Tag Archives: Scotland

Beaver families get ‘legal right to remain’ in the UK

A victory of science and conservation ensures that several families of beavers will be allowed to live in southwest England. It’s the first time an extinct native mammal has been given the official right to remain in England.

Beavers have been making a small resurgence in Europe. Image credits: Max Saeling.

The European beaver was once common across much of Europe and western Asia. However, they were hunted to near-extinction, and at the turn of the 20th century, there were only around 1,200 beavers surviving in relic populations.

In England, beavers had been extinct since the 16th century — until 2013. In 2013, a surprising video showed a family of beavers on the aptly-named Otter River, in Devon, England. It’s not clear how the beavers got there in the first place, and authorities were planning on having them removed.

The Devon Wildlife Trust, the local branch of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, stepped in to help the beavers. Along with the University of Exeter, Clinton Devon Estates, and the Derek Gow Consultancy, they were granted a five-year delay to study the beavers and their effect on the wildlife.

Beavers feel safer in deeper water, so they have mastered the art of building dams and pools. They also build complex homes with underwater entrances, that keep them safe. These behaviors have the ability to reshape the entire ecosystem to their liking — but their liking can be helpful for the environment. In the five years in which researchers studied the effects that the beavers had on the local environment, they concluded that “the positive impacts of beavers outweighed the negatives”.

The benefits that the beavers provided helped not only the natural ecosystem but also the local human settlements. They boosted biodiversity by creating new, wild wetlands, and the structures the beavers built also helped filter pollutants from water. Their dams worked as a natural defense against flooding, and the water became cleaner and clearer. Overall, the local ecology was replenished and supported. Professor Richard Brazier, from the University of Exeter, also notes that the activities of beavers help to lock up carbon and are also encouraging “wildlife tourism,” as people wanting to spot then inject revenue into the local economy.

In light of these findings, the English government has granted the beavers a ‘legal right to remain’ in the area.

The decision was hailed as a landmark precedent, with envronment minister Rebecca Pow saying that the project is “informing how we think in the future” and that the beavers can be a “natural management tool”. There are now at least 50 beavers at the site in Devon, and there is evidence that beavers are also active in other parts of the country — and it’s not clear what will happen to these populations.

The situation in England seems to mirror that in Scotland, where beavers were reintroduced a decade ago and seem to be doing well.

However, not everyone is convinced. The Angling Trust, a representative body for all anglers in England and Wales, expressed disappointment at the protection that beavers were offered instead of other protected migratory fish species — although researchers note that the beaver activity has actually increased fish biomass. However, despite this decision, the British beaver battle is only just beginning.

In Scotland, farmers have also raised concerns about the dams flooding valuable agricultural land, and the Scottish government has authorized the cull of 87 beavers, out of a population of 450 individuals (although beavers are a protected species under European law).

Those involved in the Devon beaver trial emphasize that any wider reintroduction requires careful management. However, if things are done right, the benefits strongly outweigh any such costs.

After centuries of near-extinction, European beavers may finally get a breather.

Fossil Friday: oldest millipede shows how quickly terrestrial life evolved

A 425-million-year-old fossil millipede found on the island of Kerrera (Scotland) is the oldest known fossil of an insect, according to researchers at The University of Texas at Austin (UT).

The millipede fossil.
Images British Geological Survey

The finding points to terrestrial insects (and the plants they ate) evolving at a much more rapid pace than previously assumed, the team explains. The age of this millipede (Kampecaris obanensis) would mean that terrestrial ecosystems evolved from humble water-hugging communities to sprawling, complex forests in just 40 million years.

Big, old bug

“It’s a big jump from these tiny guys to very complex forest communities, and in the scheme of things, it didn’t take that long,” said Michael Brookfield, a research associate at UT Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences and lead author of the paper. “It seems to be a rapid radiation of evolution from these mountain valleys, down to the lowlands, and then worldwide after that.”

Using a refined dating technique developed in the Jackson School’s Department of Geological Sciences, the team established that the fossil is 425 million years old. This would put it at around 75 million years earlier than our previously estimated date for the first millipedes — as determined using a technique known as molecular clock dating, which is based on DNA’s mutation rate.

This finding ties in well with other research that found land-dwelling stemmed plants in Scotland were also 425 million years old and 75 million years older than molecular clock estimates.

Naturally, there could be older fossils of insects or plants out there, Brookfield notes, but they haven’t been found yet. So for now, we’ll have to use this as the earliest evidence of their presence.

Still, the fossil points to land ecosystems evolving and diversifying much more quickly than previously assumed.

The paper “Myriapod divergence times differ between molecular clock and fossil evidence: U/Pb zircon ages of the earliest fossil millipede-bearing sediments and their significance” has been published in the journal Historical Biology.

Scotland to reach this year 100% renewable energy goal

Fossil fuels are one of the main drivers of climate change, so shifting towards renewable energy is one of the main changes a country can make. That’s the case of Scotland, which is in line with having an energy matrix fully based on renewables this year.

A wind farm in Scotland. Credit Wikipedia Commons

Scotland, which will host this year’s UN climate summit in November, is considered a global leader on clean energy. The country set its goal to leave behind fossils by 2020 and an interim goal of powering 50% of its electricity with renewables by 2015 – a target clearly exceeded.

Renewable energy powered 59% of Scotland’s energy in 2015, according to Scottish Development International. Since then, the country has continued to increase its use of renewables. In 2017, 68.1% of its energy came from clean sources, a figure which rose to 74.6% by 2018.

According to WWF, Scotland generated 9,831,320 megawatt-hours (MWh) of wind energy between January and July of 2019. That could power 182% of all the 4.4 million Scottish homes, or 100% of the homes in Scotland and the North of England.

