Posts Tagged ‘France’

Dirty Diesel

Why is diesel now bad news?

The mayor of Paris wants the city to become ‘semi-pedestrianised’

The Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo wants to ban diesel cars and the pollution they bring from the streets of the French capital. But not long ago, diesel engines were thought to be environmentally friendly. What could have gone wrong?

Opinion on diesel cars has swung widely over the years.

Diesel is a more efficient fuel than petrol, but in the past diesel engines were often noisy and dirty.

Then, with growing concerns over climate change, car manufacturers were urged to produce cleaner, quieter diesel cars to capitalise on their extra fuel efficiency.

The cars were fitted with a trap to catch the particles of smoke associated with the fuel. Several governments rewarded the manufacturing improvements by incentivising the purchase and use of diesel cars.

But the policy has backfired.

Going into reverse

First, there have been problems with the particle traps – some drivers have removed them because they sometimes don’t work properly unless the car is driven hot.

Second, the diesels are still producing nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which irritates the lungs of people with breathing problems. Diesels make several times more NO2 than petrol cars.

Now, in order to meet European air pollution laws, politicians are being forced into an embarrassing U-turn, telling drivers that they’ve decided they don’t much like diesels after all.

MPs in the UK have mooted a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, while the mayor of Paris has called for a ban.

Several European nations are currently in breach of EU clean air laws.

The EU’s NO2 limit was exceeded at 301 sites in 2012, including seven in London. The concentration on Marylebone Road was more than double the limit.

Districts in Athens, Berlin, Brussels, Madrid, Paris, and Rome are also exceeded the ceiling.


Not just carbon: Key pollutants for human health

  • Particulate matter (PM): Can cause or aggravate cardiovascular and lung diseases, heart attacks and arrhythmias. Can cause cancer. May lead to atherosclerosis, adverse birth outcomes and childhood respiratory disease. The outcome can be premature death.
  • Ozone (O3): Can decrease lung function and aggravate asthma and other lung diseases. Can also lead to premature death.
  • Nitrogen oxides (NO2): Exposure to NO2 is associated with increased deaths from heart and lung disease, and respiratory illness.
  • Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), in particular benzo a-pyrene (BaP): Carcinogenic.

Politicians are now scurrying to persuade the courts that they are obeying an EU demand to clean up the air as soon as possible.

Source: BBCNews Read more

Nature Ramble

In Paris the old railway has been defunct since the 1930s

But there are plans afoot.

Conservationists hope to turn a disused Paris railway line into a nature trail

City launches consultation process to decide the fate of orbital track that could offer residents their own ‘little belt’ of green

The disused railway La Petite Ceinture, in Paris. Photograph: Alamy

The visit starts on an icy January morning, overlooking Cours de Vincennes in the 12th arrondissement of Paris. The rails are coated in frost. We step gingerly out onto the iron bridge that spans the busy traffic, then enter an area that has run wild. The noise of the city is suddenly dulled. We are exploring the Petite Ceinture (which translates as “little belt”), a 32km circular rail link round Paris – part elevated, part in cuttings or underground – inside the Périphérique ring road.

Buildings rise on either side of the old railway, but sufficiently far away to give a real sense of space. The track runs through an abandoned station, covered in colourful graffiti. Beyond the vegetation we glimpse blocks of flats with spacious balconies, conjuring up an odd impression of having slipped behind the scenery.

So what should Paris do with this secret hideaway? Leave it to run wild, or turn it into a park? The city council has launched a consultation process involving residents and neighbourhood groups, the aim being to take a decision at the end of the year. The topic has stirred a lively response: train enthusiasts are keen to reinstate the service; nature enthusiasts want to turn the track into a wildlife reserve; and sport lovers sees the route as a gift for exercising.

The orbital railway was originally built between 1852-69 to transport goods and passengers, connecting up the mainline stations. A victim of the Métro’s success, passenger services were withdrawn in 1934, with a trickle of goods traffic persisting until the 1990s. Only a section round the west of the capital is now used by the RER C express service. Vegetation has taken over, soon followed by wildlife (bats and birds, hedgehogs and foxes), turning the old line into a biodiversity reserve. Other, more or less illegal practices have also taken root here: it is a paradise for graffiti artists and a refuge for the homeless. Various work-integration schemes carry out a minimum amount of upkeep.

The council would like to turn part of the track into a green swathe, but it is not the only one to have a say. The land belongs to Réseau Ferré de France (RFF, which operates the whole French rail infrastructure). In 2006 the two organisations signed an agreement enabling sections of track to be opened to the public.

A nature trail was established in the 16th arrondissement, and a park is being laid out across the Seine in the 15th district. But the agreement expires this year. RFF is considering shutting down the stretches of track where there is no further prospect of rail traffic, in particular in the east and south, between Gare des Gobelins, near Place d’Italie, and the Parc André Citroën, west of the Eiffel tower.

