No. 12/10

Welcome to FAO’s NWFP-Digest-L, a free e-mail journal that covers all aspects of non-wood forest products. Back issues of the Digest may be found on FAO's NWFP home page:

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A special thank you to all those who have sent me links to information and to Giulia Muir for her help with this issue.



  1. Bushmeat: Ending the monkey business
  2. Dika nut: The taming of the Dika, West Africa’s most eligible wild tree
  3. Edible Insects: Dining on insects: Anyone for crickets...?
  4. Honey in Ethiopia: Festival in Axum
  5. Honey in Turkey: Bees on strike, honey harvest plummets by 50 percent
  6. Honey in the USA: Teaching customers sweetens honey business
  7. Honey in the USA: Beekeepers celebrate fruitful fall harvest
  8. Moringa oleifera: The giving tree
  9. Seabuckthorn: The benefits
  10. Truffles: Australia’s goldmine
  11. Wildlife: US Fish and Wildlife agent on illegal wildlife trade
  12. Wildlife: Saving the friendly giant


  1. Cambodia: Bamboo trains at risk as railway to get moving again
  2. Costa Rica: The Titi Conservation Project
  3. Dominican Republic: Waterfalls discovered, important for ecotourism
  4. Indonesia: Borneo’s majestic rainforest is being killed by the timber mafia
  5. Japan: Acorn shortage behind wandering bears
  6. Malaysia: Industries see massive profits on the forest floor through bioprospecting
  7. Thailand: The Kohtrad Silk Project
  8. UK: Britain plans huge sell-off of forests in bid to cut deficit, says Report
  9. UK: A magnificent forest, but the Government may wield axe
  10. UK: Mushroom foraging is damaging forests, warn nature groups
  11. United Arab Emirates: Scent of decline hands heavy over agarwood producers


  1. Lack of forest definition “major obstacle” in fight to protect rainforests
  2. UN meeting aims to preserve biodiversity
  3. UN biodiversity talks: Nagoya biodiversity deal restores faith in the UN
  4. The march towards extinction accelerates
  5. New Amazon species discovered every three days for a decade
  6. Pragmatism, more than utopianism, will save biodiversity
  7. Biopirates plundering the developing world’s genetic diversity
  8. Zoos arguing for conservation and education
  9. Fast forward to slow food


  1. Kleinhans Fellowship in Tropical NTFP, Rainforest Alliance
  2. World Forest Institute (WFI) International Fellowship Program


  1. Eco Productos Forestales No Madereros 2010


  1. Request: Call for Submissions — International Forest Film Festival
  2. Request for information: Sabal palmetto (Cabbage palm)


  1. Publications of Interest
  2. Websites and E-zines


  1. Oxfordshire (England, UK) town sees human waste used to heat homes




  1. Bushmeat: Ending the monkey business

Source: BBC News, 23 October 2010

Many westerners would view the idea of eating monkeys with deep distaste. But for people raised on bushmeat, in Africa and elsewhere, the equation is different.
"Forbidding hunting [bushmeat] is not a solution for the Baka," Messe Venant, Field Officer for the Forest People’s Programme, told a small gathering in Nagoya, Japan at the UN biodiversity talks.
The Baka people, from Cameroon, have always survived on whatever the forest provides. In impassioned and colourful French, Messe compared the forest to a western supermarket.
"Everything we need, we go into the forest — for food or anything else," he said.
"The principal source of protein for the Baka is bushmeat."
In rural areas of Central Africa, even outside specific ethnic groups such as the Baka, bushmeat provides up to 80 percent of protein in peoples' diets. Yet in many areas of the world, the growing appetite for meat from the forest supermarket is leading to local ecological crises.
It threatens wildlife in Africa, Asia and Latin America, including populations of some animals even closer to humans in the lineage than monkeys, such as gorillas and chimpanzees.
Animals disperse seeds — up to 75 percent of plant species, in some forests — so the disappearance of animals would present a much larger problem.
What has led to these regional crises is a mixture of human population growth, increasing trade that carries to meat to cities and even abroad, and — in some regions — civil conflict, which brings armed gangs into the forest where of course they must find something to eat, with their weapons providing the easy answer to the question of how to do it. In doing so, they work against the interests of groups such as Baka who have always "shopped" in the forest — just as the arrival of industrial fishing fleets can in just a few years denude an area of species that have supported local fisheries for centuries.
Like banning fishing, simply banning bushmeat would not be the answer, even if it were feasible — which given the realities of life in the countries involved, it is not.
And that is recognized under international agreements including the CBD, whose remit includes sustainable use of living resources.
A report prepared for the CBD two years ago concluded that attempting to ban bushmeat would drive it further into the hands of gangsters.
One idea that has been around for a while is encouraging people to eat other things instead. Keeping chickens or goats — sometimes in the forest — can be an alternative.
Richard Robertson, a policy manager with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), discussed the use of certification schemes to promote self-regulation of hunting.
FSC-certified timber carries a price premium that companies earn by logging sustainably — so why not include sustainable use of wildlife in the criteria that companies have to satisfy before they qualify for the FSC logo?
This is being trialled in the Wijma Concession in Cameroon, where there are early indications that companies are using guards to keep hunting gangs at bay.Two issues at least might transpire to be challenging for this idea. One is that the vast majority of African-sourced bushmeat is consumed in Africa, whereas the certification is primarily an idea that works with western consumers who can afford to pay premium prices; the second is the ongoing issues around certified timber, in which management of Wijma has itself been part.
More intriguing was the notion put forward by Edgar Kaeslin of FAO. His idea is based on giving local people control over their own forests — giving the control back, rather, given that in the era before roads and miners and loggers and modern government, before the spread of rifles and before the modern era of rapid population growth, control was exactly what they had.
He hopes to begin soon a project that would do exactly this in four Central African countries. The legal framework would be reworked so that communities — particular indigenous groups — have explicit jurisdiction over their lands. Then it would be a question of trusting to their management methods.
Messe Venant painted a picture of simple Baka cultural norms that keep hunting under control. Hunters are allowed to bring only one animal back from a trip, he said. Without the capacity to preserve meat, whatever is caught must be eaten there and then — there is no point in taking a massive haul in one go.
This is a marked contrast to how the bushmeat trade runs elsewhere. In the Liberian capital Monrovia, it is not uncommon to see markets where tables are laden with smoked and dried carcasses, including monkeys. The trade pays hunters so little that they basically have to catch something every day in order to survive. Here, there is both the incentive and the capacity to catch much more than nature's supermarket can sustainably provide.
There is general agreement, then, that banning the hunting of bushmeat — whether primates or not — is not feasible, or indeed completely desirable. What westerners coo at, indigenous groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America depend on.
There is not yet a solution on the table. But solutions are beginning to be explored; and that has to be good news for the forests and those who want to maintain their traditional lifestyles, living on what the forest has to offer.
For full story, please see:



  1. Dika nut: The taming of the Dika, West Africa’s most eligible wild tree

Source: World Watch Institute, 18 October 2010Digg
When forests are cleared in West Africa for firewood or for farmland, the Dika trees (Irvingia barteri) are, more often than not, left untouched. Farmers have too much to gain from harvesting the tree’s fruits and seeds to burn or discard a Dika found in the wild.
Indigenous to West Africa, a Dika tree can grow to be as tall as 40m and produces a small green and yellow fruit that looks, at first glance, like a small mango.
Its fruit ranges in taste from sweet to bitter and can be enjoyed — especially the sweeter varieties — fresh off the tree, or made into jelly, jam or “African-mango juice.”
But while the fruit is a delicious treat, the seeds are where the real value can be found. Resembling smooth walnuts, Dika seeds are cracked open by harvesters to collect the edible kernel contained inside. These kernals can be eaten raw or roasted, but most are processed and pounded into Dika butter or compacted into bars or pressed to produce a cooking oil.
The seeds also produce a unique flavour when crushed and are combined with spices to make “ogbono soup,” a common dish. The wide popularity of ogbono soup has created a large market for Dika seeds and harvesters can trade Dika kernals at both the local and regional scale. Out of season, Dika seeds bring in an especially high price — it has been estimated that a farmer can make up to US$300 off of the seeds produced by just one tree.
Each year, thousands of tons of “Dika nuts” are harvested throughout Western Africa and the popularity of this wild tree has lead to many attempts at commercial cultivation. The Dika is a slow maturing plant — it takes 10 to 15 years for a tree to begin bearing fruit. Breeders, motivated by the value of its fruit, are working on developing faster growing varieties as well as varieties with shells that are easier to crack open.
But whether or not the Dika is successfully tamed by breeders and made more commercially viable as a domestic crop, the tree in the wild is already providing a critical income to millions of farmers and harvesters throughout West Africa.
For full story, please see:



  1. Edible Insects: Dining on insects: Anyone for crickets...?

Source: Independent (UK), 21 October 2010

In the basement kitchen of Archipelago restaurant in central London, the head chef, Daniel Creedon, is putting the finishing touches to his most popular salad. He takes a wok off the stove and spoons a pungent spicy red sauce onto a bed of salad leaves, sliding it over the counter with a grin.
At first glance the dish looks like any other Thai salad, all vibrant colours and punchy aromas packed with chilli, galangal and garlic. But look a little closer and there is the unmistakable shape of a light brown locust, complete with bulging eyes, spindly legs and a long ridged tail. The crickets are harder to spot. They are smaller, darker and have lost their large hind legs making them look frighteningly like mini cockroaches.
Even the most hardened Western gastronome would be forgiven a moment's hesitation. We are, after all, not a culture that is particularly fond of nibbling on insects, but soldier through the immediate yuck factor and they are surprisingly tasty.
The crickets, oven baked and flash fried in classic Thai spices, have a passing resemblance to crispy pork. The locusts, however, are a bit more of an acquired taste.
"If you want to try insects, crickets and locusts are a great place to start," explains the restaurant's 33-year-old head chef who, incidentally, trained in classic French cuisine before turning to more exotic foodstuffs. “They tend to taste of what they have been feeding on and are great transports for the flavours that you cook them with."
In the West we are remarkably dismissive of insect cuisine, known to those who take the subject seriously as entomophagy. But for an estimated 2.5 billion of the world's population insects are part of the daily diet.
Mexicans prize the nauseously named stink bug for its flavour, blending them to make sauces, popping them into tacos or even eating them whole. In southern Africa, bars stock sacks of mopane worms, a meaty caterpillar that goes well with a cold beer. The night markets in Thailand and Laos are an insect-eater's paradise. Deep-fried locusts, giant water bugs and marinated silk worms are just some of the more common insects wolfed down.
Archipelago is one of just a handful of restaurants in the UK that actually cook insects, which they obtain from a supplier in China. Owned by a South African-born entrepreneur, Bruce Alexander, it caters for the gastronomically adventurous, serving up unusual meats such as crocodile, zebra and kangaroo.
Their "Love Bug Salad" remains one of their most popular dishes, along with their chocolate-covered scorpion — imported by the only person in Britain with a licence to bring scorpions into the country.
Restaurants like Archipelago only really work in Britain as something of a novelty. The odds of the UK becoming a nation of insect-eaters are slim. But beyond the hilarity and adventurism that comes from tucking into a locust and cricket salad is a more serious point being made by proponents of entomophagy. "Insects are such an abundant food source that it seems crazy not to use them," remarks Mr Creedon. "We have just got to get over our fear of eating them."
The world is already struggling to feed itself, a crisis that shows no signs of abating unless population trends make a sudden U-turn over the next five decades. Developing world nations such as India, China and Brazil are cultivating their own rapidly expanding middle classes who are emulating the West in their demand for meat.
To farm enough animals to match that demand, the world will have to hugely increase the amount of cereals it grows for feed, something which will inevitably hit poorer countries that are already struggling to feed themselves or pay for imported grain than it will the world's rich. Throw in the spectre of increased water scarcity caused by a rapidly warming globe and you have a full- blown global food crisis.
A growing body of food scientists, meanwhile, believe insects are a potential way out of this mess. Even though up to one-third of the world eats insects, they remain one of the world's largely untapped food sources with an estimated 40 tonnes of insects for every human on the planet. So far more than 1 400 insects have been documented as edible but there are likely thousands more species out there yet to be sampled.
Patrick Durst is a senior forestry officer at FAO, which has begun a global campaign championing insects as a food source. He works out of Thailand, thought to be the only country in the world where insect consumption has increased over the past 20 years. That particular anomaly is thought to have been largely fuelled by the migration of millions of poor Thais from the country's north-east — where insect consumption is high — to cities like Bangkok. Throughout the rest of the world, however, insects play an increasingly minor role in people's diets.
"The globe is only really one generation away from a time when eating insects was widespread and socially acceptable," Mr Durst says. "Insects can play a crucial role in food security. We have to be cautious about how great a role they can play, but we have to begin teaching people not to look down on eating insects."
Monica Ayieko, a consumer economist at Kenya's Maseno University, has spent many years studying communities living around the Lake Victoria region. Many of the older locals still gather termites and water flies as part of their daily diet but the trend is diminishing among younger members. "We have been eating insects for hundreds of years but because people want to copy the attitudes of developed Western nations they are doing it less and less," she says. "It is a common misperception that Africans only eat insects when they are starving. We do not eat them because we are starving, we eat them because they are healthy and nutritious."
If the price of meat keeps going up in our supermarkets, perhaps we should start doing the same.
For full story, please see:



  1. Honey in Ethiopia: Festival in Axum

Source: Ethiopian News Source, 23 October 2010

An indigenous NGO, Rehobot Ethiopia, announced that it had plans to run a honey festival, the first of its kind in the historical town of Axum, from 29 November to 1 December this year with an objective of supporting farmers and businesspeople who are in the apiarian business.
Managing Director, Seged Gebru, said Ethiopia’s honey production has not hitherto exceeded 35 000 tons and the plan would be to scale it up to a minimum of 500 000 tons in the long run. The Managing Director added, “We will make sure that quality honey reaches the consumer both at home and abroad. That is why we are bringing together all stakeholders in this line of business: farmers, cooperatives, and investors.
For full story, please see:



  1. Honey in Turkey: Bees on strike, honey harvest plummets by 50 percent

Source:, 25 October 2010

The harvest of natural Kaçkar honey, which is produced in Rize's Kaçkar Mountains (Turkey), has plunged by nearly 50 percent this year, despite an increase of 40 percent in the number of beehives, General Manager of Topuy Kaçkar — an organic natural honey supplier — Remzi Özbay said.
In a written statement on Sunday, Özbay said the drop in the quantity was dramatic, despite the proper climate conditions and the abundance of flowers in the region, and blamed the deterioration of the natural balance ensued by the over-exploitation of pesticides in agricultural production. “The bees are on a veritable strike, so to say,” he noted in the statement.
The general manager warned that some producers in the region have already started offering to the market fake “Kaçkar” honey, which is produced with dextrose, with price tags between TL 50-150, opening doors to extremely high "undeserved revenues."
The top manager of Topuy Kaçkar, which has been producing organic honey in the region for a decade, said the company had been getting six tons of honey from a thousand combs in a year on average, but that this amount has fallen to three tons.
“I am receiving daily reports from beekeepers. Bees are strong, flowers are plentiful and the weather conditions are fit. We were expecting to see a very good season. When we opened the combs when the harvesting time arrived, we were stunned to see that the amount of honey was much less than what should have been. It had gone down even though it should have increased. We started growing curious about why the bees were sulking. Then we realized that all apiarists were witnessing sharp drops in their harvests,” said Özbay.
The manager recalled a saying — which is often attributed to Albert Einstein — that goes if the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to survive, and asked entomologists to focus on this issue.
A similar dire situation occurred three years ago when sizable honeybee populations in many parts of the world disappeared in a strange and unprecedented way, all of a sudden and without a trace. Scientist received this incident as a heads-up and conducted studies as to the possible causes of this extraordinary and mysterious situation, which they termed "colony collapse disorder.”
Honeybees are a major contributor to the pollination of hundreds of fruit and vegetable crops besides thousands of flower species worldwide; without bees, humanity would no longer be able to produce these crops, since cultivating them without natural means of pollination is extremely difficult and costly. From a broader perspective, a change in the natural balance will lead to the extinction of certain vegetable and fruit species that will trigger a “butterfly effect” and lead to the eventual destruction of nature.
Scientists have so far attempted to explain such unprecedented behaviour among bees with three major postulations. The first cause to blame is global warming, which fuels the proliferation of pathogens such as mites, viruses and fungi to the detriment of bee populations. In addition, drastic changes in weather harm bees, which have for millions of years been accustomed to consistent weather patterns. Another explanation attributes blame to the overuse of pesticides and herbicides, which honeybees ingest during their pollination rounds. The final theory is that the rise in atmospheric electromagnetic radiation levels, a by-product of the increasing usage of cell phones and wireless communication towers, is a major factor. Cell phone radiation interferes with bees' ability to navigate through the air.
For full story, please see:



  1. Honey in the USA: Teaching customers sweetens honey business

Source: 18 October 2010, Washington Post (USA)

For beekeeper Andrea Langworthy, the business of making honey involves more than tending to some 3.3 million honeybees over the summer — about 60 000 bees in each of 50 to 60 organically maintained hives kept on farms in northern Montgomery, Howard and Frederick counties (Maryland).
The beekeeper also works to educate. So her Banner Bee Co. maintains a glass-sided observation hive that often travels to farmers' markets, where customers can view the complex colony operations that produce Banner Bee's annual honey supply.
It is part of a carefully cultivated marketing effort that has turned the 5 000-pounds-a-year honey operation into a profitable cottage business. Langworthy, who owns Banner Bee with her husband, Chet, regularly chats with customers about the micro-nutrients available in bee pollen granules and touts the immune-stimulating properties of local honey; her Website offers information on enriched raw honey and more to online shoppers.
She learned the nutritional value of honey early on, incorporating it into her own family's diet as she mastered the art of beekeeping with Chet, who learned it from his father.
The Langworthys began selling their jarred honey in 2000. Four years later, after two years of intensive research, Andrea launched a line of home products based on the farm's honey and beeswax. Banner Bee now sells raw and infused honeys, soaps, lotions, beeswax candles, honeycombs and pollen granules. She also sells propolis, a hive resin that claims antibacterial properties; Andrea uses it in nearly all of the skin products and instructs browsing customers on how to use propolis tinctures.
Banner Bee also sets up shop at some four farmers' markets each week during the warmer months; a typical day spent at the farmers' market yields about 40 to 50 sales. Those face-to-face interactions create opportunities to tell customers about the nutritional benefits of raw honey, which is minimally processed to preserve vitamins and active enzymes.
For full story, please see:



  1. Honey in the USA: Beekeepers celebrate fruitful fall harvest

Source:, 24 October 2010 

By this time each autumn in Santa Fe, New Mexico, honeybees are hiding out. They will spend the winter hunkered down, eating the food they were busy making all summer.
Other honey-eaters see it as a season to celebrate. This weekend, dozens of members of the Sangre de Cristo Beekeepers met to swap tastes of honey.
Veteran beekeeper Les Crowder said, "Last year, I had bees in Santa Fe that produced zero honey. This is a good year."
Crowder arrived at the gathering with some of this year's bounty from his 150 to 200 hives located across the region, including two jars of honey that were as different as night and day, but came from hives a few hundred feet apart.
One was such a dark shade of brown that it hinted at black, the other a pale cream colour that only hinted at yellow.
What the bees eat is only one part of what makes variety in honey, said taster Liz Clow, who plunged a toothpick into each jar to gather a small blob.
"It is similar to a wine tasting. Here, everyone is trying to come up with adjectives," said Kate Whealen, one of the group's more experienced beekeepers who serves as a mentor to others. The ancient craft of domestic beekeeping seems to be a popular hobby, judging by the crowd at the tasting party.
Bees from a single hive can produce up to 50 pounds of honey on a good year, like this one, or zero to 10 pounds during a summer like 2008.
Crowder, who has been beekeeping for 35 years, said the trend of family beekeeping in Northern New Mexico is different from the conditions when he started off in the industry. Twenty years ago, he said, there were a handful of commercial beekeepers who had 2 000 to 3 000 hives each and who employed a variety of pesticides as part of regular operations.       Today's small-scale practices are much healthier for people and for the bees, he said.
For full story, please see:



  1. Moringa oleifera: The giving tree

Source: World Watch Institute, 11 October, 2010

Referred to as a “supermarket on a trunk,” moringa is potentially one of the planet’s most valuable plants. Serving not only as a reliable source of diverse foods, moringa also provides lamp oil, wood, paper, liquid fuel, skin treatments, and the means to help purify water.  But despite its multiple uses, and well-earned nickname, the tree is relatively unknown to most people in the United States.
The moringa tree comprises four different edible parts: pods, leaves, seeds, and roots.  The green-bean looking pods are the most sought-after parts, not only because of their taste —similar to asparagus — but also because they are highly nutritious. They provide a good balance of amino acids and minerals and possess one of the highest vitamin C levels of any tropical vegetable.
The moringa leaves are also an excellent source of nutrition. People commonly boil the tiny leaflets and eat them like spinach.  Like the pods, the leaves contain vitamins A and C as well as more calcium than most other greens. These leaves also contain such high levels of iron that doctors frequently prescribe them for anemic patients.
Before fully mature, pods can also be picked for their soft seeds.  The seeds can be boiled and eaten like fresh peas, or fried to taste more like peanuts. Seeds can also be pressed for oil that can be used for cooking, medicinal ointments, lamp fuel, or even as an ingredient in soap. The thick, soft roots are another important food resource, and are usually used to make a condiment similar to horseradish. Boiling roots and shoot tips is also common because of their high-protein content.
Although the moringa tree is best known for its endless supply of food, one of the most innovative uses of the plant has been to treat water and waste water.  Researchers at Leicester University, UK, have found that mixing crushed moringa seeds with polluted water help settle silt and other contaminants. This is highly cost effective because the seeds can replace the expensive imported material usually used for water purification in rural areas. The seed filtered water still needs a final filtration before it is completely drinkable, but the seeds make the process easier and help other water filters last longer.
Moringa trees are also used in agroforestry and mixed cropping because the shade can protect other crops from the sun and, while smoke from household fires can pollute the air, the soft, spongy moringa wood burns cleanly with little smoke or smell, making it a more healthy source of fuel.
For full story, please see:



  1. Sea Buckthorn: The benefits

Source:, 17 October 2010

Sea buckthorn, scientifically known as Hippophae rhamnoides, is a shrub that can be found in Europe and Asia, especially in Russia and even more so in China.
The plant is valued for its fruit and its function as a source of multiple vitamins and minerals, so much so that the European Commission funded the EAN-Seabuck network to promote sustainable crop and consumer product development, as sea buckthorn is viewed as an underused raw material for pharmaceutical and cosmetic products.
So what are the benefits of sea buckthorn? The fruit that grows from the sea buckthorn plants provide 600mg of vitamin C per 100g of fruit, 180 mg of vitamin E, 80mcg of folic acid, 35mg of carotenoids, (beta carotene, lycopene, etc.), 6 to 11 percent of omega fatty acids, and up to 1 percent of flavonoids.
What’s more, apparently palmitoleic acid, an ingredient found in the oils from the fruits’ seeds, nourishes the skin with antioxidants. Sea buckthorn oil may also protect you from UV rays and serve as an emollient.
There is a great deal of research that verifies the benefits of sea buckthorn for disease prevention, including cirrhosis, cancer, and other illnesses.
For full story, please see:



