Douglas fir is ‘tallest tree in UK’


A Douglas fir in Argyll has been named the UK’s tallest tree by a team of experts, the BBC News website reports.

At 63.79m (209ft) the Stronardon Douglas fir near Dunans Castle beat the grand fir at Blair Castle, Perthshire, to the title by more than a metre.

Arborists from Sparsholt College, Hampshire, have been gathering official measurements for the Tree Register.

Mark Tansley, who organised the project, said Scotland provided the ideal environment for tall trees.

He said: “Scotland has excellent growing conditions, such as a damp environment and deep valleys that allow conifers to reach extraordinary heights.”

Mr Tansley’s team measured four trees picked out by the Tree Register as possible contenders for Scotland’s largest tree.

This included the UK’s previous tallest tree, the Douglas fir at Reelig Glen, Inverness at 62.02m, and a Douglas fir at The Hermitage, Dunkeld, Perthshire, which measured 61.31m.

The team are taking their project to England but are confident Argyll’s Douglas fir, which stands about 12m (40ft) taller than Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square, will retain its title.

Chris Hunter, who scaled the tree, said: “I’ve been climbing trees for 17 years and have never tackled anything so tall, challenging and rewarding.

“They were truly breathtaking trees set in breathtaking locations. Every one was worth the visit on its own.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 26/02/2009

Lost golf ball found embedded in tree


A lost golf ball has been found embedded deep in the trunk of a tree at a golf club in Norfolk, UK, the Telegraph reports.

The tree had apparently grown around the ball which had probably been lodged in its branches many years ago.

It was discovered when Richard Mitchell, greenkeeper at the Eaton club in Norwich, felled the conifer and cut it into pieces, only to find the ball perfectly encased in the wood.

Club manager Peter Johns said: “It’s an incredible find.

“It was pure luck that it was discovered. If Richard had cut the trunk an inch or two either way we’d never have known the ball was there.

“We think the ball came off the first tee, went into the trees and was lost.

“It must have lodged in a fork or embedded itself in the trunk and the tree just grew round it.”

Club officials now plan to use the cross-section as unique honour board to record all holes-in-one at the short ninth hole.

The trees were felled during the winter maintenance programme after they were found to be dying and were draining much-needed moisture from the ninth green.

Source: Telegraph newspaper

Date: 20/02/2009

Human activity ‘triggers rise in Borneo forest fires’


Severe fires in Indonesia – responsible for some of the worst air quality conditions worldwide – are linked not only to drought, but also to changes in land use and population density, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience.

“During the late 1970s, Indonesian Borneo changed from being highly fire-resistant to highly fire-prone during drought years, marking the period when one of the world’s great tropical forests became one of the world’s largest sources of pollution,” said lead researcher Robert Field, a PhD student of atmospheric physics at the University of Toronto, Canada.

“Ultimately, this abrupt transition can be attributed to rapid increases in deforestation and population growth,” he explained.

“The resulting occurrences of haze currently rank among the world’s worst air pollution episodes, and are a singularly large source of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Sumatra has suffered from large fires since at least the 1960s, but Indonesian Borneo seems to have been resistant to large fires, even in dry years, until population density and deforestation increased substantially and land use changed from small-scale subsistence agriculture to large-scale industrial agriculture and agro-forestry.

“We’ve had a good understanding of fire events since the mid 1990s, but little before this due to the absence of fire data from satellites,” said Mr Field.

“However, one of the major impacts of large-scale fires is a reduction in visibility due to the smoke produced.

“Visibility is recorded several times a day at airports in the region, and these records proved to be an excellent indicator of severe fire activity.

“We were able to piece together visibility observations back to the 1960s, and hence develop a longer term record of the fires.”

Having a long-term record of the fires allowed the scientists to better understand their causes.

“Using weather records, we were able to estimate the specific rainfall level below which large fires have occurred in the previous two decades,” Mr Field added.

“In turn, we found that the rainfall over Indonesia was influenced equally by the Indian Ocean Dipole and the El Nino Southern Oscillation phenomena.”

Mr Field concluded: “Hopefully, this information can be used to better anticipate and prevent future haze disasters in Indonesia.”

He said that there was a direct link between the increased prevalence of severe fires and haze disasters and the man-made change in land use.

“The visibility record also showed, quite strikingly, the impact of human settlement on a previously pristine tropical forest.

“This should give pause to further agro-forestry expansion in Indonesia, particularly for oil palm as a source of biofuel.”

Source: EurekAlert

Date: 22/02/2009

Quarter of PNG’s rainforests ‘lost to logging’


Nearly one quarter of Papua New Guinea’s rainforests were damaged or destroyed between 1972 and 2002, Mongabay.com reports.

Researchers, writing in the journal Biotopica, said the results – published in a report last June – show that Papua New Guinea is losing forests at a much faster rate than previously believed.

Over the 30-year study period, 15% of the nation’s tropical forests were cleared and a further 8.8% were degraded through logging.

