if the claim is that we see them all around us, where are they? They may be seen on slate roof-tops, in patches of roughly circular white (not to be confused with pigeon or seagull excrement, which may also be in evidence). Yellow or orange patches are typically seen on stone, as is a black or dark brown one by the seaside. A bright yellow-green one may be seen on fallen twigs or on tree-bark, as may also a tufted-form green one growing on rock or tree.
The colours tend to be particularly vivid during or soon after rain when the cortex becomes translucent and, if there were no other reason to be grateful for the precipitation levels usual in Ireland, that would be reason enough, perhaps, should we take the time to admire the little things of beauty. Of course there are other reasons and as a Basque once said to me about the green of his native country and could perhaps even more accurately said about colour associated with the “Emerald Isle” — “It’s not green because we paint it.”
Some of the bright colours in lichens, produced by the fungus, are thought to be of use in protection from the rays of the sun and become more vivid after rain due to rapid absorption of water by the chlorophyl-holding part of the symbiont (or biont).
PIONEERS AND SURVIVORS
Lichens are considered “pioneer organisms” by botanists and geologists, i.e organisms that set out to colonise new territories. These maybe new territories in the sense that a geological change has exposed them to air, e.g from the seabed or from under ice, or from inside the earth by volcanic action or by tectonic plate collision.
Pioneer organisms need to be tough and adaptable and they often create footholds for other species, not quite so tough or adaptable, to follow after. However, given that logic dictates that algae and fungi existed before some of them combined to form lichens, the latter could not have been among the earliest colonisers of the Earth’s crust. On Earth then, they are later pioneers of newly-created inhospitable terrain.
May they be used to help create habitable environments elsewhere? It’s perhaps worth quoting these two paragraphs from Wikipedia in their entirety:
In tests, lichen survived and showed remarkable results on the adaptation capacity of photosynthetic activity with the simulation time of 34 days under Martian conditions in the Mars Simulation Laboratory (MSL) maintained by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
The European Space Agency has discovered that lichens can survive unprotected in space. In an experiment led by Leopoldo Sancho from the Complutense University of Madrid, two species of lichen — Rhizocarpon geographicum7 and Xanthoria elegans — were sealed in a capsule and launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket 31 May 2005. Once in orbit, the capsules were opened and the lichens were directly exposed to the vacuum of space with its widely fluctuating temperatures and cosmic radiation. After 15 days, the lichens were brought back to earth and were found to be in full health with no discernible damage from their time in orbit.
In some areas, soil lichens help to bind the sand-crust or soil-crust together but lichens have also been shown to chemically attack stone, thereby helping to create soil. Lichens can also help create little environments where soil may be retained and seeds of plants germinate. However, like all species, lichens are out to help themselves and some produce chemicals to restrict the march of mosses (another pioneer species but more water-reliant), with which lichens would have to compete in many areas).
When growing on tree bark, lichens do not parasitise on the tree nor harm it in any way, merely using it as a secure base. Older trees are often covered with lichen and dead trees or branches more so, associating in some people’s minds the ill-health in a tree with the growth of lichen upon it. Circumstantial evidence may suggest the guilt of the lichen but it is completely a case of coincidence: lichen is slow-growing and the older the tree, the more time lichen has had to grow and extend upon it; the tree dies because it grows old.
The lichen will survive the dead tree for a period but it is not the killer. Now come decomposers: insects, snails, slugs and especially, distant relatives of the lichens: fungi. Without concern for their relatives, the fungi, along with the other decomposers, will reduce the tree to soil ingredients and thereby deprive the lichens of their base but, in time, providing more soil for more trees to grow and for new generation of lichens to attach themselves to the bark.
The fungus is not too discriminating and a particular species may combine with different algae species; the resultant lichens may appear to be different species but (since 2014) will be classified as the same lichen species, i.e containing the samespecies of fungus.8
The alga can also exist independently in nature but the fungi cannot. Two species in two genera of green algae are found in over 35% of all lichens, but can only rarely be found living on their own outside of a lichen.9
Sex and Reproduction
It is only the fungal part of the symbiote that reproduces sexually. When doing so, it produces spores (as do ferns and mosses) which must find a compatible alga in order to produce a new lichen, a symbiote of the fungus of the parent fungus and a new alga.
