China timber sector looks at tougher EU/US import rules


The China Timber and Wood Products Circulation Association (CTWPCA) is seeking to establish a body to help importers navigate new environmental regulations in the US and EU that restrict trade in illegally logged timber, reports the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).

In a recent market report, ITTO said that Chinese importers fear failing to meet the new regulations that govern the sourcing of timber products.

The US’s Lacey Act and the EU’s FLEGT ruling put the burden of responsibility on importing companies, holding them to the environmental laws of producing countries.

Companies found to be sourcing illegally logged timber could be subject to fines or worse.

A company accused of using illicit rosewood from Madagascar, was the first company to be charged and investigated under the Lacey Act.

The legislation was amended in 2008 to include “anyone who imported, exported, transported, sold, received, acquired or purchased the wood products made from that illegal timber, who knew or should have known that the wood was illegal.” The firm’s case is pending.

According to ITTO, CTWPCA believes traders need “guidance and support” on the new international requirements.

The body would also set up a “responsible procurement system” for timber imports, seek to address corruption in the timber import and trade sector, and aim to help Chinese timber traders meet international standards.

China already has guidelines governing Chinese companies operating forest concessions overseas.

These compel companies to abide by local environmental laws and take measures to reduce pollution. However, some observers suggest that there is no indication that these mandatory rules are being enforced.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 02/09/2010

REDD+ could do more harm than good, forestry experts warn


As governments across Latin America prepare to implement a new financial mechanism aimed at mitigating climate change by curbing carbon emissions from the destruction of tropical forests, experts have warned against a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Instead, they are calling for flexible, balanced solutions to the surrounding this new mechanism.

Among the experts’ main concerns are that the wealthy and powerful could capture many of the benefits, largely at the expense of rural communities, including indigenous groups.

Organised by Mexico’s National Forestry Commission and the Swiss government, with scientific support from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), a recent conference’s findings and recommendations will be feed into a UN Forum on Forests (UNFF) meeting scheduled to take place in early 2011, marking the launch of the International Year of Forests.

The Mexico gathering brought together scientists, as well as representatives of governments and non-government organisations, for discussions on governance, decentralisation and REDD+ in Latin America.

Under REDD+ (for reducing deforestation and forest degradation), industrialised countries will provide developing nations with sizeable sums of money in exchange for verifiable storage of carbon in forests, in addition to the conservation and sustainable management of forests.

Forest destruction currently accounts for up to 18% of annual global carbon emissions. Several Latin American countries, including Mexico, have taken the lead in designing REDD+ schemes and stand to benefit significantly.

“Good forest governance – involving transparent and inclusive relationships between governments, forests and the people who depend on them – is fundamental for ensuring that REDD+ helps forest-dependent communities move out of poverty, instead of fueling corruption and funding entrenched bureaucracies,” said Elena Petkova, a CIFOR scientist.

“REDD+ schemes could either flounder on governance failures or flourish under successful governance.”

The central aim of the conference in Oaxaca was to provide science-based advice on the design and implementation of REDD+ schemes, so these schemes can capture carbon and reduce emissions effectively, while at the same time generate significant benefits from sustainable forest management that are equitably shared.

“About 40 years of public sector investment in curbing deforestation, while producing many local successes, has fallen far short of its goal,” said another CIFOR scientist, Andrew Wardell, who was also attending the conference.

“REDD+ might be our last chance to save the world’s tropical forests. So, it’s extremely important to get it right in Latin America and elsewhere.

“This region holds nearly a quarter of the world’s forests, upon which millions of people depend, and over the last five years, it has accounted for 65% percent of global net forest loss.”

Source: CIFOR press release

Date: 03/09/2010

US wolf re-introduction still leaves aspens quaking


The re-introduction of wolves in a US National Park in the mid-1990s is not helping quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) to become re-established, as many researchers hoped.

In a study published in the journal Ecology showed that the population of wolves in Yellowstone Park was not deterring elks from eating young trees and saplings.

It was assumed that the presence of wolves would create a “landscape of fear”, resulting in no-go areas for elks.

Researchers writing in the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) journal said that the aspens were not regenerating well in the park as a result of the elk eating the young trees.

However, they added that the conventional wisdom suggested that as the wolves were predators of the elk, it was thought that the elk would eventually learn to avoid high-risk areas in which the wolves were found.

