What can you do when a magical place several thousands of miles away runs into trouble? You buy a chunk of it to conserve. Or that's what the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh is planning to do.
A daring rescue plan to save 5000-year-old trees
Apparently some of the world’s oldest trees might just be rescued from a horrible fate if the daring plan involving the Scottish botanic garden goes ahead. They're busy collaborating with the Rainforest Concern charity to raise funds of as much as £2.6 million to buy a remote 5000 acre area of forest, an area roughly the size of Stirling. It is home to conifers believed to be more than 5000 years old, and that means they're among the world's oldest living beings.
The opportunity arose when the land's Chilean owner put it up for sale. There's a potential wind farm on the cards, which means this may be the final chance we get to save the ancient trees and the associated wildlife that lives in and around them from extinction. The plan includes a research station for the Gardens' botanists, created so they can study the age-old Fitzroya cupressoides trees.
Why save them?
It's thought that the trees, thanks to their sheer age, could provide us with vital information about climate change. The scientists involved should also be able to take samples to create a genetically diverse back-up population of the trees in Scotland, preserving their DNA for the future.
We do like a bit of nominative determinism! The aptly-named Martin Gardner, co-ordinator of the International Conifer Conservation Programme in Edinburgh, says that while time isn't on their side, he's hoping the purchase process could be complete within a year to 18 months. All they need is the money.
The initiative is particularly important because about 90% of the plant species in these southern forests are unique to the region. It's actually surprising there are any of the ancient 70m high Fitzroyas left, since they've been widely used for timber over the centuries. Now they're officially endangered, but their habitat is not… and that's potentially disastrous.
This forest is probably the oldest in the Andes. It's extraordinarily precious. It has been a forest since the last Ice Age ended, around 6000 – 10,000 years ago, and some of the trees are not much younger. Their amazing capacity to survive climate change makes them an incredibly important resource, as well as living beings that deserve to be respected and protected.
Preserving the future – Even if the worst happens
Sadly, there's a worst case scenario at the core of all this. If Chile's magical rainforests die back, ex-situ conservation – in Scotland – should let us conserve the genetic diversity and even restore it one day. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
As reported by the Psmag website, it looks like we'll lose one of the planet's biggest remaining rainforests by the year 2100. It's the unbelievably precious Congo Basin rainforest, and between the years 2000 and 2014 it lost an area bigger than Bangladesh.
Africa's Congo Basin is home to the world's second-largest rainforest. But if deforestation carries on at this rate, the entire primary forest will be gone by the end of this century. When the University of Maryland delved deep into satellite data collected between 2000 and 2014, they were horrified to realise the extent of the loss. Sadder still, while the researchers were doing the work about 165,000 square kilometres more forest were lost to deforestation.
What's going on?
Apparently the dominant force behind the savage Congo deforestation we've seen, the driver behind over 80% of the loss, isn't down to big business. Unusually, it's almost all down to small-scale clearing by families engaging in subsistence agriculture, mostly done by hand without machinery. And this is, in turn, often the only way to make a living locally, the only way to survive thanks to years of political instability and conflict.
The issue is also a geographical one, since the Congo Basin rainforest covers Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, the Republic of the Congo, and Gabon. The DRC has the biggest chunk of the forest within its borders, an astonishing 60%, and more people live in this particular bit of the forest than in any other area of it owned by any other country. At the same time the DRC's human development index languishes in the bottom 10%, which means life span, education and per capita gross domestic product are some of the world's lowest.
Ignorance and poverty drive deforestation
When ignorance and poverty rule, environmental disasters are more likely to happen and people are less likely to care. When all you are doing is subsisting, you're desperate. You have to find ways to feed your children, and you don't much care how you get that food. Until we resolve poverty, the destruction will probably carry on.
Ranomafana National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site, as well as a place where security has been deteriorating for some years. But things are getting much worse thanks to an escalation of raids on local villages, which have seen their staple crops stolen. The people are subsistence farmers with very few resources, and when they try to defend their crops they're attacked.
