Foxhounds and bovine TB edges (finally) into the news

It is an uphill battle to get information out into public view when a government ministry is determined to sit on it.  Such is the case of the Kimblewick Hunt hounds and bovine TB. Despite Freedom of Information requests, letters and phone calls, they are refusing to release any facts.

Dr Iain McGill, who as a MAAF scientist had experience of government blocking the publication of research into foxhounds and BSE, is now hitting the same stone wall of cover-up over hounds and bTB.

Defra initially told Dr McGill that the hounds had canine TB, but then admitted that it was in fact bovine TB. The Animal & Plant Health Agency told the Ecologist this was not a notifiable disease. But Defra has now admitted that it is.

As a notifiable disease, Defra not only has to inform all those who might be affected, but immediate investigation and testing should be carried out not just on the source of the outbreak but on places (or in this case other packs of hounds) that might be at risk.

Yet the bTB in Kimblewick hounds was kept secret for three months before any news got out. Of the mainstream media, only the Mirror covered the story.  The Times limped in with the story after that, presumably because Theresa May, who was going to repeal the Hunting Act, has had to backtrack yet again following her disastrous election campaign.

Defra has told Dr McGill and his veterinary colleagues that they have ‘tested’ other packs but give none of the information asked for of which hunts were tested, or the methodology and epidemiology involved. They have also said that 7 of the Kimblewick hounds were tested positive for bTB.  So why have 50 hounds been killed?

On BBC Sussex Dr McGill pointed out that in the large area hunted over by the Kimblewick Hunt there are up to 90 active outbreaks of bTB in cattle.  Well over half – 55 – of those outbreaks have occurred since bTB was found in the Kimblewick pack.

To justify the badger cull in 2013, the Chief Veterinary Officer claimed that pets and humans were at risk from bTB where environmental contamination was high. Now Defra claim that the threat posed due to contamination from infected packs of hounds is ‘low’, although there is no evidence to support that.

As Dr McGill remarks, these are two diametrically opposing statements.  Hunt packs cover a lot of ground and hunts, along with all their followers and quad-biking terrier men, are happy to hunt across both infected and TB-free farms, with no regard to biosecurity.

If the risk of infected foxhounds spreading bTB is low, then surely Defra should agree that the same must apply to badgers.  Which means, as we all knew, that culling badgers has been a useless and terrible slaughter.

The new Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who has a record for voting against anything environmental, says that he has ‘inherited’ the badger culling policy, as though, says Dr McGill, it was Defra’s family silver.  Gove also says he ‘listens to veterinary advice’, which should not, but does, mean the advice of one vet. 

He can expect a queue of determined and angry vets knocking on his door.

This Author

Lesley Docksey is a regular contributor to the Ecologist

 

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Colombian environmental protestors ‘see off’ one of the world’s biggest gold mining companies

When a bunch of residents in a small town of Tolima, Colombia decided to take a vote on whether they wanted a mega gold mining project in their backyard, it did not mean much – at first – to the AngloGold Ashanti (AGA), a multinational company famous for its mega-projects. After a decade-long exploration phase, AGA was just waiting for a couple of remaining environmental concessions before starting to dig the Cajamarcan Mountains in pursuit of gold.

But things didn’t go as planned… after the local authorities acknowledged the democratic and sovereign decision of those potential mega-project victims who voted NO, AGA – the world’s third-largest gold producer – is now packing to leave the area, empty-handed but full of hollow threats to divest its investments in Colombia.

Background Analysis

Colombia’s natural resource abundance is world-famous, but it is also associated with the so-called ‘resource curse‘ due to high levels of corruption, recurrent human rights violations and escalating civil conflicts. There are more than 120 documented civil conflicts concerning various environmental justice issues. Among these, conflicts related to mining activities dominate. In a similar vein, one underlying reason for so many conflicts is distinguishing; within the various levels of government, ‘closing deals with multinationals behind closed doors’ has sadly become a common practice. This is fundamentally unlawful, because Colombia is a signatory to the International Labor Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (aka Convention 169, or C169) since 1991 and also ratified it, meaning that, by law, any project regarding Indigenous lands or rights must be consulted about with community leaders and get public consent before launching. All that being absent, the government has run into multiple conflicts with the communities so far.

Amid such conflicts, several multinational companies including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Drummond are operating large-scale extraction plants. Many of them have even obtained highly contested fracking concessions. A couple of months ago public concern reached its peak when 43 new fracking concessions were unveiled. Right now, even the Colombian Ministry of Environment is publicly opposing the National Hydrocarbon Agency and advising the government to refrain from handing out additional fracking permits. In terms of policy and regulations, the mining frenzy is fuelled by the 2001 Mining Code, which opened Colombia’s doors to the world of mega-mining whilst severely lacking in rigorous rules and restrictions that would protect the environment from the impacts of large-scale mining. Colombian ‘laissez faire’ has (arguably) permitted a mining frenzy.

Locals have been protesting and calling for environmental justice – the resistance, mostly non-violent, has ranged from road blockades to collaborating with environmental NGOs and signing an open letter calling on President Juan Manuel Santos to take action on particular issues, such as declaring a moratorium on fracking. However, none of these actions, top date, has been enough to convince the Government to reconsider its liberal and regulation-free economic policies, many of which are causing environmental injustices.

 

It is against this backdrop that one community recently won its battle against AGA. Cajamarca, an agricultural town in central Tolima, went to the ballot box and 6,165 out of 6,296 voters said “No” to all exploration and excavation activities. As a result, the municipality has legally banned all mining activities within its boundaries. Naturally the main concerns were over land and and water pollution, and over the irreversible destruction of lush forests that ‘La Colosa’ might cause.