This would then allow plants in those areas – such as aspen – to grow big enough without being eaten and killed by the elk. And in the long-term, the thinking went, the habitat would be restored.

In this latest study, lead author Matthew Kauffman – a US Geological Survey scientist – suggested the findings showed that claims of an ecosystem-wide recovery of aspen were premature.

“This study not only confirms that elk are responsible for the decline of aspen in Yellowstone beginning in the 1890s, but also that none of the aspen groves studied after wolf restoration appear to be regenerating, even in areas risky to elk,” Dr Kauffman explained.

Because the “landscape of fear” idea did not appear to be benefiting aspen, the team concluded that if the Northern Range elk population did not continue to decline (their numbers are 40% of what they were before wolves), many of Yellowstone’s aspen stands were unlikely to recover.

“A landscape-level aspen recovery is likely only to occur if wolves, in combination with other predators and climate factors, further reduce the elk population,” observed Dr Kauffman.

The paper, Are wolves saving Yellowstone’s aspen? A landscape-level test of a behaviorally mediated trophic cascade, has been published online in Ecology. The authors of the paper are: Matthew Kauffman (USGS), Jedediah Brodie (University of Montana) and Erik Jules (Humboldt State University).

Source: ESA press release

Date: 01/09/2010

North Korea begins agroforestry scheme to halt degradation


A “pioneering agroforestry project” in North Korea is restoring heavily degraded landscapes and providing much-needed food for communities, says the World Agroforestry Centre.

Jianchu Xu, the Centre’s East-Asia co-ordinator,  said agroforestry – in this case the growing of trees on sloping land – was uniquely suited to DPR Korea for addressing food security and protecting the environment.

“What we have managed to achieve so far has had a dramatic impact on people’s lives and the local environment,” he explained.

“Previously malnourished communities are now producing their own trees and growing chestnut, walnut, peaches, pears and other fruits and berries as well as medicinal bushes.”

Following the collapse of the socialist bloc in 1989 and a lack of subsidies for agriculture in DPR Korea, famine and malnutrition became widespread in rural areas.

DPR Korea is a harsh mountainous country where only 16% of the land area is suitable for cultivation, data from the Centre suggests.

It addded that out of  desperation in the 1990s, people turned to the marginal sloping lands but this had a price: deforestation for cropping land and fuelwood left entire landscapes denuded and depleted of nutrients.

In an attempt to reverse the situation, an innovative project began in 2002 involving the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Korea’s Ministry of Land and Environmental Protection. The World Agroforestry Centre was later brought in to provide technical advice.

A system of establishing user groups with one representative from each family enabled demonstration plots to be set up and a large number of households have benefited from knowledge about growing multi-purpose trees.

Using these types of trees have helped  improve and stabilise soils, as well as provide fertilizer, fodder or fruits.

To further support the development of appopriate skills in North Korea, the World Agroforestry Centre has announced plans to publish an agroforestry manual.

The Centre added that work was also underway to develop an agroforestry policy for sloping lands management, as well as establishing an agroforestry inventory.

Source: World Agroforestry Centre press release

Date: 27/08/2010

Trying to curb the appetite of tree-hungry chopsticks


For the humble chopstick, life is predictable, reports Alice-Azania Jarvis in the Independent newspaper.

Start off as a tree, one of the 25 million felled each year for the purpose. Spend a brief few weeks, newly-whittled, encased in paper. Then wind up on someone’s plate, where you are expertly used to shovel noodles, or rice, or meat into a mouth.

Then that’s it. It’s time to face the great landfill in the sky. Millions of chopsticks meet their end like this. In fact, billions – 45 billion a year in China alone, taking with them some 100 acres of birch, poplar and bamboo forest a day.

It is one reason why attempts are under way to turn the Chinese off their disposable cutlery and on to the longer-lasting kind.

In 2006, the Government introduced a 5% tax on all disposable wooden chopsticks following petitions from schoolchildren and citizens’ group.

Since then, efforts to curb the wooden sticks’ use have increased. A BYOC (Bring Your Own Chopsticks) movement has been actively petitioning for sustainable options for some time.

Described by the China Post as a collection of “young yuppies”, they carry around their own implements when dining out. Occasionally, claims the Post, restaurant owners take it upon themselves to reward the yuppies’ efforts with a complimentary bowl of soup.