Anne Hidalgo, the deputy-mayor tasked with planning (slated to run for mayor in the municipal election next year), advocates a long east-west swathe connecting the wooded areas – Vincennes and Boulogne – at either end of the city. “My idea is to make this an area for leisure, walking and getting some fresh air, keeping as much continuity as possible,” she says. Hidalgo is conscious of the fact that her potential Green allies are keen to protect biodiversity and consequently opposed to chopping the trail into little bits. But allowance must also be made for other factors: two-thirds of the line is in the open air, the rest consisting of either tunnels or deep cuttings, posing a risk for ramblers.

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Cities around the world have such sites, they should not be turned over for corporate use, they should be preserved to create badly needed green belts in our cities to save us from pollution and help get the kids outdoors. We need to do this for future generations, it is their legacy.

Nature Ramble

We hear about plenty of common small wild animals. Badgers, beavers, moles, racoons, squirrels and the like. But there is another that we don’t hear about often.



A pair of lithe animals are tumbling across the grass within feet of me

Ariege, France: They’re stone martens, slightly smaller than our British pine martens, and just as beautiful and fierce

European stone marten. Photograph: Alamy

My terrier Phoebe bouncing ahead, I trail down into the valley and rest against a false acacia on the bank of the winterbourne – still flowing after the wet winter and spring. In front of me a faint trail leads into thick oakwoods that stretch from Perpignan to Biarritz along the northern apron of the Pyrenees. The path is used by a sounder – a matriarchal group of sangliers, the wild boar of the region, which live deep among the trees, sleep daylong, and emerge to forage towards dusk.

Signs of them are all around. I’ve frequently seen them along the forest margin on my evening walks; watched their endearing, chest-heavy, lolloping run; been delighted by the playfulness of their coffee-and-cream striped young. Just by where I sit, I notice they’ve dug up and nipped clean off from the stem tubers of white bryony that grows here – a plant deadly poisonous to cattle, yet the wild pigs seem immune to its toxicity.

My eye is caught by movement. A pair of lithe, dark animals are chasing and tumbling across the grass within feet of me in what appears to be mating play. I hook my fingers into Phoebe’s collar and watch. They’re stone martens – fouines in French – slightly smaller than our British pine martens, and just as beautiful and fierce. Their undulating motion is hypnotic. They seem amiable with each other. I’ve never seen one before, let alone a pair.

The oddity about these two is that the pale fork-markings on the breast, which descriptions lead you to expect are no more than vestigial. These last six years spent mostly in Europe’s last great wilderness have taught me that variation here is standard: melanistic fouines to match the melanistic red squirrels that gnaw delicately at their hazelnuts on my bedroom window-ledge each morning. Presumably in both squirrel and stone marten it’s an adaptive melanism, to provide camouflage in the dense, shadowy woods of Ariege? Darwin would have been intrigued and vindicated.


Monday Moaning

The moment of truth has arrived…

One in five French bottled waters ‘contain drugs or pesticides’

Researchers analysed 47 widely available brands, and discovered 10 were contaminated with miniscule amounts

Traces of pesticides and prescription drugs have been found in some brands of bottled water in France. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

They are sold as being cleaner, healthier and purer than the water that spouts from the average French tap.

Now, however, an investigation has discovered traces of pesticides and prescription drugs – including a medicine used to treat breast cancer – in almost one in five brands of bottled water on the shelves of France’s supermarkets.

While scientists insist the contamination is minuscule and the water remains safe, consumer groups are warning of a “potential cocktail effect” for drinkers, and say the findings raise serious environmental concerns.

The study was carried out by the consumer magazine 60 Millions de Consommateurs and the non-governmental organisation specialising in global water issues, Fondation France Libertés.

Researchers analysed 47 brands of bottled water widely available in French shops, and discovered that 10 contained “residues from drugs or pesticides”.

“The biggest surprise was the presence of tamoxifen, a synthetic hormone used in the treatment of breast cancer,” wrote the magazine. It reported finding traces of the powerful prescription drug in the popular brands Mont Roucous, St-Yorre, Salvetat, Saint Armand and the Carrefour discount label Céline Cristaline.

It added that the quantity was minute but “enough for us to question the purity of the original produce imposed by regulations covering mineral water”.

Traces of the prescription drugs buflomedil and naftidrofuryl, known as vasodilators and used to dilate arteries in those suffering from high blood pressure, were found in Hepar and Saint Armand mineral waters.

Molecules from pesticides banned in 2001 were found in bottles of Vittel, Volvic, Cora and Cristaline.

After the mineral water companies contested the results, the magazine commissioned a second round of tests, which confirmed the first results.