“[The project will] disappear mountains, contaminate soils, water, air and put at risk collective rights for a clean environment for present and future generations, affect the food production of this region and to completely terminate the dynamics of the ecosystem.” says Renzo García, a biologist at the University of Tolima. On top of environmental concerns, locals also expressed their fear from cultural identity loss that is most likely to follow the environmental destruction. In the words of a local activist, Camila Méndez: “Dignity has no price; a farming culture won’t be sold because of pressures by the Government and foreign companies.”

In fact, popular vote is nothing new to the residents of Tolima. The same story happened before, in July 2013, when the first ever popular vote on a large-scale mining project was held in another town of Tolima. Then too, residents interrupted AGA’s plans to build a processing plant. In the end, plans for the processing plant only changed location, to Cajamarca.

When the result of the popular vote was announced in Cajamarca, the central government backed the mining company, not its citizens with the Mining Minister, German Arce, stating: “The licenses have already been granted and referendum decisions do not apply retroactively. That’s why exploration licenses retain their validity. Residents’ referendum holds no legal weight and not legally binding.”

The Minister even accused the locals of exaggerating the environmental impacts and risks of gold mining. At the end, the referendum result puts a clear end to the project. Remarkably, AGA then cancelled the whole project stating: “Diverse reasons which range from the institutional, the political and particularly the social, with the recent referendum, oblige us to take the unfortunate decision to stop all project activities and with it all employment and investment, until there’s certainty about mining activity in the country and in Tolima.”

That decision was the result of strong community opposition and legal wrangling over environmental regulations, which have now prompted the Environment Minister Arce to promise new legislation, (albeit half-heartedly), that will reconcile existing mining permits with judicial authorities and local bodies.

‘La Colosa’ is a historic victory against transnational mining giants, since the Constitutional Court (for the very first time) overturned the central government’s sole authority by allowing provincial governors and mayors to challenge exploration permits. In fact, the ‘La Colosa’ victory has already inspired Colombians in the same situation that will now be voting against mining interests on their lands.

In any case, this is a clear message to the powers-that-be – especially to the Central Government – signaling that Colombia will continue to embrace; call it a “butterfly effect”, “ripple effect” or simply a “copycat effect” of a more peaceful but still effective way of implementing environmental action.

 

This Author

Burag Gurden is a postgraduate student at Lund University. He is also a freelance writer and contributor to the British ‘International Development Journal‘, Turkish ‘Dunya Gazetesi‘ and the international ‘Words in the Bucket‘ community. Currently he is working at the EnvJustice project

 

 

Conservation Exclusive: People’s Trust for Endangered Species complete a secret and successful hazel dormice release into the wild

A top secret woodland location on the outskirts of Royal Leamington Spa became the brand new home for some charming yet endangered inhabitants.

The hazel dormouse – now extinct in 17 English counties – was reintroduced to Warwickshire on Tuesday (June 20) as 18 breeding pairs, plus one extra female, were released by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and some dedicated and willing volunteers.

These dormice will spend the next 10 days in their purpose-built mesh cages where they will be checked and fed by volunteers whilst they learn to gather food themselves. When they are ready to be released, a small door will be opened in the cage to allow them to access the woodland, whilst still benefiting from the safety of their nesting boxes.

Given that hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) will generally only produce one litter a year averaging just four young, it’s no surprise these charismatic little creatures are struggling for survival.

They face pressures from lost habitats and changes in woodland and hedgerow management – as the practice of coppicing trees such as hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnut has become more rare, so too have the dormice.

This secret Warwickshire location was selected based on its excellent suitability for the new residents. Being both arboreal, and nocturnal, the dormice rely on tree cover, using the branches to travel through the canopy and through shrub layers.

As they were released into their new homes, they were given a selection of berries, dried fruits, mealworms, and other dormouse delicacies but over coming weeks, they will learn to forage for themselves.

Since 1993 PTES has reintroduced more than 898 hazel dormice in 22 different sites across England.

Leading this latest reintroduction, Ian White, PTES’ Dormouse Officer said: “Climate change is one factor having a serious impact the dormice population, but the biggest issue is woodland management.

“At this site the management of woodland will have to continue to ensure the dormice can thrive. They need successional vegetation and all the video evidence we have shows they actively look for that arboreal cover.”

Before the dormice were released they had to be reared, quarantined and health checked by various volunteers and organisations. They were captive bred by members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, of which Neil Bemment is the chairman. Neil has been rearing dormice and attending release events since 2000. He says: “When the dormice are two years or under we pair them up, ensuring they are genetically matched – as far from being related as we possibly can. We aim to release 18 pairs each year. We are trying specifically to reinstate them in the counties where they would have originally thrived.”

The dormice underwent thorough health checks with vets at the Zoological Society of London and Paignton Zoo in Devon, ensuring they would had the very best chance of survival and also in a bid to prevent the accidental introduction of any new diseases to the wild. They will continue to be closely monitored and it is hoped that they will have settled and paired up in just two weeks – with baby dormice born by the end of the year.

And funding of £1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund will ensure that this reintroduction programme can continue for the next four years, as part of a bigger project – the Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape Scheme – whose stated objective is to bring ancient woodlands back into management, to work with landowners to better connect the woodlands, to restore hedgerows, and to engage the public.

Chris Redstall, Scheme Manager, explained: “There are 300 nest boxes around the wood and they will be checked by volunteers who have a dormouse licence. Long term we just want to see a stable population. There is likely to be a growth spurt at around three years, and then the population stabilises. That is what we hope for.”

PTES manages the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, which is co-funded by Natural England. Dormice can be monitored by checking nesting boxes and by checking nut consumption since the way a dormouse chews a hazelnut is unique. (They will open the nuts whilst still green and on the tree, and the shells only turn brown once they are discarded and fall to the ground.)

