Planting trees amid chaos of war


In the Tree Garden of Kilravock Castle is what looks like a giant octopus, says Steven McKenzie, a reporter for the BBC News website.

Called a layering beech, its limbs snake out from a sturdy trunk and bend to the ground where they have taken root before twisting skywards.

More than 300-years-old, it is classed as “extremely rare” in the Forestry Commission‘s list of Heritage Trees.

It would have been relatively young at the time Bonnie Prince Charlie visited the castle in the days before the Battle of Culloden.

The castle and its grounds lie a few miles east of Culloden Moor.

In a bizarre twist, Hugh Rose, the 17th Baron of Kilravock, played host to the warring cousins Charles Edward Stuart – Bonnie Prince Charlie – and the Duke of Cumberland in the days before the Battle of Culloden.

According to the Genealogical Deduction of the Family of Rose of Kilravock by Rev Hugh Rose, a book later updated by historians Lachlan Shaw and Cosmo Innes, the Young Pretender stopped at the castle as his forces massed in the surrounding countryside.

The baron, who is thought to have had no role in the later fighting, played the prince’s favourite Italian minuet on a violin before showing him his tree planting operations.

Bonnie Prince Charlie was said to have remarked: “How happy are you, Mr Rose, who can enjoy these peaceful occupations when the country round is so disturbed.”

The following day – 15 April – the Duke of Cumberland headed for the castle, according to the genealogical deduction.

The book goes on to tell how the baron feared reprisals for hosting the Jacobite figurehead, but was told by the duke he could not have refused hospitality and had no choice but to treat him like a prince.

Kilravock Wood also played a part in the downfall of the Jacobite night march, according to historian Christopher Duffy’s recent book The ’45.

Soldiers were delayed as they negotiated a breach in a wall around the woodland and elements became lost among the trees.

Nicole Deufel, learning manager at the National Trust for Scotland’s Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre, said the night march was recognised as one of many factors influencing the outcome of the Battle of Culloden.

She said: “The main problem was that the men were exhausted even before they set off on the night march. Some drifted away looking for food and sleep.

“The story goes that, on their return, Prince Charles only slept for an hour and there was just one biscuit per man for food.”

On whether the march could have succeeded, she said: “It’s hard to say. There probably would have been another battle after this.

“A successful night march would not have prevented another battle in the future, but there may not have been a Battle of Culloden.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 20/03/2009

‘Green Nobel’ for rainforest champion


A campaigner who was jailed during his battle to save the rainforest in Gabon has received a top international award., reports the BBC’s Victoria Gill.

Marc Ona Essangui was honoured for his fight to stop what he describes as a destructive mining project in the Ivindo National Park.

He is one of seven people from six continental regions to be awarded an equal share of the $900,000 (£600,000) 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize.

It has been described as “the Nobel Prize for grassroots environmentalism”.

Mr Ona has campaigned for three years against the Belinga mine project – a deal between the government in Gabon and the Chinese mining and engineering company, CMEC, to extract iron ore.

The project includes the construction of a large hydroelectric dam, which is already underway, to provide power for the mine. The dam is being built on the Ivindo River, near the Kongou Falls, Gabon’s highest waterfall.

Mr Ona, who described the falls as “the most beautiful in central Africa”, said that Gabon’s government had failed to consult the local population and had not assessed the impact of the development on the environment before it gave permission for construction to begin.

He told BBC News that he hoped his receipt of the Goldman Prize would “draw international attention to just how precious this area is”.

Mr Ona, who uses a wheelchair, dedicated his early career to improving education and communication infrastructure in Gabon, including working with the United Nations Development Programme. He later turned his attention to environmental issues.

He eventually decided to focus his efforts full time on the work of his own environmental NGO, Brainforest, which aims to protect the rainforest for the benefit local of communities.

“The government established 13 national parks here, and I became interested in all the activities within them,” he said.

“In 2006, my colleagues and I noticed that roads were being built within Ivindo.”

When Mr Ona investigated, he discovered that there had been no environmental impact studies carried out before the road building started.

On its website, the Gabonese government describes the national parks as having been “classified for the conservation of Gabon’s rich biodiversity”.

The key goals of the national park scheme, it says, are preservation of “the wealth of the ecosystem… for current and future generations” and stimulating “the development of ecotourism as an economic alternative to the exploitation of natural resources”.

Mr Ona said: “All of this construction was carried out illegally and against the code of the national parks.”

He also unearthed and leaked a copy of the Belinga mine project agreement between the government and CMEC, revealing that CMEC had been offered a 25-year tax break as part of the deal.

“When we really started to look into the deal, we noticed that it was China, not Gabon, that was the major beneficiary,” he said.

