Flood risk reduced and wildlife brimming over along the Ribble estuary

A new reserve that creates new saltmarsh habitat and also ensures stronger sea defences by a process known as ‘managed realignment’ was opened yesterday. The £6 million scheme at Hesketh, in Lancashire, is a partnership project between the RSPB, Natural England and the Environment Agency.

 

The RSPB’s Hesketh Out Marsh Reserve and Natural England’s Ribble Estuary National Nature Reserve (NNR), near Southport, are a real world demonstration of the joint strategy for NNRs.

 

The Environment Agency has breached the banks at Hesketh Outmarsh East (HOME) and Natural England are now launching the joint strategy. This important work has been made possible by almost £2million funding from Landfill Communities Fund monies from FCC Environment through WREN, and by £3.7million Government funding to reduce flood risk.

 

On completion, the full RSPB Hesketh Out Marsh Reserve will include 340 hectares of saltmarsh and will be the largest site of its kind in the north of England. The Reserve will be designated as part of the existing Ribble Estuary National Nature Reserve later in 2017, and the RSPB and Natural England will jointly manage both sites as effectively one large reserve, alongside the Lytham and District Wildfowlers Association who support the management of the north side of the NNR. The Ribble Estuary NNR is already England’s third largest National Nature Reserve, and the most important single estuary site in the country for birds.

 

Work at Hesketh Out Marsh East (HOME) has involved strengthening and raising the height of 2km of flood banks. This has reduced the flood risk to more than 140 properties and 300 hectares of prime farmland nearby.

 

Natural England Chair, Andrew Sells said: “England’s National Nature Reserves are the most special places for nature and geodiversity, and improve the wellbeing of over 17m annual visitors. The launch of the new joint NNR Strategy will demonstrate latest approaches for creating landscapes that deliver more public benefits such as people’s health and wellbeing, and enabling wildlife to spill over and enrich the surrounding countryside.”

 

“By working in partnership across the environmental sector we are able to deliver more wildlife and more places for people to engage with it, along with other benefits such as natural flood alleviation, such as here on the Ribble”

 

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, said: “Hesketh is a win, win scenario – a fantastic scheme which not only works with nature to reduce flood risk but also brings benefits the wider environment and local communities. Through partnership working we can achieve more and Hesketh proves that.”

 

 

Robin Horner, RSPB Area Manager said: “We’re delighted to be celebrating this partnership work and all that has been achieved through this project. These improved coastal defences, fronted by saltmarsh, deliver much needed local climate change adaptation and provide invaluable new wildlife habitat close to Britain’s most important single river estuary for birds.” 

 

여성분들 밤알바나 유흥알바찾을때 어디를 찾으시나요? 제가볼때는 여우알바나 호박알바 를 찾는것이 가장 좋다고 생각됩니다. 왜냐면 업계 1등이거든요 근데 호박알바에선 이벤트도 많이하고 참 좋은거 같아요 Read about the science about great looking hair by reading this blog.

Elinor Ostrom, her Nobel Prize, and her rules for ecologist radicals

Elinor Ostrom became the first and, so far, the only woman to win a Nobel Prize for Economics in 2009. The pedantic remind me that there isn’t really a Nobel in economics; to be exact, she won the Swedish National Bank’s Prize for economics in memory of Alfred Nobel.  

In fact, while economics was in the title, perhaps it might be better to think of her winning a prize in Ecology. Elinor, an American from California who died in 2012, was a dedicated ecologist, driven by a passion to protect and conserve our beautiful planet.

Elinor won the prize for her work on commons and sustainability.  A commons is a collectively owned area of property such as grazing land for cattle or sheep, or a forest or fishery.

Collective ownership

In 1968 the biologist Garrett Hardin published his famous essay ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’.  He argued that resources and land owned as commons would inevitably be wrecked. For example, over grazing by cattle would lead to soil erosion and the land would be destroyed.

Elinor, who met Garrett Hardin when he lectured at the Bloomington campus of Indiana University where she worked, had different ideas. She knew that far from being tragic, commons often worked well.

She dedicated her life to studying real world commons and looking at how to conserve them. Hardin, whom she had around for dinner and fed hamburgers, argued that unless the commons were taken over by the government or privatised, they would be destroyed. She instead argued that local people collectively owning a resource tend to conserve it.