The reintroduction is a timely event as it coincides with the publication of new research by the University of Exeter highlighting the creature’s steep decline over the past 20 years. With numbers plummeting by more than 70 per cent, the study – published in the journal Mammal Review – shows that the cause of decline is not well understood but that woodland management could be a significant key factor. The paper entitled Voluntary recording scheme reveals ongoing decline in the United Kingdom hazel dormouse population was supported by the Forestry Commission and Natural England, and further supports the importance of reintroduction schemes such as the one I witnessed this week.

In a county where this delightful animal was once extinct, this latest reintroduction hopes to build on the success of earlier ones but also to foster better engagement between landowners and wildlife organisations, encourage better management of the land and to eventually see the native hazel dormouse quietly thriving.

This Author

Laura Briggs is a regular contributor to the Ecologist. Follow here here: @WordsbyBriggs

 

 

Colombian environmental protestors ‘see off’ one of the world’s biggest gold mining companies

When a bunch of residents in a small town of Tolima, Colombia decided to take a vote on whether they wanted a mega gold mining project in their backyard, it did not mean much – at first – to the AngloGold Ashanti (AGA), a multinational company famous for its mega-projects. After a decade-long exploration phase, AGA was just waiting for a couple of remaining environmental concessions before starting to dig the Cajamarcan Mountains in pursuit of gold.

But things didn’t go as planned… after the local authorities acknowledged the democratic and sovereign decision of those potential mega-project victims who voted NO, AGA – the world’s third-largest gold producer – is now packing to leave the area, empty-handed but full of hollow threats to divest its investments in Colombia.

Background Analysis

Colombia’s natural resource abundance is world-famous, but it is also associated with the so-called ‘resource curse‘ due to high levels of corruption, recurrent human rights violations and escalating civil conflicts. There are more than 120 documented civil conflicts concerning various environmental justice issues. Among these, conflicts related to mining activities dominate. In a similar vein, one underlying reason for so many conflicts is distinguishing; within the various levels of government, ‘closing deals with multinationals behind closed doors’ has sadly become a common practice. This is fundamentally unlawful, because Colombia is a signatory to the International Labor Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (aka Convention 169, or C169) since 1991 and also ratified it, meaning that, by law, any project regarding Indigenous lands or rights must be consulted about with community leaders and get public consent before launching. All that being absent, the government has run into multiple conflicts with the communities so far.

Amid such conflicts, several multinational companies including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Drummond are operating large-scale extraction plants. Many of them have even obtained highly contested fracking concessions. A couple of months ago public concern reached its peak when 43 new fracking concessions were unveiled. Right now, even the Colombian Ministry of Environment is publicly opposing the National Hydrocarbon Agency and advising the government to refrain from handing out additional fracking permits. In terms of policy and regulations, the mining frenzy is fuelled by the 2001 Mining Code, which opened Colombia’s doors to the world of mega-mining whilst severely lacking in rigorous rules and restrictions that would protect the environment from the impacts of large-scale mining. Colombian ‘laissez faire’ has (arguably) permitted a mining frenzy.

Locals have been protesting and calling for environmental justice – the resistance, mostly non-violent, has ranged from road blockades to collaborating with environmental NGOs and signing an open letter calling on President Juan Manuel Santos to take action on particular issues, such as declaring a moratorium on fracking. However, none of these actions, top date, has been enough to convince the Government to reconsider its liberal and regulation-free economic policies, many of which are causing environmental injustices.

 

It is against this backdrop that one community recently won its battle against AGA. Cajamarca, an agricultural town in central Tolima, went to the ballot box and 6,165 out of 6,296 voters said “No” to all exploration and excavation activities. As a result, the municipality has legally banned all mining activities within its boundaries. Naturally the main concerns were over land and and water pollution, and over the irreversible destruction of lush forests that ‘La Colosa’ might cause.

“[The project will] disappear mountains, contaminate soils, water, air and put at risk collective rights for a clean environment for present and future generations, affect the food production of this region and to completely terminate the dynamics of the ecosystem.” says Renzo García, a biologist at the University of Tolima. On top of environmental concerns, locals also expressed their fear from cultural identity loss that is most likely to follow the environmental destruction. In the words of a local activist, Camila Méndez: “Dignity has no price; a farming culture won’t be sold because of pressures by the Government and foreign companies.”

In fact, popular vote is nothing new to the residents of Tolima. The same story happened before, in July 2013, when the first ever popular vote on a large-scale mining project was held in another town of Tolima. Then too, residents interrupted AGA’s plans to build a processing plant. In the end, plans for the processing plant only changed location, to Cajamarca.

When the result of the popular vote was announced in Cajamarca, the central government backed the mining company, not its citizens with the Mining Minister, German Arce, stating: “The licenses have already been granted and referendum decisions do not apply retroactively. That’s why exploration licenses retain their validity. Residents’ referendum holds no legal weight and not legally binding.”

The Minister even accused the locals of exaggerating the environmental impacts and risks of gold mining. At the end, the referendum result puts a clear end to the project. Remarkably, AGA then cancelled the whole project stating: “Diverse reasons which range from the institutional, the political and particularly the social, with the recent referendum, oblige us to take the unfortunate decision to stop all project activities and with it all employment and investment, until there’s certainty about mining activity in the country and in Tolima.”

That decision was the result of strong community opposition and legal wrangling over environmental regulations, which have now prompted the Environment Minister Arce to promise new legislation, (albeit half-heartedly), that will reconcile existing mining permits with judicial authorities and local bodies.

‘La Colosa’ is a historic victory against transnational mining giants, since the Constitutional Court (for the very first time) overturned the central government’s sole authority by allowing provincial governors and mayors to challenge exploration permits. In fact, the ‘La Colosa’ victory has already inspired Colombians in the same situation that will now be voting against mining interests on their lands.

In any case, this is a clear message to the powers-that-be – especially to the Central Government – signaling that Colombia will continue to embrace; call it a “butterfly effect”, “ripple effect” or simply a “copycat effect” of a more peaceful but still effective way of implementing environmental action.

