Africa push for ‘great tree wall’


African leaders are meeting in Chad to push the idea of planting a tree belt across Africa from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, reports the BBC News website.

The Great Green Wall project is backed by the African Union and is aimed at halting the advancing Sahara Desert.

The belt would be 15km (nine miles) wide and 7,775km (4,831 miles) long.

The initiative, conceived five years ago, has not started because of a lack of funding and some experts worry it would not be maintained properly.

The BBC’s Tidiane Sy in Senegal says the initiative has the full backing of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who is in Chad with 10 other heads of state to discuss desertification.

His government has created the website dedicated to the Great Green Wall. But our reporter says many other leaders seem ready to forget the project.

At the Copenhagen Climate Change summit last year, for instance, the Senegalese delegation made a presentation on the project.

It is envisaged that the belt would go through 11 countries from east to west.

The trees should be “drought-adapted species”, preferably native to the areas planted, the Great Green Wall website says, listing 37 suitable species.

The initiative says it hopes the trees will slow soil erosion; slow wind speeds and help rain water filter into the ground, to stop the desert from growing.

It also says a richer soil content will help communities across the Sahel who depend on land for grazing and agriculture.

Senegal says it has spent about $2m (£1.35m) on it and communities are being encouraged to plant trees.

The BBC’s former Chad correspondent Celeste Hicks says older people in N’Djamena – where the conference is being held – talk anecdotally about how the capital city has become a dustbowl over the last 20 years as the Sahara Desert has encroached southwards.

The country has made efforts to plant a green belt of trees around the capital, and tens of thousands of young trees are being grown in nurseries on the outskirts of the city, she says.

But so far little has been done to transplant these trees to the northern desert areas to become part of the Great Green Wall.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 17/06/2010

Boost for Indonesian ‘ecosystem restoration’ forest


Indonesia’s forests  received a boost when the nation’s government announced plans to double the size of the country’s first forest for “ecosystem restoration”, according to a joint press release issued by the RSPB.

It says that Indonesian Forest Minister Zulkifli Hasan has announced that he will expand the 52,000 hectare concession held by Burung Indonesia, the RSPB (UK) and BirdLife International in central Sumatra to a total area of 98,000 hectares.

According to the RSPB, the restoration area now equals two-thirds the size of greater London and is greater than the size of Singapore.

The bird conservation group welcomed the news, adding that other applications for ‘forest restoration’ licences are being submitted to the nation’s forestry ministry.

In 2009, the ministry is reported to have received as many applications for forest restoration licences as it did for logging concessions.

Applications for forest restoration totalled a further two million hectares, and are now being assessed.

The 98,000 hectares where the minister announced he would grant “ecosystem restoration” is within Harapan Rainforest, one of the last remaining areas of dry lowland Sumatran forest and is one of the most threatened rainforests in the world.

It is home to a host of rare animal and plant species, including the critically endangered Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), of which fewer than 300 remain in the wild.

It supports an amazing 55 mammal species, including the globally-threatened Asian elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) and Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus), as well as the world’s rarest stork – the Storm’s stork (Ciconia stormi) – and a rich diversity of other wildlife.

An initial licence of 52,000 hectares was granted to the environmental consortium in 2008, allowing them to protect, nurture and restore the forest in a former logging concession.

Illegal logging has been significantly decreased and forest fires, which once released significant carbon dioxide emissions, have been all but stamped out. Not only is the forest an important carbon store, but the tree planting programme in Harapan Rainforest is capturing more carbon from the atmosphere.

Botanic experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the UK have identified a plant growing in the forest, Emblemantha urnulata B. C. Stone, that is unique to the area and had only been recorded twice before.

Agus B. Utomo, the Executive Director of Burung Indonesia, said: “The Ministry of Forestry had the foresight to create a new form of forest management in 2004 with the ‘ecosystem restoration’ licence.

“We’re delighted that ecosystem restoration is now an integral part of forest management strategies in Indonesia. As a result, Burung Indonesia is already planning to expand our portfolio of ecosystem restoration concessions.”