The local police chief, Heritiana Emilson Rambeloson, who arrived to investigate, was shot dead, and deaths aren't unusual. Jean François Xavier Razafindraibe was also killed recently when armed men raided his village.
Home to critically endangered lemurs and a tourist hot-spot
Ranomafana National Park is part of the Forests of Atsinanana, home to critically endangered lemurs including the golden bamboo lemur and the black-and-white ruffed lemur. It's a hot tourist spot, offering extraordinary landscapes, rare wildlife and friendly, mellow people. So far tourists haven't been affected by the uprise in violence, but it's only a matter of time.
Yet again, greed for gold is a culprit
Illegal gold panning in the forests is the source of the problems, an ongoing issue nobody seems to be able to resolve. The miners pollute the rivers, carry out mass deforestation, and kill and eat the rare wildlife. There are also armed cattle thieves, ‘dahalo' to deal with and they've apparently caused around four thousand deaths in the past half decade.
In 2017, the mayor of the ton of Ambalakindresy was shot dead in what locals believe was a ‘hit', arranged to stop his plans to rid the region of the dahalo and gold miners. Gold mining activity has been escalating ever since. And the people are terrified, which is affecting local research and conservation efforts. Every village in the area is afraid, despite the police's robust response to recent attacks in the shape of 80 more police.
The increased insecurity in the region speaks about a wider problem of disrespect for the law in Madagascar. But good, solid governance is vital to develop the country's economy and fight to save its irreplaceable biodiversity.
Will a new leader strengthen conservation efforts in Madagascar?
Madagascar is due to elect a new leader on 19th December. Let's hope a change in leadership might also bring a change in the violence and lawlessness affecting its precious forests.
As reported in this week's New Scientist magazine, artificial intelligence is helping to improve our understanding of the rainforests of Borneo. It's all down to solar-powered recording devices created to monitor biodiversity, gadgets which are programmed to identify the sounds different creatures make, and therefore track their numbers over time.
Humans are slow and inefficient, so is the old tech
It matters because this is a job usually done by humans and as such it's horribly slow and pretty inefficient, partly because of the terrain and partly because of the area's sheer size and difficult access. We already have recorders, of course, but they're battery powered, which means people need to go and change the batteries regularly. Other systems are too expensive, generating impractical amounts of data that gets sent via satellites.
A leaner, more agile system that delivers vital information
This device is much simpler, a pared down version of a cheap, mass produced mini-computer called the Raspberry PI. In-canopy solar panels provide the power and the data collected is sent via local mobile networks to a remote server. The entire system is leaner, simpler and a whole lot more agile. The machines can easily carry extras like image, audio and video sensors, which collect different types of information including atmospheric data.
An ongoing health check for Borneo's threatened rainforests
The original 12 monitors have already recorded ten thousand hours of audio, which is being used to identify species and watch how their populations change. Another method collects an overall sound map of the forest and looks at how it changes with time, helping to pin down the wider environmental health of the region.
These new AIs will play a vital part in a bigger project designed to track the impact of palm oil plantations in Borneo, hopefully by revealing which tree types protect the greatest amount of bio-diversity. The more we know and understand about the world's forests, the better we can protect them for future generations.
Art really can change the world. Take the renowned Thai street artist Mue Bon, who is collaborating with Greenpeace in an attempt to stop Indonesian rainforests being cleared and destroyed to create palm oil plantations. His new mural, made especially, is an artwork called Wings of Paradise, featuring a bird of paradise, and you can see it on the walls of the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre, on display until 14th October.
About Mue Bon – Thoughtful and talented
Mue Bon is a highly respected Bangkok-based artist. He creates paintings and installations using mixed media and started his artistic career at a time when street art had a low profile in his homeland. Part of the early Thai street artist revolution, Mue Bon's work embellishes the streets, and he's determined to carry on improving the reputation of street artists in Thailand by making their work more accessible to the public.
He's just one of many artists lending their skills to help campaign for rainforest conservation. The campaign also involves collaboration with artists from as far away as Australia and Kuala Lumpur. And the message is crystal clear: we need to protect and save Indonesia's rainforests.
