Category Archives: Childen and Nature

We talk of ‘climate change’ …. but can – and will – humans ‘change’?

After recently viewing the dramatic – and very unscientific/’hollywood’ – movie ’2010′, I have to ask: What IF humans continue on present course?  Now there is nore talk… but what of national and global action …?  

The United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Cancun, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December 2010, encompasses the sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP) and the sixth Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP), as well as the thirty-third sessions of both the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), and the fifteenth session of the AWG-KP and thirteenth session of the AWG-LCA.

To discuss future commitments for industrialized countries under the Kyoto Protocol, the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) established a working group in December 2005 called the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP). In Copenhagen, at its fifth session, the CMP requested the AWG-KP to deliver the results of its work for adoption by CMP 6 in Cancun.

At its thirteenth session in Bali, the Conference of the Parties launched a comprehensive process to enable the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention through long-term cooperative action, now, up to and beyond 2010, in order to reach an agreed outcome and adopt a decision at its fifteenth session in Copenhagen. This process has been conducted under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA). In Copenhagen, the COP decided to extend the mandate of the AWG-LCA to enable it to continue its work with a view to presenting the outcome to COP 16 for adoption.

http://unfccc.int/2860.php

Countries of world resolve, finally, to seek to save earth’s #biodiversity. Will real action now follow?

A historic deal to halt the mass extinction of species was finally agreed last night in what conservationists see as the most important international treaty aimed at preventing the collapse of the world’s wildlife. Delegates from more than 190 countries meeting in Nagoya, Japan, agreed at the 11th hour on an ambitious conservation programme to protect global biodiversity and the natural habitats that support the most threatened animals and plants.After 18 years of debate, two weeks of talks, and tense, last-minute bargaining, the meeting of the UN Convention on Biodiversity agreed on 20 key “strategic goals” to be implemented by 2020 that should help to end the current mass extinction of species.

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/countries-join-forces-to-save-life-on-earth-2120487.html

At the very least, the signing of the agreement in Nagoya late last night is the moment when the international community at last began to take the destruction of the natural world seriously.

Biodiversity loss has long been the Cinderella of global politics. For many years, while governments have prioritised the reduction of world poverty, and more recently, have taken on board the real threat of climate change, the remorseless destruction of the world’s habitats, ecosystems, species and natural genetic material has been an afterthought.

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/michael-mccarthy-the-nagoya-deal-shows-the-world-has-at-last-woken-up-2120490.html

http://www.cbd.int/cop10/

Environmental sustainability is out the window…(!!?)… if Commission is cut

The Government is expected to axe its environmental watchdog this week as part of Whitehall budget cuts. If the Sustainable Development Commission is to be cut, it is a blow on a nunber of fronts -logic, the environment, sustainable government, indeed the concept of sustainability - are all losers!

Shadow energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband: “They promised to be the greenest government ever but they’re completely betraying that promise.”

Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins said: “The Sustainable Development Commission has played a crucial role in helping Government departments work together to tackle the triple threats of climate change, economic downturn and inequality – as well as keeping a critical check on progress.

Jonathon Porritt: As the former Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission from 2000-2009, I’m clearly going to be a bit biased about the Government’s decision yesterday to get rid of the Commission.

http://www.24dash.com/blogs/jonathon_porritt/2010/07/23/The-Governments-First-Green-Betrayal/

The Government is expected to axe its environmental watchdog this week as part of Whitehall budget cuts.

An announcement that the Sustainable Development Commission is to be abolished is expected tomorrow, just as the environmental and sustainability watchdog publishes its latest report outlining the savings departments could make from being greener.

The report will detail how the Government could make hundreds of millions of pounds of savings over the next Parliament by reducing transport, water use, energy waste and rubbish – savings worth many times the £3 million expenditure on the SDC.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was unable to confirm today if the arms-length body, which is jointly operated by the UK Government and devolved administrations, is to be disbanded, saying no final decision has been made.

