Tuesday, 20 December 2005

goats, goats, goats

Further to my earlier blog, does any one know how much money has been raised in the past two years for buying goats, and how many goats have actually been bought? And does anyone know what the impact on the environment of all these extra goats will be? I saw somewhere that last year (2004) Oxfam raised enough money for 30,000 extra goats. A scary thought.

Blog takes off

For the first year or so, I wrote my blog on a fairly regular basis, but got little or no feed back. However, recently this has all changed. There appear to be real, live readers out there. YOU must be one. Several have emailed me at the World Land Trust, while a few have actually posted responses to my blogs. This is great. I don't write just to make a point, I also write to try and stimulate discussion. It is all too easy to assume that the way conservation has been carried out in the past is the right way, and to get stuck in ruts. But situations change, and so must we.

As an example, I grew up in an era when it was always assumed that the 'noble savage' lived in harmony with his natural environment. I was one of the first wildlife specialists to work for Friends of the Earth, back in the 1960s. FoE quoted the famous speech by Chief Seattle, on how nature and men are brothers, or something along those lines. It doesn't matter what was quoted, because the whole speech was a fake. Written in the 1950s, by an ex-Disney script-writer. And so is the 'Noble Savage' a fake. Humans have a nasty habit of living at the limits of their technology. Give a Stone Age tribe guns, and they will extirminate wildlife with zeal (and probably the nearby tribes as well). But the concept of the 'Noble Savage' living in harmony with nature is what underpins many peoples' views of the indigenes living in the rainforests. To me 'native rights' are not what we should be concerned with. We, as conservationists, should be concerned with the rights of local people, regardless of how long they have been there. What does it matter if an area was colonised by your grandfather, or colonised 2000 years ago? Why on earth should the fact that your great-great-great-great grandfather moved in and squatted on land give you greater rights than somone who only arrived three generations ago? In the UK we have abolished the hereditary rights of peers of the realm to govern. Because someone's ancestor was mates with William the Conqueror, it no long gives him or her the right to govern England. So why should some one who's ancestors arrived in the tropical forests a few generations back, have rights to exploit them in an uncontrolled manner?

Just a thought. I am not sure. But some views, from either side would be useful. So far the land acquired with WLT funding has never had to confront these issues; and it is always owned by a local organisation. But in the future it may need consider the rights of indigenes, so the views of supporters and readers would be most welcome. In fact I am considering designing a questionnaire -- so suggestions for the questions that need to be addressed would also be useful.

Paraguay -- the Gran Chaco -- a Legacy for the Future

I have just returned from a highly successful visit to the Chaco and Pantanal of Paraguay. I was there to take the representatives of Sid Templer's family to look at an estancia that was available to be bought as a permanent memorial to Sid ( a Halesworth resident who sadly died two years ago), and turned into Paraguay's first Pantanal Nature Reserve. It was an incredible journey, that involved nine hours in the pouring rain, in an open boat, mostly after darkness had fallen, navigating by the reflection of Caimans' eyes along the banks. When the rains stopped and the sun came out temperatures soared to over 30 degrees celcius, and mosquitos the size of a jumbo jet descended (that's a slight exaggeration). But what a place. Teeming with wildlife.

Capybaras abounded on the river banks, and as well as Yacare Caiman we saw anaconda, myriads of birds, including the massive Jabiru storks. We didn't see Jaguars, Giant Armadillos, Giant Anteaters, or Giant Otters -- all of which occur there. But we did see South American River Otters, which are far more difficult to see than the Giant species.

The World Land Trust's Partner, Guyra Paraguay has a first rate track record, and with the funds provided through the WLT, we feel confident they will establish a world class nature reserve. It not only protects a sample of the Pantanal habitat, which is rare in Paraguay, but also a mosaic of palm savvanah and chaco.

This now one of several major reserves created as memorials and funded through the WLT -- what better way of remembering someone, than with a nature reserve? And we know there are more to come because many of our supporters have already told us that they have made a legacy to the WLT in their will. And if you want to know more about creating your 'own' reserve do contact me. If you have £5000 or more to spare there are many parts of the world where this will create a reserve of real significance -- either by adding critaical pieces to an existing reserve, or starting a completely new one

UK Government funding for projects

Over the years we (the WLT, that is) have made a number of applications to various grant giving departments of the UK Government. It is always very soul-destroying as making the application takes a huge amount of work, with many hurdles to be jumped, masses of background information required, and the net result is invariably the same -- refusal; rejection. I have no objections to applications being turned down, but in two of the cases I am referring to it is quite clear from the reasons given that the applications were not read thoroughly -- because if they had been read, then they could only have been rejected for different reasons, as those given did not apply. The problem is that in most cases the final decision is in the hands of unpaid "experts" who may only spend a few minutes glancing over the application. Very depressing for the applicants who have probably spent a week or more writing it. I know more than a ittle about the processing of grants, having been on the other side in the past, but Government funding actually seems more arbitrary than almost all other forms. The experiences of others would be interesting.

Friday, 25 November 2005

Getting my goat

Put your head around these statistics. In 1965, at a time when states were becoming independent, there were some 95 million goats in the developing countries of Africa (FAO statistics), and relatively little poverty. By 2004 , with poverty widespread, there were some 225 million goats; that's nearly two and a half times as many. Is there a connection? And if so why are Oxfam, Farm Africa and other charities suggesting increasing the goat population?

In fact the increase is not uniform, and in some countries the goat population has actually declined. But a detailed look shows that those countries that have seen the largest increases in goats are also among those where poverty is rife. Zimbabwe's rose from 700,000 to nearly 3 million, Sudan from 6.8 million to a massive 42 million. And in Mauritania, which is one of the countries least suitable for massive goat populations, the goat population has doubled from 2.7 to 5.6 million. A quick glance at any other statistics shows that desertification increased, human populations increased, and in general it would be safe to say that quality of life decreased for large numbers of people.

Conservationists have known for as far back as I can remember (and that's over 50 years) that goats are a major cause of environmental degradation, particularly in arid climates. So why are charities advocating and subsidising a massive increase in an already disastrously high goat population? It is surely an extreme example of a short-term, quick-fix, to make a load of donors feel good for Xmas, but funding a long term environmental disaster which is looming around the corner.

I quote the text from Oxfam:
No if's or butts a goat is a great gift. Even the kids can get involved. You start with one and end up with a herd. They can then be sold to raise cash for school fees, or tools and start to reduce poverty. Best of all, the first female kid is given to another family and the process starts all over again. So why not invest in a goat?
How this gift helps
"As for the goats we received from Oxfam...I consider them a gift from the sky. Giving animals to people like us is very important. It gave me confidence and increased my family'’s security because we now had assets." Aiche Mint Imizine, Mauritania

Nowhere on the site is any indication as to what these goats will feed on. Or when this boom in goats will be halted. YOU START WITH ONE AND END UP WITH A HERD!

And you start with a fragile ecosystem in subsahelian Africa and end up with a desert.

I would emphasise, this is a personal opinion, but I have heard so many friends and colleagues express horror at the idea of even more goats in Africa, felt I had to write something.

Finally, I recommend that my readers also go to the Shell Foundation website, and read Kurt Hoffman's writings.

Monday, 14 November 2005

Conserving energy, biofuels and other myths

At long last some serious, sensible questions are being asked. In an earlier blog, the Chairman of the World Land Trust, Prof. Renton Righelato pointed out some of the problems engendered by biofuels - in particular the areas that would be needed to be cleared of agricultural production, or of forest. However, more recently I have been pondering the issues surrounding reduction in carbon emissions.

In its simplest form emissions reduction is being 'sold' to the public. Cut down on petrol consumption, save energy by switching off computers, TVs etc. This all appears to make sense. Switch to 'green', renewable energy, from hydro electricity, wind power, solar, etc. Again it appears to make sense. But does it really add up? Is there any evidence that the overall consumption of fossil fuels has declined anywhere in the world as a result of emissions reductions? And is there anywhere in the world where energy consumption per capita is declining? Or any country where total energy consumption is declining?

The facts are surely as follows: If we save energy, we generally save money. And the money we save is almost inevitably spent on something that consumes energy. If we generate renewable energy there are often enormous environmental impacts, such as the flooding of valleys and the building of industrial complexes for wind generation. And finally, however much the so-called developed world reduces emissions, the use of energy in countries such as India and China will continue to rise. In other words, the current proposals for emissions' reduction and the use of renewable energy will not have any significant effect on climate change, as the current policies do not actually encourage redeployment from once source to another, and from one country to another. The real issue that needs addressing, and is being steadfastedly ignored by Blair, Bush and other world leaders, is that of the expanding human population. I personally feel powerless to do anything about this issue (other than having not propagated myself), but there is one thing that all of us can do, and that is help preserve what little is left of the natural habitats on the planet.

I use the word preserve advisedly, since from the mid-1950s onwards the word conservation has steadily eroded the use of preservation. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) was founded as the International Union for the PRESERVATION of Nature. Fauna and Flora International was once the Fauna and Flora PRESERVATION Society; BirdLife International was once the International Council for the PRESERVATION of Birds (ICBP). By the mid-1970s it was increasingly fashionable to ally conservation with sustainable use, development and ultimately exploitation. I believe it is time to realise that what is needed is a lot more PRESERVATION. Now, preservation need not be incompatible with preservation. Sustainable development is possible alongside preservation. That is precisely what is being demonstrated by the World Land Trust partners, in projects part-funded by the WLT. But key to all these projects, is the PRESERVATION of large tracts of land. The preservation and protection of the land is paramount. Having achieved that, then sustainable development can be considered. AND, to return to the beginning, with 20% of carbon released into the atmosphere coming from the destruction of forests and other natural habitats, preserving as much as possible, is the surest, cheapest and most efficient way of combating global climate change. And on top of that, it also preserves and protects biodiversity, and species richness.