“It’s true the micropollutants found were present in very small quantities, but the range of them raises concerns about a potential cocktail effect,” 60 Millions de Consommateurs reported.

“This is serious enough to call for a much bigger study,” it added, calling for tighter controls on bottled waters to identify what it called “new pollutants”.

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Well, it looks like we’ve done it!

If this is true in France, then it stands to reason that it’s true for much of the world.

The question remains, how long now before the ‘micropollutants’ become a serious health hazard in doses that require medical supervision?

atoxic-cocktailThe world is in deep shit!

Because once we have put these pollutants in the water, we can’t take them out!

We, as a race, are doomed now to drinking toxic cocktails, that are becoming more lethal with time. Because as sure as the process has started, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

From this report, one can only assume that there are no truly unpolluted water resources left.

The air, the water, the sea and the land are all poisoned.

Our irresponsibility and stupidity know no bounds.


Nature Ramble

The world of catfish has changed.

Putting the Catfish amongst the Pigeons

In Southwestern France, a group of fish have learned how to kill birds. As the River Tarn winds through the city of Albi, it contains a small gravel island where pigeons gather to clean and bathe. And patrolling the island are European catfish—1 to 1.5 metres long, and the largest freshwater fish on the continent. These particular catfish have taken to lunging out of the water, grabbing a pigeon, and then wriggling back into the water to swallow their prey. In the process, they temporarily strand themselves on land for a few seconds.

Catfish get their name for the long, sensitive whiskers (or ‘barbels’) on their upper jaws, and the Tarn fishes would erect theirs when they were hunting pigeons. This, combined with the fact that only moving pigeons were ever attacked, suggests that the fish are sensing the vibrations of birds that approached the water.

Source: Discover Read more there

Evolution at work…

Nature Ramble

Last week we were off to the beach and had a look at sand dunes and plants, this week we are off to the mountains.

I consider myself to be pretty well aware of animals. I know that their are more than just elephants and tigers in the world, but I didn’t know we had the Desman.

“At first glimpse, it looks like a strange mish-mash of creatures – part rat, part mole, part platypus.” – BBC News

Pyrenean desman: On the trail of Europe’s weirdest beast

The BBC’s Rebecca Morelle joined scientist Dr Yolanda Melero on the trail of the Pyrenean desman

It’s the dead of night.

And while the rest of the world sleeps, a team of scientists is wading knee-deep through the fast-flowing streams that cut through the Pyrenees.

I’ve joined them on the trail of a creature that few have heard of and even less have set eyes on: the Pyrenean desman (Galemys pyrenaicus).

This small aquatic mammal only comes out under the cover of darkness. And it’s not easy to find.

Half-submerged in the dark waters lie several tube-shaped mesh traps; the hope is that a passing desman may have swum into one.

The researchers angle their head torches for a closer look. But most of the traps – apart from the odd trout that has sneaked in – prove empty.

Bizarre looks

The desman was once thought to be widespread across mountain ranges in France, Spain and Portugal.

But now Catalonia’s Alt Pirineu Natural Park is one of the last strongholds for this species.

The Pyrenean desman is one of the very last in an evolutionary line

And eventually, we strike lucky: inside one of the traps, a glint of grey catches in the beam of a torch.

As the researchers gently remove the creature from the stream, I’m able to take a look at the odd little mammal.

At first glimpse, it looks like a strange mish-mash of creatures – part rat, part mole, part platypus.

It’s about the size of a hamster, with a glossy grey coat.

It has a huge nose – like a miniature version of an elephant’s trunk – framed with long whiskers and beady little eyes. Its front paws are tiny, but its back feet are huge – and webbed. It’s topped off by a thick, scaly tail.

“It is such a special creature – it really is one of Europe’s strangest creatures,” says Dr Yolanda Melero, who is based at the University of Aberdeen but is working with the University of Barcelona to carry out desman research.

“It’s very well adapted to its environment: it is a very good swimmer.

Finding out more about the desman is the key to saving it, the researchers say.


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Today, I learned something…

The Mediterranean has wetlands.

I didn’t know that before.

If you mention to me ‘the Mediterranian’, I conjure up images of tourism, sun, olive trees and the Biblical lands. I would never have associated the Mediterranean with wetlands.

Mediterranian Wetlands

Lots of them, dotted around everywhere; Lakes, lagoons, dams and river deltas. 570,000,000 hectares – roughly 6% of the Earth’s land surface

You want to see the diversity, check TOUR DU VALAT

And, they’re in trouble…

Protection ‘vital for Mediterranean’s wetlands’

Thymio Pappayannis on how wetlands in the Mediterranean have changed

Urgent government action is the only thing that can stem the crisis facing the Mediterranean’s wetlands.

That was the message from a recent meeting convened to discuss how best to protect these increasingly vulnerable ecosystems.