But reports of its imminent demise have raised concerns in the Welsh Assembly, where it was last week described as playing an important role in Wales’s efforts to become greener.

The SDC has helped central government departments save the equivalent of £16 million in carbon emissions reductions and £13 million in reducing water waste.

The commission has also worked with the NHS and schools to reduce their emissions and energy use and recommended the “whole-house” green makeovers to make them more energy efficient, a policy that was adopted by all three parties before the General Election.

Its advice on whether a Severn barrage could be built sustainably also paved the way for consideration of tidal schemes in the Severn Estuary.

Greenpeace campaigner Louise Edge condemned the decision to axe the SDC as “incredibly short-sighted”.

“The commission has always given great value for money, cutting wasteful energy use across Whitehall and providing vital advice on how departments can slash their carbon emissions.

“You have to wonder about the thinking behind scrapping a £3 million body with a record of success while pushing ahead with the multibillion-pound Trident replacement, which the military doesn’t even want. This is muddled thinking,” she said.

Margaret Ounsley, head of public affairs at WWF-UK, said: “Everybody knows that we are facing a heavy deficit, and we should not be too prescriptive about how the Government deals with it.

“However, it would be the worst sort of mindless hacking from Government if we were to lose the capacity to measure and report on its moves towards meeting its own commitments to become leaner and greener.

“Shooting the watchdog does not make always make for savings.”

And Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins said: “The Sustainable Development Commission has played a crucial role in helping Government departments work together to tackle the triple threats of climate change, economic downturn and inequality – as well as keeping a critical check on progress.

“The coalition must be held to account on its promise to be the greenest Government ever – and explain how it will continue to green Britain, saving money and creating jobs at the same time – without the Sustainable Development Commission’s expert guidance and overview.”

Shadow energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband said: “The coalition has made some terrible decisions on the environment – scrapping the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters, shelving Labour’s plan for the Green Investment Bank.

“They promised to be the greenest government ever but they’re completely betraying that promise.”

http://www.24dash.com/news/central_government/2010-07-21-Short-sighted-Government-to-axe-Sustainable-Development-Commission

As the former Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission from 2000-2009, I’m clearly going to be a bit biased about the Government’s decision yesterday to get rid of the Commission. So I’ve been working really hard to put myself in Ministers’ shoes in terms of the ‘rationale’ they’ve advanced for this reprehensible decision. They’ve put forward four justifications:1. It will save moneyThe SDC costs the taxpayer around £4 million a year, around 50% of which come from Defra. The rest comes from the Devolved Administrations and other Whitehall Departments – all of which wanted to carry on working with the SDC. As George Monbiot has pointed out, the SDC’s advice on reducing costs through increased efficiency has already saved the Government many, many times that negligible amount, and would have gone on doing so year after year.2. Sustainable development is now mainstreamed across government.Defra Ministers are now claiming that sustainable development has been embedded in every department. In other words, no specialist capability at the centre is any longer required, simply because the Government ‘gets it’.Like hell it does. To hear Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State in Defra make such a totally fatuous claim after a few weeks in power is irritating beyond belief. She clearly knows nothing of the constant slog required (of the SDC and many other organisations) to achieve the limited traction that is all that can be laid claim to today.There’s a rich irony here. The SDC is a UK-wide body. Neither Wales nor Scotland was in favour of getting rid of the Commission, no doubt because both Countries have done an infinitely better job than Whitehall on ‘mainstreaming’ sustainable development.3. It will avoid duplicationThis is a bit trickier, simply because the SDC does a number of different things. It advises Ministers – and there are indeed lots of other people who do that. But rarely if ever from an integrated sustainable development perspective. It helps countless public sector bodies (from the Audit Commission to the Department of Education, from Local Authorities to Primary Care Trusts in the NHS) to make sense of sustainable development, and no other government body does any of that. And it scrutinises government performance on a completely independent basis across the whole sustainable development agenda – not just on climate change. And no other body does that.4. Sustainable development is too important to delegate to an external bodyIt’s worth recording Caroline Spelman’s actual words here: “Together with Chris Huhne, I am determined to take the lead role in driving the sustainable agenda across the whole of government, and I’m not willing to delegate this responsibility to an external body.”Even after nine years working with dozens of Government Ministers, I’m astonished at such utterly brazen cynicism. The only thing Mrs Spelman has done so far as Secretary of State at Defra is publish a new strategy for the Department. This has not one serious reference to sustainable development in it. Such is the depth of her concern.If Defra’s next step is to get rid of what’s left of it’s own internal Sustainable Development Unit, then it will have literally no capacity to ‘drive the sustainable agenda’ even within Defra, let alone ‘across the whole of government’. And how can you drive anything if you haven’t the first clue what it actually means? And it just got rid of the only part of the system capable of providing you with a basic primer for beginners?So let’s not beat around the bush: their justification for getting rid of the SDC is transparently vacuous, if not downright dishonest. This is an ideological decision – in other words, a decision driven by dogma not by evidence-based, rational analysis.And the only conceivable reason for allowing dogma to dominate in this way is that the Government doesn’t want anyone independently auditing its performance on sustainable development – let alone properly-resourced, indisputably expert body operating as ‘a critical friend’ on an inside track within government.I don’t suppose the Prime Minister was even consulted about such a footling little matter. But it’s clear that his advisors hadn’t the first idea about the kind of signal this dogma-driven decision sends out, ensuring that his claim that this will be the ‘greenest government ever’ is in deepest jeopardy. It’s too early to make any definitive judgement about how the Green agenda will fare under the Coalition. But it’s not encouraging. ‘Greenest ever’ has to mean something substantive. Simply smearing a sickly ideological slime over everything just won’t cut it.

