UK firm barcodes trees to save the world’s forests


Barcoding every tree in an African rainforest sounds as plausible as counting grains of sand on a beach, but this is exactly what one British company has set out to do, reports Kate Walsh for the Times.

Helveta, a technology firm based in Oxford, is developing a system for tracking timber that will help prevent illegal logging and could become a template for forest management all over the world.

Using a system of barcoding similar to that used by supermarkets for stock control, Helveta aims to tag all 90 million trees in 4.3 million hectares of rainforest in Liberia.

The marking process will allow customers in Britain and elsewhere to trace every timber plank or piece of garden furniture back to its stump.

The Liberian government has awarded the company a £1m, four-year contract to implement the system.

A 14-year civil war destroyed much of Liberia’s forestry sector, along with the country’s infrastructure.

At the height of the fighting, the country’s fragile forests were being stripped to pay for weapons. Niangon and Lovoa, high-quality timber used in furniture making and worth up to £180 a cubic metre, was sold to buy guns and ammunition.

Helveta claims its system of mapping is the only one in the world that can guarantee the “sustainability and legality” of timber.

Climate change is making the protection and management of forests a priority – the provenance of timber is therefore becoming “critically important” to retailers such as B&Q and Habitat, the company said.

“Our appetite in the West for ethically-sourced goods – whether it’s coffee or chocolate – is growing and retailers are responding to that,” said Derek Charter, Helveta’s project manager in Liberia.

“There is also a raft of different legislation being put in place – at EU and UK-government level – that will enforce the legality of timber on the retailer. In other words, if retailers cannot prove where the timber has come from, they could be penalised.”

The process of barcoding each tree – about one million of the 90 million tagged trees will actually be harvested – is fairly simple.

A 4cm plastic tag, which has a unique identity number, is hammered into the tree trunk. Only trees over 40cm in diameter can be tagged; anything smaller than that is protected.

After the tree has been felled, another tag (carrying the same identity number) is hammered into the stump.

“The barcode gives a record of where exactly the tree stands in the forest,” said Mr Charter.

“Ultimately, it will create a map of the forest. It also records the species and what that tree would be expected to yield. All this information is stored in our database in Reading.

“If you went into a furniture retailer on the high street and asked where a garden table came from, they will look at the ticket and say it is from a forest in Bolivia but they have no proof – that’s just where they have been told it is from or where the invoice was paid.

“With our system you could go to our website, type in the tree’s identity number and it will show you a map of Liberia and then zoom into the stump where your timber was harvested from. The current principle is that the country can use that information to market its natural resources to the buyer.”

The government hopes that the first tagged log will be exported before the end of the year.

Some conservationists have criticised Liberia’s plans to cut down trees – sustainably or not – instead of setting aside its rainforest for carbon offsetting.

Employment is the government’s biggest argument in favour of logging, together with the tax revenues it will generate.

It is estimated that the forestry sector could employ 10,000 people directly by 2012 and another 30,000-40,000 indirectly.

US Aid, the American development agency, together with the UN and the World Bank, have invested $20m in the country’s forestry sector to prevent a return to the days of illegal logging.

The result is that not a single log has been exported from Liberia since the lifting of the embargo three years ago.

Peter Lowe, forestry co-ordinator at the World Bank, said: “Liberia really has bravely taken the challenge to set regional standards in forest conservation.

“[Barcoding] is the most sophisticated system I’ve seen because it requires levels of transparency that don’t normally exist.”

Source: The Times newspaper

Date: 22/03/2009

Wildlife flee Kenyan forest fires


Hundreds of thousands of flamingos and other wildlife are at risk after five forest fires erupted in Kenya on Saturday, say wildlife officials.

The BBC News website reports that police say they suspect some of the still-raging blazes were started by communities to make space for farmland.

The fires have had an adverse effect on the Masai Mara and in Tanzania on the Serengeti national park, officials say.

Other wildlife reserves are under threat, including Lake Nakuru, which is home to almost a million flamingos.

According to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), all the rivers that drain from south-western Kenya’s Mau forest into the lake have dried drastically.

