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Big Nature Debate

5 Posts tagged with the wildlife tag
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Helen Buckland is UK Director, Sumatran Orangutan Society

 

Palm fruit.jpgThe world’s voracious appetite for palm oil - an ingredient found in up to half of all packaged supermarket products in the UK - is fuelling the destruction of some of the most biodiverse rainforests on the planet, home to countless species, including the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan (see www.orangutans-sos.org). Whilst every individual has the right to make choices about the food they eat and the cosmetics they use, I feel that a boycott of products containing palm oil is not the answer to saving Indonesia’s forests, for a number of reasons.

 

In order to boycott products containing palm oil, you need to know which ones to avoid – which is not easy. Palm oil is usually a hidden ingredient in food and cosmetic products, listed simply as “vegetable oil” on packaging, so it is currently almost impossible to make informed choices about what you buy at the supermarket.

 

Even armed with a palm-oil-free shopping list, protesting with your wallet may have some unintended consequences. Oil palms are the most productive oil seed in the world – more than 10 times as much oil is produced from a hectare of oil palms as other crops. If companies are forced to switch to alternative oils, even more land could be put at risk by increasing demand for oils which need larger plantations. Soybeans, for example, tend to be grown under a similar model to oil palms: huge monocultures, often at the expense of tropical forests in South America. We do not want to export the problem - saving the Southeast Asian rainforests from conversion at the expense of the Brazilian Amazon, swallowing up even more forest in the process. We simply want forest conversion to stop.

 

Palm oil is a “wonder crop” when it comes to meeting the huge global demand for vegetable oils, accounting for more than a third of the world’s supply. Countries such as India and China rely on huge palm oil imports to meet their populations’ nutritional needs, bringing billions of dollars to top producer countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. As long as the world needs vegetable oil, there is no question that the palm oil industry will continue to grow; what we need to be concerned with how this expansion happens.

 

The development of new oil palm plantations does not need to entail forest destruction. While precious ecosystems are being devastated, millions of hectares of abandoned land lie idle, available for cultivation.  It is estimated that the amount of land growing oil palms in Indonesia could quadruple without impacting forests (http://www.projectpotico.org/), enabling the industry to grow whilst drastically reducing its environmental footprint.

 

wild male.jpgThe Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was established to create a clear set of standards for reducing the environmental impacts of the industry. Change has been slow, and it’s not a perfect system, but oil certified as sustainable according to these standards has started to trickle into the world market.

 

Many millions of hectares of forests have already been lost to the palm oil industry. It is absolutely critical that the conversion of forests is stopped. We need more research into how to increase output on existing plantations, as current yields are in many cases well below their potential, and this would reduce the need for cultivating more land.  Environmentally-sensitive land use planning, improved productivity, responsible investment by banks and purchasing by manufacturers and retailers are all crucial to halt the conversion of Indonesia’s forests for agricultural development.
So what can you do to help? If you know a certain product contains palm oil, and would rather not to buy it on that basis, make sure that you write to the company that makes it and tell them. You can also demand that companies use only certified sustainable palm oil, and to clearly label this on their packaging. Making your voice heard really can make a difference – several big companies have already made commitments to cleaning up their palm oil supply after hearing from their customers about this issue - see the WWF website for a list.  We can all also pressure our elected officials to make decisions that help conserve our planet's limited resources and threatened biodiversity, and save precious species, including the orangutan, from extinction.

 

For further information on the environmental and social impacts of the palm oil industry see: http://www.orangutans-sos.org/campaigns/palm_oil_and_biofuels/

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I’m Australian. Australia can probably claim the fastest rate of species extinction of any country on earth. Humans no sooner entered the treasurehouse of biodiversity that is the continent of Australia than they brought cats, foxes, dogs, deer, goats, pigs, water buffalo, camels, rats, mice, and allowed them to maraud at liberty. Whole populations of fascinating small mammals have been wiped out. Even in England cats have hunted all kinds of small mammals and birds to the edge of extinction. People who care about biodiversity don’t keep cats.