“These are amazing figures; Scotland’s wind energy revolution is clearly continuing to power ahead. Up and down the country, we are all benefitting from cleaner energy and so is the climate,” Robin Parker, WWF Scotland’s Climate and Energy Policy Manager, said in a statement for WWF.

Wind power is the main favorite in Scotland but other sources of renewable energy are also employed such as solar, geothermal, biomass, hydroelectric, and hydrokinetic (wave power). Achieving a 100% renewables-based energy matrix would add Scotland to the list of other countries that achieved the same goal, such as Paraguay, Iceland, and the Congo.

In a recent report, the organization Scottish Renewables estimates Scotland will reach its goal this year thanks to the government’s active role in the matter. It declared the climate emergency and committed to having zero emissions by 2045 – five years earlier than the goal set by the UK.

No matter the goal, the expansion of renewables continues in Scotland. ScottishPower, the renewable energy arm of the power companies, plans for a major expansion of onshore windfarm projects across the country. Almost 100 sites for a new generation of wind farms have already been considered.

The next focus for the government should be in decarbonizing the heat and transportation sectors, NGOs have claimed. The government has pledged to phase out petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 as part of the Climate Change Bill. This would mean a massive expansion of the number of electric vehicles and charging stations.

Laser technology study reveals 1,000 monuments on ancient Scottish Isle

A cutting-edge archaeological laser scan (lidar) has revealed up to a thousand previously unknown monuments on the Scottish Island of Arran, which has been continuously inhabited since the early Neolithic period.

Temporary huts from the post-medieval period were identified for the first time. Image credits: Historic Environment Scotland.

Archaeologists have been interested in the Arran Island (which lies relatively close to Glasgow) ever since they discovered a remarkable concentration of early Neolithic Cairns — chambered funeral monuments consisting of a sizeable (usually stone) chamber and a structure of stones around it. The island also featured an important monastery and was involved in the Viking wars of the medieval age.

However, although the island is riddled with monuments and artifacts, actually mapping and discovering all of them remains challenging. Archaeological digs take a lot of time and are a delicate procedure so more and more, researchers are turning to remote sensing.

Arran Island as seen from above. Image credits: L. J. Cunningham.

Arran was scanned with Lidar — a remote sensing technology which uses the pulse from a laser to map distances with very high accuracy. It works something like this: a drone is flown above the area of interest. The position of the drone is measured very carefully and constantly monitored. The lidar equipment is on the drone, and it produces a detailed topographical map of the ground. But thankfully for archaeologists, Lidar goes even beyond that: it can reveal features which are indistinguishable from the ground level or with the naked eye.

The remains of a hut circle as seen with Lidar. Image credits: Historic Environment Scotland.

This is not nearly the first time Lidar has been used in archaeology. The approach has been successfully used multiple times (for instance to discover Maya or Roman features). However, archaeologists from Historic Environment Scotland (HES), who carried out the work, said this was the largest survey of this type ever undertaken in Scotland. It’s also a good example of how useful Lidar can really be in archaeology.

“As this technology becomes more widely available, we expect to find tens of thousands more ancient sites across the rest of Scotland – working at a pace that was unimaginable a few years ago,” says HES rapid archaeological mapping manager Dave Cowley.

He also added that the survey revealed far more ancient monuments than they knew about, allowing them to undertake a rapid survey within days, rather than wait months or years for a classic archaeological study — which probably wouldn’t have revealed as many features anyway.

Scotland produces enough wind energy to power itself twice

The list of countries breaking records in renewable energy just got bigger, with Scotland now joining the bandwagon. In the first half of 2019, the country generated enough energy from wind power to supply its homes twice over.

Credit: Cowrin (Flickr)


Data from WeatherEnergy shows that Scottish wind turbines generated just over 9.8 million megawatt-hours of electricity between January and June, or enough to power roughly 4.47 million homes — nearly twice as many homes as there currently are in the country.

“These are amazing figures, Scotland’s wind energy revolution is clearly continuing to power ahead,” says Robin Parker, the Climate & Energy Policy Manager at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). “Up and down the country, we are all benefiting from cleaner energy and so is the climate.”

The new figures are a record high for wind energy in the nation and it means the turbines could have provided enough electricity for every dwelling in Scotland, as well as northern England. March was the high watermark, with 2,194,981 MWh of output produced in the month.

“These figures really highlight the consistency of wind energy in Scotland and why it now plays a major part in the UK energy market,” says Alex Wilcox Brooke, Weather Energy Project Manager at Severn Wye Energy Agency.

The UK as a whole is on a roll in renewable energy. It just managed its longest stretch without relying on coal power since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. Coal power stations didn’t supply any energy to the grid for seven days in a row, according to the National Grid in the UK – a total of 167 consecutive hours.

That’s in line with the UK government’s target to do without coal completely by 2025, and it looks as though Scotland could have a big part to play in reaching that goal. The country is seen as a pioneer when it comes to wind power, with onshore and offshore farms now at a capacity of 8,423 MW as of December 2018.

The country has a goal of using renewable energy sources to provide 100% of Scotland’s gross annual electricity by 2020. If it accomplishes this goal, that would mean that beginning next year, Scots will not be using any fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Back in 2015, Scotland had already met and exceeded its interim goal of powering 50% of its electricity with renewable energy. Wind energy is a favorite in the country, but other renewable energy sources include solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, hydrokinetic, and biomass.


The Antonine Wall was adorned with brightly-colored, grisly propaganda to keep Scottish tribes at bay

Ancient Romans didn’t have any qualms about using some propaganda to keep Scottish tribes in line (and far away).