Source : RSPB press release

Date: 18/06/2010

Indonesia ‘failing on pledge to reduce forest fires’


The Indonesian government failed to live up to its promises to reduce fires across the tropical nation last year, reports Mongabay.com.Take Cover library picture

It quotes The Jakarta Post as saying that the nation’s 2009 State Environment Report revealed a 59% increase in the number of fire hotspots from 19,192 in 2008 to 32,416 last year.

Officials are reported as saying that land clearing was the primary cause because, unlike temperature forests, intact rainforests rarely burn naturally.

“Illegal land clearing with fires by local people in Kalimantan and Sumatra is still rampant,” Heddy Mukna, deputy assistant for forest and land management at the Environment Ministry told the Post.

The state of Kalimantan on the island of Borneo saw fires triple in some areas from 2008 to 2009.

Haze blanketed much of the island last year during the “burning season”.

In 2007, the Indonesian government announced plan to cut forest fires in half to mitigate climate change from 35,279 fires in 2006.

The government has since revised that reduction from 50% to just 20%.

Indonesia is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world behind China and the US.

An estimated 80% of the nation’s 2.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions is from rainforest and peatland destruction.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 13/06/2010

Cancer drug derived from rainforest shrub set for human trials


A potential cancer drug developed from an Australian rainforest plant is set to progress to human trials, reports the Strait Times.

Quoting the AFP wires, the newspaper explains that the drug is being put forward to the next stage after fighting off inoperable tumours in pets.

Queensland firm QBiotics Limited said its EBC-46, derived from the seeds of a tropical rainforest shrub, was ready to be tested on humans after successfully treating solid tumours in more than 100 dogs, cats and horses.

“We’ve treated over 150 animals… with a variety of tumours, and we’re prepared to move into human studies,” explained chief executive Victoria Gordon.

Dr Gordon said the results so far indicated the drug could work to counter a range of malignant growths, such as skin cancers, head and neck cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer.

She said the drug works like a detonator inside tumours, prompting inactive beneficial white cells to begin to fight and destroy the cancer.

The company is reported as spending six years developing the drug since the previously unknown molecule in the native Australian plant blushwood was discovered.

It hopes to raise enough funds to begin human trials in 2011.

Dr Gordon said the compound proves the value of retaining Australia’s unique tropical rainforests.

Source: The Strait Times (Singapore)/AFP

Date: 14/06/2010

UK elms – ‘not out of the woods yet’


Colin Tudge, the author of The Secret Life of Trees, is invited by the UK’s Telegraph newspaper to give his reaction to efforts to breed a Dutch elm disease-resistant species.

Library image from Take CoverIt’s an interesting read as he gives his reaction to this battle with nature, so here it is:

Could the English elm, so sadly laid low by Dutch elm disease, make a comeback? Paul King, who breeds trees at Raine in Essex, is on the case. Nearly 25 years ago he acquired cuttings from a few mature trees. He has now multiplied the tissues to produce a whole new generation of young elms that seem to be resistant (and are on sale for £120 apiece). Scientists at the Forestry Commission’s research centre in Surrey welcome his initiative – they are on the case, too – but are cautious. Resistance, they point out, is a tricky business.

The English elm, Ulmus procera, is probably not a “true” native – Britain has only 39 “truly” native trees – and was most likely introduced by Neolithic farmers from south-east Europe, via Spain. But it is an honorary citizen, treasured for its usefulness and its looks, favourite of landscape painters, notably of Constable; a tree of open woodland but just as happy in hedgerows where, if it was left alone, it flourished by the tens of millions. In the West Country it was known as “the Wiltshire weed”.