“Our analysis does not support the theory that PNG’s forests have escaped the rapid changes recorded in other tropical regions,” the authors wrote.

“We conclude that rapid and substantial forest change has occurred in Papua New Guinea.”

Deforestation and forest degradation in Papua New Guinea are primarily driven by logging, followed by clearing for subsistence agriculture.

Since 2002 (a period not covered in the study), reports suggest that conversion of forest for industrial agriculture, especially oil palm plantations, has increased.

The study is based on comparisons between a land-cover map from 1972 and a land-cover map created from nationwide high-resolution satellite imagery recorded in 2002.

The authors found that most deforestation occurred in commercially accessible forest, where forest loss ranged from 1.1 to 3.4% each year.

Overall deforestation was 0.8 to 1.8% per year, higher than reported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), but lower than the rate of deforestation on neighboring islands, including Borneo and Sumatra.

Papua New Guinea’s primary forest cover fell from 33.23 million hectares to 25.33 million hectares during the 30-year period.

In the same period, almost 93 million hectares of forest were degraded by logging.

Lead author Phil Shearman, director of the University of Papua New Guinea’s Remote Sensing Centre, said that without incentives to keep forest standing, Papua New Guinea would continue to lose its forests.

“Forests in Papua New Guinea are being logged repeatedly and wastefully with little regard for the environmental consequences and with at least the passive complicity of government authorities,” Dr Shearman said.

He noted that nearly half of the country’s 8.7 million hectares of forest accessible to mechanised logging have been allocated to the commercial logging industry.

But he added that there may be hope because Papua New Guinea had become a leader in the push by tropical nations to seek compensation from industrialised countries for conserving forests as a giant store of carbon.

The mechanism known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) could potentially provide billions of dollars for conservation, sustainable development and poverty alleviation.

“The government could make a significant contribution to global efforts to combat climate change,” observed Dr Shearman.

“It is in its own interest to do so, as this nation is particularly susceptible to negative effects due to loss of the forest cover.”

UN studies have show that coastal communities in Papua New Guinea are particularly at risk from climate change.
Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 23/02/2009

Twiglet: Trees and roots


  • First thing to emerge from a seed is the embryonic root – the radicle.
  • In most plants, this primary root will develop secondary or lateral roots that grow out away from the main root as the plant grows.
  • The growth of any root is dependent on a small ball of dividing cells just behind the root tip. This collection of cells is called a meristem; it generates new cells to extend the root and form new root tissue (such as the xylem and phloem – the conducting tissues).
  • A long tap root may develop in suitable soils, whilst, in sandy ot peaty soils, the lateral roots may dominate.
  • Studies indicate the dominance of the young tap root is often lost quite early in development in many tree species.
  • The deepest root systems are probably found on desert plants.
  • Tree roots do not generally occur too deep in the soil, with the majority of roots found in the top one to two metres.
  • Trees tend to have shallow but extensive root systems.
  • The spread of the lateral roots can be as great as the spread of the canopy or crown, even further in some cases.
  • One study showed that the root spread of poplars was three times the crown radius. This type of root system is sometimes referred to as an extensive system.
  • An intensive root system is one that is confined to a smaller volume of soil, relying on shorter lateral that have numerous fine endings. This system is seen in beech (Fagus sylvatica), which was one of the species that suffered more than most in the drought of 1976.
  • The survey of trees blown over in the October 1987 Great Storm showed that only 2-3% had distinct tap roots.
  • Oak, pine and silver fir are among the species with persistent tap roots.
  • Other species have what are known as “heart root systems”, where larger and smaller roots penetrate the soil diagonally from the main trunk. Trees such as larch, lime and birch can fall into this category.
  • A surface root system is one where the roots tend to run horizontally just below the soil surface, with a few roots going deeper and vertically. Ash, aspen and Norway spruce are examples of trees with these kinds of roots.
  • The root system depends upon the local geology, soil type, climate, drainage… so, if a local area is water logged, this will limit the gas exchange which in turn will affect the amount of oxygen the roots can get for respiration (which generates the energy needed for growth and the absorption of minerals).
  • When oxygen levels in the soil falls, root growth is reduced or stops completely — the availability of oxygen can also be reduced by the compaction of the soil.

Source: Woodland Trust

Africa’s tropical forests ‘absorbing more carbon’


Trees across the tropics are getting bigger and offering unexpected help in the fight against climate change, scientists have discovered.

A report in the Guardian newspaper described how a study of the girth of 70,000 trees across Africa has shown that tropical forests are soaking up more carbon dioxide pollution that anybody realised.

Almost one-fifth of our fossil fuel emissions are absorbed by forests across Africa, Amazonia and Asia, the research suggests in the journal Nature.

Simon Lewis, a climate expert at the University of Leeds, who led the study, said: “We are receiving a free subsidy from nature. Tropical forest trees are absorbing about 18% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere each year from burning fossil fuels, substantially buffering the rate of change.”