  1. Truffles: Australia’s goldmine

Source: The Land (Australia), 19 October 2010 

For legendary American truffle expert Jim Trappe, Australia is a goldmine.
Dr. Trappe estimates that the country has 1500-2000 species— about one-third of the world's recorded truffles — which play an extraordinary but seldom-considered role in our landscape.
If "truffle" means anything to most Australians, it evokes an image of French oak forests, truffle-hunting pigs and the finest of fine dining — which can fetch prices as high as AUD$3000/kg for the famed Black Perigord truffle.
Truffles are the fruiting bodies of mycorrhizal fungi, which form symbiotic relationships with plant roots. In return for carbons and sugars generated by photosynthesis above ground, mycorrhizal fungi act as root extenders below ground, scavenging nutrients needed by the plant and transporting them back from places the roots cannot reach.
Most Australian trees are completely dependent on mycorrhizae for survival, Dr. Trappe said: without the fungi scavenging on their behalf, trees cannot extract enough nutrients from poor soils.
He commented on the number of sickly isolated farm trees he sees on his visits to Australia. Lack of mycorrhizae may be responsible. The fungi disappear under soil compaction and synthetic inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus — two conditions almost guaranteed to exist around a lone tree in a paddock.
That is a paradox for farmers, Dr. Trappe observes: most commercial crops benefit from mycorrhizal relationships as trees do, but the inputs used by farmers kill off the fungi, making the crops more dependent on inputs.
In forests, the relationship between mycorrhizae and trees reaches remarkable levels.
The fungi can form a link between the roots of trees of the same and different species, and allow nutrients to be freely traded to where they are most needed.
Where there is a single dominant tree in a stand, which would otherwise be a resource hog, mycorrhizae transport nutrients from the main tree to other less successful relatives around it.
Dr. Trappe confirmed what 60 years of research already told him: whether it is in Gippsland (Australia) or California, the functioning of a healthy forest is dependent on interactions between plants, fungi and animals.
For full story, please see:



  1. Wildlife: US Fish and Wildlife agent on illegal wildlife trade

Source:, 3 November 2010

Special Agent O’Connor is a veteran wildlife law enforcement officer, with over 20 years of service under her belt. She now serves as a training officer at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), the interagency law enforcement training organization that serves 88 Federal agencies, in Georgia.
“US Fish & Wildlife agents are charged with enforcing the nation’s laws that protect our natural resources and animals — wildlife,” says O’Conner. “That includes laws like the Endangered Species Act (which actually covers plants as well). [That Act specifies] certain things you cannot do with them. You cannot hunt [species listed in the Act], for example, the way that you can hunt duck when they are in season. You cannot buy and sell them. You cannot import and export them without special permits, and even then it is pretty tough. So, we [as FWS Special Agents] enforce things like the Endangered Species Act (ESA).”
“We also protect wildlife all over the world through the ESA. Going along with the ESA is CITES, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Again, these are species that have been identified all over the world as being at risk on one level or another through illegal trade —through illegal harvest. The United States is a signatory to that treaty, and so we would protect animals like African elephants, Asian elephants, and primates. Every primate, no matter where they are located in the world, is protected under this treaty. All crocodilians (e.g., alligators, crocodiles and caimans) are protected under this treaty, no matter where they are at in the world. So we would enforce those laws.”
To give an example, O’Conner speaks of one investigation which took place in 2005. “A mother-daughter wildlife and drug smuggling team were living in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul). Both had been born in Laos and then immigrated to the United States in the 1980s. The mother would go back to Laos, where she would obtain parts and pieces of different kinds of wildlife, the bulk of it endangered, threatened, or protected by CITES. She smuggled these back to the United States, where she sold them at a flea market in St. Paul. We caught her as she came through the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. She had a bunch of plant material, so she was sent to Agriculture so that the agriculture inspectors could look at the plant material that she was bringing back to see if it contained any seeds, agricultural pests or diseases. They took out one of the bundles of plant material and found wildlife — bones, pieces — and called our wildlife inspector at that airport. Her supervisor also happened to be there that day, and the two started going through the bags and they found eventually almost 1 400 pieces of individual wildlife: all kinds of species like elephant, douc langur (which is a primate), slow loris (which is also a primate), and porcupine quills. There were strips of animal hide, but we had no idea what [species] it might be. They seized everything and contacted me. I went over there, we looked at it, and we got some preliminary identifications. We found out that she was selling the items at a flea market, and got us the location. I went there a few days later and saw that much of the wildlife that was seized from this woman three days prior was still for sale in her shop.
The wildlife was used for medicine. “We learned [some of the uses] during the course of the investigation. [For example,] she was bringing back Asian moles. They are not endangered or anything like that. But they were terribly dried and desiccated. There was no fluid left in these things; they were crumbly. One of the things we learned about the use of that is, when a woman goes into labour, you cook these moles in water and the pregnant woman drinks the water. That is supposed to help with labour. I am not sure if that’s supposed to speed labour or if it is supposed to ease labour pain, but this is very popular medicine in this Laotian refugee community in the Twin Cities.
For full story, please see:



  1. Wildlife: Saving the friendly giant

Source: The East African (Kenya), 25 October 2010

East Africa is acclaimed as the cradle of humanity. Now the region could claim yet another honour — the epicentre of the giraffe population of the world
In particular, Kenya takes pride of place as the only country in the world where three of the nine giraffe sub-species are found — the Maasai, the Reticulated and the Rothschild’s.
Of the three, the Rothschild’s is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered, and could soon become extinct in the wild.
There are only 650 such giraffes in the wild today. Ten percent of them are in Soysambu Conservancy on the shores of Lake Elmenteita in the Great Rift Valley.
Until recently, giraffes were common in Kenya — and in most of Africa. But a rapid increase in human population, coupled with habitat loss and an increase in the bushmeat trade, has seen the world’s tallest mammal seek refuge in protected areas.
Over the past 10 years, there has been a 30 percent decline in giraffe population. The figure is set to increase. This is the reason research and conservation are important in safeguarding the world’s tallest animal.
The Rothschild’s giraffe fared the worst after Kenya’s Independence in 1963. Huge ranches in western Kenya around Soi were subdivided and sold, leaving the Rothschild’s giraffe with no habitat. The giraffe was endemic there.
The Maasai giraffe covers a larger range south of the Equator, while the Reticulated giraffe is found in the drylands of the north.
Both the Reticulated giraffe of northern Kenya and the Masaai giraffe of southern Kenya are facing challenges, too. Loss of habitat is widespread, hence the decline in their populations.
Although giraffes have no competition for food resources with other browsers, (they can reach 20 feet high), very few are found outside protected areas due to human-wildlife conflict.
The most common reason for the drop in giraffe numbers is pressure from farming and modern land practices. Poaching is also common in northern Kenya, where the graceful giants are killed for their meat and hide.
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  1. Cambodia: Bamboo trains at risk as railway to get moving again

Source: The Independent (UK), 23 October 2010

Cambodia's railway — for so long the victim of war, turmoil and the neglect that has beset the country — is poised to get moving again.
Officials yesterday formally opened the first section of a new network that will stretch across the country and provide the missing link in a rail route that could reach from Scotland to Singapore. It could provide a major boost for Cambodian industry.
"We are on the cusp of a contiguous Iron Silk Road stretching from Singapore to Scotland," Kunio Senga, a senior official with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), declared at the launch. "This possibility has been talked about for decades, but today the dream has finally taken a big step toward becoming reality."
French colonial rulers were the first to lay rail tracks in Cambodia, starting in the 1920s. By 1969, the network had two tracks and reached from the Thai border to the capital, Phnom Penh, and then carried on to the coast at Sihanoukville. But by then Cambodia was immersed in war and chaos.
The railway also faced a slow, steady decline as a lack of investment and maintenance. Across much of the network, crumbling stations and rusted locomotives effectively destroyed the service.
Even today, in many parts of Cambodia the only thing riding on the tracks are bamboo-made carts or lorries, powered by small engines.
These homemade vehicles transport people and cargo at a slow pace, but only on short journeys.
Earlier this month, after investment in new rails, signs, locomotive repairs and training of the fledgling workforce, a freight service to Touk Meas, near the border with Vietnam, began operating ahead of yesterday's inauguration. The entire railroad network, covering more than 400 miles, is due to be ready by 2013.
"Upgrading the infrastructure will improve competitiveness in Cambodia's economy and promote direct investment in Cambodia itself," said Putu Kamayana, director of the ADB's Cambodian office.
Once Cambodia's railway is completed, just one outstanding link — between Phnom Penh and Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City — will remain for a pan-Asian network to be ready. That network will help provide better links between the countries of south-east Asia and markets in China.
But not everyone in Cambodia is thrilled by the new railway. Indeed, many of the thousands of people who live alongside the tracks and scratch a living by selling goods believe they could be forced from their homes as the tracks are developed. Others, like the operators of the bamboo lorries, which have become a tourist attraction in their own right, could lose their livelihoods. The ADB has said US$3.5m has been set aside to compensate such people.
Prak Pheam, 31, who lives north of Phnom Penh, told the Associated Press the new railroad would put his bamboo train out of business.
In a good week he can earn up to US$25, but only a handful of bamboo drivers have been told they would receive compensation. Few understand how to apply for the money.
"It is unfair that I am not getting money," he said. "I will have to go back to the rice fields. Or get a job on a train."
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  • Costa Rica: Titi Conservation Project

Source: Eco-Index Monthly Update, 2 November 2010

The Titi Conservation Alliance (TCA) was created more than eight years ago to save endangered titi or squirrel monkeys (Saimiri oerstedii) and their habitat on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast. Since then, its conservation approach and responsibility have been expanded; today the Alliance leads projects for responsible tourism, reforestation, and environmental education, with sustainable development and biodiversity conservation as key goals for the lowlands of the Río Naranjo Basin in the Central Pacific region of Costa Rica.
Administratively, the TCA’s actions involve the cantons of Tarrazú and Aguirre, specifically in the neighborhoods of Esquípulas and the communities of Londres, Villa Nueva, Naranjito, La Inmaculada, Manuel Antonio, Paquita, and Quepos in Aguirre canton.
The Titi Conservation Project has several objectives: (1) to promote the development of a responsible tourism destination with varied local and regional stakeholders; (2) to educate members of the community, especially children, about the importance of protecting biodiversity and the environment; (3) to make the Río Naranjo Biological Corridor official and expand it until it is connected with other forested areas of the central and south Pacific region; (4) to promote responsible tourism to local and regional businesses; and (5) to stabilize the habitat for endangered squirrel monkeys in Costa Rica.
To date, The Titi Conservation Alliance is recognized locally and regionally as one of the most effective alliances for sustainable development, whose members include local businesses that are renowned in the tourism, industry, and real estate sectors. The Rio Naranjo biological corridor (RNBC), created by the Titi Conservation Alliance, stretches from Manuel Antonio National Park to the Nara hills, thereby connecting the two areas of spider monkey habitat that have been disconnected by development and land-clearing for agriculture. The RNBC is now being legally recognized. To date, the Alliance has planted more than 38 000 trees along this corridor.
The Titi Conservation Alliance offers an integrated environmental education program in nine primary schools in Aguirre canton, complementing educational talks with field trips, reforestation trips, and the installation of organic tree nurseries on school properties.
The Alliance is an engine for responsible tourism development among its members through the promotion of workshops, seminars, consultancies, and promotion.
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  • Dominican Republic: Waterfalls discovered, important for ecotourism