Nearly 60 species of wildlife, including white rhino, depend on the lake.

By Sunday an estimated 200 hectares (500 acres) of woodland had been razed in Mau – East Africa’s largest indigenous forest.

KWS communications manager Paul Udoto told the BBC: “We now have to pump water from underground bore holes to shallow pans to water the animals in the park otherwise they will all die. This is costing us a lot of money.”

Members of communities opposed to government plans to move them out of the Mau forest are suspected, say police, and several people have been arrested, accused of arson.

Another blaze nearby has destroyed about a quarter of the 52 sq km (20 square miles) Mount Longonot National Park, an extinct volcano in Kenya’s Rift Valley, said officials.

Zebras, buffaloes, antelopes, gazelles and giraffes have fled the fires, crossing roads and residential areas to reach safety, said witnesses.

But some wildlife experts said snakes and smaller animals, like rabbits and mongooses, may not have managed to escape.

Kenya is suffering a drought this year that has contributed to hunger the government says is affecting 10 million people.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 23/03/2009

Welsh woodlands to fight climate change


Climate change experts from across Europe will be seeing how the Welsh woodlands are already helping to alleviate the effects of climate change, says a press release from the UK Forestry Commission.

Researchers in Wales are putting in place exciting new ways in which the forests can help prevent flooding as well as locking away millions of tons of carbon dioxide.

Leading members of the new FUTUREforest project will be taken on a fact-finding tour of south Wales on 26-27 March, 2009.

The mission is part of the project’s remit to share experiences and new methods of environmental management to prepare the forests of Europe for climate change.

Specialists from the other six partner regions – Auvergne, France (biodiversity); Brandenburg, Germany (knowledge transfer); Bulgaria (soil protection); Catalonia (natural risks); Latvia (timber production); Slovakia (carbon sequestration) will see some of the effects of climate change on Welsh forests – and some of the solutions in and around Abergavenny.

They will see how woody debris dams, new woodland creation and other flood risk management techniques in the uplands can help to prevent the kind of flooding that has caused millions of pounds worth of damage across Wales.

The 30 strong delegation will be staying at The Hill Education & Conference Centre, Abergavenny, and visiting Forestry Commission Wales woodland sites at Mynydd Du, Usk College and the Woodland Trust’s Great Triley Wood.

“We have already begun to discover much about the way the woodlands of Europe can help us to combat climate change,” said Mike Over, Project Manager of the FUTUREforest project in Wales.

“We hope that experts from our partner regions discover that in Wales we have made some really exciting new discoveries that can help them back in their own countries.”

Source: Forestry Commission press release

Date: 19/03/2009

UK forest agency launches greener towns partnership


Making Britain’s towns and cities greener places to live and work is the aim of a new partnership being launched by the UK Forestry Commission on 25 March, 2009.

The Urban Regeneration & Greenspace Partnership (URGP) will be officially launched at the ParkCity conference in London.

It will work to bring together a range of government departments and agencies, local authorities and community and environmental groups to work in partnership to create, manage and promote sustainable green spaces in towns and cities.

“Urban greenspace” is a term used to describe natural habitats – from street trees to open grassland, heathlands and woodland – in and around towns and cities.

Greenspace provides a wide range of social, economic, health and environmental benefits, including the creation of wildlife habitats, noise reduction, sustainable drainage and flood control, cooling of buildings and the built environment, improved air quality, and opportunities for sport and recreation.

The URGP will aim to:

  • demonstrate the value and awareness of the impacts and outcomes of greenspace in and around towns and cities;
  • disseminate best practice and case studies;
  • enable innovation and knowledge transfer;
  • provide a network of research and evaluation sites;
  • identify gaps in knowledge and priorities for research and dissemination; and
  • provide a link to research services across the UK.

Tony Hutchings from the Forestry Commission’s Forest Research agency, based at Alice Holt Lodge near Farnham in Surrey, is the co-ordinator of the URGP.

He said: “The use of greenspace in towns and cities is increasingly being seen as having a vital role to play in helping to regenerate them.

