Think peat and you might picture Ireland, where vast tracts of the stuff were systematically dug up over hundreds if not thousands of years, leaving huge black scars marring the landscape. Or you might find yourself picturing a garden centre with stacks of peat-based potting compost. It's unlikely the Congo Basin would spring to mind, but a vast peatland in the Congo Basin has just been mapped for the first time, and it turns out it's the biggest in the tropics.
Stashing 30 billion tonnes of carbon safely
It's called the Cuvette Centrale peatlands, it's located in the central Congo Basin, and as little as five years ago nobody had a clue it existed. But it covers a whopping 145,500 square kilometres, a chunk of land bigger than England. Importantly, this huge tract of land sucks up and locks in an awesome 30 billion tonnes of carbon, and it's one of the richest carbon ecosystems on the planet, stashing an amount the same as three years' worth of the planet's total fossil fuel emissions.
Understanding what makes the peatlands tick
Professor Simon Lewis and Dr Greta Dargie, from University of Leeds and University College London, discovered the peatlands on a 2012 field trip to the region. They contain almost a third of the world's tropical peatland carbon, equalling around two decades' worth of fossil fuel emissions given off in the USA, and the resulting peatland map created by the team marks an important first step in understanding exactly what makes this remarkable ecosystem tick.
A vital resource in the fight against climate change
Peat is made from partly-rotted down plants, and it tends to be made in cooler areas of the world. Peat acts as a powerful carbon sink, sucking carbon out of the atmosphere via plant growth. Because it's waterlogged, the plant matter doesn't completely decompose, locking carbon in. If peatlands dry out, the decomposition process kicks off again and CO2 gets released back into the atmosphere. As you can imagine, intact peatlands are a vital resource in the fight against climate change, and it's important to maintain them.
An urgent need to consider peatlands in conservation plans
Carbon has been steadily building up in the Congo Basin's peatlands for almost eleven thousand years. Destroy it and billions of tonnes of CO2 would be released into the earth's atmosphere. The Congolese peatlands are such a new discovery they aren't taken into account in conservation plans, which puts them at serious risk.
Guest post by The Rainforest Foundation.
Rainforest conservation hits the headlines regularly for the most important global reasons, things like climate change, habitat destruction, oil pipelines and deforestation. Now the ‘Lost City of the Monkey God' has been uncovered in the rainforests of Honduras, one of the last great unexplored areas on earth.
The city's original inhabitants fled some time during the 1500s, believing their city to be cursed with disease and bad luck. In fact the natives were suffering from illnesses brought in by invading and settling Europeans, who also enslaved them.
An American author, one Douglas Preston, and a team of explorers set off to explore the dense Honduran and Nicaraguan rainforests and find the ancient city. The journey was exceptionally hazardous, studded with threats from poisonous snakes and involving fighting their way through incredibly thick vegetation.
The secrets of the massive Mosquitia rainforest revealed
The team's journey kicked off in the stunning Mosquitia rainforest, which covers a massive 20,000 square miles of Central America. The city was thought to be a legend, sometimes called the White City, other times the City of the Monkey God, and rumours have tantalized adventurers since the 1600s. One explorer, Steve Elkins, had been hunting for the city since the 1990s without success when he brought Preston in to document his latest expedition.
They are just two of many adventurers who have entered the jungle in search of the city. People have been looking for the ancient metropolis for hundreds of years, coveting the potentially precious objects left behind by its fleeing citizens.
High tech equipment reveals the lost city
This time around Elkins and Preston used contemporary technology to locate the ruined city, namely clever laser imaging equipment designed to scan hundreds of miles of jungle in just a few days, ‘seeing' through the trees with ease to map the ground remarkably accurately. On locating the city they soon uncovered a fascinating treasure trove of artefacts, including personal belongings.
See the documentary, read the book
A documentary about the expedition is currently being produced and there's a book too, just out, called The Lost City of the Monkey God and published by Grand Central. If you fancy a real, old-fashioned adventure full of thrills, it's a great read.
This Christmas, the Rainforest Foundation is asking for your help to protect the world's rainforests, by putting indigenous people at the heart of conservation efforts in the Congo Basin.
Indigenous communities have lived in Africa’s Congo Basin region for over 50,000 years. They are the forest’s natural guardians. Yet they are being routinely evicted from their traditional lands to make way for ‘protected areas’, endangering not only their livelihoods but also the forest’s biodiversity.
In the Tumba Lediima Reserve, a protected area in the Democratic Republic of Congo, around two hundred forest communities have found their livelihoods threatened. Living in fear of being beaten by eco-guards and unable to access the forest resources they need to survive has left some communities on the brink of starvation.
Evidence from around the world is showing that where indigenous peoples have been granted secure rights to their customary lands, rainforests are thriving. Their unparalleled ecological knowledge and traditional livelihoods are strongly linked to sustainable rainforest conservation.
Please click here to support their Christmas Appeal and help indigenous peoples shape the future conservation of the rainforests that they call home.