 

This Author

Burag Gurden is a postgraduate student at Lund University. He is also a freelance writer and contributor to the British ‘International Development Journal‘, Turkish ‘Dunya Gazetesi‘ and the international ‘Words in the Bucket‘ community. Currently he is working at the EnvJustice project

 

 

Conservation Exclusive: People’s Trust for Endangered Species complete a secret and successful hazel dormice release into the wild

A top secret woodland location on the outskirts of Royal Leamington Spa became the brand new home for some charming yet endangered inhabitants.

The hazel dormouse – now extinct in 17 English counties – was reintroduced to Warwickshire on Tuesday (June 20) as 18 breeding pairs, plus one extra female, were released by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and some dedicated and willing volunteers.

These dormice will spend the next 10 days in their purpose-built mesh cages where they will be checked and fed by volunteers whilst they learn to gather food themselves. When they are ready to be released, a small door will be opened in the cage to allow them to access the woodland, whilst still benefiting from the safety of their nesting boxes.

Given that hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) will generally only produce one litter a year averaging just four young, it’s no surprise these charismatic little creatures are struggling for survival.

They face pressures from lost habitats and changes in woodland and hedgerow management – as the practice of coppicing trees such as hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnut has become more rare, so too have the dormice.

This secret Warwickshire location was selected based on its excellent suitability for the new residents. Being both arboreal, and nocturnal, the dormice rely on tree cover, using the branches to travel through the canopy and through shrub layers.

As they were released into their new homes, they were given a selection of berries, dried fruits, mealworms, and other dormouse delicacies but over coming weeks, they will learn to forage for themselves.

Since 1993 PTES has reintroduced more than 898 hazel dormice in 22 different sites across England.

Leading this latest reintroduction, Ian White, PTES’ Dormouse Officer said: “Climate change is one factor having a serious impact the dormice population, but the biggest issue is woodland management.

“At this site the management of woodland will have to continue to ensure the dormice can thrive. They need successional vegetation and all the video evidence we have shows they actively look for that arboreal cover.”

Before the dormice were released they had to be reared, quarantined and health checked by various volunteers and organisations. They were captive bred by members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, of which Neil Bemment is the chairman. Neil has been rearing dormice and attending release events since 2000. He says: “When the dormice are two years or under we pair them up, ensuring they are genetically matched – as far from being related as we possibly can. We aim to release 18 pairs each year. We are trying specifically to reinstate them in the counties where they would have originally thrived.”

The dormice underwent thorough health checks with vets at the Zoological Society of London and Paignton Zoo in Devon, ensuring they would had the very best chance of survival and also in a bid to prevent the accidental introduction of any new diseases to the wild. They will continue to be closely monitored and it is hoped that they will have settled and paired up in just two weeks – with baby dormice born by the end of the year.

And funding of £1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund will ensure that this reintroduction programme can continue for the next four years, as part of a bigger project – the Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape Scheme – whose stated objective is to bring ancient woodlands back into management, to work with landowners to better connect the woodlands, to restore hedgerows, and to engage the public.

Chris Redstall, Scheme Manager, explained: “There are 300 nest boxes around the wood and they will be checked by volunteers who have a dormouse licence. Long term we just want to see a stable population. There is likely to be a growth spurt at around three years, and then the population stabilises. That is what we hope for.”

PTES manages the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, which is co-funded by Natural England. Dormice can be monitored by checking nesting boxes and by checking nut consumption since the way a dormouse chews a hazelnut is unique. (They will open the nuts whilst still green and on the tree, and the shells only turn brown once they are discarded and fall to the ground.)

The reintroduction is a timely event as it coincides with the publication of new research by the University of Exeter highlighting the creature’s steep decline over the past 20 years. With numbers plummeting by more than 70 per cent, the study – published in the journal Mammal Review – shows that the cause of decline is not well understood but that woodland management could be a significant key factor. The paper entitled Voluntary recording scheme reveals ongoing decline in the United Kingdom hazel dormouse population was supported by the Forestry Commission and Natural England, and further supports the importance of reintroduction schemes such as the one I witnessed this week.

In a county where this delightful animal was once extinct, this latest reintroduction hopes to build on the success of earlier ones but also to foster better engagement between landowners and wildlife organisations, encourage better management of the land and to eventually see the native hazel dormouse quietly thriving.

This Author

Laura Briggs is a regular contributor to the Ecologist. Follow here here: @WordsbyBriggs

 

 

Colombian environmental protestors ‘see off’ one of the world’s biggest gold mining companies

When a bunch of residents in a small town of Tolima, Colombia decided to take a vote on whether they wanted a mega gold mining project in their backyard, it did not mean much – at first – to the AngloGold Ashanti (AGA), a multinational company famous for its mega-projects. After a decade-long exploration phase, AGA was just waiting for a couple of remaining environmental concessions before starting to dig the Cajamarcan Mountains in pursuit of gold.

But things didn’t go as planned… after the local authorities acknowledged the democratic and sovereign decision of those potential mega-project victims who voted NO, AGA – the world’s third-largest gold producer – is now packing to leave the area, empty-handed but full of hollow threats to divest its investments in Colombia.

Background Analysis

Colombia’s natural resource abundance is world-famous, but it is also associated with the so-called ‘resource curse‘ due to high levels of corruption, recurrent human rights violations and escalating civil conflicts. There are more than 120 documented civil conflicts concerning various environmental justice issues. Among these, conflicts related to mining activities dominate. In a similar vein, one underlying reason for so many conflicts is distinguishing; within the various levels of government, ‘closing deals with multinationals behind closed doors’ has sadly become a common practice. This is fundamentally unlawful, because Colombia is a signatory to the International Labor Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (aka Convention 169, or C169) since 1991 and also ratified it, meaning that, by law, any project regarding Indigenous lands or rights must be consulted about with community leaders and get public consent before launching. All that being absent, the government has run into multiple conflicts with the communities so far.

