Twiglet: Horse chestnut


A native of Asia, probably northern India.

It was introduced to Europe in the mid-16th Century.

Records from Vienna refer to a horse chestnut in the 1570s, which was noted as originating from the first tree to be grown in Europe – a tree in London, which is understood to have been planted in 1550.

Its common name is attributed to the fact that young trees display a marking similar to a horse’s shoe where the leaf was attached.

Although too bitter for human consumption, they were regarded as a premier feed for livestock.

In the Victorian publication called Gardener’s Chronicle, it listed details of mutton being fed on the trees’ seeds.

It added: ” Geneva mutton is noted for being as highly flavoured as any in England or Wales.”

The terminal buds on each stem are very sticky. It is this coating of gum-like material that protects the leaf inside from the winter cold and frosts.

As the temperature warms with the arrival of spring, the rise in termpaerature breaks down the gummy substance, allowing the protective bud scales to fall to the ground.

Eventually, the resistance of the gum is weakened enough to allow the leaf inside to break through and emerge into the spring air.

Source: The Forest Trees of Britain by Rev C A Johns

Date: 1899

Chad charcoal ban enflames public


A ban on the use of charcoal in Chad is making life hard for people already struggling with high food prices, reports BBC News reporter Celeste Hicks.

Families are being forced to burn furniture, cow dung, rubbish and roots of plants in order to cook.

Since the clampdown was announced – officially in order to help the environment – charcoal has become almost impossible to find.

“I’m using wild products which I’ve harvested, such as palm fruits,” said Nangali Helene, who lives in the capital N’Djamena.

“But they make us ill – they don’t burn properly and they give off a horrid smoke and smell. Last night we started burning the beams from the roof of our outhouse.”

The price of a small bundle of dead wood has shot up from a few hundred CFA francs to 5,000F CFA ($12; £8).

Feelings are running high in the city, with the main opposition coalition organising a peaceful mass action over the next few days.

“We want people to bang on their empty cooking pots every morning to show solidarity for one another,” said Saleh Kebzabo, from the Coalition of Parties for the Defence of the Constitution.

For the moment, street demonstrations are out of the question – a planned rally by women was called off last week when they were denied permission.

Women who did show up claimed they were intimidated by a heavy police presence.

The government says the ban is to deal with an “extraordinary” threat of desertification in Chad, which straddles the Sahel, the semi-arid region bordering the Sahara.

At the forefront of climate change, the environment ministry says more than 60% of Chad’s natural tree cover has been lost due to indiscriminate cutting of trees for charcoal.

“Chadians must be aware of this problem,” said Environment Minister Ali Souleiman Dabye.

“If we don’t do something soon, we will wake up one day and there will be no trees. Then what will people burn?”

But although many people say they understand the need to protect the environment, it is the speed with which the ban has come into effect that has caused such anger.

Late last year, police began seizing trucks carrying charcoal, saying they were illegal.

Several trucks and their contents were set on fire on the outskirts of N’Djamena, but the government denies responsibility for the destruction.

Within weeks prices rocketed and then charcoal disappeared from the market.

The alternatives proposed by the government may seem unrealistic to the average Chadian.

“It’s only in the last 10 years that Chadians have become reliant on charcoal, they can soon learn to adapt to something else,” said the environment minister, keenly expounding the virtues of gas.

But 95% of people do not have gas appliances, and even those that do have to travel to Cameroon to find canisters.

Rumours abound in the local media of women setting themselves on fire because they do not know how to use gas properly.

A deal recently signed between the government and a Nigerian businessman to start cooking gas deliveries is too little too late for Marie Larlem, co-ordinator of the Chadian Association for the Promotion of Fundamental Liberty.

“We understand the need to protect the environment but we find it bizarre that the measures are so brutal and so sudden – no-one was given any warning.

“Why didn’t they do this earlier? Our people have been through enough”.

Chad’s government says there are no plans to relax the ban.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 27/01/2009

DR Congo cancels timber contracts


The Democratic Republic of Congo government has cancelled nearly 60% of timber contracts in the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest, the BBC News website reports.

It follows a six-month review of 156 logging deals aimed at stamping out corruption in the sector and enforcing legal and environmental standards.

At the end of the World Bank-backed process, government ministers found that only 65 timber deals were viable.

New contracts will be issued for 90,000 sq km (35,000 square miles) of forest.

Environment Minister Jose Endundo told a news conference in the capital Kinshasa that the other agreements would be cancelled.