“This can involve, for example, transforming a neglected area of derelict ground into a park where people can meet, walk, talk and play.

“The URGP will play a vital role in raising the awareness, impacts and outcomes of urban greenspace.

“We look forward to working with a range of parties from all sectors to establish more urban greenspace and realise the benefits it offers.”

Organisations interested in joining the URGP or being kept in touch with its work and development are invited to contact the partnership.

Further information about the Forestry Commission’s work on urban regeneration and land reclamation is available from the Forest Research website.

Source: Forestry Commission press release

Date: 19/03/2009

Trees: More than just carbon sinks


“In the absence of trees, our communities would simply collapse,” states Andrew Dokurugu, a project officer for Tree Aid tells BBC News.

Speaking from the charity’s West Africa offices in Burkina Faso, he explains how trees are vital for poor rural villages to survive in the long-term.

“We are looking at ways to promote sustainable agriculture and agroforestry,” he says.

“This will help ensure that the remaining trees are well looked after and that communities have access to the trees they require.”

Using the Family Trees and Land Use scheme in northern Ghana, one of Tree Aid-led projects that have helped 600,000 villagers, Mr Dokurgu outlines why so many communities in West Africa are facing tough times.

“Rural settlements located close to big cities have particularly difficult challenges,” he says.

“Urban developments damage the environment and remove trees for use in the cities.

“This quickly deprives rural areas of their sources of food, fuel and other tree products.”

Rising urban populations and expanding cities makes life tougher both inside and outside the city boundaries.

Tree Aid was set up in 1987 by a small group of foresters who were keen to use their expertise to help people in Africa, explained programme director Tony Hill.

“They saw that trees, potentially, were a way for poor rural families to help themselves in the long-term,” he told BBC News.

And in 1997, the charity established a permanent office in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.

Mr Hill described this development as a “step change” for Tree Aid, which has now planted more than 6.5 million trees.

“We were then able to work directly with local partners,” he said.

“Projects always have a beginning and an end, but the needs of the villagers do not end when the scheme finishes – particularly when you are dealing with trees.

“You need to have the continuity of attention, care and protection if you are going to deliver the benefits long-term.”

The need to plant and manage the region’s tree stocks is becoming increasingly important, Mr Hill says.

“If you go back several decades, the wild tree resources were rich enough for villagers to get more or less all of the products they needed without having to plant trees.

“Now, growing populations and an erratic climate means that villages have to invest in trees, rather than letting nature do its own thing.”

However, it is not simply the case of telling people to plant saplings and sitting back and waiting for them to grow.

Some cultures, Mr Hill reveals, have traditionally considered planting fruit trees as taboo: “People believed that if you planted a tree, you were bound to die before it bore fruit.”

But he says one of the biggest challenges is the issue of land tenure.

“For farmers, it is like a declaration of ownership. Planting trees says ‘this is my land and it is going to be mine for a long time.

“For many people, it is difficult to negotiate adequate secure tenure and get permission from all of the relevant authorities.”

This is one area where Tree Aid has been focusing its efforts, especially for women, who generally are not allowed to own land.

“In the drylands of Africa, where Tree Aid operates, the real value of trees is the products that they can take: fruits, leaves, bark and roots, firewood, building materials,” Mr Hill says.

He adds that healthy trees also help maintain the area’s ecosystems.

“People rely on trees to recycle nutrients, prevent erosion and maintain moderate water flows.

“Without trees in the landscape, you cannot have a sustainable farming system.

“Without farming, you do not have any life in these communities.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 19/03/2009

UN: World’s forests facing tough tests


World forests face the dual challenge of climate change and the global economic crisis, a key UN report says.

On the BBC News website, environment reporter Mark Kinver said it suggested that although the economic slowdown might reduce deforestation rates in the short term, it was also likely to lead to other problems.

One concern, would be a lack of investment in the sector and in forestry management.

The study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was published on Monday.

It is timed to coincide with the start of UN World Forest Week.