Some lichens reproduce or extend asexually, advancing across a surface and merging with another of the same species.
Uses of lichens:
When we discuss “the use” of some thing we generally mean its use for humans; lichens no doubt have many uses for other organisms, whether as food for reindeer during non-growing seasons or as micro-environments for tiny creatures. But for humans, the uses are mostly in the areas of
geological age indicators
Dyes and Pigments:
Dyes were made from the orange Xanthoria Parietina and the grey-green branched Parmelia Saxitillis to dye wools used in traditional tweed (Harris) weaving in the Scottish Highlands10and I myself have had the second of the two pointed out to me by an Aran Islander woman as the source for the rarely-used green wool knitted into a geansaí (pullover or jumper). Material for other natural dyes exist for example in Ireland but the issues are how easily they are obtained, how true they dye and how long they remain the desired colour and shade.
“There are reports dating almost 2000 years old of lichens being used to make purple and red dyes. Of great historical and commercial significance are lichens belonging to the family Roccellaceae, commonly called “orchella weed” or “orchil”. Orcein and other lichen dyes have largely been replaced by synthetic versions.”11
We know that red and purple dyes were much sought after and in some medieval civilisations the wearing of those colours was restricted to certain social classes and even to one individual (e.g the purple for the Emperor). Once Europeans had gained familiarity with indigenous civilisations of Central and South America, the red dye obtained from the parasitic cochineal insect Dactylopius coccusbecame an important export product to Europe until the late 19th Century, when synthetic pigments and dyes were invented. Despite this development, traditional hand-made textile producers, for example in regions of Mexico, continued to use cochineal dyeing. However, health concerns associated with some or all of those synthetic colourings in food have once again created a demand for cochineal and cultivation of the insect is once again economically viable, with Peru being currently the main exporter.12
Drugs and Medicine:
There is reason to believe that metabolites produced by lichens may have antibiotic effects and usnic acid, the most commonly-studied metabolite produced by lichens, is being investigated as a possible bactericide, in particular against Staphylococcus and E.coli.13
Lichens were also used in European traditional medicine, in particular based on the theory that plants that resembled human organs would be efficacious in treatment of illness of those organs. Some American Indigenous people also used them in traditional medicine treatment.
Lichens as Indicators of Geological Age and of Pollution Levels:
The science of lichenometry is a relatively new one in which measuring the type and size of lichen is used to indicate the age of exposed rock. It takes the known slow growth-rate of different lichens to arrive at an estimate of how long the rock in question has been exposed. This can be used on rock formations, landslides, stone buildings and statuary.
The tolerance (or lack of tolerance) of different species of lichen to certain types of air and rain pollutant can be used as bio-indicators. In general the “frond” or “bushy” types are less resistant to some air pollutants and the flat or “crusty” types more so. Lichens take their water from the surfaces to which they are attached and from the air and are therefore quickly affected by the water quality in rain and air.
Readers may find it worthwhile to take some time to examine the lichens growing around us, to think about their unusual ‘domestic arrangements’ and their pioneering habits. Or to inventory them as indicators of the level and content of pollution in a specific area.
And in particular, to put on rainproof or resistant clothing and to view lichens during rainfall or at least very soon afterwards.
Cycling through Griffith Park off the Mobhi Road, after a walk in the nearby Botanic Gardens, a flurry of wings and a flash of colours attracted my attention. Three birds came down with a splash into the Tolka.
You don’t need to be any kind of expert to identify the Mandarin Duck, especially the males and that’s what two of those birds were. The dowdier third one was the female.
I have often noted two male mallard ducks peacefully accompanying one female and wondered whether they had a menage-a-trois going or what the arrangement was. But there was nothing like that going on with the Mandarins as the males made clear quite quickly. After briefly circling around one another they were quickly into fisticuffs (or beak-and-wing-cuffs), scuffle-splashing, clucking insult or challenge, until the rival to the established male would take to the wing either for a break or to get next to the female. In the latter case, the male would take to the air also, in pursuit.
The female? She swam demurely apart waiting for the victor.
