Friday, 30 January 2004

Chalillo Dam gets go ahead in Belize

Belize is to build a dam in the midst of its tropical forests -- and thereby tarnish its image as an international world leader in environmental conservation. It is a dam to produce hydroelectricity, and the project has been widely condemned, on economic as well as environmental grounds. But big business, in the form of the Canadian power company Fortis is behind it.

My personal view it that the dam is unnecessary, in a country that has such a tiny population, most of which are scattered. Small community based power generation makes much more sense. It is also a country where solar power is seriously under utilised. Many of the critics of the scheme have claimed that the power it produces may well end up being more expensive, that the current supply which is imported from Mexico.

But all these arguments are nothing compared to the environmental issues. The Natural History Museum in London carried out an independent study -- and its conclusions are being ignored, even by the eminent Law Lords who gave the final go ahead.

The Government of Belize should seriously consider the effect of this stain on its international image -- Ecotourism is a very significant part of the economy -- will this be the thin end of a wedge, where big business and vested interests start making the decisions? The next step will be for the government encourage more inappropriate growth to use the electricity from the Chalillo Dam.

Read more on the decision to approve the dam here

Sign a petition against the dam on

Thursday, 29 January 2004

Green Valentine Gift

Following last year's success, and the success of our Christmas 'sales' the WLT is offering Green Valentine cards and gifts. The flowers that grow on the WLT funded reserves may wilt just as fast as the traditional roses, but they will reappear, year after year. On my recent visit to Ecuador, the path to the newly created Christopher Parsons Rainforest was festooned with orchids. There were terrestrial as well a epiphytic, and who knows, some of the species photographed may well be new to science. Orchidologist Lou Jost has speculated that there may be as many as a 1000 species in the Tapichalaca Reserve and adjacent areas protected by the World Land Trust's partner, the Jocotoco Foundation.

So buy a Green Valentine, for £25 and give the world a present!

Friday, 23 January 2004

Light pollution and wildlife

A few years ago I was involved in organising a conference on the impact of roads on wildlife, held at the Linnean Society of London. One of the issues discussed was light pollution, and ever since then I have been very aware of the enormous amount of light pollution worldwide. When flying across the Amazon at night, en route to Patagonia, everywhere I looked I could see lights. When I arrived back in Norwich at 3 am in the middle of winter there were four species of songbirds in full song – because of the brilliant street lighting. Everywhere there is the glow of orange-yellow sodium and other street lighting. This must have devastating effects on a wide range of wildlife, from migrating birds to insects. I was therefore very encouraged to read a letter in this Spring’s Birds Magazine, published by the RSPB. Councillor Clive Finch, from Lincolnshire describes how in his capacity as a local authority committee member he has been able to utilise legally enforceable conditions on planning applications to reduce light pollution. As he points out it is something everyone can lobby their local authorities in the UK to do. And probably in other parts of the world too.

My personal belief is that light pollution is having a far greater impact on wildlife than is generally recognised; it is very difficult to monitor. So we should all try and do something about it – just turning of patio lights at night would be a start. But trying to get local authorities to have all unnecessary lights extinguished after 11pm would be a good target.

Argentina to exploit wild Parrots

A recent article in Nature magazine, highlighted an important conservation issue in Argentina. The Argentinean Government is proposing to export Amazon parrots to the USA , under licence from the Fish & Wildlife Service. Perhaps the most surprising part of the story is that Susan Lieberman, who is Head of WWF's Species Programme is supporting the Argentinean proposal.

As many critics have pointed out the Argentinean government does not have the resources to carry out adequate protection of its wildlife or its national parks, and so any attempt to exploit wildlife for commercial purposes needs to be treated with extreme caution. According to Nature, local Expert, Enrique Bucher from the University of Cordova on Argentina has pointed out "We don't have a scientific way to manage these things". The report also mentions that 30 organisations and 100 ecologists worldwide have lodged objections with the Fish & Wildlife Service.

Quite why WWF feels it necessary to stick its neck out and support a trade in wild caught birds is difficult to explain -- there are plenty of more serious issues that need their support. Nature explains Lieberman's stance by pointing out that as the former head of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, she was involved in the drafting of the legislation that could permit the importation into the US, back in 1992. In addition to the conservation and animal welfare issues involved, there are other problems, such as the introduction of potential pests and diseases -- so it is even more difficult to see why WWF wants to encourage the trade in wild caught birds. Apart from anything else it could well lose them public support.