The study measured trees in 79 areas of intact forest across 10 African countries from Liberia to Tanzania, and compared records going back 40 years. “On average the trees are getting bigger,” Lewis said.

Compared to the 1960s, each hectare of intact African forest has trapped an extra 0.6 tonnes of carbon a year. Over the world’s tropical forests, this extra “carbon sink” effect adds up to 4.8bn tonnes of CO2 removed each year – close to the total carbon dioxide emissions from the US.

Although individual trees are known to soak up carbon as they photosynthesise and grow, large patches of mature forest were once thought to be carbon neutral, with the carbon absorbed by new trees balanced by that released as old trees die.

A similar project in South America challenged that assumption when it recorded surprise levels of tree growth a decade ago, Lewis said.

His study, he added, was to check whether the effect was global.

The discovery suggests that increased CO2 in the atmosphere could fertilise extra growth in the mature forests.

Lewis said: “It’s good news for now but the effect won’t last forever. The trees can’t keep on getting bigger and bigger.”

Helene Muller-Landau of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Ancon, Panama, used a commentary piece in Nature to suggest that the forests could be growing as they recover from past trauma.

“Tropical forests that we think of as intact [could have] suffered major disturbances in the not-too-distant past and are still in the process of growing back,” she said.

Droughts, fire and past human activity could be to blame, she added: “This recovery process is known as succession and takes hundreds or even thousands of years.”

The research comes as efforts intensify to find a way to include protection for tropical forests in carbon credit schemes, as part of a new global climate deal to replace the Kyoto protocol.

Lee White, Gabon’s chief climate change scientist, who worked on the new study, said: “To get an idea of the value of the sink, the removal of nearly 5bn tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by intact tropical forests should be valued at about £13bn per year.”

David Ritter, senior forest campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “This research reveals how these rainforests are providing a huge service to mankind by absorbing carbon dioxide from our factories, power stations and cars.

“The case for forest protection has never been stronger, but we must not allow our politicians to use this as an excuse to avoid sweeping emissions cuts here in the UK.”

Source: Guardian newspaper

Date: 18/02/2009

Teak trees offer clues to drought history


A group of scientists are developing more accurate drought and harvest forecasts for Indonesia using tree rings, historic rice production figures and sea surface temperature data, the Reuters news agency reports.

Indonesia is one of the world’s most populous nations and a major producer of rice, cocoa, coffee and tobacco.

But the country is regularly at risk of drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon, which causes the eastern Pacific ocean to heat up, resulting in  wet weather moving toward the east and leaving drier weather in west around South-East Asia and Australia.

US scientist Rosanne D’Arrigo and colleague Robert Wilson are working on simplified statistical models that can predict drought ahead of the main September-December rice planting season, and how severe the drought might be.

The models focus on Java, one of the world’s most densely populated islands with 120 million people.

“We’re trying to develop simple, predictive model of drought and crop productivity on Java,” said Dr D’Arrigo of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

“There are complex models out there but you need to have a local type of analysis and something simple for local people to use .”

She was speaking to Reuters from Dalat, southern Vietnam, where she was presenting her team’s work at a climate change conference this week.

A key part of the model is using sea surface temperature data from the tropical Pacific and from the Indian Ocean.

A separate phenomenon called the Indian Ocean Dipole can also cause drought in Australia and affect rainfall in Indonesia.

Other data, such as sea-level pressure and wind indexes, are also used.

The data are examined several months before the usual onset of the monsoon to try to accurately predict likely rainfall patterns over Indonesia.

Dr D’Arrigo said she also found good agreement between the sea surface temperature model, a local drought index in Java and government data on crop productivity.

This suggested “we could estimate not only the coming drought condition but also the kind of crop season you would expect to have,” she said, adding she was also looking at a predictive model for the onset of the monsoon.

Her team also looked at tree rings from old teak trees in Java and Sulawesi island to build up a chronology of past droughts and found a very strong correlation with El Nino.

“Indonesia is kind of unique in the sense that it’s probably the area where you have the greatest ‘ground-zero’ climate signal related to El Nino,” she explained.

The oldest teak tree ring records came from the 16th Century, she said, but added it had been hard work finding the remaining centuries-old teak trees.

“It takes fair a bit of research. You have to do a bit of detective work to find the few remaining last stands that haven’t been cut for furniture.”

Source: Reuters

Date: 18/02/2009

Deforestation in Vietnam continues to rise


Deforestation has increased by 55% during the past year in Vietnam’s Dak Nong province, reports the Vietnam News Agency.

A report in Mongabay.com said that at least 440 hectares (1,100 acres) of tropical forest were illegally logged in the central highland province, and protected areas were also being targeted.

Forest officials attribute the increase to high commodity, especially corn, prices, which encourages the conversion of forest for cropland.

Another factor, the website reports, is the  lack of staff and resources among companies that have leased forest concessions.

Vietnam has one of the world’s highest rates of primary forest loss.