Sunday, 23 October 2005

Carbon sequestration and tree planting

Soon after the World Land Trust started taking an interest in carbon sequestration as a means of combatting global warming the critisisms started. The critics argue that planting trees and preserving forests is a "cop out" allowing the polluters to continue polluting. It was, they argued, far more important to reduce emissions and become more energy efficient. And I agreed.

However, over the past few months I have begun to seriously question the relative importance of emissions reduction versus preserving forests and reforestation. The latter is complex and controversial, since it depends on a variety of factors such as where the planting is taking place, the species used, and the ultimate use of the trees. But to me preserving standing forests is clear cut and conclusive. With something like 20% of carbon dioxide still resulting from forest clearance, forest fires amnd other destruction, anything that can be done to reduce this figure must be a benefit. That to me is demonstrable and self evident.

What is not so clear are the benefits of emissions reduction, and improved energy efficiency. As far as I can see, this will not actually lead to any overall reduction in the levels of non-renewable energy being consumed. It will simply change the patterns of use. A very simple model that I have used from time demonstrates on a local, domestic level what is involved internationally. If an ordinairy consumer reduces their energy consumption, uses an energy efficient car, cuts out pointless journeys, they can easily end up saving £500 or £1000 in the course of a year. So whoopee they can then spend that £1000, on what? A holiday in Sicily? Whoosh. All that energy in air travel etc. And even if it isn't spent on air travel, virtually everything we do and buy these days consumes energy. If Britain and the rest of Europe halved their imports of oil, it's all the more for China and India -- it won't be left in the ground for future generations.

That is why I now think the biggest single priority for the future of the planet is saving every last acre of forest, swamp and wilderness that we can. Acre, by acre, hectare by hectare, pound by pound, euro by euro and dollar by dollar.

Friday, 21 October 2005

Water, water everywhere. Bottles, bottles everywhere

In the USA alone, 30 million bottles are thrown away because of the developed world's obsession with bottled water. Some are plastic, some are glass. Some go to landfill, some are accumulated as litter by the roadside. Even those that are recycled (virtually none are reused) use huge amounts of energy in the recycling process. And there is no evidence that most of this water is any healthier than the water that comes out of a tap (or faucet for that matter). In fact some of it is quite possibly less healthy.

Oh, and I forgot to say, that figure of 30 million, is per day. Which equates to 10,950,000,000 a year. And that in the USA alone. Surely this must equate to one of the biggest environmental disasters of the 21st century. Millions of those people buying those millions of bottles of water worldwide must be claiming to be environmentally friendly; they must be making donations to green organisations. How can they justify supporting an industry that is helping destroy the planet as surely as any other energy-dependent industry? Pause and think of all the energy used in making the bottles, filling them, transporting them, disposing of them. And all for a commodity that comes almost free out of a tap.

I was horrified to see in the wake of the tsunami, earthquake and other disasters, relief organisations shipping pallet loads of small bottles of water. Compounding natural disasters with man-made disasters ? when water can be shipped (as it was in the past) in reusable tanks.

It has often been claimed that wars of the 21st century would be fought over water ? and seeing the profligate waste of water and the overpackaging of it, I cannot but think that the poorer half of the world must think the richer half is completely mad. And yet such is the power of advertising and marketing, I will also bet that the purveyors of bottled water are now looking to the impoverished countries of the world to expand their markets.

Tuesday, 11 October 2005

How environmentally friendly is Public Transport?

Every time I drive to Norwich I pass a bus either travelling to or from the city. And it is invariably nearly empty. A big, double decker bus, with two or three passengers. How can this be environmentally sensible?

There is a sort of mantra that goes along the lines "buses and trains good for the environment, cars and aeroplanes bad. Private transport bad, public transport good." But hang on, aeroplanes are public transort, every bit as much as buses. And on all the flights I have been on recently, there have not been many empty seats.

I also read somewhere (I have forgotten where) that some modern trains are now so heavy, and carry relatively fewer passengers, that they are less energy efficient than a private car with four passengers.

While I am sure that public transport makes sense in urban areas, I am equally certain that it is not environmentally friendly in rural areas. Huge empty buses lumbering around tiny country lanes, do not make sense, and are only viable because of the subsidies given by local councils.

Another fact that the green movement is ignoring when constantly pressing for more and better public transport, is that this simply encourages people to make more and more uneccessary journeys. Cheap efficient public transport makes it possible for people to live further and further from their place of work. And it makes it possible to travel more frequently. Airlines such as Easy Jet and Ryan Air demonstrate this very clearly and simply. Their flights are nearly always full, because they are so cheap -- or you caould express that the other way round. But the net result is that people now travel more frequently, and further afield. There is no difference in the economics of this phenomenon, between airlines and trains, it's just that we are more readily concious of the effects it has had in the airline industry.

Like so many aspects of the energy debate we are actually ignoring many of the fundamental realities. Perhaps the most fundamental of them all is that while energy is cheap, we will continue to use is. Cheap air travel is possible, because the tax on aviation fuel is less than that on car fuel. But beyond that, the other fundamental reality is that we, in the UK are, relative to most of the world, wealthy. We have large disposable incomes, that are not needed for survival. Food is cheap, and once we have paid for the bare essentials in life, we still have, on average a lot left over. Shopping has become a leisure pursuit, an end in itself (sad, but true). And virtually everything we spend our money on has energy implications. And while the world's population continues to soar, there is no possibility of energy consumption falling. And no possibility of controlling greenhouse gas emissions. That is why preserving natural habitats is SO important. Every acre we save is one less contribution to global warming, but it is also one more step to preserving something for the future. One day the world's human population will crash. It's not if, it's when (to quote health experts discussing bird 'flu'). It may not be in my life time, but it will crash. I want to see as much of the natural world left behind for the time after that crash.

Monday, 10 October 2005

A Letter to Nature

The Letter in Nature (vol 436/18 August 2005) by Orme et al.: "Global hotspots of species richness are not congruent with endemism or threat" demonstrates the proposition that "hotspots" and many of the interpretations of the importance of "biodiversity" are potentially misleading when applied to the implementation of conservation policies for endangered species -- or at least that is the interpretation I inferred.

The paper deals almost exclusively with birds, which are generally accepted as one of the better-studied taxa. However, even these taxa demonstrate the failings of the hotspot concept. A glance at the maps immediately demonstrates one of my fundamental criticisms: all hot spot concepts, as currently used, have an automatic bias towards the tropics. Tundra, steppe, temperate woodlands and all other species-poor habitats are absent from any of the hotspot maps.

In order to understand the relative importance of locations for setting conservation priorities, hotspot concepts need to be allied in some way with the species diversity potential for an area; not treated as an absolute. There is absolutely no point in stating the obvious: almost all of Ecuador is bound to have a greater species diversity than an equivalent area of Patagonian steppe. However, this does not mean that from a conservation point of view a given area in Ecuador is more important than that of the Patagonian steppe, since however much of Ecuador is protected, it will not protect a single species of the Patagonian endemics.

If future researchers wish to develop the hotspot concept into something useful, then they must express data in proportion to the potential, not in absolute numbers. Furthermore, it is also essential to take into account the carrying capacity of a habitat; deserts and other species poor habitats usually need much larger reserves if they are to be effective. And finally the island effect needs to be taken into account when proposing conservation areas.

But meanwhile species continue to become extinct, and of greater interest to the present writer, would be evidence that the modelling and theorising has been subjected to a cost-benefit analysis, and been shown to actually conserve threatened species any better than the hunches of informed biologists and field workers. Huge amounts of money in the form of research grants are expended on developing these models, and even reputable conservation bodies give grants for such purposes, but is it justified? The trouble with most of the scientific models is that they are nearly always based on biology and science. Unfortunately, in the real world, politics and economics are invariably more important. I would far rather buy a piece of forest that is actually on the market and under threat, than spend money on working out which piece of forest has the theoretical greatest number of endemic species. As far as I am concerned the economics are relatively simple: In the US or Europe, it will cost around $100,000 a year to keep a single fairly junior scientist employed on researching these issues. That will buy at least 4000 acres of wilderness. Often enough to save more than one species from extinction, as Bob Ridgely, Nigel Simpson and others have demonstrated in Ecuador.

But this is not to say I am anti-science. It's just that I think conservation money should not normally be used for research -- it's a form of fiddling while Rome burns.

Friday, 23 September 2005

Making poverty history

Maybe I am very naive, but there's something about this whole 'Make poverty history' campaign, led by rich and famous 'celebs' that somehow does not ring true. We live in a world dominated by capitalism and one of the facts of capitalism is that the rich get richer, so inevitably, by comparison the poor get poorer. This is to me inescapable, and easily illustrated at the local, community level. If you are living on the breadline, and do not have a car, you go to the local shop and buy your food and other essentials. If you are slightly wealthier, you have a car, can drive to a supermarket and benefit from discounts. If you are even wealthier, you can shop around and afford to buy in bulk, taking full advantage of special offers, and laying in stocks when commodities are cheap.

We live in an era when governments are obsessed with low taxation. One does not need to be an ecomomic genius to realise that this benefits the rich more than the poor, since the latter are more dependent on the facilities that are provided by taxes.