CTS Nair, one of the report’s lead authors and the FAO Forestry Department’s chief economist, said the economic crisis was having “tremendous impacts – both positive and negative”.

“You will find the forestry industries in a number of countries almost on the verge of collapse,” he told BBC News.

For example, he said the construction of starter homes in the US and Canada had fallen from about two million units at the end of 2005 to less than 500,000 now.

This had led to a dramatic fall in the demand for wood products, which was affecting forest-based industries and export markets in developing nations.

However, Mr Nair added, the downturn was having some beneficial effects.

“We are seeing a decline in the prices of soya beans, palm oil and rubber etc,” he explained.

“The prices have fallen drastically, so this means that the incentives for cultivating these crops have also gone down.

“As a result, the pressure to clear primary forest stands is also declining.”

The report, State of the World’s Forests 2009, also showed that the health of forests varied from region to region of the world.

“We see advances being made in places like Europe, but losses being made in places like Africa and especially developing countries,” Mr Nair observed.

“For example, what we see in the case of Africa is that there is a growing population yet the productivity within agriculture has remained extremely low.

“There is very little diversification in terms of sources of income so there is a very high dependency level on land use and natural resources, such as timber.”

“On the other hand, in places such as Asia where there has been rapid economic growth, people have moved out of agriculture to some extent and the pressure on the land has declined.”

In recent years, the importance of the world’s forests as carbon sinks has featured prominently in global climate policy discussions.

An initiative called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (Redd), which is likely to involve developed nations paying tropical forest-rich nations not to cut down trees, appears to be gaining support.

Mr Nair gave the scheme a cautious welcome: “In theory, it is an excellent idea but its implementation is going to be extremely tricky.

“If you look at the people involved in forest clearing, it is different people in different regions.

“For example, in Latin America, it is largely cattle rangers and soya bean planters. In South-East Asia, it is palm oil and rubber plantations.

“What we find is that it is not the smallholders, it is the big players who are working within a global market.

“So far, only the issue of what it is trying to achieve has been examined, the issue of how we are going to implement it has not really been discussed or examined.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 16/03/2009

New tree species found in car park


Scientists who discovered a new species of tree standing beside a country road have named it “no parking” after a sign that was nailed to the trunk, according to a report in the Independent newspaper.

A team of botanists found the tree in a north Devon lay-by while working on a project in which 14 new species and hybrids across the British Isles were discovered.

It was known locally as the No Parking Tree and the nickname has stuck as it is listed in Watsonia, the scientific journal of the Botanical Society of the British Isles, as no parking whitebeam.

The tree’s scientific name is Sorbus admonitor, meaning to admonish or tell off, and it grows at Watersmeet, between the villages of Lynton and Lynmouth.

The research project, led by Dr Tim Rich, head of vascular plants at the National Museum Wales, involved academics from the University of Wales, Bristol University, Exeter University, Oxford University and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

Source: Independent newspaper

Date: 06/03/2009

Satellite to spy on tree munching bugs


More than 150 years after tamarisk, a small Eurasian tree, started taking over river banks in south-western US, saltcedar leaf beetles were unleashed to defoliate the “exotic invader”, says a press release from the University of Utah.

Now, researchers from the university say it is feasible to use satellite data to monitor the extent of the beetle’s attack on tamarisk, and whether use of the beetles may backfire with unintended environmental consequences.

“We don’t have any idea of the long-term impacts of using the beetles; their release may have unexpected repercussions,” says Philip Dennison, an assistant professor of geography and the study’s lead author.

“The impact of this defoliation is largely unknown,” adds co-author Kevin Hultine, a research assistant professor of biology.

“The net impact of controlling tamarisk could be positive or negative.

“We would like on-the-ground scientists and managers to understand and think about the long-term impact – what are these riparian [riverbank] areas going to look like 15 years from now, and how can we can maintain ecosystems,” Professor Hultine observes.

The findings, carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Utah and the US Geological Survey (USGS), are expected to be pubished online in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment.