Between 1990 and 2005, the country lost 78% of its old-growth forests. Much of these were replaced with industrial plantations, with overall forest cover increasing by more than a third since 1990.

Plantations are biologically impoverished relative to natural forests. They also store less carbon.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 18/02/2009

Indonesia favours palm oil over peatlands


The Indonesian government will allow developers to convert millions of hectares of land for oil palm plantations, reports Mongabay.com.

The decision threatens to undermine Indonesia’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land use and fashion itself as a leader on the environment among tropical countries.

Gatot Irianto, head of research and development for the Agriculture Ministry, said the department is drafting a decree that would allow the drainage and conversion of peatland areas into oil palm estates.

“We still need land for oil palm plantations,” he told the Jakarta Post during a conference organised by the National Commission on Climate Change.

“We’ve discussed the draft with stakeholders, including hard-line activists, to convince them that converting peatland is safe,” he added.

“We promise to promote eco-friendly management to ward off complaints from overseas buyers and international communities.”

Degradation and destruction of peatlands in Indonesia results in hundreds of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Generally, developers dig a canal to drain the land, extract valuable timber, before clearing the vegetation using fire.

In dry years these fires can burn for months, contributing to the “haze” that plagues south-east Asian with increasing frequency.

Fires in peatlands are especially persistent, since they can continue to smolder underground for years even after surface fires are extinguished by monsoon rains.

While burning releases enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, merely draining peatlands also contributes to global warming. Once exposed to air, the peat oxidises, leading to decomposition and the relsease of carbon dioxide.

A study led by UK researcher Dr Susan Page from the University of Leicester found that producing one tonne of palm oil on peatland resulted in the release of up to 70 tonnes over 25 years as a result of forest conversion, peat loss and emissions from slash-and-burn fires.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 15/02/2009

Happy people ‘live near trees’


Living near trees makes people live longer and feel happier, a study shows.

Researchers added that leafy streets also encourage a lower crime rate and a more “civilised” atmosphere, even in poor areas, the UK’s Daily Telegraph reports.

They suggest that living close to parks and other green spaces is “essential to our physical, psychological and social well-being”.

“Nature calms people and it also helps them psychologically rejuvenate,” said Frances Kuo from the University of Illinois, who led a review of studies into the effects of trees and parklands.

“They are better able to handle challenges which come their way.”

The research also shows that people have happier relationships and perform better in tests when they live in tree-filled neighbourhoods.

Other studies showed that health levels could be “predicted by the amount of green space within a one-mile radius”.

Research in Japan also found that older people lived for longer when their homes were within walking distance of a park or other green space.

Professor Kuo observed: “In our studies, people with less access to nature show relatively poor attention or cognitive function, poor management of major life issues, and poor impulse control.”

“The relationship between crime and vegetation is very clear: the more trees, the fewer crimes.

“It actually encourages people to use the spaces outside their homes, which provides a natural form of surveillance.

“In fact, the data seem to indicate that if you have a landscape where you introduce well-maintained trees and grass, people will find that a safer environment.”

One study showed that the presence of trees could cut crime by as much as 7%, according to the research presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference (AAAS) in Chicago.

Children with attention deficit disorders also behaved better after a walk in a park compared to those who exercised indoors or in treeless areas, the review found.

Source: Daily Telegraph

Date: 14/02/2009

Judge uses 12,000 words to legally define “a tree”


A High Court judge, Mr Justice Cranston, has taken 12,000 words to answer the question: what is a tree?

As the UK’s Daily Telegraph reports, the judge thought it necessary to spell out the exact legal definition of a tree because of confusion in the planning process.

While trees could obviously be the object of tree preservation orders, the question remained about the status of saplings.

For clarity the judge ruled that size did not matter, and that the smallest sapling was, legally speaking, a tree.

His conclusion clashes with that of Lord Denning, a former Master of the Rolls, who ruled that a tree was only a tree if its trunk had a diameter of at least seven inches.

In opening his judgment Mr Justice Cranston said: “What is a tree? In particular does it include a young tree, a sapling?”

He continued: “On one occasion Lord Denning said emphatically that many saplings were not trees and that in woodland a tree was something over seven or eight inches, 180 to 200mm, in diameter.”

The issue arose in the case on which he was ruling because, while section 198 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 provided for tree preservation orders (TPOs) to preserve trees, groups of trees and woodlands, he said that there was “no statutory definition of a tree”.

He concluded that “with tree preservation orders there are no limitations in terms of size for what is to be treated as a tree. In other words, saplings are trees”.

The case was brought by a developer who had challenged a Government decision to not allow works in a young patch of woodland in North Halling, by the River Medway in Kent.

Palm Developments Ltd bought the site in 2001 and applied for permission to use the land as a commercial wharf.

Before the World War II, it was an industrial site but then it was abandoned, leaving a succession of trees to grow up.

Medway Council refused planning permission and applied for the site to be protected with a tree preservation order.

The company then appealed to Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, but she agreed with planning inspectors that the development would “cause irreversible harm to the visual amenity of the woodland”.

