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

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