Wildlife flee Kenyan forest fires


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: BBC News website

Date: 23/03/2009

DR Congo cancels timber contracts


The Democratic Republic of Congo government has cancelled nearly 60% of timber contracts in the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest, the BBC News website reports.

It follows a six-month review of 156 logging deals aimed at stamping out corruption in the sector and enforcing legal and environmental standards.

At the end of the World Bank-backed process, government ministers found that only 65 timber deals were viable.

New contracts will be issued for 90,000 sq km (35,000 square miles) of forest.

Environment Minister Jose Endundo told a news conference in the capital Kinshasa that the other agreements would be cancelled.

“I will proceed within the next 48 hours to notify those applicants having received an unfavourable recommendation from the inter-ministerial commission through decrees cancelling their respective conventions,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

“Upon notification of the cancellation decision, the operator must immediately stop cutting timber.”

Mr Endundo also said the government planned to respect a moratorium, introduced during Congo’s 1998-2003 war but widely ignored, on granting new logging deals.

The BBC’s Thomas Fessy in Kinshasa says all the timber agreements were struck during the conflict.

Amid rampant corruption, huge concessions were gifted to logging companies, which paid almost no tax, he says.

Monday’s decision should reduce the surface area exploited by timber firms by up to half, according to our correspondent.

The Congo Basin is home to the second largest tropical forest in the world after the Amazon, but campaigners say it is being eaten away by logging, mining and agricultural land clearance.

Sarah Shoraka, of Greenpeace, says the new rules must be enforced to protect a vital resource.

“Real economic development is what’s needed,” she told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

“We’ve highlighted tax evasion, and there’s often quite serious disputes between local people and these logging companies.

“The logging companies promise hospitals and schools and they hardly ever deliver these things on the ground.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 19/01/2009

Challenge to plant methane link


The recent finding that plants could be a major source of the atmosphere’s methane is challenged by new research, reports BBC News environment correspondent Richard Black.

A 2006 study suggested plants could account for almost half of the global production of the greenhouse gas.

But a UK-based team now reports that under normal conditions, plants just convey methane from the soil to the air without actually producing it.

Writing in a Royal Society journal, they suggest identifying sources of methane is key for climate control.

The gas is about 20 times more potent, molecule for molecule, than carbon dioxide.

After remaining stable for almost a decade, there have been signs in the last two years that concentrations have begun to grow again, which according to some observers presages an era of faster-rising temperatures.

The research that sparked the debate was published almost exactly three years ago by a group from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany.

Frank Keppler’s team found that plants emitted methane from their leaves under normal growing conditions, although the output increased in high sunlight and high temperatures.

They suggested that plants possessed a hitherto undiscovered biochemical pathway that could generate the gas.

The finding surprised scientists, and other groups tried to replicate it – with mixed results.

“It just didn’t make sense, and wasn’t something that had entered into any of our minds,” said Ellen Nisbet, leader of the group that has just published the latest findings in the Royal Society’s Proceedings B.

“But then we looked at the details of the experiments they’d done, and they were clearly very well done – we just didn’t like the conclusions,” she told BBC News.

Part of her team’s work involved growing several different varieties of plant, including maize and rice, in media that contained no organic material, so eliminating the chances of methane being formed through decay in soil.

They found during these experiments, conducted in closed chambers, that the plants produced no methane at all.

In another experiment, they compared the genomes of several plants with those of bacteria that produce methane by biochemical pathways that are well understood.

Plants, they concluded, could not generate the gas by any known pathway because they do not possess the right genes.

In a third strand of investigation, Dr Nisbet fed basil plants with water containing dissolved methane.

Later, the air from that chamber was analysed and found to contain the gas. The team concludes that plants do emit methane during transpiration – the release of water from leaves – but only the methane they have absorbed in water from soil.

“I think this does tell us that the vast majority of methane emitted in normal growth conditions is explained by the absorption of methane in the soil water,” said Dr Nisbet, who conducted the research at the University of Cambridge but who now works at the University of South Australia in Adelaide.

In stressful conditions, such as high temperatures or high intensities of ultraviolet radiation, plants can begin to decay, which also emits methane – but this is not significant under normal conditions, according to this analysis.

Dr Keppler suggested the new research does not disprove his idea that a new methane-producing pathway in plants is awaiting discovery.