An earthling’s true heritage is not collections of works of art or crown jewels or great palaces built by potentates of the past. Our heritage is the exuberance of our small planet, with its astonishing variety of indwelling species, from the most delicate and intricate of mosses to the most specialised of bugs, hundreds of thousands of species each adapted to its special niche, living in fragile equilibrium with its neighbours and competitors. Every time a single species goes out of existence we are poorer. As it is, whole chains of mutually dependent species are crashing. We are destroying our inheritance before we had even come into it.

My position is that only ordinary people can make a difference. Rebuilding habitat is enormous fun; if you get it right it is also easy. What should be growing in your garden, as distinct from what is? Let your garden grow wild. Leave litter to rot down. Be glad to see bugs, yes, even aphids. More slugs means the return of the thrushes, and the happiness of toads. Let the wasps get drunk on your apples. Let the worms condition your soil. You may make a million mistakes along the way, but you will also see a reward beyond price.
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Helen Buckland is UK Director, Sumatran Orangutan Society

 

Orangutan 1 Djuna Ivereigh.jpgHow protecting one species can help protect thousands more - and aid in the fight against climate change too.

 

As awareness about our impact on the world around us grows, so does the power of the flagship species – emblematic animals which draw attention to an urgent environmental issue, or a critical habitat under threat.

 

Take the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), a critically endangered species, and deforestation of the Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra, one of the most biodiverse forests in the world. While these iconic animals consistently win hearts and minds thanks to their intelligence, unique character and striking similarity to humans, many people don’t realise just how much we can achieve through their protection.

 

Like the more numerous, but still endangered, Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), Sumatran orangutans are a fantastic flagship species for Indonesia’s forests, incredible animals that can act as ambassadors for this unique habitat and all the other wildlife within it.

 

By protecting orangutans and their rainforest home, we can help literally thousands of other species, from the world’s smallest fish - Paedocypris progenetica, discovered just a few years ago, to the world’s longest snake, the reticulated python. Then there are the Sumatran tigers, elephants, rhinos, clouded leopards – the list goes on.

 

Orangutans also play a crucial role in forest regeneration. Spending most of their time up in the trees and with a diet consisting of over 400 different plants and fruits they spread seeds over great distances, helping maintain the diversity of the entire ecosystem.

 

Of course it’s not just plants and animals that benefit as a result; millions of people are dependent on these unique ecosystems too. As well as supplying food, fresh water, fuel and natural medicines, the forests are also crucial for soil fertility, flood control, prevention of fires and more.

 

Orang 2 Nick Tignonsini.jpgThe forests of Indonesia - and of Malaysia, home to Bornean orangutans – are also crucially important in the fight against climate change. The ancient forests of Sumatra and Borneo are vital carbon sinks - especially those on deep peat soils. Deforestation leads to the release of centuries’ worth of carbon stored in the soil and in the trees themselves. Around 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the clearance and burning of forests, more than those from transport, and Indonesia is losing its forests faster than any other country.

 

The loss of their rainforest home is the greatest threat pushing the orangutan to the brink of extinction; as forests are burnt, logged and converted to plantation agriculture, the call for their protection becomes ever more urgent. Around half of Sumatra’s forests have been lost in the last 25 years. By working with communities living next to the last remaining orangutan habitat, restoring damaged forests, and supporting local government in protecting the Leuser Ecosystem, we offer a lifeline to Sumatran orangutans, and the thousands of other species they represent.
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Stanley Johnson is an Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme’s Convention on Migratory Species and author of several books on environmental issues. His most recent book is Survival: Saving Endangered Migratory Species.

 

A few months ago I traveled in a hot-air balloon over vast herds of wild animals as they migrated from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park into Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve.  The sight was unbelievable, unforgettable.  As far as the eye could see the plains were black with animals.  One and a half million wildebeest; half a million zebra; another half million topis, elands and Thompson’s gazelles.  This truly is one of the world’s great migrations, perhaps the greatest wildlife spectacle on earth.

IMG_8290.jpg IMG_8064.jpg

Migrating wildebeest and zebra, Mara River, Kenya © Stanley Johnson

 

For the last five years, as I researched my most recent book, I have been privileged to visit the most far-flung corners of the globe.  I have been in the Sahara desert, in the very heart of Niger, looking for the addax, the rarest of all desert antelopes.  I have trekked gorillas in both Central and West Africa, spent time with giant river otters in Brazil’s Pantanal and in the Amazon, and camped among the orangutans in Borneo’s now much-threatened forests.