So am I being naive, or can an economist out there explain how, without some neo-socialist radical redistribution of wealth, we are going to make poverty history? Hand-outs from charity and foreign aid programmes demonstrably do not work -- yet that is all that is really on offer at present. Well intentioned as I am sure they are, sending used computers to the third world, old wellington boots, used spectacles may make the donors feel good, but I believe they do nothing at all to solve the long term problems. Nor do big grants to, often, corrupt governments.

In fact, many of the solutions may exacerbate the environmental problems that organisations such as the World Land Trust are trying to combat. Extending irrigation, providing goats to poor families, 'modernising' agriculture, all have potentially serious damaging environmental impacts.

I don't know the answers, but I am pretty sure that the evidence of the past 50 years is that hand-outs and foreign aid do little to 'make poverty history'. They may even have caused it.

The main cause of third world poverty is surely the constant leakage of capital from the poor countries to the rich? And that is why the WLT's modus operandum is likely to be relatively effective in the long term. In essence all we are doing is providing the capital, to acquire land, the ownership of which then stays where it belongs, in its country of origin. That land cannot be sold to overseas investors, and income generated by the ownership of the land will help provide sustainable incomes for those working in and around the reserves; and protect the wildlife and biodiversity the reserves contain. It's a simple concept, but I believe it is effective and sustainable, and if we could carry out our activities on a much larger scale, then we might even be making a contribution to 'making poverty history'.

Wednesday, 21 September 2005

Pets' birthdays

I have just read an horrendous headline in last week's The Independent. The British spent £294 MILLION last year on birthday presents for their pets. Now I have gone on and on in these columns about mumbo jumbo of various sorts. But this needs to be put into some kind of perspective. And one perspective is that that sort of money could buy outright something like 20 million acres of rainforests and other habitats.That's an area bigger than Scotland. And add to that the £900 million spent on cat food in the UK alone, and an area bigger than the rest of Britain could have been bought. That's without dogfood, and a whole host of other pet related expenditure. If we could channel one half of one half a percent of the money spent on British pets into saving forests -- just think how much we could save.

So why not drop 5p or 10p into a tin every time you feed the cat (or even 1p) and then once a year send it to the WLT to buy land?

Sunday, 11 September 2005

Mumbo jumbo

I noted that last week an extensive piece of research in Switzerland into homeopathy concluded that there was no effect greater than that of the placebo effect. In other words, homeopathy has absolutely no scientific basis whatsoever, despite the scientific mumbo jumbo that its proponents dress it up in. Like the so-called Bach remedies and countless other 'alternative' medicines or 'complimentary' treatments, they use what appears to be scientific terminology, but when subjected to scientific scrutiny fail. While all science and medicine has its failings, and fashions and theories change, at least these can be tried and tested. The problem with homeopathy and many related alternatives, is either they cannot be tested, or when tested produce results that re easily explained by placebo effect. Thought about rationally, even some of the more plausible become difficult to accept. aromatherapy -- if the oils did indeed perform the extraordinary feats attributed to them, would presumably cause havoc in the bodies of the masseur or masseuses. Of the more bizarre claims, reflexology takes some beating for irrationality -- tickling the feet to affect the head and shoulders. But the millions of pounds spent each year by the gullible public is simply an indication of conspicuous consumption -- as described in that often overlooked masterpiece by Thorstein Vebelin, written over a century ago, The Theory of the Leisure Class. We will spend millions on perfumes, cosmetics, bottled water, and quack medicines, while allowing the environment to deteriorate. It's a paradox, easily explained by the fact that business has yet to find a way of exploiting the natural environment that is as profitable as bottled water, quack medicines and costmetics. That's the challenge for the future.

Friday, 26 August 2005

Conservation money - fundraising or land purchase?

In January 2004 I wrote a blog deploring how little conservation money was spent on land acquisition. Over 18 months later, a quick look at the UKs wealthiest wildlife conservation body (WWF) shows the situation has deteriorated. For clarity, I have reprinted my original with the revised figures in brackets taken from the WWF accounts for 2003/2004.

"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 [£36,000,000] 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 the scale of things). £30 million would buy at least 1.2 million acres of land -- probably well over 5 million acres [£36 million would buy in excess of 3 million acres, possibly 8million]. Even in England it would probably buy over 10,000 acres [15,000 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." end of quote. And tropical forests the size of Belgium are lost every year.

Looking at the WWF accounts in greater detail, they now have over £20 million in assets. But land purchase does not appear anywhere in their activities, and while their expenditure on conservation is huge, so is their expenditure on fundraising and related activities. I am not sure what the general opinion is on levels of expenditure -- but over 23% of the income was spent on fundraising in various forms, and this is before any admin or management costs are deducted. What do my readers feel about this? If the World Land Trust was to up its expenditure on fundraising activities, there is little doubt that we would raise more money, but would spending nearly a quarter of income be acceptable, even if it raised income dramatically? Thoughts and comments please.

Fears realised

Last night one of my great fears was realised, live on BBC TV. Well not strictly live, but in a recorded 'reality' TV show. In the latest of dire reality shows, a family used to wasting huge amounts of energy and other resources was subjected to the inquisition of a (rather overweight) eco-guru. They were forced to abandon their cars for short journeys, use public transport, cycle or walk, and they were also required to wash their cars, not with a hose, but with buckets of water. There was a lot more, but it was pretty dire, it really was, so I kept losing concentration. But the upshot was, at the end of their week, the eco-expert announced that they would save over £2500 in the course of a year if they kept up these practices. Jolly good was the response, we'll all be able to go on holiday. End of programme, credits roll. But hang on, doesn't going on holiday usually mean a transAtlantic flight to Florida, or something similar, to a resort that uses gallons of water, and has probably chopped down a pristine mangrove swamp.

With eco-friends like these, who needs enemies for the environment. Environmental issues, like ecosystems are complex. Glib, simplistic solutions do more harm than good, just like spraying generic pesticides.

Tuesday, 23 August 2005

British Birdwatching Fair 2005

For the second year, the World Land Trust had a stand at the British Birdwatching Fair, a three day event at Rutland Water. Rutland Water is about as central as you can get in England -- which makes it pretty well as inconvenient for everyone attending. Inaccessible by public transport and despite a close connection with wildlife and conservation, not a particularly 'green' event.

However, despite some obvious criticisms, it is an event attended by thousands of keen birders, and it is a chance to meet with colleagues and businesses.

The Birdwatching Fair has been in existence for the same period as the World Land Trust. And in that time has raised £1.2million (not counting this year). Last year it raised £164,000, and was attended by 17,500 visitors, and there were 300 exhibitors. All the gate money (£10 entry fee) goes to BirdLife projects, but what is depressing is how tight-fisted the average birder is. They will spend hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds on binoculars and telescopes and other equipment, and they will spend vast amounts on holidays to see birds, but only a tiny fraction of all that on conserving the birds.

While on the WLT stand I came up with a radical new idea for admission charges for birdwatchers visiting reserves: they should be charged 5% of the cost of their optical equipment. That would soon raise some funds for conservation, particularly in places like Ecuador or Brazil. If you can afford to spend £1000 on optianotherther £1000 or so travelling to exotic locations, £50 entry fees seem reasonable to me.

Monday, 15 August 2005

Water, water every where, and only in a bottle to drink?

The great con' at the begining of the 21st century, and one of the worst enviromental messes, is water. While a huge proportion of the world have no access to clean drinking water, almost the entire delevoped world, flushes much of its clean drinking water down lavatories, or washes in it, and then buys water in glass or plastic bottles to drink. The latter is shipped around the world, using vast amounts of energy, conferring no measurable benefits (other than psychological ones) on the consumers. It is one of the world's largest and most profitable industries.

Howls of protests from the drinkers of bottled water. Claims that they really can tell the difference. To which I retort "Bunkum".

I have on occasion resorted to blind tastings. If the consumer is presented with a wide range of bottled and tap waters, it is doubtful if more than an insignificant number of them can identify the various waters. What I have found is that fresh tap water, when it is highly chlorinated can be recognised -- but let it stand, and the chlorine goes -- and that a few highly mineralised waters have a distinctive taste. But most bottled water is no more mineralised than tap water. In fact, the majority of bottled waters have no taste, and some indeed come from the same sources as tap water. The most important factor in taste seems to be temperature. Give a person chilled tap water, and they will probably like it better than luke-warm bottled water.

But it is the chattering classes, so often environmentally aware, that are the most prone and gullible in the water market. Just as they are the most likely to buy homeopathic medicines -- another form of bottled water with no quantifiable differences that distinguish it from distilled water.

If those who buy bottled water, were to give the equivalent amount to conservation of wildlerness (which often plays a very significant role in protecting watersheds, and water supplies), think how much land we could save.

The average European now drinks over 17 cases of bottled water a year, and the average cost of that water, per litre, is around the same, or more than petrol!

The following website shows just how we're all being led by the marketting:

And this one gives some more sources

So next time you drink bottled water, why not donate the equivalent amount to the WLT, and think how much more good you are doing for the planet

Thursday, 11 August 2005

Daryl Hannah and biodiesel

Readers of this blog will be aware, that biodiesel is controversial. So it was with great interest that I was able to discuss it with Hollywood actress and film star, Daryl Hannah. She has been promoting biodiesel, and she pointed out, originally diesel engines was created so that farmers could grow their own fuels -- a basic diesel engine will run on peanut oil, sunflower oil, and pretty well any similar oil. In fact most modern diesels can be converted for a few hundred pounds or dollars. Modern highly efficient engines can run on a wide range of waste oils, from recycled engine oils to used cooking oils, and agricultural wastes from the sugar industry and other crops. This is certainly something that should be encouraged.