Amid such conflicts, several multinational companies including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Drummond are operating large-scale extraction plants. Many of them have even obtained highly contested fracking concessions. A couple of months ago public concern reached its peak when 43 new fracking concessions were unveiled. Right now, even the Colombian Ministry of Environment is publicly opposing the National Hydrocarbon Agency and advising the government to refrain from handing out additional fracking permits. In terms of policy and regulations, the mining frenzy is fuelled by the 2001 Mining Code, which opened Colombia’s doors to the world of mega-mining whilst severely lacking in rigorous rules and restrictions that would protect the environment from the impacts of large-scale mining. Colombian ‘laissez faire’ has (arguably) permitted a mining frenzy.

Locals have been protesting and calling for environmental justice – the resistance, mostly non-violent, has ranged from road blockades to collaborating with environmental NGOs and signing an open letter calling on President Juan Manuel Santos to take action on particular issues, such as declaring a moratorium on fracking. However, none of these actions, top date, has been enough to convince the Government to reconsider its liberal and regulation-free economic policies, many of which are causing environmental injustices.

 

It is against this backdrop that one community recently won its battle against AGA. Cajamarca, an agricultural town in central Tolima, went to the ballot box and 6,165 out of 6,296 voters said “No” to all exploration and excavation activities. As a result, the municipality has legally banned all mining activities within its boundaries. Naturally the main concerns were over land and and water pollution, and over the irreversible destruction of lush forests that ‘La Colosa’ might cause.

“[The project will] disappear mountains, contaminate soils, water, air and put at risk collective rights for a clean environment for present and future generations, affect the food production of this region and to completely terminate the dynamics of the ecosystem.” says Renzo García, a biologist at the University of Tolima. On top of environmental concerns, locals also expressed their fear from cultural identity loss that is most likely to follow the environmental destruction. In the words of a local activist, Camila Méndez: “Dignity has no price; a farming culture won’t be sold because of pressures by the Government and foreign companies.”

In fact, popular vote is nothing new to the residents of Tolima. The same story happened before, in July 2013, when the first ever popular vote on a large-scale mining project was held in another town of Tolima. Then too, residents interrupted AGA’s plans to build a processing plant. In the end, plans for the processing plant only changed location, to Cajamarca.

When the result of the popular vote was announced in Cajamarca, the central government backed the mining company, not its citizens with the Mining Minister, German Arce, stating: “The licenses have already been granted and referendum decisions do not apply retroactively. That’s why exploration licenses retain their validity. Residents’ referendum holds no legal weight and not legally binding.”

The Minister even accused the locals of exaggerating the environmental impacts and risks of gold mining. At the end, the referendum result puts a clear end to the project. Remarkably, AGA then cancelled the whole project stating: “Diverse reasons which range from the institutional, the political and particularly the social, with the recent referendum, oblige us to take the unfortunate decision to stop all project activities and with it all employment and investment, until there’s certainty about mining activity in the country and in Tolima.”

That decision was the result of strong community opposition and legal wrangling over environmental regulations, which have now prompted the Environment Minister Arce to promise new legislation, (albeit half-heartedly), that will reconcile existing mining permits with judicial authorities and local bodies.

‘La Colosa’ is a historic victory against transnational mining giants, since the Constitutional Court (for the very first time) overturned the central government’s sole authority by allowing provincial governors and mayors to challenge exploration permits. In fact, the ‘La Colosa’ victory has already inspired Colombians in the same situation that will now be voting against mining interests on their lands.

In any case, this is a clear message to the powers-that-be – especially to the Central Government – signaling that Colombia will continue to embrace; call it a “butterfly effect”, “ripple effect” or simply a “copycat effect” of a more peaceful but still effective way of implementing environmental action.

 

This Author

Burag Gurden is a postgraduate student at Lund University. He is also a freelance writer and contributor to the British ‘International Development Journal‘, Turkish ‘Dunya Gazetesi‘ and the international ‘Words in the Bucket‘ community. Currently he is working at the EnvJustice project

 

 

Conservation Exclusive: People’s Trust for Endangered Species complete a secret and successful hazel dormice release into the wild

A top secret woodland location on the outskirts of Royal Leamington Spa became the brand new home for some charming yet endangered inhabitants.

The hazel dormouse – now extinct in 17 English counties – was reintroduced to Warwickshire on Tuesday (June 20) as 18 breeding pairs, plus one extra female, were released by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and some dedicated and willing volunteers.

These dormice will spend the next 10 days in their purpose-built mesh cages where they will be checked and fed by volunteers whilst they learn to gather food themselves. When they are ready to be released, a small door will be opened in the cage to allow them to access the woodland, whilst still benefiting from the safety of their nesting boxes.

Given that hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) will generally only produce one litter a year averaging just four young, it’s no surprise these charismatic little creatures are struggling for survival.

They face pressures from lost habitats and changes in woodland and hedgerow management – as the practice of coppicing trees such as hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnut has become more rare, so too have the dormice.

This secret Warwickshire location was selected based on its excellent suitability for the new residents. Being both arboreal, and nocturnal, the dormice rely on tree cover, using the branches to travel through the canopy and through shrub layers.

As they were released into their new homes, they were given a selection of berries, dried fruits, mealworms, and other dormouse delicacies but over coming weeks, they will learn to forage for themselves.

Since 1993 PTES has reintroduced more than 898 hazel dormice in 22 different sites across England.

Leading this latest reintroduction, Ian White, PTES’ Dormouse Officer said: “Climate change is one factor having a serious impact the dormice population, but the biggest issue is woodland management.

“At this site the management of woodland will have to continue to ensure the dormice can thrive. They need successional vegetation and all the video evidence we have shows they actively look for that arboreal cover.”