The palm oil industry – dirty, greedy and cruel
The palm oil industry, in the meantime, steamrollers on without so much as a thought for the future. It has already ravaged the precious forests of Borneo and Sumatra, and now it has finally reached Papua, where the bird of paradise depicted by Mue Bon lives. According to Greenpeace the mysterious, little-known birds and the forest they live in are under serious threat. As Mue Bon said in The Nation (http://www.nationmultimedia.com/detail/event/30355700), “Forests, home to endangered animals and precious treasures from the earth, are being destroyed by the hands of humans. I hope this artwork will be able to reflect the voices of these animals, voices that otherwise might never reach the concrete jungle.”
When business and street art collaborate…
These days business is finally starting to realise the commercial potential of street art collaborations in Thailand. The artwork attracts tourists and reflects well on brands. In effect the businesses become art curators, which gives them an essential sense of ownership and spreads the message far and wide. In a world where large tracts of rainforest are being felled daily, every effort we can make to stop the destruction matters. Thank you, Mue Bon.
We'll leave the last word to Greenpeace. “It’s time for us to stand together for the future of Indonesian forests. Artists, students, bird enthusiasts or consumers buying palm oil products in supermarkets, we need to come together and act.”
Vast areas of forest once covered the land between northern Scotland and Portugal. All that's left in Britain is the Celtic rainforest in Wales. The words ‘rainforest' and ‘Wales' don't seem, at first glance, a logical fit. But they are, thanks to this stunningly lovely and seriously endangered rainforest. Now the ancient woodlands have received a boost in the form of £9M funding from the Welsh government and the EU.
Why Wales' rainforests matter
These forests are some of the most valuable landscapes in terms of wildlife and culture. Woodlands are a valued natural asset in Wales, vital for the environment. They protect the land against floods, generate beautifully clean, fresh air, and give shelter to livestock. The project will improve the condition of key woodlands in Wales significantly, and that in turn will help the UK meet its European and international
How the money will be spent
The funds are going to be spent on protecting and improving the wet and temperate forest, which is full of sessile oak, downy birch, ash and hazel. A precious British rainforest, it has deteriorated thanks to conifer plantations, invasive Rhododendron, sheep and deer. The damage caused has put rare flora and fauna under more stress than ever. Lichens, tree lungwort and birds are at risk, as well as the rare lesser horseshoe bat, otter and dormouse.
At the same times these incredibly biodiverse oak woodlands are the stars of the show in many a Welsh folk tale and song, which adds an important social and cultural element to their protection. They are special, mysterious places celebrated and enjoyed by thousands, and with a bit of luck they'll be around to inspire future generations.
Hopefully four key areas of Celtic rainforest will be cleared of of invasive species, in north and mid-Wales, including north Wales' Coed Felinrhyd and Llennyrch, both in Snowdonia. The people involved will also be looking for more ways to improve the forests' management, things like altering the way the land is grazed, and some of the money will be used to generate interest and bring more visitors.
Brexit won't affect the funding
Happily, leaving the EU won't affect the funding, a good piece of news that has been officially confirmed by Welsh and English governments.
It looks like the Amazon rainforest we know and love today isn't pure and pristine at all. Research by the University of Exeter has revealed how it is far from untouched, thanks to ancient farmers who transformed the region in dramatic ways. Apparently the farmers introduced crops to new areas, boosted the number of tree species that generated food, and even used fires to improve the soil.
The study was undertaken by archaeologists, palaeoecologists, botanists and ecologists, and reveals the way early Amazon residents farmed intensively without having to continually clear fresh areas of woodland. They made their discoveries by analysing charcoal, pollen, plant remains and lake sediments.
Ancient people were wiser than us – They knew how to farm without ruining the soil
The forest's ancient residents grew maize, sweet potato, manioc and squash, and the remains date back an impressive 4,500 years. They apparently improved the soil by burning vegetation, adding manure and digging in waste food, and as well as the products they grew they also ate river fish and turtles. The discoveries explain why areas of forest surrounding archaeological sites tend to feature more edible plants than average.
