Climate drives Lebanon’s cedars up the mountains

Environmentalists are concerned that climate change could affect Lebanon’s emblematic cedar trees, writes Bethany Bell on the BBC News website.

Cedar forests once covered the mountains of Lebanon. But the trees’ wood and resin have been prized since the days of the Ancient Egyptians.

Over the centuries, the trees (Cedrus libani) have been cut down by everyone from the Phoenicians to the Ottomans to the modern Lebanese themselves.

These days most of Lebanon’s cedars are protected, but now there is concern that the trees face a new threat.

A quarter of Lebanon’s cedars are found in the Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve, in the mountains south-east of Beirut.

Its scientific co-ordinator, Nizar Hani, says global warming could affect the growth of new trees:

“The impact of climate change on the cedar forests of Lebanon will be on natural regeneration because we will have a lack of snow.

“Secondly, there could be an increase of diseases and insect infections because of warmer temperatures.”

The cedar’s natural range is now 1,200-1,800 metres (4,000-6,000 feet) above sea level.

Mr Hani says a warmer climate would mean the trees could only survive at higher altitudes.

“Things could be difficult because the highest point on this mountain is 2,000 metres above sea level, so the cedar forests in Lebanon could disappear,” he warns.

But he stresses these are just predictions:

“Till now, we have healthy cedar forests, especially here in the Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve.”

The reserve is attempting to take action to limit the impact of rising temperatures.

Nizar Hani says isolated populations of trees will be more affected by climate change, so increasing the area of the cedar forests could help.

“We are trying to plant new cedar forests – we have a project to plant 100,000 seedlings.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 28/08/2008


UK woodland birds ‘in decline’

The latest Breeding Bird Survey for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), in partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, has highlighted a significant decline in woodland bird species, writes the blog.

It says that the annual survey has revealed numbers down by more than 50% in several species, the worst hit being the willow tit down by 77%.

The reason for the decline is not obvious, the blog adds.

“It isn’t due to loss of habitat – there is more woodland in the UK today than there has ever been, and, on the whole, modern woodland management is more sympathetic to environmental concerns.

“The Farm Woodland Scheme and Farm Woodland Premium Scheme have also encouraged the planting of small woodlands.”

It suggests the fall in breeding woodland bird species may be the result of a change to the composition and structure of the UK’s woodlands.

“Traditional methods of management such as coppicing provide a perfect habitat for warblers and nightingales, for instance,” reports.

“The coppicing process whereby the wood is regularly cut back creates open woodland with plenty of undergrowth for nesting. Where coppice is left to grow unchecked, eventually the canopy closes and the undergrowth is shaded out.

“Mature woodland with a closed canopy supports tree-dwelling birds such as the woodpecker, but offers a less diverse selection of species overall.”

The blog highlights a possible connection between the fall in bird numbers and the growing population of deer: “Many woodland species like the woodland edges and open areas where there is shrubby, low-level cover.

“An explosion in the number of deer in the UK has had a noticeable impact on just this sort of habitat through grazing at the herb and low shrub level. It is quite likely that this is making a serious impact on woodland bird numbers.”

Migration has also been suggested as a factor.

Several British woodland birds, such as the wood warbler, are annual summer visitors that overwinter in sub-Saharan Africa. It has been suggested that drought in that region may be having an effect.

Citing studies in the Netherlands, the blog post by Catherine also suggested that reduction of habitat quality through traffic noise from nearby roads could have significantly affected local woodland bird populations.


Date: 22/08/2008

UN talks focus on deforestation

The latest round of UN climate talks in Ghana are making progress on ways to help developing nations slow deforestation, reports Alister Doyle, Reuter’s environment correspondent.

He added that delegates said the talks had also eased disputes over use of greenhouse gas targets for industrial sectors.

“It’s moving pretty well now,” Yvo de Boer, head of the UN climate secretariat, told reporters at the week-long talks.

The meeting in Accra is being held to develop a road-map for a new global climate agreement to replace the current Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

“We’re getting beyond some of the rhetoric,” he said of the 160-nation meeting among about 1,500 delegates.

“People are beginning to understand each other better.”

Accra is focusing largely on ways to encourage tropical developing nations to slow the rate of deforestation and debating whether industries such as steel, aluminium or cement should have international benchmarks for efficiency.

“The Accra meeting has been very successful so far,” said Luiz Figueiredo Machado, a Brazilian expert chairing talks on new ways for countries ranging from the United States to China to curb emissions.

Accra is not meant to end with any firm agreements.

Many delegates left the last session, in Germany in June, saying the talks were lagging in an assault on climate change that could drive more species to extinction, bring more desertification, floods, heatwaves and rising seas.

Source: Reuters

Date: 25/08/2008

Climate change ‘killing California’s trees’

Warmer temperatures and longer dry spells have killed thousands of trees and shrubs in a Southern California mountain range, US research shows.

A study by scientists at the University of California, Irvine also found that the shift in climate had pushed the plants’ habitat an average of 65 metres (213ft) up the mountain over the past 30 years.

A Science Daily report said the study showed that white fir and Jeffrey pine trees died at the lower altitudes of their growth range in the Santa Rosa Mountains, from 1,950 metres to as high as 2,195 metres (6,400 to 7,200ft).

It also found that California lilacs had died out between 1,220 to 1,460 metres (4,000 to 4,800ft).