Before the dormice were released they had to be reared, quarantined and health checked by various volunteers and organisations. They were captive bred by members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, of which Neil Bemment is the chairman. Neil has been rearing dormice and attending release events since 2000. He says: “When the dormice are two years or under we pair them up, ensuring they are genetically matched – as far from being related as we possibly can. We aim to release 18 pairs each year. We are trying specifically to reinstate them in the counties where they would have originally thrived.”

The dormice underwent thorough health checks with vets at the Zoological Society of London and Paignton Zoo in Devon, ensuring they would had the very best chance of survival and also in a bid to prevent the accidental introduction of any new diseases to the wild. They will continue to be closely monitored and it is hoped that they will have settled and paired up in just two weeks – with baby dormice born by the end of the year.

And funding of £1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund will ensure that this reintroduction programme can continue for the next four years, as part of a bigger project – the Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape Scheme – whose stated objective is to bring ancient woodlands back into management, to work with landowners to better connect the woodlands, to restore hedgerows, and to engage the public.

Chris Redstall, Scheme Manager, explained: “There are 300 nest boxes around the wood and they will be checked by volunteers who have a dormouse licence. Long term we just want to see a stable population. There is likely to be a growth spurt at around three years, and then the population stabilises. That is what we hope for.”

PTES manages the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, which is co-funded by Natural England. Dormice can be monitored by checking nesting boxes and by checking nut consumption since the way a dormouse chews a hazelnut is unique. (They will open the nuts whilst still green and on the tree, and the shells only turn brown once they are discarded and fall to the ground.)

The reintroduction is a timely event as it coincides with the publication of new research by the University of Exeter highlighting the creature’s steep decline over the past 20 years. With numbers plummeting by more than 70 per cent, the study – published in the journal Mammal Review – shows that the cause of decline is not well understood but that woodland management could be a significant key factor. The paper entitled Voluntary recording scheme reveals ongoing decline in the United Kingdom hazel dormouse population was supported by the Forestry Commission and Natural England, and further supports the importance of reintroduction schemes such as the one I witnessed this week.

In a county where this delightful animal was once extinct, this latest reintroduction hopes to build on the success of earlier ones but also to foster better engagement between landowners and wildlife organisations, encourage better management of the land and to eventually see the native hazel dormouse quietly thriving.

This Author

Laura Briggs is a regular contributor to the Ecologist. Follow here here: @WordsbyBriggs

 

 

Colombian environmental protestors ‘see off’ one of the world’s biggest gold mining companies

When a bunch of residents in a small town of Tolima, Colombia decided to take a vote on whether they wanted a mega gold mining project in their backyard, it did not mean much – at first – to the AngloGold Ashanti (AGA), a multinational company famous for its mega-projects. After a decade-long exploration phase, AGA was just waiting for a couple of remaining environmental concessions before starting to dig the Cajamarcan Mountains in pursuit of gold.

But things didn’t go as planned… after the local authorities acknowledged the democratic and sovereign decision of those potential mega-project victims who voted NO, AGA – the world’s third-largest gold producer – is now packing to leave the area, empty-handed but full of hollow threats to divest its investments in Colombia.

Background Analysis

Colombia’s natural resource abundance is world-famous, but it is also associated with the so-called ‘resource curse‘ due to high levels of corruption, recurrent human rights violations and escalating civil conflicts. There are more than 120 documented civil conflicts concerning various environmental justice issues. Among these, conflicts related to mining activities dominate. In a similar vein, one underlying reason for so many conflicts is distinguishing; within the various levels of government, ‘closing deals with multinationals behind closed doors’ has sadly become a common practice. This is fundamentally unlawful, because Colombia is a signatory to the International Labor Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (aka Convention 169, or C169) since 1991 and also ratified it, meaning that, by law, any project regarding Indigenous lands or rights must be consulted about with community leaders and get public consent before launching. All that being absent, the government has run into multiple conflicts with the communities so far.

Amid such conflicts, several multinational companies including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Drummond are operating large-scale extraction plants. Many of them have even obtained highly contested fracking concessions. A couple of months ago public concern reached its peak when 43 new fracking concessions were unveiled. Right now, even the Colombian Ministry of Environment is publicly opposing the National Hydrocarbon Agency and advising the government to refrain from handing out additional fracking permits. In terms of policy and regulations, the mining frenzy is fuelled by the 2001 Mining Code, which opened Colombia’s doors to the world of mega-mining whilst severely lacking in rigorous rules and restrictions that would protect the environment from the impacts of large-scale mining. Colombian ‘laissez faire’ has (arguably) permitted a mining frenzy.

Locals have been protesting and calling for environmental justice – the resistance, mostly non-violent, has ranged from road blockades to collaborating with environmental NGOs and signing an open letter calling on President Juan Manuel Santos to take action on particular issues, such as declaring a moratorium on fracking. However, none of these actions, top date, has been enough to convince the Government to reconsider its liberal and regulation-free economic policies, many of which are causing environmental injustices.

 

It is against this backdrop that one community recently won its battle against AGA. Cajamarca, an agricultural town in central Tolima, went to the ballot box and 6,165 out of 6,296 voters said “No” to all exploration and excavation activities. As a result, the municipality has legally banned all mining activities within its boundaries. Naturally the main concerns were over land and and water pollution, and over the irreversible destruction of lush forests that ‘La Colosa’ might cause.

“[The project will] disappear mountains, contaminate soils, water, air and put at risk collective rights for a clean environment for present and future generations, affect the food production of this region and to completely terminate the dynamics of the ecosystem.” says Renzo García, a biologist at the University of Tolima. On top of environmental concerns, locals also expressed their fear from cultural identity loss that is most likely to follow the environmental destruction. In the words of a local activist, Camila Méndez: “Dignity has no price; a farming culture won’t be sold because of pressures by the Government and foreign companies.”