Source:, 18 October 2010

The Environment Ministry announced the discovery of a waterfalls in a tropical rainforest near the town El Valle on Sunday, which will form part of the northeastern province Hato Mayor’s tourist attractions.
The 20m high Zumbador (hummingbird) waterfall is located in a tract of nearly 20 ha with lush trees owned by Martha Frias, in the Los Haitises National Park’s dampening zone, west of the rural municipality.
Environment Ministry provincial manager Miguel Laureano said the fall’s discovery is important for Hato Mayor’s ecotourism development. “It’s a natural patrimony that will serve to boost the tourism potential of Hato Mayor and the East region, because it is a natural aggregate which will result in invaluable benefits to the province.”
He said Zumbador — a paradise hidden by lush vegetation of ferns, royal palms, endemic mahoganies and other varieties — is the province’s highest waterfalls and urged the villagers to preserve it as a legacy of nature which will benefit its inhabitants.
The official said its three falls form a symmetric, interlaced cascade of water that creates a large pool for swimmers.
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  • Indonesia: Borneo's majestic rainforest is being killed by the timber mafia

Source: The Observer, 24 October 2010

Indonesia has one of the world's largest areas of remaining forest but also one of the highest deforestation rates, ranking only behind Brazil. The vast green rainforest carpet has become a patchwork with more than half of Borneo's tree cover and peat swamps — which absorb much of the planet's carbon excesses — already gone after a decade's "goldrush" of uncontrolled timber logging that was at last partially curtailed in 2006.
But now the rest is being pillaged by palm oil and pulpwood plantations and networks of illegal loggers — the "timber mafias" — in an onslaught that is endangering not only the wildlife and the people but also contributing to global climate change on a scale far out of proportion to the island's size on the map. Indonesia's carbon emissions as a result of its deforestation and land use changes put it in third place of the world's worst offenders, behind only the US and China.
The timber from its rare 100- to 200- year-old diptocarp trees, each one the home of hundreds of insects, is eagerly snapped up, keeping consumers and the construction industry in the UK and elsewhere in tables, patio chairs, trinket boxes, doors and plywood. When consumers buy paper, furniture or even charcoal on the British high street there is an estimated more than 80 percent chance they are buying into this destruction.
Only four of the 300 timber concessions currently logging in West Kalimantan have written sustainability into their methods and only 16 percent of the world's timber goes through members of the WWF Global Forest & Trade Network, companies who commit to choosing sustainable wood where they can. Meanwhile, where the trees once stood and acted as a natural barrier, the floods rage.
Kalimantan is the largest chunk of Borneo. Brunei and Malaysia occupy the top third. Divided into three provinces — east, west and central — Kalimantan has almost 10 percent of the world's tropical forest and an extraordinary biodiversity that constantly multiplies with three new species being discovered there on average every month. It is the only home of some of the world's most endangered mammals: the pygmy elephant, the clouded leopard, the sun bear and the orangutan. All of them face extinction if the ancient forest is destroyed.
Already along many of West Kalimantan's rivers the black totem poles of dead and dying trees stand stark where rainforest once flourished. Indiscriminate chopping down of the big trees kills off the surrounding flora, too, a degradation that allows the free flow of flood waters to drown more trees, insects and plants and erode the habitat of apes and the resources of locals.
Saweng, 60, a father of five of the indigenous Dayak, the infamous headhunters tribe, was born in the Long House at Meliau, a stilted home where 32 families live under one, long roof. He complains of outsiders coming in to steal their trees and the rising water levels, a 20-year high he says.
"The forest is important for everything for us, for tools, for house and for boat, for food and for medicine. The loss of this forest is making our lives more difficult. Now if we found someone logging in our forest we would punish them, capture them and not let them go."       Jimmy Bond, a WWF officer in the area of Lanjak town, monitors the dubious practices of some of the palm oil plantation managers and tracks down illegal logging. Last year he was viciously beaten up by police officers for getting too close to logging machinery with his camera.
"Lanjak used to be the biggest illegal logging port, there were 20 sawmills and every day 400 trucks were carrying out wood day and night," he says. "It seemed unstoppable and the social impact was huge."
The shutting of the border with Malaysia ended the town's dominance and now the timber mafias have moved deeper into the forests.
Bond introduces a repentant man: Hendri Jali, head of 38 families who live at Sungai Luar Long House, rebuilt on the proceeds of illegal logging. Now Jali is trying to grow rubber and replant the ruined forest. He is angry that he has closed his sawmill in the forest but that a Russian company has just marked trees around his land to cut to create a palm oil plantation.
"I was promised aid money if I stopped logging, but I have had none and now they are giving the land to foreigners to destroy" he says. "Already hunting is almost impossible, we fail to find any meat and the plants for medicine are hard to find."
What is not difficult to find is the ongoing illegal logging. At the small port of Ketapang alone last year, 30 boats loaded with illegal timber were counted leaving each day, smuggled wood worth an estimated US$6m.
But it is not just the locals; unmonitored, unscrupulous companies can easily haul out extra timber over and above the amounts specified on their licence. There are huge discrepancies between figures for export of Indonesian wood and reports of imports in other nations.
Ian Kosasih is the forest director of the Heart of Borneo initiative, an ongoing effort to ringfence and protect 22 million hectares of rainforest across the three nations of Borneo.
"The companies usually are even more difficult to prove a case against, they can use their existing permits and it's much more difficult to prove," he says. "There are many, many cases with a lot of timber posing as coming from a certain area but the volumes are ridiculously high. Formal timber tracking is not working; you need to be able to document from the stump to the entry of the timber to the market.
"In 2006 we knew that 70 percent of the logging was illegal but now it is a lot smarter, more hidden. The timber mafia can control a whole district and be running 150 to 200 trucks out and sending hundreds of teams into the forest."
The illegal wildlife trade is also booming. In the street markets of Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan, which sits directly on the Equator, the trade is brazenly open, although stallkeepers say the confiscation by the authorities of a baby orangutan on sale here last week has frightened a few dealers away.
But still, in one short stretch of just a few hundred metres, it is possible to count seven species of birds and fish for sale in small cages and overstuffed tanks which are on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species endangered species list. From the rare red arowana river fish to the black hornbill and spotted doves, the conditions mean they die quickly, keeping the demand high.
Many believe that the saving of the depleted Kalimantan forest can only happen through pressure from the outside, when consumers start to question the wood they are buying.
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  • Japan: Acorn shortage behind wandering bears

Source:, 24 October 2010

Many experts have agreed that this year's dearth of acorns — on which bears feed — explains why dozens of the creatures have come out of forests and into towns and cities across the country in recent months.
These bears have wandered into human settlements this year to look for food before going into hibernation, they said.
"This year, oak trees did not grow enough buds due to unusually low temperatures in spring," an official of the Nagano prefectural government's wildlife problem section said. "And then the scorching weather in summer made the acorns fall from the trees before they had grown to full size."
A mature black bear usually weighs about 100kg. But a mature bear captured in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, on 10 October weighed only 45kg.
Kazuhiko Maita, head of the Institute for Asian Black Bear Research and Preservation, a nonprofit organization based in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, believes a baby boom three years ago is partly to blame for the spate of bear sightings.
"In autumn 2007, acorns were plentiful and bears were healthy and gave birth to many cubs," Maita said.
He said there was an abundance of acorns the following autumn, too. "Bears born in these years have now become very active, partly because acorns are in short supply," Maita said.
Some experts have suggested changes in forests and farmland are also behind the spate of bear encounters.
Forests in mountainous areas were once maintained by forestry workers, but this work has been increasingly neglected in recent years as people drift away from these areas.
More and more farmland is being left unattended, and plants have grown among the abandoned crops. These plots are often close to residential areas and provide bears with food with cover from prying eyes.
Iwate University Prof. Toshiki Aoi, a researcher of wild animal controls, said bears are no longer afraid of people.
However, some experts disagree that an acorn shortage has caused the bears to wander into residential areas.
Manabu Miyazaki, who has filmed wild animals in the Central Japanese Alps, believes the bears do not rely on acorns for their diet. "Acorns are not the only food bears eat," he said. "Bears are food connoisseurs who select and eat only tasty nuts."
In fact, an Ishikawa prefectural government analysis of the stomach contents of 141 bears captured since September 2004 found 55 had eaten persimmons.



  • Malaysia: Industries see massive profits on the forest floor through bioprospecting

Source:, 23 October 2010

Around 30 minutes' drive from the centre of the Malaysian capital lies 1 800 ha of tropical rainforest, thick with lush vegetation, palm leaves and trees rising to 100 m
Cheong Chiew Hing, 34, a researcher at Nimura Genetic Solutions, a Japanese biological resources exploration company, searches for valuable bacteria on the forest floor.
"Termites have bacteria in their guts that produce enzymes capable of breaking down plant fibres," Cheong said shovelling termites, along with the rotten trunks of fallen trees, into a plastic bag.
Cheong's work also involves classifying rare plants as well as the bacteria and micro-organisms extracted from the soil around their roots, all of which might become useful biological resources.
The rainforest where he works is administered by the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), a governmental organization.
Nimura Genetic Solutions, which runs a laboratory within the institute, was established in 2000. Its president, Satoshi Nimura, 47, came to Malaysia to look for work after graduating from university.
Around 1994, he began creating a database of the traditional knowledge of Malaysian native people about the medicinal effects of plants. Around the same time, he was contacted by a Japanese pharmaceutical company.
The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity states that when companies utilize the resources gained from living organisms, they must reach a prior agreement with the country that owns the resources and share profits fairly.
Nimura decided to set up a company to act as a bridge between the owners and users of biological resources. In 2002, his company concluded an agreement with the Malaysian government through the institute. The agreement allowed the company to search for biological resources in Malaysia and conduct research and development on micro-organisms and bacteria it found.
According to the agreement, Nimura Genetic Solutions will pay Malaysia a portion of any proceeds or research funding received from private enterprises; the company will transfer its technology to Malaysia; and any patent applications will be filed jointly with Malaysia and sent first to the Malaysian Patent Office.
The analysis of biological organisms and the storage of micro-organisms and bacteria also have to be done at the institute. The company has already paid a total of 20 million yen (US$244 000) to Malaysia's central and state governments.
In 2007, Hirobumi Suzuki, 48, a researcher at the company Olympus, was making inquiries to Southeast Asian countries about collecting firefly samples to research the luminescent properties of fireflies found in tropical countries. He found out about Nimura's company and immediately agreed on joint research.
From a firefly caught in the northern Malaysian state of Perak, they were able to extract a luminescent material brighter than those found in other fireflies.
In March, the Perak state government, Olympus and Nimura Genetic Solutions jointly filed a patent application to the Malaysian Patent Office.
"The discovery of valuable resources can contribute to the preservation of tropical rainforests," Nimura says. "It is important for the countries owning the resources and those using them to put together sustainable rules."
Some Japanese companies have been accused of biopiracy because of their use of the natural resources obtained from living organisms.
More than 20 years ago, a confectionery maker in the Kansai region developed a chocolate product using the fruits of the cupuacu, a tree related to the cacao tree and found in the Amazon jungles of South America.
After the company registered the "cupuacu" trademark in Japan in 1988, a nongovernmental organization campaigning to protect the Amazon jungles launched a campaign to get the trademark withdrawn, claiming that it was biopiracy. The trademark was revoked by the patent authorities in 2004.
The cosmetics manufacturer Shiseido Co. has also encountered similar issues. In 1999, it introduced UV White, a whitening product containing extracts from the Indonesian medicinal herb rumupuyan. Two years later, the company was accused of predatory practices by a local NGO, leading to the dismissal of 51 patent applications in Japan, Europe and elsewhere.
The company says it did nothing unlawful. But an official says, "Looking back, our understanding of the situation was insufficient."
Seizo Sumida, director general of the Japan Bioindustry Association's Research Institute of Biological Resources, says: "Without clear rules about what counts as biopiracy, companies will be at a loss as to what to do. There need to be rules that benefit both the countries using the resources and those owning them."
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  • Thailand: The Kohtrad Silk Project