“I will proceed within the next 48 hours to notify those applicants having received an unfavourable recommendation from the inter-ministerial commission through decrees cancelling their respective conventions,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

“Upon notification of the cancellation decision, the operator must immediately stop cutting timber.”

Mr Endundo also said the government planned to respect a moratorium, introduced during Congo’s 1998-2003 war but widely ignored, on granting new logging deals.

The BBC’s Thomas Fessy in Kinshasa says all the timber agreements were struck during the conflict.

Amid rampant corruption, huge concessions were gifted to logging companies, which paid almost no tax, he says.

Monday’s decision should reduce the surface area exploited by timber firms by up to half, according to our correspondent.

The Congo Basin is home to the second largest tropical forest in the world after the Amazon, but campaigners say it is being eaten away by logging, mining and agricultural land clearance.

Sarah Shoraka, of Greenpeace, says the new rules must be enforced to protect a vital resource.

“Real economic development is what’s needed,” she told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

“We’ve highlighted tax evasion, and there’s often quite serious disputes between local people and these logging companies.

“The logging companies promise hospitals and schools and they hardly ever deliver these things on the ground.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 19/01/2009

Gabon bans harvest of four hardwood species


Gabon has banned the harvest of four valuable hardwoods according to the International Tropical Timber Organization’s Tropical Timber Market Report, writes Mongabay.com.

Afo, douka, moabi, and ozigo are no longer permitted to be harvested, the ITTO publication states.

Producers will have to dispose of all stocks of these species by the beginning of April this year.

The ITTO notes that “although individually the volumes of each of the four species are not that significant, the ban will mean a noticeable reduction in the harvest volumes per hectare.”

The move “is expected to impact the viability of some concession areas,” it continues.

The reason behind the decision was not immediately specified.

Prices for tropical hardwoods have been plunging as a result of falling demand resulting from the global economic slowdown.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 22/01/2009

High coffee prices ‘triggers Indonesian deforestation’


High coffee prices were responsible for a marked increase in deforestation on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, say researchers in a report in Mongabay.com.

But they added that law enforcement efforts could deter deforestation in protected areas, despite high pressure from agricultural expansion.

The study was assessing the effectiveness of conservation in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in southern Sumatra.

Using satellite imagery, ecological data, interviews, and GIS modelling to map tropical deforestation in and around Bukit Barisan Selatan over a 34-year period, lead author David Gaveau and colleagues found that law enforcement effectively “reduced deforestation to nil” in areas where it was undertaken.

In remote parts of the park where enforcement activities were lax or non-existent, forest areas were rapidly replaced by low-grade robusta coffee plantations, expansion of which was found to be closely correlated with coffee prices.

An estimated 20,000 tonnes – about 4% of Indonesia’s overall annual robusta coffee production – were produced inside this national park in 2006, and were exported into 52 countries around the world, reported the WWF in 2007.

The abandonment of the park by authorities during, and following, the 1997-1998 political crisis also resulted in increased deforestation.

“These findings indicate that law enforcement is critical but insufficient alone, and also highlight that rising costs of agricultural commodities can be detrimental to tropical forests,” said Dr Gaveau, a researcher with the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Indonesia Programme.

“In southern Sumatra, farmers grow coffee instead of working elsewhere (e.g. in the off-farm sector) because rural labour is poorly compensated (around $2 per day).

“Therefore, higher local prices for coffee combined with low labour costs, rather than coffee price per se, is the underlying cause of deforestation in Indonesia’s main robusta coffee producing region.”

The authors argue that preserving forests in Bukit Barisan Selatan over the long-run will require a strategy that reduces the incentives for coffee cultivation.

They discuss merits of certification schemes for “sustainable” coffee as well as intensification of production, but conclude that raising rural wages relative to coffee prices, in concert with other measures, offers the best long-term hope for curtailing conversion for coffee in the Bukit Barisan Selatan area.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 22/01/2009

Climate shift ‘killing US trees’


Old growth trees in western parts of the US are probably being killed as a result of regional changes to the climate, a study has suggested.

BBC News environment reporter Mark Kinver reports researchers as saying that analysis of undisturbed forests showed the trees’ mortality rate had doubled since 1955, researchers said.

They warned that the loss of old growth trees could have implications for the areas’ ecology and for the amount of carbon that the forests could store.

The findings have been published in the journal Science.

“Data from unmanaged old forests in the western US showed that background mortality rates have increased rapidly in recent decades,” the team of US and Canadian scientists wrote.