Palm Developments Ltd launched a fresh appeal in the High Court but that also proved to be unsuccessful.

Here is the full ruling by Mr Justice Cranston

Source: Daily Telegraph

Date: 13/02/2009

Norway to pay Guyana to protect rainforests


Norway will provide financial support for Guyana’s ambitious plan to conserve its rainforests, reports Mongabay.com.

During a meeting in Oslo, Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg signedan agreement to establish a partnership to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

It is also understood that the leaders will also push for the incorporation of a REDD mechanism that includes low deforestation countries like Guyana in a post-2012 climate change agreement.

“We agreed that if the world is to prevent irreversible climate change, it is essential that greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation are drastically reduced,” the men said in a statement.

It continued: “To achieve this vital objective, they agreed that determined and concerted action is needed.

“They emphasised that efforts under the UNFCCC towards REDD must be properly designed to ensure that deforestation is significantly reduced in countries where it is already occurring, and avoided in countries where deforestation rates are still low.”

Mr Stoltenberg added that REDD “would provide funding for provide funding for a shift away from forest-dependent employment and income generation, towards support for the creation of low carbon development and low deforestation economies”.

Norway’s financial commitment was not specified, although the statement noted that the Scandinavian country was “prepared to provide performance-based, substantial and sustained compensation for the progress Guyana makes in limiting emissions from deforestation at low levels and further decreasing forest degradation”.

The agreement includes the establishment of a “reputable international organisation” to distribute funds for low-carbon development based on Guyana’s performance.

President Jagdeo welcomed the deal: “The developing and the developed countries must work together to address global warming. I commend the government of Norway for showing leadership through its climate and forest initiative.”

Norway has pledged up to $430 million per year to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries.

To date, it has already committed up to $1bn to Brazil’s Sustainable Amazon Fund, provided the South American country meet targets for reducing deforestation.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 05/02/2009

Australian bushfires raise questions over forest strategies


Fire experts say inadequate fuel reduction strategies in Victoria’s forests may have contributed to the weekend disaster, The Age reports.

Rapid population growth on Melbourne’s fringes may also have been a factor in the high toll, one expert said.

But as Victoria reeled in disbelief at the scale of the disaster, most debate centred on whether to review the decades-old policy of allowing people to defend their homes.

Announcing a Royal Commission, the state’s premier, John Brumby, said the policy of “leave early or stay and defend property” would come under scrutiny.

“It’s served us well for 20 years or more,” Mr Brumby told Radio 3AW. “It’s not true to say that of the fire on Saturday.

“There were many people who had done all of the preparations, had the best fire plans in the world and tragically it didn’t save them.”

But former police ministers Andre Haermeyer and Pat McNamara dismissed one of the alternatives to “stay and fight”, which are forced evacuations.

Mr Haermeyer said that many of the people that had been killed in the fires has been as prepared as they could have been.

“This fire turned so quickly and with such a force, you wonder what systems, what procedures could have given people the chance to get out,” he said.

Mr McNamara added that many people appeared to have died fleeing the bushfires by car, a situation that could have been made worse by forced evacuations.

He said more clearing of native vegetation should be allowed to create a larger buffer between houses and fires.

A former chief of community safety, Naomi Brown, said forced evacuations in the face of bushfires were a simplistic response that could put people in more danger.

“You could have said to everybody on Friday you have to move out, but you don’t know where the fire is going to be,” she said.

Ms Brown, who is chief executive at the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council, warned about jumping to conclusions on fire policy while the fires still burned across Victoria.

“There are a lot of opinions and assumption, but not a lot in the way of evidence,” she said.

One reason why the death toll at the weekend was worse than “Ash Wednesday” (4 Feb 2009), she said, was the increase in people living on the outskirts of Melbourne in the past 25 years.

Fire and community safety experts have raised questions about whether the amount of fuel in the bush in some areas, such as Kinglake, worsened the impact of the fires.

Monash University research fellow and bushfire specialist David Packham laid much of the blame for the devastation on extremely high fuel loads in Victorian forests.

“There has been total mismanagement of the Australian forest environment,” he said.

Source: The Age website

Date: 10/02/2009

Amazon rainfall projections ‘underestimated’


Amazonian forests may be less vulnerable to dying off from global warming than feared because many projections underestimate rainfall, Reuters reports.

A study by UK researchers suggested that Brazil and other nations in the region would also have to act to help avert any irreversible drying of the eastern Amazon, the region most at risk from climate change, deforestation and fires.

“The rainfall regime in eastern Amazonia is likely to shift over the 21st Century in a direction that favours more seasonal forests rather than savannah,” the team write in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Seasonal forests have wet and dry seasons rather than the current rainforest, which is permanently drenched.

It is argued that this shift in precipitation patterns could result in the emergence of new species of trees, other plants and animals.

The findings challenge past projections that the Amazon forest could die and be replaced by savannah.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2007: “By mid-century, increases in temperature and associated decreases in soil water are projected to lead to gradual replacement of tropical forest by savannah in eastern Amazonia.”