“The paper is adding transpiration as a source of methane – that’s a nice observation although not entirely new; it’s been found in other studies that rice plants act as tubes to conduct methane to the air,” he told BBC News.

“But we clearly showed in previous studies that emissions came from the plant itself.”

His research team is now actively looking for that elusive new biochemical pathway.

So the issue is clearly not completely settled yet.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 14/01/2009

Escaped beaver felling trees in SW England


A beaver that has been felling trees in south-west England after escaping from a farm is being hunted by conservationists, the BBC News website reports.

The beaver is one of three that broke out of the farm in Lifton, Devon, in October, owner Derek Gow said.  The other two have since been re-captured.

The last six-stone (38kg) animal is believed to be felling trees up to 20 miles (32km) away on the banks of the River Tamar, near Gunnislake, Cornwall.

Mr Gow said he was to use “honey traps” to find the missing animal.

Mr Gow keeps 24 of the animals under licence from government agency Natural England as part of a wildlife photography business.

He said the escaped animal was one of three that got out of Upcott Grange Farm and it was suspected the electric fence around the beaver pen failed after flooding in the area.

He said: “We’ve checked the fence, we can’t find any holes at all. We can’t think of any other way they might have got out.”

The other two, both females, were soon recovered after from a nearby lake, but not before they had felled a number of trees on the River Thrushel.

It is believed the male has travelled further in a bid to find a mate.

Mr Gow said: “I know where he is, but he’s occupying a territory of probably a kilometre in length.”

He added that he planned to catch the escapee by using a number of “honey traps”, boxes that have the scent of a female beaver.

“Using the scent from one of the female beavers, we’ll be able to catch the male beaver fairly quickly,” he explained.

Beavers were hunted to extinction in England and Wales during the 12th Century and disappeared from the rest of the country 400 years later.

They were hunted for their fur and throat glands, which were believed to have medicinal properties.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 30/12/2008

Prince calls for rainforest bills


Prince Charles has called for rich countries to pay an annual “utility bill” for the benefits given to the world by its rainforests, the BBC News website reports.

Speaking in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, the prince called rainforests the “world’s greatest public utility”.

They act as an air conditioner, store fresh water and provide work, he said.

The proposal by the Prince’s Rainforest Project would generate funds allowing rainforest countries to change their practices and halt deforestation.

The Prince of Wales outlined the plan in a speech to the Indonesian President, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and his cabinet in Jakarta.

He told the audience at the Merdeka Palace: “Indonesia and the other rainforest nations are stewards of the world’s greatest public utility.

“The rest of us have to start paying for it, just as we do for water, gas and electricity.”

He added: “Payments should have the characteristics of a commercial transaction, in the same way we pay for our water, gas and electricity.

“In return the rainforest nations would provide eco-services such as carbon storage, fresh water and the protection of biodiversity.”

The prince said the forests provided a livelihood for more than a billion people.

As developed nations were the driving force behind their destruction, through a demand for products like beef, palm oil, soya and logs, they should be billed for their protection, he said.

It is hoped that a large part of the funds raised from the “utility bills” would come from bonds issued by an international body.

Describing the form the annual billing could take, the prince said: “These emergency funds could be provided directly by developed world governments, perhaps from expanded development aid budgets, from surcharges on activities which cause climate change or from the auction of carbon market emission allowances.

“However, I hope that even in the short term the large part of the required funding could be provided by the private sector by subscribing to long-term bonds issued by an international agency.

“The issuing entity would pay the proceeds from the bonds to the rainforest nations. They in turn would use the money to re-orientate their economies to halt or refrain from deforestation.”

Earlier on his Indonesian visit, the Prince visited the Harapan Rainforest conservation project on the island of Sumatra as part of his 10-day tour of Asia.

Indonesia is the final leg of his tour. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall also visited Japan and Brunei, but he travelled to Indonesia alone as his wife has returned to Britain for other engagements.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 03/11/2008

Time to invest in nature’s capital


Amid the global financial crisis, it is time to recognise the wealth we enjoy from nature’s capital, says Andrew Mitchell, director of the Global Canopy Programme.

Writing on the BBC News website, he argued that there would be no government bailout if we fail to protect the vital services provided by the world’s forests.