This has been one of the most exciting projects I have ever undertaken.  One day, in Mexico’s Sea of Cortes I saw at least twenty blue whales, thought to be the largest of all the creatures that have even lived on this planet, a species which for decades has been hovering on the edge of extinction. Last summer, on Española Island in the Galapagos, I was able to observe at close quarters colonies of waved albatross.


Migratory animals constitute those 8 to 10 thousand of the world’s 1.8 million known species.  Because many of them move from country to country, mostly between feeding and breeding grounds, international action is often essential. The battle to save the world’s endangered migratory species can itself be seen in the context of the wider struggle to conserve global biodiversity. Since January 2007 I have been honoured to be an Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme’s Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).  Under the auspices of the CMS, more than two dozen international treaties and other instruments have been negotiated with a view to protecting migratory species.


The challenges that remain are great.  Treaties have to be implemented, as well as signed.  New threats are constantly arising.  As I write, plans are afoot to drive a road right through the heart of the Serengeti with untold consequences for migrating wildlife.   At a recent meeting of the International Whaling Commission.  the international moratorium on commercial whaling came close to unraveling. The consequences for wildlife, such as marine turtles, of the horrendous oil-spill in the Gulf of Mexico have still to be assessed, as do the implications for species like the orangutan of the mad rush, mandated by the EU, to fill our cars with biodiesel made from palm-oil, not to speak of the impact of global warming on migratory patterns.


Now is the time to seize the opportunity to draw attention, in this context, to the astonishing biological treasure represented by migratory species, and of the threats which they face.   I hope these efforts may inspire decision-makers, both in the UK and elsewhere, even at this time of financial crisis and budgetary stringency, to press for more effective action to protect some of nature’s most precious resources.

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Paul Wilkinson is head of Living Landscapes for The Wildlife Trusts, and has responsibility for leading and supporting the achievement of their Living Landscapes vision across the UK. www.wildlifetrusts.org

 

Conservation groups such as The Wildlife Trusts will never give up our efforts to protect the UK's wildlife and habitats, but the truth is this can't be enough to ensure a bright future for biodiversity into the 21st century and beyond. Although we manage around 2,300 nature reserves across the UK, it's still not enough - we need nature to be thriving on a landscape scale.

 

The Wildlife Trusts' vision for A Living Landscape, a recovery plan for nature, was launched in 2006 and there are now more than 100 landscape scale schemes across the UK, covering over 3.5million acres.

Pumlumon_Highland_cow.jpg

Image: Pumlumon, Montgomeryshire, the site of one of The Wildlife Trusts flagship Living Landscape schemes. © Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust

 

In trying to deliver these schemes we are working amid Government policies that tell us how land should be used and managed, few of them designed with nature in mind and virtually none actively supporting its restoration. Decisions about land use are being made by different organisations and government departments, with different interests, but this decision making is not aligned or suitably integrated towards achieving a common vision, and so wildlife and the natural services on which we all depend continue to decline.

 

Ahead of the General Election this year we were pushing for a White Paper on the natural environment as a way of addressing this. We envisioned this being a new driver to restore the natural environment, putting wildlife back on the front foot. It was a great cause for celebration when the coalition Government committed to a Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP) in England. It's currently at a public consultation stage, where anyone can submit their views on what should be included. You can find out more on our website. We'd recommend doing so to anyone with an interest in nature and wildlife.

 

From The Wildlife Trusts' point of view, the NEWP should ensure all our existing wildlife areas are fully protected and valued, that they are enlarged and connected so wildlife can move between them, and that we are making the most of natural processes for the purposes of flood prevention, carbon absorption and crop pollination. It should also see partnerships continuing to develop between central and local government, businesses, communities, voluntary sector and landowners - a joint commitment to restoring nature. Wildlife, with the myriad benefits it brings, should be part of all of our lives. And Government needs to provide the impetus and means for this to happen.