Friday, 14 December 2007

A Record Year for the World Land Trust

2007 has already surpassed all previous years in the World Land Trust's history. Records have been broken for both funds raised, and funds sent overseas for land purchase. This has also meant that there have been modest increases in the WLT's staff so that we can handle all the enquiries, and meet with all the potential corporate sponsors. But we must emphasise, that despite corporate donors giving £100,000 or even $1million donations, it is still the individual supporters, and in particular our regularly donating Partners that are the strength of the Trust. Donating £5 a month, plus the government's contribution of gift aid means we can plan ahead.

Christmas is a time for giving so do help us build on the success of 2007. We are close to raising a total of £2 million, which added to the $1 million plus raised in the USA will make a total of well over $5 million. This means we can make a real difference to the future of the world's wildlife.

So why not add a few more gift acres or hectares to your Christmas list? And if you haven't done so already, consider signing up as a regular Partner, donating £5 (a bottle of table wine) a month? It will help save, and manage at least a hectare of land in the course of the year.

Since we started less than 20 years ago, the WLT and its partners have already saved more land than the RSPB and the County naturalists' trusts put together. And because it's mostly in the tropics, the species diversity is huge. So how about saving another acre?

500 million people in India without toilets

It was recently reported that the Indian government has pledged $225 million to build toilets for the country's poor, and ensure everyone has toilets by 2012.

The implications of this are quite startling. Just think about it. 500,000,000 people do not have toilets at present. How much water, and how much paper will be needed. Scary? But why should we deny people access to facilities we all enjoy?

There are 1.2 billion people in India, and the standard of living is rising rapidly. Wildlife is being squeezed on all sides. We have to face the facts that land for wildlife is becoming an ever more restricted feature, and ever more valuable. It has to 'compete' on the open market -- and this means it can cost as much as £5000 an acre -- that's getting on for $25,000 a hectare. But that's the issue -- the more important the land is, the more expensive it will be. The more threatened it is, the higher the price. We have to bite the bullet and face these facts. We may be able to buy rainforest in South America at $100 an acre -- but it is remote and relatively inaccessible. So to any readers who are concerned about some of the most threatened species of all, you just have to be realistic, and know that £5000 or $10,000 may not buy a huge area, but it may be life or death to tigers and other threatened Asian wildlife.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

There's a lot of dodgy greenwash out there

Over the past few months, the WLT has been approached by several businesses, that after doing extensive research, came to the WLT because they decided that many other organisations were just not transparent enough. They also came to us because it was clear that some of the carbon offsetting organisations were simply in the business of making money. With major financial institutions, such as Allied Irish Bank, PricewaterhouseCoopers and others choosing to support the World Land Trust we know we are on the right track.

When I look at other websites, I am always astounded how difficult it often is to actually find out anything about the organisation itself. Who are the staff, what do they do? Who are the Trustees, what is their expertise? Who are they endorsed by? And the Annual Report and Accounts. And last, but not least, what are their real achievements?

We also make a point of being available, so that when a donor, whether it is for £25 or £250,000, phones or emails they are dealt with by someone who is knowledgeable, and can answer most of their questions.

But at present, it is certainly caveat emptor -- there are too many organisations saving forests, offsetting carbon, without any real substance behind them. It's actually quite difficult to do it properly -- long term monitoring is not easy to set up. Which is why we are confident that we provide a 5* service. But monitoring reforestation for 20 years, ensuring that the ownership is secure is complex and time consuming, requiring first rate partners, with extensive experience.

We do not claim it is easy -- we know, it is nothing like as easy as it is often made out to be. We do not claim to be the cheapest, in fact we don't really like doing carbon offsets at all. We like saving biodiversity -- avoided deforestation. It's not only cheaper to buy existing forests, it's a much more effective way of reducing greenhouse gases. And this is not bandwagon jumping -- we were doing all these things six years ago, before it became trendy. And we will still be doing it when it is no longer fashionable. The only problem with the current vogue, is that it has allowed a lot of operations to raise a lot of money, with no guarantee that in 20 years time their forests will still be in existence.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007


I don't think I need to comment further

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Putting the Con in Conservation.

Marwell Zoo, in Hampshire England, is the most recent in a long line of perpetrators of a myth.

A folder used by their Markettng and Education Departments, is beautifully produced, and contains the following quotation:

"What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beast also happens to man." Chief Seattle, 1855.

As anyone who knows anything about North American Indians, this is one of the great 20th century frauds. The speech was actually written by a scripwriter who worked for Disney, in the 1950s. There never was a "Chief Seattle". But it sounds plausible, perpetrates the myth of the noble savage, and Friends of the Earth are also among the numerous conservation bodies who have been conned by it.

If you don't believe me, try typing "Chief Seattle fraud" into google.....

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Stuff and more Stuff (or Doom and Gloom)

Early in October I wrote about the futility of switching off the odd light and TV to save energy. It becomes more and more apparent to me that the whole issue of consumerism is being blatantly ignored by politicians paying lip-service to environmental concerns. It is perfectly obvious, that all these measures are doing is redistributing our spending. And almost everything we spend on has a huge resource implication. However, watching a TV programme on modern art made me think: Perhaps if millions of dollars/pounds/euros are spent on a piece of modern art (however that is defined) that at least does not have massive implications for the environment. After all a $5million painting only requires very few resources compared with a $5million ocean going boat. Trouble is, that the artist or dealer getting the $5million may well spend it on cars, intercontinental travel etc etc.

Which brings me full circle. While we have a free market, where commodities have to be as cheap as possible, there is little hope. Energy will be wasted, goods will continue to become increasingly disposable, and we will all make more and more unnecessary journeys, and commute longer and longer distances. And if at the same time the population continues to increase, there is only one possible result.

However, I was interested to read a geologist pointing out that this does not mean the planet will be destroyed -- it's not a case of saving planet earth -- it simply means that humans and a few hundred (or perhaps thousands) other species will go. The planet will survive, and so will enough of the other species to start the whole process over again. Over the millennia, catastrophes have wiped out large percentages of life. More recently human civilizations have regularly collapsed. The current 'civilization' has not been around very long, and probably won't be around much longer. But the planet shouldn't worry. But any person under 50 probably should worry. A lot.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Old Growth Logging in Tasmania

Guest blog: A letter received by the World Land Trust on behalf of Sir David Attenborough, and posted with his permission.

Dear Sir David Attenborough,

I urge you to campaign to protect beautiful Tasmania from the ravages of an unscrupulous logging industry which clear-fells ancient old-growth hardwood forests with impunity and is planning a new pulp mill to further accelerate forest destruction. I enclose an article by Richard Flanagan, recently published in The Telegraph in the UK, which eloquently expresses the plight of Tasmania.

The devastation wrought by clear-felling is total - nothing is spared. Many of the mightiest eucalypts are worthless being hollow and ridden with rot. These are bulldozed and burnt along with rare, slow- growing rainforest species such as myrtle, celery-top pine and sassafras. An acquaintance said walking the Tasmanian Trail (a north-south route) was one of the most depressing things she had experienced: 4m diameter tree stumps lay smouldering in wastelands of ash and starving animals were given handfuls of corn from the back of trucks. Gum seedlings, to be planted by hand as part of the 'regeneration' process, are left unplanted in piles by the roadside.

Every day the main road near us is clogged with countless trucks loaded with logs destined to be wood chips and ultimately newspapers in Japan and elsewhere. While the government claims the credit for reserving a large percentage of Tasmania's forests, the reserves mostly contain inaccessible and alpine forest that could not be economically logged. There is widespread use of 1080 bait and atrazine in forestry plantations. Tasmania's unique mammalian population is threatened since most cannot live successfully in new-growth forest, requiring old hollow trees in which to shelter. Tasmania's forests are also home to the majestic wedge-tailed eagle and rare swift parrot.

The logging industry is led by a single, voracious company called Gunns, that is the real power in Tasmania. Their interests spread into all walks of life. The state government seems to exist only to support their interests rather than those of the populace at large. A process was set up to review the viability and environmental credentials of Gunns' proposed new pulp mill, however the commission entrusted with this review started asking too many questions. The state government promptly changed the law to take them out of the process - a process that is in fact a sham, a farce with a guaranteed outcome. A sawmiller that spoke out against old-growth logging was virtually bankrupted by Gunns before being targeted for takeover.

Living here is like living in a feudal, oppressed state. No one dare speak out for fear of a 'red-neck' in a truck coming around to smash up one's place. The state and federal governments doggedly support a marginal industry - already being out-competed by plantation timber from elsewhere in the world - which employs a tiny percentage of Tasmanians, makes a handful of people very rich and denies Tasmanians the tourist wealth it could be reaping.

Because Australia is a western, democratic nation, the world thinks we exaggerate and turns a blind eye, but the destruction and corruption here is as bad as any in the third world. I believe the only way our forests can be saved is by greater international exposure of what is happening. That would surely lead to general vilification from all right-thinking nations. My plea is an urgent one as our forests are disappearing rapidly and the pulp mill is due for approval in August of this year. I thank you for your attention and hope you can help us save our land.

Yours sincerely
Mrs Jenny Cambers-Smith

The newspaper article referred to in this letter can be found at:

Friday, 16 November 2007

The Goat and Cow season is upon us

My attacks on the misguided philanthropy that involves 'sending' cows, goats and other domestic animals to Africa, has had an impact. One very positive outcome has been that Oxfam entered a dialogue with the World Land Trust, and recently assured me that they were starting to undertake Environmental Impact Assessments for their projects. This is clearly a good thing, as it appears that Christian Aid, Send a Cow and many of the others are still not carrying out EIAs. All they seem to do is produce statements from the recipients saying how grateful they are. Well they would, wouldn't they?

