A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Supporting the 'underbird'.....

We all know we Brits prefer an underdog (witness our annual rapturous humiliation at Wimbledon), but what we really, really go for are 'underbirds'. BBC Radio 4's listener-led environmental series, 'Home Planet', has now for four weeks been discussing birds with injured legs, birds with just one leg, and even birds with no legs at all. There was the amazing story of 'Legless', a ring-necked parakeet that has so insouciantly adapted to life without feet. Darwin would have been proud of it. Derek Moore explained graphically how wading birds that are daft enough to paddle about in shellfish beds put themsleves in grave danger from clams and cockles and their ilk, which latch onto their legs, closing off the blood supply, until the leg rots and the foot drops off. While, on today's programme, Baroness Barbara Young (no less) provides a charming account of the disease, 'bumble foot', in chaffinches. Apparently, the nation is completely feathered by hobbled and club-footed birds.

And indeed, 'bumble foot' is not simply a nice hobbit-like name - shout loudly - "Bumblefeet!" 'Bumble foot' starts out as a pressure sore, from a cut or a puncture (shellfish again, sharp rocks, stones, glass, or litter), which, under further pounding and constant exposure to rough surfaces, turns from bad to worse. Bacteria then enter the wound with all sorts of unpleasant consequences for the poor old bird.

So you can't afford to miss this gory episode of 'Home Planet' - just sit back and listen here (if you are in the UK, it is broadcast every Tuesday afternoon at 15.02 GMT on BBC Radio 4; if you are outside the UK, you may still listen to it, online, via the BBC 'Home Planet' Web Page: (a) on the day in question, choose the 'Listen Live' button; or, (b) for one week after the first broadcast, choose the 'Listen Again' button; or, (c) after one whole week, select the relevant date under 'Previous Programmes'). Moreover today, as well as 'bumble foot' and birds, you get Stotty et al. on cockles and oystercatchers, nippy stable flies, TB and badgers (serious stuff), cod worms [Observation: it would be wise to have lunched before this item], and the poet John Clare on blackthorn. Ah! The spring is sprung and birds do lunge (clearly quite a feet in some instances).

How can you afford to miss it? But remember - if you really, really want to stir up the nation, forget about 'global warming', dire wind farms, GM crops, and all the rest: just go for one-legged birds!

Philip, pleased to see that the jay which is currently prancing about the garden possesses a full set of landing gear. Now for the daily grind - yes, you've got it, coffee. The true aromatherapy.

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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