Greenpeace launched a campaign with the slogan “say no to disposable chopsticks.” In 2008, activists dressed as orang-utans invaded corporate cafeterias – Microsoft, Intel and IBM among them – to discourage diners from going disposable.

Then, earlier this year, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce joined with five other government departments to warn that companies using disposables could soon face legal restrictions. They claimed to “aim at decreasing the use of the throwaway utensil”.

“Production, circulation and recycling of disposable chopsticks should be more strictly supervised,” they explained.

It’s a stark about-face for the Chinese government. Prior to the measure, they had actively encouraged disposables’ use. They were, reasoned authorities, more hygienic that their reusable cousins.

The debate over throwaway instruments, while raging in China, is by no means limited to chopsticks.

In the UK, disposable cutlery is thought to be used for an average of three minutes before being discarded.

Plastics – including convenience cutlery, crockery and cups – account for 7% of office waste. That’s before the countless millions of knives, forks and spoons churned out by fast food restaurants, cafes and supermarkets are taken into account.

Recent years have seen the rise of the Carry Your Own Cutlery (CYOC) movement, while websites such as recyclethis.co.uk offer readers advice on how to reuse their plastic implements.

Increasingly, retailers are under pressure to offer – if not reusable – then at least recyclable options.

Starbucks recently pledged to introduce renewable materials during its next round of store upgrades and has committed to using entirely recyclable cups by 2015. Pret-a-Manger, meanwhile, has pledged to go “landfill-free” by 2012.

Not everyone has been so quick to change. McDonald’s, while using recycled paper in much of its packaging, defends its choice of plastic cutlery on the grounds that washing up would waste energy.

How effective China’s measures will be remains to be seen. The BYOC has been slow in picking up active support, and the government’s waste warning, while a step in an environmentally-friendly direction, is more bark than bite.

Legislation is looming, though as yet there are few concrete incentives for diners to trade in their disposables. Wooden chopsticks cost restaurant owners a fraction of what the more durable alternatives do, since the cost of sterilisation is high.

What’s more, the alternative melamine-resin chopsticks have a notoriously high formaldehyde content, which is neither great news for the environment nor diners’ health.

Polls by news outlets have found broad support for reusable items. Some 84.2% of participants told a recent Sina.com poll that they would swap for more durable options.

Still, analysts point out that the authorities’ interest is divided: environmentally, cutting down on chopsticks makes sense; economically – in the short term at least – it doesn’t.

More than 300,000 people are employed by the wooden chopstick industry, across 300 factories. Exports of their wares bring in $200m a year.

In 2009, it was claimed that 300 restaurants in Beijing had ceased to provide disposable chopsticks. In a country of some 1.3 billion diners, there’s a long way left to go.

Source: Independent

Date: 31/08/2010

Model shows ‘waves of forest degradation’


An international team of researchers has developed a model that suggests degradation of tropical forests occurs in a series of “waves”, reports the BBC News website’s Mark Kinver.

High-value trees were felled in the first “wave”, followed by a wave that removed mid-value timber before the remaining wood was felled for charcoal.

The team hopes the model will help manage forests as vital carbon sinks and limit the loss of biodiversity.

The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers said an economic theory was used to provide a general model to predict patterns of tree loss.

This translates to a prediction that waves of forest degradation will emanate from major demand centres and expand into nearby forested areas, targeting resources in sequence, starting with those of highest value,” they wrote in their PNAS paper.

“Such a sequence of demand, linked to resource utilisation, has been demonstrated for unmanaged fisheries… but has not been shown for the exploitation of differently valued tropical forest products.”

The team used data collected in the area surrounding Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, to see how far the degradation “waves” had travelled between 1991 and 2005.

“The first wave that emanates is high-value timber, and that is mostly used for export,” explained co-author Antje Ahrends, an ecologist at the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh.

“There has been a massive demand for this in China, and this is where most of the timber ends up.”

Dr Ahrends said the first wave moved out from Dar es Salaam rapidly, averaging about nine kilometres each year, because the “timber companies had lorries and loads of people working for them”.

“For the firms, it is only worthwhile to stay in a forest when timber can be accessed relatively easily,” she told BBC News.