“Because mortality increased in small trees, the overall increase in mortality rates cannot be attributed to ageing of large trees,” they added.

“Regional warming and consequent increases in water deficits are likely contributors to the increase in tree mortality rates.”

After ruling out a variety of other possible factors, including insect attacks and air pollution, the researchers concluded that regional warming was the dominant contributor.

“From the 1970s to 2006, the mean annual temperature of the western US increased at a rate of 0.3C to 0.4C per decade, even approached 0.5C,” they observed.

“This regional warming has contributed to widespread hydrological changes, such as declining fraction of precipitation falling as snow, declining snowpack water content, earlier spring snowmelt and a consequent lengthening of summer drought.”

The team, led by the US Geological Society (USGS), examined data from 76 temperate forest stands older than 200 years, which contained almost 59,000 trees.

Over the study period, which stretched back to 1955, more than 11,000 trees died.

The researchers reported that the increased mortality rate affected a range of species, different sized trees, and all elevations.

“The same way that in any group of people, a small number will die each year; in any forest, a small number of trees will die,” explained co-author Phil van Mantgem, a USGS ecologist.

“But our long-term monitoring shows that tree mortality has been climbing, while the establishment of replacement trees has not.”

The change in the forests’ dynamics, the team noted, was going to have an impact on the forests’ ecology and carbon storage capabilities.

“We may only be talking about an annual tree mortality rate changing from 1% a year to 2%, but over time a lot of small numbers add up,” said co-author Professor Mark Harmon from Oregon State University.

He feared that the die-back was the first sign of a “feedback loop” developing.

As regional warming caused an increased number of trees to die, there would be less living trees to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Yet there would be an increased proportion of decaying trees, releasing the carbon that had been locked away inside the trees’ wood.

Warmer temperatures might also increase the number and prevalence of insects and diseases that attack trees, the team added.

They used the example of recent outbreaks of tree-killing bark beetles in the US, which have been linked to a rise in temperatures.

Another member of the team, Dr Nate Stephenson, said increasing tree deaths could indicate a forest that was vulnerable to sudden, widespread die-back.

“That may be our biggest concern,” he warned.

“Is the trend we’re seeing a prelude to bigger, more abrupt changes to our forests.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 23/01/2009


Africa’s urban trees are casualties of overcrowded cities


It is not only the rural regions in developing nations that are losing tree cover.

In an article published by the Ugandan website, New Vision, environmental journalist Ebenezer Bifubyeka highlights the issue of urban trees being felled.

The reason? Apparently, it is because of the rising population in cities, which is increasing the demand for urban open spaces to be converted into housing.

In his article, reproduced below, he highlights why authorities’ decisions to sacrifice the green urban spaces are is not without consequence:

On January 2, The New Vision published an article quoting the director of Natural Resources in the National Forestry Authority, Hudson Andura, as saying:

“Fifteen urban forest reserves are to be degazzated to cater for the growing population and development in 15 towns countrywide.”

Do we ever ask ourselves why trees stand side by side with skyscrapers in cities within developed countries? The reason is to mitigate city noise and absorb pollutant gases. Trees reduce on noise and absorb toxic gases.

The move by the National Forest Authority to degazzate forest reserves in 15 towns is not only a miscalculation but also a disastrous move. It is in urban centres that greenhouse gases are most emitted from factories and trees are the immediate reducers of such pollutant gases.

Is anybody bothered about the loss of national tree cover from 28% in 1988 to 13% by 2008? The loss of water catchment areas has led to poor and filthy water quality, thus the subsequent deaths of fish.

Besides, ornamental and ambient roles, trees in urban compounds, streets, recreational centres and hospitals keep the cycle of air flow fresh. In public hospitals like Mbarara Hospital, there used to be enough shed trees purposely to reduce noise of vehicles for the sick. It is unfortunate that these trees are being felled.

Trees reflect noise upwards in the atmosphere, according to Jeconious Musingwire, the western regional environment awareness officer.

As Uganda moves towards development circles, we have started going more brown (non-green environment). Despite pressure from investors and politicians to develop urban areas, development should be in harmony with conservation. Otherwise, we shall head for desertification and famine.

The escalating global warming – evidenced by climate change – warns us to stop further degradation of other green belts such as swamps, parks, green grass and forests.

In this regard I implore the Government to take environment concerns seriously and discourage cementing pavements and compounds. The green grasses are vital, for they ease the percolation of water into the soil.