The researchers also showed that almost all of the plants examined in the study had crept up the mountain by a similar distance, countering the belief that slower-growing trees would move more slowly than faster-growing grasses and wildflowers.

This study, the researchers said, was the first to show directly the impact of climate change on a mountainous ecosystem by physically studying the location of plants.

They added that it offered an insight into what could occur globally if the Earth’s temperature continued to rise.

The finding also had implications for forest management, the team reported, as it ruled out air pollution and fire suppression as main causes of plant death.

“Plants are dying out at the bottom of their ranges, and at the tops of their ranges they seem to be growing in and doing much better,” said lead author Anne Kelly, lead and a graduate student from the university’s Department of Earth System Science.

“The only thing that could explain this happening across the entire face of the mountain would be a change in the local climate.”

The study was published in the online section of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Source: Science Daily

Date: 15/08/2008

Trees ‘can cut emissions from poultry farms’

Planting just three rows of trees around poultry farms can cut nuisance emissions of dust, ammonia, and odours from poultry houses and help reduce complaints from neighbouring properties, US researchers suggest.

A Science Daily article quotes George Malone from the University of Delaware as saying the tree barrier can cut some of the emissions by almost a half.

Dr Malone presented his findings at the annual conference of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

The team of researchers said planting vegetation could reduce ammonia and particulates that may degrade surrounding air and water quality.

“We were aware of the concerns locally,” said Malone. “We looked at what we could do to address them and the whole area of air quality as it relates to the emission of ammonia from poultry houses.”

In response, they proposed planting trees to serve as a vegetative filter that could capture emissions from family-run farms, which can house an average of 75,000 chickens.

In their six-year study, Dr Malone and his team found that a three-row plot of trees of various species and sizes reduced total dust by 56% percent, ammonia by 53%, and odour levels were cut by about 18%.

However, Dr Malone added that certain tree species were more effective as barriers than others.

“We’ve certainly been on a learning curve since 2001 about the different plant materials suitable for this practice,” he said.

“We typically recommend the first row nearest the fans to be either a deciduous tree or a tree with a waxy leaf surface and the other two rows be an evergreen.

“It’s very important to realise there are a number of criteria that you use in tree selection and planting design. What works for our soil types and climate on the Delmarva Peninsula may not be suitable for other locations.”

The living filter system also has other benefits, the University of Delaware researcher noted.

For instance, it conserves energy by increasing shade and cooling in the summer and acts as a buffer to reduce heating costs in the winter.

Not only do trees enhance air quality, they also improve the water quality around poultry farms because they can filter pollutants from soil and groundwater.

Source: Science Daily

Date: 22/08/2008

Yew cuttings help cancer research

An operation is under way to prune the yew hedges at an estate in Wales, and help the fight against cancer at the same time, the BBC News website reports.

The annual task at Chirk Castle takes up to eight weeks to finish, and results in about three tonnes of clippings.

They are then bought by a company which transports them to be processed into chemotherapy drugs.

The castle’s head gardener, David Lock, said it was “brilliant” to think they were helping develop anti-cancer drugs.

The drugs docetaxel and paclitaxel are developed from yew trees.

Both drugs can also be made synthetically, but yew needles are still collected and used across Britain.

At Chirk, they are bought and collected by Doncaster-based Friendship Estates, which claims they are used as the raw material for anti-cancer drugs, particularly breast and ovarian cancers.

The company’s website said clippings should be one year’s growth, because the required chemical is concentrated in greener areas of the plant.

The statuesque hedges, which line the main gardens and are dotted throughout 11 acres of grounds, were planted in 1872.

The castle, built by Edward I, is more than 700 years old and is surrounded by 500 acres of parkland.

Debbie Coats, clinical information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “There are two common chemotherapy drugs developed from Yew trees.

“One of them, docetaxel (Taxotere), first made from the needles of the European yew. The other, paclitaxel (Taxol) and was made from the bark of the Pacific yew.

“These are used to treat some breast, prostate and ovarian cancers. Both drugs are manufactured in the lab but the needles are collected and sold to the drug industry for this purpose.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 18/08/2008

Six key Scottish species get woodland aid

A programme has been launched to help six key species flourish in woodlands across Scotland, reports the BBC’s Giancarlo Rinaldi.

Forestry Commission Scotland’s new biodiversity plan aims to create “stronger, more adaptable ecosystems”.

It identifies the capercaillie, black grouse, red squirrel, pearl-bordered fritillary, chequered skipper butterfly and juniper as important species.

Scottish Environment Minister Mike Russell launched the plan at the Carrick Forest in Dumfries and Galloway.

He said Scotland’s forests had a key part to play in protecting endangered species.

The criteria for selecting the six species as priorities include:

  • All declining and/or threatened but still widely distributed
  • Scotland holds a large proportion of the UK population
  • Forestry is important to their habitats
  • Managing of these species should have wider biodiversity benefits

“Woodlands – and the open spaces within them – have a vital contribution to make towards conserving Scotland’s threatened habitats and species,” Mr Russell is reported as saying.

“We are very fortunate in Scotland to enjoy a wealth of biodiversity that is for the most part robust and healthy.

“However, some elements are extremely fragile and making sure that they thrive will require some large-scale thinking and landscape scale vision – both of which are forestry sector strengths.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 21/08/2008

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