The new study said that almost all of 19 global climate models underestimated rainfall in the world’s biggest tropical forest.

Lowland forests in the Amazon have annual average rainfall of 2,400 mm (94 inches), it said.

Projected cuts in rainfall meant the region would still be wet enough to sustain a forest.

The experts also examined field studies of how the Amazon might react to drying.

It said that seasonal forests would be more resilient to the occasional drought but more vulnerable to fires than the current rainforest.

“The fundamental way to minimise the risk of Amazon dieback is to control greenhouse gas emissions globally, particularly from fossil fuel combustion in the developed world and Asia,” said Yadvinder Malhi, the lead author from Oxford University.

But he said that governments led by Brazil also needed to improve their forest management policies.

Global warming is “accompanied by an unprecedented intensity of direct pressure on the tropical forests through logging, deforestation, fragmentation, and fire use,” the scientists wrote.

And fires, including those touched off by lightning, were more likely to cause wide damage to forests already fragmented by roads or by farmers clearing land to plant crops, such as soya beans.

Source: Reuters

Date: 09/02/2009

Battle on to save Scotland’s red squirrels


More than £1m is to be spent over the next three years on saving Scotland’s red squirrels and protecting routes into their northern strongholds, the BBC News website reports.

The number or reds has been in decline since the arrival of the grey squirrel from North America in the 19th Century.

Greys compete with reds for food and can also carry the squirrel pox virus, which can kills reds in about 14 days.

There are currently about 121,000 red squirrels in Scotland and the country is home to 75% of the UK’s reds.

There are thought to be between 200,000 and 300,000 greys in Scotland.

The £1.3m Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) project is being launched in Dunkeld, Perthshire.

See a map of shifting red and grey squirrel territories

It will develop habitats in which the red squirrel can flourish but will also try to control the greys, which will involve killing them.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), and the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association (SRPBA) are involved in the project.

Environment Minister Mike Russell said: “The red squirrel is one of our most beautiful and valuable native species. Therefore its loss would be absolutely unforgiveable.

“Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a true partnership organisation and I am hopeful that its activity will see the red squirrels able to thrive once again in this country and ensure that future generations are able to enjoy them.”

Ron McDonald, from SNH, said that grey squirrel control would be focussed on the key routes being used by grey squirrels to spread north.

“Greys have already displaced red squirrels from most of England, Wales and Scotland’s central belt, but much of the north still remains grey-free,” he said.

“With sightings of greys becoming more frequent in northern Perthshire and Angus, and a population of grey squirrels already established in Aberdeen, it is imperative that we act quickly to protect red squirrels north of the central belt and prevent the grey’s further migration.”

Stuart Brooks, from SWT, added: “I can understand and empathise with those people who do not like the prospect of killing wild animals, but it is disingenuous to say that there are viable alternative solutions to saving the red squirrel in Scotland.

“Work is under way on a vaccine for squirrel pox but it is not around the corner and habitat improvements are a key component of our longer-term strategy.

“To do nothing now will certainly consign our native squirrel to a painful and lingering death.”

The SSRS project is expected to start work properly in April.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 10/02/2009

UK to set tougher timber measures


From the beginning of April, only certified timber and timber products will be able to be used on UK government properties and projects, according to a press release from the UK Forestry Commission.

The material will have to originate either from independently verified legal and sustainable sources or from a licensed Forest Law Enforcement, Governance & Trade (FLEGT) partner.

The change will initially apply to England, Great Britain and UK departments and their executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies.

It is anticipated that the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will follow suit in the near future.

Other public bodies, including local authorities, will be encouraged to follow the government’s lead.

The Forestry Commission says the new policy is designed to combat illegal and unsustainable logging.

It is described as a key element in the effort to help reduce and mitigate climate change by tackling deforestation, which is a threat to societies and the environment around the world.

The UK is a major importer of timber, and the government is at the forefront of global efforts to encourage legal and sustainable management of the world’s forests.

Under the new guidelines, government buyers will have to request evidence from contractors and suppliers that the wood products they propose to supply comply with the policy.

This evidence can take two forms:

Category A – independent certification of the timber and timber products by any of the forest certification schemes that meet the policy requirements, such as those endorsed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC).

Category B – includes alternative documentary evidence that the source forest is known and that it is legally and sustainably managed.

Defra, the Government department with lead responsibility for sustainable timber procurement, has established the Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET) to provide training and a free support helpline to public-sector buying agencies and their timber suppliers.

Official figures suggest that about 23% of the timber sold in the UK is sold to government or public bodies.

The Forestry Commission estimates that 80% all timber produced in the UK is certified, including two-thirds of private-sector production, therefore meeting the criteria for Category A timber.

As for Category B, the benchmark for sustainable forest management in the UK is the UK Forestry Standard.

The Forestry Commission and Northern Ireland Forest Service are currently revising the Standard to bring it up-to-date and ensure it is consistent with international criteria.