My criticisms were very fundamental: overgrazing by domestic animals is one of the most significant causes of habitat degradation in Africa, and hence one of the causes of poverty. The numbers (published by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation -- FAO) speak for themselves. And the published literature on the subject is vast. In the past, whole cultures have disappeared as a result of desertification, in which goats are known to have played a significant role.

But beyond this basic flaw in the arguments for promoting programmes that increase the numbers of livestock in Africa, there are other issues which never seem to be openly addressed. In many parts of Africa, animals are a form of wealth and are often accumulated in numbers way above that needed for sustenance; indeed, animals such as camels, are often status symbols. Whenever there is a drought, (and as everyone knows, these are far from infrequent), hundreds of thousands of goats, sheep, cattle and other livestock, die. Each time there is a drought the numbers dieing increases, simply because more and more animals are being kept, with less and less pasture for them. From a wildlife perspective this is even more disastrous, because the domestic livestock are usually in direct competition with the wild antelope and other grazing animals. But whereas the wild animals are often adapted to cycles of drought, and each species has its own niche, the domestic animals simply turn the landscape to desert.

Of course the philanthropic organisations encouraging poor Africans to keep even more livestock are able to demonstrate that a few of the animals they distribute do no harm, but it is the fundamental principle that I am attacking: more livestock is not a solution to poverty in Africa. It is also a form of Aid Imperialism, often making the recipients dependent on imported veterinary supplies, and potentially creating welfare problems, as many of the animals will be kept in conditions that would not be tolerated by those donating the funds.

But perhaps the most bizarre response came from the International Director of Christian Aid, who seemed to imply that I should not criticise them because we were both charities, and it harmed all charities if I criticised them. The reality, of course was very different; last year we received overwhelming support for our stance against increasing livestock in Africa, with virtually no criticism at all. In fact it is almost impossible to find a conservation scientist who does not believe that the overpopulation of both humans and their domestic stock, is the single most serious cause of poverty in Africa.

Until aid agencies tackle these problems head on, there is little hope for either poverty-stricken humans or wildlife.

10 million more people in Britain?

The Government have predicted that the population of Great Britain will grow by about another 10 million, in the next couple of decades. And this means that hundreds of thousands of new houses will be needed, and that in turn means that parts of the Green Belt will be ripped up, and thousands of acres of agricultural land, as well as wildlife habitats, will disappear under concrete and tarmac. Apart from the direct devastation, there will be indirect problems, such as increased flood risks, pollution etc etc.

But, even though I am no economist, as I have pointed out before now, it does not take a genius to work out that the other solution is to reduce the size of the population. At present the government subsidises children, and encourages those on lower incomes to have larger families. At a stroke, the housing crisis could be reversed simply by encouraging smaller families, or couples to remain childless (a decision I took voluntarily 30 years ago). Economists will often trot out the argument that we need a young, working population in order to support the aging, retired population. But this simply does not hold water. The first twenty years or so of a person's life are very expensive, in terms of healthcare, and education, and that person does no generate any wealth. In the last twenty years of a person's life, they generally have significant wealth, in the form of pensions, savings and property. The problem is, they want to hand this capital over to the next generation, rather than spend it. In historic terms, this is a relatively new phenomenon, and that is where the problem lies.

And until the governments of crowded countries like Britain, realise that continued population growth, and continued nation economic growth are unsustainable, there is little hope for the future of the planet. By allowing the population to decline, individual economic growth may be possible, but corporate profitability will almost certainly decline, and there is the nub of the problem. Policies – from environment to health -- of the world are all being driven by ultimately unsustainable economic growth. Call me old fashioned, but capitalism, as presently construed is clearly unsustainable, as it is concentrating more and more of the world’s wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people. In order for this to continue, ever-expanding markets are needed to invest in, and this is seems to be what is driving the politicians to oppose any restrictions on population growth. But perhaps I am missing something?

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

The really wild side of Paraguay: A visit to the Chaco-Pantanal reserve

Guest blog by WLT's web manager, Helena Akerlund, who recently returned from Paraguay, where she did some volunteering with Guyra Paraguay.

The Chaco: Vast and harsh, but inhabited landscape

Jabirus (Jabiru mycteria) on the track
When we reached the Humid Chaco, the dry scrubland gave way to a series of ponds and bogs, and suddenly there were birds everywhere - these are Jabirus (Jabiru mycteria). Note the state of the road - it was like this for the full 400km journey!
If the San Rafael Reserve is relatively accessible, the Chaco-Pantanal Reserve certainly isn't. To get there is the opposite of straight forward! Located in the north-east of Paraguay, the reserve is accessible by boat (a one week journey on cargo boat from Concepción), plane (when the weather isn't too stormy) or car (when the roads don't become impassable due to rain.) We travelled in 4x4 trucks, a 900km journey that started with a five hour drive from Asunción on the Trans-Chaco route towards Bolivia. After a stop-over at a hotel in Los Pioneras, we turned off the tarmac road onto an unpaved track crossing more of the vast Chaco region until, after about nine hours (400km) of bumping around on the pot-hole ridden track, we finally reached Bahía Negra (The Black Bay), a small settlement neighbouring the reserve.

The long journey gave us the chance to really get a feel for the Chaco landscape, despite not actually stopping to experience it. In short, the Dry Chaco consists of scrubs, cacti and occasional trees, while in the Humid Chaco you'll see bogs and wetlands, surrounded by palm savannahs and forests. During the rainy season the road turns into little more than a pool of mud, and getting through is virtually impossible. Even outside of the rainy season a sudden downpour can make the journey hazardous, the road becoming more like a newly harrowed crop field: Once, Guyra Paraguay's Rodrigo Zárate with his then eight month pregnant wife Elizabeth Cabrera got stuck here en route to the reserve - for five days! Not an experience they would want to repeat...

Despite the harsh conditions in the Chaco, with temperatures in summer often reaching 45 degrees centigrade or more, there are people living here, and the road passes through several ranches and small settlements. At night the extensive fires lit up the dark sky and during the day we could see the many hundreds of cows grazing the barren fields. In contrast, the area north of Bahía Negra is truly wild, with virtually no settlements and only a few nomadic indigenous communities.

The Pantanal - true wilderness

Caiman (Caiman yacare)
Caimans (Caiman yacare) line the river edges and are fairly unfussed about the occasional boat going past.
From Bahía Negra, we reached the Chaco-Pantanal Reserve by a small motorboat; an hour-long journey up two rivers. First Río Paraguay, with Brazil to the east and then Río Negro, so named because of its silty, black water, surrounded by impenetrable jungle, with Paraguay on one side of the river and Bolivia on the other. With no official crossings, this is not a place you would come if you didn't have a good reason. The nearest doctor is in Bahía Negra and the nearest hospital more than 300km away in Concepción and if planes can't land to pick you up (which is often the case), you are pretty much on your own. Here I finally found real wilderness!

Three Giants Lodge
A sight for sore eyes! After a 15 hour journey, we finally arrived at the Three Giants Lodge.
This is the Pantanal, an area very different from the Chaco, and from any other ecoregion I had so far seen in Paraguay. Dry palm savannahs rub shoulders with incredibly dense forests, where the stunted trees are completely covered in parasitic climbers, clinging to and wrapping themselves around any stem or trunk available, in their search for light. Here, you don't get very far without a machete! When the Three Giants Lodge was built earlier this year, the workers also cleared the area surrounding the lodge. In fact, arriving to the reserve by boat, the first thing you notice is the clearing, with the dark, wooden lodge visible through the palm trees that line the river edge. This was the first significant gap in the vegetation for the entire boat trip! Luckily for visitors to the reserve, the workers have also cleared vegetation to form a network of nature trails. I felt very spoiled walking these trails, knowing how laborious they must have been to create - and maintain.

The Pantanal is also a vast wetland. Naturally the reserve is located on dry ground, but gazing up the river, you can see a smaller scale version of the wetland: The river sides are in places boggy, with large sheets of lilies, which occasionally come loose and float downstream like small islands. Here the caimans hide, only their eyes and nostrils visible above the water. And on top of and around the lily leaves are thousands of birds, each one with a territory seemingly less than a square metre large.

Wildlife in the Pantanal

Giant Otters (Pteronura brasiliensis)Giant Otters (Pteronura brasiliensis) in the Chaco-Pantanal Reserve.
During our three days stay we didn't see a single boat go past, but we did spot the neighbours: A family of giant otters (Pteronura brasiliensis). We couldn't believe our luck when we saw the heads of two otters bobbing up and down in the river, but the following day we saw the whole family: eight adults and four cubs. The otters swim past the lodge at least twice a day on their journey between their holt (den) and feeding grounds, so if you keep your eyes on the river you're pretty much guaranteed to see them.

Then there was the resident jaguar (Panthera onca). Two of the Guyra staff, who travelled up the evening before the rest of the party, spotted the big cat wandering right past the Three Giants at midnight, and with its favourite claw-sharpening trees situated in the middle of the trails, no more than a few hundred yards from the lodge, we were hopeful of a sighting. But no such luck. Perhaps it was the cheer number of people that put it off (a group of teenagers from Bahía Negra were also visiting the lodge at the time), perhaps we were just unlucky. But it did make its presence known to us...

