When aliens attack Antarctica

  • 12 January 2019
  • From the section England
Eretmoptera murphyi
Image caption Eretmoptera murphyi, the tiny flightless midge causing all the problems

This tiny bug is technically the largest land animal that lives permanently in Antarctica. (Penguins and seals don't count as they are marine animals.) Unfortunately, it's not supposed to be there and new research from the University of Birmingham has revealed the size of the problems it's causing.

Eretmoptera murphyi is a flightless midge that arrived on the Antarctic island of Signy in the 1960s and, rather embarrassingly, it was brought there by scientists conducting an experiments on plants.

Plants from South Georgia were brought to Signy to see if they could survive the conditions. At the end of the experiment the plants and soil they grew in were all removed but by then it was too late as the midge and its larvae had long moved out and colonised the island.

Image caption On the island of Signy the midge larvae are slowly destroying the peaty soils

Although we didn't actually notice this until the 1980s.

So why is this tiny little bug a problem? Well the peaty soils of Antarctica have never seen anything like it. Eretmoptera chews through the soils producing lots of nitrogen. It's acting like an earthworm in an environment that's never seen any earthworms at all.

Read full article When aliens attack Antarctica

Big changes to recycling black plastic

  • 14 December 2018
  • From the section England
Herbs ready for next year being potted up in the plastic pots
Image caption The taupe pots are being made by a company in Tipton

Traditional black plastic plant pots are being replaced with a new colour.

The change will allow the pots to be put straight into household recycling for the first time.

Read full article Big changes to recycling black plastic

Detecting gravitational waves caused by black holes

  • 11 December 2018
  • From the section England
Artists impression of two black holes locked in a “death spiral” Image copyright LIGO
Image caption An artist's impression of two black holes locked in a death spiral

If I'm honest, I was a bit jealous when gravitational waves were discovered. One hundred years after Einstein said they existed, researchers from the University of Birmingham throw the switch on their big new detector and find gravitational waves on day one.

I mean, who does science like that? That's just showing off.

Read full article Detecting gravitational waves caused by black holes

Discover the violent end of the Oxford dodo

Display model of a dodo Image copyright University of Warwick
Image caption A dodo model on display in Oxford - the actual dodo remains are usually kept under lock and key

For a bird that has been extinct for more than 350 years, you probably think there is not much left to learn about the dodo. But you would be wrong, thanks to the latest research at the University of Warwick.

The specimen that the team based at WMG has been studying is a very famous dodo indeed. It belongs to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and it is so precious it is kept under lock and key.

Read full article Discover the violent end of the Oxford dodo

Soggy Spring causing a real headache for our farmers

Muddy field
Image caption This Staffordshire farm has seen over 100mm of rain in March, that’s twice the usual amount for them

Actually soggy doesn't really do it justice. Depending on where in the Midlands you ask the question this is the wettest March for six or even eight years and it tops a pretty miserable start to 2018. All of this is having a huge impact on every sort of farming.

This week I've been talking to farmers about the weather and the impact this snow, endless rain and cold have been having since the start of the year. No farmer has emerged unscathed.

Read full article Soggy Spring causing a real headache for our farmers

New kitchen appliance turning rubbish into hot water

Nik Spencer and David Gregory-Kumar
Image caption Nik Spencer, the man behind the HERU, shows me how it works

A kitchen gadget that reduces your rubbish and recycling to spoonful of ash while heating your home's hot water? Sounds like science fiction, and yet that's just what a new invention promises.

In my job there are various sorts of inventions you come across. Ranging from the really crazy ideas to the inventions that seem promising, but that you can't see making it beyond the prototype. Rarest and most exciting are the inventions that are both amazing and clearly in the hands of people who can turn them into reality.

Read full article New kitchen appliance turning rubbish into hot water

The future of farming after we leave the European Union

Lamb from Lambing Live
Image caption When it comes to British lamb, French shoppers are prepared to pay. But will tariffs be pushed up post Brexit.

To mark a year until the UK officially leaves the EU I was asked by the team at BBC Farming Today to take a look at how preparations for Brexit are going when it comes to agriculture in England.

I thought you might like to read the slightly longer version of my contribution which you can also hear here.

Read full article The future of farming after we leave the European Union

Cutting plastic pollution from bottle to bin and beyond

Plastic bottles on factory conveyer
Image caption Wenlock Spring has halved the weight of plastic in its bottles and wants to move to using 100% recycled plastic

For the last few weeks I've been looking at the problems posed by plastic pollution. From the companies that make and use plastic bottles through to the people who pick up plastic litter on our canals. There have been huge steps forward in reducing and recycling plastic waste but all of us could be doing more.

Inspired by the BBC's Blue Planet II we set out to learn more about the problems posed by plastic. But first, if we're going to talk about plastic, we need to accept that sometimes plastic is a really useful material. As a director of a Midlands spring water firm said to me: "No one wants to take a glass bottle of water to the gym."

Read full article Cutting plastic pollution from bottle to bin and beyond

Is bitcoin finally going mainstream in the Midlands?

Bitcoin machine
Image caption The machine has a large touch screen and makes the process of buying and selling bitcoins pretty painless

Hanging around with bitcoin enthusiasts is intoxicating.

It's a seductive idea, free magic money from the internet.

Read full article Is bitcoin finally going mainstream in the Midlands?

Farming productivity puzzle a serious challenge

Farm machinery
Image caption More training and a better connection with researchers could boost farm productivity

Farmers are already making business decisions that will come to fruition after we leave the EU. But according to a new report, in a world outside Europe, our farmers are at a big disadvantage when it comes to competing in a global marketplace. They're just much less productive than farmers in other major economies.

Productivity is something economists like to try and measure. In this case as farmers try new ideas and invest in new technology then over time their productivity goes up. The difficulty is, even though it is rising, our productivity is pretty poor when compared with other countries.

Read full article Farming productivity puzzle a serious challenge