Source: New Vision website

Date: 14/01/2009

Wildlife trade ‘creating empty forest syndrome’


The illegal trade in wildlife products around the globe risks creating an “empty forest” syndrome, a US researcher has warned.

Mongabay.com reports Elizabeth Bennett, from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), as saying that for many endangered species it is not the lack of suitable habitat that has imperiled them, but hunting.

She made her remarks during a presentation at a Smithsonian Symposium on tropical forests, which Take Cover featured last week.

She outlined the perils for many species of the booming and illegal wildlife trade.

Dr Bennett added that pristine forests, although providing perfect habitat for species, stood empty and quiet because the areas had been drained by hunting for bushmeat, traditional medicine, the pet trade, and trophies.

“Hunting has long been known as a primary cause of wildlife species depletion in tropical forests,” she explained.

But she added that the problem had increased exponentially in the past few decades.

Between 1992 and 2002, trade in wildlife has increase by 75% and showed no signs of slowing down.

The US researcher highlighted several factors that had prompted the rapid growth: rising populations; a steady decrease in forest cover, and remaining forests becoming more accessible; and more efficient methods of hunting.

For the last factor, Dr Bennett used the example of hunters in Cambodia using landmines to kill tigers.

However, the most important factor, she said, was the commercialisation and globalisation of the wildlife trade.

Increasing demand for endangered species from countries like China has led to more people trekking into their forests for incomes.

In addition, increasing wealth has allowed many more consumers to afford illegal items made from endangered species on the black market.

To give a picture of the scale of this underground trade, Bennett pointed a number of examples:

  • in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, there are an estimated 1,500 restaurants selling wildlife meat
  • in Jakarta, Indonesia, the Pramuka market sells 1.5 million birds annually
  • a recent seizure of two shipments en route to China contained 14 tonnes of scaly anteater from Sumatra and 23 tonnes from Vietnam (the shipment contained an estimated 7,000 animals)

China is the world’s largest importer wildlife products, including an insatiable demand for turtles, ivory, tigers, pangolins, and many other species used for food or medicine.

Perhaps surprisingly, the USA is the second largest importer. According to Dr Bennett, many tonnes of bushmeat arrive in the US from Africa every month, and the US is large destination for the illegal pet trade.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 19/01/2009

Firm to trial bleeding canker ‘cure’


Arboriculture specialists may have found a cure for bleeding canker in horse chestnut trees, Horticulture Week reports.

It says arboculturalist consultancy Jonathan Cocking Associates (JCA) will trial a newly patented product with English Heritage.

JCA managing director Jonathan Cocking said he was trademarking the product, which kills canker bacterium in trees’ vascular systems.

Plugs of bark are removed around the chestnut, he explains, and a tree infusion is screwed into the holes.

The process takes an hour and after a year the tree refoliates, he adds.

“We are rolling it out with a few high-profile programmes including one with English Heritage.

“The treatment is invasive, but it’s a natural product.

“It’s better to get cracking and save a few trees than run a 10-year study programme only to find at the end of it that all the horse chestnuts have died.”

JCA, based in Halifax, West Yorkshire, has worked with a Dutch firm on the cure and hopes to license the product later in 2009.

Source: Horticulture Week

Date: 16/01/2009

UK charity gets funds to plant urban woodland


A multimillion-pound grant scheme to improve access to nature has targeted a project to plant urban woods to help people reconnect with nature, and avoid anti-social behaviour, Horticulture Week reports.

Access to Nature, managed by Natural England, aims to hand out £25 million of Big Lottery money to urban communities to start or improve nature projects.

One of the winners, conservation charity the Woodland Trust, aims to transform 10 of its urban woods in the North West.

Its grant of £213,000 will help launch a Woodland Communities project, said Woodland Trust woodland officer Tim Kirwin.

“The aim is to re-connect local people with their environment and reverse elements of antisocial behaviour,” he said of the target area around Warrington and Runcorn.

The zone straddled two boroughs containing some of the most deprived wards in England and within one mile of an estimated 155,000 people, Kirwin said.

“We want to increase local appreciation of woodland and tackle attitudes behind current antisocial activities and the dumping of rubbish.”

Events will include woodland-discovery sessions for schools, conservation work and efforts to help “make the sites an asset to the area rather than a blight”.

Mr Kirwin observed: “It will involve transforming areas that are often deserted and sometimes litter-strewn into bustling outdoor community facilities and give people the confidence to use woodland more fully.