Walking along one of the trails, we suddenly heard a muffled growl, and stopped dead in our tracks. Not sure whether it was what we thought it was we listened, too alarmed to breathe. Then we heard it again, but this time from the other side of the trail! We now thought we were surrounded by two angry jaguars, and suddenly we weren't so sure we wanted to come face to face with the cat after all. We waited, hearts beating so hard we were sure the animals could hear them, but there were no more growls. Eventually we carried on, slightly more hesitantly than before, and made it back to the lodge safe. One of the guards ensured us that if the growl had sounded at all quiet it meant that the animal had been far away. I'm not so sure... Suffice to say that there are jaguars here, and that the guards built their hut on stilts just in case. (And we slept with the shutters facing the veranda closed, as we didn't fancy being woken up by a jaguar jumping in through the window...)

Staying in the Chaco-Pantanal Reserve is very much on nature's terms - but we wouldn't have wanted it any other way!

In my next and final post I'll talk about the enthusiastic, young explorers we met in the Chaco-Pantanal (which there wasn't enough space for here) and I'll outline why you should go visit the reserves in Paraguay too. (And perhaps I'll include the full list of birds I saw, for those serious birders who may be reading this!)

Friday, 9 November 2007

Too Many Orang-utans

There are hundreds, if not thousands of orang-utans, gorillas, gibbons and other primates in rescue centres in Africa and Asia and elsewhere. There are so many that it is difficult to know what to do with them. Suggestions to release them back in the wild are given a luke-warm reception, at best, by conservationists. This is because releasing primates that have been in captivity back into the wild is fraught with problems, and can even have negative impacts. It is also rarely a cost effective method of conserving an endangered species -- spending the equivalent amount of money on conserving existing wild populations is invariably a far more cost effective way of helping a species.

But there is a huge welfare issue, with more and more of these animals accumulating, often in conditions that are not ideal. So what can be done with them? One thing I am fairly certain of, and that is that this is a welfare issue, not a conservation issue.

Meanwhile back in the northern hemisphere, zoos are struggling to breed orang-utans, gorillas and other primates, in order to create self sustaining populations, that do not create a drain on the wild -- often dressing it up as part of their conservation programmes.

Surely it would make sense for zoos to stop trying to breed orangs etc., and to put them on birth control pills, and to take in some of the hundreds of animals languishing in rescue centres? Or am I missing something? For someone who has spent a large part of his working life opposing the trade in wildlife, this is a pretty heretical concept. But when confronted with the sheer numbers of orangs in captivity, which still continue to grow, some radical rethinking is needed, which does not waste conservation money. Unfortunately, in the public's mind, separation is often very difficult indeed, and orangs are highly emotive. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are raised each year from a public who often mistakenly believe they are helping an endangered species survive. Those thousands of the dollars spent on rescue centres, would of course, if spent on conserving wild populations and their habitat have a much bigger impact.

But it would still leave a thousand or more orangs in captivity.

Monday, 22 October 2007

A quote from The Independent

I hope Alan MacColl and the Editor of the Independent won't mind, but I could not resist this very eleoquent letter published today. The Indie has been at the forefront of environmental reporting (even if it does still promote its motoring supplements).

America is ploughing up the last remnants of the Great Plains grasslands to produce fuel for SUVs ("Victims of the ethanol rush", 19 October); old-growth forest in Canada is cut down for tissues and toilet paper; the ancient forest of Tasmania is being turned into woodchips for Japanese paper manufacturers. If supposedly advanced western democracies continue to promote such greedy and reckless behaviour, what hope is there of persuading weak or corrupt states like Brazil and Indonesia to adopt more rational and responsible policies towards their forests?
Alan MacColl

Hermitage, Berkshire

The Independent 22 October

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Yacyretá: One reserve, lots of different habitats!

Guest blog by WLT's web manager, Helena Akerlund, who has just returned from Paraguay, where she was volunteering with Guyra Paraguay.

Now that I am back in the UK, the whole Paraguay experience is already starting to feel vaguely unreal, but there are still lots to tell, so here goes:

The darker side of Paraguay

Silvia Centron and Arne Lesterhuis of Guyra Paraguay putting up a mistnet in Yacyretá Reserve.
Prior to my second field trip with Guyra Pararguay I managed to nearly electrocute myself, met a money-hungry policeman and had to pretend to be American. I would love to tell all, but this is probably not the right place. Instead, let's just say that I have experienced a slightly darker side of Paraguay, with bureaucracy, corruption and somewhat dodgy wiring...

Yacyretá: Almost all the habitats of Paraguay in one location!

All troubles sorted, I went off to help with bird ringing in Yacyretá, a private nature reserve in south of Paraguay located on the border with Argentina. The Yacyretá reserve is owned by the company of the same name and situated around the dam built and managed by the company.

The area is a bit surreal: The whole town, or suburb rather, was built by the company to house its workers, so has a slightly artificial feel to it. While the construction of the dam invariably had an impact on the environment and local community, the company is now investigating in conservation and Guyra Paraguay is helping with among other things the monitoring of bird species in the reserve. And there are a lot of birds! The reserve features everything from dunes and wetlands, through scrub, grassland and palm savannahs to Atlantic forest, each habitat type with its own specific bird species.

Look for the red eyes...

Sickle-winged Nightjar (Eleothieptus anomalus)
Sickle-winged Nightjar (Eleothieptus anomalus) resting on the road side after having been measured and weighted.
We arrived at sunset after a five hour drive from Asunción and had no time to rest: Although our primary aim was to do some mist net trapping of two target species (more on this later), we were also going to undertake another bird monitoring project: Mark-release-recapture studies of the rare Sickle-winged Nightjar (Eleothieptus anomalus), which occurs as a small population at Yacyretá, and is active at dusk.

If mistnet trapping is the bird monitoring version of a beach holiday, with plenty of sitting around in the sun and the occasional stroll to coax birds towards the net, searching for the Sickle-winged Nightjar was more like an action-adventure trip for offroad junkies: In the light of the full moon, one person drove the 4x4 truck across the incredibly bumpy, sandy tracks of the savannah grasslands, with the other two standing on the back, holding on for dear life with one hand (well, I was anyway) and scanning the pitch-black fields with a torch in the other, hoping to catch the reflection of the birds' red eyes in the light. Not the easiest thing in the world, and I'm sure the health and safety obsessed UK volunteering organisations would disapprove, but it was great fun and very good exercise for both arms and legs. And since I was holding the binoculars at face height every day and the torch every night for five days consecutively, I'm convinced I ended up with toned biceps!

I'm not a real birdwatcher after all

Bearded Tachuri (Polystrictus pectoralis)
Bearded Tachuri (Polystrictus pectoralis) being photographed before its release.
Apart from the Nightjar, we were on the lookout for two other rare birds: The Bearded Tachuri (Polystrictus pectoralis) and the Ochre-breasted Pipit (Anthus nattereri). Although we managed to coax a couple of the former into the mistnet, the latter was completely absent, and when we went for a walk across a field trying to find one, I proved that I'm not a proper birdwatcher after all: When we spotted some Howler monkeys (Alouatta caraya) in a nearby tree, I defected and ran off to take photographs of the monkeys instead...

I was completely overwhelmed with the number of birds we saw and the species list I was making was beginning to be so incomplete as to be completely worthless, but I carried on regardless - I wanted to get an idea of how many species you can expect to see without going into enormous trouble. Apart from birds and Howler monkeys we also saw otters, capivara, caimans, iguanas, deer, rabbit and what I would like to think was a Maned Wolf, but was probably a smaller fox or racoon.

Too close for comfort?

Howler monkey
Howler monkey feeding on the flowers and shoots of a tree.
On our last day in the Reserve, we stumbled upon a whole family of Howler monkeys in the forest, right next to the trail, where we had previously just seen the odd individual and heard the howling of the rest of the group in the distance (which sounds just like the howling of the wind between the trees!). Amazed, we stopped to watch and photograph them as they moved effortlessly from tree to tree, grunting quietly and munching on petals and shoots. As we finally decided we'd seen enough and continued walking along the trail, the monkeys apparently decided that they too had had enough, and proceeded to throw faeces at us from the tree tops! Luckily we were out of range, but it was an interesting way to finish off our visit, and a reminder of who is in charge in the Atlantic Forest.

Next: In my final field trip, we spent an evening being entertained by enthusiastic explorers, found out who's in charge in the Pantanal and experienced a moment of pure, primal fear...

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Want to scare yourself?

Click here.

And now try and convince me that there is any other real problems other than the human population crisis.........

Friday, 12 October 2007

How to make an appeal with one's foot in one's mouth

America's National Wildlife Federation - a widely respected body -- sent out "An Urgent Message today about Global Warming" urging its one million members to make a donation to the organisation. AND, "For $30 you'll get a handsome fleece vest." AND " for $50'll get the vest and an adorable penguin plush" I don't know what a 'penguin plush' is, but it looks a bit like a kids toy in the photo.

Now clearly Jeremy Symons, The Executive Director of the National Wildlife Federation's Global Warming Campaign (who signed the appeal) has not made the connection between the overt consumerism of the USA and the causes of global warming. It does not take an enormous amount of brain-power to work out that the manufacture and distribution of one million 'fleeces' and a 'plushes' would actually be contributing to global warming.

There are far too many businesses jumping on the green bandwagon, but it is depressing to find a conservation group not thinking things through.

