Nov 28
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How to have a green Christmas – the great tree debate

Organic horticulturist, Andy Dean, shares his views with us on Christmas trees and how to have a green Christmas…

In 1841, Queen Victoria’s new husband Albert, introduced a German Christmas tradition into the British royal household. From that point on the popularity of the Christmas tree has been on the up in the UK, Western Europe, America and most other parts of the world.

The custom of putting up a decorated fir tree in your home at Christmas began in Germany in the 17th century.

Unlike in England, the fir tree is native to Germany, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, being part of the natural biodiversity and offering habitat for native wildlife. Even in its native Germany, the fir tree has been through periods of threat, with legislation being passed to protect it from harvesting due to the popularity of having a cut tree indoors during the festive holiday season.

Photo of American red squirrel searching for fir cones at top of Douglas fir tree

Fir trees are important to wildlife: American red squirrel searching for fir cones at the top of a Douglas fir tree

I am in no way a ‘bah humbug’ person about Christmas and love the celebrations, but it breaks my heart to see the cut trees that are discarded after two weeks, laying outside almost every household, browning on their sides.

It strikes me as evidence of our detachment to source and, in our innocent excitement for the season, we forget that it is not just the one tree that we have cut, but many trees – almost one for each household. In fact, it is reported that 7 million real fir trees were sold in England last year alone.

With the approaching festivities, I would like to set a challenge to everyone. Instead of spending good money on a cut tree that will be tossed aside once the festivities are all over – putting a strain on both the environment and local amenities – why not gather up your family and take a walk in the countryside to pick a couple of sprigs of holly or ivy and perhaps a broken branch that could be decorated.

Common holly photo

Common holly

So long as this is done sympathetically, without greed and with good common sense, there is no reason why this should hamper the environment at all. In fact a gentle prune will help promote growth of the plant, and in gathering it ourselves we have both filled our lungs with fresh air and stretched our legs.

If you do want a real tree and have the outside space to accommodate it, why not grow one in a pot and enjoy it all year round, bringing it indoors for the holiday season?

With the money saved every year, you could even plant a native tree – either on your own land or even by making a donation to charities like the Woodland Trust  who strive to plant, proliferate and protect our native broadleaved woodlands. These are the very woodlands that add beauty to our landscapes and support our native wildlife.

Photo of a  subalpine fir forest

The beauty of a subalpine fir forest

And if you’re looking for something a little different this year, have a look at my post on alternatives to the cut tree .

Andy Dean, NOCN, is an organic horticulturist and owner of landscape & garden design company, Blue Sky Landscapes .

Dec 21
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In the News: Conservation success in Thailand

Camera trap studies have shown that scaled-up anti-poaching efforts in Thailand’s Western Forest Complex have proven to be successful.

Clouded leopard image

The elusive clouded leopard is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Candid camera

Thanks to a camera trap project led by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Asia Program, rare glimpses of endangered animals have been captured on film during the last year in the Western Forest Complex. The area includes 17 protected areas in Thailand and Myanmar, and houses a wide variety of fascinating species including the elusive clouded leopard and the impressive banteng, a rare species of wild cattle. The footage demonstrates that the increased anti-poaching efforts which have been established in the area are proving to be successful, and are having a positive effect on the local wildlife.

Green peafowl image

Images of the beautiful green peafowl were captured during the project

Elusive species become stars on screen

The footage captured by the camera traps features a vast array of forest-dwelling species, including many which are classified as threatened on the IUCN Red List such as the Vulnerable sun bear, and the green peafowl and Malayan tapir, both classified as Endangered. The camera trap project has also documented a variety of behaviours, from an Indochinese tigress and cubs drinking at a watering hole to a skittish banteng, and has demonstrated the species richness of the Thai forests.

Joe Walston, director of the WCS’s Asia Program, is delighted with the effects that increased patrolling has had on the local biodiversity, “The video represents a huge payoff for the government of Thailand, which has invested considerable resources in protecting wildlife and preventing illegal hunters from plundering the country’s natural heritage.

Indochinese tiger image

Indochinese tiger populations in the area have stabilised

Good news for tigers and more

The information gleaned from the video footage by WCS indicates that the numbers of Indochinese tigers, as well as populations of their prey species, have now stabilised in the region. It is estimated that there are now between 125 and 175 tigers in the area, which also contains one of the largest Asian elephant populations in Southeast Asia.

Overall, the news for Thailand is good with WCS stating that the country has one of the best anti-poaching records in Asia.