“Many people in the area are just not connected with their natural environment, so we need to find ways to help make that happen, with schools playing a big part.”

Another project to receive the lottery funding was Wild About Plants, a project lead by charity Plantlife, which has received £327,000.

Dr Helen Phillips, chief executive of Natural England, said: “Modern life can mean losing regular contact with nature, and we must find a way of putting people back in touch.”

Source: Horticulture Week

Date: 13/01/2009

Landmark agreement for England’s trees


The Forestry Commission and Natural England have joined forces with more than 100 organisations, representing woodland owners, forestry businesses, conservation and local communities to create a new five-year action plan for trees and woodlands in England.

A press release from the Forestry Commission said that the ultimate goal of the new partnership was to deliver a healthier landscape for wildlife and an increase in people visiting woodlands for leisure and tourism by 2020.

The local environment and local communities will be improved with more, high-quality, wooded greenspace close to where people live and a revival of trees in our streets.

It added that the management of the both small, private woods and large commercial forestry will provide greater use of home-grown wood in construction and woodfuel,

Speaking at the launch of the scheme, Forestry Minister Huw Irranca-Davies said: “There are more than a million hectares of woodland and forest in England today.

“Trees make a big difference to people’s quality of life and wellbeing, improving the places where we live, work and play.

“People need to be able to get involved in planning, managing and looking after their local woodlands and trees, and the plan launched today will help us to make the most of our trees to combat climate change, protect wildlife, and yield other social, economic and environmental benefits.”

Forestry Commission chairman Lord Clark of Windermere added: “These are important and exciting times for trees, woods and forests in England as they face the challenges of climate change while providing a range of benefits to people, wildlife and to our economy.

He went on to say: “This new plan is testament to those people representing landowners, businesses, communities, local councils and government who worked together to secure the future for our trees, woods and forests.”

Sir Martin Doughty, chairman of Natural England, acknowledged the crucial role that trees played in ecological and economic terms, as well as adding to people’s quality of life.

“These benefits are increasingly being recognised, but they can only be secured through careful long term planning and co-ordinated action,” he said.

“Today’s Delivery Plan has been created through working closely with a wide range of organisations and local communities and marks a major step forward in securing a sustainable future for our woodlands.”

Source: Forestry Commission press release

Date: 15/12/2008

Christmas trees to stablise dunes


A local authority in the UK has found a clever way of dealing with unwanted old Christmas trees that is eco-friendly and prevents flooding, Horticulture Week reports.

Rangers in East Sussex are using the trees to stabilise sand dunes and protect them from erosion by harsh winds.

They lay the spruce and fir trees horizontally on the dunes to trap the windblown sand, said the county council.

It invited locals to bring their trees to Camber Sands, near Rye, where volunteers collected them and laid them on their sides in shallow trenches.

A council representative said the dunes were home to rare animals like the sand dart and shore waistcoat, and part of the landscape was a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

“Dunes are a dynamic system, with wind-blown sand moving inland in strong winds,” he explained.

“To prevent Camber village flooding and the loss of sand, it must be stabilised.”

Source: Horticulture Week

Date: 12/01/2009

Disagreement over rainforest recovery


Will rainforests survive? That was the topic of a debate at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

Satellite data and other research has revealed that huge tracts of abandoned tropical forests, which were once logged or farmed, are regrowing.

This evidence has prompted a contentious exchange of views and theories among scientists around the world.

One camp suggests that the regrowth of rainforests has been overlooked, resulting in the current “biodiversity crisis” argument, which fears that half of the world’s species could be lost in the coming decades, is too pesimistic.

However, another school of thought contends that only about half of the plants species originally found in rainforests will return to the areas, and that many animals will not survive the transition.

Others warn that the continuing expansion of netoworks of access roads into rainforests will make it easier for poachers and loggers, threatening the existence of tropical species even further.

Cristian Samper, director of the National Museum of Natural History, who presided over the debate, said: “By bringing together the world’s most foremost authorities on different aspects of rainforest sicence, we hope to achieve new insights into a situation with potentially profound implications for all species, including ours.”

Using a combination of satellite data and field research, estimates suggest that:

  • ten million square kilometres have been cleared of at least half of their wood cover for human uses, includingtimber and agriculture
  • five million square kilometres have been selectively logged, often with high-impact methods that leave forests degraded
  • Of the intact forests remaining, about 275,000 square kilometres – an area bigger than the UK – were felled in five years (between 2000 and 2005)
  • approximately 350,000 square kilometres  (about 2% of original forested areas) are in some stage of regrowth, primarily in South Asia and Latin America.