Source: Environmental News Network, 21 October 2010

The Kohtrad Silk Project is a social enterprise that works with the silk producers in the Isaan area of North East Thailand. The project provides an online platform for the silk producers to sell their products worldwide.
This is done via two online shops specializing in high quality men's silk shirts and in silk scarves. Despite being only six months old the social enterprise has already begun an ambitious project to provide better internet access to its silk suppliers. Using profits from the silk shirts and scarves sold though the project, building is underway for a community internet hub in the rural Thai village where many of the silk products are made.
The essential element for this social enterprise is the provision of an online retail platform for its producers. For the first time the independent weavers across the Isaan region were able to market their produce to buyers abroad. The area is rural and poor and so extra income generated from Internet sales could make a big difference to their lives. With the extra profits weavers could pay school fees for their children, build a business, stay in the area, enjoy their everyday work and keep their silk weaving skills and traditions alive.
Initially the main challenge of the Kohtrad Silk Project was teaching the older silk weavers how to use the Internet. The idea from the social enterprise was that the project would "run on autopilot" with orders coming in via email directly to the silk weavers who could then send the product in the post. However for the older generation of weavers, who had never experienced the Internet before, using online orders as part of their business was a very difficult transition for them. Fortunately the social enterprise helped to overcome this problem by getting the children of the weavers to take over the role of receiving the email and sending the product.
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  • UK: Britain plans huge sell-off of forests in bid to cut deficit, says Report

Source:, 24 October 2010

Britain's government will soon unveil plans to sell around half of the woodlands it oversees, paving the way for a huge expansion in holiday resorts, golf courses and commercial logging operations, The Sunday Telegraph reported.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman will unveil the plans to dispose about 50 percent of the 748 000 ha of forest within days, according to the newspaper.
Laws overseeing so-called ancient forests, such as the Forest of Dean and Sherwood Forest, are most likely to be changed to allow companies to cut down trees, according to the Telegraph.
"We are looking to energize our forests by bringing in fresh ideas and investment, and by putting conservation in the hands of local communities," a source close to the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told the newspaper.
One-third of the land will be sold before 2015, and the rest by 2020, a government source told the newspaper.
Legislation dealing with forests dates back to the Magna Carta, which was forced onto King John in 1215 and formed the basis for English law, the newspaper reported.
The sale of the woodlands comes as the British government tries to make enormous budget cuts called for under the Conservative-led coalition's cost-cutting drive.
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  • UK: A magnificent forest, but the Government may wield the axe

Source: The Independent (UK), 26 October 2010

The first of the oak leaves were turning golden in Alice Holt forest (England) yesterday. Walking amongst them, on the most beautiful day of the autumn, it was not hard to see the problem with the Government's plan for a massive forest sell-off: a forest is much more than trees.
In Alice Holt, on the borders of Surrey and Hampshire 50 miles from London, it was stillness and peace. It was an eye-popping light show as the sun sparkled through the foliage, making the oaks and the hazel beneath them seem lit from within — making the very shadows tremble. If you stopped and breathed in, it was an exotic collection of scents, scents of earth and grass and moss and fungi and leaves, being exhaled even from an ecosystem hunkering down for the winter.
For that is what a forest is: a huge ecosystem, a kingdom apart whose teeming life can provide some of the richest human experiences, and the problem with the Government's leaked intention to sell off enormous amounts of the land holdings of the Forestry Commission is that it views forests merely as a commodity.
If you sell off Government timber, you are also selling off an untold number of those ecosystems, of those kingdoms apart, and you may very well be consigning some of them to perdition.
The official response is this: that the Government should not be in the business of growing trees. Well, that is a pretty respectable argument, as far as it goes. After all, the Government does not catch fish, or grow grain. But to advance it now, in an entirely narrow way, is to ignore the history of forestry in Britain.
We have not been good custodians of our woodlands. Much of our ancient forest cover was cut down in Elizabethan times, cleared for agriculture as well as having been exploited for charcoal burning and for shipbuilding, and by the end of the 19th century, Britain — with Ireland—had the lowest forest cover of any European country, barely five percent. Compare that to nearly 30 percent in France, over 30 percent in Germany and more as you go eastwards, until you get to Russia, where over half the land surface is forested.
Take a Brazilian environmentalist to task about how much of the Amazon rainforest his country has cut down and he is likely to hit back that we in Britain have destroyed a far greater proportion of our ancient woodland, the equivalent ecosystem — and he will be right.
This absence of forests has been a great impoverishment of our experience of the natural world in Britain — the forest itself, dark and mysterious, does not remotely play the role in the British imagination as it does, say, in the German one. But 90 years ago this began to change.
The shift came out of the First World War, and the critical need for wooden pit props to keep the coal mines going, at a time when Britain ran on coal; we could not produce enough of our own, and the German submarine blockade of 1917 very nearly choked off imports.
Never again, vowed the Government when hostilities finished: we will create a strategic reserve of timber for pit props and other essential uses; and in 1919 the Forestry Commission was born.The Commission's original job was simply to grow trees, and to grow them quickly and cheaply, and for decades it did this using conifers from the northern Pacific coast of the USA — the Douglas fir, the lodgepole pine and above all, the Sitka spruce. They were never popular. But in the past 20 years, its mission has broadened beyond all recognition and now the Commission is as much a conservation body as a tree farmer, having moved beyond conifers to recognize the value of our native forest of oak and ash and all the other shady, whispering broad-leaved trees that have been familiar and beloved for centuries. The Forestry Commission does not just grow trees any more. It looks after ecosystems, those kingdoms apart.
And now half of them are to be sold to the highest bidder.
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  • UK: Mushroom foraging is damaging forests, warn nature groups

Source:, 24 October 2010

The fashion for collecting wild mushrooms began with celebrity chefs and has been encouraged by those with a revived interest in local food, such as renowned chef Jamie Oliver.
This year's wet summer and mild autumn has produced bumper crops of colourful wax caps, common ceps and luscious chanterelles.
But this new generation of foodies and foragers are beginning to trample the forests and fields that feed them — as well as many animals and insects, warn those who look after the UK's woodlands and nature reserves.Concern is particularly high at some of the country's best-known beauty spots, including the New Forest, Epping Forest, and around the North Downs hills and the Chilterns.
So serious is the problem in some areas that a few big collectors, found with bagfuls of mushrooms from one trip, are being prosecuted. In just one weekend earlier this month, forest managers reportedly confiscated 45kg of fungi at a site near London.
Conservation managers and organizations appear to agree that small-scale collecting for personal use is not the problem. The Forestry Commission and the National Trust organize courses to help people identify safe mushrooms and teach how to collect them without damaging the surrounding landscape. Crucially, collectors are also urged to leave enough behind for the deer, rabbits, mice and insects such as flies and beetles, which also feast on fungi.
Matthew Oates of the National Trust, which is one of the UK's biggest land owners, said: "If one or two people visit a place and pick a few, that is probably not much of a problem. But if a couple of people go there repeatedly, visit the same place and collect as many as possible for commercial gain — that could be a problem."
Not everybody is worried. Celebrity Chef Antonio Carluccio, who has written two books about his passion for mushrooms and presented a BBC2 series on the subject, still goes collecting for his family's use, and believes environmental fears are exaggerated.
Carluccio said that this year's bumper crop, and the parallel reduction in mushroom species that are not collected for eating suggest fungiphiles are not the problem. He also points out that once a mushroom cap is open it has released breeding spores, and that centuries of collection in other countries in Europe, such as Italy and France, have not appeared to lead to long-term damage.
"The mushrooms are there every year, so it is not true that picking mushrooms would destroy the place," Carluccio said.
The chef, who does not use wild mushrooms in his cafes and delis, believes there should be licences for commercial collectors to ensure they behave responsibly, as there are in many other European countries. "There should be more discipline in collecting: not trampling everything, not destroying everything and to be limited to what you can consume. But do not deprive people of the wonders of going to the woods for the mushrooms," he added.
Nevertheless, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said commercial collecting was a growing problem on its reserves near London and other cities. The National Trust is also worried about commercial collectors, especially on the sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) that it manages and warned that it is illegal to collect in protected areas. Several SSSIs are in the New Forest in south-west England, which is managed by the Forestry Commission, which reported that "fungi picking is becoming an increasing problem … with more and more large-scale, potentially commercial picking being observed year-on-year".
Perhaps one of the most visited SSSIs is Epping Forest, on the north-east edge of London, where keepers report that illegal fungi picking has reached record highs this year. Individuals have been found with five bags full of mushrooms at a time, including poisonous species. This has led managers to suspect they are being collected commercially for sorting elsewhere. The City of London Corporation, which owns the forest, has already issued 20 formal warnings this year. It has successfully prosecuted one person and is currently prosecuting a further six.
"Fungi play a vital role in the ecology of all natural habitats," said Keith French, the forest services manager. "They are nature's recyclers, as they break down organic matter from plants and animals. Many creatures feed on fungi, and they are host to some rare invertebrates that are unique to these ancient woodlands.
He added: "We welcome people visiting the forest and admiring the many fascinating shapes, forms and colours the fungi world has to offer, but please leave them there for the next visitor and future generations to enjoy."
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  • United Arab Emirates: Scent of decline hangs heavy over agarwood producers

Source: Gulf News, 23 October 2010

The United Arab Emirates (UAW) love-affair with oudh (agarwood), primarily derived from the Aquilaria malaccensis species,could be cut short as soaring global demand mainly from the Arabian Peninsula has led to rapidly diminishing stocks in the wild, rising prices and concerns over future supplies, a new report compiled by environmentalists and the body that monitors agarwood trade, has highlighted.
The UAE's imports of agarwood or oudh increased by nearly 300 percent in four years making the future of the aromatic wood “uncertain”, according to the report released last week by Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network commissioned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Secretariat on the UAE trade and use of agarwood.
Imports of agarwood chips to the UAE alone rose from over 56 tonnes in 2004 to more than 162 tonnes in 2007, an increase of approximately 300 percent.
"Whole trees are normally felled to find resin deposits caused by disease or wounding but with just 10 percent of trees naturally infected, this is a very inefficient process. All too often protected areas are being stripped of their agarwood-bearing trees and the opportunity for a well-managed harvest to provide a sustainable income for local communities is lost," said James Compton, Traffic's Senior Programme Director for Asia and a joint author of the UAE report.
Malaysia and Indonesia are the largest exporters of agarwood to the UAE. However the UAE is exempt from limiting its own imports of agarwood after a request for special exemption due to its important personal use was approved by CITES.
Yet UAE authorities have taken steps to monitor the trade by asking for permits from exporting countries and registering traders in the UAE.
"The biggest problem is that without a limit set for personal use, passengers are bringing 5 or 10kg of agarwood in their luggage," said Dr. Al Saeed Ahmad Mohammad from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which trains customs officials on spotting suspicious fauna and flora in luggage.
Known in Arabic as oudh, agarwood is an important part of life in the UAE for Emiratis as well as Arabic culture in general. It is used as a traditional aromatic and perfume in many forms: from high grade wood chips burnt to honour guests, perfuming personal garments before special occasions and in preparation for prayer, through to providing general household fragrance.
Agarwood is a resinous wood most frequently burned as incense. It has been labelled the most expensive wood in the world selling at over US$10,000 (Dh36 700) for high-grade varieties. It is sold in raw form (wood chips and pieces), as oil (both pure and blended with other fragrances), as perfume products, and in various forms using small shavings of wood mixed with other fragrant ingredients.
It finds medicinal, religious and cultural uses in various societies across Asia but demand far exceeds supply.
Though agarwood does not grow in the Middle East, its consumption in the region is among the highest in the world, nearly equalling north-east Asian countries like Japan and the Republic of Korea.
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  • Lack of forest definition “major obstacle” in fight to protect rainforests