When this process is completed, compliance with the revised Standard should provide a sound basis for demonstrating sustainable management under CPET Category B.

In the interim, the Commission and Forest Service are working closely with Defra to establish an appropriate protocol to enable all woodland owners to continue to meet the Government’s new procurement criteria from 1st April 2009.

Source: Forestry Commission press release

Date:  02/02/2009

Tropical tree offers mosquito repellent hope


Isolongifolenone, a natural compound found in the Tauroniro tree (Humiria balsamifera) of South America, has been identified as an effective deterrent of mosquitoes and ticks, reports Mongabay.com

It quotes researchers writing in the Journal of Medical Entomology, who said that derivatives of the compound have long been used as fragrances in cosmetics, perfumes, deodorants, and paper products.

However, they added, new processing methods could make it as inexpensive to produce as DEET – a potent and widely available synthetic insect repellent that works by blocking the aroma of human sweat.

The authors, led by Aijun Zhang of the US Department of Agriculture’s Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory, found that isolongifolenone deters the biting of the mosquitoes Aedes aegypti and Anopheles stephensi “more effectively than the widely used synthetic chemical repellent N,N-diethyl-3-methyl benzamide (DEET) in laboratory bioassays”, and repels blacklegged ticks and lone star ticks “as effectively as DEET”.

“Isolongifolenone is easily synthesized from inexpensive turpentine oil feedstock,” the authors wrote.

“We are therefore confident that the compound has significant potential as an inexpensive and safe repellent for protection of large human populations against blood-feeding arthropods.”

Tauroniro, whose common names include Bastard bulletwood, Oloroso, Couramira, or Turanira, is found in marshy forests in the Guianas, Colombia, Venezuela, and the Brazilian Amazon, according to the US Forest Service.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 05/02/2009

Twiglet: UK woodlands and forests


The social and environmental value of woodlands and forests in the UK is estimated to be in the region of £1bn, states a postnote from the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

Once, most of the UK was covered in woodland but the cover was gradually depleted as the demand for timber, fuel and agriculture grew.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, woodlands made up about 5% of the mainland.

Following the sharp increase in demand for wood products during World War One, the government established the Forest Commission. Its aim was to build a strategic timber reserve.

This was achieved by a large scale planting programme, mainly involving non-native conifers, such as North America’s Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis). The plantations were established on marginal agricultural land.

Overall, the UK has quite a diverse wooded landscape; the majority of the native trees are broadleaves. The nation has three native conifers: Scots pine, yew and juniper.

Woodland is considered “semi-natural” if it is composed of locally native species. A small proportion of the remaining woodlands are considered “ancient”, because their origins can be traced back to before 1600AD.

In recent years, a growing awareness for the need to conserve certain habitats and biodiversity has led to a shift in management practices.

From the primary concern being the production of timber, the focus is now on “sustainable forest management”.

This aims to provide social and environmental goods while maintaining an economically viable forest, protecting it for future generations.

The forestry and timber industry is estimated to contribute £7.2bn a year to the UK economy.

It produces nine billion cubic metres of wood products annually, however this is still less that a fifth (18% in 2007) of the total wood products used in the UK each year.

Most wood in imported. The majority of the imports come from Europe, however a sizeable minority comes from further afield.

Campaigners have identified that some of this wood is harvested from old-growth tropical forests, resulting in the loss of valuable habitat and biodiversity.

Looking more detail at the environmental value of a woodland or forrest, a number of “ecosystem services” can be identified, including:

  • protecting soil from erosion
  • reducing flooding in some catchment areas by intercepting rainwater and reducing run-off in stormy weather
  • helping reclaim contaminated land
  • proving shelter, shade and cooling in urban areas, and wind shelters on farmland
  • conserving biodiversity (broadleaved woodlands contain more than twice the number of rare species, according to the UK BAP, than any other habitat
  • conifer plantations also have role to play in conserving rare species, because they offer protection to species like the red squirrel and the capercaille.

Looking at the role of the UK forest and woodland cover in carbon sequestration, it is probably safest to state that it does have a role to play in mitigating the impacts, but it can never replace a broad strategic effort to decarbonise the UK’s economy and activities.

The UK has adopted a number of international forestry agreements – it was a signatory of the Statement for Forest Principles at the Rio summit in 1992. It also agreed to the general declaration on the Protection of Forests in Europe, which was presented at the 1993 European Ministerial Conference in Helsinki, Finland.

These agreements basically enshrine sustainable forestry measures into a policy framework. Hard to believe, but the European Union has no direct jurisdiction over forestry policy. Instead it is formulated at a member state level.

But there are some EU legislation that has an influence on forestry matters. These include CAP, EU Habitats and Species Directive, Environmental Impact Assessments, and the Water Framework Directive.

Within the UK, forest policy has been devolved to the national administrations. Policy in Scotland and Wales is decided by the national Forestry Commissions on behalf of the national political executives.