According to Greg Asner from the Carnegie Institution, deforestation was the most profound change underway in tropical rainforests.

However, he added, land abandonment was the second most important trend, with the majority of the abandonment occurring in upland areas that offered marginal farming opportunities.

Often, the inhabitants departed to pursue better income opportunities in lowlands and cities.

He added that regrowth was relatively quick:  the forest canopy closed after just 15 years; after 20 years, about half of the original biomass weight had grown back.

Joseph Wright, from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, noted that more than 20% of all land within 10 degrees of the equator had acquired protected status, and that the tropics had a percentage of protected land greater than North America, Europe or Japan.

He and colleague Helene Muller-Landau asserted in a 2006 study: “Large areas of tropical forest cover will remain in 2030 and beyond.

“We believe that the area covered by tropical forest will never fall to the exceedingly low levels that are often predicted.”

They added: “Extinction will threaten a smaller proportion of tropical forest species than previously predicted.”

Their position was partly based on UN predictions of growing urbanisation and slower population growth.  As a result, the abandoned areas will recover and tropical species spared, they contend.

But William Laurance, also from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, argued that secondary and degraded forests would sustain only a fraction of existing animal species.

He added that birds and mammals were more vulnerable to the altered habitat than insects and other small organisms.

Forest destruction in years past was largely the result of land being cleared for small-scale farming, he observed.

However, trade globalisation was fostering large-scale industrial agriculture, logging and mining; all of which was accelerating forest destruction.

The world was now losing the equivalent of 50 football fields of old-growth forest every minute, he warned.

“Rainforest regrowth is indeed occurring in regions but most old growth is destroyed,” he said.  “In biodiversity terms, this is akin to a barn door closing after the horses have escaped.”

The findings from the debate, and the evidence presented by the speakers, will be published as papers in a special edition of the journal Conservation Biology.

Source: Smithsonian press release

Date: 12/01/2009

Weller in the woods…


“Modfather” Paul Weller has announced a series of gigs in spectacular woodland locations across the UK this summer as part of Forestry Commission Live Music 2009.

The commission, in a press release, goes on to say:

Described as both the ‘modfather of rock’ and ‘Britpop’s elder statesman’, Paul is ultimately acknowledged by the media, fellow musicians and the public as one of the greatest singer-songwriters of British popular music.

Since his early days in The Jam, then Style Council and subsequently as a hugely successful solo artist, Paul continues to make pioneering music.

Last year saw the release of the critically acclaimed number one album ‘22 Dreams’, his ninth solo album in a career spanning over three decades.

He will be performing at the following venues:

Friday 5 June – Thetford Forest, Near Brandon, Suffolk
Friday 12 June – Delamere Forest, Delamere, Cheshire
Friday 19 June – Sherwood Pines Forest Park, Near Edwinstowe, Notts
Saturday 20 June – Westonbirt Arboretum, Near Tetbury, Glos
Friday 26 June – Cannock Chase Forest, Near Rugeley, Staffs
Saturday 27 June – Dalby Forest, Near Pickering, N Yorks

Tickets go on sale from Friday 16 January, costing £33.00 (subject to booking fee), from the Forestry Commission Box Office 01842 814612, online at www.forestry.gov.uk/music or over the counter from the venues.

The commission was quick to add that the tour was self-sustaining, paying for itself. It added that the gigs were also generating “valuable revenue to plough back into the woodland in a variety of environmental and social projects”.

For more information, please visit:

www.paulweller.com

www.forestry.gov.uk/music

Source: Forestry Commission UK press release

Date: 13/01/2009

Challenge to plant methane link


The recent finding that plants could be a major source of the atmosphere’s methane is challenged by new research, reports BBC News environment correspondent Richard Black.

A 2006 study suggested plants could account for almost half of the global production of the greenhouse gas.

But a UK-based team now reports that under normal conditions, plants just convey methane from the soil to the air without actually producing it.

Writing in a Royal Society journal, they suggest identifying sources of methane is key for climate control.

The gas is about 20 times more potent, molecule for molecule, than carbon dioxide.

After remaining stable for almost a decade, there have been signs in the last two years that concentrations have begun to grow again, which according to some observers presages an era of faster-rising temperatures.

The research that sparked the debate was published almost exactly three years ago by a group from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany.

Frank Keppler’s team found that plants emitted methane from their leaves under normal growing conditions, although the output increased in high sunlight and high temperatures.