“So once it becomes not so easy to get hold of the rest, the companies generally move on.”

The first wave had already moved outside of the team’s study area, and Dr Ahrends estimated that it was already more than 200km from Dar es Salaam.

The second wave saw trees being felled for medium-valued timber, which was generally used in the city for construction and furniture.

“This is expanding very rapidly, in line with urban migration,” she explained. “The town has an average growth rate of about 7% each year, so there is – again – a rapidly growing demand for this material.”

The timber is harvested by local companies, again with lorries, allowing large volumes to be collected in a relatively short space of time. This resulted in this degradation wave to also cover about nine kilometres each year.

The third and final wave involved local people collecting wood to make charcoal for cooking.

“It’s the most destructive of all of the waves because charcoal burners would collect everything,” observed Dr Ahrends, who was based at the York Institute for Tropical Ecosystem Dynamics when she carried out this research.

“It is only worthwhile moving on once there are no sizeable trees left in the forest.”

As a result, the charcoal wave had moved relatively slowly – from 20km outside Dar es Salaam in 1991 to 50km away in 2005.

“It is the most difficult of the waves to tackle because it is very poor people who burn charcoal and their livelihoods depend upon it.”

“Targeting that wave would mean trying to provide alternative resources for cooking, and alternative incomes for people who burn charcoal.

Species loss

The team also developed their model to gauge what impact forest degradation had on “public good” services, such as carbon storage and biodiversity.

They did this by recording what species of trees were in a particular area of the study, and what size the individual trees were.

“This later enabled us to calculate species richness and also the amount of carbon those trees were storing,” Dr Ahrends said.

“We found that there was a very strong linear impacts; for example, tree species richness dropped to only 14 species-per-sample-unit close to Dar es Salaam, whereas it is more than 40 species in areas 200km away.”

Dr Ahrends suggested that the model could be used to understand the impact of forest degradation in other sub-Sarahan nations in Africa.

“This is because conditions are very similar: high levels of corruption, weak law enforcement and very rapid rates of urbanisation.”

She added that the team’s model could help policymakers who were looking at ways to limit deforestation rates.

“What is really important is to understand the pattern of degradation and the way it spreads,” she suggested.

“While we have a good understanding of deforestation – which is the complete clearance of a forest – it is much more difficult to measure degradation.

“So if you have this simple model, then you have a basic understanding of how degradation might spread… which may help you develop some prediction of where it might spread from and how far it might spread.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 03/08/2010

Anne Frank’s tree of hope toppled by storm


Sad news, the 150-year-old horse chestnut that brought comfort to Anne Frank as she hid from the Nazis in World War Two has toppled in high winds and heavy rain.

The tree, whose trunk was diseased and rotten, snapped a metre (3ft) above the ground, and crashed into neighbouring gardens in Amsterdam at 13.30 local time,  it is reported.

It smashed into a brick wall and sheds, but nobody was  injured.

The Anne Frank House museum, which has a million visitors a year, escaped unscathed during Monday’s poor weather.

“Someone yelled: ‘It’s falling. The tree is falling,’ and then you heard it go down,” museum spokeswoman Maatje Mostart told the Associated Press. “Luckily no one was hurt.”

‘Unpleasantly surprised’

A global campaign to save “the Anne Frank tree” was launched in 2007 after Dutch officials and conservationists declared it a safety hazard and ordered it felled. They feared it could topple and crash into the museum.

But the Support Anne Frank Tree Foundation won a court injunction in November that year, stopping the city authorities from chopping it down. Neighbours and campaigners argued that, as a symbol of freedom, the tree was worth making extraordinary efforts to preserve.

But it was blighted with fungus and moths, and two years ago conservationists encased the trunk in steel girders to prop it up.

The Netherlands’ Trees Institute, a leading supporter of the project to save the tree, said it was “unpleasantly surprised” to hear it had fallen.

“On the advice of experts in tree care, it had been calculated that the tree could live several more decades” the institute said in a statement. “Alas, in the event it seems that nature is stronger.”

The Jewish teenager referred several times to the tree in the diary that she kept during the 25 months she remained in hiding.

Anne Frank wrote on 23 February 1944: “From my favourite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind.”