In fact, popular vote is nothing new to the residents of Tolima. The same story happened before, in July 2013, when the first ever popular vote on a large-scale mining project was held in another town of Tolima. Then too, residents interrupted AGA’s plans to build a processing plant. In the end, plans for the processing plant only changed location, to Cajamarca.

When the result of the popular vote was announced in Cajamarca, the central government backed the mining company, not its citizens with the Mining Minister, German Arce, stating: “The licenses have already been granted and referendum decisions do not apply retroactively. That’s why exploration licenses retain their validity. Residents’ referendum holds no legal weight and not legally binding.”

The Minister even accused the locals of exaggerating the environmental impacts and risks of gold mining. At the end, the referendum result puts a clear end to the project. Remarkably, AGA then cancelled the whole project stating: “Diverse reasons which range from the institutional, the political and particularly the social, with the recent referendum, oblige us to take the unfortunate decision to stop all project activities and with it all employment and investment, until there’s certainty about mining activity in the country and in Tolima.”

That decision was the result of strong community opposition and legal wrangling over environmental regulations, which have now prompted the Environment Minister Arce to promise new legislation, (albeit half-heartedly), that will reconcile existing mining permits with judicial authorities and local bodies.

‘La Colosa’ is a historic victory against transnational mining giants, since the Constitutional Court (for the very first time) overturned the central government’s sole authority by allowing provincial governors and mayors to challenge exploration permits. In fact, the ‘La Colosa’ victory has already inspired Colombians in the same situation that will now be voting against mining interests on their lands.

In any case, this is a clear message to the powers-that-be – especially to the Central Government – signaling that Colombia will continue to embrace; call it a “butterfly effect”, “ripple effect” or simply a “copycat effect” of a more peaceful but still effective way of implementing environmental action.

 

This Author

Burag Gurden is a postgraduate student at Lund University. He is also a freelance writer and contributor to the British ‘International Development Journal‘, Turkish ‘Dunya Gazetesi‘ and the international ‘Words in the Bucket‘ community. Currently he is working at the EnvJustice project

 

 

Conservation Exclusive: People’s Trust for Endangered Species complete a secret and successful hazel dormice release into the wild

A top secret woodland location on the outskirts of Royal Leamington Spa became the brand new home for some charming yet endangered inhabitants.

The hazel dormouse – now extinct in 17 English counties – was reintroduced to Warwickshire on Tuesday (June 20) as 18 breeding pairs, plus one extra female, were released by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and some dedicated and willing volunteers.

These dormice will spend the next 10 days in their purpose-built mesh cages where they will be checked and fed by volunteers whilst they learn to gather food themselves. When they are ready to be released, a small door will be opened in the cage to allow them to access the woodland, whilst still benefiting from the safety of their nesting boxes.

Given that hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) will generally only produce one litter a year averaging just four young, it’s no surprise these charismatic little creatures are struggling for survival.

They face pressures from lost habitats and changes in woodland and hedgerow management – as the practice of coppicing trees such as hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnut has become more rare, so too have the dormice.

This secret Warwickshire location was selected based on its excellent suitability for the new residents. Being both arboreal, and nocturnal, the dormice rely on tree cover, using the branches to travel through the canopy and through shrub layers.

As they were released into their new homes, they were given a selection of berries, dried fruits, mealworms, and other dormouse delicacies but over coming weeks, they will learn to forage for themselves.

Since 1993 PTES has reintroduced more than 898 hazel dormice in 22 different sites across England.

Leading this latest reintroduction, Ian White, PTES’ Dormouse Officer said: “Climate change is one factor having a serious impact the dormice population, but the biggest issue is woodland management.

“At this site the management of woodland will have to continue to ensure the dormice can thrive. They need successional vegetation and all the video evidence we have shows they actively look for that arboreal cover.”

Before the dormice were released they had to be reared, quarantined and health checked by various volunteers and organisations. They were captive bred by members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, of which Neil Bemment is the chairman. Neil has been rearing dormice and attending release events since 2000. He says: “When the dormice are two years or under we pair them up, ensuring they are genetically matched – as far from being related as we possibly can. We aim to release 18 pairs each year. We are trying specifically to reinstate them in the counties where they would have originally thrived.”

The dormice underwent thorough health checks with vets at the Zoological Society of London and Paignton Zoo in Devon, ensuring they would had the very best chance of survival and also in a bid to prevent the accidental introduction of any new diseases to the wild. They will continue to be closely monitored and it is hoped that they will have settled and paired up in just two weeks – with baby dormice born by the end of the year.

And funding of £1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund will ensure that this reintroduction programme can continue for the next four years, as part of a bigger project – the Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape Scheme – whose stated objective is to bring ancient woodlands back into management, to work with landowners to better connect the woodlands, to restore hedgerows, and to engage the public.

Chris Redstall, Scheme Manager, explained: “There are 300 nest boxes around the wood and they will be checked by volunteers who have a dormouse licence. Long term we just want to see a stable population. There is likely to be a growth spurt at around three years, and then the population stabilises. That is what we hope for.”

PTES manages the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, which is co-funded by Natural England. Dormice can be monitored by checking nesting boxes and by checking nut consumption since the way a dormouse chews a hazelnut is unique. (They will open the nuts whilst still green and on the tree, and the shells only turn brown once they are discarded and fall to the ground.)

The reintroduction is a timely event as it coincides with the publication of new research by the University of Exeter highlighting the creature’s steep decline over the past 20 years. With numbers plummeting by more than 70 per cent, the study – published in the journal Mammal Review – shows that the cause of decline is not well understood but that woodland management could be a significant key factor. The paper entitled Voluntary recording scheme reveals ongoing decline in the United Kingdom hazel dormouse population was supported by the Forestry Commission and Natural England, and further supports the importance of reintroduction schemes such as the one I witnessed this week.