Source: University of Utah press release

Date: 09/03/2009

Forestry can create ‘ten million new jobs’


Ten million new “green jobs” can be created by investing in sustainable forest management, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“As more jobs are lost due to the current economic downturn, sustainable forest management could become a means of creating millions of green jobs, thus helping to reduce poverty and improve the environment,” said Jan Heino, assistant director-general of FAO’s Forestry Department.

Since forests and trees are vital storehouses of carbon, such an investment could also make a major contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, said Heino.

According to a recent study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), unemployment worldwide could increase from 179 million in 2007 to 198 million in 2009 under the best case scenario; in the worst case scenario, it could go as high as 230 million.

Increased investment in forestry could provide jobs in forest management, agroforestry and farm forestry, improved fire management, development and management of trails and recreation sites, expansion of urban green spaces, restoring degraded forests and planting new ones.

Activities can be tailored to local circumstances, including availability of labour, skill levels and local social, economic and ecological conditions.

A number of countries, including the US and South Korea, have included forestry in their economic stimulus plans.

Similarly, afforestation is an important component of India’s rural employment guarantee programme.

According to FAO, the global potential is at least 10 million new jobs through national investments.

At the same time, improved forest management and new tree planting could significantly reduce the downward trend in forest cover reported by many countries.

This would help to reduce carbon emissions from land-use change and could potentially have a larger positive impact on climate change than any other initiative currently being planned or considered by world leaders.

How sustainable forest management can help build a green future and meet society’s changing demand for forest-derived goods and services will be the main thrust of World Forest Week, which begins on 16 March.

Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, the UN secretary general’s special envoy on climate change, will deliver the keynote address.

She will emphasise the critical role of forests in society’s response to the challenges posed by climate change.

The meeting takes place against the backdrop of an unprecedented global economic crisis. The forest sector has also been affected severely, notes FAO’s State of the World’s Forests 2009, to be released on 16 March 2009.

However, the forest sector has considerable potential to play a catalytic role in the world’s response to the global economic and environmental crises, the FAO concludes.

Source: FAO press release

Date: 10/03/2009

Dangerous climate change ‘to kill Amazon rainforest’


Global warming will wreck attempts to save the Amazon rainforest, reports the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

It says a study presented at a major climate science conference in Denmark has predicted that one-third of its trees will be killed by even modest temperature rises.

The research, by some of Britain’s leading experts on climate change, shows that even severe cuts in deforestation and carbon emissions will fail to save the emblematic South American jungle, the destruction of which has become a powerful symbol of human impact on the planet.

Up to 85% of the forest could be lost if spiralling greenhouse gas emissions are not brought under control, the experts said.

But even under the most optimistic climate change scenarios, the destruction of large parts of the forest is “irreversible”.

Vicky Pope, of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre, which carried out the study, said: “The impacts of climate change on the Amazon are much worse than we thought.

“As temperatures rise quickly over the coming century, the damage to the forest won’t be obvious straight away but we could be storing up trouble for the future.”

Tim Lenton, a climate expert at the University of East Anglia, called the study, unveiled at the University of Copenhagen gathering, a “bombshell”.

He said: “When I was young I thought chopping down the trees would destroy the forest, but now it seems that climate change will deliver the killer blow.”

The study, which has been submitted to the journal Nature Geoscience, used computer models to investigate how the Amazon would respond to future temperature rises.

It found that a 2C (3.6F) rise above pre-industrial levels, widely considered the best case global warming scenario and the target for ambitious international plans to curb emissions, would still see 20-40% of the Amazon die off within 100 years.

A 3C (5.4F) rise would see 75% of the forest destroyed by drought over the following century, while a 4C (7.2F) rise would kill 85%.

“The forest as we know it would effectively be gone,” Dr Pope said.

Experts had previously predicted that global warming could cause significant “die-back” of the Amazon.

The new research is the first to quantify the long-term effect.

Source: Guardian newspaper

Date: 12/03/2009

Brazil sees fall in deforestation rate


Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell to 291 square miles (754 square kilometres) between November 2008 and January 2009, reports Mongabay.com.

