From Scientific America…
Ten families hiked into Davidson College Ecological Preserve on a bright Saturday morning to get a glimpse of the kudzu-eating goats, usually off-limits to the public. The outing was part of an environmental education program, World of Wonder (WOW!), a partnership of the Davidson Lands Conservancy (DLC) and Woodland Discovery, a non-profit nature program in Cornelius, NC.
The goats were no doubt the initial attraction for families that signed up for the free program, but children were greeted by WOW! Volunteers with recipes for Kudzu salsa, candy, and jellies, along with bags to collect their fill of Kudzu leaves along the way. Immediately darting from vine to vine, choosing only the smallest, most flavorful leaves, one six-year-old girl exclaimed, “this is like free salsa!”
Happily, the kids were receiving a hands-on lesson in invasive plant identification, as the guide pointed out other invasive species like English ivy, wisteria, and Japanese privet, whose seeds are spread primarily by birds. “The reason that these open spaces have a lot of invasives,” explained Irvin Brawley, who worked as Director of Grounds for Davidson College for 40 years before retiring, “is because it’s a great flyway for birds.”
Once they reached the goats rented by Davidson College to graze on five acres of out of control kudzu, the kids saw the sheer growing power of the vine (one foot per day) verses the eating power of the goats (15-20 lbs of kudzu per day). “This is just the start of Davidson College trying to control kudzu sustainably,” said Brawley.
Like the goats, the kids quickly found new uses for kudzu. Several boys began to swing like young Tarzans from a lush, robust vine. Others pulled down dried kudzu vines to weave into small wreaths with the help of their parents. One boy was determined to fill his bag for that night’s dinner, while exclaiming “it smells like asparagus!”
The effect of the outing was different from most educational tours I’ve experienced – the children were encouraged to not only see and listen, but to touch, smell, and eventually taste nature in all its wonder. In just one hour, I watched children interact with peers and family in the outdoors without fear of the unknown, and they learned naturally and in the best way possible – without even realizing it.
Part of the success of the program is groups are kept small, 15-20 people, to allow for a more intimate learning experience and connection with nature. The idea is working, as there is usually a wait-list for families eager to participate in the program.
“Everybody gains,” explains Pam Dykstra, DLC President. “Parents are empowered because they’re learning with their children, and it becomes a bonding experience because they’re sharing the natural world with their children.”
A Childhood Reality: Nature Deficit Disorder
The concept that people, specifically today’s children, are increasingly suffering from “nature-deficit disorder” stems from Richard Louv, the author of “Last Child in the Woods.” Louv explains that the term was not meant to be a formal diagnosis in his 2009 blog post in Psychology Today. “Nature-deficit disorder is not a formal diagnosis, but a way to describe the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature, particularly for children in their vulnerable developing years,” he writes.
The problem stems from the increasingly indoor, controlled and/or sanitized lifestyles that modern families lead. The environments where children live, learn, and play all have an effect on mood, growth, and overall health and well-being. With the rising rates of childhood obesity and attention deficit disorder, two problems linked to sedentary lifestyle and increased use of electronics, now is the time for parents to get their kids out of the house.
Moreover, a recent study shows the stakes are even higher. Researchers at Sydney University reported that excessive TV watching causes retinal damage in children and leads to increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes in adulthood. The study also found such effects could be reversed through increased physical activity – like playing outside.
A Natural Partnership
Understanding that not all people are nature buffs able to travel for miles to nature preserves or state parks, DLC identified the need to not only preserve natural areas and make them accessible to people, but to educate families about the value of natural areas in their hometowns and backyards. The partnership with Woodland Discovery was a natural one, as they were already providing outdoor summer camps and nature programs to preschoolers and homeschoolers.
Carolyn Walker, Director of Woodland Discovery, organizes the WOW! educational booth at the Davidson Farmer’s Market, which stays busy with families participating in the latest environmental craft, activity, or concept – from solar ovens to flower printing. Last Saturday there was a line of children waiting to see a cloud of tadpoles and take some home, but only if they promised to release the frogs back into their original habitat.
Overall, Walker has seen an increase in families bringing their children to the market this year. “We have a hardcore following of families that come every weekend, and then others are pleasantly surprised there is something for kids to be interested in,” she said.
The idea that nature has an amazing potential to inspire and motivate people, specifically children, is not a new one. What stayed with me as the WOW! outing ended is the belief that similar outdoor experiences can and must be shared with children, so that future generations will care enough to save the little wild places that fondly remind us of our own childhoods.
Photos by: Patti McKinnon.
About the Author: Lilly Vicens is a freelance writer, nature enthusiast, and volunteer with the Davidson Lands Conservancy and Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists. Her science writing has been published by Coastwatch Magazine, StormwaterMagazine, and the Watershed Education Network. Vicens holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Natural Resources, Ecosystems Assessment from North Carolina State University.
The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those ofScientific American.
South Africa maps first deep-sea preserve
Underwater canyons, deep-sea coral reefs and sponge banks are part of a unique ecosystem that South Africa wants to save within its first deep-sea marine protected area. After 10 years of consultations, South Africa has mapped the boundaries for the proposed reserve stretching 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the eastern KwaZulu-Natal coast.The mapping required synthesising the many divergent interests in the Indian Ocean waters, with 40 industries from fishing to gas lines to jet skis operating in an area home to about 200 animal species and their ecosystems.”All of this data was then entered into conservation planning software in order to identify areas of high biodiversity while avoiding areas of high (economic) pressure,” said Tamsyn Livingstone, the researcher who heads the project.The conservation area is being born in a spirit of compromise, which will allow people and companies to continue using the protected waters in zones designated as lower-risk threats to biodiversity.The scheme still needs to be passed into law, but would join South Africa’s existing network of marine preserves strung along its 3,000-kilometre (1,800-mile) coast stretching from the warm Indian Ocean to the cold southern Atlantic.South Africa has embraced this “participatory” method to protecting species living in its water, an approach pioneered in California and Australia.Global goals for protecting biodiversity have been debated for two weeks at a UN summit in Nagoya, Japan (
), in an effort to set goals on saving habitats which would help to end the mass extinction of species.Environmental groups want 20 percent of coastal and marine areas protected, they say China and India are lobbying for six percent or lower. Talks are supposed to wrap up on Friday.Part of the challenge is in protecting species that are more often than not still unknown. Only one quarter of the estimated million species in the oceans have been discovered.A global census of the oceans unveiled in early October uncovered prehistoric fish thought dead millions of years ago, capturing researchers’ imaginations about what else lurks in the deepest parts of the sea.”Offshore biodiversity is not well known,” said Kerry Sink of the South African National Biodiversity Institute.Exploring the seas remains an expensive project, prompting South African researchers to reach agreements to share information with fisheries, coastal diamond mines and the oil industry.”South Africa’s plan is unique in covering all industry sectors to ensure that biodiversity planning minimizes the impact on industry,” she said.”Healthy offshore ecosystems underpin healthy fisheries and keep options open for future generations.”With growing worries about climate change, scientists say the deep seas could become an important source of protein for the planet, because water temperature changes less at great depths.That assumes that the growth of industry can be managed alongside the marine life, especially as oil companies find ways to drill in ever-deeper waters.The explosion of a BP oil rig in April off the Louisiana coast, rupturing a 1,500-metre deep well, highlighted the risks.It took five months to shut off the leak which caused the biggest the oil spill in US history, with 205 million gallons of oil flowing into the Gulf.
Marine Reserves in UK
South African Biodiversity Inst
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Phase of recovery: Recovery
- Amber list Bird of Conservation Concern
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.
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.
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.
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.