Monday, 19 April 2004

Charity begins at home -- make your garden wildlife friendly

I hope we all try and practice what we preach. On a modest scale I try and make sure that the gardens of all the places I have owned are havens for wildlife. At the end of last year my wife and I moved home, and now live just over a mile from the HQ of the World Land Trust. And this spring my latest book "Attracting Garden Wildlife" was published, in which were included many pictures taken in my previous garden. I am now in the process of developing a new 'intensive' wildlife garden. Doing everything I can think of (within a very limited budget).

I have already put down sheets of corrugated iron, and found at least five grass snakes and three slow worm under them. Nest boxes have gone up, including some for house martins and tree creeper. A single large oak contains 14 nests in a rookery, Barn Owls hunt the meadow areas, and we have seen Muntjac less than 100 metres from the garden. The main features missing are ponds, but that will be rectified as soon as funds permit.

Future plans include owl boxes, jackdaw boxes, wood piles for lizards and a manure heap for the grass snakes to nest in. Time will tell which birds nest, but there are several chiffchaffs calling and at least two pairs of blackcaps.

The adjacent churchyard is full of cowslips, and there are a few snakes' head fritillaries – perhaps there will be orchids in a few weeks time.

We are fortunate in having nearly three acres, but perhaps more important than the size of our garden is the fact that it is adjacent to other gardens, as well as the churchyard. Many suburban gardens are small, but taken en masse, they are part of a very large habitat for wildlife. So if you have a garden, maximise its potential for wildlife -- in particular avoid pesticides, as many gardeners use them more profligately than the most cavalier farmers. And add features that will attract wildlife -- areas of long grass, compost heaps, wood and brush piles, nettle patches, as well as the more obvious features such as nest boxes and feeders.

Friday, 16 April 2004

Foreign aid still aids the donor

Many years ago, when I was Secretary of the Fauna Preservation Society (now Fauna & Flora International) the guest speaker at an AGM was the late Professor Kai Curry Lindahl, an eminent Swedish international conservationist. His address to the society dealt with how foreign aid inevitably benefited the donor countries more than the recipients.

As an example, if a UK foreign aid project donates a Land Rover worth £20,000 it may end up that over the 15 years of its working life, it costs more than that in maintenance and spare parts, all of which have to be purchased from the UK. And numerous projects insist on 'experts' being provided by the donor country.

The WLT recently applied for a Darwin Initiative grant towards its work in N E India. A condition of the grant aid was that the project had to include British technical expertise and training. This ignores the fact that there is plenty of local expertise, which would be a lot more cost effective. But by giving a grant that involves paying British experts the UK government are ensuring that the money is not only largely cycled through the British economy, but the experts also pay British taxes so they actually get some of the money back. And we are not talking small amounts of money. A field Assistant in India would cost around £600 a year, and a Field Officer £2000, somewhere between one tenth and one twentieth of their British counterparts. It is a new form of Imperialism -- using foreign aid to ensure a country is kept in debt – even if it is intellectual debt – as well as ensuring they receive as little of the actual cash as possible. In a country such as India, real aid would allow the decision on who to employ to be made on grounds of merit, experience and capability, not nationality. This is not to say that there should not be controls on foreign aid -- having seen the abuses in Uganda, I believe it essential that donor countries exert strict fiscal controls – but recipients need to be empowered, and not become intellectually enslaved. Since it started, the Darwin Initiative has been used to plough hundreds of thousands of pounds into the Natural History Museum and various British Universities, thereby saving the government funding from other budgets -- a blatant case of robbing Peter to Pay Paul.

The WLT complied with the conditions for the Darwin grant, added in British experts, but still did not get a grant – apparently because the UK government's experts did not think the project was achievable. The fact that we are now making it work despite their rejection is another story. Unlike many government funded foreign aid projects one of the key objectives of all WLT projects is to ensure that they have long term sustainability. The world is littered with projects that were funded by foreign aid, often lavishly, then the day the aid stopped, the project collapsed. This is often worse than if the project had never been started in the first place. Fortunately some governments do realise the failings of the foreign aid system, and look increasingly to NGOs to deliver projects, and their success rates do appear to be higher.

Monday, 5 April 2004

Where has the human population gone?

One answer to this question is of course, ‘Through the roof’. Human populations are spiralling upwards virtually out of control. Another answer would also be ‘Off the agenda’, since there seems to be virtually no mention of the impacts of human population when major environmental issues, such as global warming are being addressed. Yet without question, the world’s spiralling human populations are to blame for the current environmental crisis.

Increasing populations coupled with increasing aspirations lead ever greater demands for energy, and despite treaties, despite pollution control, there is no sign that energy demands are slowing down or that global pollution is decreasing. And the reality is that if the world’s population was to aspire to live at well below the accepted ‘poverty’ level in the UK, for instance, there would not be enough resources to go round. And yet the world’s population continues to climb.

As was predicted over a quarter of a century ago, resource wars will increase -- the war in Iraq was probably only the first of many – and natural disasters will claim larger and lager numbers of victims. When (not if) the San Andreas fault finally slips how many people will die, and how much damage to property will there be? What would a volcanic irruption the size of Thera (Santorini) 5000 years ago do?

In South America, forests are cleared by squatters, in Africa deserts are over-grazed by pastoralists. The world’s oceans are almost universally over fished. And yet even if the populations of the poorest, most rapidly growing countries stabilised, it would have virtually no effect. Simply because it is the developed nations that are causing the real damage. It is in Canada, Denmark, Britain, America, Germany and the rest of the EU that the consumer-orientated societies are based, and even a tiny increase in population leads to a dramatic increase in resource consumption, and all its concomitant problems.

However, there is a significant group of people who are in total denial over the population issue. A quick search of the internet reveals several sites claiming that the world can cope with even more people. The denialists rely on distorting and misrepresenting data, and not acknowledging the inequalities of distribution of wealth and resources. And most important of all, never acknowledging the dramatic and rapid depletion of the world’s natural resources and ecosystems, which are irreversible processes.

So how do we put the world population back on the agenda? Probably difficult, looking at the world's current political situation, and attitudes of its leaders. But we must, if we are going to save the remaining wild places.