This was a drop of 70% when compared to the same period 12 months earlier, said Brazil’s Environment Minister Carlos Minc.

A decrease in forest clearing had been expected.

Economic turmoil, which has reduced the availability of credit, and collapsing commodity prices (especially beef and soy) had undermined the main drivers of deforestation.

Mr Minc also credited government efforts, including increased vigilance and new loan policies, for the decline.

The data is based on Brazil’s Real-time Detection of Deforestation (DETER) system for tracking deforestation.

DETER is an alert system that updates IBAMA (Brazil’s environmental protection agency) with deforestation information, theoretically allowing authorities to attack illegal deforestation as it occurs.

However, the system requires on-the-ground follow up action, something that is difficult consider the poor land titling and political conflict between federal and regional authorities.

However, Brazil is developing an advanced satellite, which is called Amazon-1, that will use cloud-penetrating technology to allow more detailed monitoring of the Amazon.

Nearly 20% of the Brazilian Amazon, which accounts for about 60% of the world’s largest rainforest, has been destroyed since the early 1970s, but deforestation has slowed significantly since 2004.

Last year, the Brazilian government announced an ambitious plan to cut deforestation rates to 5,600 square kilometres (2150 sq mi) per year by 2014 in an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Deforestation presently accounts for two-thirds of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 04/03/2009

Twiglet: Indonesian newly weds must plant trees


An Indonesian district in West Java, Garut, has started a unique program to support reforestation.

Mongabay.com reports that any couple planning to get married must give 10 trees to local authorities for reforestation efforts before the marriage will be legally sanctioned.

But it’s not just married couples that must support reforestation. Couples filing for divorce must provide at least one tree, according to Wibowo, the district secretary.

The new rules are the result of budget difficulties within the Garut district government, after the central government launched a plan to plant a million trees across Indonesia.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 05/03/2009

Old elm ‘may help save other trees’


Experts hope an elm tree that survived the ravages of Dutch elm disease could hold the key to the species survival in the UK, the BBC News website reports.

The elm was discovered in a Worcestershire hedgerow, near Pershore, two years ago.

It had remained unnoticed because it was assumed all elms in the area had been wiped out by the disease.

The condition, which is carried by a bark beetle, has affected more than 20 million elm trees in the UK since 1970.

Now, Pershore College has taken cuttings from the newly discovered tree and has just planted the first of them.

Bob Hares, from the college, which specialises in horticulture, said that growing cuttings from old trees was difficult.

“The idea is usually to take cuttings from the young trees, which root much more readily, and build up from there,” he said.

The team will not know if these cuttings have the resistance of what they call the “mother tree” until they are about 10 to 15 years old, but they are hopeful.

Now the search is on for other elms that have survived and may also be resistant to Dutch elm disease.

The biggest problem for the college’s team is that most of us do not know what an elm looks like.

John Clarke works for Kemerton Conservation Trust, which works to preserve the natural landscape of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.

He said it would be mostly people older than 40 who would be able to recognise elms, “especially people who know trees like farmers and naturalists”.

Elms were once known as the “weed of Worcestershire”. The hope is there are more survivor trees out there to rebuild this much missed part of our landscape.

Anyone who sees a mature elmin the area is urged to contact the conservation trust.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 06/03/2009

Top five invasive threats to US southern forests


Apologies that this post refers to information issued in a press release by the US Forest Service back in January, but it contains interesting data and links that could be of use to people – Take Cover team.

US Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) ecologist Jim Miller, considered to be one of the foremost authorities on non-native plants in the  southern US, has identified the five invasive plant species he believes pose the biggest threats to southern forest ecosystems in 2009.

“Cogongrass, tallowtree, and Japanese climbing fern are among the fastest moving and most destructive non-native plant species facing many southern landowners this year,” Dr Miller warned.

“Rounding out the top five invasive species that I’m very concerned about would be tree-of-heaven and non-native privets.

“While our forests are besieged by numerous invasive plants, these and other non-native species present serious financial and ecological threats to the South and its forests.”

Non-native species often out-compete native forest plants and may degrade forest productivity, wildlife habitat, recreational values, and water quality.