The first sign of trouble came in 1910 when the fungus Ophiostoma ulmi, a distant and degenerate cousin of the truffle, started killing trees in mainland Europe. It acquired its name, Dutch elm disease, in 1921 because it was first properly researched in Holland. It arrived in Britain by 1927 and looked very nasty. Happily, the disease died down by the Forties, after killing 10 to 40 per cent of our elms. Dr Tom Pearce of the Forestry Commission predicted, in 1960, that such a thing should not happen again – unless, he added, “the fungus completely changes its present trend of behaviour”.

Which it duly did. A new, closely related species of Ophiostoma appeared in North America – Ophiostoma novo-ulmi. It arrived in Britain in 1967 on imported logs, and throughout the Seventies and into the Eighties it killed about 25 million out of about 30 million elms, including most of the particular English species, Ulmus procera.

Dutch elm disease has all the biological attributes needed to be thoroughly nasty. It is one of the many “wilt diseases” of trees, which spread through the vessels of the xylem and block them. The spores are carried passively with wonderful efficiency in the sap, through the whole tree, and spread via the roots of separate trees that are often joined underground. The spores don’t live long once the tree has died and so should die out as their host succumbs – but they have a trump card: they are carried from tree to tree and from forest to forest by flying bark beetles of the genus Scolytus.

There is some innate resistance among the world’s many species of elm. The Ophiostoma fungus probably arose in Asia, so the Asian elms have evolved in its presence – and have developed considerable resistance. Breeding programmes are afoot in Europe to introduce genes from Asian species into European types by various means – and may yet succeed. Meanwhile, as Paul King has found, even within susceptible species, such as Ulmus procera, there will usually be some resistant strains. If they can be bred, perhaps we will have a new resistant strain.

So why the caution? Well, for one thing, it depends what the tree is really resistant to: the fungus or its insect vector? Paul King’s new trees are probably not resistant to the fungus itself, but are simply less palatable to the beetle. Of course, the fungus can’t usually infest the tree without the beetles – but it surely would be better to be specifically equipped with genes that would protect it even if beetles did get in.

The sad tale of Britain’s elms parallels that of the American chestnut, Castanea dentata – with some intriguing contrasts. For the American Indians and for the first immigrant Europeans, the American chestnut was a wonder tree. Its nuts were a food staple – and supported 40 million wild turkeys for good measure – and its trunks provided timber. There were so many that a squirrel could travel from chestnut to chestnut from Maine to Georgia without setting foot on the ground, or so the story went.

But the overconfident forestry “improvers” of the 19th century were still not content. They began to import Asian species with bigger nuts, to crossbreed. Inevitably, the newcomers came with their own diseases. And the American chestnuts, beset by novel pathogens, succumbed. By the end of the Twenties, the American chestnut, once perhaps the commonest North American broadleaf, was all but gone.

Again, through too much zeal, the Americans felled great swathes of chestnuts to create a firewall against the spread of infection. This failed to contain the disease – but it did, so some biologists suggest, remove the myriad genetic variations from among the wild trees, which might have included some that would have conferred resistance.

By leaving our own beleaguered elms to live on in the hedges, and nurturing the few survivors, as Paul King and others have been doing, we may avoid that final fate. (In truth, the American chestnut might not quite be dead. At least, George W Bush planted one outside the White House on Arbor Day in 2005 – but it is a hybrid: 15 per cent of its genes are from resistant Asian species. It is a sad relic, like an exhumed dodo).

Overall, the message is mixed. We could see the heroic efforts of a few growers and scientists as a triumph of human ingenuity over natural adversity – the continuing tale of “man’s conquest of nature”. Or we could see this endeavour as a desperate, last-ditch attempt to ward off the consequences of our own folly. For these are tales of hubris. We thought we could do what we liked in the name of commerce. But actually, life is more complicated than we ever supposed – and in the end, it is beyond our ken. Cause and effect relationships in nature are non-linear, which means it is intrinsically impossible to predict the outcome, beyond saying it won’t be good.

Source: Telegraph newspaper

Date: 09/06/2010

Wales to update its ancient woodlands map


Forestry Commission Wales has announced plans to update the nation’s Ancient Woodland Inventory.