In a county where this delightful animal was once extinct, this latest reintroduction hopes to build on the success of earlier ones but also to foster better engagement between landowners and wildlife organisations, encourage better management of the land and to eventually see the native hazel dormouse quietly thriving.

This Author

Laura Briggs is a regular contributor to the Ecologist. Follow here here: @WordsbyBriggs

 

 

Colombian environmental protestors ‘see off’ one of the world’s biggest gold mining companies

When a bunch of residents in a small town of Tolima, Colombia decided to take a vote on whether they wanted a mega gold mining project in their backyard, it did not mean much – at first – to the AngloGold Ashanti (AGA), a multinational company famous for its mega-projects. After a decade-long exploration phase, AGA was just waiting for a couple of remaining environmental concessions before starting to dig the Cajamarcan Mountains in pursuit of gold.

But things didn’t go as planned… after the local authorities acknowledged the democratic and sovereign decision of those potential mega-project victims who voted NO, AGA – the world’s third-largest gold producer – is now packing to leave the area, empty-handed but full of hollow threats to divest its investments in Colombia.

Background Analysis

Colombia’s natural resource abundance is world-famous, but it is also associated with the so-called ‘resource curse‘ due to high levels of corruption, recurrent human rights violations and escalating civil conflicts. There are more than 120 documented civil conflicts concerning various environmental justice issues. Among these, conflicts related to mining activities dominate. In a similar vein, one underlying reason for so many conflicts is distinguishing; within the various levels of government, ‘closing deals with multinationals behind closed doors’ has sadly become a common practice. This is fundamentally unlawful, because Colombia is a signatory to the International Labor Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (aka Convention 169, or C169) since 1991 and also ratified it, meaning that, by law, any project regarding Indigenous lands or rights must be consulted about with community leaders and get public consent before launching. All that being absent, the government has run into multiple conflicts with the communities so far.

Amid such conflicts, several multinational companies including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Drummond are operating large-scale extraction plants. Many of them have even obtained highly contested fracking concessions. A couple of months ago public concern reached its peak when 43 new fracking concessions were unveiled. Right now, even the Colombian Ministry of Environment is publicly opposing the National Hydrocarbon Agency and advising the government to refrain from handing out additional fracking permits. In terms of policy and regulations, the mining frenzy is fuelled by the 2001 Mining Code, which opened Colombia’s doors to the world of mega-mining whilst severely lacking in rigorous rules and restrictions that would protect the environment from the impacts of large-scale mining. Colombian ‘laissez faire’ has (arguably) permitted a mining frenzy.

Locals have been protesting and calling for environmental justice – the resistance, mostly non-violent, has ranged from road blockades to collaborating with environmental NGOs and signing an open letter calling on President Juan Manuel Santos to take action on particular issues, such as declaring a moratorium on fracking. However, none of these actions, top date, has been enough to convince the Government to reconsider its liberal and regulation-free economic policies, many of which are causing environmental injustices.

 

It is against this backdrop that one community recently won its battle against AGA. Cajamarca, an agricultural town in central Tolima, went to the ballot box and 6,165 out of 6,296 voters said “No” to all exploration and excavation activities. As a result, the municipality has legally banned all mining activities within its boundaries. Naturally the main concerns were over land and and water pollution, and over the irreversible destruction of lush forests that ‘La Colosa’ might cause.

“[The project will] disappear mountains, contaminate soils, water, air and put at risk collective rights for a clean environment for present and future generations, affect the food production of this region and to completely terminate the dynamics of the ecosystem.” says Renzo García, a biologist at the University of Tolima. On top of environmental concerns, locals also expressed their fear from cultural identity loss that is most likely to follow the environmental destruction. In the words of a local activist, Camila Méndez: “Dignity has no price; a farming culture won’t be sold because of pressures by the Government and foreign companies.”

In fact, popular vote is nothing new to the residents of Tolima. The same story happened before, in July 2013, when the first ever popular vote on a large-scale mining project was held in another town of Tolima. Then too, residents interrupted AGA’s plans to build a processing plant. In the end, plans for the processing plant only changed location, to Cajamarca.

When the result of the popular vote was announced in Cajamarca, the central government backed the mining company, not its citizens with the Mining Minister, German Arce, stating: “The licenses have already been granted and referendum decisions do not apply retroactively. That’s why exploration licenses retain their validity. Residents’ referendum holds no legal weight and not legally binding.”

The Minister even accused the locals of exaggerating the environmental impacts and risks of gold mining. At the end, the referendum result puts a clear end to the project. Remarkably, AGA then cancelled the whole project stating: “Diverse reasons which range from the institutional, the political and particularly the social, with the recent referendum, oblige us to take the unfortunate decision to stop all project activities and with it all employment and investment, until there’s certainty about mining activity in the country and in Tolima.”

That decision was the result of strong community opposition and legal wrangling over environmental regulations, which have now prompted the Environment Minister Arce to promise new legislation, (albeit half-heartedly), that will reconcile existing mining permits with judicial authorities and local bodies.

‘La Colosa’ is a historic victory against transnational mining giants, since the Constitutional Court (for the very first time) overturned the central government’s sole authority by allowing provincial governors and mayors to challenge exploration permits. In fact, the ‘La Colosa’ victory has already inspired Colombians in the same situation that will now be voting against mining interests on their lands.

In any case, this is a clear message to the powers-that-be – especially to the Central Government – signaling that Colombia will continue to embrace; call it a “butterfly effect”, “ripple effect” or simply a “copycat effect” of a more peaceful but still effective way of implementing environmental action.

 

This Author

Burag Gurden is a postgraduate student at Lund University. He is also a freelance writer and contributor to the British ‘International Development Journal‘, Turkish ‘Dunya Gazetesi‘ and the international ‘Words in the Bucket‘ community. Currently he is working at the EnvJustice project