Invasive species also greatly increase expenses as public and private land managers work to combat their spread and deal with their effects (such as increased wildfire risk and severity).

Non-native plants can be introduced and spread by wildlife or through other natural means.

Humans also spread invasive species by planting them in their gardens and yards and as a result of seeds hitchhiking on clothes.

Additionally, tractors and mowers used in multiple locations without being cleaned often spread the plants.

In an effort to inform forest managers, landowners, and others about where the most threatening invasive plants are in the South, Dr Miller collaborated with SRS Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) scientists to develop maps showing the spread, county-by-county, across the south-east of more than 30 of the most serious non-native plant species.

The invasive plant data were collected on FIA plots throughout the southern US in co-operation with state forestry agencies.

In partnership with the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species Science and Ecosystem Health, SRS researchers recently posted the maps and occupation levels online.

Dr Miller hopes government agencies, forest managers, natural resource professionals, landowners, students, and others will use the information to help combat the spread of non-native plant species in southern forest and grassland ecosystems.

Source: US Forest Service press release

Date: 12/01/2009

Forest fires ‘to add to climate concerns’


The fierce bushfires that scorched Australia’s Victoria State released millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide, a leading scientist has warned.

Forest fires could become a growing source of carbon pollution as the planet warms, he told Reuters news agency.

Mark Adams of the University of Sydney said global warming could trigger a vicious cycle in which forests could stop becoming sinks of CO2, further accelerating the rise of the planet-warming gas in the atmosphere.

“With increasing concerns about rising CO2, rising temperatures and reduced rainfall in many of the forested areas, then we could well see much greater emissions from forest fires,” added Professor Adams, dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

The Victoria fires, which killed more than 200 people, were the worst in the nation’s history and many were still burning weeks later.

“Scientists worldwide are worried about fires and forests.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the Arctic tundra fires, or peat fires in Kalimantan or bushfires in Australia,” observed the Australian researcher, who has worked in collaboration with the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre.

In a submission to the United Nations last year, the Australian government said wildfires in 2003 released 190 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent, roughly a third of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions for the year.

Such large, one-off releases of CO2 and other greenhouse gases such as methane, are not presently accounted for in Australia’s annual list of national greenhouse gas emissions.

If they were, the country would vastly exceed its emission limits under the Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations’ main weapon to fight climate change.

This is one reason, critics say, why Australia is calling for amendments to UN rules on land use change, so that only human activities that “can be practicably influenced” are included.

Professor Adams said the UN climate summit at the end of the year in Denmark should discuss the growing threat from forest fires and how to develop better legal frameworks to tackle the problem.

In a study of how much carbon Australia’s forests and soil can store, he estimated that fires in 2003, which ravaged the capital Canberra, and in 2006-07 released about 550 million tonnes of CO2.

The current fires had already burned hundreds of thousands of hectares, he said, in areas with total carbon content of 200 tonnes per hectare or more.

Australia, though, was not his only concern; annual fires in Indonesia also release vast amounts of CO2.

Huge fires in 1997 released up to 6 billion tonnes of CO2, covering South-East Asia in a thick haze and causing a spike in global levels of the gas.

Research on the forest and peat fires by a team of international scientists found the blazes released the equivalent of up 40% of global annual emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Professor Adams described the findings as a “wake-up call”.

“When you see the step-increases (of CO2) that they observed, we have to sit up and take notice, that fires are a major problem,” he said.

In the past, he explained, native forest carbon had been in rough equilibrium over millions of years with fires, with very small accretion of carbon over very long periods of time.

“But then if you add rapid climate change and much greater fire frequency, the equilibrium carbon content of the native forests, instead of going up, is going to go down.”

Source: Reuters


Date: 26/02/2009

Bleeding cankers continues to take its toll


The avenue of 43 horse chestnut trees at Barrington Court, near Ilminster, in Somerset is being cut down and replaced with a variety of oak, the Telegraph reports.

The National Trust decided the trees had do go for safety reasons, following an infection of bleeding canker that causes the trees to lose bark and branches and eventually die.