Dr Yoshi Maezumi led the team. He says that ancient humans found a way to create a nutrient rich soil called Amazonian Dark Earths by farming in much more sustainable way, a way that continually enriched the soil rather than contstantly depleting it. The amazing soil they created let the people grow nutrient-hungry crops like maize in more places, even in regions the soil was very poor. And that in turn fed a growing Amazon population.
There really is a better way to grow crops
The ancient farming method involved clearing some low trees and weeds while keeping the closed canopy above. It's dramatically different from today's brutal methods, which simply involve clearing more and more land for industrial scale grain, soya bean, and cattle production. It reveals there really is a better way, a more efficient way to farm without destroying precious forests.
We don't often get good news. Our world is usually populated with stories about deforestation and disaster. So it's lovely to be able to talk about an incredibly important milestone for the Amazon itself and for rainforest conservatoin everywhere.
A region of outstanding universal value
The Serrania del Chiribiquete, in Colombia, has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, who have recognised its outstanding universal value to nature and people. Now it's the world’s biggest tropical rainforest national park, a huge effort that has taken decades of hard work by environmentalists and conservationists to bring to fruition.
The protected area is home to an impressive 3000 or more types of animals and plants, and is now twice as large as it originally was. In a world where 33% of so-called protected areas remain threatened by human activities, it's a vital development.
Chiribiquete is incredibly remote. There have been many years of armed conflict in the area, which has made life tricky for scientists and conservationists. The sheer, remarkable biodiversity of the regon is down to its location, a magical place where four very different geographic regions – the Amazon, Andean, Orinoco and Guyanas – meet. All this makes the news a defining moment in the good fight.
A big step in the right direction
Chiribiquete is not only a biological, cultural, hydrological and archaeological treasure. It's also vitally important to the indigenous people – some still uncontacted – who live in the area. Colombia’s forests, like all rainforests, remain threatened by deforestation to make way for agriculture, industry and settlement, and climate change continues apace, but the news represents a considerable positive step in the right direction.
The new park includes areas with very highest deforestation rates, so it's hopeful that the news will help stop the timber and illegal crop trade in its tracks. It's wonderful to see the Colombian government taking such an important step towards protecting the region, against a landscape where, all too often, government inaction, corruption and short-term thinking are at the forefront of the destruction.
Water matters. Not just to the broader economy, but also to companies whose products and services impact our global economy and climate. Water issues are now taking a far greater and more prominent position in the global economy.
As growing pressure emerges on our planet’s most precious resource, businesses have turned their attention and focus on the importance of water stewardship. Smarter business means understanding the risks posed by water scarcity and pollution. Taking action requires businesses to adopt more sustainable practices.
Encouraging good water stewardship means incorporating sustainable water management if businesses are to continue operating, and for people to keep on living. Here are three approaches to corporate water stewardship.
1. Understanding the importance of a changing water world
When examining the role of companies in the context of water stewardship, consider these trends as highlighted by World Wildlife Fund:
- In the next 40 years, the human population will exponentially increase by 2.5 billion. This will increase humanity’s water footprint, increasing costs for infrastructure.
- Rising incomes will result in changes in consumption patterns. Higher consumption of food and other resources will require collective action to ensure there is enough food and resources to meet demand.
- Global climate change will have a greater impact on weather variability. Snow and ice will carry less freshwater storage, more extreme events will lead to changes in ecosystems. These will have undeniable effects on water management practices, particularly in environments that support life and livelihoods dependent on freshwater.
Already, it is estimated that 4 billion people worldwide face economic water shortage, leading to inadequate sanitation. A lack of access to clean, potable water has resulted in many being exposed to water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and diarrhoea, among other water-related illnesses.
The global nature of our changing water world means coordinated action is required across governments, sectors of society, and enterprises to ensure water security for all, and sustainable water resources and infrastructure.
2. Business engagement with water management
The implications of freshwater supply challenges, from societal, environmental, and investment perspectives, means water stewardship should be a top priority. Current water issues, both regionally and locally, mean businesses will soon face, if they have not already done so, serious water problems. Water risks for companies will have strategic and profound impacts on brand value and its profitability.