I know they will justify it by saying they are reaching out to new audiences etc etc etc. But frankly, I don't believe it; they are appealing to their existing one million supporters. And I doubt very much that any of them actually NEED a fleece or a plush penguin. To me it is simply a sympton of the consumerisim which is so deeply embedded in the cultures of the developed world, that it is almost impossible to erradicate -- and therein lies one of the fundamental causes of global warming. It would be nice if an organisation like the NWF promised to give away free family planning literature instead..... but therin lies another tale.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

water water every where, and far too much to drink

I would like to return to one of my old hobby horses. I go to London most weeks, and this week was no exception. I am a Trustee of the BBC Wildlife Fund, and we were assessing the applications for funds to be distributed from the £1.4 million raised in the summer.

But travelling across London on the underground I was aware of the number of travellers clutching plastic bottles of water. I have been travelling on the London underground for over 50 years, and this a relatively new phenomenon. Why?

It appears that there is a widespread belief that everyone needs to drink two litres of water a day. Presumably this is a rumour spread by the manufacturers of bottled water, because there is no scientific evidence for this. You need to drink water, when you feel thirsty -- the body self regulates.

But with all this talk about saving energy, banning the sale of bottled water ( or at least taxing it to the limit) would be an instant way of saving vast amounts of energy. Non-renewable resources and fossil fuels are involved at every stage of the manufacture and production. The bottles themselves, the collection of the water, the distribution, and the disposal of the waste bottles. And yet perfectly good, potable water comes out of taps (despite the arguments about it tasting of chlorine, etc, it is perfectly healthy and safe). In fact some of the bottled water has more nitrates, and more chemicals than tap water. In fact I saw on one website the claim that some bottled waters couldn't be supplied through the tap, since they wouldn't meet H & S regulations.

And surely bottled water wastes more energy than leaving a TV on standby? But do politicians ever mention it? No, they drink it at all their meetings.

Does any one have a figure for the embedded energy in a bottle of water (including distribution and disposal)?

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

carbon con's

An article in The Times

drew attention to a clampdown on fake and exaggerated green claims by the UK's ADVERTISING STANDARDS AUTHORITY.

And high time too. The World Land Trust, through it's carbonbalanced programme is trying to do reforestation and ecological restoration to the highest possible standards. And we try to be accountable and transparent. But there are lots of businesses out there, some of which are not far short of a scam. So CAVEAT EMPTOR.

This conference
has a large number of companies some of which seeem to be simply cashing in on carbon -- I don't know much about most of them so any info would be useful -- are any of them doing any serious ofsetting?

I would like to hear from anyone with problems.

And if you want to know more about our programme and why we think ours is the best --do contact us.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Environmental education and ecological restoration in the San Rafael reserve

Guest blog by WLT's web manager, Helena Akerlund, who is currently visiting Paraguay, volunteering with Guyra Paraguay.

Sunset at Kanguery
The last day of my stay at San Rafael had a spectacular sunset - this alone made the visit worthwhile!
In a previous post about San Rafael Reserve I mentioned that Guyra Paraguay works very closely with local communities in the management of the land. Generally speaking, there is not much awareness of, or interest in environmental issues and conservation in the country, but hopefully this is changing with the help of Gurya and others: Various campaigns highlighting the plight of endangered species or the threats to the natural environment in general are advertised on big billboards in cities and along the roads, and TV adverts (albeit on special-interest channels) for Greenpeace encourage individuals to help protect jaguars and other threatened species in South America.

Guyra Paraguay, together with other non-governmental organisations, form the San Rafael Conservation Alliance, the goals of which is to by land to create a centre of conservation in the National Park. The surrounding, privately owned areas, will be offered incentives (including certification for the growth of organic crops) so that the land can be managed sustainably under various conservation schemes. For instance, Guyra is working with local farmers growing organic Yerba máte, the economically important tree that is used to make máte tea and "national drink" tereré (cold máte with ice). Yerba máte is a forest species and can therefore be sustainably harvested wild, or planted together with other native trees as part of a restoration scheme. (The organic yerba grown by the farmers in San Rafael is exported to the US and is said to have a milder, less sharp taste than the conventionally grown yerba.)

Education is vitally important in changing attitudes and Guyra are working with both young and old to spark an interest in conservation and wildlife. In San Rafael, this includes school trips to the reserve (which has a brilliant education room with books, games and posters) as well as visits to local schools by Guyra staff.

Trees planted for carbon offsets
WLT's Mark Gruin and Guyra's Reinaldo Sánchez looking over the field where nature is being given a helping hand. (The larger trees/saplings are self-seeded, the smaller ones were planted last year as part of WLT's restoration ecology/carbon balancing programme.)
The local communities are directly involved in the practical conservation work, with training courses in how to manage the land, use GIS for monitoring and opportunities to assist with for example tree planting. In San Rafael we visited an open area where the forest was in the process of regenerating. Some trees have already established, including fruit trees grown from the seeds discarded by previous settlers. To help speed up the process of forest re-generation, Guyra is organising the planting of native species - and this is where WLT's Carbon Balanced programme is involved: Carbon offset funds are invested in this restoration ecology project, and it was great to se first hand how the area looks, and visualise the forest that will eventually be established.

Next: Bird monitoring & random animal encounters in Yacyreta - a nature reserve with a great variety of wildlife habitats, including forest, grassland, wetland and sand dunes.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Parochial issues

After a gap of many years, a couple of years ago I resubscribed to BB (British Birds Magazine, to the non-British readers of this), and have found the content a delight to read. However, my reading is blighted by the ludicrous use of nomenclature. In this tercentenary year of the Birth of Linneaus, it is worth recalling that Scientific names were developed in order to provide stability, and to ensure that scientists knew precisely which species was being discussed. However, BB along with many county bird reports, now not only use latin names as if they were confetti, but also try and use 'international' standardised vernacular names. This, to me totally misses the point, and wastes a lot of space. Provided a standard nomenclature is used, there is absolutely no necessity to have both scientific and vernaculars, and, certainly no need, in a paper on British Birds to refer to Eurasian this and European that. If it is deemed essential to have latin names, then each issue could have an appendix at the back giving them. This would make papers a lot easier to read and save endless repition of latin names.

The reason this came to my attention was that not having kept up with recent taxonomic changes I came across this new species of bird, the Great and Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) (see Vol 100:528). Of course it dawned on me pretty quick, this was the Great Tit (Parus Major) and Blue Tit (P. caeruleus). But the thought of the Great and Blue Tit as a lifer has a certain appeal.

Changing Lightbulbs

The suggestion that it is a huge environmental advance to make everyone change from incandescant lightbulbs to fluorescent bulbs leaves me utterly incredulous. This truly is an example of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. BUt this is what the politicians want us to believe is an important step forward.

Think about it. All over Britain there are tens of thousands of lightbulbs left switched on all night for no apparent purpose. Street lights. Lights in shops that are closed. Lights illuminating the outside of buildings.

There is only one way of making significant energy savings, and that is to increase the price dramatically, otherwise, energy saving will invariably increase the disposable income in someone's pockets, which they will spend on something that will almost certainly use energy and other resources. It's an old hobby horse of mine, but we really need to think a bit more strategically at the issues.

I spent a couple of days in London this week, and ended up utterly and completely depressed. For all the talk about environmental awareness, it is perfectly plain to me that 99% of the population do not really care -- they are obsessed with fashion, with far too many cheap electrical goods, too much 'stuff' everywhere. Cheap transport, cheap everything. And too many people, all aspiring to own more and more of it. Switching the TV off and changing to fluorescent lightbulbs (which I saw somewhere, have mercury in them) is not going to save the world. We need some big gestures, and big gestures only come from governments. But with virtually all governments totally committed to economic growth, making commodities as cheap as possible, what hope is there? Never was it truer, to state: "It's the economy, stupid." I hope someone can find a light at the end of the tunnel.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Part II: San Rafael - Birds, butterflies and coatis in the Atlantic Forest

Guest blog by WLT's web manager, Helena Akerlund, who is currently visiting Paraguay, volunteering with Guyra Paraguay.

Human impact in the National Park

Kanguery River
Kanguery, the centre of administration at San Rafael, is named after this river, which flows through the reserve.
In my previous post about my visit to Paraguay, I mentioned the long drive to get to the San Rafael Reserve. The length of time it takes to get there is misleading in several ways: Firstly because the road conditions make it impossible to drive at normal speeds, making the distance from the capital seem greater than it actually is and secondly because the reserve location, although in the centre of the National Park, is surrounded by privately owned properties, where land owners continue to use the land for cattle, timber extraction or agriculture. Also nearby is a wedge of land which is not part of the National Park, but cuts right into the centre, making the protected area vulnerable to illegal logging and poaching. I knew this already, but for some reason I had imagined Kanguery, the reserve's centre of administration and visitor accommodation, to be in the middle of nowhere, a sanctury for wildlife away from human influence. This couldn't be further from the truth; the reserve is worryingly accessible. The road to it may be nothing more than a dirt track, but it goes right through the reserve and is still sometimes used as a route to the communities on the other side of the reserve, despite the existence of a newer road around the Park. I could see and hear human activities everywhere, from the fires burning on the neighbouring land and the white dots of the cows grazing in the distance, to the sound of motorbikes on the track and the litter left behind by those travelling through (drink and food cans, used nappies, discarded clothing etc.).