Those people know that unless they cooperate, for example by agreeing to ration out how many cattle each commoner could graze, they would not have a sustainable future.

Elinor found that local communities were often more knowledgeable about ecology than government officials. She also felt that privatising resources might fail too, with short term profit being more important than long term sustainability. She believed that local knowledge wasn’t everything: letting local people know about the most up to date research from scientific ecologists was vital too.

A meaningful life

She was a member of the Ecological Society of America, arguing that economists had to be aware of ecological science to promote real prosperity.  She was a true green, long before the term was used or Green parties or groups like Friends of the Earth had been created.

For example, she argued that to conserve the environment, we need to consume less and rethink our lifestyles. She was proud that as a child in the 1930s and 40s she helped her mother grow food and can peaches, to get through the economic depression and war years.

She noted: “We need to get people away from the notion that you have to have a fancy car and a huge house. Some of the homes that have been built in the last 10 years just appall me. Why do humans need huge homes? I was born poor and I didn’t know you bought clothes at anything but the Goodwill until I went to college.

“Some of our mentality about what it means to have a good life is, I think, not going to help us in the next 50 years. We have to think through how to choose a meaningful life where we’re helping one another in ways that really help the Earth.”

She also argued that politics tended to be too short term, and was an advocate of the Seven Generation Rule, noting that indigenous peoples in North America promoted the idea of thinking of future generations.

Wisdom of local people

However, her radical green commitments were based not merely on good sentiments, but on sound science. She was concerned with local environments, but also global issues such as climate change and air pollution.

She argued that to solve such problems we need to take notice of both social and natural sciences. Her work on the commons and economics was based on the economics of cooperation. She noted that human beings are neither intrinsically selfish nor intrinsically sharing. Instead, if the right rules and practices were put in place, cooperation and conservation could be encouraged.

Her vision was to use detailed research to try and help us make the best of ourselves. Her research involved listening and learning from the grassroots, finding out the wisdom of local people.

Despite her commitment to science and research, she was passionately committed to environmental issues, practical peace making and grassroots democracy.  But her values were based not on slogans and utopian wishes, but dogged practical work. On the day she died of pancreatic cancer, on 12th June, 2012, she was still helping her students and promoting her ecological solutions.

It is difficult to sum up all her contributions, her approach was both far reaching and radical, but her Nobel win is a reminder that perhaps we need an Ecology prize and that other economists might learn a greener approach from Elinor’s philosophy.

This Author

Derek Wall is International Coordinator of the Green Party of England and Wales (job sharing with Jessica Northey) and a parish councillor in Berkshire. His new book, Elinor Ostrom’s Rules for Radicals is due to be published by Pluto this October.

 

Animal acoustic activity decline shows forest fire pollution wreaks havoc on wildlife

Forest fires in Southeast Asia during the El Niño droughts of 2015 caused considerable disruption to the biodiversity of the region due to the smoke-induced ‘haze’ they created, according to new research led by Benjamin Lee at the University of Kent and the National Parks Board in Singapore.

In the first study of its kind Benjamin, who completed his PhD at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at Kent, monitored wildlife acoustic activity in Singapore before, during and after the major forest fires that hit the region in 2015.

The data showed there was a dramatic drop in acoustic activity by as much as 37.5% during the haze as animals were affected by the pollution. It took a further 16 weeks after the haze had dissipated before acoustic levels showed even a partial recovery.

The worst on record

Furthermore, the researchers said it is highly likely the damage to wildlife was even greater in locations closer to the fires, where air pollution levels were 15-times higher than those in Singapore.

Tropical Asia experiences fires and haze annually, which cause significant human health problems and economic damage across the region. The 2015 event was one of the worst on record.

The findings indicate that large-scale air pollution events, such as those caused by forest or peatland fires, have a far greater impact on biodiversity that previously thought and that preventing such events occurring is paramount.