Take Cover library image In a press release, the commission said that these habitats, which date back to at least the 17th Century, “support many species of plants and wildlife that depend on the evolving but continuous environments created by dead and dying wood and broken sunlight”.

It added that the inventory was first produced about 30 years ago, and since then, technology for gathering data had improved dramatically and better sources of information had come to light.

The update, which will be carried out over the next 12 months, will identify former ancient woodlands that have subsequently been planted with conifer trees to satisfy the demand for timber over many decades.

These woodlands are known as Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS).

This information will guide decisions on restoring some of the PAWS to their natural state by removing non-native trees and planting native broadleaf species such as oak, birch, rowan and ash.

“Such work helps to increase the variety of different plant and wildlife species in the woodland by improving habitats and providing food and shelter,” the commission explained.

Wood pastures – ancient and veteran trees found on grazed sites – will also be systematically recorded as part of the update to the inventory.

Despite the ecological value of wood pasture, it has no legal protection, so identification on the inventory may help protect these sites from damage or destruction.

The concept of  “ancient woodland” was developed in the 1970s and 1980s, when studies showed that woodlands that have had a continuous woodland cover for centuries were typically of higher nature conservation value than those that had developed recently.

The baseline date of 1600 AD was adopted because reasonable maps were available from this time (in England, at least).

But the commission admitted that it was an arbitrary date, and there was no clear ecological cut-off.

Michelle van Velzen, forestry and environment policy and programme manager at Forestry Commission Wales, said: “Ancient woodlands are a precious and finite resource that cannot be recreated.

“This update to the Ancient Woodland Inventory will ensure we have the most comprehensive and accurate information on the extent and nature of ancient woodlands in Wales.”

The update to the inventory will be completed in March 2011 and the new information will be supplied to local authorities for their use when developing planning policy that affects woodland.

Source: Forestry Commission Wales press release

Date: 11/06/2010

Dutch elm disease ‘resistant’ trees go on sale


More than 2,000 healthy English elms have been produced from a single tree which survived the devastating disease in the 1970s, the UK’s Telegraph newspaper reports.

Take Cover library imagePaul King, who runs a tree nursery, stumbled upon the mysteriously unharmed specimen while he worked to clear hundreds of diseased elms and took cuttings from it.

Over the next 23 years, the paper says, he used the samples to nurture hundreds of saplings which have the same resistant traits as the 200-year-old parent tree.

Mr King sent the sample plant tissue off to a laboratory for micropropagation.

Now, nearly 25 years later, the cuttings have produced 2,000 healthy trees which are set to replace the dwindling English elm population.

The trees (Ulmus procera) are believed to repel the beetle which carries the Dutch Elm disease.

The 10ft tall trees are available to buy from Mr King’s business, The Tree Nursery in Rayne, Essex, and cost £120 each.

Mr King said: “We have been working hard on the project for 23 years.

“I was working dismantling and clearing diseased elms when Dutch Elm disease hit, and saw how many were destroyed.

“But as we worked in this particular area, we noticed that there were a few trees which seemed to be resistant to the disease.

“While other trees around them died, these were totally unharmed by the Dutch Elm disease.

“After about 10 years, they were still surviving while every other tree in the area had died and we knew they must be resistant.

“So an expert from the local council took cuttings from one of the mature trees for me, which survived – and then kept surviving.

“We realised we had something on our hands here and I sent them off for micropropagation, and before I knew it I had a production.

“The original trees, which are around 150 to 200 years old, are still surviving less than five miles from the nursery and the first cuttings are still 100% in leaf.

“The trees we have propagated are all still in full leaf, even though there is Dutch Elm disease in the hedges just two or three metres from them.

“We can say they are extremely resistant to Dutch Elm disease.”

Dutch Elm Disease is native to Asia but was accidentally introduced in Europe in 1910, although it only killed a small proportion of trees.

It gets it name after it was isolated in Holland in 1921.

It had largely died out by 1940 but in 1967 a new and deadlier strain of the disease arrived in Britain on a shipment of elm tree logs from North America.