There was clearly one established male who for the moment was the dominant one but the rival kept coming back while I was watching and they were still at it when I left. The established one has the psychological dominance factor on his side, which is a strong advantage but it is by no means a guarantee of success. The rival might wear him down. Or the established one might become injured. Being a male and keeping one’s bird is not easy.
According to Charles Darwin, genders of many species but many birds in particular have become colour-differentiated through part of the evolutionary process described as sexual selection (The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, 1871). This has reached amazing and one might say even bizarre though beautiful extremes with such birds as the peacock and the bird of paradise.
Darwin’s ideas make more sense than other explanations being proposed but it is nevertheless hard to credit that a female’s appreciation of colour, shape and behaviour would so impress upon the male the need to flaunt gaudy colour and shape in direct contravention of the need to survive predators by NOT calling such attention to himself. Still, there is no other viable contender explanation around (as distinct from the Mandarin contender, who may still be biding his time or pressing his suit, which if the established male has anything to say about it, is all he is going to press).
Aix galericulata is the Latin species name and the only other species in the Aix genus is the North American Wood duck. A chromosome in the Mandarin makes hybridisation between the two impossible.
Mandarin Ducks originate in East Asia but have been kept in Europe in aviaries and in ponds and lakes. Stephens Green used to have some, along with many other kinds of wildfowl, until the OPW allowed the Herring Gulls to take over to the extent that they have. I have not seen them do it but would not be in the least surprised if the gulls ate the chicks of many of the waterfowl species until they died out or took off somewhere else.
However, there have been feral Mandarin populations in Ireland for some time, notably in Co. Down and in Wexford and pairs may be establishing themselves in other places, including in the Glasnevin/ Drumcondra area, based around the Tolka (and perhaps the Royal Canal).
The Mandarin is a perching duck and this kind have feet capable of grasping a branch. They build their nests in hollows in trees which is good for the safety of the nesting female and the eggs. But what of the chicks or ducklings? As we know, ducklings take to the water long before they can fly. So what can these ducklings in tree hollows, many feet from the ground, do? They simply jump. A veritable leap into the unknown.
When they hit the ground, which at first sight seems to ensure they have broken practically every bone in their little bodies or a least concussed themselves and messed up their insides, they bounce a little, get up and waddle to their mother. Yes, she called them out, which is why they came.
One needs to see the process to believe and I have included some Youtube links. It would seem at first that they need soft leaf litter or water in which to land but one of the links I have posted shows Mandarin ducklings jumping from a nestbox on to bare stone — and getting up, apparently unhurt. It is difficult to understand, even with accounting for the relationship of weight to surviving a fall. We probably know that we can drop lots of insect species on to the ground and they don’t get hurt but the principle goes farther — apparently a mouse can survive a fall from a great height (unless a hawk gets it on the way down, or a cat is waiting below); conversely a fall of four foot on to its feet can kill an elephant (so it is said — I have not actually tried this with elephants but I have inadvertently confirmed the mouse theory).
Often invasive species should not be welcomed as they upset the natural ecological balance. The grey squirrel in the nearby Botanic Gardens, originally from the USA, may be cute but it is helping to wipe out the native red species. And that’s just one of the invasive species of animal and plant that are causing problems in Ireland (see https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/the-scent-of-intruders/). On the other hand, the widely-distributed Red Valerian (also with white and pink varieties) does not seem to be causing any problems and it is difficult to see how the Mandarin can become a serious problem either. But of course, one does not know for sure. It can be stated that the populations so far established in Britain and in Ireland do not seem to have caused any ecological problems. And it is true that we don’t have many dense woods in Ireland anywhere (thanks to certain human invaders in our history), least of all close to slow-flowing water, although some species have shown remarkable adaptability, witness in these climes the rat, fox, pigeon, herring gull and, of course, homo sapiens.
One of the curious things about the Mandarin is the name we have for it. Apparently, it is a Portuguese word for the Chinese government bureaucrats in existence when the Portuguese first began to trade with them (before they and other Europeans decided to invade China and confiscate areas, in particular ports and islands). How they became associated with the duck was not revealed in my short internet search.
However, in China and in Korea the mandarin duck is associated with fertility, good fortune and constancy in monogamy, so that it is often presented as a wedding gift, either as living pairs or symbolically in an ornament. It is not currently considered an extermination-threatened species.