However, the problem arises when land is cleared specifically to grow crops to produce biodiesel oils. Just as a problem is created when huge areas of forests are cleared to grow soya beans, to feed increasing numbers of vegetarians in the developed world.

But thinking about these complex issues led me to think about cars and transport in general. We are being exhorted to change to modern 'hybrid' cars, that can run on electricity or biodiesel, solar powered cars and various other forms of less polluting forms of transport. But one aspect of these vehicles I have not been able to get data on, is the embedded energy. If I buy a second hand 20 year old Volvo, Jaguar, Rolls Royce or similar car with a relatively long life will I use more energy than buying a brand new car with a 20 year lifespan? New cars contain catalytic converters etc, plus a host of other sophisticated gadgetry, all of which requires energy to be made. Similarly, a 15th century house, even though it may be draughty may be much more energy efficient than a super, state-of-the-art eco house built in 2005, which uses concrete, plastics, glass and other modern materials. Does anyone out there know where data on embedded energy can be located?

But to return to biodiesel and energy efficiency of cars. The lexus hybrid, running on gas or electricity, at a cost of $30,000 or more has to represent something of a paradox. The chances are that the sort of person owning such a car, will also be spending large amounts of money on other commodities, and travelling by air. So what is the point of saving a few joules of energy in a car, if it is then spent flying around the world, or building an air-conditioned house in the south of France?

In my sci-fi future, everyone will be issued with a book of energy coupons on their 18th birthday. They can use them, but not trade them. They can be used for cars, having children, air-conditioning and any other non essential luxury. Only healthcare, basic housing, education and food will not require their expenditure. Perhaps it's just as well I am not going to be ruler of the universe.

Bird 'flu' and the population crisis

The outbreak of bird'flu' in Asia is gradually getting more publicity in Europe, but still very little in North America. But it is there, and potentially it is going to alter the face of the world. Anyone who has kept abreast of the out break will be aware that at present, the human victims have caught the infection from poultry. And those that catch it, have a relatively high chance of dying from it. Fortunately, so far it does not seem to be transmitted from human to human, but when that occurs, the results will probably be devastating.

Most people are probably aware, that the 'flu' outbreak after the first World War killed more people than the war itself. And since then pandemics have regularly swept the world. Once the bird 'flu' mutates so that it can pass from humans to humans, another lethal pandemic could well be on its way. And while health officials in Britain and other parts of the developed world are at last waking up to the fact that there are no vaccines available, the less developed parts of the world won't get access to vaccines even if they are developed. The problem is that until the outbreak occurs, a specific vaccine cannot be developed, and no one really knows how fast it will spread. Unlike the situation when the earlier out breaks of 'flu' occurred, the world's human population is now much more mobile. Cheap air travel will ensure that the new virus reaches the parts other viruses couldn't reach with alarming rapidity.

I cannot even begin to speculate on the impacts on the infrastructure of our civilizations, and the impacts on western economies. But I can speculate that the impacts on environmental issues may well be positive. Even a 10% reduction in the human population of the energy and resource consuming societies will have a significant impact. But the most significant short term effect may be a sudden and dramatic drop in air travel. The results of the empty skies in the USA after 9/11 were dramatic, and a 'flu' out break may well lead to both restrictions by governments, and a fear of travel by individuals. This would lead to cleaner skies, the collapse of airlines, and possibly long term environmemntal benefits. It would be interesting to hear of any other speculations on the environmental impacts of a 'flu' pandemic.

Monday, 8 August 2005

Daryl Hannah in the Rainforest

Last week I returned from a lightning visit to the forests of Belize. The visit was sponsored by Jaguar Cars, and I was taking some journalists from the UK to see what Programme for Belize (PfB) had achieved over the past 15 years, some of which has been sponsored by Jaguar Cars. And while we were there we were to meet Hollywood film star, Daryl Hannah, and show her the forests. It was with some trepidation I agreed the latter, as Hollywood is not the sort of place that I imagined an enthusiastic conservationist would originate from. But Daryl was a complete surprise. Yes she was glamorous -- but she was also seriously interested in conservation issues. She is actively promoting biodiesel in California, and despite it being the worst time of the year for visiting the forests (alive with mosquitoes, chiggers, no-seeums, ants and everything else that bites) couldn't spend enough time in the field, joining us on night spotlighting expeditions, and searching for crocodiles on the lagoon at night.

Simon Barnes, of The Times, published a write-up of the visit last Saturday -- with a (slight) gloat over the fact that he and David Tomlinson (Countrylife writer) both saw a jaguar, and despite nearly 20 visits, I have failed to see one so far. And we all saw Ocellated Turkeys, Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, Toucans, humming birds and plenty of other wildlife.

But the main purpose of our visit was to raise awareness of the work of Programme for Belize and encourage visitors from Europe to go and see for themselves. After 9/11 tourism from the USA took a nosedive, and although much improved, is still not back to former levels. The field station at La Milpa, in the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area (RBCMA) owned and managed by our local partners, the PfB has excellent facilities for school groups, and it also has some basic, but comfortable 'cabanas' where tourists can stay. It is the income from these activities that provides the funding for long-term management of the RBCMA.

Basic the accommodation may be, But Daryl was delighted with the experience -- not all Hollywood stars want luxury hotels, it was apparent. And if you want to know more about visiting the RBCMA, why not come and visit the World Land Trust's stand at the Bird Fair next week, at Rutland water in the centre of England? On our stand will be representatives from the PfB who can tell you all about it, and even take bookings.

Friday, 22 July 2005

Population, yet again

I may be wrong, but I get the impression that the burgeoning human population of the planet is becoming an issue, albeit slowly, once more. Have a look at this article, which gives an US perspective.

John Seager: Straight Talk about Population

As readers of this blog will know, I have a tendency to go on (and on) about the human population and its growth, being the factor underpinning almost all of the plantet's problems. Certainly, we cannot "make poverty history", and at the same time maintain western standards of living, unless the human population declines dramatically. To quote John Seager's article cited above weare "in deep denial about basic science..."

So please read Seager's article, and put it in a local perspective, wherever you are in the world.

The best thing anyone can do to help slow down global warming, is not reproduce themselves, or at least have families of two or fewer. And remember the wealthier you are, the more damage to the planet your offspring, and their future generations, are likely to cause.

In 2001, the industrialised countries of the worldconsumed 211 quadrillion Btu of energy, releasing 11,600 million tonnes of carbon -- compare this with Africa which conumed only 12 quadrillion Btu of energy, and released only 843 million tonnes of carbon. In other words the average peson in the developed world has an impact on global warming, 13 times greater than the average African, and is responsible for the use of nearly 18 times as much energy.

It's food for thought.

Monday, 18 July 2005

Light Pollution and insects

Outside our house , overlooking the adjacent Village Hall car park there is a light. An one-hundred watt lamp, high on a telegraph pole, and last night I noticed dozens of insects flying around it. Since the adjacent land is a mixture of woodland and meadows and organic gardens, this is to be expected. But this is but a single, relatively low powered light. What is the impact of the tens of millions of lights? Street lights line almost every road in every town, suburb and village. While the light in a room attracts moths and other night flying insects. Billions of insects are disoriented. But is it my imagination, or are there any data to support my view that there are significantly fewer insects flying at night? In tons and suburbs, hardly any are to be seen around street lights, and any that are attracted are likely to be swatted by passing cars. And what effect do car headlamps have on insects? Any one who has flown at night will be aware of how much light pollution there is -- from miles and miles away, the streets can be seen . So from what distance can lights draw in insects?

are there any entomolgists reading this blog? If so any pointers to relevant literature would be very welcome. One useful site I found was the following:

It appears that a lot of research has been done, and my initial understanding is that there are potentially very serious problems, but so far there is no coordinate plan of action, or indeed coherent summary of the problem.

Recreating meadows

A success story

Over the weekend I got some heartening news. A friend phoned earlier in the week to say he had heard a Corn Crake calling in a meadow he had created a few years ago. What should he do? I suggested he phone the RSPB, who after initial skepticism, having heard a tape recording came rushing round. It was indeed a male Corn Crake, and the RSPB also caught the bird, and established the fact that it was not one of the birds that had been released into the wild as part of a reintroduction programme. It was not ringed. Which all goes to show, if you create the right habitat, then wildlife can, and often will, flourish. The hay meadows were created out of arable fields, and are now mown, then grazed by sheep, as part of measures to increase the biodiversity of the are. And as further proof, as drove to the field on Sunday evening to hear the Corn Crake, there was also a hobby hunting in the dusk, chasing the swallows and martins that were feeding on the myriad insects that were found there.

DIY Meadows

On a much small scale, I have been managing a two acre field, to try and create a flower rich sward. Less than two years ago, when we moved in the field was completely overgrown and dominated by thistles and nettles, with barely any grass visible, and almost no other flowering plants. The autumn we moved in I had the field mown twice, just before the thistles set seed and soon after, when they had regrown. Grass immediately began to flourish and for the next three months I used a 'spud' to remove as many of the isolated thistles and nettles, and a mower to keep the dense patches under control. By early in the new year, grass was dominating, and we introduced a 'flock' of sheep. Four Shetlands and a Jabob. All small, very hardy breeds. By the end of the winter, they had done a great job and grazed the ground to a close short turf -- in fact we were having to supplement their diet with hay and other feeds. Sheep have little pointed hooves, and some areas of the new meadow became severely poached, and so having made arrangements to rent another field for grazing, we also acquired a llama. The idea was that llamas are much larger, and consume more vegetation, but have padded feet, so weight for weight (or biomass) cause less damage to the turf. And they also have a great advantage over sheep in that they deposit their dung in heaps. Good for the garden and good for nutrient reduction in the meadows.