Bridgeness Slab.

The original Bridgeness Slab, currently at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.
Image via Wikimedia / user Barnimg.

What’s the best way to keep roving, rampaging Scottish tribesmen from pillaging your forum? To be honest, it’s probably a heavily-armed legion — but dazzling red, yellow, and white paints come a close second, according to Louisa Campbell, an archaeologist at the University of Glasgow.

A great, big, physical, painted wall

Known as the Antonine Wall, the fortification was built in the mid-second century AD right on the edge of Rome’s holdings in England. Like The Wall in Game of Thrones — for which it likely served as inspiration — the Antonine Wall was meant to keep dangerous northerners away. To make sure it worked, the Romans made sure this wall was scary — stone slabs placed along the wall were adorned with bloody-beaked Roman eagles, and images of victorious legionnaires with decapitated enemies. Just for good measure, the stones also sported carved-in Latin inscriptions alongside these graphic warnings.


The inscription on the Bridgeness slab is a dedication to the Emperor Antoninus Pius. It reads (often with abbreviations):
Emperor Caesar Titus Aelius / Hadrianus Antoninus / Augustus Pius, Father of his Country, The Second Legion / Augusta, made (built) four thousand six-hundred and fifty-two paces (of the wall).
Image via Wikimedia / user dun_deagh.

According to Louisa Campbell, an archaeologist at the University of Glasgow, the stone slabs were “Roman propaganda” used to scare off local tribespeople living north of the Antonine Wall (basically, today’s Scotland). The stones are now their natural plain grey, but Campbell’s research shows they were once painted in bright colors. She reports finding residues of natural red and yellow ochre pigments, of matter and realgar (a plant used to make red dye and a red mineral respectively), white lead, and orpiment (a bright yellow mineral).

Campbell studied 19 such slabs (or “distance stones”) found along the wall, including the two most famous of these stones: the Summerston and the Bridgeness Slab. Both depicted scenes of Roman cavalry mowing through northern warriors or guarding bound captives. The Bridgeness Slab also showed a decapitated warrior in the midst of a battle, and Campbell found residue of red paint on both ends of the severed neck. The Summerston Slab might have featured a blood-red painted Roman eagle.

Red seems to have been primarily used to paint details, such as the cloaks of Roman soldiers and spatters of blood on the enemies of said soldiers. It seems to me like a subtle, quite smart use of the color. On one hand, it makes the legionnaires clearly distinguishable, capitalizing on Rome’s iconic red uniforms. On the other hand, it made it clear that invaders would be met with a bloodbath. Perhaps less immediately apparent, but no less intimidating, is that the only red on the legionnaires was on the cloaks — ‘Rome will defeat you’, this symbolizes, ‘and you won’t even be able to scratch our soldiers’.

Summerston slab.

The Summerston slab.
Image credits George MacDonald.

These propaganda stones were placed at intervals along the Antonine Wall to mark Roman superiority in the region, and discourage any thoughts of invasion. It’s also possible that the stones were as much a show of force for Roman subjects as they for invaders, there to make the people feel safe and keep them content.

[Read More] Safe, content, and probably writing dirty things on the city walls — like any respectable Roman would.

Modern advertisers would probably applaud the design ideas behind these slabs.

“I would suggest the red on the beak of the eagle (the symbol of Rome and her legions) symbolizes Rome feasting off the flesh of her enemies,” Campbell wrote in an email for Live Science.

Rome didn’t hang on to the wall for very long, despite its propaganda efforts; maybe northern warriors thought the legions were overcompensating? Whatever the case, the Antonine Wall (whose construction was commissioned in 142 A.D.) was abandoned sometime in 161 A.D. for unknown reasons. The Empire briefly re-captured it between 208 to 211 A.D., but they never succeeded in establishing the wall as Rome’s permanent northernmost border.

“The public are accustomed to seeing these sculptures in bland greys, creams, white (for marble) and don’t get the full impact that they would have had on the Roman and indigenous audiences 2,000 years ago,” Campbell told the Bailiwick Express.

“Knowing how colour was used by the Romans to tell stories and create impact is a huge leap forward in understanding these sculptures,” added Patricia Weeks, Antonine Wall coordinator at Historic Environment Scotland. 

Long stretches of the wall’s stone ruins are still visible today, although the earth-and-wood sections haven’t fared as well.

Scotland’s wind turbines are getting better and better

Good news: on Monday, Scotland’s wind turbines sent 86,467 megawatt hours of electricity to the National Grid, equating to 206% of the nation’s needs.

When people say wind turbines are a blight on the landscape… Image in Creative Commons.

A few years ago, Scotland set the lofty goal of generating 50% of their electricity from renewables by 2015. They have since achieved and exceeded that goal. Scottish renewable electricity output has more than doubled since 2007 and it shows no sign of slowing down, in a large part due to wind-powered energy.

Of course, some days are better than others, and Monday was an excellent day.

“Monday proved to be a great day for renewable electricity output, with wind turbines alone providing enough to power 7 million homes and way more than Scotland’s total electricity needs,” Sam Gardner, WWF Scotland’s director, said in a statement.

“We’re blown away by these figures but they are part of a pattern of increasingly green power production made possible thanks to many years of political support in Scotland,” Gardner added. “Across the year, renewables now contribute over half of our electricity needs.”

Indeed, political support has been key to the development of renewables, but so have technological achievements. While wind turbines can suffer from a drop in efficiency due to wear and tear, careful planning and innovative engineering can actually improve performance, and this is exactly what’s happening in Scotland.