They suggested that plants possessed a hitherto undiscovered biochemical pathway that could generate the gas.

The finding surprised scientists, and other groups tried to replicate it – with mixed results.

“It just didn’t make sense, and wasn’t something that had entered into any of our minds,” said Ellen Nisbet, leader of the group that has just published the latest findings in the Royal Society’s Proceedings B.

“But then we looked at the details of the experiments they’d done, and they were clearly very well done – we just didn’t like the conclusions,” she told BBC News.

Part of her team’s work involved growing several different varieties of plant, including maize and rice, in media that contained no organic material, so eliminating the chances of methane being formed through decay in soil.

They found during these experiments, conducted in closed chambers, that the plants produced no methane at all.

In another experiment, they compared the genomes of several plants with those of bacteria that produce methane by biochemical pathways that are well understood.

Plants, they concluded, could not generate the gas by any known pathway because they do not possess the right genes.

In a third strand of investigation, Dr Nisbet fed basil plants with water containing dissolved methane.

Later, the air from that chamber was analysed and found to contain the gas. The team concludes that plants do emit methane during transpiration – the release of water from leaves – but only the methane they have absorbed in water from soil.

“I think this does tell us that the vast majority of methane emitted in normal growth conditions is explained by the absorption of methane in the soil water,” said Dr Nisbet, who conducted the research at the University of Cambridge but who now works at the University of South Australia in Adelaide.

In stressful conditions, such as high temperatures or high intensities of ultraviolet radiation, plants can begin to decay, which also emits methane – but this is not significant under normal conditions, according to this analysis.

Dr Keppler suggested the new research does not disprove his idea that a new methane-producing pathway in plants is awaiting discovery.

“The paper is adding transpiration as a source of methane – that’s a nice observation although not entirely new; it’s been found in other studies that rice plants act as tubes to conduct methane to the air,” he told BBC News.

“But we clearly showed in previous studies that emissions came from the plant itself.”

His research team is now actively looking for that elusive new biochemical pathway.

So the issue is clearly not completely settled yet.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 14/01/2009

Twiglet: Wassailing ceremony


“Wassail” is Anglo-Saxon for “good health”, and is an ancient ceremony marked by farming communities on 17 January (old 12th night).

It involves the local community dancing and singing round apple trees in the orchard, and pouring cider around its roots before firing shotguns to scare off evil spirits.

Cider was important commodity in farming; some labourers and farm hands were paid in cider for their efforts. This meant that a good harvest of apples was essential.

The villagers selected a young girl, known as the wassail queen, who was then lifted into tree to, in turn, lift the spirits of the trees, preparing them for the spring and growing season ahead.

The villagers then placed some bread among the trees’ branches, as an offering to the trees and to the resident robins, which were the good spirits that protected the trees and ensured a good harvest.

Cider was then poured around the roots, and the villagers sang a wassail song:

Old Apple tree, old apple tree;
We’ve come to wassail thee;
To bear and to bow apples enow;
Hats full, caps full, three bushel bags full;
Barn floors full and a little heap under the stairs

After the singing of the song, the villagers made a lot of noise and shot guns were fired — this is to wake the tree from its winter slumber and to scare off any unwanted spirits.

China outlines tree planting plans for 2009


China’s Vice Prime Minister Hui Liangyu has urged government departments and the public to focus on the environment, and continue to plant trees, the China Daily website reports.

In 2008, China’s forest cover increased by 4.77 million hectares, Mr Hui told a conference attended by the country’s central and local forestry administration heads.

In addition, output of the country’s forestry sector reached 1.33 trillion yuan ($194 billion), an increase of just over 6% from the previous 12 months.

Forestry import and export volume was also expected to surpass $70 billion in 2008.

During 2009, China plans to plant 5.48 million hectares of trees, of which volunteers will plant about 2.5 billion trees.

The State Forestry Administration head, Jia Zhibang, also said at the conference that authorities will add more forestry jobs and increase forestry farmers’ income.

China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress (NPC), passed a resolution in 1981 making it a duty of all citizens older than 11 to plant trees annually.

The tree-planting drive is part of a campaign to boost green coverage to 20% of the country by 2010.

Source: China Daily

Date: 12/01/2009

Shrubs play role in UK ‘green security’ scheme


Prickly shrubs are being planted to deter crime and antisocial behaviour in north-west England, reports Horticulture Week.

The Green Security project was launched in Woodford, Stockport, and will eventually be expanded to 14 other locations.