Mangroves, reed beds, peat bogs, ponds, river banks, swamps, marshes all fall under the heading of wetlands.

Under the umbrella of the Mediterranean Wetlands Initiative (MedWet), more than 350 specialists from countries in the region came together in Agadir, Morocco, to discuss the challenges facing these unique ecosystems.

They were drawn from a daunting range of disciplines: there were bird watchers, eel specialists, forestry commissioners, marine biologists and environmentalists present at the symposium.

Their discussions centred on refining old strategies and developing new ways of conserving wetlands.

With more than 50% of the Mediterranean’s wetlands lost over the last century, Laurent Chazee, the co-ordinator of a report published during the symposium, say he wants governments to wake-up, stressing the need for urgent action.

“It is no longer enough to leave the fight to environmentalists,” he says.

“Governments must get involved and policies have to be more clearly thought through. If not, whole areas of countries to the south of the Mediterranean will be de-populated as people move away in search of water.”

In addition to increasing population, intensive agriculture, tourism pressures and climate change, new and as yet unquantified changes are having an impact on wetlands.

Source: BBC News Read more

An example:

Wadi Rum in Jordan.

Black Iris, Jordan's national flower

Wadi Rum is a protected environment. Rare species of animals, small plants, and herbs can be found by the inquisitive traveler. Red anemones, poppies and the striking black iris, Jordan’s national flower, all grow at will by the roadside and in more quiet reaches. Herbal medicinal cures used for centuries by the Bedouins are found in the mountainous regions.

Wadi Rum is also a bird-watchers’ haven with its 110 recorded species. Vultures, buzzards, eagles and sparrows are a few to be seen by those looking skyward. Other interesting creatures to be found include the camel-spider, feared by local Bedouins for its ability to harm camels, however this spider is not dangerous to man.

Seen gracefully in its natural habitat, the Ibex, mountain goat, is often spotted in the desert terrain. Another interesting animals are the Gray Wolf, Blandford’s Fox, and the Arabian Sand Cat which is similar in appearance to a domesticated cat and survives in its harsh desert surroundings.


Who ever knew about this? I am amazed. Source: Atlas


The Ebro Delta

Natural water wells at the Ebro Delta - an interesting freshwater habitat typical of Spanish Mediterranean coastal plains close to karstic countryside where underground water overflows. (Photo: Anna Motis)

The Ebro Delta is one of the major river deltas of the Mediterranean Basin. It covers an area of 320km2 and consists of a typical delta platform extending 30km into the Mediterranean. The main surface of the delta is covered by agricultural land, and most natural areas are located along the edges, behind large natural beaches and sand dunes.

Because the Ebro Delta is heavily populated compared to other Mediterranean wetlands, the area is intensively utilized. There are very few areas where the natural resources are not exploited. In most of the delta, agriculture is the main activity and this includes intensive rice production covering 21,500ha and in some areas other crops such as lettuce, tomato, and melon. In a couple of relatively small areas, there is some extensive cattle ranching allowing the development of interesting habitats. Fishing is very important both in the lagoons, river and surrounding sea. Shellfish production is also remarkable in the enclosed bays of La Banya and El Fangar. Source: Ramsar

Species never imagined…

The wetland surrounding the Dead Sea supports endangered species such as ibex, hyrax and even a few Arabian leopards.

Source: WWF

Iberian lynx

Source: WWF

Blue Swamp Hen

Albufera Marshland, Mallorca

Other species include ospreys, turtledoves, night herons, scops owls, hoopoes, black-winged stilts, Kentish plovers, glossy ibis, spoonbills, bee-eaters, purple gallunule, great reed warblers, flamingos, and the purple swamp hen (pictured above). Not to mention species that are fairly rare elsewhere in Europe, such as the black vulture, Eleonora’s falcon, Audouin’s gull, the moustached warbler, and Marmora’s warbler.

Source: BlueBay

Treasured habitat ... a flock of flamingos feeding in the Carmargue, France. Photograph: Alamy

Source: The Guardian

Ox Eye, Wadi Rum, Jordan

Source: Atlas


Plants, animals, reptiles, insects all inhabit the wetlands, the same as anywhere in the world. They are a part of our heritage and like everything else on the planet we are slowly but surely destroying them.

Many of the wetlands featured in this post are in European lands that are suffering from the global financial meltdown, or in lands where political strife is endemic. The governments are more interested in saving banks than flora and fauna.

The natural elements of this world, the beauty and majesty are not on the lists of priorities.

Are we doomed to totally destroy the beauty of our little blue ball in space?

When you consider the importance that this 3rd Rock from the Sun plays in the larger plan of the cosmos, it’s probably not too important, but for us, humanity, it is our home; it is all we have…

There is no Planet B.

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