The world’s largest gathering of conservation scientists and NGOs have been meeting in Barcelona to ask: “What price do we put on nature?”

In these extraordinary times of credit crunch and climate change, the world feels hitched to an uncertain roller coaster ride where we don’t know what to value any more.

What investors thought was safe as houses has turned out to be nothing more than the property of the poor disguised in a silver wrapper, enabling bankers to pocket billions.

In a curious way, all this chaos may turn out to be a good thing because it will force the world to ask: “Are we creating wealth that’s worth having?”

A wine broker said to me recently: “The thing about investing in a first growth is, the more the world drinks a good vintage, the more valuable it gets.”

So could disappearing forests one day be a safer investment than housesA major new theme of this Congress of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) is about how we value natural capital, which up to now has not appeared on company balance sheets.

I believe the current financial crisis may force the global community to right that wrong, along with many others, because we all want a more stable economy.

However, in global markets today, rainforests are worth more dead than alive. Poor and often opaque governments, with little to sell, offer their rainforests to raise revenue, attracting largely risk capital with strings attached.

The only way to do this is to convert rainforests into something else, usually timber, beef, soy or palm oil that Westerners, and now prosperous Asians, have a burgeoning appetite for.

Most deforestation today is enterprise driven and funded by hedgefunds, pension funds, and other sources of liquidity from capitals often far from, and blind to, the forests they are destroying.

Billions in green dollars end up on investors’ balance sheets, but there is a catch: billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide goes up in smoke from the trees burned in the process – and the risk to everyone is building up to a climate credit crisis.

Just one day of emissions from deforestation equates to 68 million people flying from London to New York.

Seven billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually places rainforests just second to energy as a source of global emissions and is more than the entire world’s transport sector put together.

And it is not just about carbon. The world’s rainforests are a giant “utility”, providing services we all use but do not pay for.

The Amazon releases 20 billion tonnes of water into the atmosphere each day. This air-conditions the atmosphere, waters agri-business and underpins energy security from hydro to biofuels across Latin America on a gigantic scale.

Were it possible to build a machine to do this, every day it would consume the energy equivalent to the world’s largest hydro dam running on full power for 135 years; and the Amazon does all this for free. Now that’s natural capital and we are eroding it fast.

Pavan Sukhdevs’ landmark report, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, published by the EU earlier this year, estimated the annual losses of natural capital to be, at the low end, equivalent to the value of the Indian stock market and, at the high end, the entire London stock market.

If what biodiversity does for us is so valuable, why is this happening? The answer is in part ignorance and, in part, that the global economy may no longer be fit for purpose.

The problem is that nature is priceless. What nature does for us is not valued economically. Whilst only financial and human capital drive human endeavour, and inputs from natural capital remain unrecognised, business proceeds on a false sense of security.

The economy, I believe, is at a truly historic tipping point where the global economy will rapidly need to incorporate the risks from the collision course that energy security, food security and environmental security are all on.

By 2050, to keep global temperatures from rising more that 2C and at the same time feed nine billion people, we cannot go on as we are.

Investing in natural capital may in time indeed turn out to be as safe as any other public utility but for that to happen we need the equivalent of an ecosystem services market with an environmental regulatory body that forces us to value the common goods that we continue to plunder at our peril.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 14/10/2008

UK city stages ‘tree-athlon’


Hundreds of trees have been planted in Greater Manchester as part of the city’s first “tree-athlon” event, reports the BBC News website.

About 500 people took part in a 5km (three-mile) run in Heaton Park, before each was given a sapling as a prize.

Competitors could either plant the tree at home or in specially-created woodland in the park after the event.

The race, which took place at 1430 BST, was organised by the charity Trees for Cities, which aims to raise money to plant trees in urban areas.

Councillor Richard Cowell, of Manchester City Council, said: “As well as cutting our carbon footprints, trees are an important part of our response to climate change and our drive to become Britain’s greenest city.

“Whether you’re taking part in the Tree-athlon or the Tree Party, this is a wonderful opportunity for families and young people to enjoy a good day out whilst learning about the importance of trees.”

Trees for Cities has been running greening projects in Greater Manchester since 2005.

It works in partnership with the Red Rose Forest, one of 12 Community Forests in England that are regenerating the environment in and around many of England’s urban centres.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 05/10/2008

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