The disease killed an estimated 25 million elm trees throughout the UK.

Source: Telegraph newspaper

Date: 07/06/2010

Amazon forest fires ‘on the rise’


The number of fires destroying Amazon rainforests are increasing, a study has found.

Take Cover library pictureThe BBC’s Mark Kinver reports that a team of scientists said fires in the region could release similar amounts of carbon as deliberate deforestation.

Reporting on a paper published in the journal Science, Kinver says the researchers found that that fire occurrence rates had increased in 59% of areas with reduced deforestation.

As a result, the rise in fires could jeopardise the long-term success of schemes to reduce emissions from deforestation, they added.

The researchers – from the University of Exeter, UK, and Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research – based their findings on satellite-derived data on deforestation and forest fires.

“The results were a surprise because we expected that fires would have decreased with the decrease of deforestation,” said co-author Luiz Aragao from the University of Exeter.

“The implication for REDD is that we first need a system that can monitor fires,” he told the Science journal.

“There is also a need to shift land use in the Amazon to a system where fire is not used.”

‘Slash and burn’

REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) schemes aim to create a financil value for the carbon stored in developing nations’ tropical forests.

It offers nations incentives to protect forest areas from a variety of impacts that release carbon into the atmosphere, including tree felling and logging, agricultural expansion, land degradation.

As deforestation accounts for about 20% of emissions resulting from human activity, the REDD programmes are considered to be a key component in the global effort to curb climate change.

“Fires following drought years are likely to release a similar amount of carbon as emissions from deliberate deforestation,” the researchers wrote.

“The higher probability of a drier Amazon in the 21st Century predicted by some global circulation models… may push Amazonia towards an amplified fire-prone system.”

They added that previous studies showed that fires in the region increased after large-scale droughts in 1998 and 2005.

“Forest landscapes in Amazonia are becoming more fragmented and, therefore, a growing proportion of forests is exposed to the leakage of accidental fires from adjacent farms,” they suggested.

The practice of “slash and burn” is widely used by farmers in the Amazon region to clear secondary forests and allow food and cash crops to be cultivated.

But Dr Aragao said: “We need to change the way people use and manage their land so that they can do this without fire.”

Commenting on the paper’s findings, Andrew Mitchell, director of the Global Canopy Programme, said: “These results have important implications for REDD negotiations.

“If we are to control deforestation, you have got to look at what local people are doing outside of the forests,” he told BBC News.

“The entire REDD regime need to encourage a better use of land without fire.

“But if they do not use fire, which is cheap, then what are they going to use – strimmers? Chainsaws? Tractors?

“That means that money from REDD programmes need to go to people that not only live within the forests, but also the farmers living outside them.”

Dr Aragao agreed, adding that switching to fire-free land management in already deforested area that lie next to forests could “drastically reduce fires and carbon emissions”.

“It would be expensive,” he observed, “but it would protect the stability of Amazonian carbon stocks and diversity.”

Pieter van Lierop, a forestry officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FA) – a member of the UN’s REDD programme, said the findings were relevant to policies aimed at reducing deforestation.

“The article clearly demonstrates that within REDD, specific attention should go to analyzing the role of fire and propose more responsible use of fire and/or alternatives for fire,” he told BBC News.

“However, we should also take into consideration that the article is mainly discussing fire incidence and occurence, meaning number of fires and not the size of emissions.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 06/06/2010

Study finds 25 news beetle species on Turkey’s oaks


Twenty-five hitherto unknown species of beetle have been found on the Turkey’s oak trees, according to a study by Swedish researchers.

Take Cover library picture“Most of them would disappear if the trees were to be cut down, and the risk is great”, says project leader Nicklas Jansson, beetle ecologist at Linkoping University (LiU) in Sweden.

In Turkey, there are 18 species of the oak family, and Dr Jansson and his research team spent five years collecting beetles from oak trees in four large pastures in the south of the country.