Benjamin was assisted in his research by Dr Matthew Struebig and Dr Zoe Davies from DICE. The paper, Smoke pollution disrupted biodiversity during the 2015 El Niño fires in Southeast Asia, has been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

This Author

Brendan Montague is Acting Editor of The Ecologist and can be found on twitter at @EcoMontague

 

Appeal to save ice age heritage of Scotland’s national tree

The charity Trees for Life has launched an initiative to save ancient Scots pines across the Highlands of Scotland from becoming the last generation in a lineage of trees dating back to the last ice age.

Through its Caledonian Pinewood Recovery Project, the conservationists wants to help restore 50 areas of remnant and neglected pinewoods – mainly made up of lone, ancient ‘Granny’ pines which are over 200 years old but dying as they stand, with no young trees to succeed them.

The fragments – scattered over a large area – face growing threats from overgrazing by deer, tree diseases and climate change, and are at risk of disappearing forever over the next few years. If they are allowed to die, the extraordinary wildlife dependent on them – such as crossbills and capercaillie – will be lost too.

Scotland’s national tree

Thanks to support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Trees for Life has already raised £150,000 for the ambitious project. It now needs to raise at least £20,000 from the public to be able to start the work.

“The Scots pine is Scotland’s national tree and symbolises the Caledonian Forest – but the last fragments of these ancient pinewoods are dying. Without action, the chance to bring back the wild forest could slip away forever, with only the skeletons of these special trees revealing where a rich woodland once grew,” said Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s chief executive.

“We are determined to ensure these trees are not the last generation of Scots pine in these places. This project is one of our biggest and most crucial initiatives ever, and every donation will help save these precious fragments of our natural heritage.”

In total, only some 42,000 acres of the original Caledonian pinewoods remain in 84 fragments, spread across a wide area from Loch Lomond, northwards to near Ullapool, and eastwards to Glen Ferrick near Aberdeen.

Regenerate the forest

Some of these have been largely restored, but – based on a review of previous studies by Forestry Commission Scotland and the UK Government – Trees for Life believes that at least 50 are declining and could disappear within a generation. Where seeds manage to germinate, the resulting saplings are grazed and killed by deer.

The forest fragments are also isolated from each other, which is bad news for wildlife. Red squirrels can’t reach and colonise restored woodlands from where they have been lost, while the rare capercaillie is rapidly declining in Scotland as there is too little connected forest to enable these birds to reach a stable population.

Funds will enable Trees for Life to produce detailed plans on how to save each remnant so that a new generation of Scots pine can grow, and to establish where pinewoods need to expand to survive changes caused by climate change. The charity also wants to develop innovative ways to regenerate the forest, including through mutually beneficial discussions with landowners.

Action will help ensure that young Scots pine trees are soon growing among the Granny pines. This will provide a renewed forest that is more resilient to threats, with pinewood fragments successfully joined up – making them large enough to provide a good home for the unique wildlife only they can support.

This Author

Brendan Montague is Acting Editor of The Ecologist website, and tweets at @EcoMontague.

To support the project, visit www.treesforlife.org.uk/appeal or call 01309 691292.

 

Appeal to save ice age heritage of Scotland’s national tree

The charity Trees for Life has launched an initiative to save ancient Scots pines across the Highlands of Scotland from becoming the last generation in a lineage of trees dating back to the last ice age.

Through its Caledonian Pinewood Recovery Project, the conservationists wants to help restore 50 areas of remnant and neglected pinewoods – mainly made up of lone, ancient ‘Granny’ pines which are over 200 years old but dying as they stand, with no young trees to succeed them.

The fragments – scattered over a large area – face growing threats from overgrazing by deer, tree diseases and climate change, and are at risk of disappearing forever over the next few years. If they are allowed to die, the extraordinary wildlife dependent on them – such as crossbills and capercaillie – will be lost too.

Scotland’s national tree

Thanks to support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Trees for Life has already raised £150,000 for the ambitious project. It now needs to raise at least £20,000 from the public to be able to start the work.

“The Scots pine is Scotland’s national tree and symbolises the Caledonian Forest – but the last fragments of these ancient pinewoods are dying. Without action, the chance to bring back the wild forest could slip away forever, with only the skeletons of these special trees revealing where a rich woodland once grew,” said Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s chief executive.

“We are determined to ensure these trees are not the last generation of Scots pine in these places. This project is one of our biggest and most crucial initiatives ever, and every donation will help save these precious fragments of our natural heritage.”

