Tuesday, 21 December 2004

Plans To Turn The Isle Of Lewis, Scotland, Into The Biggest Wind Farm In The World

One of WLT's supporters, Deborah Kilner, asked for the following to be circulated as widely as possible:

Lewis Wind Power, aka AMEC & British Energy, recently submitted an application for the world's largest wind farm which will be built mostly on the Lewis Peatlands on the Isle of Lewis, Western Isles.

The application is for 234 turbines at a height of 140 metres (about the same height as a 40 storey building) and which will be visible for anything up to 30 miles and over. In addition to the turbines, 210 pylons will be erected and 104 miles of access roads built across active peat bog.

In order to facilitate such a monumental building plan, quarries will be constructed as well as concrete batching plants. The building phase is likely to last four years and the main and only road from Barvas to Ness will be used on a daily basis by HGV vehicles - many of the Lewis roads are built straight onto peat and are currently in poor condition.

There are many issues, including environmental and cultural, to be considered with this proposal and these are as follows:

The Site Itself - Peatlands

"Active peatlands act as both carbon sink and store and have an important role in regulating climate change. Wetlands, including bogs, store over three times as much carbon for a given area as tropical rainforest. When peatlands are disturbed, CO2 is returned to atmosphere. The ecological value of peatland is recognised internationally and there is strong guidance towards preserving and restoring bogs."

(Extracted from www.mwtlewis.org.uk where you can gain more information about the proposals).

The Lewis Peatlands have several international site designations - as a RAMSAR (Wetlands of International Importance), SPA (Special Protection Area - the Birds Directive), SAC (Special Area of Conservation - the Habitats Directive) and an IBA (Important Bird Area - the Berne Convention), in addition to SSSIs.

Birds At Risk

Golden Eagles, Golden Plovers and Divers are identified by the EU's Berne Convention as being at risk from turbines. Also present in large numbers are gannets, shags, herons, geese, swans and White-tailed Sea Eagles.

20% of Scotland's eagle population currently reside in the Isle of Lewis - but for how much longer?


The Western Isles is heavily dependent on tourism for income and currently circa 180,000 tourists visit the islands every year - how many of these people will continue to visit once the island has been turned into a wind factory is debatable.

The People

The majority of the community, where this wind farm is planned, do not want this huge scheme to go ahead and are currently fighting AMEC/British Energy, their own Council and their MPs.

It is ironic that recently the Mendip Hills faced the possibility of ONE wind turbine being erected - public outrage ensued and the application was turned down.

A community group called Moorland without Turbines is currently fighting not only the Lewis Wind Farm, but planning applications for Eishken and Pairc which, if approval was given, would mean that there would be over 500 wind turbines covering a very small island.

If you are interested or concerned about these plans, please visit www.mwtlewis.org.uk where you will find more information.

Deborah Kilner

Monday, 20 December 2004

Tiger Conservation misses out on large donation

One of the great innovations of the last few years has been the Public Library of Science (PLOS) an on-line, Internet publication, of peer-reviewed scientific papers. A brilliant concept, giving ready access to a wide range of scientists, all over the world. The latest edition of the Biology section has an interesting paper on the classification of tigers authored by 22 scientists, using DNA analysis of living and dead specimens of tigers from all over their range. Interestingly, the analysis confirmed that most of the subspecies described in the past, are actually reflected in the DNA of the animals studied, and the DNA also suggested that another subspecies, not previously described, should be recognised from Malaya.

But what a missed opportunity. The scientists decided to name the subspecies Panthera tigris jacksoni in honour of Peter Jackson, the former chairman of the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group. An excellent choice, as few people have done more in the cause of conservation or tigers. But what a waste, as I am sure Peter would agree. Just think how much money could have been raised if the name had been auctioned. Someone may well have paid several thousands of dollars to have the honour of a tiger subspecies being named after them.