He and his colleagues embarked on their campaign, working with other environmental NGOs, holding news conferences and meeting with local communities.

“The government even motivated some protests against the NGOs involved,” he recalled.

“They alleged that we were working [on behalf of] Western powers, and we received a lot of pressure to stop the campaign.”

This culminated in Mr Ona being arrested and charged with “incitement to rebellion”.

He was jailed by the Gabonese judicial police on 31 December 2008; but following an internationally co-ordinated campaign for his release, he was freed on 12 January 2009.

Since June 2006, however, he has been banned from travelling outside the country.

His passport was returned to him only 24 hours before he was due to travel to San Francisco for the Goldman award ceremony.

There has been no construction in Ivindo for almost a year, but Mr Ona says this has more to do with the economic crisis and the price of iron ore than with the Gabonese government backing down.

He has no plans to give up his quest.

“Some of the money from this award will go to the functioning of Brainforest, and the rest will be allocated to setting up small- and medium-sized businesses for local communities,” he said.

“I want to set up a clinic near Ivindo where the local people can be treated using traditional medicine. Some of the money will serve to establish this health centre for all of those communities.”

The organisers of the Goldman Prize describe the six winners as “a group of fearless grassroots leaders, taking on government and corporate interests and working to improve the environment for people in their communities”.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 19/04/2009

Tree planting in the driest place on Earth


The southern coast of Peru is one of the driest places on Earth. Why would anyone choose this parched location to re-plant a forest, asks the BBC’s John Walton.

The strip of desert between the Andean mountains and the Pacific Ocean has an annual average rainfall as low as 1.5mm.

By way of comparison, London enjoys around 650mm a year.

It’s not an obvious place to choose if you’re looking for somewhere to plant trees, but for restoration ecologist Oliver Whaley the harsh environment of the northern fringes of the Atacama desert is part of the point.

By helping to restore the shrinking native forests, the aim is to benefit local people and wildlife, prevent soil erosion, and help alleviate climate change.

“If we can get trees established here, and learn how to do it with as little water as possible, then it is a model for the rest of the world,” he says.

While the plight of the world’s rainforests are well known, the same cannot be said of tropical dry forests. These less biodiverse, but equally remarkable forests, face threats every bit as severe as their better known cousins.

The Atacama dry forest “is really an ecosystem on its last legs,” says Mr Whaley, of London’s Kew Gardens – an internationally renowned botanical research institution.

The tree under threat is the huarango, Prosopis limensis, found only in the Ica region of Peru.

In this parched landscape, the hardy huarango is no stranger to thirst. Although rain seldom falls, it is able to capture moisture from other sources – trapping fog on its leaves, directing the water downwards towards its roots. The roots themselves are among the longest of any plant – 50m to 80m – and seek out underground water sources that flow from the Andes.

The huarango is also a valuable source of food and fuel, and a keystone of the local ecosystem. Whaley estimates that when he arrived in Peru, just 1% of the original local forest habitat remained – much of it consumed in charcoal production.

The problems facing dry forest habitat are not unique to Peru. Restoration expert James Aronson says, in general, these are more critically endangered than wet tropical forests, in respect of the total percentage already lost.

Mr Aronson, who heads the Restoration Ecology Group in the Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology in Montpellier, France, adds there are more than 1,000 species of tree that grow in desert areas.

“In many desert areas of the world there used to be enough trees to constitute to a real canopy – not in the sense of an English forest, where the forest is everywhere you look – [in deserts] they were restricted to areas where there was sufficient water.”

With so little forest in existence, conservation, on its own, would not be enough to preserve the trees, leaving restoration as the only option.

It’s a situation made more complicated by the global recession.

Some local agro-industries growing asparagus, grapes and oranges for foreign markets are laying off workers. With hard times on the way, Mr Whaley worries that what little vegetation remains may be used for firewood.

Whatever his project’s success, Mr Whaley is certain that the future of the tree rests firmly in the hands of the local people. They are encouraged to help with planting, and tree nurseries and seedbanks have been sent up in communities and schools.

“We are not going to Peru saying we are going to reforest the whole of the coast. We are developing a model that we can replicate and hopefully we can get that to be so interesting, or fun, or useful that it’s contagious.”

Hence the idea of an annual huarango festival, started in 2006 and held in April. The festival is a chance to celebrate the tree and the ecosystem it helps support. But it is also about food. The fruit of the tree can be used to make syrup, similar to molasses.

“Fill people’s tummies,” says Mr Whaley. “Where do you get social science and biodiversity overlapping? In the stomach. That is the best place to do it.”