In total, only some 42,000 acres of the original Caledonian pinewoods remain in 84 fragments, spread across a wide area from Loch Lomond, northwards to near Ullapool, and eastwards to Glen Ferrick near Aberdeen.

Regenerate the forest

Some of these have been largely restored, but – based on a review of previous studies by Forestry Commission Scotland and the UK Government – Trees for Life believes that at least 50 are declining and could disappear within a generation. Where seeds manage to germinate, the resulting saplings are grazed and killed by deer.

The forest fragments are also isolated from each other, which is bad news for wildlife. Red squirrels can’t reach and colonise restored woodlands from where they have been lost, while the rare capercaillie is rapidly declining in Scotland as there is too little connected forest to enable these birds to reach a stable population.

Funds will enable Trees for Life to produce detailed plans on how to save each remnant so that a new generation of Scots pine can grow, and to establish where pinewoods need to expand to survive changes caused by climate change. The charity also wants to develop innovative ways to regenerate the forest, including through mutually beneficial discussions with landowners.

Action will help ensure that young Scots pine trees are soon growing among the Granny pines. This will provide a renewed forest that is more resilient to threats, with pinewood fragments successfully joined up – making them large enough to provide a good home for the unique wildlife only they can support.

This Author

Brendan Montague is Acting Editor of The Ecologist website, and tweets at @EcoMontague.

To support the project, visit www.treesforlife.org.uk/appeal or call 01309 691292.

 

Appeal to save ice age heritage of Scotland’s national tree

The charity Trees for Life has launched an initiative to save ancient Scots pines across the Highlands of Scotland from becoming the last generation in a lineage of trees dating back to the last ice age.

Through its Caledonian Pinewood Recovery Project, the conservationists wants to help restore 50 areas of remnant and neglected pinewoods – mainly made up of lone, ancient ‘Granny’ pines which are over 200 years old but dying as they stand, with no young trees to succeed them.

The fragments – scattered over a large area – face growing threats from overgrazing by deer, tree diseases and climate change, and are at risk of disappearing forever over the next few years. If they are allowed to die, the extraordinary wildlife dependent on them – such as crossbills and capercaillie – will be lost too.

Scotland’s national tree

Thanks to support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Trees for Life has already raised £150,000 for the ambitious project. It now needs to raise at least £20,000 from the public to be able to start the work.

“The Scots pine is Scotland’s national tree and symbolises the Caledonian Forest – but the last fragments of these ancient pinewoods are dying. Without action, the chance to bring back the wild forest could slip away forever, with only the skeletons of these special trees revealing where a rich woodland once grew,” said Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s chief executive.

“We are determined to ensure these trees are not the last generation of Scots pine in these places. This project is one of our biggest and most crucial initiatives ever, and every donation will help save these precious fragments of our natural heritage.”

In total, only some 42,000 acres of the original Caledonian pinewoods remain in 84 fragments, spread across a wide area from Loch Lomond, northwards to near Ullapool, and eastwards to Glen Ferrick near Aberdeen.

Regenerate the forest

Some of these have been largely restored, but – based on a review of previous studies by Forestry Commission Scotland and the UK Government – Trees for Life believes that at least 50 are declining and could disappear within a generation. Where seeds manage to germinate, the resulting saplings are grazed and killed by deer.

The forest fragments are also isolated from each other, which is bad news for wildlife. Red squirrels can’t reach and colonise restored woodlands from where they have been lost, while the rare capercaillie is rapidly declining in Scotland as there is too little connected forest to enable these birds to reach a stable population.

Funds will enable Trees for Life to produce detailed plans on how to save each remnant so that a new generation of Scots pine can grow, and to establish where pinewoods need to expand to survive changes caused by climate change. The charity also wants to develop innovative ways to regenerate the forest, including through mutually beneficial discussions with landowners.

Action will help ensure that young Scots pine trees are soon growing among the Granny pines. This will provide a renewed forest that is more resilient to threats, with pinewood fragments successfully joined up – making them large enough to provide a good home for the unique wildlife only they can support.

This Author

Brendan Montague is Acting Editor of The Ecologist website, and tweets at @EcoMontague.