On our first day at the reserve, Mark Gruin, Head of Operations for WLT and Rodrigo Zárate, Reserves Manager for Guyra Paraguay, and I set off early in search of birds. There were regular interruptions from motorbikes and horses on the track but despite this there were plenty of birds to be seen - or heard at least, including some rarities: Whilst I was off taking photos of the forest Mark and Rodrigo spotted a woodpecker species not previously seen in San Rafael. Typical! Butterflies fluttered around in their hundreds and crickets (or whatever they were) turned the volume up and down as if on cue, but the continuous sounds of human activity kept reminding me that we weren't far from civilisation.

Field Flickers (Colaptes campestris)
Kanguery is prefect for the lazy birdwatcher: It's possible to see lots of birds without even leaving the guest house, both around the centre itself and in the grasslands surrounding it. These are Field Flickers (Colaptes campestris).

Wildlife in the Atlantic Forest

Although the reserve isn't as remote as I imagined, it does a good job of protecting what is left of the forest, which is still big enough that it would be easy to lose oneself if venturing away from the tracks. The vegetation around Kanguery (like much of the rest of the park) is secondary forest: it was abandoned by the previous land owner after all the good wood had been removed and the land grazed by cattle for a while, but in 20 or so years the forest has recovered quite well. There are few really tall trees, but there is enough cover for it to "feel" like a forest and there is no shortage of wildlife: Apart from all the birds, mammals such as tapir, maned wolf, deer and monkeys are all found here - even jaguars, although you'd have to work hard to spot one.

Butterflies in masses, flocking to drink from the soil on the track.
On our first day of bird watching, we went for a late afternoon walk through a different part of the forest, away from the road. Nearly dusk, there wasn't much light under the canopy, and birds were hard to see. But the subtle waving of reserve guard Reinaldo Sánchez alterted us to something else moving amongst the trees: A group of coatis (Nasua nasua) making a hasty retreat. I would love to say that I'd seen them, but to be honest all I saw was some blurry shadows moving down the tree trunks at great speed before disappearing into the dark of the forest. But still - I hadn't expected to see any mammals at all, so was very pleased indeed.

With Guyra Paraguay in the process of securing more properties within the park, the future looks promising for the wildlife still surviving in the Atlantic Forest, and with their restoration ecology initiatives, the re-generation of the forest is being given a helping hand. More about this in my next post...

Monday, 1 October 2007

Thought for the Day

It is not just biodiversity losses we should be worrying about, it is the biomass. Think about it: biomass is related to carrying capacity. If England's farmlands are producing "x" tonnes of oilseed rape per acre, when years ago it was only "y" tonnes of weed-laden oats per acre, then it's the wildlife biomass that getting squeezed, however much artificial fertilizer is being added, and however much pesticide is being sprayed..

And if the populations of goats in Africa have gone up by 20 times in the past half century, then the wild antelope, and other wildlife will have decreased by a similar amount. It's what known as ecological balance. And no amount of research or education will change it.

Depressing but true.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Splitting charities

A recent article in Third Sector reflected much of my thinking on charities, when Nick Seddon questioned the fact that the Royal Opera House should be a charity. Apparently, like me, he likes opera. But also like me, doesn't think it should be a charity, when it is paying its CEO over £250,000 a year, and performers, pro rata get even more.

It is high time that charities were sectored. First and foremost, a sector for straightforward non-profit organisations could be created. The Royal Opera House could be one. So could various zoos, museums and similar organisation. It would sort out confusion. At present some zoos are charities, while others are not. How does the public distinguish them?

Next stage is create a hospital and health care sector. These have virtually nothing in common with a lot of other charities -- particularly those like the World Land Trust, WWF, RSPB. Health Trusts are partly (largely?) funded by government agencies, whereas most environmental charities rely on voluntary public support.

In fact, why not define a "Voluntary charitable organisation" as an organisation which has over 75% of its income comprising voluntary public donations, including corporate donations?

An organisation dependent on other foundations, and government agencies should be classified as a "Charitable Organisation", and the rest as simply Non-Profit Organisations.

Guidelines could be put in place which would set ceilings on the proportion of funds that should be spent on fundraising, admin etc.
It would certainly help the public decide which are genuinely charitable, and dependent on public support.

Just an idea.

Jackdaws on Dung

This morning I saw a sight that I found very encouraging. There were jackdaws feeding on the heaps of llama dung in our garden. Ever since we aquired a few sheep and three llamas, I have become aware of the problems of worming of these animals. Many vetinarians, and farmers believe it is essential to worm livestock regularly (never mind the fact that until the 1950s, most farmers managed without such treatments. And the helminthicide often used is Ivermectin, which is very persistent, and survives in the dung, to kill or deform the invertebrates that feed on the dung.

I have never wormed our animals, which remain perfectly healthy, and so over the past year it has been encouraging to see various scatophagous flies and beetles around the dung heeaps (llamas are communal dungers). And then to see jackdays probing for grubs was just great. We are all aware of the loss of woodlands and forests, but in England at any rate, the loss of grasslands and all the associated ildlife is considerably more significant.

San Rafael - Birds, butterflies and coatis in the Atlantic Forest

Guest blog by WLT's web manager, Helena Akerlund, who is currently visiting Paraguay, volunteering with Guyra Paraguay.

San Rafael: Protecting the Atlantic Forest in Paraguay

Atlantic Forest
Atlantic Forest in San Rafael.
San Rafael is a 6,200 ha reserve owned and protected by Guyra Paraguay, located within San Rafael National Park in the south east of the country. The area is identified by WWF as a hotspot for conservation and was designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) in 1997 - the first such area in Paraguay. I have just returned from spending five days at Kanguery, the field station and centre of administration for the reserve. I was there to help look for rare birds and eggs, but due to unforseen circumestances it turned into a bit of a holiday instead, which I honestly didn't mind much!

The National Park is about 6 hours drive from Asunción, capital of Paraguay, and covers 60,000 ha of forest in more or less good condition (the forest to the east is generally in better shape than in the west, where the cover is much more patchy). 11 globally threatened birds and 17 near threatened species rely on the Park for their survival and 7 indigenous communities also have their home within the Park boundaries. However, the Paraguayan government doesn't currently have the capacity or resources to purchase the land within the National Park, and most of it is therefore still in private ownership, making it difficult to protect. Enter Guyra Paraguay, which together with other conservation organisations is working to purchase all the central properties within the park (15,000 ha) and manage them for conservation, as well as implementing incentives for sustainable use of the land in the surrounding properties, working with local land owners, campesinos (farmers who don't own their own land) and indigenous people. Kanguery is located in one of the properties that Guyra currently own.

Getting to the reserve

Vast fields cover the land that was previously forest.
After a looong drive through endless fields of wheat, rice, eucalyptus (for paper manufacture in Chile), soya and other crops, most of which would have been originally covered by forest, we turned off the main road on to a smaller road that soon turned into an unpaved track, consisting of deep-red soil. At this point I though we were getting near the forest, but I couldn't have been more wrong! The journey continued through yet more fields, this time passing only a few villages and towns, but many small, scattered, homes of the campesinos looking after the fields on behalf of the land owners.

At the beginning of the last century this was all part of the interior Atlantic Forest. However, the Paraguayan government in the 1970s decided that this was land "used for nothing" and encouraged settlers from all over the world to come and utilise this untapped resource. As a result there are now colonies from Japan, Ukrain, Germany, the US and other countries making a living from the rich soil, which - in contrast to some other forest soils - converts very well to agricultural land without loss of nutrients and erosion. The '80s and '90s saw the worst deforestation rates the country had experienced and what is left of the Atlantic Forest today is just fragments, almost entirely made up of secondary forest: The primary (virgin) forest is long since gone.

Track through forest
The rough track leading through the forest to Kanguery.
Another few hours on an increasingly bumpy track and we finally reached the National Park, and edge of Guyra's reserve. The border couldn't have been more clearly marked if they had put up a fence: A razor sharp line divided the outside area from the reserve, the line being the edge of the forest, surrounded by crop fields. The track continued through the forest for another few miles before it suddenly ended as abruptly as it had started, and we entered an open area - but this time the transition was a natural one; the forest here is too sandy and poor for trees to establish successfully and instead a vast natural grassland (the designated IBA) stretched out before us. By now it was pitch black, but we did indeed see birds, including several nightjars resting on the path requiring a beep of the horn before they reluctantly flew off.

Rafaela the dog
Rafaela, resident dog at Kanguery, with the grasslands and forest in the background.
A few minutes later the track started climbing and when we reached the top of the hill a dog appeared from the darkness, trying very hard to get run over. We had finally reached Kanguery and were being greeted by Rafaela, one of the resident dogs.

Situated on top of the expansive grassland, Kanguery (named after the nearby river) offers spectacular views over the area, with great opportunities to see birds, which is what we set out to do next - but we ended up getting more than we bargained for, getting a brief glimpse of some coatis as well! More in my next post...

Friday, 21 September 2007

salaries for saving the environment

Third Sector Magazine, is probably the most important magazine for workers in the Charity sector. And the back of each magazine has all the current jobs going, particularly for CEOs and senior staff, such as fundraisers.

Out of idle curiosity I spent 20 minutes looking up the charities advertising for new CEOs, and seeing how the salaries compared with Income. What was interesting to me was that a large number of the charities seemed to be paying getting on for 10% of their income on the salary of the CEO. One with an income of £665,000 was paying its Director £50,000, while another with a turnover of under a million was paying £65,000 plus bonuses. The same magazine advertised quite a few jobs in the environment sector -- and there the salaries were noticeably lower. This bears out my experience. Conservationists are paid significantly lower than many other charity workers. But this doesn't bother me unduly (unless it is ridiculously low) since most people if asked, are much happier doing a job they believe in, for lower pay. Job satisfaction counts for a lot. Some of the larger environmental charities to pay 'commercial rates' for some of their jobs -- but the problem then is that you get people who just see the job as another career move. The argument is that you have to pay top dollar to get the best person -- but I am not sure I agree. It all depends how you define the best person. Motivated, enthusiastic and knowledgeable to me would mean best. Competitive, career orientated, driven, might get the job, but not get the same results. Who knows? Any ideas on this?