Source: The Ecologist, 20 October 2010

The current lack of a working definition of what degraded forest or land is plays into the hands of logging companies, say forest campaigners. The companies claim to responsibly develop “only on degraded land”, but in reality this can actually mean they are clearing forests and peatlands.
Most of Southeast Asia’s remaining forests are classed as “production forest” and are therefore open to logging. Once a forest has undergone one round of logging it is often considered to be degraded and becomes vulnerable to conversion to agricultural crops such as palm oil.
Campaigners and ecologists say this is an error and that many of these “degraded” forests are only slightly altered by logging and remain highly biodiverse, carbon-rich habitat for endangered species such as orang-utans and tigers.
“A weak and unspecific definition of what 'degraded' means plays straight into the hands of companies who want to continue business as usual, expanding into carbon-rich forests and peatlands — especially palm oil and pulp and paper companies,” said Greenpeace forest campaigner Ian Duff.
Indonesia is a case in point. Norway is now committed to pay Indonesia US$1 billion to halt conversion of natural forests and peatland to the expanding palm oil industry. They want degraded land to be used instead. However, with no definition of degraded land, environmentalists have criticized the ambiguity of Norway’s REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme.
“If we end up with sloppy definitions there is every chance that Norway's billion-dollar deal, as well as REDD, will fail to stop the destruction of Indonesian forests,” said Duff.
Degraded land is not the only unsettled definition blighting REDD. Disputes have arisen over what constitutes a “forest”, and how deep peat has to be to be considered peatland. The forestry sector is pushing for plantations to be classified as forests, which could see funds supposedly meant for preserving biodiversity and carbon being used to clear “degraded” forests to palm oil plantations. Ecological sacrilege, environmentalists say.
Part of the REDD agreement between Norway and Indonesia requires them to compile a database of degraded land. What land gets into this database is critical. If logged forests that still house high levels of biodiversity — and carbon — are included, they risk being cleared to make way for plantations.
The World Resource Institute (WRI) are attempting to address this concern; project POTICO (Palm Oil, Timber, Carbon Offsets) aims to facilitate the diversion of new palm oil plantations away from virgin forests onto degraded lands, and incorporates a pilot scheme for swapping concessions already awarded on forested areas with degraded lands. In order to do this, they must be able to identify degraded lands suitable for development. Moray McLeish, who manages the project, says it is not for WRI to dictate a definition, but they hope to coordinate and catalyse the process.
WRI believe there are four elements that must be taken into account in defining and identifying degraded land suitable for sustainable palm oil — whether the land in question is environmentally degraded, economically viable, socially desirable and legally available — and it is developing a methodology for identifying it.
“An area we classify as degraded would have very low carbon content, low number of species, low biodiversity, low social or livelihood value and be unlikely to recover to its natural state,” explains McLeish. He admits it is a delicate process. “If the definition of degraded includes secondary forests then these could be cleared and planted...if we do not get it right, it could potentially be disastrous.”
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  • UN meeting aims to preserve biodiversity

Source: Associated Press in, 19 October 19 2010

Delegates from more than 190 nations kicked off a UN conference yesterday aimed at ensuring the survival of diverse species and ecosystems threatened by pollution, exploitation, and habitat encroachment.
But the two-week marathon talks of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity face divisions between rich and poor nations over what actions to take, the same split that has bogged down global climate negotiations.
Scientists warn that unless more is done to protect species, extinctions will spike and the intricately interconnected natural world will be damaged.
“We are on the verge of a major extinction spasm,’’ said Russ Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and a field biologist who has spent decades studying primates.           “Healthy ecosystems are the underpinnings of human development.’’
If one part of the complex network of living organisms disappears — like bees, which perform the critical role of pollination and whose numbers are falling — the whole system can collapse, scientists argue.
Bringing together 15 000 participants in Nagoya for the Convention’s 10th meeting since it was born at the Earth Summit in 1992, the conference will try to hammer out 20 measurable targets for the next decade to try to slow or halt trends.
Scientists estimate that the earth is heading toward its sixth big extinction phase, the greatest since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago. 
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  • UN Biodiversity talks: Nagoya biodiversity deal restores faith in UN

Source:, 29 October 2010

In the long run, the biodiversity deal scratched out in Nagoya, Japan in the early hours of this morning is intended to benefit habitats and species such as tigers, pandas and whales. But in the short-term, the biggest beast to get a reprieve may well prove to be the UN itself.
After the misery, disappointment and anger of last year's climate talks in Copenhagen, the body was fiercely criticised and the entire multilateral negotiating process called into question. It seemed time-consuming, prone to grandstanding and dominated by selfish national interests rather than pressing global concerns.
At the start of this week, the talks in Nagoya looked likely to become another chapter in the same sorry story. But since then, there has been an impressive — and ultimately successful — willingness to work.
Pragmatism has been more evident than ideology. Delegates actually seemed willing to listen to the advice of scientists warning of the perils of inaction.
Some key goals have been set, including a plan to expand nature reserves to 17 percent of the world's land and 10 percent of the planet's waters. For a scarred veteran of the Copenhagen or Tianjin climate talks, the extent of the progress, goodwill and readiness to compromise during these past few days has been pleasantly shocking. Right up to the final hour, there have been moments when the talks appeared on the verge of collapse. But negotiators have been flexible enough to skirt around the danger zone.
This is no accident. Ahead of this event — and not wanting to repeat the breakdown of last year's talks — the EU negotiating team was given a wider mandate. The same may be true of other nations.
That alone cannot explain why the results of Nagoya and Copenhagen were so different. Other factors include the smaller scale of this event and the expectations for it. There was less superpower pride and influence at stake: the United States is not a signatory and China has been relatively low-key. Brazil and the EU have bent over backwards to secure a deal. China and India have shown willingness to compromise. Even Bolivia and Cuba complained but did not block.
The Japanese hosts also deserve a great deal of credit for the smooth organization, though at times they have been almost comically hospitable in breaking up finely poised negotiating sessions for food, drink and music receptions.
But the most important difference may be in implementation. One of the reasons why climate negotiations are so tetchy is because rival nations want stringent checks in place to make sure everyone complies and on course to realize their goals to reduce carbon emissions.
That is sadly not true for biodiversity targets, which tend to be vaguely worded and voluntary. Nature cannot complain if it gets cheated. This is a major reason why the last set of UN biodiversity goals were nowhere near being realized.
The drafters of the new Nagoya protocol say such lessons have been learned so a tighter road-map will be put in place that ties funds to progress, mobilizes private finance as well as public funds and sees nature in terms of benefits to be shared rather.
One of the great achievements of this conference has been to highlight the fact that biodiversity is not just about saving a few cute animals, but about preventing risks to entire ecosystems, economies and ultimately human life. As a result, bird-lovers and tree-huggers have started to find common cause with insurers and investors.
In the conference centre last night, the mood was one of relief more than euphoria. But many expressed hope that this deal may provide momentum for the climate talks at Cancún (Mexico) next month. That seems optimistic.
It is too early too say whether Nagoya marks a turning point for UN multilateralism, let alone life on Earth. But for both, it is at least a much-needed morale booster.
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  • The march to extinction accelerates

Source: www., 26 October 2010

One-fifth of the world's vertebrate species (i.e. mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish) are threatened with extinction, according to a massive new study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN); and the situation is worsening for the world's wildlife: on average 52 species of mammals, birds, and amphibians move one category closer to extinction every year. However, the news is not all bad. The study found that conservation action does work: in the first analysis of its kind, researchers found that the global biodiversity decline would have been 18 percent worse if not for conservation attention, "nonetheless," the authors — 174 scientists from 38 countries — write, "current conservation efforts remain insufficient to offset the main drivers of biodiversity loss." According to the study, these drivers include agricultural expansion, logging, over-exploitation of species, and invasive species.
"The 'backbone' of biodiversity is being eroded," said renowned ecologist and writer Professor Edward O. Wilson from Harvard University. "One small step up the Red List is one giant leap forward towards extinction. This is just a small window on the global losses currently taking place."
The study was launched at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan. According to the study, the worst place to be an animal in the world is the tropics, with particular emphasis on the Southeast Asian tropics. Southeast Asia sports the world's highest concentration of threatened species. Deforestation has exploded in many countries in Southeast Asia over the past few decades from unsustainable logging and industrial plantations, such as palm oil, rice, and pulp and paper. In addition, hunting for food and traditional medicines has decimated a large number of animals in the region.
Even Southeast Asia's most iconic species — rhinos, orangutans, tigers, and elephants — face extirpation and in some cases total extinction. The Javan rhinoceros is down to some 40-60 individuals, none of which are in captivity.
But as far as type of species goes, nothing is worse than being a frog: according to the study 41 percent of the world's amphibians are threatened with extinction. In contrast, 33 percent of cartilaginous fishes, 25 percent of mammals, 22 percent of reptiles, 15 percent of bony fishes, and 13 percent of birds are threatened.
Of all the world's species — vertebrates, plants, fungi, insects, etc. — vertebrates make up just 3 percent of the total. The study also reported on a number of non-vertebrate species types — not included in the overall analysis — finding, for example, that 14 percent of seagrasses, 32 percent of freshwater crayfish, and 33 percent of coral reef species are threatened with extinction. An earlier study, looking at a representative sample of plants, found that 22 percent of the world's plant species are threatened with extinction.
One of the most threatened groups of species on Earth is the cycads, an ancient group of plants: 63 percent percent of cycads face extinction.
On the bright side, the study also found that conservation action — such as protected areas and legislation — has mitigated some of the loses in species and abundance. "History has shown us that conservation can achieve the impossible, as anyone who knows the story of the White Rhinoceros in southern Africa knows", remarked Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN's Species Survival Commission and an author on the study. "But this is the first time we can demonstrate the aggregated positive impact of these successes on the state of the environment."
"These results grossly underestimate the impact of conservation, because they do not account for species that either would have deteriorated further in the absence of conservation actions, or improved numerically though not enough to change [their category]," the authors write.
"The current level of [conservation] action is outweighed by the magnitude of threat, and conservation responses will need to be substantially scaled up to combat the extinction crisis," the authors conclude. "Even with recoveries, many species remain conservation-dependent, requiring sustained, long-term investment […] The 2010 [CBD] biodiversity target may not have been met, but conservation efforts have not been a failure. The challenge is to remedy the current shortfall in conservation action to halt attrition of global biodiversity."
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  • New Amazon species discovered every three days for a decade