To support the project, visit www.treesforlife.org.uk/appeal or call 01309 691292.

 

Appeal to save ice age heritage of Scotland’s national tree

The charity Trees for Life has launched an initiative to save ancient Scots pines across the Highlands of Scotland from becoming the last generation in a lineage of trees dating back to the last ice age.

Through its Caledonian Pinewood Recovery Project, the conservationists wants to help restore 50 areas of remnant and neglected pinewoods – mainly made up of lone, ancient ‘Granny’ pines which are over 200 years old but dying as they stand, with no young trees to succeed them.

The fragments – scattered over a large area – face growing threats from overgrazing by deer, tree diseases and climate change, and are at risk of disappearing forever over the next few years. If they are allowed to die, the extraordinary wildlife dependent on them – such as crossbills and capercaillie – will be lost too.

Scotland’s national tree

Thanks to support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Trees for Life has already raised £150,000 for the ambitious project. It now needs to raise at least £20,000 from the public to be able to start the work.

“The Scots pine is Scotland’s national tree and symbolises the Caledonian Forest – but the last fragments of these ancient pinewoods are dying. Without action, the chance to bring back the wild forest could slip away forever, with only the skeletons of these special trees revealing where a rich woodland once grew,” said Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s chief executive.

“We are determined to ensure these trees are not the last generation of Scots pine in these places. This project is one of our biggest and most crucial initiatives ever, and every donation will help save these precious fragments of our natural heritage.”

In total, only some 42,000 acres of the original Caledonian pinewoods remain in 84 fragments, spread across a wide area from Loch Lomond, northwards to near Ullapool, and eastwards to Glen Ferrick near Aberdeen.

Regenerate the forest

Some of these have been largely restored, but – based on a review of previous studies by Forestry Commission Scotland and the UK Government – Trees for Life believes that at least 50 are declining and could disappear within a generation. Where seeds manage to germinate, the resulting saplings are grazed and killed by deer.

The forest fragments are also isolated from each other, which is bad news for wildlife. Red squirrels can’t reach and colonise restored woodlands from where they have been lost, while the rare capercaillie is rapidly declining in Scotland as there is too little connected forest to enable these birds to reach a stable population.

Funds will enable Trees for Life to produce detailed plans on how to save each remnant so that a new generation of Scots pine can grow, and to establish where pinewoods need to expand to survive changes caused by climate change. The charity also wants to develop innovative ways to regenerate the forest, including through mutually beneficial discussions with landowners.

Action will help ensure that young Scots pine trees are soon growing among the Granny pines. This will provide a renewed forest that is more resilient to threats, with pinewood fragments successfully joined up – making them large enough to provide a good home for the unique wildlife only they can support.

This Author

Brendan Montague is Acting Editor of The Ecologist website, and tweets at @EcoMontague.

To support the project, visit www.treesforlife.org.uk/appeal or call 01309 691292.

 

Appeal to save ice age heritage of Scotland’s national tree

The charity Trees for Life has launched an initiative to save ancient Scots pines across the Highlands of Scotland from becoming the last generation in a lineage of trees dating back to the last ice age.

Through its Caledonian Pinewood Recovery Project, the conservationists wants to help restore 50 areas of remnant and neglected pinewoods – mainly made up of lone, ancient ‘Granny’ pines which are over 200 years old but dying as they stand, with no young trees to succeed them.

The fragments – scattered over a large area – face growing threats from overgrazing by deer, tree diseases and climate change, and are at risk of disappearing forever over the next few years. If they are allowed to die, the extraordinary wildlife dependent on them – such as crossbills and capercaillie – will be lost too.

Scotland’s national tree

Thanks to support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Trees for Life has already raised £150,000 for the ambitious project. It now needs to raise at least £20,000 from the public to be able to start the work.

“The Scots pine is Scotland’s national tree and symbolises the Caledonian Forest – but the last fragments of these ancient pinewoods are dying. Without action, the chance to bring back the wild forest could slip away forever, with only the skeletons of these special trees revealing where a rich woodland once grew,” said Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s chief executive.

“We are determined to ensure these trees are not the last generation of Scots pine in these places. This project is one of our biggest and most crucial initiatives ever, and every donation will help save these precious fragments of our natural heritage.”