Video links (second one is of merganser ducklings and is even more impressive):
Diarmuid Breatnach — part of Submission to the Minister’s Moore Street Consultative Group
I have had input to a number of submissions to the Minister’s Moore Street Consultative Group and recently sent in my own personal one. The submission is divided into sections and this is the one dealing with the market (the others will be published at intervals).
DUBLIN’S HISTORIC STREET MARKET
Historically, the Moore Street quarter deserves preserving in its own right and should have been so. Instead, it has been both neglected and preyed upon. But so has the street market.
As the only traditional food street market of antiquity remaining in Dublin, considering also its iconic status to not only Dubliners but migrants through the centuries and to visitors from the countryside, the street market should also have been saved. Such features in cities abroad are promoted for tourists, and indeed both Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland do promote the market to visitors to Dublin. One can see the bemusement of the faces on many as they wander through in groups and imagine their thoughts (or overhear their expression):
“This is the famous street market? Are we sure we haven’t taken a wrong turning?”
It is easy to understand their confusion. Had they come a half-century ago, before the ILAC was built, they would have seen a bustling street, with stalls and shops both sides of the road along its length, and some businesses in side streets. Two decades ago, they would have found no difficulty in imagining the market’s former glory, for much of it remained still. Even a decade ago, perhaps, enough remained to imagine it.
But now? With shops closed and ugly hoardings squeezing the street? With big business shops pushing out in Moore Street? With independent shopkeepers offered only one-year leases at a time and pushed out willy-nilly? With only 15 street trading licences in operation and only some of those on the street at any one time?
The street market is not beyond saving and I will devote some space to that issue but first let us examine how it has come to this, for overcoming those causes is part of the solution.
In a Rogues’ Gallery of those guilty for bringing about this state of affairs, first in line must stand the Planning Department of Dublin City Council, which has made the decisions about what could be built and what demolished.
I know not how much money was placed into how many brown envelopes nor the names of all those who received them (though I have a fair idea of the identities of some of the recipients), nor what other favours were dispensed. But what is clear is that there was massive favour given to big business and speculators, the legendary Gombeen Men, and massive disfavour to street traders, small independent businesses, workers and working class residents. This of course has happened in many other areas of Dublin City and County and indeed elsewhere in Ireland. But one of the most concentrated areas of abuse has been the Moore Street area. And it continues to suffer that abuse.
Who, wanting to conserve a street market, would allow a giant supermarket chain outlet at one end of the street and another next door, in a city centre already abundantly served (if that is the word) by supermarkets? Who, wanting to conserve such a street market, would grant planning permission to huge shopping centre buildings to cover the entire area on each side of that remaining street market? Who, in good stewardship of our city centre, would grant a huge extension on a bad planning permission when the original one of a decade was running out with no work of any significance having been done on it to that point? And what public servants would so callously and nonchalantly ignore the wishes expressed by its citizens and, indeed of late, by the majority of their elected representatives?
Since no other motivations are apparent, one is entitled to assume either idiocy or rapacious greed; since the men involved on both sides of those arrangements are not idiots in the normal sense, that leaves an intelligent observer with only one alternative. And ask most ordinary people in Dublin and they will freely name the alternative, the real motivation.
Next into that rogues’ gallery must step the Department of Dublin City Council responsible for Street Trading – it is they that issue the street trading licenses to the street traders, lay down conditions and enforce restrictions, and in conjunction with other departments, provide their facilities.
Yes, well – facilities? One covered stall, open on all sides. No heating. No lighting other than the dim amount in the street. No water supply near to stalls. No toilets or changing rooms for the traders. Year after year, despite promises to the contrary, these disgraceful conditions continue. Some of the current traders are the fourth generation of their family in such work but is it any wonder that few stall-holders believe their children or grandchildren will follow them into the work?
As if that were not enough, around the time the Moore Street campaign was heating up further, when Chartered Land was gearing up to make its ‘land-swap’ offer, a deal promoted by the head of the Planning Department and lauded by Minister for Heritage Heather Humphreys, Dublin City Council put not one but two permanent Market Inspectors on the street (at that time I think there were only 16 street licenses in operation there). Previously, one inspector would tour the market perhaps once or twice a day, for an hour at most.