They said the study areas – 1,200-1,500 metres above sea level – were important for sheep and goat farming, but were now threatened by felling to make way for productive forest management.

They warned that as with all felling there is a major risk that some species become extinct since the oak dwelling beetles stay so faithful to their biotope.

“Some of the species seem to have a very low motivation to leave and find a new oak,” Dr Jansson observed.

Most of the newly discovered beetles belong to the Elateridae and Tenobrionidae families and have been identified by some 20 specialists across Europe.

The results were presented at a conference on oak ecology in Isparta, Turkey.

The researchers identified a number of factors that could be responsible for the greater diversity of beetles:

  • a climate that allowed species to hibernate during the Ice Ages
  • the topography which creates many barriers in the form of mountain ranges and other obstacles to the mixing of species
  • the geographic location as a bridge between Asia and Europe.

In a follow-up project, the research team planned to compare the oak fauna of seven countries, including Israel, Turkey, Italy, France, the UK  and Sweden.

The oaks in the Turkish pastures are pollarded. Shepherd people prune the trees in July and during the dry season use the leaves as feed for sheep and goats while the branches become fuel.

As a result of pollarding, many of the oaks were hollow and contain wood mould, a very rich compost of decomposed wood, fungi, excrement and remains of dead animals.

“I hope that in finding new and unique species we will get the Turkish forestry authorities to open their eyes to their oak treasures and to begin conservation work in the most valuable areas,” Dr Jansson explained.

Source: AlphaGalileo press release

Date: 01/06/2010

Oak disease ‘threatens British landscape’


The continuing spread of a deadly disease that affects the UK’s native oak trees is causing concern among tree professionals and conservation groups.

Take Cover library photoThe BBC’s environment reporter Mark Kinver writes that Acute Oak Decline (AOD), caused by a bacterial infection, can kill an infected tree in just a few years.

Some tree experts are comparing AOD to Dutch elm disease, which killed millions of trees throughout the UK during the 1970-80s.

They said extra funds for more research into the disease were urgently needed.

Although AOD has been confirmed in 55 cases, the number of trees displaying symptoms was steadily increasing, delegates at the Royal Forestry Society’s (RFS) annual conference were told.

The disease affects the UK’s two native species of oak – sessile and pedunculate. To date, there have been no confirmed cases in other species of oaks found in Britain, such as Turkey and red oaks.

‘Extensive bleeding’

Information from Forest Research, the scientific department of the UK Forestry Commission, says the new disease affects oaks more than 50 years old.

Symptoms are “extensive stem bleeding” in which dark fluid seeps from small cracks in the bark and runs down the tree trunk.

In early stages of the disease, the health of a tree’s canopy does not appear to be affected, but it may become thinner as the tree succumbs to AOD.

On its website, Forest Research says: “The incidence of AOD in Britain is unquantified at this stage, but estimates put the figure at a few thousand affected trees.

“The condition appears to be most prevalent in the Midlands and investigations to determine the extent of the disorder are under way.”

A spokesman told BBC News: “Forest Research pathologists have isolated a previously unidentified bacterium they believe is highly likely to be playing a key role in the Acute Oak Decline observed in Leicestershire and elsewhere.

“However, the full cause of the condition is thought likely to be complex, involving a number of factors besides the bacterium. A research report is currently awaiting peer review.”

‘Major threat’

Tree organisations are calling for more funding to be made available to allow researchers to better understand the full impact of the disease.

John Jackson, the organiser of the RFS’s conference, said: “Urgent action is not an option – it’s a necessity.”

Hilary Allison, policy director for the Woodland Trust, added: “The impact of the loss of an iconic tree both from our countryside and towns would be catastrophic, and therefore has the capacity to be a major threat to the UK’s oak woods.”

“I have never seen anything like it,” said Peter Goodwin, co-founder of Woodland Heritage.

“Its spread over the last two years has been quite alarming.”

Mr Goodwin told BBC News that very little was known about the virulent bacteria responsible for the disease.