In total, only some 42,000 acres of the original Caledonian pinewoods remain in 84 fragments, spread across a wide area from Loch Lomond, northwards to near Ullapool, and eastwards to Glen Ferrick near Aberdeen.

Regenerate the forest

Some of these have been largely restored, but – based on a review of previous studies by Forestry Commission Scotland and the UK Government – Trees for Life believes that at least 50 are declining and could disappear within a generation. Where seeds manage to germinate, the resulting saplings are grazed and killed by deer.

The forest fragments are also isolated from each other, which is bad news for wildlife. Red squirrels can’t reach and colonise restored woodlands from where they have been lost, while the rare capercaillie is rapidly declining in Scotland as there is too little connected forest to enable these birds to reach a stable population.

Funds will enable Trees for Life to produce detailed plans on how to save each remnant so that a new generation of Scots pine can grow, and to establish where pinewoods need to expand to survive changes caused by climate change. The charity also wants to develop innovative ways to regenerate the forest, including through mutually beneficial discussions with landowners.

Action will help ensure that young Scots pine trees are soon growing among the Granny pines. This will provide a renewed forest that is more resilient to threats, with pinewood fragments successfully joined up – making them large enough to provide a good home for the unique wildlife only they can support.

This Author

Brendan Montague is Acting Editor of The Ecologist website, and tweets at @EcoMontague.

To support the project, visit www.treesforlife.org.uk/appeal or call 01309 691292.

 

Portugal’s perfect fire-storm: Industrial tree plantations and climate change

A huge wildfire tore through the village of Ferraria de São João, in Penela, central Portugal in June last year. Exactly two months after the excavators were back.

Only this time they weren’t there to plough up the land to plant eucalyptus, as has happened to so much of the land around the village. They were there to dig the trees up.

While Portugal’s politicians squabbled over failed forestry policy in the aftermath of the fire, residents of Ferraria de São João acted quickly.

Oaks and chestnuts

They decided unanimously to create a 500 metre “Village Protection Zone”, where fire-prone plantation species like eucalyptus and pine would be uprooted, and a protective barrier of fire-resistant, native species like oaks and chestnuts would be planted instead.

Ferraria de São João was relatively lucky. An existing area of native cork oaks above the village saved many houses from the fire.

Other places suffered more extensive damage when, on the 17th June, central Portugal suffered it’s first “fire-storm”, leaving 64 people dead, injuring many more, and destroying vast areas of countryside.

Emergency services were caught by surprise – traditionally the fire season in Portugal starts in late July. This tragedy was the worst fire event in Portugal’s history, and left the nation wondering how it could possibly have happened. 

The fire was caused by a dry thunderstorm during an intense heatwave and severe drought, where temperature records were smashed throughout the country.

Out of control wildfires

It spread at great speed due to the high winds, and because of this many places could not be evacuated in time. Many people caught up in the fire had to seek refuge in basements or water tanks, and many more fought the fires themselves.

It was eventually extinguished a week later after almost 50,000 hectares had burned, affecting nine different municipalities. 

This fire set the tone for the rest of the summer. So far in 2017 almost 280,000 hectares have burned, an area six times the average for the past decade, and equivalent to around 12% of Portugal’s forested areas.

On some days over 200 fires were recorded in the country, with thousands of firefighters fighting multiple out-of-control wildfires in different parts of central and northern Portugal.

Thick smoke, the smell of burning wood, and the sight of fire-fighting aeroplanes in the skies, drafted in from across Europe, have become ubiquitous.

Hot summers 

The area of central Portugal that has been most impacted by the fires this year is known as the “Interior Pine Forest”, but eucalyptus is now the dominant species.

As an example of how extensively it has been planted in some areas, consider that around 70% of the area that burned in June was covered in eucalyptus and pine plantation.

Eucalyptus grows well in Portugal because of the hot summers and wet winters, and the powerful pulp and paper industry has taken full advantage of this.

A combination of appalling forestry policy, lack of any enforcement at the local level, and a depopulated and abandoned countryside has meant that eucalyptus plantations now cover huge areas of central and northern Portugal.