Business engagement must go beyond corporate social responsibility (CSR). Achieving accessible and sustainable flows to clean, potable water is a core business issue that is strategic to long-term opportunities for growth and profit. As water is material from a production standpoint, businesses must highlight the importance of good water stewardship to c-suite executives, shareholders, and investors.
The highly varied possibilities of water scarcity-related risks mean businesses must provide an exhaustive evaluation of water-related risks and corporate water usage performance. This can provide interpretive guidance for companies to actively manage water risks.
3. The role of leadership in water stewardship
Becoming a proven global leader of good water stewardship is critical from a business perspective in addressing pressing problems surrounding water management and sustainability. The evolving role of business in a global economy has impacted how society is incentivized to engage in water sustainability practices. Indeed, establishing good water stewardship and environmental responsibility must be demonstrated from a leadership position.
While a significant amount of work has already resulted in many technological and scientific breakthroughs in addressing sustainable water stewardship, business leaders must build on this work and demonstrate sustainable water management to bring substantial, long-term and all-encompassing change.
A collaborative approach, focusing on cross-sector and cross-industry involvement will be key in tackling sustainable challenges in the years to come. Addressing further issues surrounding sustainable water stewardship must come from an authoritative standpoint. Initiatives that discuss innovative solutions to water management must be proposed and discussed among senior policy-makers and business leaders.
The enormous influence of those in leadership positions is critical in starting a dialogue that will translate into meaningful and widespread collective action.
A call to action
The stewardship role goes beyond those within the private sector. Using agents to create a local-to-global approach will be critical in advancing the dialogue on how the global society addresses freshwater shortage issues and meets general water-related challenges.
Only engagement through collective effort will lead to better, more efficient and sustainable water resource management for the benefit and survival of everyone.
Patrick Randall is the Vice President of National Sales at Hepure Technologies. He holds a BS in Mechanical and Chemical Engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and an M.S. in Civil Engineering from CSUS. He has been working in the environmental and bioremediation space since graduating in 1986.
In about 1917 someone brought a small, fast-growing tree called Bellucia pentamera from South America and planted it in Indonesia’s gorgeous Bogor Botanical Gardens. Called the mountain apple, its fruits were used by some indigenous people in the Amazon to help with parasite infections.
Now, just over a century later, the mountain apple is flourishing across Asia, mostly thanks to its small seeds which are widely transported by birds and bats. And it is a familiar face on Borneo's Gunung Palung National Park, home to some of the last big areas of lowland rainforest in Southeast Asia and an area rich in seven different types of rainforest.
The mountain apple loves deforestation
Intense logging between 2000 and 2002 helped the invader spread, taking out most of the biggest, most valuable trees and leaving huge gaps in the canopy, which in turn heated the forest floor and ruined the essential shade beneath. But one resident really doesn't mind these new conditions. In fact the mountain apple withstands the hot sun, so much so that it actually out-competes native light-loving species.
PhD student Christopher Dillis of the University of California and his team compared the fruiting frequency of Bellucia to native trees. They found that, on average, 56% of Bellucia in Gunung Palung National Park produced fruit every month, against just 4% of native rainforest trees.
Why does Bellucia love logging?
Canopy gaps are not uncommon. So why is Bellucia more attracted to logged areas than natural canopy gaps? Bellucia trees in gaps created by logging produced more fruits than Bellucia growing in natural canopy gaps, and nobody really knows why. It might be that the intense light in logging gaps lets the trees grow particularly big leaves, which mean more photosynthesis and more energy, which gives it a competitive advantage.
We already know that plant diversity is vital for the health of rainforests, and every other kind of forest. Logging in Gunung Palung has decreased but still continues. Large-scale oil palm agriculture doesn't help. Thankfully, unlike some invaders, Bellucia doesn't run rampant through pristine jungle. It needs logging gaps. But it just goes to show how very damaging even the least dodgy invaders can be if left to its own devices.