“We’ve never had a bacterium that is capable of doing what this one is doing.”

He suggested that people were possibly the main way in which the disease was spread from tree to tree, but added that “natural vectors” – such as squirrels, birds and insects – could also play a role.

“I think this is the worrying thing, we all want to know what are the vectors that is spreading it. Is it airborne? We just don’t know.”

Forest Research advises people working in affected areas to take appropriate measures to limit the chances of AOD being carried to new sites.

“The most important thing we can do in this and other cases is to research and understand the causes so that we can provide appropriate management advice for tree owners and woodland managers,” the spokesman added.

“It is also important that we remain vigilant against accidentally importing new and damaging pests and diseases from outside Great Britain.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 28/04/10

Forest fire emissions ‘poisoning Arctic environment’


Forest fires and straw and stubble burning in North America and Eastern Europe are leading to record-high concentrations of the environmental toxin PCB over the Arctic island of Svalbard, a report warns.

Take Cover library imageOver the past decades, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been found in large concentrations in Arctic areas.

These substances accumulate in living organisms and are enriched throughout the food chain.

Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) is one of the most important environmental toxins of this type.

“We wanted to draw attention to the causes of the environmental impact in the Arctic and trace the sources of the problem,” said Sabine Eckhardt, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU).

When biomass from trees and dead grass and leaves catches fire, it releases both PCB and other environmental toxins and creates yet another source of PCB emissions.

In 2004 and 2006, big fires ravaged these areas. About 5.8m hectares of coniferous forest burned down in North America, while Eastern Europe experienced extensive emissions from agriculture due to straw and stubble burning.

Several weeks later, the researchers found record-high values of PCB in the atmosphere above Svalbard.

“As far as we know, this is the first study that shows a connection between the burning of biomass and PCB concentrations in the atmosphere far away,” said Sabine Eckhardt.

“With a climate that is constantly changing, we expect the extent of such fires to increase.

“In such case, it also means that the fires may represent an increasing environmental problem in the Arctic.

“That in turn will reduce the effect of the international agreements that aim to reduce emissions of these environmental toxins,’ said Ms Eckhardt.

PCB is a group of synthetically-produced persistent toxic compounds., and can be stored in the fatty parts of the organism and accumulates in the food chain.

Humans, fatty fish and carnivores (such as polar bears) can therefore accumulate concentrations in their bodies that are so high that they are poisoned.

As the primary emissions of organic environmental toxins are reduced, the researchers believe that fires caused by climate change will become more important.

They point to the fact that there has been little focus on the significance of burning biomass, and the potential consequences of this for the Arctic environment.

“For the first time, we have proved that burning biomass is also an important source of persistent organic pollutants in polar areas,” Ms Eckhardt observed.

“This can be of great importance to international agreements that aim to protect the environment in Arctic areas.”

Source: The Research Council of Norway

Date: 31/05/2010

Spectacular tree fossils unearthed


An amateur geologist has discovered an array of fossilised trees, which date back 350 million years.

Take Cover library image The Natural Environment Research Council’s Planet Earth website reports that the fine specimens were found by keen fossil hunter Elsa Henderson on the Isle of Bute, Scotland.

She reported her find of more than 300 fragments to Dr Howard Falcon-Lang, a tree fossil expert at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Dr Falcon Lang selected some of the best samples to examine under a microscope, which revealed them to be specimens of the extinct Pitus primaeva.

“These were big, woody trees, up to 40-45m tall,” he explained.

“They are a primitive type of tree related to conifers and an ancestor of modern pines and spruces.”

While the recent find is not the first time that fossilised trees have been found in Scotland, Dr Falcon-Lang said that they were among the best preserved samples to be unearthed.

The rings of the tree revealed that there were “growth interruptions that suggest a degree of climate irregularity”, he observed.

He published the findings, with Ms Henderson as co-author, in the Scottish Journal of Geology.

Source: Planet Earth website

Date: 13/05/2010

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