In fact, Portugal has more eucalyptus than any other country in the world proportionally, and more than any country in Europe in absolute terms, despite being a relatively small place. In some areas you can drive for hours through eucalyptus plantations.

Rivers and streams

This has been to the complete detriment of Portugal’s natural forests, wildlife, and communities that rely on precious spring water. Nothing eats eucalyptus here – not even goats.

The trees are so successful and invasive as the oils they give off actually prevent other plants from growing near them, and prevent animals and soil organisms from living on their leaf litter.

Eucalyptus plantations are “green deserts”, devoid of biodiversity, exhausting the soils they are grown in. After a site has had eucalyptus planted, been cut three times, then replanted, and cut another two or three times, as is the custom here, not even more eucalyptus can survive in the soils that are left behind.

Compounding this is the practice of “rip-ploughing”, where hillsides are ploughed on contour with bulldozers, literally scraping off any top soil and plant life before new plantations are created.

Eucalyptus is also highly water intensive, sucking up hundreds of litres a day where it can, reducing water flow in rivers and streams, and drying up the springs that sustain many communities throughout the dry summers.

Linked to climate change

And then there’s the fires. Eucalyptus trees don’t just catch fire, they spread them. They have evolved specifically to deal with fire, where long strands of bark move the fire quickly up into the canopy, and the volatile oils they produce intensify it. Eucalyptus leaves can project fires hundreds of metres further, making fire breaks in plantations almost redundant.

Conditions in Portugal this summer created the “perfect fire-storm”. The extreme heatwave in June that affected much of southern Europe has been directly linked to climate change, as have the severe drought conditions that have impacted most of the country.

By 2050 these extreme conditions will be the norm for Portugal. That’s right, the fires will only get worse.

Contrary to public opinion and all of the evidence of the devastating impacts of eucalyptus, successive governments have only incentivised its planting, leading to a situation where there are illegal plantations everywhere, and regulations that specify safe distances from houses and roads, adequate firebreaks, and inter-planting of native species are simply ignored. 

Portugal is a sad example of how misplaced support for industrial tree plantations can go badly wrong. A supposedly “green industry”, as the pulp and paper companies and government ministers (before this year’s fires) would have you believe, has helped to create an environmental disaster, feeding the cycle of climate change impacts.

Serious political will

This should serve as a lesson to policy makers who are now putting plantations at the forefront of climate mitigation strategies globally. In the absence of serious political will to tackle the root causes of climate change, “biosequestration” is the new buzzword, involving vast tree plantations that suck up the emissions of a fossil-fuel addicted world. 

Despite all of the evidence of the social, environmental and of course fire impacts of plantations, large-scale afforestation and fairy-tale technologies such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), where huge plantations will be turned in to smoke that is then stored in old oil fields, are the best ideas that have come out of the landmark Paris Agreement so far.

If mitigation efforts are focused on sequestering future emissions with technologies that don’t exist and plantations that hurt communities and biodiversity, rather than stopping the emissions in the first place, then the strategy that is supposed to reduce the impacts of climate change will likely only make things worse.

New eucalyptus growth is already sprouting from the ashes of Portugal’s wild fires, but as the villagers of Ferraria de São João have shown, we can choose to dig them up instead.

The example set by Ferraria de São João should be followed on a global scale, as restoring natural ecosystems will make us more resilient to climate change, and protect communities from the impacts of it. 

This Author

Oliver Munnion is the bioenergy campaigner and graphic designer at the Global Forest Coalition. He lives in central Portugal.

 

Coffee growers in Laos are turning to organic farming

Families from the Lao Tribe in the south are leading the way by turning away from a number of non-organic fertilisers that are used widely in the coffee industry to boost crop yields.


Instead, they are using alternatives like homemade fertilisers and pesticides, which are going a long way to improving the quality of their farms and lives.


A long line of farmers


“Our land and soil is very important to us,” says Chon Vilaysak, a coffee farmer and Lao Tribe member living within Bolaven Plateau, which is an elevated region in southern Laos, famous for its coffee production.


“If you use chemicals, you will damage the soil and you won’t be able to grow many things, or you will only end up adding more chemicals in order to grow,” he says referring to problems found within soil treated with chemical fertilisers, including loss of nutrients and poor water retention.