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

insider dealing with fundraisers

One of the greatest experts on fundraising (and I had the pleasure of meeting him, and garnering useful advice many years ago) is Ken Burnett. But how does it look when his company is one of the sponsors of the Institute of Fundraisers Annual National Awards, and Ken Burnett is the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award? I have made my position over these sorts of awards very clear in the past, and this simply confirms my cynicism. Like so many awards, (from peerages downwards) are they simply rewarding those who put up the cash? Don't get me wrong, Ken Burnett is a very clever guy, and his company undoubtedly does a very good job for those that can afford them. But is it right to reward your sponsors with awards?

The Institute of Fundraising National Awards are "championing best practice in fundraising". I could paraphrase that as scratching the backs of those that scratch their backs. Particularly as the whole selection process is based on proposing each other. No one is actually going out and searching for the best. Surely, even within the fundraising world, it is NOT best practice, to give awards to those that pay for your awards? Or am I just too cynical?

Edited:Turns out I was being too cynical - and wrong: The sponsors of the awards are Burnett Works, which is not Ken Burnett's company at all - that used to be Burnett Associates, although Ken sold his controlling interest in Burnett Associates in 1999 to a management buyout. And as Ken Burnett points out (below) Burnett Associates not only doesn't sponsor the Institute of Fundraising, it actually hasn't existed since 2001. My sincere apologies to Ken for this error on my part.

But my views on awards remain unchanged. You only have to look at history to see how often the award givers get it wrong. Just check out the number of great films that never got an oscar. And Darwin didn't get a knighthood.

The big green con

It is high time we took a reality check on the 'green' credentials of the carbon offset business. I have looked at numerous websites, and my conclusion is that the overwhelming majority are cynical attempts to exploit a growing environmental awareness, that do little to help conserve the planet for the future. Most are for profit businesses, and while there may not be anything intrinsically wrong in this, in practice, it will rarely lead to long term benefits to the natural environment.

The World Land Trust got involved in carbon offsets, simply because we saw it as a mechanism for raising funds for carrying out activities which were in themselves incredibly important-- that is saving land that is important for biodiversity. The fact that it also locks up carbon, is an added bonus for us. But there are plenty of cynically exploitative businesses out there, planting trees almost randomly.

It is generally recognised that for tree planting to have a significant carbon offset, it needs to be in the tropics, and having carried out our own research, and having worked with experienced local partners, we now know that it is relatively expensive to do this properly -- in fact we reckon it costs £12-£15 a tonne, to do the job properly, and ensure long-term survival. Consequently, I am very suspicious when I see businesses (that also have to make a profit, unlike a charity)claiming they can do it for as little as £7.00 a tonne. It is perhaps time the Advertising Standards Authority took a close look at some of the claims.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Wildlife watching in Paraguay

Guest blog by WLT´s web manager, Helena Akerlund, who is currently visiting Paraguay, volunteering with Guyra Paraguay.

I have been "ordered" by John to write a blog for the next month, so here we go: I'm in Paraguay, volunteering with GUYRA, WLT's partner organisation, which will involve visiting at least two of their reserves: San Rafael and Chaco-Pantanal.

Paraguay is a great destination for anyone intrested in seeing wildlife, as despite its relatively small area (roughly the size of Germany), the country provides several vastly different wildlife habitats, offering those on a limited budget - or those stretched for time - fantastic opportunities to see a lot without having to travel long distances.

Paraguay is still recovering from its many years of dictatorship and there is still relatively litte tourism (backpackers are virtually absent). Hopefully I'll inspire at least some people to come and volunteer or travel here!

The first destination: San Rafael. Leaving tomorrow morning, we'll be spending a few days recording rare birds. I'm very excited although slightly worried as I know nothing of Paraguayan birds (or any other birds for that matter!). Time to do some intensive studying of the bird guides! I'll report back when I return to the Guyra office in Asunción.

Doing Nothing

Over a quarter of a century ago I attended my first big international conference on conservation. It was the IUCN General Assembly in Kinshasa, Zaire. Nothing like as big as the junkets nowadays, but I suppose there were getting on for 1000 delegates present. I recall sitting in the bar one evening and calculating how much it cost to organise a meeting of that scale. An exercises I mentally repeated when I heard that there were around 9000 delegates at a recent international conservation conference. Ignore the carbon foot print, and take a s a rough guesstimate that each delegate for a two-eek conference costs $5000, (in actual costs (air fares, hotel costs and salary -- this will be very much on the low side, and does not take into account opportunity costs, of being there). This could have bought outright somewhere between one and two million acres of rainforest.

But I have digressed already. It was in Kinshasa in 1975, that the World Conservation Strategy was born. And I was part of the whole consultative process. I recall, perhaps rather facetiously, suggesting that the scenario that was missing, when all the various strategies for long term conservation were being put forward, was doing nothing, or even encouraging the over-exploitation of natural resources.

And now a quarter of a century later I wonder if this might not have been good idea.
By slowly conserving natural resources, and eking out what's left, the day of collapse is simply postponed. And when it finally happens, there will be even less of the natural world left. And collapse, as Jared Diamond has eloquently argued, is certainly on the cards. His book of that name should be compulsory reading for all, particularly politicians. While it is certainly over simplistic, and certainly selective in the use of data and history, there is no doubt in my mind that the fundamental messages are correct. In relative terms, highly developed, highly sophisticated civilizations have collapsed, in many different parts of the world, and for different combinations of reasons. There is absolutely no reason to assume that the current oil/energy-dependent Americano/Euro-centric civilizations will be able to survive in the long term, or even the relatively short-term. It remains to be seen if it will be the direct results of climate change, the spread of pandemics or warfare -- all of which have been the causes of collapse both historically and prehistorically -- which will cause the collapse of the human population. But one thing I am personally sure of, is that collapse will come -- the planet cannot support a single species biomass the size of the human biomass indefinitely.

Meanwhile despite all the talk about climate change, virtually nothing of any significance is being done about the underlying cause. Too many people, with expectations of a totally unsustainable life-styles.

But perhaps a few more articles in the US Press like this one may make politicians take note:

Friday, 14 September 2007

The WLT moves up the scale

The top 500 UK charities have incomes in excess of £1.95 million, and the next 500 between &713,000 and £1.95 million. Last year the WLT was in the latter group, but in 2007 is well on its way already to being in the top 500, as we have raised over £1.2 million already, with around another £500,000 committed.

And how have we achieved this? Difficult to say, but when I read Third Sector and other newsletters relating to fundraising I am often appalled at some of the advice by professional fundraisers. The way some people harass would-be donors. At the WLT we do ask for support, but on the whole it is pretty low key. And, in fact, all the major donors in the last few weeks, totalling over £300,000, have come to us unsolicited. To me the answer to fundraising has always been that if you do a good job, and people know about you, then there is a good chance they will support you. And the WLT does try and make its website as informative as possible, so that generally by the time someone phones us about making a major donation, they have already answered most of the basic questions.

One way, the readers of this blog can help the WLT is by asking searching questions that you think could be answered on our website, that will be of interest to others.

The more comprehensive our website is, the more donors will want to support our work.

It's NOT the economy, stupid!

Following on from my recent blogs, I have been asked "What's the point of conservation, if it's all so depressing?"

A difficult one. Strictly speaking of course, it's all natural. We are only one cog in the mighty mechanism that is ecological equilibrium and evolution. I am personally pretty well convinced that the next few decades will see more and more wars, more outbreaks of disease, and almost certainly economic collapses. I am not an economist, so can't even hazard guesses how and where these will occur. But with China owning so many of the USA's dollars, and the rapid economic growth of India and other parts of Asia, combined with the trillions of pounds of debt that the citizenry of Britain owe, something has to give. So why bother. Well in many cases I do actually think that conservationists are full orchestra playing away while Rome burns, or as the Titanic sinks -- which ever you prefer. But buying land and protecting it makes sense to me however you look at it. It has tangible results. It's there, and with any luck, we can make sure it's still there in 100 years time, after 'civilisation' as we know it has changed, or collapsed. And anyone who suggests that it won't either change dramatically, or collapse, is living in cloud cuckoo land as far as I am concerned.

Bill Clinton used the phrase "It's the economy, stupid" in his successful 1992 presidential campaign. It's time all politicians realised, the problem is not just climate change: "It's the human population, stupid".

A point Sir David Attenborough alluded to in the opening programme of the BBC's recent Saving Planet Earth series. David is widely regarded as the most trusted person alive today. Rightly so, in my view. So politicians should sit up and take note. "It's human populations, stupid." Perhaps if we all say it often and loud enough they will eventually hear.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Cool Earth and Green Imperialism

It's happened again.
Multi-millionaire Johan Eliasch who, according to The Independent (12 September 2007), "is advising the Government on deforestation" [sic] wrote yesterday about "unique model for reducing tropical deforestation" created by Cool Earth. Cool Earth "grew from a meeting of minds between Frank Field and Johan Eliasch"

But, as so many of our supporters have pointed out this so-called "unique model" seems to be precisely what the World Land Trust and its partners have been doing since 1989. It's great that others are joining in, but still rather galling to find all the hard work of our partners, in Brazil, Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay, India, Mexico and the Philippines all being ignored. And there are other similar initiatives being supported by our colleagues in Netherlands IUCN.