During the first half of 2017, wind turbines sent more than 6.6 million megawatt hours of electricity to the National Grid — enough to power 3.3 million homes, which is more than Scotland even has. Therefore, the wind produces more than enough energy to cover residential electricity consumption, and might soon grow enough to cover the entire country’s consumption.

Overall, Scotland continues to be a net exporter of electricity, producing over 25% more than they use. Just recently, the Scottish government announced a ban on hydraulic fracking, cementing their strong emphasis on clean energy. From their start asne of the pioneers of the coal-powered industrial revolution, Scotland is becoming one of the pioneers of the clean energy revolution.



Scotland bans hydraulic fracking — indefinitely

After the public overwhelmingly argued against fracking, the Scottish government said there will be no fracking in the country for the foreseeable future.

Scotland aims for 100% of electricity consumption to be generated through renewable sources by 2020. Image credits: John R. / Wikipedia.

In the past year, hydraulic fracking has somewhat flown under the radar. The process involves drilling down into the earth and injecting a high-pressure mixture to recover gas and oil from shale rock. The practice is associated with many environmental and health issues and is controversial in most parts of the world, though widespread usage continues in the US. But Scotland chose a different path.

Over 65,000 people showed up to the public consultation on fracking, with 99% of them opposing the process. With political support also heavily leaning against fracking, Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said that the practice “cannot and will not take place in Scotland”.

“We have a moral responsibility to tackle climate change and an economic responsibility to prepare Scotland for new low carbon opportunities,” he told the Scottish parliament.

The decision comes in stark contradiction to the direction UK’s central government is taking. Just a year ago, the government in London gave the go-ahead to horizontal fracking in Lancashire. However, under the current moratorium, shale gas cannot be extracted from beneath Scottish soil.

WWF Scotland official Sam Gardner said it was “excellent news.” He said, “the climate science is clear” that dirty fuels should be “left in the ground.”

However, some say the government didn’t go fast enough, and that the moratorium can be overturned at the whim of a future minister. The Scottish Green push for a permanent ban, though there are no official plans for that right now.

At the other end, Conservatives and oil and gas companies said Scotland would miss out on a “much needed economic boost” and the decision was “based on dogma not evidence or geopolitical reality.”

The move also makes a lot of sense considering Scotland’s plans to transition to a green economy. Thanks to its geographical situation, but also to healthy policy, Scotland is one of the world’s leading renewable energy producers. In 2015, it exceeded its objective, generating 59% of its electricity consumption through renewable sources. Their current goal is for 100% of electricity consumption to be generated from renewable sources by 2020 and 50% of total energy consumption (including transportation) by 2030. In May this year, wind turbines alone generated enough electricity to supply 95% of Scottish homes.

Fuel pump.

Scotland to ban petrol and diesel cars by 2032, eight years earlier than the rest of the UK

Scotland wants to phase out the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2032 — a full eight years ahead of the rest of the UK. The country will also be investing in a carbon capture project in Aberdeenshire to reduce its carbon footprint.

Fuel pump.

Image via Pixabay.

This Tuesday, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon outlined local government’s plans to end the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2032. The deadline puts Scotland eight years ahead of the roadmap Westminster set back in July, which aims to ban the sale of these vehicles throughout the UK in 2040. She added that her government wants to pay for feasibility studies of the Acorn carbon capture and storage project in Aberdeenshire.

Thistle green

“As members will be aware, we don’t currently hold powers over vehicle standards and taxation. However, we can and will take action,” Sturgeon said on Tuesday. “Our aim is for new petrol and diesel cars and vans to be phased out in Scotland by 2032 – the end of the period covered by our new climate change plan and eight years ahead of the target set by the UK government.”

“We live in a time of unprecedented global challenge and change. We face rapid advances in technology; a moral obligation to tackle climate change,” she added. “These challenges are considerable, but in each of them we will find opportunity. It is our job to seize it.”

The ban announcement comes as part of the larger climate initiative in Scotland but is perhaps the first which will have a noticeable effect for the public. It will limit “the avoidable impact poor air quality was having on people’s health,” government officials reported, a problem made glaringly obvious in other areas of the UK, most notably London. The transport sector has proved to be one of the hardest high-carbon areas of our economies to green up, partly because of industry lobby in government and partly because people didn’t feel their cars were “dirty” enough to warrant the hassle.

But, in the aftermath of recent revelations that some car manufacturers flat-out lie about their car’s emission levels, public sentiment has shifted strongly away from the industry — and with it, political support is also drying up. Public outcry over the scandal and air pollution levels, coupled with the rapid emergence of electric vehicles, have enabled Scotland to take a more decisive stance on the issue and impose earlier deadlines: the rest of the UK will enforce a similar ban by 2040, now eight years later than the Scotts. France has a similar ban in mind for 2040, and Norway takes the cake with a deadline set for 2025.

It’s not only about cars, however. Other goals Sturgeon’s government is pursuing include the creation of a fund to promote and support innovations in climate-change solutions, a “massive” expansion of the country’s electrical charging infrastructure, and plans to make the A9 the first fully electric-enabled road in Scottland. Finally, they will work on reviving the Acord capture and storage project which was shut down by the Tory government in 2015.

You can see the Scottish Government’s full programme here.

Tiny Scottish island powers itself 100% with community-owned off-the-grid renewable energy system

The small island of Eigg measures 9 kilometers (5.6 mi) long from north to south and 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) east to west. The island powers itself 100% with renewable energy and may provide a glimpse into what the future of energy looks like.

Wind turbines in Eigg. Image credits: W. L. Tarbert.