For many years now I have been trying to persuade scientists naming new species of animals to put the names up for auction and use the money for conserving endangered species. But there is a vogue for naming new species after fellow scientists, or after a geographical feature where the species is found. And many scientists seem to think this is the 'right' way of doing it, and it is wrong to use naming as a form of patronage. Of course this is not true – from the beginning of scientific nomenclature, whim came into it. Linnaeus – the great Swede who started it all -- named attractive flowers after his friends, his favourite plant after himself, and a few weeds after people he didn't like. Wealthy patrons of scientific collecting, such as Lord Rothschild ended up having numerous species named after them, as did the kings, queens and princes of Europe – most of whom seemed to have 'acquired' birds of paradise during the 19th century. And numerous naturalists named species after their wives and girlfriends. So what more fitting way of commemorating a substantial donation to conservation, than to name a new subspecies after the person who gives the most money? The only time I can recall this happening was in the case of the Lower Keys subspecies of the Cottontail Rabbit Sylvilagus palustris hefneri –named after Hugh Hefner, the owner of the Playboy Clubs and Bunnygirls.

If any taxonomist reads this and wants to try auctioning a name, to aid conservation, I would be pleased to assist. Obviously the bigger and prettier the animal or plant, the more likely it is to raise money. It might even raise enough money to buy a whole nature reserve -- what better commemoration of a donation. Esso could surely have afforded a few hundred thousand dollars to have it named Panthera tigris essoi -- a royalty on the image of the tiger that has successfully promoted their worldwide sales and enough to buy a reserve to conserve it.

Tuesday, 14 December 2004

The ticking population time bomb

While travelling recently I switched on the hotel TV for the news and watched an interview with a few of this year's Nobel Prize Laureates. Among them was the winner of the prize for economics. What astounded me was the level of environmental ignorance of such an apparently distinguished personage. An American, he upheld the free market of world economics, and when asked what would happen in a world with an aging population, he blithely stated that we would all carry on working, and implied that we would all continue to aspire to higher living standards and quality of life. Absolutely no mention of resources, and resource depletion, and no mention of what would happen if a fraction of the rest of the world were to aspire to similar resource use as is found in North America.

It is truly depressing to realise that there are so many people, including a significant number of world leaders, who do not seem the least bit interested in the impact that the burgeoning world population is going to have on the world's non-renewable resources. All we get is knee-jerk reactions to crises in Africa -- rushing medical supplies and food to refugees. Never really bothering to solve the underlying problems of what causes the refugees in the first place, and certainly not thinking about what happens when all those refugees grow up and have families of their own.

Politicians seem more intent on creating scares about terrorists, than solving the problems that will really affect large numbers of people. Terrible though the events of 9/11 were, they pale into insignificance, when we contemplate the impact of pandemics of 'flu, or the death toll that could occur next time there is an earthquake like the 1908 Messina earthquake. Should volcanic eruption of the scale of that of Tambora occur, the crop failures worldwide would lead to massive famines, and starvation would probably occur even in the developed world. As was said many, many years ago: The fuse of the population bomb was lit a long time ago, it cannot be put out, and it is now a matter of when it explodes, not if it will explode.

Thursday, 9 December 2004

Another two and a half million acres of rainforest lost

I was invited recently to go to the World Conservation Congress being held in Bangkok. I was invited to give a presentation on my work on the archives relating to conservation (an interest I regard as quite distinct from actual conservation -- a sort of armchair pursuit for the long winter evenings) I declined, mostly because I thought it would be an inappropriate use of conservation funds). And also my understanding was there would be about 3,500 people there, so the chances of meeting up with the right ones was fairly small. Imagine my horror when I was told there were nearer 6000 people present. How all these people justify traveling to a conservation congress is hard to imagine.

Back in 1975 I went to my first IUCN conference, held in Zaire, and there must have been about 700 people present, and at that one I recall several of us sitting in the bar one evening trying to cost the conference -- numbers of days, cost of airfares etc, plus the environmental impact of flying all the delegates around the world.

I would suggest that we can take the average cost of a delegate attending a conference as being $10,000. This is almost certainly on the low side, particularly if the opportunity costs are taken into account, bearing in mind that there are numerous consulants and senior governmental representatives earning well in excess of $100,000 a year. So even on such conservative estimates, and without the costs to the host country such a congress costs $60million. And with $60million, it would be very easy to buy at least 2.5 million acres (over 1million ha) of wilderness in some of the most threatened areas of the world. And that does not take into account the environmental impact of thousands of airmiles...

It's not as simple as all the above sounds. No doubt important things will emerge from the Congress. But I still cannot help feeling that there was a lot of hot air in all respects, and several thousand of the delegates would have done more good to the environment if they had stayed at home.