The project has already had some successes, with a reserve set up in Tunga (see map, below), and more planned.

“We are at the beginning of habitat restoration – it’s only a science that’s been around for a couple of decades. Particularly in arid areas, we are only just learning how to do it.

“If I am able to come back in 500 years, then I would know if it has been a success. I will never know in my lifetime if its been a success.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 20/04/2009

Key role of forests ‘may be lost’


Forests’ role as massive carbon sinks is “at risk of being lost entirely”, the BBC’s Mark Kinver has reported top forestry scientists as warning.

The International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) says forests are under increasing degrees of stress as a result of climate change.

Forests could release vast amounts of carbon if temperatures rise 2.5C (4.5F) above pre-industrial levels, it adds.

The findings will be presented at the UN Forum on Forests, which begins on Monday in New York.

Compiled by 35 leading forestry scientists, the report provides what is described as the first global assessment of the ability of forests to adapt to climate change.

“We normally think of forests as putting the brakes on global warming,” observed Professor Risto Seppala from the Finnish Forest Research Institute, who chaired the report’s expert panel.

“But over the next few decades, damage induced by climate change could cause forests to release huge quantities of carbon and create a situation in which they do more to accelerate warming than to slow it down.”

The scientists hope that the report, called Adaption of Forests and People to Climate Change – A Global Assessment, will help inform climate negotiators.

The international climate debate has focused primarily on emissions from deforestation, but the researchers say their analysis shows that attention must also be paid to the impacts of climate change on forests.

While deforestation is responsible for about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, forests currently absorb more carbon than they emit.

But the problem is that the balance could shift as the planet warms, the report concludes, and the sequestration service provided by the forest biomes “could be lost entirely if the Earth heats up by 2.5C or more”.

The assessment says higher temperatures – along with prolonged droughts, more pest invasions, and other environmental stresses – would trigger considerable forest destruction and degradation.

This could create a dangerous feedback loop, it adds, in which damage to forests from climate change would increase global carbon emissions that then exacerbate global warming.

The report’s key findings include:

  • Droughts are projected to become more intense and frequent in subtropical and southern temperate forests
  • Commercial timber plantations are set to become unviable in some areas, but more productive in others
  • Climate change could result in “deepening poverty, deteriorating public health, and social conflict” among African forest-dependent communities

The IUFRO assessment will be considered by delegates at the eighth session of the UN Forum on Forests, which has the objective of promoting the “management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forest”.

Co-author Professor Andreas Fischlin from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology commented: “Even if adaption measures are fully implemented, unmitigated climate change would – during the course of the current century – exceed the adaptive capacity of many forests.

“The fact remains that the only way to ensure that forests do not suffer unprecedented harm is to achieve large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 18/04/2009

Apples’ autumn colour change clue


The long-standing debate about why autumn leaves change colour has new impetus from the humble apple tree, the BBC News website reports.

Domesticated apples – selectively bred for fruit size and taste rather than insect defence – tend to have less red leaves than their wild cousins.

Researchers suggest that fact supports one theory for the change: that autumn’s red colours ward off insects, indicating a plant’s chemical defences.

The research is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. However, other experts remain sceptical of this “co-evolution” theory.

The idea, taking into account the full range of autumn colours, was first suggested in 2001 by the late biologist Bill Hamilton.

More recent research, however, has shown that autumn’s oranges and yellows are caused by carotenoids.

These are pigment molecules present year-round, normally serving to protect chlorophyll – the green-coloured molecule at the heart of photosynthesis – from damage caused by sunlight.

In the autumn, as chlorophyll is actively broken down in the leaves, the carotenoids become visible.

Autumn’s brilliant reds and purples, however, are caused by molecules called anthocyanins that are produced during the same period.

It is a costly job of molecule building for the plant and an enigma to scientists, since the leaves will at that point soon be dropped entirely.

“If you wanted to prove this hypothesis that the autumn colours are necessary to repel insects, what you would do is take two populations of trees and let them evolve – one with and one without the insects – expecting the one without insects would lose its colours,” said author of the research Marco Archetti, of the University of Oxford’s zoology department.

“That’s exactly what’s been done starting 2,000 years ago when they started to domesticate apple trees, because they’ve been sheltered from the influence of insects and parasites,” Dr Archetti explained.

“There is no longer natural selection; what is going on is artificial selection by the farmer for fruit size and flavour, not resistance against insects.”

David Wilkinson, an environmental scientist at Liverpool John Moores University who has published on the leaf colour debate, says that the work is not proof positive of the co-evolution theory.

“There’s a difference between a ‘signal’ and a ‘cue’,” he explained.