And it's difficult to for Cool Earth to claim they didn't know about these activities since if you type "buy an acre of rainforest" into Google, the World Land Trust comes up top, or thereabouts. Cool Earth has to have a paid advert to get seen on the Google searches' first page.

Small national NGOs need all the support and recognition they can get. For a brand new British NGO to claim that they are the first, could lead to accusations of green imperialism.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Disappearing wildlife

I have on many occasions, both in books and in my blogs mentioned the dramatic decreases in wildlife. Unfortunately TV and other media, don't like doom and gloom, so often only emphasise the good news stories -- and I suppose the WLT is also guilty of this as well. We might publicise the fact that we have helped save 10,000 acres of dry chaco -- but probably don't give equal prominence to the fact that the Mennonites have cleared tens of thousands of acres, and turned it into farmland.

But the scale of the devastation of wildlife is truly alarming and rarely faced up to. I grew up in England in the 1950s, when flower rich meadows still existed on the outskirts of London. When common lizards were found in the suburbs. When colonies of yellow wagtails nested on a suburban sewage farm, alongside redshanks, lapwing and a large colony of tree sparrows. All gone. Red-backed shrikes and wrynecks nested in southern England. Now quite extinct. Bats darkened the sky over Godstone pond just outside London -- now you will be lucky to see a couple of dozen in an evening. When I first started using mist nets as a bird ringer, cockchafers and other large beetles were a problem in the early evening -- now a rarity. Stag beetles were common in the South London suburb of Streatham. Jackdaws nested in Hyde Park. And go back a little further and read W H Hudson's accounts of birds at the end of the nineteenth century, and you will get an idea of abundance of species such as wheatears.

To explain many of these declines we only have to look at what is happening in Africa, to our summer visitors. Just as the north American songbirds are crashing because of the loss of rainforests in Central and South America, so European migrants are going because of the devastation of Africa's natural habitats.

About 20 years ago it dawned on me that saving a few charismatic species such as tigers and orang utans was possibly not the best way of conserving biodiversity (though at the time the word was not really in use). And twenty ears on I am even more convinced that it is only by conserving large tracts of land that does wildlife have a chance. It's not just that the other methods, such as 'education', or 'sustainable development' are not that effective, it's more that without somewhere to live, wildlife doesn't stand a chance. And also, over the years I have seen a huge amount of money poured in to 'research' of various sorts, as well as 'education' and all the other unquantifiable methods of conserving wildlife. It has certainly provided a lot of jobs for a lot of people from the developed world --and done very little to actually preserve wildlife or habitats.

The great thing about acquiring land is that it is there. Even if there are problems managing it, at least it is there, and demonstrably there. If half the funds spent on research, education and report writing over the past half century had been spent on acquiring land for nature reserves, I am quite certain, a lot less wildlife would be threatened than at present.

And to return to my starting point, it is not just the biodiversity we should be worrying about, it is the biomass. But think about it: biomass is related to carrying capacity. If England's farmlands are producing "x" tonnes of oilseed rape per acre, when years ago it was only "y" tonnes per acre, then its the wildlife biomass that getting squeezed. And if the population of goats in Africa have gone up by 20 times in the past half century, then the wild antelope, and other wildlife will have decreased by a similar amount. It's what known as ecological balance. And no amount of research or education will change it.
Depressing but true.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

A depressing world

I am often asked "Don't you find your work depressing?", and when I respond "Yes", then asked "Why do you carry on?"

These are extremely difficult questions, verging on asking the meaning of life. And the answer is almost as pointless. However.

My recent visit to southern Brazil is a case in point. Flying from Rio, south to Curitiba, over Sao Paolo, one can see the endless destruction of what was once the vast Atlantic Rainforest. Now only 4 % of it remains. Or perhaps 6%, depending on which book you read. But it doesn't really matter, since in huge areas it's actually 0%. Totally and utterly depressing.

But then we caught a mountain railway from Curitiba (I am sure I had been in the very same carriages years ago in the Adirondacks) which travelled so slowly for 80 kms or so through the mountains, shrouded in Araucaria forest. Through railway cuttings so narrow you could have stretched out of the window and touched the fern-clad rocks either side. Over viaducts scarily high, through clouds, onwards and upwards, and then down for mile after mile. All through forests.

And so there was light at the end of the metaphorical tunnel. A huge swathe of surviving forest. Demonstrating why it is worth while trying to save what is left.

Demonstrating that though the impact the WLT is having on a world wide basis could be considered insignificant, when looked at on the local basis, the impact can be massive. And it is a model. We, and our partners, are showing that it can be done.

It is not just a question of cash either. Though lots more would certainly help. It is also very much a case of developing expertise and experience, and this is the great strength of the World Land Trust and its partners -- an enormous resource of experience and expertise.

Monday, 13 August 2007

The big givers to charity

Charity Times has produced some interesting statistics. Apparently half of the richest people in UK had donated to charity in the previous month, and donated an average of £60. And the average wealthy donor gives just 0.8% of his or her earnings.
And another interesting fact was that US donors give nearly double their UK counterparts. And finally, it was noted that donations by the wealthy are increasing -- by over 300% in the past three years.

We have noticed a dramatic increase in larger donations, but we always emphasise, that our belief is that most donors are inherently as generous as they can afford to be -- the pensioner giving £25 may be giving a higher proportion of his or her disposable income, than a young financial whizz-kid giving £25,000. And £25 does still save half an acre of rainforest.

And, perhaps more importantly, the numerous smaller donations, provide some of the raison d'etre for some of the larger, corporate donors supporting the work of the WLT -- they like to feel that the Trust has a wide range of supporters.

Friday, 10 August 2007

VAT and Carbon and Charities

One of the problems besetting charities these days is the amount of legislation and other paperwork that is involved.

VAT is a major problem for many charities, since they cannot claim much of it back, even if they are registered.

And then there is trading. When the World Land Trust set up its carbon balanced programme, it was probably the first charity to offer any form of traceable carbon offsets. Now of course any number are jumping on the bandwagon. However, as we have found out it is not quite as simple as it appears at first, and other charities will no doubt find out in due course. If there is a service provided, then the income is subject to VAT. And a service is very widely defined. For instance, when a company puts a charity's logo on its website, saying it has carbon balanced with the World Land Trust, that is deemed a benefit to the company, and therefore subject to VAT. And of course this is a potential accounting nightmare.

I mention this, because some companies carbon balancing with the World Land Trust have wondered why, since we are a charity, we are charging them VAT. Unfortunately, the advice we have is that we have to. Not all charities seem to be aware of this, but we are always very cautious, since tax can be claimed retrospectively.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Green Consumerism -- an oxymoron

I get pretty fed up with the sort of environmentalist who thinks that switching of a light bulb or two is going to save the planet. While I do agree that the individual could do a lot more to make the world a better place, unfortunately the real action has to come from higher up the food chain. Switching off a light bulb is where I started, so I will carry on. All over the world, visible from outer space, lights are illuminating the night sky. Flying anywhere in the world, from 40,000 feet above the earth, street lights are visible. Thousands of megawatts of energy are pumped into the night sky. And if we aren't worried about this enormous waste of energy, then we should worry about the impact on biodiversity.

Fifty years ago, I remember moths and other night-flying insects being a real problem if a window was left open at night in suburban London where I grew up. Insects flew around street lights, which were generally switched off around midnight.

Now there are tens of thousands more street lights, every little village seems to have them, and intercity motorways even have them, and they burn continuously throughout the hours of darkness. Why? After about midnight, in most places there are few if any pedestrians. Is it a primeval fear of darkness asserting itself in the 21st century? Is it really so dangerous to walk in darkness? Is the world so much more dangerous than it was in 1890?

There has been a huge amount published about the effects of street lighting on wildlife, and I have blogged about it before. My point here is that we should all be doing more to force government, at every level from the parish, city, borough, district, county, state, national level -- wherever appropriate -- to tackle the real issues. A 10p tax on plastic bags; realistic public transport fares, that don't simply encourage pointless journeys, penalise retailers that encourage overpackaging (why is it that organic food is among the most overpackaged, and often comes with airmiles as well?).

Then we should tackle green consumerism. An oxymoron if ever there was one.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Biofuels, ethanol, biodiesel and rainforests.

Just as one environmental disaster seems to get proper attention another rears its ugly head. Climate change is at last being taken seriously, and the impact of burning fossil fuels recognised. So what happens? George Bush and other world leaders start encouraging us to use 'biofuels'. Unfortunately among the most efficient (i.e. profitable) ways of producing biofuels are from sugar cane and palm oil. And the easiest way of producing large quantities of these is to cut down tropical rainforests (thereby releasing even more CO2 into the atmosphere, as well as wiping out even more biodiversity).

Which makes the WLTs attempts to save rainforests all the more urgent.

Sir David Attenborough in Netherlands

James Randi, the indeftigable exposer of fakers and frauds has an excellent website, and a supporter of the WLT in Belgium, brough to my attentions an article about Sir David Attenborough.

