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

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