Thursday, 22 January 2004

The Saemangeum reclamation

Just before I left for Ecuador, an old birdwatching colleague contacted me about a potential environmental disaster in South Korea. Unfortunately there is probably very little that the World Land Trust can do to help, much as we might like to. So, in order to help their cause, as a first step, I am putting most of their letter in this newsblog. Readers can decide for themselves what action they can take. I also hope other search engines, journalists etc. will pick up the story and run with it.

"In brief, the Saemangeum reclamation is the name given to the world's largest ongoing coastal reclamation project, which aims to convert 40 100 ha of shallows and tidal-flats (an area akin to two-thirds of the Wash in the UK), into rice-field and land for industry. At present the system supports approximately 27 species of waterbird in internationally important concentrations -- many of which are globally threatened -- as well, it is said, as the economic needs of an estimated 25 000 people -- all of whom depend, directly or indirectly, on the system's rich fisheries. (For further background information:

The original plan to reclaim the whole area was first devised by a former military government in the 1980s, and construction on the 33 km long seawall started back in 1991. In the intervening years, environmental awareness has grown rapidly in South Korea - and so has opposition to the project. Smaller scale projects, started at the same time, are already suffering significant water quality problems, and their original purpose (that of agriculture -- the only legal end-use for public waters reclaimed in South Korea) has not been realized as a result. Even the South Korean government has recognised that the project will not produce the economic benefits that it has been promising, but they still stubbornly remain intent on completing the sea wall (now already between 80% and 90% completed) and pushing ahead with the project. This despite a court ruling in July 2003, by a national court, that the reclamation project MUST be suspended -- until proof can be provided that water quality issues can be properly resolved (For further information on the court ruling:

Since July, the court hearings and discussions have proceeded, we presume, though little information has been released in the last two months, as proponents of the project and government continue to hope that with the help of time the whole reclamation issue will simply fade into the background and be forgotten -- opening a way for a full resumption of the project.

To help counter this we are organizing an international event to celebrate the Ramsar Convention's World Wetlands Day --a ritual walk, called a 'sambolibae' in Korean, followed by the reading of a declaration requesting governments and people around the world to do more to conserve all threatened wetlands, including, of course, the Saemangeum estuarine system.

The walk, described in detail on our website (please refer to:, involves 3 steps followed by a deep bow (where the walker kneels down and touches the ground with their forehead) and has come to symbolize the environmental movement's struggle in South Korea against this project. Last year, a group of spiritual and environmental leaders walked in this way for several weeks, all the way from the reclamation site to the capital Seoul -- mobilizing people's hearts and opinion.

Although WBKEnglish are only a very small network, we have invited one of South Korea's leading spiritual leaders, the Reverend Sugyeong (who led the sambolibae for Saemangeum to Seoul), and a wetlands activist from South Korea, so they can lead a 30-minute sambolibae in the UK - on Sunday, February 1st -- most likely at Snettisham, on the shores of the Wash. This walk will be followed by the reading of a declaration requesting the proper conservation of the Wash and the permanent suspension of the Saemangeum reclamation.

The same day, similar events will be held at least in Switzerland, by the Birdlife partner there (in cooperation we are told with some staff of the Ramsar Bureau itself); in Italy, in Thailand, perhaps in Germany, and of course in South Korea. The events aim to strengthen international networks and to win media coverage for the Saemangeum issue sending a very strong and clear signal to the South Korean government that the fight for this wetland, the people and the birds it supports, will continue --; ever stronger, and ever louder.

At this stage, as schedules and itineraries become increasingly fixed, we are looking at all means to raise funds and even more importantly to get the fullest possible media coverage for the Reverend Sugyeong and activist Kim Su-Kyung's visit to the UK, and for the the sambolibae event on February 1st. Would there be any way in which you and your organisation might be able to assist us in these aims?

Apologies for writing cold, and very many thanks in advance for all and everything that you might be able to do to help.


Nial Moores,, South Korea

Kim Su-Kyung,, South Korea

Charlie Moores,, UK."

Wednesday, 21 January 2004

Ecuador's glorious biodiversity

Today I returned to the office of the World Land Trust, after an all too brief visit to the WLT's projects in Ecuador. The main reason for my visit was to see the Christopher Parsons Rainforest, which was bought last year with money raised in memory of the late Christopher Parsons. The access was not easy -- a four hour ride on mule, up a very rugged trail. But the trail was festooned with an amazing array of orchids. And when we finally arrived, it was a fantastic sight -- standing on the bank of the Quebrada (River) Christopher Parsons, and looking at over two square miles of forest. The newly named river was a boulder-strewn torrent, which eventually feeds into the River Amazon. The owner of the mule I was riding was also the owner of forests next to the Christopher Parsons Reserve, and our local partners, The FundaciĆ³n Jocotoco are buying this tract, to expand the forest. The World Land Trust is helping fund this purchase with funds raised by the Rainforest Cafe in London.