Oil spill equals bad news; Red Kites signal improving biodiversity in our towns

In the school in the Chilterns where I have been supply teaching, the red kites ‘play’ in the thermals …. a sign that wildlife is once again returning to parts of the United Kingdom. Nature’s Place in Town is being restored, to the benefit of both Children and Nature!  These provide excellent examples of how this magnificent species can live with others and alongside humans – ironically, also showing how us – humans – almost drove them to extinction! That’s environmental education  in action!  

 Red kites were almost extinct in the UK by the early 1900s, reduced to very low numbers in Wales. In the last two decades, they have been re-introduced to England and Scotland, with magnificent results.

Nest Watch

Between 2003 and 2008 the Chilterns Conservation Board ran a red kite ‘Nest Watch’ project, to bring the public up close and personal with a family of red kites. The project used Big Brother style CCTV technology to get an insight into the breeding behaviour of a pair of red kites, as they built their nest, laid and incubated eggs and reared their chicks. The following clips reveal the highs and lows of family life.

http://www.chilternsaonb.org/caring/red_kites_nestwatch.html

Red kites were almost extinct in the UK by the early 1900s, reduced to very low numbers in Wales. In the last two decades, they have been re-introduced to England and Scotland, with magnificent results.

 Species status 

  • Phase of recovery: Recovery 
  • Amber list Bird of Conservation Concern      

Almost lost

Red kites were persecuted to extinction throughout the UK, with the exception of Wales, during the 19th century. In Wales, during the 20th century, the small population was carefully protected, and red kites have slowly increased in numbers and range since the Second World War.   Bringing them back

In 1989 a re-introduction programme was set up by the RSPB and the Nature Conservancy Council because of concerns about the slow rate of population expansion in Wales, and the improbability of natural re-colonisation of other suitable parts of the UK by red kites from Wales or the continent.  In England, red kites have been re-introduced to four areas since 1989: the Chilterns, East Midlands, Yorkshire and north-east England. The first birds were brought from Spain, but as the Chilterns population grew quickly it produced enough young birds to donate small numbers to establish populations in the other areas. The final project, Northern Kites near Gateshead in north-east England, began in 2004. 