Source: Amazon News, 3 November 2010

Scientists searching the Amazon have discovered new species, creatures such as a baldheaded parrot, a blue-fanged tarantula and a bright red catfish, at the rate of about one every three days for the past 10 years, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reported Monday.
"What we say now, and we are very conservative, is one in 10 known species is found in the Amazon," said Meg Symington, a tropical ecologist and the fund's managing director for the Amazon.  "We think when all the counting is done, the Amazon could account for up to 30 percent of the species on Earth."
The great diversity of life in the Amazon includes species and habitats that have direct benefits for people worldwide, Symington said.  Compounds found on the skin of the poison dart frog, for example, turned out to be important for anesthesia and other medical products.
The Amazon rainforests also have an impact on the regional and global climate.  Some climate models show that the Amazon influences rainfall in the U.S. Midwest.
The WWF reviewed scientific literature and counted more than 1 200 new species, including 637 plants, 257 fish, 216 amphibians, 55 reptiles, 16 birds and 39 mammals, that were discovered in the Amazon from 1999 to 2009.  The full count would be much higher, because the report did not include the vast majority of newly found invertebrates.
The report was released as the 193 member countries of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity meet in Japan on ways to protect the diversity of life on Earth.
The WWF reported that at least 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed in the last 50 years.  The fund has a program in Brazil and the seven other countries of the Amazon Basin to protect the rainforest from agriculture, ranching and roads while promoting sustainable economic development.
Cattle ranching, for example, accounts for 80 percent of the Amazon's deforestation, Symington said. "If we can make sure ranching does not expand and those ranches that exist could be more productive instead, that would be a huge gain," she said.
Last week, the Alliance for Zero Extinction, a coalition of conservation organizations including the U.S. division of the WWF, released a report that found that 920 of the world's most endangered wildlife species are restricted to 587 sites, and only half of them have any degree of conservation protection. The alliance said in a news release that protecting the remaining sites "could help to avert an imminent global extinction crisis."
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  • Pragmatism, more than utopianism, will save biodiversity

Source: The Economist in The Calgary Herald (Canada), 24 October 2010

Since the birth of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, there has been a welcome transformation in the language of global conservation. Policymakers and even some businesses have started to express a view of nature as a store of wealth — or "natural capital." Talk of "ecosystem services" now draws attention to the helpful things that nature does unbidden, such as providing fresh soil and clean water.
This approach not only has the advantage of moving conservation from the domain of lofty morality down to earth, reflecting a pragmatism more likely to support and sustain action, it also serves to highlight the interests of the people who have the most to gain from the recognition of natural capital's value, and the most to lose by its squandering: poor people living close to nature in the developing world.
Another welcome development is that there have been conservation successes. Political enlightenment and an economic boom have led to great progress in the Amazon rainforest, with Brazil's deforestation plummeting. Indonesia's rate has also dropped. The possibility of halting global deforestation has become a plausible and thus worthwhile goal.
All this, however, has little to do with the CBD, the 193 parties to which began one of their two-yearly meetings this week in Nagoya, Japan. (The United States is not one of them, having not ratified the convention.) The changed language of conservation owes little to the well-intentioned work of the CBD. Progress on forestry has come about largely through national efforts, helped by lower demand for commodities and reinforced by bilateral agreements to do with climate change.
And the global perspective that the CBD has some claim to representing can be overblown. The ecosystem services that matter at a global level are, for the most part, those to do with climate, and are covered in deals on deforestation. Most of the time, ecosystem services and natural capital are specific to a particular area, country or region, and that is the level where they ought to be supported. Donor countries, banks and consortia promoting new financial models for conservation can provide ever more such support. The CBD is in a position to encourage experiment, but not much more.
The convention's achievements, such as they are, are much more marginal. The only protocol drawn up under its remit, in Cartagena, Colombia, in 2003, seeks to avert damage by genetically modified organisms; not a front-rank threat.
The convention's strategy for plant conservation has yet to deliver the first of its aims (a list of the world's plants). It is now working on a way for developing countries to share in profits made from organisms and genes that originate in their territories and this could conceivably tidy up a messy area in which negotiators at the World Trade Organization and FAO are also active. But any protocol that can be agreed upon is unlikely to alter current practice in the area much.
Should the Convention on Biodiversity be scrapped? It is tempting to say yes when it comes up with overblown, unobtainable targets, such as stopping all extinctions anywhere, or when it entertains foolish proposals, like the current Luddite idea to restrict all forms of research exploring the possibility of "geoengineering" the climate.
But when it sticks to achievable, measurable targets, such as increasing the area of nature reserves in the ocean, it can provide a useful focus. And an occasional talking shop is useful for donors to compare projects and see which work best. As conservationists like to say, every niche is valuable. But back local pragmatism, not Utopian dreams.
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  • Biopirates plundering the developing world's genetic diversity

Source: Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), 23 October 2010

Once the preserve of South Africans who enjoyed a hot drink on a cold evening, rooibos tea has become something of a global success story. Although it grows in only two provinces of South Africa, the herbal brew with a distinctive red tint is now consumed in more than 30 countries.
However the rooibos plant, and the similar-tasting honeybush, have become the unlikely subjects of a storm over genetic resources, and what is called biopiracy.
Aside from making a tasty cup of tea, the rooibos plant has medicinal properties that have been recognised for many decades, and perhaps far longer. This year, a South African subsidiary of Nestle, Nestec, published five patents related to possible benefits of rooibos, including the treatment of certain hair and skin conditions, and the prevention of inflammatory disorders.
The problem, however, is that Nestle never asked for permission — or at least this is the claim made by the South African rights organisation Natural Justice and the Swiss NGO the Berne Declaration, which are running a campaign to overturn Nestle's patents on one of South Africa's most characteristic products.
Nestle denies any wrongdoing, saying a South African company supplied the genetic material. But the case has nevertheless highlighted what Johanna von Braun, from Natural Justice, calls a "new front line" in the divisions between developed and developing nations: the access to sovereign genetic material.
The rooibos case is far from the first time that foreign companies have been accused of biopiracy in Africa. Last year, the patenting of human genetic material, taken from Masaai tribesmen by an American research team provoked uproar. In a report last year, the non-profit African Centre for Biosafety listed seven recent cases of suspected biopiracy.
The reason African countries cannot insist on internationally recognised standards when it comes to the use of their genetic resources is simple: there aren't any. Although such a cross-border agreement has been mooted since 1992, the year the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity was signed, an international regime on what is officially called "access and benefit sharing of genetic resources" — or ABS — has yet to be put on paper.
So all eyes are turned to the city of Nagoya, in central Japan, and the Tenth Conference of the Parties, or COP10, Biodiversity Summit, where negotiators tried to hammer out a new 10-year plan to stop the rapid loss of species (experts say extinctions are occurring at 1000 times the natural rate).
Brazil is one of a group of countries — known as the Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries — that are especially keen to redress the balance of power, in a tug-of-war that pits nations rich in biodiversity but poor in resources against those with the technological know-how to develop those resources.
India, the group's chair, has also taken a strong stand. The Indian Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, describes his country as "a major victim of biopiracy", and he has been particularly vocal on human genetic resources.
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  • Zoos arguing for conservation and education

Source: Reuters in The Calgary Herald (Canada), 24 October 2010

Zoos and aquariums should do more to educate visitors about ways to slow extinctions and build on successes in breeding rare species from monkeys to toads, the head of the world's zookeepers said last week.
"We have a huge opportunity for education, to explain the gravity of the situation," Mark Penning, president of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), told Reuters. "We get 700 million visitors a year."
Penning said a WAZA annual meeting in Germany last week was reviewing how members could help conservation, coinciding with 18-29 October UN talks in Japan, where governments are due to set global goals for protecting animals and plants.
He said the outlook for biodiversity was not irreversibly grim, even though UN studies say human threats such as expanding cities and pollution are causing the worst extinction crisis since the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago.
"Unless we sell a message of hope, that there is something to be done, we will have even worse problems lying ahead," he said. He said there was often too much doom and gloom about the outlook that could bring a sense of despair.
Zoos and aquariums can show individuals that they can make a difference — for instance, by guiding them to buy fish or meat from plentiful species. "It makes each individual realize 'it is up to me, not everybody else,' " said Penning, a South African.
A WAZA review showed that zoos were having success in conserving biodiversity and in breeding threatened creatures such as Przewalski's horse, which has been reintroduced to Mongolia. It had been last sighted in the wild in 1969.
"Other prominent ones are the Californian condor or the golden lion tamarin (monkey) in Brazil — these are flagships where we have successes in breeding," said WAZA executive director Gerald Dick.
Sixty-six species are listed as "extinct in the wild," surviving only in captivity, he told Reuters.
Breeding programs were widening to new species. "Zoos have focused on the big, hairy, charismatic species, the ones the public like to see. Now we have a major global campaign for amphibians," Penning said. Among the examples was the Kihansi spray toad in Tanzania, reared in zoos in recent years after a hydroelectric dam was built in the gorge where they have been found.
The UN says the world has failed to meet a goal, set in 2002, of a "significant reduction" in the rate of extinctions of animals and plants. The UN conference in Japan is seeking to set new targets, with some nations urging a halt to biodiversity losses by 2020.For full story, please see:



  • Fast forward to slow food

Source: The Irish Times (Ireland), 6 November 2010

The enormous Lingotto building in Turin, Italy was once the largest car factory in the world, home to Fiat and a workplace for more than 6 000 people. After the factory closed in the early 1980s, it was transformed into a convention centre and now houses the biennial Terra Madre (“mother earth”) slow food exhibition.
In 1989, the food writer Carlo Petrini was horrified by plans for McDonald’s to open beside the Spanish Steps in Rome; he subsequently established the Slow Food movement in Alba to save local food traditions, protect biodiversity and act as an antidote to the fast-food culture. As the movement spread — it now boasts more than 100 000 members in 132 countries — Turin became its focal point.
Last month’s festival attracted more than 5 000 producers, cooks, academics and commentators to discuss ways to promote local and sustainable food production that is “good, clean and fair”. With up to 100 workshops and talks (covering everything from biodynamic agriculture to genetically modified food and sustainable fishing), country delegations got together to discuss their own individual food-related issues .
At the festival’s Salone del Gusto, cheeses, cured meats, breads, sweets, vegetables, fruits, grains and honeys from more than 200 groups were there for the tasting. One Austrian producer has revived a 15th-century technique for preserving Styria cabbage that was abandoned in the 1970s. It preserves cabbages for up to three years without salt, by putting them in a four-metre-deep fermentation pit covered with wool and straw. As brand names go, “pit cabbage” needs a bit of work, but the taste was sublime.
There were Pamir mulberries, which grow at an altitude of 2 400 metres in the mountains of Tajikistan on bushes that can be up to a century old.
The Takana is a smokey-tasting brassica from Japan, which has a distinctive knot at the base of the leaf. It seemed to have disappeared in the 1960s until a farmer came across a plant in the wild in 2002 and decided to champion its cause.
The grazing went on and on: plums and Luk garlic from Croatia; aged chorizo from Euskal Txerria pigs, which almost disappeared from Spain; reed salt from Kenya; Saint Flour lentils from France; delicious smoked cheese spindles (known as oscypek) from the Tatra mountains in Poland; and sausage from a tubby, woolly little Hungarian pig called the Mangalica.
Terra Madre is a united nations of food that is overwhelming in its scale and optimistic in its remit. The key message is that all over the world ancient and traditional foods are at risk of being lost forever in a system obsessed with homogeneity and profit. Slow food is saving these foods from obsolescence. It deserves our support.
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  • Kleinhans Fellowship in Tropical NTFP, Rainforest Alliance

From: Deanna Newsom, Rainforest Alliance, 1 November 2010

The Kleinhans Fellowship provides US$16 000 per year for two years to one individual conducting research to better understand and improve the impacts of non-timber forest product (NTFP) harvest and marketing on rural livelihoods and tropical forest ecosystems. The fellowship area is restricted to Latin America. Applicants should have at least a master's degree in forestry, ecology, botany, environmental science or an appropriate related field.
For more information about the fellowship, including application guidelines, please consult our webpage:



  • World Forest Institute (WFI) International Fellowship Program

From: WFI, 5 November 2010

The WFI Fellowship brings professionals in natural resources — such as foresters, environmental educators, land managers, NGO practitioners, and researchers — to conduct a practical research project at the World Forestry Center. In addition to their specific projects, Fellows participate in weekly field trips, interviews and site visits to Northwest forestry organizations, parks, universities, public and private timberlands, trade associations, mills, and corporations. The Fellowship is a unique opportunity to learn about sustainable forestry from the Pacific Northwest forestry sector, and to work with colleagues from around the world.            Fellowships are open to any country, and there is a matching grant from the Harry A. Merlo Foundation. Over 75 Fellows from 24 countries have participated to date.
Fellowship benefits include: (a) opportunity to develop the contacts and skills necessary to advance your professional career; (b) conducting a project on a forestry or related natural resource topic of your choice; (c) visits and field tours to public and private forestry organizations ; (d) working with forestry colleagues from around the world.
The Harry A. Merlo Foundation provides a matching grant that covers 50 percent of the Fellowship fee (applicants are responsible for the other 50 percent plus additional visa and travel costs).  Monthly stipend is US$1000/month (net taxes).
For more information, please contact:
Program Manager, Chandalin Bennett
World Forestry Center
4033 SW Canyon Road
Portland, Oregon 97221, USA
Tel: +1 503-488-2137
Fax: +1 503-228-4608
E-mail: [email protected],




Eco Productos Forestales No Madereros 2010
Chubut, Argentina
1-3 Diciembre, 2010  
Sobre la base de disertaciones de expertos argentinos y extranjeros, se debatirán temas relacionados con la utilización de productos forestales no madereros (PFNM), servicios ambientales y desarrollo del turismo en los bisques. Muestra y exposición de productos forestales no madereros. Espacio para que empresas, productores, ONGs e instituciones expongan sus productos a base de PFNM o presenten los servicios turísticos que prestan. Concurso de fotografías. Se realizará un concurso de fotografías cuyo tema será “En el ambiente del bosque”. Los trabajos a presentar deben ser imágenes del bosque visto desde su interior. Se aceptarán trabajos de cualquier región del país y del extranjero. Feria de productos forestales no madereros. Espacio para exposición y venta de productos y servicios abierta al público general.
Organizan la reunión las siguientes Instituciones: CIEFAP, Secretaría de Ciencia, Técnica e Innovación Productiva del Chubut, Ministerio de Industria, Agricultura y Ganadería del Chubut, Consejo Federal de Inversiones, Secretaría de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sustentable de la Nación, Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia “San Juan Bosco”, Municipalidad de Esquel, Fundación Bosques de la Patagonia, Administración de Parques Nacionales, Universidad Austral, e Instituto Forestal- INFOR, ambos de Chile. Se mantienen contactos con otras instituciones que podrían sumarse a la organización.
Los simposios comenzarán con conferencias iniciales a cargo de los expertos invitados, luego de las cuales se presentarán los trabajos voluntarios que hayan sido seleccionados:

  • Simposio I: Productos Forestales No Madereros
  • Simposio II: Turismo en el Bosque
  • Simposio III: Servicios Ambientales

            Los interesados deberán enviar los resúmenes de sus trabajos en archivo adjunto, vía correo electrónico a: [email protected]. .




  • Request: Call for Submissions — International Forest Film Festival

From: Forest Film Festival, 19 October 2010

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2011 as the International Year of Forests (Forests 2011).  To celebrate Forests 2011, the United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat is working with the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival to organise the International Forest Film Festival (IFFF).
IFFF winning films will be presented to delegates of all 192 countries at the launch of Forests 2011 at United Nations Headquarters in New York in February, 2011.  The launch of Forests 2011 will take place as part of the official programme of the ninth session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF). Subsequently, the winning films will also be screened around the world.
Key Dates:

  • Submission Deadline: 30 November 2010
  • Jury Deliberation: December 2010
  • Announcement and awarding the IFFF Winners: 2-3 February 2011, during the High-Level Segment of the ninth Session of the UNFF.
  • Forests 2011 Launch screenings:24 January-4 February 2011 (UN HQ, New York City)

            The IFFF aims to raise awareness on the importance of forests, their relationship with people and the planet we share, and consequently, to inspire a sense of personal responsibility/stewardship for a greener, more equitable, sustainable future.
The overall theme of the Festival will be: Forests for People, with sub categories, which can be viewed on the festival’s website.
The Festival welcomes films in all United Nations official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish). English subtitles will be required for non-English films.
To learn more about The IFFF, visit: or
If you have any questions about the Film Festival, please e-mail the Film Festival at: [email protected]



  • Request for information: Sabal palmetto (Cabbage palm):

From: David Fox, Graduate Assistant and PhD student, USA, 24 October 2010

I seem to have found a void in research concerning quantifying the ecological functions and ecosystem benefits provided by Sabal palmetto, our State Tree here in Florida. There is lots of information relating to horticulture and arboriculture but little on ecology. With some serious palm diseases looming here, I think it would be important to understand what might be lost if palms begin disappearing in large numbers, not only in urban areas but in the wild. I am looking for any references that describe the ecological functions and ecosystem benefits provided by Sabal palmetto.
If you can help, please contact me at [email protected].




  • Publications of Interest

From: NWFP Programme

Barber-Meyer, S.M. 2010. Dealing with the clandestine nature of wildlife-trade market surveys. Conserv. Biol. 24(4):918-923.

Bekessy, S.A., Wintle, B.A., Lindenmayer, D.B., McCarthy, M.A., Colyvan, M., Burgman, M.A., and Possingham, H.P. 2010. The biodiversity bank cannot be a lending bank. Conserv. Lett. 3(3):151-158.

Brehm, J.M., Maxted, N., Martins-Loução, M.A., and Ford-Lloyd, B.V. 2010. New approaches for establishing conservation priorities for socio-economically important plant species. Biodivers. Conserv. 19(9):2715-2740.

Brunckhorst, D.J. 2010. Using context in novel community-based natural resource management: landscapes of property, policy and place. Environ. Conserv. 37(1):16-22.

Bunn, W.A., Jenkins, M.A., Brown, C.B., and Sanders, N.J. 2010. Change within and among forest communities: the influence of historic disturbance, environmental gradients, and community attributes. Ecography 33(3):425-434.

Clarke, P., and Jupiter, S.D. 2010. Law, custom and community-based natural resource management in Kubulau District (Fiji). Environ. Conserv. 37(1):98-106.

Garda, A.A., Da Silva, J.M.C., and Baião, P.C. 2010. Biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in the Amazon. Syst. Biodivers. 8(2):169-175.

Hernando, A., Tejera, R., Velázquez, J., and Núñez, M.V. 2010. Quantitatively defining the conservation status of Natura 2000 forest habitats and improving management options for enhancing biodiversity. Biodivers. Conserv. 19(8):2221-2233.

Hoehn, P., Steffan-Dewenter, I., and Tscharntke, T. 2010. Relative contribution of agroforestry, rainforest and openland to local and regional bee diversity. Biodivers. Conserv. 19(8):2189-2200.

Jha, S., and Vandermeer, J.H. 2010. Impacts of coffee agroforestry management on tropical bee communities. Biol. Conserv. 143(6):1423-1431.

Ribot, J.C., Lund, J.F., and Treue, T. 2010. Democratic decentralization in sub-Saharan Africa: its contribution to forest management, livelihoods, and enfranchisement. Environ. Conserv. 37(1):35-44.

Székely, T., and Sutherland, W.J. 2010. Hunting the cause of a population crash. Nature 466(7305):448.

Waylen, K.A., Fischer, A., McGowan, P.J.K., Thirgood, S.J., and Milner-Gulland, E.J. 2010. Effect of local cultural context on the success of community-based conservation interventions. Conserv. Biol. 24(4):1119-1129.

Weckerle, C.S., Yang, Y., Huber, F.K. and Li, Q. 2010. People, money, and protected areas: the collection of the caterpillar mushroom Ophiocordyceps sinensis in the Baima Xueshan Nature Reserve, Southwest China. Biodiversity and Conservation. 19:9.
Abstract: The caterpillar mushroom Ophiocordyceps sinensis (syn. Cordyceps sinensis) is among the most valuable mushrooms in the world, and plays a major role for the local economies in its distribution area on the Tibetan Plateau and adjacent regions. Large proportions of its habitat fall into protected areas, and best practices of sustainable harvest are under discussion, considering both, O. sinensis as a valuable income source for rural poor and the protection of its populations and habitat.
This study analyses O. sinensis collection in a nature reserve in Southwest China. We found that harvesting is unevenly distributed among households and villages, with households who have access to the resource but lack adequate alternatives for income generation such as rewarding wage labour, fertile agricultural fields or harvest of other high value products being most involved. Although collection is de jure forbidden, authorities of the nature reserve apply adaptive management strategies for sustainable resource use. This includes the allocation of collection areas to communities based on their traditional land use strategies and the control of harvesters from outside, triggering self-policing of the resource by the local people. The strategies applied provide a promising model also for other protected areas where the caterpillar mushroom is collected.



  • Websites and E-Zines

From: NWFP Programme

Sustainable Trips
This website is an online database of sustainable tourism businesses in Latin America and the Caribbean, launched by Rainforest Alliance. The goal is to provide travellers, tour operators, and travel agencies with a comprehensive and trustworthy database of tourism companies that are not only located in beautiful areas, but are also making an effort to benefit local communities and the surrounding flora and fauna. Available in English, Spanish and French.




  • Oxfordshire (England, UK) town sees human waste used to heat homes

Source: BBC News, 5 October 2010-11-08

Householders in Didcot have become the first in the UK to use gas made from their own human waste and supplied via the national grid to heat their homes.
Up to 200 Oxfordshire homes will be using biomethane made from sewage they had flushed away three weeks earlier. British Gas, Thames Water and Scotia Gas Networks now hope to roll out the process across the UK.
According to an EU directive, by 2020 the UK must ensure 15 percent of the energy it produces comes from renewable sources. Martin Orrill, head of energy, technology and innovation at British Gas told the BBC News website supplying this type of gas through the national grid was a logical step in the UK's bid to meet these targets.
He added that customers had no need to feel squeamish but should be proud of taking part in the unusual recycling effort.
"They will not notice any difference as the renewable energy source has no odour, and the infrastructure to deliver the gas is already in place," he said. The whole process should take about 23 days from flush to finish.The practice of using anaerobic digesters — carefully managed bacteria — to turn faeces into a means of generating electricity is already well established across the country.
But an additional plant installed earlier this year at the Thames Water sewage treatment works in Didcot cleans up the spare biogas that is produced and turns it into biomethane suitable for household hobs and in gas central heating.
Mother-of-two Kathryn Rushton, 45, is among the householders whose gas supply now comes from sewage. She said: "I told my children about it and at first they wrinkled their noses but then they thought it was a great idea.
Other energy firms including United Utilities and Ecotricity have also announced their plans to inject biomethane straight into the network at a later date.
United Utilities told the BBC it hoped its £4.3m scheme, which would cater for 500 homes in Manchester, would be in place by summer 2011.
Mr Orrill said this £2.5m project had been hastened by the prospect of renewable heat incentives — a Labour proposal that was intended to encourage suppliers to support renewable technologies by rewarding them. He said the UK was renowned for having the "best gas grid in the world" and so was ideally suited to try out the technology.
John Morea, chief executive of Scotia Gas Networks, said the project involved "recycling at its very best" and the gas would be cleaned to the highest standards.
In a statement, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne commended the project and said: "This is an historic day for the companies involved, for energy from waste technologies, and for progress to increase the amount of renewable energy in the UK.
For full story, please see:




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last updated:  Friday, August 11, 2017