It was really impressive to see first hand the work of our local partner, and it made me resolve to try and organise a group visit, so that some of our supporters can go and see the work first hand. So if any of the readers of this news blog think they might want to join a visit to Ecuador, just let me know at the WLT and we will put you on the mailing list and let you know when it happens.

Friday, 9 January 2004

Global Warming and extinctions

A personal perspective on the research into extinctions

Articles in New Scientist ( and Nature are predicting massive extinctions due to global warming. The figures are really scary, with a BEST case scenario predicting 9% of the world's species facing extinction as a result of global warming. Add this to the IUCN Red Data Book listing which classifies 10-30% of species as endangered, and the figures become truly alarming.

Endangered species have become fashionable subjects for research, but many of the scientists are simply modellers (what used to called arcmchair naturalists), using data from other scientists to make their predictions. Long gone are the days when conservation was a field occupied largely by dedicated amateur naturalists and a handful of field biologists. There's big money in conservation, and scientists are cashing in. I see very little evidence that most of the scientific research actually saves any wildlife. The majority of the endangered species that are being saved, tend to be the bigger, more spectacular species, and most of those will get saved regardless of the scientific research; they are being saved by public demand. And those less attractive, smaller species that are being saved, are being saved because of land conservation projects.

It's high time that we stopped talking about saving endangered species and did something. And conservation bodies should certainly stop most of their spending on research (unlikely because many of them are now controlled by scientists).

Time is rapidly running out and there is only one realistic solution, and that is to acquire as much as possible of the world's remaining natural habitats. This won't mean that research will suddenly cease -- universities, museums and other institutions will still carry on, but conservation dollars, pounds euros, pesos roubles etc, raised from the general public should go where it is most cost effective. And that is land purchase.

Global warming is a major issue, and so is habitat destruction and the many, many other forms of anthropogenic change that adversely affect wildlife. But most of these need governments to take action. Conservation bodies and the public should take action where they are most cost effective. Look at how much money WWF has spent over the past 40 years on research, then see how many acres of land that would have acquired world wide. In 2001 WWF's income was around £30,000,000 in the UK alone (I know a lot of that money could not be spent on land, even if they wanted to, but it does give an idea of tthe scale of things). £30 million would buy at least 1.2 million acres of land -- probably well over 5 million acres. Even in England it would probably buy over 10,000 acres. To give an idea of size, the State of Massachusetts is less than 2 million acres. And Belgium is just over 7 million acres.

And it's often been said that an area of rainforest the size of Belgium is lost every year -- just over 7 million acres. There is no doubt that $70 million could buy that much tropical rainforest.

The World Land trust is not alone in trying to save wildlife and habitat by acquisition, but we are a tiny minority. We need more support.

Tuesday, 6 January 2004

Rainforests to be saved thanks to WLT supporters

The World Land Trust has been inundated with donations over the Christmas period. Hundreds of people from all over the world have made on line donations, and in the days running up to Christmas our phones hardly stopped ringing. It's an old adage that success breeds success, but it certainly seems true. As the WLT has demonstrated its ability to help purchase and protect endangered habitats, so has the public support for our initiatives.

During the busiest periods I often helped answer telephone enquiries, and it was particularly interesting to get direct feedback. In particular, I was interested in the supporters who have been making regular donations -- they really felt that their contribution made a difference, and were also really encouraged by the newsletters and ebulletins keeping them up to date.

The only downside to all this is that we are still dealing with a huge backlog of donations -- When we returned on January 5th, after the holiday, there were several hundred donations waiting to be processed. But this is very positive.

This wekend I am travelling to Ecuador, where I will stay on the Tapichlalaca reserve, and visit the Christopher Parsons Reserve -- bought with support from the WLT. But the main purpose of my visit will be to meet with the Jocotoco Foundation and discuss the next purchases -- within the next few months we should be able to purchase at least another two square miles of forests. And we also have sponsors who are interested in supporting the purchase of tracts of a few hundred acres to be named after the sponsor.

Finally a big 'Thank You' to all our supporters, and best wishes for the New Year.

John A Burton