Reducing Nutrients

One of the key actions needed in creating a flower rich meadow, is reducing the nutrient levels in the soils, otherwise grasses will dominate. There has been a lot of research carried out, and in some cases most of the topsoil has been removed in order to create a flower-rich meadow. It is early day to decide whether or not llama grazing is effective, but it will be interesting to know if any of the people keeping llamas and alpacas (of which there are quite a number in Britain and North America now) have observed any changes in the flora.

Implications for Nature reserves

Many nature reserves, both managed by English Nature, and those managed by RSPB, local Wildlife Trusts and others now have grazing animals as part of their management regime. Usually they use sheep, but Polish Koniik ponies (popularly referred to as Tarpans -- which are actually extinct) and sometimes cattle are used. The problem is, that most of the reserves using animals in this way, are keeping the animals on the pasture permanently, or at least seasonally. In the past this was not the case, animals were usually coralled or 'folded' at night. One of the reasons for this was that the dung was a valuable resource, needed for fertilizing the arable fields. Consequently the fertility of the pasture, common lands etc was gradually reduced. This concept was underpinned in a recent farm tour given on Anne Clifford's family farm (Anne is the WLT Donations Manager). This is an organic farm, and part of the management includes sheep, and one of the functions of the sheep is to produce manure for the arable crops. They are not just for meat and wool production.

Current management regimes do not take all this into account, and therefore using grazing animals on permanent pastures may well be increasing the nutrient levels, and leading to long-term changes in the flora. Consequently, while it may be aesthetically pleasing to have sheep or other animals grazing a nature reserve, it is. Unless they are being rounded up at night, it may be ecologically better to mechanically mow, bale and remove the hay, in order to keep nutrient levels low.

Hope for the future

But whatever is done, it is certainly better than the barren wastelands of agri-business that once dominated the rural landscape. Already change is apparent in East Anglia. Broader margins around fields, and more pasture; and more organic/ conservation grade farming. There are still thousands of sterile acres, but it is getting better. There is hope.

Tuesday, 12 July 2005

Making the population crisis history?

Something has been conspicuously absent from the agenda of any of the debates on global warming, or at the G8 Summit. Human population growth.

It has been widely stated that global warming is the single greatest threat to the planet. But this is NOT true. The single greatest threat to the world is the CAUSE of global warming, and the cause is the human species, its insatiable demand for energy, and its rapid, uncontrolled growth. In terms of energy, the growth is more damaging in the developed world, so far. But what if the Blair and Geldof succeed in their mission to 'make poverty history' in Africa for example?

Historically, in most parts of the world, wars, famine and disease kept the population low. In Britain and most other parts of the developed world, disease and other 'natural' mortality such as death in childbirth, were greatly reduced, at the same time that food production increased, and better education of women reduced the reproduction rates. This has not been the case all over the world -- with dire consequences.

What will happen in Africa?

Until female education levels greatly improve, and women are able to control their fertility, populations will continue to grow; that is a widely observed fact. The only process that is limiting that growth at present is famine and warfare, and to a greatly reduced level of disease, and death inchildbirth. Humanitarian aid is aimed at wiping out disease, and curtailing warfare. This in turn leads to population growth, which in turn leads to stresses leading to warfare, poverty and disease. It's a vicious cycle, but looking at it from the perspective of a population biologist, the only way to break the cycle is to reverse or slow down the population growth rate, and the only way to do that is to improve female education levels. It may be a tough one to swallow, but is it possible that instead of spending money on food aid, which might exacerbate the problem long-term, the aid should only be directed at education?

As I have written many times before, politicians rarely look beyond the next election when making their promises. And unfortunately most aid charities look to solve the immediate problem, without having an exit strategy or a long term plan. And even when there is, in theory, a long term plan, the ramifications and implications of success are rarely examined. These factors all combine to create a recipe for future disasters.

Wednesday, 6 July 2005

More criticisms of Foreign aid

As a result of my criticisms of foreign aid, I am often asked how I justify the work of the World Land Trust. To me the answer is simple. First it is not aid, in the way that humanitarian charities dish it out, and second it is part of a clearly thought out strategy.

What does the WLT fund?

When the WLT is approached with a project by a potential overseas partner, the project is evaluated against a set of criteria -- these criteria are given on our website for anyone to see. Particularly important criteria, are the exit strategy, and the prospects for long-term sustainablility. And this is where I see major differences between our approach and those involving humanitarian aid.

Muddled thinking

Everything I see and hear leads me to the conclusion that there is a huge amount of very muddled thinking, with totally unrealistic targets being set. We realise that what the WLT is doing is small, and not on the scale that is really needed to change the world. But at least it is realistic and achievable, because we have thought it through. But for politicians (looking at the next election) and rock stars (image conscious) to claim they are going to make poverty history, is not only unrealistic, but misguided. First, what do they actually mean by poverty? Poverty does not have objective criteria, it is a constantly moving and variable definition. Do they mean raise everyone to the minimum standard of living expected in Britain or the USA? If so have they thought of the implications for global warming, if the population of Africa or Asia consumed the same amount of energy as even the poorer people in the developed world? In our money-orientated world, we have perhaps forgotten that money cannot solve all problems. In fact, the introduction of cash into rural economies can be a contributing factor actually causing poverty.

Where does all the money go?

And what happens when aid is dished out? What happens when a developing country's economy starts to grow as a result of aid? Where are the profits from such development banked and invested -- that is surely the root of the problem. The so called free market philosophies simply mean that anyone making profit in the developing world, will inevitably invest those profits in Swiss banks or other parts of the developed world. Even such countries as Argentina, with considerable natural wealth, have seen exactly that happen; as soon as there was an economic downturn, there was a mass exodus of capital to the USA and elsewhere.

The demands for debt relief are well meant, but if they simply lead to more debt being incurred, probably pointless. And while the developed world continues to give loans (in order to sell arms and other commodities), the cycle will continue. Will the debt relief have any impact at all on those living in refugee camps? I doubt it.

Buying Land

A dilemma for the World Land Trust involves the purchase of lands. When for instance, we provide the funds for our partner to buy land, in Ecuador, the funds are in dollars. The vendor may or may not put that money in a local bank -- there is nothing to stop those funds going straight into the USA. However, the positive side is that the land, which is in the longterm the most valuable asset, is retained within the country, owned and managed by a local NGO. The land becomes the capital needed for developing sustainable incomes -- for ecotourism, scientific tourism and any activity which provides employment and local incomes, without destroying the resource base.

Finally the sort of criticisms bandied about concerning foreign aid ending up in the wrong hands, often all too true. And the NGOs are often far from blameless. I don't think I have ever seen so many gleaming new white 4x4s as in Kampala, and a large number were for the NGOs, who are also drawing fat salaries, living in airconditioned hotels, while doling out aid to truly impoverished and desperate people. I could go on, but before anyone rushes to the defense of individual projects (and I know there are some that are well thought out) I would point out that it is the overall impact I am discussing. I do not see any evidence that the majority of humanitarian aid achieves its long term objectives (presuming that the long term objectives are to improve the lot of the poorer people dwelling in a country). This is particularly true in most of Africa.


Solving the problems is more difficult, and I do not pretend in anyway to have relevant expertise, but land reform is probably one of the issues. Certainly, in effect that is what the WLT and its partners are attempting. We are bring back into public ownership lands that should be owned by the world at large, and not exploited for individual gain. Finally it all boils down to the thing that no one mentions: human population growth.

Wednesday, 29 June 2005

Goats, desertification and aid

Amongst a wad of junk mail I recently received a leaflet from Christian Aid soliciting donations to give a goat to the poor of Rwanda. The leaflet explains how a Rwandan orphan was loaned two goats, which then produced three kids. What the leaflet does not explain is how a rapidly expanding goat population is sustainable. Desertification is rife in the more arid parts of Africa, and among the main agents are goats. In fact most wildlife conservationists see goats as one of the main threats to the African environment. Huge areas of Mediterranean Europe were devastated by overgrazing by goats, and fortunately more enlightened agricultural attitudes have allowed many areas to regenerate. But all over the world, goats are a major problem, particularly in Africa.

To me, the Christian Aid leaflet epitomises the problem of aid, in particular the drive to eradicate poverty. Both politicians and humanitarian charities are only ever looking at the short-term, rarely, if ever, at the long term. Competition for resources is usually at the root of wars, and unless those resources are more evenly distributed the ongoing cycle of warfare and famine will continue. A couple of years ago I travelled extensively in Uganda and it was a country of great agricultural wealth, and it also has mineral wealth, and an abundant labour supply. But it is aid dependent. What happens to the wealth of the country? Presumably, as is so often the case, it is shipped abroad to foreign banks, and invested in western economies. And with the profits made, a tiny fraction is sent back as foreign aid. But the continuing cycle of foreign aid allows this to continue. In fact it encourages it.