What was the practical need for bumping up to this relatively high level of inspection? These inspectors have no powers other than instructing the shops and traders about street and pavement regulations and fining them for non-compliance. They do not attend to any other matters. They do not even claim to monitor the quality of the produce sold in the street.
There is no reasonable answer to this question, unless the purpose is to harass the small shopkeepers and traders further, in the way that unscrupulous landlords harass their tenants when they want to get rid of them but find it difficult to do so legally.
I do not accuse the individual inspectors of having that intention – only those who conceived of the idea and put them on that street. But employ two men on a street which they can clearly see often contains only ten stalls, tell them they have to enforce the street trading rules or their jobs will be in jeopardy — and what will they do? Urged by employment insecurity and sheer boredom, they will go up and down the street, criticising traders and even shopkeepers for extending some inches outside their allotted space (though there are many empty metres to each side and their neighbours are not complaining), or for continuing to sell some minutes after official closing time, threatening and even fining those trying to make a living with legitimate businesses and stalls on that street.
One might almost suspect that between speculators, big chain businesses and certain Dublin City Council officials, there is a conspiracy to run the street market into the ground, in order to make the whole a rasa tabula, a board wiped clean, upon which powerful financial interests can write their plans. Or an eyesore that few will bother to defend. And I say that such a conspiracy exists. Generally in this world, what looks like, feels like and smells like is indeed the substance one suspects.
The Moore Street Market should be cherished, nurtured and supported. Perhaps it is too late to do anything about those already in existence around it but no more supermarkets should be permitted in its near proximity.
The street traders should be given decent working conditions of shelter, heating and light and free from unnecessary official interference (not to say harassment). Small independent businesses should be encouraged in the street and in its surroundings (more on this later). The objective should be to promote a healthy, vigorous, colourful street food market on the spot where such has stood for centuries, with attractive working and earning-a-living conditions for those who work and shop there.
I am not a street trader but I have sold and promoted items publicly on many occasions and I also know something of the conditions in Moore Street, which I attend at least once week and usually a number of other days too.
When the weather is fine it is pleasant to have an open-air market but when it rains, snows or cold winds blow, shelter is desirable. The only way to be able to benefit from good weather and shelter from the bad is to provide a removable cover over the whole. I am sure that our present level of technology can provide a retractable, transparent roof.
Because the winds can be biting and also to conserve heat in winter, I suggest that sliding doors at each end to of the market should be provided – these can be left open or partially drawn as required.
Each stall should have adequate lighting and heating at hand (or foot!). A water supply should be available nearby no more than a few feet distance from every stall.
Toilets should be provided for traders.
There should be more flexibility in what the traders can sell, without losing the focus on a food market. During the 1916 Centenary year, traders were prevented by market inspectors from selling simple 1916 memorabilia – scarves, copies of the proclamation, flags etc. Such a prohibition in Moore Street was particularly ironic and unfortunate.
The refuse collected in the street should be verifiably recycled, the vegetable and fruit refuse in particular making excellent compost for city gardeners (and perhaps for a garden in the quarter itself).
The market traders do not work on Sundays and this seems an excellent opportunity to provide a farmers’ market in the street and lanes, bringing more value to the area.
The part of Moore Street largely omitted from the Barrett judgement, i.e from the Henry Place/ Moore St. junction to Henry Street, should be included in the overall plan
All of the above should be done in consultation with representation from workers, traders, small shopkeepers, shoppers of Moore Street and with local residents and the process should be transparent and publicly accountable
The Basque Country is one of the few places in the world where popular opposition successfully prevented the completion of a nuclear power plant; the opposition consisted of both popular mobilisations and armed action. But is the Spanish state now about to reimpose a nuclear program on the Basques?
In the 1960s, the Spanish state began a program of nuclear plant construction in the territory under its dominion. This was an era of great enthusiasm among states and industrialists for nuclear power and generally there was little popular opposition – most of the nuclear opposition at the time being focused on use of nuclear (and earlier, atomic) weapons and nuclear-powered military vessels.
Broad popular opposition to nuclear power itself began to build in particular after the accident at the nuclear reactor at Three-Mile Island (Pennsylvania, USA, 1979) and a catalogue of smaller nuclear reactor accidents (such as those at Sellafield, Wales, for example).