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Camera trap videos capture stunning wildlife in Thailand.

Explore species found in Thailand on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Nov 30
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In the News: Ape rescue in India

Two eastern hoolock gibbons have successfully been translocated from a fragmented forest near the village of Dello in north-eastern India to Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary.

Eastern hoolock gibbon image

The eastern hoolock gibbon is one of two hoolock gibbon species found in India

Struggling for survival

The move, organised by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), was carried out following evidence that the eastern hoolock gibbons, classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, were struggling to survive due to the pressures of heavy deforestation and fragmentation within their forest habitat.

Extensive felling of private forests around the small village of Dello has forced the remaining population of the eastern hoolock gibbon, consisting of just 18 family groups, to live in small clusters of trees surrounded by farmland.

Dello is a small village which once hosted good tree cover and undoubtedly supported a healthy population of the eastern hoolock gibbons,” says Ipra Mekola, a state wildlife advisory member. “The present situation offers no opportunity for the apes to forage optimally.”

Eastern hoolock gibbon image

Deforestation and hunting are major threats to the eastern hoolock gibbon

Reading the signs

The eastern hoolock gibbon, along with its relative the western hoolock gibbon, faces a number of threats in India. Deforestation, influenced by coal mining and oil extraction, is a key cause for concern, leaving just small fragmented pockets of suitable habitat for the primates to live in. The eastern hoolock gibbon is believed by local communities to have medicinal properties, and this, combined with its appeal as a source of food, means that hunting is a further threat to this species.

Gibbons are known for swinging rapidly and gracefully through their treetop homes, foraging high up in the canopy. Yet in poor habitat conditions, where suitable food is unavailable, these primates may venture down to ground level in order to search for food. Leaving the protection of the trees puts gibbons at great risk, as Dr Ian Robinson, IFAW’s Emergency Relief Director explains, “Their physical attributes are not suited to walk and they can fall easy prey on ground, so it is very rare to see them descend from the canopy under natural circumstances.”

Researchers in the Dello area noticed the eastern hoolock gibbons coming down to the ground to forage, and realised that there was a serious problem. “A month or so ago, a female and her young were killed in an attack by dogs,” said Dr Kuladeep Roy. A further female gibbon is also thought to have been killed as a result of foraging at ground level.

Eastern hoolock gibbon

Female eastern hoolock gibbons, like this one, are copper-tan, whereas the males are black

Translocation

The two translocated individuals, an adult male and a juvenile, were confined to a tree by researchers in order to be caught and sedated, before being transported to Mehao Wildlife Santuary where they were safely released.

Now that the gibbons are living in the reserve, there is still more work to be done, as Dr NVK Ashraf, Chief Veterinarian with WTI explains, “The IFAW-WTI team will monitor the released gibbons for the next six months. This is our first ever attempt to translocate gibbons in India.

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Rare apes saved in India.

View photos and videos of the eastern hoolock gibbon on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Nov 25
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In the News: New laws threaten Brazil’s forests

Proposed new laws could threaten Brazil’s rich biodiversity, potentially placing an area of forest equal to the sizes of Germany, Italy and Austria combined at high risk of destruction.

Brazil-nut tree image

New laws could lead to the destruction of vast areas of Brazil's forests

Suggested changes in land clearance laws

Brazil’s senate is soon set to vote on new laws on land clearance, the approval of which could lead to the destruction of a substantial area of the country’s forested region.

Since 2004, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has declined steadily, with tougher regulation enforcement and improved satellite monitoring both being contributing factors. Between August 2009 and July 2010, forest clearance fell to the lowest level on record, but this year there have already been signs of an increase in deforestation in several areas of the country.

Environmental groups fear that changes in legislation could exacerbate the problem, by opening up vast areas of the world’s biggest rainforest to clearance for uses such as cattle ranching and soy production, as well as preventing the chance of replanting within many illegally deforested areas.

WWF has said that studies show that the proposed changes to Brazil’s Forest Code could lead to the destruction or lack of restoration of 175 million acres of forest, equivalent to the combined area of Germany, Italy and Austria.

Blue-chested parakeet image

The blue-chested parakeet was once common in south-east Brazil, but it is now restricted to isolated reserves

Implications for Rio+20

Brazil has made a commitment to reduce deforestation by 80% by the year 2020, but implementation of the new laws could hinder the country’s ability to reach this target, as well as its efforts to position itself as a global environmental leader prior to hosting the UN Conference on Sustainable Development – known as Rio+20 – in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012.