Almost 20% of the world’s population (1.3 billion people) doesn’t have access to electricity. Most of them live in remote areas, without a solid infrastructure around them. It’s hard to get connected to the grid when a grid doesn’t exist, or when it exists but it’s not really functioning properly. This is why renewable energy can make such a big difference — it’s not just that it makes clean, cheap energy, but it also doesn’t need a huge national grid connected to major coal or gas plants. You can make due with solar panels or even tiny wind farms in an off-the-grid fashion — just like Eigg does.

In 2008, Eigg became the world’s first community to launch an off-grid electric system powered by wind, water, and solar, and they pretty much did it by themselves. Before this, they had to rely on noisy, inefficient, dirty diesel generators which only worked for a few hours a day. With the new renewable-powered grid, residents get 24-hour electricity for the first time in the island’s history. They have four wind turbines which feed up to 24 kW of energy into the grid. The solar panels catch every glimpsing solar ray, coming at a total of 50kW capacity. It might seem crazy to install solar panels in the Scottish Isles, and for most of the year, they don’t do that much. But come summer time, and solar panels do a lot more heavy lifting than you’d expect. They also have three hydro plants, a big one that can output up to 100 kW, and two smaller ones which output 5 and 6 kW respectively.

For the residents of Eigg, having this renewable energy system is a life changer. But this approach can inspire people worldwide, and is already doing that. Community Energy Malawi, a sister organization to Community Energy Scotland, sent representatives to Eigg to learn how they did it and implement the same approach in Malawi. To make things even more encouraging, the people of Eigg did all of this and operate the system without any technical background. In fact, there was no a single electrical engineer on the island, as the system’s designer John Booth, told the BBC.

“There was not one person on the island who could be described as an electrical engineer,” says Booth, a biochemist by training. “I just did my homework. Sometimes if a decision had to be made, I’d stay up all night working on it.”

But there is a catch: a big initial investment. In total, the system’s development cost £1.66m, most of which was funded by the European Union. But in countries not in the developed world, where such funding schemes aren’t available, this could be a deal breaker.

“That is the major challenge for any country,” says, Subhes Bhattacharyya of De Montfort University, who studied the issue, “especially in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia, where most people lack access. They need initial support for capital funding.”

There are still times, especially during spring, when the weather isn’t cooperating at all and they still power up a few diesel generators — but 95% of the time, it’s all renewables. The opposite also happens sometimes, and they get more energy than they need. When that happens, the heaters in the community hall, pier lobby, and two churches automatically turn on, keeping these communal spaces heated at no extra cost.

Scotland joins the “fully renewable” energy club

A new report has revealed that on the 7th of August, Scotland managed to power itself completely from renewable energy. It, therefore, entered a select club, alongside nations such as Portugal, Denmark, and Costa Rica, who at some point generated all their electricity needs from renewable sources.

Whitelee Wind Farm with the Isle of Arran in the background. Photo by Bjmullan

When life gives you lemons

“We have a great resource,” said Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, an industry association. “It’s Scotland’s terrible weather.”

As anyone who’s visited Scotland will tell you, the country is cold and windy. Yet somehow they’ve managed to turn all that to their advantage and have increased renewable energy generation dramatically, especially thanks to the gusty areas around the highlands.

At the end of 2015, there was 7,723 megawatts (MW) of installed renewable electricity capacity in Scotland – a figure that is constantly increasing. Wind power is growing the fastest, as the Scots are quick to take advantage of their unconventional resources. But on August 7, 2016, the wind was particularly strong. The exceptional output enabled the country to generate all of its energy from clean sources. Sure, it’s just for one day but it’s a moral victory, and Scotland has more to come. If everything goes according to plan, the country can go fully renewable by 2020, and even if that target isn’t achieved then most of the energy grid will be decarbonized by then.

“We’ve decarbonized much of our electricity system. That’s a big success. But the hard bit is still to come,” said Stuart, the Scottish Renewables chief. “This has to be the beginning of the story. It can’t be the end.”

In the end, what can you do? When life gives you wind, the best you can do is… wind energy.

As an interesting sidenote, nature really acted up that day. The same high winds which powered Scotland on the 7th of August also caused a 17,000-ton oil rig to be blown ashore. Quite the irony, isn’t it?

Impressive 170-million-year old “sea monster” fossil found in Scotland

An ancient ichthyosaur fossil was recently unearthed in Scotland. Ichthyosaurs are extinct reptiles which ruled the seas during much of the Mesozoic era.

The fossilized remains of 170 million year old ichthyosaur has finally been made available for display after being stored for more than 50 years.
(Photo : Ryan Somma (Ichthyosaur Uploaded by FunkMonk)/Wikimedia Commons)

While dinosaurs roamed the earth, ichthyosaurs were the kings of the seas. Based on fossil evidence, they first appeared approximately 250 million years ago and at least one species survived until about 90 million years ago. They grew up to sixteen meters in length and had many features that resembled both modern fish and dolphins.

However, while there are plenty of ichthyosaur fossils, this one comes from a period when such fossils are particularly rare – 170 million years ago.

“The Middle Jurassic is one of the most poorly known times in the history of dinosaurs and in the history of other reptiles like ichthyosaurs,” says University of Edinburgh’s Steve Brusatte, part of the team examining the fossil. The “spectacular” find, he says, “has a lot of potential.”

It took two generations for the fossil to receive proper appreciation. The fossil, dubbed as Storr Lochs Monster, was first discovered in 1966 by an amateur paleontologist called Norrie Gillies while he was having a stroll near the Storr Lochs power station in Edinburgh. Realizing what he’d found, he sent a letter to the Royal Scottish Museum and a team was sent to investigate the fossil.

But after the fossil was transferred to the museum, it was simply left in its concrete case and locked somewhere in storage and all but forgotten – as it too often happens. Fast forward a few decades and Allan Gillies, son of Norrie Gillies and an engineer at the power station where the fossil was found, contacted Stephen Brusatte, a professor at University of Edinburg and one of the lead researchers analyzing the fossil.