The lobby in favour of nuclear power tends to emphasize the ‘cleaness’ of the fuel (i.e. as opposed to ‘acid rain’ carbon dioxide and other pollution from coal-burning and oil-burning stations, and oil tanker disasters), relative ‘cheapness’ to produce (as opposed to oil, gas and coal) and possibly inexhaustible power (as opposed to fossil fuels). The lobby against nuclear power quotes environmental damage from accidents with potentially greater consequences and points out that the ‘cheapness’ is created by ignoring the costs of safe disposal of nuclear waste material which, if taken into account, would make it much more expensive.
Of course there are powerful interests in favour of nuclear power programs, including military, industrial energy production and construction industry. Employment opportunities in work-poor areas often build local support for construction of such plants also but in some areas it is precisely the local community that opposes the construction and that was the case in the southern Basque Country (the four provinces in Spanish-controlled territory).
Nuclear reactors tend to be built away from especially large population centres; if one accepts the necessity of such plants this policy makes sense but exposes people in areas far from the national decision-making centres to the pro-nuclear policy and its consequences, actual and potential. The later stages of the Spanish nuclear program included building three reactors in the Basque Country and one had already been built in the first phase at Garoňa, in the nearby Spanish province of Burgos.
LEMOIZ: A HISTORY OF STRUGGLE AGAINST NUCLEAR REACTORS IN THE BASQUE COUNTRY
The first site of the Basque-location phase of construction was at the small harbour of Lemoiz (Lemoniz in Spanish), situated in a picturesque part of Bizkaia (Biscay) province and attracted opposition from a coalition of interests: militant Basque left-nationalists, anti-nuclear and environmental campaigners.
Popular demonstrations began in the 1970s while the site was under construction with people traveling to the site to protest, also holding protests elsewhere and there were even some incidents of sabotage inside the facility, which was guarded by a Guardia Civil (Spanish Francoist paramilitary police force) post. This took place during the life of the Franco regime (he died in 1975) and also after his death during the repression of the “Transición” process which was not completed until 1982. Festivals and marches were also organised elsewhere in the Basque Country against the project.
The first armed attack by ETA was carried out 18 December 1977 with an attack on the Guardia Civil post at the site, during which David Álverez Peña,one of the ETA group’s members was injured, causing his death a month later. ETA later succeeded in planting a bomb in the reactor of the station which exploded on 17 March 1978, causing the death of two employees (Andrés Guerra and Alberto Negro), and wounding another two. Substantial damage was caused to the structure in the explosion, delaying construction.
On an International Day of Action Against Nuclear Power, 3rd June 1979, a police bullet resulted in the death of an anti-nuclear activist during a demonstration in Tudela, a town in the Basque province of Nafarroa; her name was Gladys del Estal and she was from Donostia/ San Sebastian in Gipuzkoa province. Demonstrations against the facility were now a weekly event.
ETA struck again on 13 June of that year with another bomb placed inside the site, on this occasion in the turbine area which, when it detonated, caused the death of another employee, Ángel Baños.
The deaths of employees in explosions might not have been intentional but on 29th January 1981 ETA kidnapped the chief engineer of the power station, José María Ryan, from Bilbao. The armed organisation issued an ultimatum to demolish the facility or to face the death of their hostage. Despite a demonstration organised against this threat, ETA killed engineer when the company did not back down.
The company replaced Ryan with Ángel Pascual as chief project engineer and ETA assassinated him on the 5th May 1982. Work at the site ground to a halt and Iberduero, the company developing the site temporarily halted work, calling on the Basque Government to commit itself to supporting the project.
The Government of the Autonomous Basque regionin which the site was located was in the hands of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) which, although completely opposed to ETA and by no means socialist, feared to go publicly against popular opinion opposed to the nuclear project. In 1983 the company officially stopped work, at which time both reactors were almost ready to go into production.
The deadlock was broken by the PSOE (Spanish unionist social-democratic party) winning the general election in 1984 on an anti-nuclear power policy and their government declared a moratorium on the building of all nuclear reactors throughout the state.
SPANISH STATE RETURNING TO A NUCLEAR -BUILDING PROGRAM?
The Spanish state currently has seven nuclear reactors generating a fifth of its electricity and its first commercial nuclear power reactor began operating in 1968.