I cannot believe that Sir David will be very pleased, and the BBC are currently investigating.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Criticising Charities

I had a letter from Christian Aid, more or less implying that I shouldn't criticise them because they were a charity and so was the WLT. I.e. it was bad form for charities to criticise one another. Personally I cannot see why I should not criticise another charity, any more than I shouldn't criticise any other business. I have a duty to uphold the values and mission of the WLT, and if another charity is damaging those values, then I am duty bound to criticise.

A few weeks ago Third Sector magazine reported that Bob Geldof 'recently slammed Al Gore's Live Earth event as "just an enormous pop concert without any real goal".' I think Al Gore should have retaliated that the Make Poverty History events were "just another pop concert without any realistic goals".

It is time that the charity world sectorised itself more. There are huge differences in the sector, every bit as great as in the business world. Service delivering charities, such as hospitals and schools have almost nothing in common with a charity such as the World Land Trust. Similarly religion-based charities have very little in common with performing arts charities. Comparing these together is like comparing theatres with banks, or art galleries with refuse collection services. In fact many of the religion-based charities are carrying out activities which are in direct opposition to environmental charities. And some animal welfare charities are undertaking activities which have negative environmental impacts. And so on and so forth. Debate is healthy, and I believe it is only right and proper for organisations like Christian Aid to be criticised for not undertaking Environmental Impact Assessments of their projects in Africa.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Jared Diamond: Collapse

It has taken me a while to getting round to reading Jared Diamond's Collapse. A truly depressing book, which should be compulsory reading for all politicians, and in particular to all aid agencies dealing with poverty in developing countries; and very well written. While I may not agree with some of the detail, or all his interpretations, overwhelmingly, Diamond makes the case for putting human populations and over-exploitation of resources, right at the top of the international agenda.

I was intrigued by the omission of two areas of collapse. The first was the collapse of St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides in the 1930s. It was a recent, exceptionally well-documented population collapse, which probably gives insight into the collapse of Greenland's European population 600 years earlier. And the second omission was the Levant, or Middle East as it has become to be known. (As an aside, the Middle East has moved westwards in time, to replace the Near East, which seems to have fallen into the Mediterranean Sea).

The present conflicts in Lebanon and Palestine, and adjacent countries are examples of societies in collapse, every bit as much as any of the others cited by Diamond. Slender natural resources, with rural populations inevitably lead to conflict. As Diamond points out, the only societies that can exist at high densities, with few resources, have to become highly industrialised, and high tech, in order to keep out of poverty. Before the immigration of the Jewish diaspora into Palestine, the area was barely able to support the existing populations, but the introduction of thousands of ex-patriates, together with the introduction of externally generated wealth has led to growing tensions, partly because a widening wealth gap.

Conventionally these are identified as religious tensions, but just as Diamond points out in Rwanda, where ethnic cleansing was claimed to be the motive for the violence, the reality was far more Malthusian than at first appears. The wealthy, heavily subsidised jewish state is surrounded by poverty stricken populations with virtually no natural resource, or other means of generating wealth. The inevitable consequence is a collapse into civil war, and without outside intervention, the final result could well be the total collapse of infrastructure and society.

This is a lesson to all societies that do not have the resources to support themselves. And even those that do.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Waste and more waste

Our IT consultants (locally produced), sent me this:

We have been told it is illegal for us to take cardboard etc to the local tip for recycling (at our expense) as it is trade waste.

Thinking that we would like to continue being environmentally friendly, I rang Suffolk coastal and asked if we could have a trade waste bin for rubbish and another one for cardboard recycling. They say that we they won't do this and we will have to put our cardboard in with our general rubbish

You would have thought rather than wasting time on putting hundreds of bins on the street they would concentrate on businesses that generate far more recyclable rubbish!

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Jenga Theory and Biodiversity

A couple of years ago I developed my concepts of ecological collapse, and drafted an explanation based on jenga. The has lain in my computer files, until cleaning up the backlog of filing I decided to put it in my blog, to see if anyone had any comments.

Biodiversity and the Jenga Principle -- a review
by John A Burton

Biodiversity is a term apparently first used in 1985 and Sir Martin Holdgate the former Director of IUCN defined it as the 'Total sum of life's variety on Earth, expressed at the genetic, species and ecosystem level' . In fact the term has entered into common parlance as a synonym for species diversity, and is in consequence, often misleading. Areas that are important for biodiversity are indeed often species rich, but an over-emphasis on species-rich, so-called 'biodiversity hotspots' can not only be misleading but, on occasion, detrimental to conservation.

One of the objects of 'hotspots' was to prioritise conservation action, but such prioritisation is a gross simplification, and fraught with problems. First and foremost there is the issue of the reliability of the data it is based on. It is not uncommon for birds to be used as indicator' species. This is because it is claimed that birds are among the best-studied taxa, with relatively few new taxa to be described. This claim is not entirely justified, since recent years have actually seen an upsurge in new taxa being recognised. There is also the question as to whether or not one group of taxa can be used to reflect species richness in others. BirdLife published such comparisons but the results were very disappointing, and showed very little convergence between the distribution of mammalian, reptilian and amphibian narrow endemics with birds or with each other.

A glance at any of the maps of the so-called biodiversity hotspots shows that there is a huge concentration in the tropical regions, but hardly any of these regions have been studied anything like as well as Europe or North America, where new species still continue to be described every year. Other concentrations occur where there is large altitudinal variation in a relative small area, such as the Eastern Mediterranean. Whereas areas such as Patagonia, the Putsa, Gobi Desert are ignored despite having many interesting and unique species, including endemics. I believe that concentrating on 'biodiversity hot spots' is extremely dangerous for conservation, because it allows politicians and would be developers to set aside very small areas (which are species rich) at the expense of very large areas (which may be species poor). All my experience in nature conservation points to the fact that size matters. Fragment large, seemingly uniform habitats, and species will become extinct. A fact that has been demonstrated experimentally, as well as being observed on islands.

And this is where Jenga comes in. Most readers will know that Jenga is a simple game of manual dexterity. A tower of wood blocks is created, and then the contestants take it in turns to remove blocks without causing the tower to collapse, but leaving the top layer intact. If a large tower is created, clearly under normal circumstances, more pieces can be removed before it collapses, than from a small tower. If the blocks are used to represent species within an ecosystem, the analogy works pretty well. A simple ecosystem, (pampas) is formed from large blocks (species) but relatively few of them, to create the entire tower (biomass). As a tower it is relatively stable, but as soon as one or two blocks are removed near the base, the slightest jolt will lead it to collapse (other species become extinct). A complex ecosystem (rainforest) is not even a single tower, but a complex series of towers, more like a pyramid, comprising hundreds of blocks. Lots of blocks can be removed before serious damage occurs to the structure, even from near the base.

These are the extremes, and I am sure the analogy can be developed further -- it would also make an interesting and marketable game. But it is in the less clearly defined habitats -- those of the temperate regions, the concept is most likely to be useful.

What we should be looking at are habitats that are likely to cease to operate as ecosystems (Jenga towers) and concentrate on conserving those. Using this approach, I believe it is possible to prioritise conservation action. Madagascar, which is clearly comprised of a tower of unique blocks, has already lost most of its base layers, and so compared with the Amazon or Congo, is much nearer to collapse.

And applying the concept to Europe it is apparent that the whole region is in serious danger. In the past 50 years so much of what was at least partially able to support an ecosystem (farmland) has undergone 'desertification', that it is unlikely that the rest of the ecosystems can survive. The disappearance of birds such as the house sparrow, may even be a symptom of an imminent total collapse.

Previous experience has led me to always question the basis of setting priorities. In 1988 I was involved with the creation of the Programme for Belize, a conservation initiative to acquire land in Central America. Several international conservation bodies were approached for support, but the World Wildlife Fund in the UK declined to put its name to the project at the time, because it was not a 'priority' area. 15 years on, with the benefit of hindsight, we can now state that that area is part of the largest remaining continuous tract of forest in the whole of northern Central America. It is one of the few forests capable of sustaining viable populations of species such as Jaguar and Puma, as well as providing habitat for a wide range of other species. The problem with most of the prioritisation systems that have been used recently, is that they have usually been developed by biologists and scientists, and priorities do not only involve science -- even though scientists might argue they take other factors into account. Counting numbers of species, and degrees of rarity is only part of the equation, and in some cases a relatively unimportant part. Other factors that need to be taken into account include the following:

Economic considerations: What is the cost of buying or protecting the land?
Can it generate income? Can it be self sustaining? What subsidies are needed?

Political considerations: Is there a local will to conserve it? What happens if outsiders become involved?. NIMBYism and the reverse.

And there are many, many other considerations that need to be taken into account.

Spatial considerations: How big is the area? Can it be protected? How near is it to other protected areas? How does it relate to the economic geography of the surrounding country?

The conclusion many conservationists would reach after considering all the above, as well as the huge range of factors normally considered when evaluating endangered species, is that each case needs to be treated on its own merits, and that the world is in such a state of crisis that ALL remaining natural habitats are under threat of some sort and need protection and conservation.

My personal conclusion is that the only way of implementing a realistic prioritisation is opportunistically. Too many of the world's conservation bodies are sitting on piles of cash and/or carrying out yet more research. There are too many so-called conservationists sitting at desks and in labs, writing about it, researching it, but not actually doing anything. Truly a case of fiddling when Rome is nearly burned to the ground. It would be interesting to have some PhD students carry out research into the economics of conservation research, to look at what has been spent on endangered species research over the past 40 years, and compare that with other uses of the money, such as land acquisition. How many millions of dollars have been spent on researching elephants, rhinos tigers and gorillas? How many reserves could have been bought and protected with that money?