“Dad’s not around to see it himself, but I know he’d be very, very pleased to know that it’s finally being displayed, and he’d also be very pleased to know that it’s the company he worked for that helped to make it happen,” Allan told National Geographic. “It’s sort of completing the story.”

Dad found the fossil, and his son helped with the fundraising for the fossil analysis. Ultimately, working together from over time, the two made it happen – the ichthyosaur fossil was removed from its concrete casing and is up for display in the museum. It’s a testament that anyone can make a difference in science if they’re truly passionate about it.

Paleontologists still don’t know what species it is, but they’re slowly unveiling its mysteries.

“This new ichthyosaur can and, I’m sure, will tell us a good few things about ichthyosaur paleobiology, and marine reptiles more generally,” says Benjamin Moon of Britain’s University of Bristol. Very little fossil material is known from that time period, he says, so this new specimen will help fill a gap.


Over 50% of Scotland’s electricity in 2015 came from renewables

Scotland has met and overcome its objective for green energy in 2015, as statistics published by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change show 57.7% of Scottish electricity consumption came from renewables last year – 7.7% ahead of target.

via Geograph.

The production of renewable energy is one of the core policies of Scotland – and this makes a lot of sense, when you consider their extraordinary potential. In addition to the already installed 1.3 Gigawatts (GW) of hydroelectricity, Scotland has an estimated potential of 36.5 GW of wind and 7.5GW of tidal power. Tidal energy particular is a rare opportunity which most countries don’t have. Unlike wind and wave, tidal power is an inherently predictable source – but the technology is still in its infancy.

Aside for the natural potential that Scotland has, the political drive to green electricity production was also there. While the leadership of many countries is focusing on cheap, polluting energy, Scotland seems willing to embrace renewables.

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said:

“It’s fantastic news to learn that Scotland has continued to grow its use of renewables and now generates well over half of its annual electricity needs from clean energy sources.

“Ahead of May’s elections we need all political parties to continue to prioritise renewables and commit to ensuring Scotland secures the benefits of becoming the EU’s first fully renewable electricity nation by 2030.

“Independent research has shown that it is possible for Scotland to have a secure, efficient electricity system, based on almost entirely renewable electricity generation, by 2030. Embracing that vision would maximise the opportunities to create new jobs, empower communities and support local economic renewal throughout the country.”

Elsewhere in the UK however, things aren’t looking so good. England’s current leaders have not really encouraged renewables, crippling the growing industry. Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:

“This is great news and an important step in creating a fossil-free Scotland. Despite the UK Government’s ideological assault on renewable energy, Scotland is storming ahead, smashing through our 50% target for 2015. Well done to all those in this vital industry who have helped produce a big increase from the 2014 figures.”

Scotland to build giant, floating wind farm

The Scottish government announced that it approved the construction of UK’s first, and the world’s largest floating offshore wind farm.

Image via Scottish Government.

Norwegian energy firm Statoil has been granted a licence for the pilot scheme of six turbines which will have a generation capacity of 135GWh of electricity each year. Unlike land-based wind turbines, the Hywind turbines will be anchored in the seabed, transporting the electricity to the sea shore through buried cables.

“Hywind is a hugely exciting project, in terms of electricity generation and technology innovation, and it’s a real testament to our energy sector expertise and skilled workforce that Statoil chose Scotland for the world’s largest floating wind farm,” said John Swinney, deputy first minister.

This is quite exciting news, especially in the lead-up to the Paris climate summit, which attempts to establish binding agreements for countries in matters related to climate change.

“Floating wind represents a new, significant and increasingly competitive renewable energy source,“ said Irene Rummelhoff, Statoil’s executive vice president for New Energy Solutions. ”Statoil’s objective with developing this pilot park is to demonstrate a commercial, utility-scale floating wind solution, to further increase the global market potential. We are proud to develop this unique project in Scotland, in a region that has optimal wind conditions, a strong supply chain within oil and gas and supportive public policies.”

The world is well on its way of achieving 25% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, not in the least thanks to innovative developments in wind energy such as this one.

Meager 5p bag tax slashes usage by 80%

When the Scottish government introduced a 5 pence tax for plastic bags, they were expecting a significant reduction, but even they weren’t expecting such a big success. In the year that has passed since then, number of plastic bags handed out in stores was slashed by 80% – that’s 650 million less bags! This also translates into a net saving of more than 4,000 tonnes of plastic and a reduction of 2,500 tonnes of CO2 annually.

Image via BBC.

The system goes like this: plastic carriers used to be free in the entire UK. A year ago, Scotland introduced a meager 5p tax for these bags. The money goes to charity, and not only has this move almost eliminated plastic bags, but it also raised about £6.7m for good causes in the past 12 months ($10 million). Scotland’s Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead hailed the 5p charge a “major success”, and thanked Scotland for “embracing the policy”. He then added:

“Previously, statistics showed that people in Scotland used more than 800 million new single-use carrier bags every single year – more per head than anywhere else in the UK. It’s now becoming second nature to shoppers to reuse their carrier bags and hopefully to think more about our impact on the environment.”

To make things even better, England and Wales also recently implemented this policy. It will be interesting to see how this fares there.

Jurassic Predator found in Scotland – It Munched on Sharks and Dinosaurs

A giant reptile which looked somewhat like a dolphin but had the behavior of a dinosaur was discovered around what is now the Isle of Skye, in Scotland. The predator, an Ichtyosaur lived 170 million years ago and its diet probably consisted of fish and invertebrates, but it may have also eaten sharks and even dinosaurs.

