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

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

Key role of forests ‘may be lost’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The report’s key findings include:

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

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

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

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

Source: BBC News website

Date: 18/04/2009

Blossom amid the gloom for Japan


People in Japan have long celebrated the arrival of the cherry blossom with picnics under the trees and this year is no exception, as the BBC’s Roland Buerk reports.

However, he goes on to add that the worst economic crisis since World War II has taken the shine off the festivities.

The winter was long, cold, grey and wet, made grimmer by desperate news about the health of the world’s second biggest economy.

Little wonder people in Japan were ready to welcome the arrival of spring.

The first red buds appeared on the dark, almost black, cherry blossom trees in Tokyo around the beginning of March.

In the last few weeks they have burst into flower.

So thick have the blossoms been that the avenues of trees in the parks have looked like pink and white clouds. There are more along waterways.

Hemmed in by concrete, often used as a conveniently vacant bit of land to build a flyover expressway, Tokyo’s rivers are far from pretty in the winter.

But at this time of year they are transformed, with the laden branches dipping down towards the water.

Tokyo’s residents have been out in vast numbers to celebrate the new season.

This city has the largest population of any metropolitan area on the planet, and it seemed everyone wanted to see the blossom.

In Ueno Park, the crowds were so thick it was difficult to move along the pathways.

Amateur photographers were everywhere, taking close-ups of the blossoms on their camera phones, or snapping their friends posing under the trees.

The seasons are cherished in Japan.

Autumn foliage and rice planting are celebrated, but the cherry blossoms are especially welcome.

In centuries past, aristocrats would walk under the trees or sit to compose poetry.

Blossom appreciation is part of the Japanese cultural tradition of “mono no aware”, perhaps best translated as an awareness of the fleeting nature of beauty and a bittersweet sadness at its passing.

Nowadays as spring approaches, an item appears on television each night after the weather forecast: the latest news on the progress of the cherry blossom front, as it moves north up the archipelago with the warmer weather.

The first blossoms were spotted on the island of Okinawa, far to the south in the sub-tropics, in early January.

In Tokyo, officials from the Japan Meteorological Agency keep a close watch on the Yasukuni Shrine.

It is a controversial memorial to almost 2.5 million people who dedicated their lives to Imperial Japan, particularly those who fell in World War II. Convicted war criminals are among those symbolically enshrined there.

Soldiers were often compared to the beautiful but short-lived blossoms, and many vowed to meet their comrades in spirit at Yasukuni if they were killed.

Among its many cherry blossom trees, the shrine contains one particularly famous example protected by a fence.

When it has five or six blooms, the season in Tokyo is officially declared to have begun and several weeks of lavish cherry blossom picnics get under way.

As I strolled through the park, groups in suits and ties were sitting cross-legged tucking into sushi, rice, noodles and sweet dumplings, all washed down with sake and beer.

One group hailed me to join in a drinking game. To chants of encouragement, we took turns to down glasses of shochu, a powerful Japanese spirit.

The gatherings grew raucous into the night under the blossoms which were lit up with lanterns.

Reserving a place in the crowded parks for the annual office party is an important task and usually assigned to the most junior employees.

Many firms take on new recruits at this time of year.

After they are welcomed at large, elaborate ceremonies – complete with group renditions of the company song – they are sent off with blue plastic sheets to stake out a good spot.

From early in the morning, young men – and some women – in new suits were industriously laying out their sheets.

They taped together cardboard boxes to make low tables.

This year the cherry blossom season has come as Japan stumbles into its worst post-war economic crisis.

Major manufacturers are in trouble, exports have halved of the cars and electronic gadgets that have powered Japan’s rise to become an industrial and technological powerhouse.

Along with profits, the old certainties of the Japanese way are being eroded.

Fewer young people are being taken on by the big companies to start a job for life.

Some firms have even revoked offers they have made, despite a government policy of publicly naming and shaming them.

So as the young recruits settled in for a long wait for their colleagues to arrive for the evening festivities (some had brought sleeping bags as protection against the chilly wind of early spring) one of them reflected to me: “I’m lucky to have a job.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 18/04/2009

UN: World’s forests facing tough tests


World forests face the dual challenge of climate change and the global economic crisis, a key UN report says.

On the BBC News website, environment reporter Mark Kinver said it suggested that although the economic slowdown might reduce deforestation rates in the short term, it was also likely to lead to other problems.

One concern, would be a lack of investment in the sector and in forestry management.

The study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was published on Monday.

It is timed to coincide with the start of UN World Forest Week.

CTS Nair, one of the report’s lead authors and the FAO Forestry Department’s chief economist, said the economic crisis was having “tremendous impacts – both positive and negative”.

“You will find the forestry industries in a number of countries almost on the verge of collapse,” he told BBC News.

For example, he said the construction of starter homes in the US and Canada had fallen from about two million units at the end of 2005 to less than 500,000 now.

This had led to a dramatic fall in the demand for wood products, which was affecting forest-based industries and export markets in developing nations.

However, Mr Nair added, the downturn was having some beneficial effects.

“We are seeing a decline in the prices of soya beans, palm oil and rubber etc,” he explained.

“The prices have fallen drastically, so this means that the incentives for cultivating these crops have also gone down.

“As a result, the pressure to clear primary forest stands is also declining.”

The report, State of the World’s Forests 2009, also showed that the health of forests varied from region to region of the world.

“We see advances being made in places like Europe, but losses being made in places like Africa and especially developing countries,” Mr Nair observed.