Red kites were brought from Sweden and Germany to North and Central Scotland, and breeding populations have been successfully established. In Dumfries & Galloway, 100 red kites were brought from the Chilterns and North Scotland, and breeding is now becoming regular.

Effective partnership 

The RSPB, together with its partners, has worked hard to ensure local support for the red kite reintroduction projects.  It has been important to reassure landowners and gamekeepers that red kites pose no risk to game shooting interests or livestock. Most have seen this for themselves, and are now proud to have kites nesting on their land, protecting them and monitoring their success.

 Christopher Ussher, resident agent at the Harewood Estate, was quoted in Shooting Times and Country Magazine as saying: ‘Initially we received comments from neighbours about how the birds would affect the estate, but there is no conflict at all.’ 

Support from local residents has been important too and we have often started by visiting schools, inviting children to see kites being released and helping them with associated project work. The children find out that kites are exciting and spectacular birds and share their enthusiasm with family and friends. 

Local economies have benefited from ‘kite country’ green tourism initiatives. Touring red kite trails have been set up, and enterprising farmers have set up kite-feeding stations which draw high numbers of visitors. 

A bright future 

The prospects for red kites in the UK are extremely good, with increasing numbers at most of the release locations. The population in Wales has increased to over 400 pairs and populations in most of the release areas in Scotland and England are already self-sustaining. This is particularly welcome as the European red kite population has declined dramatically and is now listed as globally-threatened by the IUCN/BirdLife International. In the UK, only in northern Scotland do we have serious concerns about the future. Numerous incidents of illegal poisoning appear to be preventing the population from increasing.

The same number of red kites were released in the Chilterns as in North Scotland between 1989 and 1993, but while the Chilterns population has grown to over 200 pairs, the north Scottish population has remained at only 35 pairs. The population produces lots of young, but fewer survive and so the population has stopped growing. 

Here we will be moving a small number of birds over the next five years to a new area to the north-east to hasten recovery of red kites in that area. We believe persecution is the main limiting factor in north Scotland, and we are carrying out a persecution study, using radiotelemetry to identify persecution hot spots. We are working with Police wildlife crime officers to track down those responsible. 

Acknowledgements 

The original re-introduction projects were developed by the RSPB, English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage. The Gateshead release project ‘Northern Kites’ is run by the RSPB and English Nature. Other partners are Gateshead Council, Northumbrian Water, National Trust and Forestry Commission England, and we have funding support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and SITA Environmental Trust. 

In the English Midlands, a public viewing scheme is run at a Forestry Commission England visitor centre. In the Chilterns red kites are monitored by the Southern England Kite Group, who assist in translocation of birds for other re-introduction areas. In Yorkshire, the release project was a collaboration between the RSPB, EN, Harewood Estate and Yorkshire Water. 

In Scotland, reintroduction projects have been carried out in collaboration with SNH, Forestry Commission Scotland and the Scottish Raptor Study Groups. We have also received funding for kite work from LEADER+, and Making Tracks. 

In Wales, we are grateful to the Welsh Kite Trust who monitor many of the nesting pairs.

http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/conservation/species/casestudies/redkite.asp

In this Year of Biodiversity, are we to celebrate or commiserate?

In this year of Biodiversity, we need a debate about the state of the UK enviromment. Here’s is a start by Michael Mccarthy of The Independent   

The tragic loss of British wildlife

Some truths are never voiced because they are virtually impossible to perceive. For example, I have never heard anyone declare how appallingly impoverished Britain’s wildlife is. That’s not the subject of a national debate (although it ought to be). That’s not even a national perception. In fact, I don’t know if it’s anybody’s perception. But it’s no less than the truth.