After the horrificnuclear reactor disaster of Chernobyl (USSR 1986), people probably assumed that no further nuclear reactors would ever be built in the Spanish state. But the PSOE, the main establishment political party that formerly forced the nuclear moratorium showssigns of beginning to waver on the issue and even the nuclear reactor disaster at Fukishima (Japan 2011) does not appear to have deterred them. The PP, the right-wing Spanish unionist party, has always been in favour of nuclear reactors so that now a ruling class consensus favourable to more reactors seems to be forming (or formed).
Last month, according to press reports in the Basque Country, José Ramón Torralbo, president of Nuclenor, the operator of the Garoña plant, stated that a “two-year-long” “comprehensive” evaluation of the nuclear power plant found no reason that the reactor could not be restarted “with some modifications”, although consideration of the request to reopen the plant is not complete and asked that deliberations of the CSN (Nuclear Safety Council) “should not be interfered with”.
Around the same time it was reported that the reopening of the Lemoiz plant was being considered also.
The decision on reopening is not to be based on questions of feasibility in the short term alone but on the decision of the Spanish Government with regard to its energy policy in general and with regard to nuclear power in particular. The President of Nuclenor indicated when speaking about the Garoña plant that a commitment to operate for 40 years only would rule out feasibility and that they would be looking for a 60-year minimum commitment and preferably for 90 years – presumably this would apply also to the Lemoiz plant.
Referring to environmental and other opposition to nuclear power generation, the president of the Forum of the Spanish Nuclear Industry, Antonio Cornadó, claimed it an “error” to “mix ideological with technological considerations”, stating that has “negative consequences” for the state energy model and for the economy, since the sector generates an important contribution to GDP and taxes.
Cornadó put this figure at €2,781 million contribution of the nuclear industry to Spanish GDP, the equivalent of 30% of the textile and footwear industry and said that “environmental taxes are becoming fashionable and seem set to increase”, stating that of every 100 euros of business, 25 go to the payment of taxes which contributes 781 million euros in taxes overall.
In addition Cornadó raised the fear of “irreversible risk …. of failing to meet climate change targets” and that “Spain is not ready to tackle the massive dismantling of all its nuclear power plants, which would be a very difficult and very expensive technological plan.”
A new uranium mining project is also commencing.
SPANISH STATE READY TO REOPEN LEMOIZ DESPITE ITS HISTORY?
With regard to Lemoiz and plans for any further nuclear reactors in the Basque Country, the factors to consider of course are much than financial viability, given the history of the plant. The Spanish state and indeed the ‘Autonomous’ Basque Government may feel that the current political situation favours a return to the nuclear program in the Basque Country or at least is less favourable to the forces that oppose it. This is despite the leading PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) official in Araba province declaring his opposition to it.
Some Basque trade union sources have claimed that Iberduero, the company owning the Lemoiz plant, have communicated to them that it has no plans to reopen Lemoiz but it is not clear whether these statements are merely trying to calm fears or possibly even enlist trade union support for employment at the plant.
The leadership of the Abertzale (pro-Basque independence) Left has chosen to abandon the armed struggle (ETA has been on “permanent ceasefire” since 2011) and, under the leadership of Arnaldo Otegi, to pursue a national independence program electorally in alliance with social democratic parties, which has seen a fall in street opposition activities also. The opposition to the Abertzale Left’s approach within the broad movement is growing but currently weak and, to an extent, divided. It is difficult to see how the movement’s current mainstream approach can hope to prevent a vigorous return to a Spanish State nuclear program throughout the territory it controls, including the southern four provinces of the Basque Country.
On the other hand, the Spanish ruling class finds itself politically divided and with neither of its main political parties able to form a government, with increasing talk of both of them, the PP and the PSOE, coming to an agreement for a national coalition government. That may bring the Spanish ruling class further problems in the future as the possibility of democratic alternative choices become more remote and are seen to be so. The discontent of broad sections of society within the Spanish state in recent years has been expressed in monster demonstrations, strikes, some movements and in elections, in which oppositional but mainly radical social-democratic parties across the state have made gains, sometimes huge ones. At the moment, the revolutionary opposition movement(s) in all parts of the state is weak and divided but this may change as the situation develops.