She died, aged 15, the following year in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Source: Anne Frank Museum

Date: 23/08/2010

British public ‘ignorant about trees’


According to a survey reported in Horticulture Week, a trade magazine, more than three-quarters of the people questioned believed that the main role of trees was to provide shade.

The questions, posed on behalf of Velvet Tissues – a UK-based toilet paper firm – also had a few more positive messages when it came to people’s attitudes towards trees, such as 75% agreed that trees featured in a favourite memory and 9% remember kissing a childhood sweetheart under a tree.

More than two-thirds of the people questioned considered the oak to be the UK’s most iconic tree, yet – depressingly – a third were not able to identify it.

The survey is hardly scientific,  and it is surely closely tied to a PR campaign in which the company describes itself as a tree lover (its website says it plants three trees for every one it cuts down to make its products), we felt it was worth featuring on this blog.

Sadly, it was not possible to get more details on the survey’s background because there is nothing on the company’s website and Horticulture Week only ran a very short story on the findings.

Source: Horticulture Week

Date: 25/08/2010

International forestry researchers look to future


The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has released a plan of work for 2011-2013, as a part of its 2008-2018 Strategy.

The organisation – established in 1999 – sets out its mission statement as advancing “human well-being, environmental conservation, and equity by conducting research to inform policies and practices that affect forests in developing countries”.

The updated plan provides more details on CIFOR’s six projects, and what outcomes they hope to achieve:

  • Enhancing the role of forests in climate mitigation
  • Enhancing the role of forests in adaptation to climate change
  • Improving livelihoods through smallholder and community forestry
  • Managing trade-offs between conservation and development at landscape scales
  • Managing impacts of globalized trade and investment on forests and forest communities
  • Sustainable management of tropical production forests

The 145-page work plan, Medium term plan for 2011-13, is available as a free-to-download pdf (size: 1.5MB)

Source: Climate-L.org

Date: 25/08/2010

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

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

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

US Forest Services announces plan to save at risk forests


US Forest Service chief Gail Kimbell announced $50 million in grants to permanently protect 24 working forests across 21 States, as part of the  Forest Legacy Program, a USDA press release said.

The programme is designed to permanently protects important private forestland threatened by conversion.

“The Forest Legacy Program conserves open space, which allows us to respond to climate change, improves water quality and flows and connects children to nature,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“The strength of the Forest Legacy Program is the co-operation between States, partners and private landowners, all working together to protect environmentally and economically important forests that are threatened by conversion.”

Examples of 2009 projects include: forest essential for wildlife and recreation in Maine; pine ecosystem critical for threatened and endangered species in Arkansas and working forests that support rural jobs in Oregon.

The Forest Legacy Program promotes voluntary land conservation by operating on the principle of “willing buyer, willing seller”.

Private forest landowners are facing increasing real estate prices, property taxes and development pressure, which result in conversion of forests to other land uses.

The Forest Legacy Program focuses on conserving working forests – those that provide clean water, forest products, fish and wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.

Most Forest Legacy Program projects are conserved through conservation easements, allowing landowners to keep their forestlands while protecting them from future development.

Source: USDA press release

Date: 18/05/2009

Wild fruit trees face extinction


Scientists have warned that the wild ancestors of common domestic fruit trees are in danger of becoming extinct, reports the BBC’s Victoria Gill.

Researchers have published a “red list” of threatened species that grow in the forests of Central Asia.

These disease-resistant and climate-tolerant fruit trees could play a role in our future food security.

But in the last 50 years, about 90% of the forests have been destroyed, according to conservation charity, Fauna & Flora International.

The Red List of Central Asia identifies 44 tree species in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan as under threat from extinction.

It cites over-exploitation and human development as among the main threats to the region’s forests, which are home to more than 300 wild fruit and nut species including apple, plum, cherry, apricot and walnut.

Antonia Eastwood, the lead author of the research, described the region as a “unique global hotspot of diversity”.

“A lot of these species are only found in this area,” she told BBC News. “It’s very mountainous and dry, so many of these species have a great deal of tolerance to cold and drought.

“A lot of our domestic fruit supply comes from a very narrow genetic base,” she continued.

“Given the threats posed to food supplies by disease and the changing climate, we may need to go back to these species and include them in breeding programmes.”

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are thought to be the ancestral homes of familiar favourites such as Red Delicious and Golden Delicious.