Refugee camps are sponsored by aid charities, absolving the national governments from taking any action. But what happens to the inhabitants of the refugee camps? What are their long term prospects? What are the exit strategies of the aid agencies? Amid great publicity Blair, Geldoff and others have trumpetted their ambitions to 'make poverty history'. But have any of them thought through what this really means? Have any of them thought what it would mean in terms of consumption of resources. What the energy bill would be for instance? How that would affect global warming. This came home to me in a rather bizarre way when visiting India recently.

As a westerner, I find the oriental methods of cleansing after excretion problematical, being used to using loo rolls. But it was pointed out that if a billion Indians converted to loo rolls and flush toilets, there would be one hell of an environmental impact. What would happen if every family in Africa had a single car? Or even a motorbike? What would happen if every family in Africa used the same amount of water used by Britons? That is what would happen if we wiped out poverty. This does not mean we should not try and do something to redress the terrible injustices that are reflected in the poverty of countries in Africa and elsewhere, it simply means that handing out aid over the past half century has not worked, and never will; it is time to try something different.

Saturday, 25 June 2005

Clothes moths -- endangered species?

I have written about the decline of insects from time to time -- towns were once full of flies, so much so that everyone had net curtains to help keep them out. Nowadays nearly every city is virtually a fly-free zone. Even Delhi and Madras when I visited recently were not the fly-infested places of yesteryear. To me this is very scary, and I am constantly on the look out for hard data on the quantitative decline of insects. There's a lot on the qualitative declines and extinctions, but very little on numbers. I have put down the disappearance of species such as Red-backed Shrike in England, to the decline in large insects. I have noted how the commons of London were once crawling with grasshoppers in summer, but now thanks to pesticides and rotary mowers, grasshoppers are a rarity. anti parasite insecticides have poisoned cow pats, and so the list goes on. The latest to join my list is the clothes moth. As a child growing up in the 1940s and 50s, I remember clothes moth being a real problem when our woolly jumpers were put away for the summer. But now no one seems to worry. Is this just because so much of our clothing is synthetic, or are there other causes at work? The natural habitat of clothes moths is in birds nests among other places, and there are still plenty of birds nesting in towns. So where have the clothes moths gone?

Tuesday, 21 June 2005

Art and endangered species

I am considering signing up to the National Art Fund. This is because I think they do a great job in saving works of art for the nation, and more importantly I like their magazine. It also has a sobering effect on me, and puts the work of wildlife conservationists in perspective. To read that a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds of Omai sold for over £10 million is a staggering thought. Omai was a Tahitian brought to England by Captain James Cook in 1773. At that time the islands of Tahiti, Hawaii and other parts of the Pacific contained dozens of species now extinct.

A medieval psalter was recently saved for the nation at a cost of £1.7.million and Damien Hirst's pickled shark sold for £7 million. All of these are 'unique pieces of art". But there is unique and unique. While these art forms can be copied, and these days copies can be made that are so close to the original that only scientific tests can tell them apart, the originals upon which they are based cannot be recreated. The Tahitians and their unique culture have been destroyed, the Medieval countryside teeming with wildlife, portrayed in the psalter has gone, and even Hirst's shark is diving towards extinction. And none of these can ever be recreated, or even simulated. Once they are gone, they are gone forever.

With £5 million -- a quarter of the amount spent on these three art treasures -- the World Land Trust could save over 160,000 acres of tropical forests in Central America. Forests that are currently on the market and about to be sold into an unknown future. Countless species live in the forests, some of which may become lost for ever without even being known to humans. I am not such a Philistine as to suggest we stop preserving art and other aspects of human culture, but we should try and get a sense of perspective. Where are the wealthy collectors who will preserve the planet's heritage? Let's try and get some sort of ecological balance. It's a crazy world when a painting of an elephant by Stubbs (if one existed) could sell for more than the entire budget needed to create all 88 elephant corridors proposed for the Indian Elephant (Stubbs record at auction is over £3.2 million). And a single painting by Delacroix, famous for his lions and tigers has sold for over $9 million. Which is really worth more a painting, which can be copied, or a real living tiger and its descendants?

Fortunately, living artists are much more concerned than the collectors of art, and some of the most generous supporters of the World Land Trust have been painters -- and not just wildlife artists. And David Shepherd, famous for elephants and trains, has even created his own foundation, which funds conservation using income from his art. But compare the Getty Conservation Prize of $100,000 with the budget of the Getty Museum -- between July 2004 and March 2005 over half a million dollars were given as grants to interns alone. The total budget on art research, and the purchase of art objects is many hundreds of millions a year. Enough to make a sizeable dent on conservation problems of a large chunk of the world. And by a quirk of fate, it is the vast wealth of museums such as the Getty, that has sent art prices spiraling through the roof. If they were to change their remit, and treat wildlife as unique art treasures -- which, of course, they are -- perhaps there might be some hope for the future.


Orchids are often seen as the epitome of rare and endangered flora. In the UK they are often used as flagship species to halt development, and there is no doubt of their tremendous appeal, even to the non-naturalists. For the past 10 years or so I have made an annual pilgrimage to an old Suffolk Green to see the green-winged orchids -- a great expanse of purplish-pink orchids with scattered salmon pink and even white individuals. A sight that evokes the flower rich meadows before the advent of the motor car, pesticides and herbicides.

But this year I was stunned to see two amazing other nature reserves, with vast numbers of orchids. One was land surrounding a pair of trout fishing lakes, created by a Suffolk farmer 25 years ago. Here swathes of spotted orchids had colonised, together with bee orchids, on what was once open farmland. The other was a reserve created out of farmland a decade ago by herpetologist Tom Langton. Marsh orchids have spread all around the ponds he dug to encourage crested newts.

These two private nature reserves show very clearly what the individual can do, and really make an impact. Not everyone has several acres, but combined, our gardens add up to thousands of acres. I am lucky enough to have over three acres -- not enough on its own, but managed with the surrounding area in mind, even this size can have a major impact. So far we have only found a handful of bee orchids, but I am hopeful that in years to come others will spread.

Monday, 13 June 2005

Rail v air travel

While rail and sea transport may have environmental advantages over road and air, sometimes campaigners go too far in extolling its virtues.
An example: The WLT is based in East Anglia, and we work with colleagues in Netherlands. I personally prefer travelling by train, because it is less hassle. But to go to Amsterdam by train (on the 'new high-speed train and boat service' mentioned in the latest Ethical Conasumer (EC95 July/August 2005), is not a very realistic alternative to flying, and is certainly not hassle-free. A 7.30 am start from our office gets you to Amsterdam at 5.30pm, just in time to check in to an hotel. After the following day's work, you can go back to your hotel, and then either get up for a 5.30am departure, or hang around until 2pm, the following afternoon, and finally get back to to the WLT office at 9.45pm. The alternative to this three-day trip, is a plane from our local (Norwich) airport, that gets in to Amsterdam at 9am, and allows a full days work before flying back in the evening. It's going to be difficult to convince any business traveller that the 'high-speed' train and rail service, with the expense of two nights accommodation plus all the hassle, is a viable alternative,

And before we get too carried away with anti-flying sentiments, we should remember that flying is actually a form of public transport, every bit as much as railways. A full aeroplane, may be more energy efficient than a bus with three or four passengers, or a nearly empty train -- both of which are very common sights. Surely the problem is that with the privatisation free-for all, there are no rational planned strategies for transport? While profitability, is the main (only?) criterion deciding which routes and which type of transport are viable, it is going to be very difficlut, if not impossible to change the habits of travellers. A large proportion of the travel undertaken is not essential -- it is for 'pleasure'. And even a significant proportion of 'essential' business travel is because we have chosen to live a long way from our place of work.

Finally, there is the problem of public transport in rural areas. In the modern world, no one expects to be tied to their villages as they were in the past, and in any case, there are no longer the shops and services once found there. But is public transport always the answer?

Wednesday, 8 June 2005

Just how green are biofuels?

By Professor Renton Righelato, Trustee of the World Land Trust

In many parts of the world, ethanol, produced by fermentation of carbohydrates from crops such as maize, sugar cane and sugar beet, is seen as way of supporting farmers and reducing dependence on imported fossil fuel. Higher oil prices are making “gasohol” increasingly economic, even without subsidies. Brazil's production from sugar cane is growing rapidly and they may soon become a major exporter1. Gasohol is presented as green petrol; the concept is superficially attractive - carbon is recycled from sugar cane to car to atmosphere and back to cane - but just how environmentally beneficial is it? A hectare of cane in Brazil can produce around 4 tonnes of ethanol, equivalent to around 5,000 litres of fossil fuel. After taking into account the fossil carbon needed to make the ethanol, there is around 13 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) less released from fossil carbon for every hectare of land converted to sugar cane2. For biodiesel from soya oil the CO2 benefit is somewhat less.

On the other side of the equation is the cost in terms of creating agricultural land or the opportunity cost of not regenerating forest. When a hectare of forest is burnt and ploughed up, as much as 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide can be released into the atmosphere3. The damaging impact of this on atmospheric CO2 and global warming is immediate; even it it were recoverable, it would take nearly a century to overcome through the use of gasohol.

Regenerating rainforest on existing agricultural land takes some 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide/hectare out of the atmosphere each year as it grows; it is thus almost twice as efficient a strategy for reducing CO2 levels as making gasohol.

Whilst there may be short-term economic arguments for biofuels like gasohol and biodiesel, let us not be taken in by the green-wash. For climate change and for biodiversity they are a disaster. The logic of carbon taxation would demand they be taxed more highly than fossil energy, not less!