The Trust has already had to cull a number of other horse chestnuts at properties around the country, with 28 trees recently chopped down in Avebury, Wiltshire.

Home-owners around the country have also had to cut down horse chestnuts because of the disease, which the Forestry Commission say has killed 3,000 tree in recent years.

The disease is spread by spores in the ground and can cause the tree to bleed a reddish brown liquid. It can be controlled by cutting out infected areas but will eventually kill the tree.

Christine Brain, head gardener at Barrington Court, said: “Bleeding canker is rife in England’s horse chestnuts.

“It kills the tree from the inside out, and while doing so makes it susceptible to other infections which hasten the trees death.

“We’ve been maintaining the trees over the last few years in an effort to extend their life and keep the disease as controlled as possible, but removal is now our only sensible option.”

Horticulturalists have warned that conker trees are in danger of dying out in Britain unless more is done to control the disease.

The call comes as the UK government announced a £25m package to curb the spread of sudden oak death through woodlands in England, Wales and Scotland.

Source: Telegraph newspaper

Date: 03/03/2009


Plant diseases threaten woodlands


Some of the finest gardens and woodlands in Britain are under threat from two closely related and aggressive fungus-like plant diseases, the BBC News website reports.

UK Environment Minister Jane Kennedy said they were attacking “pristine” locations and could potentially damage the landscape and the tourism industry.

The government has allocated £25m in a bid to eradicate the diseases which are spreading across the country.

They are Phytophthora kernoviae and Phytophthora ramorum .

Rhododendrons, a carrier of both diseases, are likely to be removed in woodland in order to curb the spread of the pathogens.

The flowering shrubs, popular as an ornamental species in many gardens, also grow wild in wooded areas and an area of the New Forest has already been cordoned off to allow rhododendrons to be cut down and burned.

Phytophthora kernoviae , first found in the south-west of England in 2003, reached Scotland five years later.

It attacks and kills many trees and shrubs, including the oak and beech trees which make up so much of Britain’s woodlands.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says 69 sites in England and Wales are currently affected, with Cornwall the worst-hit region.

Phytophthora ramorum , first identified in 1995, has devastated woodland on the west coast of the United States where it has been responsible for the syndrome known as “sudden oak death”.

Few control mechanisms exist for the disease, so the importance of early detection – and proper disposal of the infected plant material – is key.

The government is to earmark some of the money for new research and development, and there will be a campaign to make landowners aware of the threat.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 03/03/2009

‘Bog oaks’ reveal ancient forest


Naturalists in south-eastern England say they have been astounded by the large number of ancient trees that have been found preserved in the peat soil of the Fens, the BBC News website reports.

Conservationists in Cambridgeshire say dozens of the “bog oaks” – which can be up to 40ft (12m) long – have been unearthed.

They say it is not unusual to encounter one or two during ploughing – but in some areas dozens have been found.

Conservationists say more may be discovered as the Fenland peat is drying out and oxidising.

The remains of a forest that existed after the ice age, the trees rotted and fell into the peat soil, providing a snapshot of ancient natural history.

It is believed that the peat is disappearing at the rate of about an inch a year.

Although the trees are known by the local name of bog oaks, they can also be yew or pine.

BBC environment correspondent Sarah Mukherjee said they look as though they have just been felled – although some are blue or dark red from the minerals they have absorbed.

Chris Gerard, from the Great Fen Project, says they are a fascinating example of how the area has changed.

“When the glaciers retreated, at that time the sea level was quite low and the Fen basin was a very dry area, and covered in woodland,” he added.

“With the rising sea levels, the rivers couldn’t get out to the sea so quickly, they started to flood the Fen basin and that created the big Fen wetland, which the Fens is really known for, and all the trees that existed then died and fell into that emerging peat soil.”

Paul Mason, from the Haddenham Conservation Society, said they were usually found in twos and threes at most.

“In my fifty years of experience of the Fens here I’ve never seen this many come up at any one time together,” he added.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 27/02/2009

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