An artist’s impression of the ichthyosaur recently unearthed in Scotland Photo: Todd Marshall/PA

They were near the top of the food chain, feasting on pretty much everything that ventured in their waters. Large marine reptiles, Ichtyosaurs first appeared approximately 250 million years ago and at least one species survived until about ninety million years ago. Their evolutionary pattern is very interesting – it is believed that they evolved from a group of, as yet, unidentified land reptiles that returned to the sea, in a development parallel to that of the ancestors of modern-day dolphins and whales, which they gradually came to resemble in a case of convergent evolution.

Ichthyosaurs averaged about two to four metres (6 – 13 ft) in length. Some individual specimens were as short as one foot; some species were much larger. For example, Shonisaurus sikanniensis was estimated to have been twenty-one metres in length (almost 70 ft!). Ichthyosaur forelimbs and hindlimbs had been fully transformed into flippers and some species even had a fin on their back.

Remains of the animal were found at the Isle of Skye’s Bearreraig Bay, where amateur collector Brian Shawcross found them. Laudably, Shawcross didn’t keep the fossils to himself (as it often happens), but instead donated them to the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow. This allowed researchers to study and describe the species, which was ultimately named Dearcmhara shawcrossi – in honor of his name.

“We are honoured to name the new species after Mr. Shawcross and will do the same if any other collectors wish to donate new specimens”, said Steve Brusatte, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who led the study.

While the Island of Skye area is noted for Jurassic fossils, this is actually the first time that a marine reptile has been found in Scotland.

The Island of Skye is a remarkable place from a geological and paleontological perspective. Image via Style Favor.

“During the time of dinosaurs, the waters of Scotland were prowled by big reptiles the size of motor boats,” Brusatte added. “Their fossils are very rare, and only now, for the first time we’ve found a new species that was uniquely Scottish. Without the generosity of the collector who donated the bones to a museum instead of keeping them or selling them, we would have never known that this amazing animal existed.

The study is a collaboration involving the University of Edinburgh, National Museums Scotland, the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum, Scottish National Heritage and Staffin Museum, Isle of Skye. Not only is the finding spectacular, but this collaboration is also remarkable. Dr Nick Fraser, of National Museums Scotland, said:

“Not only is this a very special discovery, but it also marks the beginning of a major new collaboration involving some of the most eminent palaeontologists in Scotland. It has brought together key organisations, local collectors on Skye and specialists from further afield. We are excited by the programme of work and are already working on additional new finds. This is a rich heritage for Scotland.”


Scotland Produced Enough Wind Energy To Power Every Home In October

It may be gloomy, windy and rainy, but the Scottish weather may have its upsides too. in October, Scotland generated enough power from wind to power up every single home in Scotland and a bit more.

wind energy Scotland

Scotland aims to get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Wind energy will play a key role in this. Image credits: Ocean/Corbis.

“Wind turbines alone generated an estimated 982,842MWh of electricity, enough to power 3,045,000 homes in the UK – equivalent to 126% of the electricity needs of every home in Scotland”, writes a new report published by WWF.

It’s important to note that Scotland is one of the most windiest countries in the world – but that doesn’t take anything away from them; the fact that they are willing and able to utilize their natural resources with such efficiency is remarkable. Referring to it as a “bumper month” for renewable energy, WWF Scotland’s director Lang Banks said in a statement:

“While nuclear power plants were being forced to shut because of cracks, Scotland’s wind and sunshine were quietly and cleanly helping to keep the lights on in homes across the country. With wind power generating enough electricity to power 126% of the needs of every home in Scotland, it really was a bumper month for renewables in Scotland.

Summer may be a distant memory, but for the tens of thousands of Scottish households that have installed solar panels to generate electricity or heat water, a third or more of their needs were met from the sun this October, helping reduce their reliance on coal, gas, or even oil.”

Indeed, renewable energy in Scotland has been at the core of political and economical discussions, unlike most developed countries. Renewable electricity generation in Scotland was 16,974 GWh in 2013, up 16.4% on 2012. In fact, Scotland produces so much renewable energy that it sends some of it to the rest of Great Britain. In March this year, The Guardian published an article which claimed that England’s lights ‘would go out without Scotland’s renewable energy’. Wind energy especially is a contributing factor..

[INTERESTING] How global warming made Scotland’s sheep shrink

Wind energy has been thriving in the UK and especially in Scotland. In August the U.K set a new record for wind power generation, with wind accounting for seventeen percent of national demand. But Scotland went even beyond that, getting almost 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources, 34 percent from nuclear, and just 34 percent from fossil fuels. Scotland hopes to generate the equivalent of 100 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020 and then to send all its fossil fuels to the exports – mostly to England.

Scotland seems committed to sustainable energy and determined to play its role in the fight against global warming. Banks concludes:

“The science is clear, if we are to prevent the worst impacts of global climate change, then the world needs to move away from fossil fuels. The good news is that here in Scotland we’re making good use of wind power to create clean electricity. However, if Scotland is going to meet its future climate change targets, then we need to see greater support for energy efficiency and renewable heat, as well as action to curb emissions from transport.”

Source: WWF Report.

Amateur archaeologist finds 1000-year old Viking treasure hoard with a Metal Detector

viking cross

An early medieval cross, part of a hoard of Viking treasure which has been unearthed by metal-detecting enthusiast Derek McLennan in one of the most significant finds of its kind ever made in Scotland. Photograph: Derek McLennan/PA

A magnificent Viking treasure has been unearthed in Scotland, in Dumfries and Galloway. More than 100 objects, including solid gold jewelry, arm bands and silver ingots, were discovered not by archaeologists, but by an amateur researcher working with a metal detector.