Think rainforests and Wales doesn't necessarily come to mind. But the small yet perfectly formed nation has a stunning rainforest all of its own, and now Wales' magnificent Celtic rainforest is ready to welcome visitors aboard.
Snowdonia's lovely rainforest is ten thousand years old, named Coed Felinrhyd in the 1100s and long a mysterious, magical place. Dating back to the end of the last ice age, it is already gaining a reputation as one of Britain's most unique ecosystems.
Head for the lovely little village of Maentwrog to find the pristine 221 acre forest, a place rich in unusual and rare plants and animals, many of which you can't find anywhere else. While it might look totally different from a tropical rainforest at first glance, much the same processes go on behind the scenes. The geography of the area has played a vital part in the forest's development, thanks to its unusual setting in a sheltered gorge. The countless streams and waterfalls that dot the woodland have also contributed to its unique ecosystem. The oak canopy makes things nicely humid, and the nasty Snowdonian frosts and powerful prevailing westerlies are kept at bay.
All this, and its sheer remoteness, means that the wood hasn't really changed for the past ten thousand years. And it shows. This place looks totally unlike any other forest you'll find in Wales, if not the whole of Britain. Take the tree lungwort, for example, which thrives there, a gorgeous and very rare lichen only found in a few remote areas of Britain these days.
The forest was bought by the Woodland Trust in 2015. Before then it was going to rack and ruin, seriously , endangered by invading rhododendrons and conifers. Since then, the Trust has been busy thinning the trees to allow native species the space they need to thrive. In fact you can already see the oak woodland growing back and the invaders retreating.
Best of all, the project has also created an awesome two and a half mile trail which they hope will encourage more people to explore the rainforest. If that floats your boat, head for Snowdonia and discover a natural landscape you'll never forget.
Peru's Central Amazon region suffers some of the nation's most acute levels of deforestation, but it's mostly neglected by conservationists. The problem is cows, which are grazing more and more of the region, and the resulting deforestation hotspot extends not far short of 15,000 square kilometres. The area has lost a quarter of its tree cover in the past 15 years and it's at crisis point. Worse still, recent reports reveal the rate of tree cover loss in 2016 is due to be more than three times the levels seen in 2015.
Cattle already have a major impact on the Brazilian Amazon
Cattle are notorious for destroying Brazil's Amazon rainforest. Cattle ranching is still the biggest cause of of deforestation there, and right now the cleared forest is home to about 60 million cows. Now a new report reveals neighbouring Peru as home to its own fast-growing ‘cowboy culture'. Researchers have found a forest area measuring more than 24,000 hectares has been destroyed during the past three years alone.
The Peruvian Central Amazon is ‘under-appreciated'
Cattle ranching in Peru isn't new, of course. It's just that nobody bothered to document the effect until now.
In recent analyses, MAAP (Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project ) has found that Peru’s Central Amazon has the highest levels of forest destruction in the country. At the same time the plight of the rainforests in the area has had very little media attention. Nobody knows why, it just appears to be an ‘under-appreciated area'.
Illegal cattle ranching in areas supposedly under protection
Worse still, the cattle-led deforestation is mostly illegal, taking place in outside the official areas earmarked by the government for agriculture, a situation highlighted thanks to satellite images which actually show cows roaming in denuded forest regions that should be under protection.
The Huánuco region, which is badly affected, is well known as a particularly beautiful place with a great deal of biodiversity and many unique species not found anywhere else. The region's unusual geography actually dissects the Andes, and it's home to massive amounts of remarkable cloud and montane forest.
Cattle deforestation has even affected areas in the official buffer zone, the Sira Communal Reserve, set up in 2001 to protect the Cordillera El Sira by law, a stunning mountain range co-managed by the local Ashaninka, Asheninka, Yanesha and Shipibo-Conibo indigenous people, leaving the park ‘vulnerable'.
Yet again corruption, greed and weak law enforcement are taking their toll. On one hand governments move to protect precious threatened forests, on the other hand they don't enforce the laws they put in place.
Exciting news! The first Kemito Ene chocolate bars made with sustainable rainforest cacao grown by indigenous Asháninka communities in the Peruvian Amazon, are available to buy online.
The chocolate bars are the result of years of work by RFUK to help the Asháninka secure and protect their rainforest homelands and to develop ecologically sustainable livelihoods.
Brought to the UK by specialist chocolate maker Loving Earth, this is a ‘bean-to-bar’ raw chocolate, made with organic and highly aromatic cocoa beans harvested last year and sweetened with evaporated coconut nectar. It's also palm oil free! Loving Earth, which is built on principles of trading fairly with indigenous people and respecting the planet, buys directly from Kemito Ene, the Asháninka producers association RFUK has supported since 2010. This ensures that indigenous communities receive the best price for their harvest.
Buying the 85% Dark Chocolate will help support the livelihoods of Peru’s rainforest peoples in their efforts to protect their forest and traditional way of life. So what are you waiting for!
Every year the earth loses around 15 billion trees. This is a shocking figure. A huge figure. But how big is that really?
It shows just how frightening the true scale of deforestation is.