Since the widespread adaption of conifer plantations in the UK, most are same-age stands, which are felled in large areas in one go.

This is considered to limit or damage the social and environmental value of the plantations and local habitat, so there are plans to consider alternative management techniques, including:

  • Continuous Cover Forestry – smaller areas are felled in one go, allowing the overall habitat to remain largely undisturbed, and also allowing a mixed-age stand to develop)
  • PAWS restoration – some conifer plantations were created on ancient broadleaved woodlands, so there is a growing commitment to restore “PAWS” (Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sites)

Even though there is increased protection measures for semi-natural and ancient woodlands (such as SSSIs etc), their wildlife could still be under threat as a result of human activities. Recent surveys show that many woodland species have declined dramatically since the 1970s. One theory for this worrying trend is because it is the result of changes in the structure of the woodlands, stemming from the lack of management.

Threats to the woodland and the species within them include:

  • increasing fragmentation: small patches of woodland, isolated by other land use changes, are more vulnerable to change and can support fewer species
  • decline in woodland management: over the past century, active management of woodlands for timber has declined. This has led to a reduction in open areas within woodlands, on which many species depend, contributing to a decrease in biodiversity.
  • Overgrazing: Increasing deer numbers (including four introduced species) are an issue across the UK. Deer are a part of the woodland ecosystem, but overgrazing affects tree seedlings, ground flora and other wildlife. In upland areas, sheep can also cause overgrazing.
  • Pollution (and other external influences): the threat from acid rain has decreased over the years as the result of tighter emission controls of coal-fired power stations. However, localised air pollution can still be a problem. Fertiliser and pesticide drift from adjacent farmland is an issue on woodland edges.
  • Invasive species: some non-native species (such as rhododendron and grey squirrels) pose threats to woodland ecosystems by damaging or out-competing native species.
  • impact from recreational users: trampling can have a locally significant impact on woodland ground flora. Disturbance by humans and dogs may also affect other wildlife, such as breeding birds.

The future of woodlands is ultimately at the mercy of climate change. Changes are already being observed within the woods in the UK, Oak buds are opening up to two weeks earlier than what they were in the 1950s, probably as a result of warming temperatures.

There is one school of thought that suggests that increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to plants and trees increase the rate at which they convert the gas and nutrients, leading to an increased growth rate.

However, other factors need to be taken into account, such as changes to precipitation or water tables.

All projections and models have a degree of uncertainty within them, so there is not a clear picture of how the nation’s woodlands will look in the future. The only certainty is that they are not going to remain static and change is occurring.

Source: UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (Post)

Date: 02/02/2009 (however the postnote was first published in 2007)

Report: Trees in the urban realm


Although the findings from the UK’s Tree and Design Action Group were published in 2008, it is worth reprising here.

The group, comprising of professionals and organisations, looked at the threat facing urban trees, while highlighting the benefits they bring to local communities.

It says that trees enrich the urban landscape by “improving health and well-being for people and the environment”.

It goes on to say that the report also highlights that urban trees mitigate temperature extremes, reduce pollution and increase real estate values.

“In terms of climate change,” the group suggests, “trees have been identified as being a key element of any urban climate change adaptation strategy.

“Trees are uniquely placed to be widely integrated into the urban fabric, providing a shading and cooling mechanism.

“Without this cooling mechanism, cities of the future – London in particular – are likely to be very inhospitable places.”

However, the group says that while there is awareness about the role trees can play in making cities habitable in the future, current design and planning systems make it very difficult to plan for the future.

“The services and infrastructure needed in cities to achieve high densities living generally militates against the presence of trees.

“Climate change will add to these pressures and create a landscape devoid of large trees unless practical steps are taken by a range of professional bodies working in partnership.”

It builds on the London Assembly Environment Committee’s 2007 report “Chainsaw Massacre“, which highlighted the loss of street trees in London. It found that more large tree species were being cut down rather than being replaced.

The Trees in Towns II report, commissioned by the Department for Communities and Local Government, echoed this findings for the rest of England.

Source: Trees and Design Action Group (TDAG)

Date: December 2008

Ranching ‘biggest driver of deforestation’ in Brazil


Cattle ranching is the biggest driver of deforestation in Brazil, says Greenpeace.

In evidence presented at the World Social Forum, hosted by Belem in the heart of the Amazon, the environmental group said it showed that cattle ranching was the biggest driver of Amazon deforestation.

Greenpeace Brazil has produced a series of maps which it said showed the links between cattle ranching and tree felling in the highest resolution to date.

The details have been released as part of the organisation’s Save the Planet – Now tour.

Greenpeace lists the South America nation as the world’s fourth biggest polluter, with 75% of its emissions stemming from deforestation.

The Brazilian government has pledged to tackle destruction of the Amazon as part of its climate commitments. However, green campaigners say plans to expand its cattle industry contradict these.

Internationally, tropical deforestation is responsible for a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the global transport sector.

Source: Greenpeace International

Date: 29/01/2009

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