  1. Economist, 14 May 2005, 75-77. Special Report on Biofuels.
  2. Macedo, Copersucar Technological Centre
    Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Avoided Emissions in the Production and Utilization of Sugar Cane, Sugar and Ethanol in Brazil: 1990-1994
  3. Palm et al. 1999. Strategic information on changes in carbon stocks and land use.

This is an update on Prof. Righelato's previous post: How green is green diesel? from June 12, 2003

Monday, 6 June 2005

carbon emissions and population

Over last week-end there was a lot in the press about the damage being done to the environment by cheap air travel, among other sources of carbon emissions. This is all true, but the solutions being offered are often very unrealistic. And the ultimate origin of these problems is still being ignored by nearly all the green groups, and certainly by the politicians. That is human populations. And I am not just talking about the one billion in India. I am talking about the 60 million in Britain, that is still growing. In England the rate of of oil consumption (which can be used as a reasonable measure of carbon emissions) was an alarming 28 barrels a day, per 1000 of population. [The figures are from a couple of years ago, but serve to illustrate my points]. The equivalent figures for the USA were 68 barrels a day per 1000. But the population of India, although topping a staggering one billion people, only used less than 2 barrels of oil per day, per 1000 of population. The population of America has grown by over 10% since 1990, and if it grows at the same rate over the next decade, that increase in population will demand as much oil and emit as much carbon as the whole of India.

This puts a perspective on the realities of controlling carbon emissions. Controlling human population is the priority, and controlling it in the developed world the highest priority of all. We are not going to convince people to lower what they perceive as their standard of living. Therefore the only way to reduce demand for resources is to reduce the population consuming them. But no politician or economist is going to accept this -- their whole way of thinking is based expanding economies and growth. The depressing truth is that none of the solutions proposed for alleviating climate change are actually viable. At best they are delaying the inevitable. Which is why I believe that preserving existing habitat, such as rainforest, and preventing all that carbon being released, is just about the best we can do. And it also preserves all the biodiversity and species richness that goes with it. None of the other options on offer have these benefits, which are probably more important, in the long term than anything else.

Thursday, 2 June 2005

Belize losing its credibility as Ecotourism destination

The past couple of years have seen Belize's reputation as an ecotourism destination seriously dented.

First there was the Chalillo Dam, which was pushed through despite widespread international opposition. This is widely perceived as a political issue, which has little or no benefit to the Belizean economy. Belize has a need for energy, but there are plenty of alternative sources. But worse was to come, with the arrival of hundreds of cruise ships. These visitors have little benefit to the majority of Belizeans. But put an extra burden on an already overburdened infrastructure.And big ships cause irreparable damage when they hit Belize's unique reef. Another potential disaster has been the "liberalisation" of fishing restrictions -- luckily on hold for the time being. And now the Government have approved a Dolphinarium. Not the sort of facility that is going to enthuse ecotourists, who prefer to see their dolphins wild and free.

Further problems have arisen in one of Belize's "star" reserves -- Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. Belize Crodcodile and Reptile Breeders Ltd, have started clearing land within the Sanctuary. The Chairman of the company is Luke Espat, who is also one of the main shareholders in the development company that wants to enlarge the facilities for cruise ships. One can assume from his behaviour, that the future of wildlife and natural resources is not something he considers at all important.

Ecotourism is good for the country, but not good for individuals who want to make huge profits, and it does seem that a few wealthy individuals are going to get even wealthier. Ecotourism is also, by definition sustainable, but the rapid development associated with cruise ships is far from sustainable, and may simultaneously kill the ecotourism on which Belize has built its reputation.

IUCN losing its way?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as it used to be known, has been nick-named I Used to Conserve Nature by some scurrilous NGOs disillusioned with the direction IUCN has been moving in recent years. The reason is not hard to understand, when you read IUCN's latest Bulletin. In actual fact, IUCN was originally founded as the International Union for the Protection of Nature, and later changed Protection to Conservation and added Natural Resources.

The most recent Bulletin, has within its 32 pages over 50 photographs of several hundred people, but less than half a dozen of nature, and most of those are covers of books. The people are generally seen sitting at conference tables, receiving awards, standing behind microphones, or attending yet another workshop. Rivetting. Makes you really glad you put money into the conservation organisations that fund IUCN.

I have been a member of IUCN in one guise or another for 30 years, and am still a loyal supporter of some of its aims and objectives. I am also very enthusiastic about the work done by individual members of staff. But as time goes by, IUCN has become more and more like just another UN-style beaurocracy, and the latest Bulletin epitomises this decline. Acronyms and buzz-words abound, and are only out-numbered by good intentions.

According to the opening page of the Bulletin the week-long Congress held in Bangkok November last year, attracted 4,800 participants, including 40 ministers, 1000 scientists, 150 business people etc. There were over 500 sessions and events. One wonders what this all cost Looking at it superficially, there is no way it could have cost less than an average of $5000 a head to actually attend (including airfares), which adds up to a tidy $24 million. And that is without any costings for the time of the people attending, and the opportunity costs of their time spent away from their normal work. A very, very conservative way of estimating this would be to double the actual cost. Add a couple of million for secetariat expenses, publications (such as the Bulletin) and it all comes to a minimum of $50 million. Of course getting the rue figures is nigh on impossible, since most organisations don't like disclosing such information, But $50 million would be a reasonable minimum.

For $50 million one can conserve a lot of wildlife. With plenty of good tropical forest available at $10-$20 a hectare, this means around 5 million hectares (50,000 sq kms) of forest could have been saved -- twice the size of Belize, and roughly the size of Costa Rica. That's a lot of wildlife. Even at 10 times the price, 5000 square kilometres would save a lot of critically endangered species.

I have been actively involved in wildlife conservation for over 30 years now, and watched the number of workshops, and the number of professional conservationists all increase dramatically. At the same time, the loss of habitat has been dramatic and catastrophic. The funding for one, could provide the funding for the other.

But perhaps the most bizarre feature of the IUCN Bulletin, and its report on the Congress is the lack of any mention of human populations. I cannot claim to have read the Bulletin from cover to cover ( I have some respect for the few remaining grey cells I possess), but a glance through certainly demonstrated that it was not given prominence, if indeed it was mentioned at all. With a current world population of around 6.5 billion, and an increase on last year's of around 75 million, there can be no question that this is the single most important issue confronting nature. It is the issue that drives global warming, rainforest destruction and everything else. But it appears to be politically unacceptable to discuss it.

I believe it is high time that conservationists went back to their roots. The International Union for the Protection of Nature was founded by some of the most eminent international conservationists of the time including Hal Coolidge, Julian Huxley, Max Nicolson and Jean Delacour; they knew what they were doing when the used the term Protection. What is needed is a new movement to protect what little is left. Protection is not incompatible with sustainable development, but conservation is a word that has now been thoroughly abused, and allows the theorists, and the workshop organisers to take over. Protection needs action -- not discussion, nor a profusion of desk bound administrators and accountants.

I will still continue to support the bits of IUCN that are trying to fulfil its original aims and objectives, but I wonder how long it will be before a new organisation will be formed to fulfil the wishes of the disillusioned members who are interested in wildlife.

These are of course personal views -- but if any other individuals who belong to member organisations of IUCN are reading this, I would be interested to know thier views - and publish them here if they wish.

Friday, 13 May 2005

Save cash & Save the planet

This month's BBC Wildlife magazine includes a feature based on information from Friends of the Earth, on how to save money by being environmentally friendly. All sensible advice -- composting, saving energy, buying local organic food, keeping car tyres properly inflated. It then summarises it all by stating that all the savings (over £300) "...Could pay for a guilt free trip to see any one of Britain's wildlife spectacles, such as the gannets of Bass Rock or the red kites in Wales." This of course makes a farce of the whole thing. Having saved minuscule amounts of energy, by keeping car tyres inflated properly, it is advocating burning huge amounts of fossil fuel driving the length or breadth of Britain! Come on FoE we're not that dim.

More seriously, this is an ancient paradox that I have mused on many times before. Saving energy, being environmentally friendly, often makes sound economic sense. But if we save money by insulating our roofs, what do we spend that money on? Invariably high on most people's list is a holiday in an exotic location -- ecotourism perhaps, but nonetheless, energy intensive, ozone depleting, international travel. And I am as guilty as the next.

Energy, climate change, resource depletion are all very, very, important issues. But there is one issue that is much, much, more important, and is the force driving all these issues. Human population growth. This is an issue that has been swept under the international carpet. And under the current UK leadership, highly unlikely to move up the agenda. I therefore highly recommend a paper in a recent issue of the Geographical Journal by Anthony Young (Geographical Journal 171 (1):83-95).

All the talk about poverty alleviation, glib statements from governments and NGOs about 'making poverty history' are nothing more than hot air, unless the population issue is addressed simultaneously. As Anthony Young concluded: "If rates of population increase in developing countries are not lowered, efforts to reduce poverty, hunger, and suffering which these cause will constantly be thwarted, often nullified; and sustainable use of natural resources, avoiding land degradation, will not be achieved." It's a grim prediction, and concomitant with this prediction we will see increasing numbers of devastating famines, epidemics and probably an increase in resource-based wars. The World Land Trust is not able to do much about any of this -- but I urge those working for relief charities and others concerned with human welfare to examine carefully their activities. Poverty relief in the absence of population reduction is a futile exercise, which will actually have the potential to exacerbate human suffering in the future.