The Forest Code, which dates back to 1965 and applies to nearly 5.2 million farmers and rural land owners in Brazil, requires that a certain proportion of owned land, varying between 20 and 80%, is left as untouched forest. However, 90% of landowners are believed to fall short of full compliance with the regulations.

The proposed new laws, which were passed in May by Brazil’s lower house, would grant a reprieve from heavy fines to landowners who illegally cleared forest between 1965 and July 2008, and would also include relaxation of the rules surrounding the clearing of hills.

Lowland tapir image

The Vulnerable lowland tapir relies upon rainforest habitats for its survival

Forests and agriculture

Scientists and conservationists have argued that the changes to the Forest Code would not provide sufficient protection for forests and the biodiversity within them. However, agriculture has played an important role in Brazil’s economic rise, with the country now being the world’s leading producer and exporter of coffee and sugar cane. Senator Katia Abreu, president of the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock, has stated that Brazilian farmers could lose up to $100 billion should the new laws not be passed.

The bill will be voted on by Brazil’s Senate at the end of November, and final approval falls with President Dilma Rousseff, whose election campaign involved a pledge to veto any legislation which might lead to an increase in deforestation.

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Brazil ‘risks loss of forest area equal to Germany, Italy and Austria’.

Explore photos and videos of species found in Brazil on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Nov 17
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In the News: Wild cats caught on camera in a threatened forest

A WWF camera trap survey has captured photographs of five wild cat species in a threatened Sumatran forest.

Photo of a male Sumatran tiger

The Sumatran tiger is a Critically Endangered species

Photogenic felines

Many species of wild cat can be somewhat secretive, but this latest camera trap survey, carried out in a threatened forest corridor which links Bukit Tigapuluh forest and the Rimbang Baling Wildlife Sanctuary in Riau Province, has yielded some wonderful images.

Five different species of wild cat were photographed in the as-yet unprotected area of forest in Sumatra, Indonesia’s largest island, including the Sumatran tiger which is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Photographs were taken of the Sunda clouded leopard, also known as Diard’s clouded leopard, and the marbled cat, which are classified as Endangered and Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List respectively. Two further felids captured on camera were the elusive Asian golden cat and the small leopard cat.

Photo of a male marbled cat

Male marbled cat

Deforestation

Sumatra suffers from one of the highest levels of deforestation in the world, and since 1985 has lost half of its forest cover, according to a detailed report released by WWF. With approximately half a million hectares of forest being cleared annually, Sumatra has become a focus in the fight to save the rainforests.

Aditya Bayunanda, WWF-Indonesia’s coordinator for the Global Forest Trade Network (GFTN) programme, highlighted the main threats to the area’s forests and biodiversity: “Much of the natural forest area in the landscape is threatened by large scale clearance for industrial logging, pulp and paper, as well as illegal encroachment for palm oil plantation development.”

Photo of a captive leopard cat at night

Leopard cat

Threatened forests

Part of Bukit Tigapuluh forest has been designated as a national park and therefore is protected, yet forests surrounding the park, which have already been selectively logged, are now at risk of being completely cleared.

Except for the leopard cat, all of the species caught on camera in WWF’s survey are protected by Indonesian government regulations.

This underscores the rich biodiversity of the Bukit Tigapuluh landscape and the forest corridors that connect to it,” says Karmila Parakkasi, coordinator of the WWF-Indonesia Tiger Research Team. “These amazing cat photos also remind us of how much we could lose as more of these fragile forests are lost.

Capturing images of five different cat species is certainly an impressive feat, although the largest number of cat species reported to be present in a single habitat was in a recently protected forest in India, where seven were recorded.

Photo of a Diard's clouded leopard resting on board walks

Diard's clouded leopard, also known as the Sunda clouded leopard

Action for protection

Aditya Bayunanda believes that the presence of these fascinating cat species should encourage the Indonesian government to take action to save the forest in which they live: “Concession licenses of companies operating in these areas, such as Barito Pacific, should be reviewed and adjusted according to Indonesian Ministry regulations, which state that concession areas with the presence of endangered species should be protected by the concessionaire.

As well as a variety of cats, Bukit Tigapuluh is home to thousands of other species, including Sumatran orang-utans and Sumatran elephants, and WWF-Indonesia hopes that the National Park will be expanded to better protect its biodiversity.

Read more on this story and see the camera trap images at Mongabay.com – Photos: five wild cat species documented in Sumatran forest imperiled by logging.

View photos and videos of cat species on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

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