“A cue is something that hasn’t evolved for a signalling function but is used by something else as information that affects its behaviour.

“But that doesn’t mean that the autumn colour has evolved for that purpose.”

Dr Wilkinson points out that a competing theory holds that anthocyanins are performing a different task altogether.

Plants are known to break down components of their leaves and harvest a number of precious compounds – particularly those containing nitrogen – before cutting the leaves loose entirely.

“I think the most likely explanation is that these [anthocyanins] are effectively sunscreens that allow the photosynthesis to continue as the machinery of photosynthesis is broken apart in the autumn.

“The idea of, as it were, ‘the trees are talking to the insects’, is wild and wacky and it would be rather nice if it were true.

“But I still have not seen anything that convinces me of the signalling.”

Dr Archetti believes that the loss of red leaves among domesticated plants cannot be explained by the “photoprotection” theory favoured by Dr Wilkinson.

He now intends to study apricot and walnut trees, the domesticated varieties of which he says have also experienced the loss of autumn’s reds.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 15/04/2009

Taiwanese urged to plant trees for environmental protection


The Taiwanese public have been urged to participate in a tree-planting activity organised by Cingjing Veterans Farm in central Taiwan’s Nantou County, reports Taiwan News.

The annual event, called LOHAS Tree Planting Fun, was launched three years ago by the farm in conjunction with 7-Eleven of Uni-President Corp and the Good Neighbor Foundation, with the aim of promoting the idea of eco-conservation through tree planting.

According to the organisers, this year’s event have been the biggest to date, with 2,642 cherry, peach, plum, sweet osmanthus, camellia and azalea saplings being planted in the Little Swiss Garden, located on the farm.

An additional 1,000 cherry saplings are being planted alongside a “natural ecology path” surrounding the farm.

The organisers added that about 200 staff from 7-Eleven and 80 volunteers will also take part in the activity.

Meals and accommodation for the volunteers will be sponsored by the farm and the Cingjing Tourism Development and Promotional Association, and a memorial plaque will be erected to acknowledge their efforts.

“We hope that this activity will raise public awareness that it is very difficult but absolutely necessary to protect the ecology,” a spokesman for Uni-President said.

“We hope to call on more volunteers to take care of these plants and contribute to nature conservation.”

Noting that each tree will not only absorb 25 kg of carbon dioxide but will also produce 19 kg of oxygen each year, the organizers said planting trees to help offset greenhouse gas emissions has become a shared responsibility of everyone on the planet, especially at a time when climate change is worsening because of growing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Source: Taiwan News

Date: 20/03/2009

Campaigners link tiger attacks to deforestation


The Sumatran tiger, a critically-endangered subspecies, is hanging on by a thread in its island home, reports Mongabay.com.

Biologists estimate that, at most, 500 individuals remain, with some estimates dropping as low as 250.

Despite the animal’s vulnerability, large-scale deforestation continues in its habitat mostly under the auspices of one of the world’s largest paper companies, Asian Pulp and Paper (APP).

Shrinking habitat and human encroachment has led to a rise in tragic tiger encounters, causing both human and feline mortalities.

While the connection between deforestation and tiger attacks has been put forth as a possible reason for the rise in attacks, a new study that looks at 12 years of tiger encounters confirms it.

Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of 25 environmental organizations, has mapped out encounters between humans and tigers, many of which ended tragically, and found that the majority took place adjacent to forested areas being cleared by APP.

In Riau Province, Sumatra, 55 people and 15 tigers have lost their lives due to the conflict. An additional 17 tigers have been captured and removed from their habitat.

The study found that 60% of the encounters (147 out of 245) between humans and tigers occurred in areas associated with expanded deforestation by APP and associated companies, under the umbrella of Sinar Mas Group (SMG).

Since 1985, Sumatra has lost half of its remaining forest. Worsening the situation for tigers is the continual decline of prey for the tigers due to heavy poaching by humans.

“With so much forest loss, the tigers have nowhere to go” said Ian Kosasih of WWF-Indonesia.

“In the last month alone, four tigers have been killed in Riau. There are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers estimated to remain in the wild and every tiger killed is a significant loss to the population of this critically endangered subspecies.”

Since beginning operations in 1980, campaigners say the company has been responsible for more deforestation in Sumatra than any other corporation.

It is estimated that APP has pulped a total of 2.5 million acres.

Calls for the company to stop logging natural forests by Eyes on the Forest and other NGOs have so far fallen on deaf ears.

APP supplies Target and Unilever in the United States. Other corporations like Staples, Walmart, Home Depot, and the Australian company, Woolworths Limited, have all cut ties with the paper giant due to an increasingly troubling environmental record.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 18/03 /2009

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