Chon lives with his wife, Nouphai, and their seven children in Nong Luang village and like many of the farmers in this region their entire $8,000 yearly income comes from coffee farming alone.


In total, Chon and his family own 7 hectares of land, the bulk of which they use to farm a mixture of Robusta and Arabica coffee crops, with a little land used for growing fruit trees and vegetables for themselves.


Both he and his wife come from a long line of farmers: Chon’s parents previously harvested rice near the Cambodian border, while Nouphai’s family has a history rooted in coffee.


Teaching sustainable methods


Chon explains how he has always been reluctant to using chemical fertilisers on his crops but it wasn’t until he was taught new green methods by Michael Gomez Wood, the executive director and co-founder of non-profit organisation Fi-lan’thro-pe, that he started to fully benefit from sustainable techniques.


Michael set up the charity with Fi-lan’thro-pe director of Asian programmes Cana Little in 2011 to work directly with indigenous, tribal coffee farmers.


Over the last 6 years, the charity’s goal has been to create a network of communities where sustainable agricultural methods can be shared among farmers to enable them to not only earn more from their crops but ensure they don’t damage their environment for future use.


“We’ll fill every gap in the farmers’ knowledge to move their coffee towards specialty quality coffee,” Michael explains. “Then we’ll connect them with buyers who are willing to pay them a higher price for their product.”


He and Cana are teaching sustainable methods to farmers such as creating organic fertilisers, pesticides and composting.


A number of coffee regions


The fertilisers are made from fermented fruit and plant juice, which is sprayed over the coffee crops to stimulate leaf and cherry growth.


Other innovate techniques that are being used include the creation of biochar – an organic substance that works in a similar way to activated charcoal, which rids humans and animals of toxins.


“Coffee has some of the most valuable waste streams in the world such as the husk, which can be used to make biochar”, Michael says, as explains some of the benefits of using substance.


“The inclusion of 1 per cent of biochar in the farmers’ animal feed, for example, reduces 80 per cent of methane emitted from pigs, and cuts 60 per cent of methane emitted from cows.”


Fi-lan’thro-pe works in a number of coffee regions across the world including the second largest coffee exporter, Vietnam, as well as India and Indonesia.


Most compelling reasons


In Laos, the team works with local translator and environmentalist Eh Nyotkhampheuy, who meets with new and existing Lao farmers to explain the benefits of going sustainable.


“Organic farming is not easy,” admits Eh. “Nowadays farmers want to make fast cash, so they just want something that can grow quickly and sell quickly. They don’t think about the poison of using chemicals or the many benefits to going sustainable.”


For farmers like Chon, who have already made the switch to sustainable methods, the positives heavily outweigh the negatives. Understandably, one of the most compelling reasons for farmers to cut out chemical use is down to price.


The market requires organic goods and products and if we sell organic coffee, we can sell for a higher price,” says Chon, who estimates that he can get nearly double the amount of money per kilogram for his Robusta beans on the market if they have been organically cultivated.


By cutting out the need to buy non-organic fertilisers and pesticides, farmers are also seriously reducing their outgoing costs.


Coffee cultivation process


But economic incentives aren’t the only reason that these communities are choosing to become sustainable. Chon says a number of farmers in neighbouring villages have had health issues due to the heavy use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.


“Chemicals cause health problems. Farmers living in a village close by are using chemicals too much, which is causing problems to their health like liver problems. They have to go to hospital often,” he says. Clearly the need to go sustainable isn’t one to be ignored.


The next step now is for Fi-lan’thro-pe to secure funding so some of these families can implement the charity’s zero-waste programme.


This would introduce the likes of animal waste into the coffee cultivation process and create not only further environmental benefits but additional income streams, through the creation of new animal feeds and alternative organic fertilisers.


This would certainly be a game-changer for Lao farmers like Chon and his family, who live in some of the lowest income brackets in the world.


And for Chon this is not only an exciting step but a simple one. “Once you know what sustainable farming is you realise it’s not that hard, we are farmers so this is just our job,” he says. “Land is life.”


This Author


Robyn Wilson is a freelance journalist currently writing and travelling across Asia. She is a former news editor at Construction News. She blogs at Weird Fishes and tweets at @RobynFWilson.