Sunday, 8 May 2005

Carbon Balanced with the WLT

A few weeks ago we launched our completely overhauled web site dealing with carbon emmissions. We are not the first orgainisation to deal with this issue -- there are several others selling carbon credits -- such as Future Forests, and Carbon-Balanced(R) and CLevel. just type in carbon balance, carbon sequestration or any similar phrase into Google and you find them. The big difference bewteen the World Land Trust and all the others I have been able to find, is that we are a charity and the others are not. In itself this does not make us better than anyone else. But it does make us more transparent. Charities have to publish summaries of their accounts on the Charity Commission web site, and have to make their accounts available to supporters. For-profit Companies do not.

We are also more directly involved in the delivery of the results -- unlike most of the for-profit businmesses who are paying other organisations to carry out tree planting and other schemes.

It is not surprising that the costs of carbon sequestration through the World Land Trust is often significantly cheaper than through some of the commercial companies. And a final, but significant difference, is that the WLT is moving rapidly towards having carbon that can be legally traded. The companies that have cashed in on public concerns over global warming will soon have to demonstrate much more clearly how they are implementing their schemes and how much of the money raised really goes to conservation or any other activity.

Thursday, 5 May 2005

Elephant Corridors

Elephants are large, and potentially dangerous animals, that frequently come into conflict with humans in a country as densely populated as India. The problems may seem insurmountable, but as my recent visit showed, it can sometimes be relatively easy to solve the problem. The problems occur when the traditional routes used by elephants to move between forests, are severed by agriculture. The elephants raid crops, trample them, and in the worst case can kill humans. Sometimes solutions such as electric fences can be used to deter elephants, but these are expensive, and require vigilant maintenance. However, much of the land needed by the elephants can be purchased. The farmers want to move -- they don't like having their crops destroyed, and they are unhappy with the constant threat to their lives and the lives of their families. Furthermore, they often want to move closer to facilities such as schools and medical services. Very often the purchase of as little as 10 or 20 acres (5 or 10 hectares) of farmland is all that is needed to create a corridor so that the elephants can move safely. Land is not cheap in India, but the purchase and resettlement, is an effective and permanent solution to the problem. We have worked out that an average of £10,000 will be sufficient to purchase a typical elephant corridor -- this figure includes all the overheads such as legal fees, surveys. Once acquired, the local forest departments will be able to protect and patrol the land along with the government owned reserves, which the corridors link.

Compared with practically any other elephant conservation project, this has to be excellent value for money -- providing a lasting solution to a serious conservation issue, that is affecting one of the most endangered species in Asia. And of course elephants are not the only species that will benefit: monkey gaur, bats and dozens of other species will use the corridors.

Working with the Wildlife Trust of India, I was able to met many of the Forest Department officials while visiting reserves in southern India. They were all unanimously enthusiastic about the proposals, recognising that NGOs such as the WTI and the World Land Trust, working together might be able to achieve action within a short timescale, before land prices escalate -- as surely they will. Will Rogers is famously claimed to have once said: "put your money in land, because they aren't making any more of it" [Apparently he didn't actually say this, but something rather similar -- just in case my more pedantic readers start emailing]. And this is one of the driving forces behind the WLT's thinking. If we don't save wilderness and other wildlife habitats now, we may not get a second chance.

Next week we are holding urgent meetings with our partners to discuss how we can accelerate our programme to acquire Elephant corridors, so if you, the reader, want to help, now is the time to donate.

Wednesday, 4 May 2005

More thoughts on Foreign Aid

My recent visit to India was quite an eye-opener. Even for someone who is fairly well travelled, and has had a fairly wide experience of working in the tropics. India is often thought of as a developing country, but nothing could be further from the truth. India is simply a vast area, with a huge range of federated states, which represent a diversity as great as anything found in Europe. Most pople use Hindi or English to communicate, since the languages are so diverse. And India has been intellectually, culturally and technically developed for centuries. It has also been economically developed for centuries -- witness the splendid palaces of the Maharajahs and the temples. And now, westernisation is speeding ahead. One of the unfortunate aspects of westernisation is that much of it is not sustainable, and when there is a population in excess of a billion people, and still growing, this is truly alarming.

Like most other countries, India does not need aid, strictly speaking. The amounts of money given by British and other conservation donors is tiny compared with the wealth of individuals in India. So why should we in England and other parts of the west support the Wildlife Trust of India? To me the answer is fairly straightforward -- by giving support, however modest, it is helping the WTI act. One of the cultural problems within India, is the length of time change takes. The government will act, the huge network of nature reserves created since independence is an indication, but the government is very slow. The funds donated by the WLT and IFAW and other organisations has enabled the WTI to take action speedily, and in India this is vital. The pressures on the remaining wildlfe habitats are excessive, and action is essential NOW, not in three or five years time.

And meanwhile there is a growing level of support from the general public in India. The rising middle classes, brought up on a diet of TV documentaries about wildife, are going to support the conservation of wildlife in the future. So the funding from Britain, should be seen as a stop-gap, helping dynamic young organisations such as the Wildlife Trust of India, get firmly established and self sustaining.

Friday, 29 April 2005

Making Poverty History

The beginning of 2005 has seen a lot of publicity about a campaign to 'Make Poverty History'. In the UK leading politicians have committed to using both the G8 and EU presidencies to make a significant difference on the policies affecting the world's poorest nations. Charities are also being urged to play a major role. However, I would like to question that this is a priority for charities involved with international work. For several years the relief of poverty has been among the criteria at the forefront of decision making when giving grants by the national lottery or DFID.

But is this really the responsibility of charities based in the UK? First one should closely examine the cause of poverty, and then see if the use of charitable funding is going to solving that problem. And the answer is usually that not only is the use of charitable donations not solving the problem, in many cases it is actually exacerbating it. Most of the poorest nations in the world are not poor because of a lack of money, they are poor because of an unequal distribution of resources and wealth. Charitable donations take away from the governments the responsibility of looking after their own people. And end up creating refugees who become aid dependent. Most of the African countries that UK charities support at present, spend more on buying arms, than the charities donate in relief. There is plenty of highly visible, ostentatious wealth in India.

I have just returned from India, working on new projects with our partners. While there, I passed through some of the areas affected by the tsunami, and it is quite apparent from even a superficial overview, that some (possibly most) of the foreign aid has caused considerable social disruption. It will be sometime yet before it is known how much of the millions poured into the public appeals actually got to those affected -- to the families who lost children, parents and breadwinners. But I will bet that it is a pretty small percentage. And I am pretty certain that most of the decision making will be by outsiders, and that the villagers affected will have very little say how the money is spent. Evidence of this was already visible in the rows of (largely unused) brand new fibre-glass boats on the beaches, replacing the traditional boats built from sustainable local resources. Almost everything I saw suggested that almost no thought had been goven to sustainability, and that no thought had been given to the impact on traditional ways of living. On the bright side, there was an incredible awareness of the linkages between the loss of mangroves and the increased risk of damage from tsunamis and other natural phenomena.

I would be very interested to hear of any one else who has observed negative effects of aid -- we generally only get the up-beat news from the agencies delivering aid.

Friday, 15 April 2005

Charity being stung by railway company

Readers may be interested to know the sort of day to day trials and tribulations that a small charity such as the World Land Trust has to contend with. The following is a letter I sent today and is largely self explanatory. After it I have appended some other notes, which may be interesting to anyone living in East Anglia, or perhaps other parts of Britain.

Commercial Manager
ONE Railways
Burrell Rd
Ipswich IP2 8AL 14 April, 2005

Dear Sirs,

I wish to make a serious complaint about the 'One' ticketing Wednesday 13 April I travelled to London accompanied by two members of staff. We travelled on the 09.30 from Halesworth to London, purchasing saver returns (enclosed). We returned, on the 16.30 from London as is often the case, changing at Ipswich. We were aware that if we had travelled on the 17.00, which is the connection to Halesworth, this would have been subject to a surcharge, which is why we travelled on the 16.30. The ticket inspector checked tickets just before 17.00 hours and informed me that we were subject to a surcharge as we were travelling on saver tickets. I argued that this had never previously been the case, and the conductor seemed very confused, spent many minutes consulting his handbook before finally contacting a colleague by phone. He was then insistent that a surcharge was payable. So I paid. I asked for a leaflet showing the charges and availability of tickets, but was told he did not carry any. On alighting at Ipswich I went to the ticket counter and showed the salesman my tickets and the surcharge vouchers, and was informed quite simply 'You've been diddled'. I asked for a leaflet outlining the ticketing, but was informed none existed. I have several serious concerns which I would like addressed:

1. The lack of printed information concerning the availability of tickets.

2. The conductor identified the Train as the 17.06. There is no such train, this was the time he took payment from me.

3. I have wasted a considerable amount of time dealing with this matter, which were it not for the fact that I am a regular traveller, and well informed, would have gone unquestioned.

4. I, and my colleagues travelling that day, work for a small charity, which can ill afford to pay charges which are not appropriate.

5. As I am about to travel abroad you may wish to phone and speak to me today about this matter.

Yours sincerely,

John A Burton
Chief Executive, WLT

In fact the little information available (on the 'One' website) is quite confusing. It states that the return portions of saver tickets are not valid on trains departing between 17.00 and 19.00 hours, and after talking with colleagues it appears that different conductors have different interpretations of this. It is not clear if travel is permitted on either the 17.00 or the 19.00 hour departures, or both (think about it, it has to be at least one of them). And despite a clear statement on the 'One' website that the close-out period does not start until 17.00 it is frequently broadcast on the train that travelling on a saver is not permitted on the 16.30.

How many people have been ripped off by 'One'? How many people have got off the train and wasted time waiting at Liverpool St station until 19.00 pm?