For instance, every two days we lose an area of forest the size of New York City. An area the size of one of the world’s biggest cities gone in a weekend!
You can also see in this graphic that every three and a quarter years an area the size of California is lost, and every 15 years an area the size of Mexico. That’s almost 72,000 square miles!
Read on to discover more about the devastating scale of deforestation, and the work being done to prevent it.
“On the Northern Gateway pipeline, I've said many times, the Great Bear Rainforest is no place for a crude oil pipeline.” So said the hugely popular Liberal Prime Minister of Canada, speaking recently in Montreal. It's wonderful news for anyone who cares about the nation's unique forests.
Protecting 6.4 million hectares of lush temperate rainforest
Justin Trudeau's Liberal party won the 2015 Canadian general election conclusively, ushering in a new way of thinking. The victory means British Colombia's long-threatened forests might just be safe from oil-related exploitation after all.
The Great Bear Rainforest is a unique temperate rain forest on the Pacific coast, covering 6.4 million hectares and forming part of the larger Pacific temperate rain forest eco-region, the planet's biggest coastal temperate rainforest. In early 2016 the current government agreed to permanently protect 85% of the old-growth forested area from industrial logging.
An unpopular project killed off
Last week Trudeau reiterated his opposition to the route of Enbridge Inc's proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline, casting a whole lot more doubt on the fate of a project that has been opposed fiercely by environmentalists ever since it first raised its head.
The country's former Conservative government had already approved the Gateway, designed to ferry oil from the Alberta oil sands to a British Columbian port, from which it would be exported. In complete contrast Trudeau's government has promised a moratorium on oil tanker traffic along the coast of northern British Columbia, making the pipeline impossible.
His comments come after a Canadian court overturned federal approval for the project, sending it back to the Cabinet for reconsideration. On the down side the Calgary-based oil firm responsible remains fully committed to building the pipeline, determined not to give up on the plan. But many feel the game is up, and it's high time they gave up gracefully.
Trudeau steps up to the climate change mark
Thankfully Trudeau is ready and more than willing to step up to the climate change mark, unlike his predecessors. He is determined to honour Canada's commitments to resolving climate change, saying, “Canada is back, my friends. Canada is back, and here to help.” He has pledged to take on a number of high profile environmental policies including investing millions in cleaner, greener technologies. In Canada, the environmental picture is looking brighter than it has looked for some time.
Article by The Rainforest Foundation.
The rainforests are in danger. We all know that, but the a lot of people don’t know much about the frightening scale of deforestation and the current sad state of the rainforests – these natural wonders, which provide 40% of the world’s oxygen.
There is not enough media attention focused on the way our planet is being eaten away in the name of business, agriculture and greed. This information is essential and everybody should be aware of the state of deforestation, and what that means to our future.
This is why the team at eC02Greetings have created this graphic, which shows how vast the damage done already is, and how rapidly it continues. It also explains the importance of the rainforests, and looks at the main causes of deforestation.
This damage is being done right now, so let’s spread the word and do something about it #SaveTheTrees
The bacteria in and on our bodies – our microbiome – influences nutrition, obesity and our vulnerability to disease. A microbiome is simply the community of microbes that lives on and in an organism. Every person's body is home to a complex microbiome weighing about as much as a human head, and it's one of the hottest scientific topics around right now. So hot that President Obama has launched a so-called scientific ‘moon shot' initiative to figure out exactly how human microbiomes affect health and happiness.
Plants have microbiomes, too
Is a plant's microbiome just as important to the organism's health and well-being? After all, plants don't move and may need to rely on partnerships with communities of microbes to help them get nutrients. The early signs are promising. In May a team at the University of Washington, USA, revealed how poplar trees found in a rocky, inhospitable place contain a microbiome which helps provide the nutrients they need to grow. It looks as though microbiomes play a vital part in much more than just human health.
The findings could have profound effects on agriculture and bioenergy crops, improving productivity. On the other hand, just like humans, the microbial communities individual trees contain are incredibly diverse, varying beyond recognition in plants growing next to one another in much the same way as your own personal microbiome will differ from that of your colleagues, family and neighbours.
You don't need root nodules to fix nitrogen
This dramatic variation makes it difficult to draw sensible conclusions and quantify the microbes' activity, but it's clear that nitrogen fixation – a natural process which sustains every form of life – happens thanks to the help of nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
Scientists already know that nitrogen fixation happens in bacteria-rich nodules on the roots of plants like soybeans, clover and alfalfa. But the belief that only plants with root nodules can benefit from this kind of symbiosis no longer holds. The new research delivers the first direct evidence that nitrogen fixation happens in tree branches without root nodules.
Boosting plant productivity naturally
The news has significant implications for crop plants. The same microbes the team has isolated from the wild poplars and willows they studied have been found to help corn, tomatoes and peppers thrive with less fertiliser, as well as trees. Knowing which microbes help wild plants thrive even though they're growing on nothing more than rocks and sand means forestry will depend less on chemical fertilisers, providing a natural way to boost plant productivity without having to use fossil fuels to synthesise fertilisers.
Article by The Rainforest Foundation.