A barrier of mixed native plants has been created along a temporary fence at the pavilion in Woodford Recreation Ground to prevent graffiti, bottle smashing, attempted arson and other anti-social behaviour.

According to Stockport Council, using shrubs for “defensive planting” makes boundary walls and fences more secure.

The shrubs prevent people from climbing over walls and fences into residents’ properties, and also protect structures from being daubed with graffiti.

Other project locations include allotments, parks and streets throughout the borough.

Stockport Primary Care Trust (PCT) provided the Safer Stockport Partnership, which includes  Greater Manchester Police, with £10,000 to help set up the project.

Source: Horticulture Week

Date: 06/01/2009

Double trouble for US hemlock forests


Hemlock forests in the east of the United States are under attack, according to Science Magazine’s ScienceNow website.

An aphid-like pest is ravaging the trees, while booming populations of deer devour other native plants.

Now, it reports, researchers have shown that the combination of these two threats adds up to even more trouble for the native ecosystem by creating the conditions that allow the establishment of invasive weeds.

Researchers first noticed the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), a 1.5mm-long insect from Asia, in an arboretum near Richmond, Virginia, in 1951.

The bugs feed on starch in new twigs and can kill trees in just three years. As the hemlocks die, exotic plants such as garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) have been spreading and altering the habitat that native species require.

Anne Eschtruth, a graduate student in forest ecology at the University of California, Berkeley, wondered how the two phenomena were linked.

Two factors appear to be involved. First, by defoliating the forest canopy, the adelgids allow more light to reach the forest floor.

This promotes the growth of native and exotic plants, Ms Eschtruth and colleagues report online in Conservation Biology.

The second factor is white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Following anecdotal reports that the deer sometimes prefer to eat one kind of plant over another, the researchers studied the animals’ behavior in 10 forests in north-eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey from 2003 to 2006.

They fenced off 40 patches of forest so that deer could not feed there. In these enclosures, the invasive plants grew about as well as the native plants did.

But where deer were able to graze, the exotics did better than the natives; the more deer there were, the more the invaders thrived.

One reason could be that additional sunlight causes native and exotic plants to put more resources into growing stems and leaves rather than roots, which would make them more vulnerable to browsing.

As are result, savory natives, favoured by the deer, would suffer more from large deer populations, while uneaten exotics would benefit.

“These effects are happening right around us and appear to be increasing with mounting deer densities and woolly adelgid expansion,” says plant ecologist Don Waller of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The findings suggest that land managers need to consider weed invasions, deer overpopulation, and tree health together rather than as separate issues.

And, he adds, reducing deer populations could be an effective way of combating exotic plants.

Source: ScienceNow website

Date: 19/12/2008

Sudden oak death hits UK national park


Restrictions have been introduced on visitors to the New Forest National Park in southern England after the discovery of a plant and tree-killing disease, the BBC News website reports.

Sudden oak death (Phytophthora ramorum) was discovered in a small number of rhododendron bushes along one of the park’s trails.

Visitors have been told to stick to pathways and keep dogs on a lead in signposted areas in order to prevent spreading.

The Forestry Commission said there was no risk to human health.

Mike Seddon, deputy surveyor for the New Forest, said: “As a result of routine monitoring undertaken as part of national measures to protect Britain’s trees and forests against Phytophthora ramorum, infection has been confirmed on some Rhododendron ponticum bushes.

“We are now working with Defra to determine the exact scale and extent of the outbreak, and to destroy infected plants,” he added

“In the meantime the public may continue to enjoy visiting the New Forest as usual.

“However, to help prevent the spread of the disease, we ask that in signposted infected areas they stay on the footpaths, keep dogs on leads, and do not take plant cuttings. There is no risk to human health.”

Sudden oak death was first identified in California, where it has made tan oak trees a rarity.

It causes roots and leaf discolouration, resulting in the death of the infected plants.

In the UK, rhododendron and viburnum are most commonly affected.

Mr Seddon added that, despite its nickname, sudden oak death actually poses little risk to the New Forest’s oak trees.

“There is, however, evidence that other species, such as beech and ash, are susceptible,” he said.

“Our approach therefore is to find out exactly the extent and severity of the outbreak and destroy the infected shrubs and plants to minimise the risk of the infection spreading into the New Forest’s trees.

“We have set up a survey of the area within 3.0km (1.8-mile) of the outbreak.”

Signs have been erected in the forest giving more information.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 08/01/2009

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