The artifacts are thought to have been buried between the 9th and 10th century and they also include a rare early Christian cross made of solid silver, with unusual enamelled decorations. Traditionally, Vikings worshiped the Norse pantheon, most notably Odin and Thor. The Christianisation of Scandinavia took place between the 8th and the 12th centuries and it wasn’t a smooth process. Officially, the Scandianvian countries switched to Christianity in the 12th century, though the actual conversion took place much slower. Finding a massive silver Viking Christian cross from the 9th or 10th century is spectacular.

The findings were made by Derek McLennan, 47, a retired businessman who obtained permission to search the area. Interestingly enough, he was feeling sick at that day, but forced himself to do the search.

An archaeologist prepares the top level for removal of items found at an undisclosed location in Dumfries and Galloway. Photograph: Derek McLennan/PA

“I dragged myself out of my sickbed because I had two friends who wanted to detect and I’m a bit of an obsessive.”

Initially, he found it hard to comprehend what he had found.

“I unearthed the first piece; initially I didn’t understand what I had found because I thought it was a silver spoon and then I turned it over and wiped my thumb across it and I saw the saltire-type of design and knew instantly it was Viking. Then my senses exploded.”

Further digging revealed more and more artifacts, and he started to understand what a precious trove he had found. Stuart Campbell, head of Scotland’s treasure trove unit is thrilled by this find. He explained that there are many extremely interesting objects, and the sheer size of the hoard is amazing. Among the remarkable objects, he also names an intact Carolingian (western European) pot with its lid still in place – something rare, probably a family heirloom, carefully passed on from one generation to the other; the Carolingian empire lasted from 768, when Charlemagne was crowned, until 887, when the empire divided. Campbell describes the lid as a “an excavation in microcosm”. He also adds:

“What makes this find so significant is the range of material from different countries and cultures. This was material that was buried for safekeeping, almost like a safety deposit box that was never claimed.”

A large silver alloy Carolingian lidded vessel. Photograph: Treasure Trove Unit/PA

He also said this finding could force historians to rethink the relationship between the Vikings and Scotland. Vikings colonized Scotland from the 8th to the 15th centuries, a period marked by violence and war.

“We have the idea of Vikings as foreigners who carried out raids on Scotland, but this was a Viking area where they settled and traded, and the people who lived there were culturally and linguistically Norse.”

The Scottish government’s culture secretary, Fiona Hyslop, said:

“It’s clear that these artefacts are of great value in themselves, but their greatest value will be in what they can contribute to our understanding of life in early medieval Scotland, and what they tell us about the interaction between the different peoples in these islands at that time. The Dumfries hoard opens a fascinating window on a formative period in the story of Scotland.”

To make this an even better story, the find falls under Scottish laws, which means that the finder will receive a much deserved reward – something which sadly, doesn’t happen in many countries. Unlike Scotland, in most countries, it doesn’t matter what you find – if has archaeological value, or even if it’s just underground, you get no reward for it. Personally, I find this to be a bit unfair; it’s not incredibly uncommon for amateur scientists to make remarkable finds, and this is something you’d want to encourage.



World’s 40th environment day: Denmark and Scotland pave the way

Yesterday marked the 40th Global Environment day, and this year’s theme was ‘Green economy’ – a sector in which, by far, Europe leads the way.

When it comes to green energy and reducing the impact industry has on the environment, Denmark and Scotland stand out, by far – just think about Samso, the world’s ‘greenest guinea pig’. Germany is also two steps ahead of the United States and other developed countries, and countries like Italy, Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic are making significant efforts in this direction.

Denmark: 35% renewable energy by 2020, 100% by 2050. Scotland: 100% by 2020

Denmark has some clear, and extremely ambitious plans: Denmark’s Parliament at the end of March passed legislation that established two of the most ambitious renewable energy targets of any nation: 35% by 2020 and 100% by 2050. Just think about it – in less than 10 years, they want to have a third of their energy from renewable sources, and in less than 40 years – all the energy should be renewable. Currently, wind energy amounts for almost a quarter of Denmark’s energy.

Scotland has even more ambitious plans: they easily surpassed their 31% target, and are well on pace to meet 100% electricity demands from renewable sources, and then continue to produce a surplus for export.

Paving the green way to renewable energy

Announcing the passage of this bill, Denmark’s Minister for Climate, Energy and Building (yeah, they have one) announced:

“Denmark will once again be the global leader in the transition to green energy. This will prepare us for a future with increasing prices for oil and coal. Moreover, it will create some of the jobs that we need so desperately, now and in the coming years.”

Scotland’s Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson struck a similar chord.

“The topic of this year’s World Environment Day could not be more apt for Scotland. The low carbon economy offers a huge opportunity for us, creating tens of thousands of jobs and reindustrializing our economy,” he stated. “As we create green jobs at home we are helping other countries develop renewable energy, and also tackling the devastating impact of climate change on the world’s poorest. It is a joined up vision we can be proud of and one which other countries should take note.”

He also detailed those statements, explaining just how big a difference this green strategy has made.

“The renewables industry already supports more than 11,000 jobs across Scotland and plans to install up to 10 Gigawatts of offshore wind generating capacity in Scottish waters are predicted to generate around £30 billion ($46.44 billion) of investment by 2020 and to directly employ up to 28,000 people…. The emerging wave and tidal energy industry, where up to 1.6 GW of capacity is planned for the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters, is predicted to create several thousand more renewables jobs.”

Scotland has already granted granted licenses to develop offshore wind, wave and tidal energy farms with a total planned capacity of 11GW by 2020.

Via Clean Technica