 I have spent most of my life hearing time and again a peculiarly smug proposition, which is that “Britain’s xxxx is the best in the world.” Fill in the exes at your leisure from a long list: civil service, dinner-party conversation, breadth of heritage, movie technology, sense of humour, overseas broadcasting, gentlemen’s tailoring, armed forces, you name it. It’s a statement which trips ever so comfortably off the tongue. But how would you like to be told: “Britain’s wildlife is among the poorest in the world”? How would that look on a tourist poster?

Not that what we have isn’t wonderful in itself, not that we don’t cherish every feather, every flower, every footprint of it. But the fact remains that our wildlife today, British biodiversity, is but a mean, miserly fraction of what its true, “natural” level is, of what it has been in the past and what it really ought to be. And we are blind to the fact.

The reason is a curious one: every generation tends to take what it finds around it to be the norm. American marine biologists have coined an evocative term for this: the shifting-baseline syndrome, first applied to the management of fish stocks. You may think that the baseline, or natural state, of a stock is what it was at the start of your career, yet actually it may once have been very much greater. And of course this applies right across the natural world – to poppies, to skylarks, to tortoiseshell butterflies, of which your grandparents saw thousands, your parents saw hundreds, you saw dozens, and your children will see the odd one and never apprehend there is anything amiss. They will gaze on impoverishment and take it as standard.

I have felt this for a long time, yet my sense of it was triggered anew this week when I found myself in the delta of the River Mississippi, covering the BP oil spill. The Louisiana marshes are swirling with sparky life, graced with clouds of exotic herons and egrets and birds of prey, even at the side of the road, and I was put in mind of the Norfolk Broads or the Fens, wildlife showpieces of our own, and thought how little they had in comparison.

Louisiana is sub-tropical, of course, and species richness increases as you move towards the equator, so let’s do a comparison in more temperate zones. How many wild bird species do you think have been recorded in St James’s Park in central London? About 65. How many in Central Park in New York? More than 200. Or we can bring it back to Europe. We have about 60 butterfly species in Britain; go to France and you will find 250. We have but three woodpecker species and one, the lesser spotted, you will be lucky to see in a lifetime now; go to France and you can find seven. And it’s the same story with mammals and reptiles and amphibians and pretty much everything.

This is partly geographical accident; since we are cut off at the end of Europe it is impossible for many species to replenish their populations from the continent. But why do we often seem to have so little of what we do have? Why is there so little abundance?

Three years ago, in a groundbreaking book, Silent Fields, the biologist Roger Lovegrove provided the answer: he revealed in detail how, for the best part of 400 years, an unremitting campaign of organised slaughter was waged against wildlife in Britain. From the time of Henry VIII until the First World War, systematic killing on a scale unthinkable today was directed at most of our familiar wild animals and many wild birds: badgers, foxes, hedgehogs, otters; green woodpeckers, jays, kingfishers, bullfinches. Millions were slaughtered, first, by country people, from about 1530 to 1800, to claim bounties under the Tudor vermin laws, and second, by gamekeepers controlling predators on aristocratic shooting estates, from about 1800 to 1914.

Besides “thinning out” wildlife everywhere, this drove to the edge of the abyss, and to the remote corners of the land, a whole series of creatures which in Shakespeare’s day were familiar to everyone in the countryside: polecat, pine marten, wild cat, hen harrier, red kite. We have never recovered; and since the arrival of intensive farming 40 years ago the situation has only worsened: half the birds in the fields of England have disappeared since the Beatles broke up. Britain’s wildlife is one of our dearest assets and a balm for our souls, but it is very far from what it ought to be, and its impoverished nature seems to me now to be its most striking attribute.

Got those Mississippi geography blues

As a one-time aficionado of folk-blues, I had heard and listened to many of the famous singers who came from the Mississippi Delta – Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson – so when I got to the mouth of the great river this week I was hot to find their traces. It took me some time to realise that the delta of the Mississippi river, and the Mississippi Delta, are two quite separate locations, the latter (where the bluesmen came from) being a plain in the north-west of the state. Just thought I’d pass it on.

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/michael-mccarthy-the-tragic-loss-of-british-wildlife-1997073.html

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