The US Department of Agriculture has already sponsored expeditions to Kazakhstan, during which scientists have collected samples with the aim of expanding the genetic diversity of farm-grown apples.

This type of genetic foraging, Dr Eastwood explained, allows domestic lines to be crossed with wild strains, producing varieties more resistant to diseases such as apple scab, a fungus that can devastate crops.

“But these countries lack the resources to conserve their valuable trees,” added Dr Eastwood.

This year, as part of the the UK Darwin Initiative, Fauna & Flora International is working with scientists in Kyrgyzstan to carry out research on threatened trees and develop methods to harvest the fruit sustainably.

The organisation is training local scientists and involving communities in the planning and managing of their own forests.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 07/05/2009

Ancient trees ‘need public funded protection’


One of Britain’s leading experts on trees has expressed astonishment over the lack of public funding to protect ancient trees, reports Horticulture Week.

Ted Green, an adviser to the Queen who was awarded an OBE recently for services to ancient trees, said state cash was needed because of trees’ landscape and cultural importance.

“These trees are old archives of gene banks,” said Green. “They are reservoirs of resistance — that is why they are still standing.”

He told a conference for Wealden District Council recently: “It is important to allow them to go through the natural ageing process and not tidy them away.”

Chris Hannington, Wealden District Council’s landscape and biodiversity officer, said: “There are many threats to the survival of ancient trees.

“Poor management, inappropriate tree surgery and global warming are all important issues affecting them.”

Wealden’s ancient trees are among the largest concentrations in northern Europe and were surveyed recently by Wealden ancient tree survey officer Ali Wright.

Of the 24,000 recorded ancient trees in the UK nearly 1,000 of them — 4% — were in Wealden. These included yew trees that could be 1,000 years old.

Wealden District Council is currently consulting on a set of guidelines to encourage developers to preserve veteran trees.

Source: Horticulture Week

Date: 06/05/2009

UK’s Woodland Trust to plant a million trees


The Woodland Trust is to plant around a million trees on several sites across the UK to protect the “UK’s equivalent of the rainforest”,  reports Horticulture Week.

“The Plant a Tree appeal will help us plant around a million trees at five key sites across the UK, with others to come in the future,” said conservation officer Fran Hitchinson.

“The trees will buffer ancient woodland, protecting these irreplaceable sites — the UK’s equivalent of the rainforest — and thereby increase their ecological resilience.”

The trust’s 350-hectare Heartwood Forest woodland, near St Albans, will protect three ancient woods allowing wildlife to move and thrive, she added.

Low Burnhall in Durham will be bulked out by 80,000 trees to help conserve the ancient trees and create and shelter for wildflower meadows.

While Milton Woods, at the gateway to the Scottish Highlands in Stirling, will see over 180,000 trees planted to create wildlife havens for otters, owls and wading birds.

The Woodland Trust wants people to donate £15 for a tree to be planted and nurtured for 12 years.

Those who give money will be sent updates and pictures.

Source: Horticulture Week

Date: 01/05/2009

Pine voles blamed for US oak declines


Scientists trying to understand why oaks are starting to disappear from North American forests may need to look just below the surface to find some answers, says a Purdue University press release.

Researcher Robert Swihart found that pine voles, small rodents that live underground, prefer oak roots to those of other common woodland seedlings.

The study identifies the rodents as a possible factor leading to high oak mortality rates that are threatening the resource base of the hardwood industry.

“You see a lot of mature oaks, but you don’t see a lot of oaks in the understory beneath the canopy,” observed Dr Swihart.

“If you don’t see them there, you won’t see mature oaks in 20 to 30 years.

“We are facing a period in our history that could lead to a great crash in oak availability.”

Dr Swihart offered pine voles a selection of tree roots to eat in the laboratory, and they overwhelmingly gravitated toward oak roots.

Voles caused more than twice as much damage to white oak roots than northern red oak and black cherry, and more than six times more damage to white oak than black walnuts.

The study showed that the voles snubbed yellow poplar roots altogether.

“Either the oak roots were much more nutritious and had higher energy content, or they contained fewer toxins, or some combination of those factors,” he explained.

“Those are the main reasons an animal will choose one food item over another.”

His findings have been published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology.

Source: Purdue University press release

Date: 03/03/2009

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

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