“For example, what we see in the case of Africa is that there is a growing population yet the productivity within agriculture has remained extremely low.

“There is very little diversification in terms of sources of income so there is a very high dependency level on land use and natural resources, such as timber.”

“On the other hand, in places such as Asia where there has been rapid economic growth, people have moved out of agriculture to some extent and the pressure on the land has declined.”

In recent years, the importance of the world’s forests as carbon sinks has featured prominently in global climate policy discussions.

An initiative called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (Redd), which is likely to involve developed nations paying tropical forest-rich nations not to cut down trees, appears to be gaining support.

Mr Nair gave the scheme a cautious welcome: “In theory, it is an excellent idea but its implementation is going to be extremely tricky.

“If you look at the people involved in forest clearing, it is different people in different regions.

“For example, in Latin America, it is largely cattle rangers and soya bean planters. In South-East Asia, it is palm oil and rubber plantations.

“What we find is that it is not the smallholders, it is the big players who are working within a global market.

“So far, only the issue of what it is trying to achieve has been examined, the issue of how we are going to implement it has not really been discussed or examined.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 16/03/2009

‘Bog oaks’ reveal ancient forest


Naturalists in south-eastern England say they have been astounded by the large number of ancient trees that have been found preserved in the peat soil of the Fens, the BBC News website reports.

Conservationists in Cambridgeshire say dozens of the “bog oaks” – which can be up to 40ft (12m) long – have been unearthed.

They say it is not unusual to encounter one or two during ploughing – but in some areas dozens have been found.

Conservationists say more may be discovered as the Fenland peat is drying out and oxidising.

The remains of a forest that existed after the ice age, the trees rotted and fell into the peat soil, providing a snapshot of ancient natural history.

It is believed that the peat is disappearing at the rate of about an inch a year.

Although the trees are known by the local name of bog oaks, they can also be yew or pine.

BBC environment correspondent Sarah Mukherjee said they look as though they have just been felled – although some are blue or dark red from the minerals they have absorbed.

Chris Gerard, from the Great Fen Project, says they are a fascinating example of how the area has changed.

“When the glaciers retreated, at that time the sea level was quite low and the Fen basin was a very dry area, and covered in woodland,” he added.

“With the rising sea levels, the rivers couldn’t get out to the sea so quickly, they started to flood the Fen basin and that created the big Fen wetland, which the Fens is really known for, and all the trees that existed then died and fell into that emerging peat soil.”

Paul Mason, from the Haddenham Conservation Society, said they were usually found in twos and threes at most.

“In my fifty years of experience of the Fens here I’ve never seen this many come up at any one time together,” he added.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 27/02/2009

Chad charcoal ban enflames public


A ban on the use of charcoal in Chad is making life hard for people already struggling with high food prices, reports BBC News reporter Celeste Hicks.

Families are being forced to burn furniture, cow dung, rubbish and roots of plants in order to cook.

Since the clampdown was announced – officially in order to help the environment – charcoal has become almost impossible to find.

“I’m using wild products which I’ve harvested, such as palm fruits,” said Nangali Helene, who lives in the capital N’Djamena.

“But they make us ill – they don’t burn properly and they give off a horrid smoke and smell. Last night we started burning the beams from the roof of our outhouse.”

The price of a small bundle of dead wood has shot up from a few hundred CFA francs to 5,000F CFA ($12; £8).

Feelings are running high in the city, with the main opposition coalition organising a peaceful mass action over the next few days.

“We want people to bang on their empty cooking pots every morning to show solidarity for one another,” said Saleh Kebzabo, from the Coalition of Parties for the Defence of the Constitution.

For the moment, street demonstrations are out of the question – a planned rally by women was called off last week when they were denied permission.

Women who did show up claimed they were intimidated by a heavy police presence.

The government says the ban is to deal with an “extraordinary” threat of desertification in Chad, which straddles the Sahel, the semi-arid region bordering the Sahara.

At the forefront of climate change, the environment ministry says more than 60% of Chad’s natural tree cover has been lost due to indiscriminate cutting of trees for charcoal.

“Chadians must be aware of this problem,” said Environment Minister Ali Souleiman Dabye.

“If we don’t do something soon, we will wake up one day and there will be no trees. Then what will people burn?”

But although many people say they understand the need to protect the environment, it is the speed with which the ban has come into effect that has caused such anger.

Late last year, police began seizing trucks carrying charcoal, saying they were illegal.

Several trucks and their contents were set on fire on the outskirts of N’Djamena, but the government denies responsibility for the destruction.

Within weeks prices rocketed and then charcoal disappeared from the market.

The alternatives proposed by the government may seem unrealistic to the average Chadian.

“It’s only in the last 10 years that Chadians have become reliant on charcoal, they can soon learn to adapt to something else,” said the environment minister, keenly expounding the virtues of gas.

But 95% of people do not have gas appliances, and even those that do have to travel to Cameroon to find canisters.

Rumours abound in the local media of women setting themselves on fire because they do not know how to use gas properly.

A deal recently signed between the government and a Nigerian businessman to start cooking gas deliveries is too little too late for Marie Larlem, co-ordinator of the Chadian Association for the Promotion of Fundamental Liberty.

“We understand the need to protect the environment but we find it bizarre that the measures are so brutal and so sudden – no-one was given any warning.

“Why didn’t they do this earlier? Our people have been through enough”.

Chad’s government says there are no plans to relax the ban.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 27/01/2009

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