Friday, 19 December 2008

Going Corporate

According to the annual report of WWF, in 2006 and again in 2007 the organisation spent £7.5 million on raising £12.3 million of unrestricted donations from individuals. Put another way, that for every £10 donated to WWF they will have spent £6.00 on raising that money. Of course not all the ratios are so bad. Overall they only (yes only) spent £11.5 million to raise £41 million, of which over £11 million came as legacies, and nearly £5 million as government grants, which only cost £0.75million to raise. The average salary paid was £34,800 p.a. and three members of staff earned between £80,000 and £120,000 a year in 2006. The figures for 2007 are much the same. And of course there are any number of interpretations that can be made of such figures.

I mention these figures, not to criticise WWF -- my readers can look at the Annual Reports of any NGO and draw their own conclusions -- positive or negative. I mention them to illustrate a more important point. That is that Conservationists and charities are often told to look to business for guidance, and to model their modus operandi on business models. I think that in general, this is bad advice. And business is a bad model for a conservation charity to copy. And I think WWF follows it too closely. And the danger here is that the public become distrustful of charities that spend a huge percentage of their income on raising those funds.

Having worked in and around both the charity sector and the business (publishing) sector for around 40 years, I feel confident in asserting that business has more to learn from the Charity sector than the other way round. At the WLT we take a 15% overhead, to cover non-project related management and fund-raising costs. Put it another way, we are making a 85% 'profit' to spend on our objectives. Not many businesses can claim that level of efficiency. Salaries in the charity sector (despite the above quoted figures) are generally significantly lower than business --but, research has shown, the employees are generally much happier, more loyal, have less time off for sickness etc etc etc. But realistically it is just as daft to say business should learn from charities as the other way round.

Both sectors should be using the models and methods that work best for achieving their objectives. Some charities (such as the Royal Opera House**) have used the business model, and pay huge salaries to senior staff, claiming they need to do this to attract the right people. I disagree. The right people will not be motivated by huge salaries, they will be motivated by a belief in the work of the charity. Even in the business world not everyone is obsessed by money. This is not to say that any staff should be underpaid, but once the salary becomes the main reason a person takes a job, it is increasingly difficult to assess their real worth. I am a critic of conservation bodies that become too 'corporate'. Large reception areas, all chrome and glass. It may be how big business operates, but it should not be how a conservation charity operates. Charities rely on voluntary donations, and donors do not like to think their well intentioned gifts are being spent on maintaining flashy offices, or funding an extravagant lifestyle for the staff.

** Much as I like opera, I cannot really see the justification for it being considered a charity.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Annual Goat Rant

Several friends and colleagues have contacted me over my silence on goats this year. I am sorry, I simply have not had the time. It is very depressing to see Oxfam and the rest still flogging goats to Africa. If the world is led to believe that increasing the goat (and other livestock) population is going to solve the problems of poverty in Africa, we truly are in a mess. If the aid agencies continue short term 'solutions' without carrying out Environmental Impact Assessments, it is not unreasonable to accuse them of potentially creating the problems they are trying to solve.

With habitat degradation continuing apace in Africa, any programme that suggests that increasing the numbers of livestock should be very seriously questioned. And that is without taking into account the social aspects. Giving camels and other livestock away in communities where these are not so much a part of a subsistence economy, but part of the wealth bartering system, has serious ramifications, and I cannot find any analysis of this by the agencies concerned.

And finally, what happens to the huge flocks of goats that the agencies claim are being produced by giving a poor African a single animal, when a drought come along?

If anyone can find some respected environmental conservationists who believe that increasing the numbers of goats in Africa is a way out of poverty, I would be very interested to see what they have published. But every single conservationist I have spoken to thinks it is a mistake. A big mistake.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Stop Breeding more humans: Save wildlife.

Those familiar with my regular rants about politicians who ignore the human population crisis will understand why I like this website:

Those not familiar who like wildlife, think the planet's in a mess shopuld also take a look.

Credit cruch and good news

While the worldwide credit crunch could undoubtedly have a serious impact on charities like the World Land Trust, there could be a silver lining. Ever since the beginning of 2008 there have apparently been declines in the value of real estate; and this means that the cash the WLT raises can potentially go a lot further. There is no better time than the present for the WLT to work with its ever increasing network of partners to spread its network of nature reserves. If it's all added up, between the WLT, WLT US and all our partners, there are probably somewhere in excess of five million acres under protection, that might otherwise have been lost. But even this huge number is a drop in the ocean compared with what is needed. However, in the 20 years since the WLT first started to help buy land we have seen dozens of other groups start up, and seen governments take the issue more seriously. In many ways this is the really important benefit of saving land with the WLT: the fact that it sets a really good example. Our successes encourage others. It is, as one of Council Members, Simon Barnes, recently described, the leverage effect. Punching above our weight.

That is not to let governments off the hook for ignoring the real problem that is driving deforestation, carbon excess etc. Human population growth. And greed. Last night I watched a video of a BBC TV production of Anthony Trollope's The way we Live Now. So pertinent and up to date. And that rapacious greed, that is destroying the planet, also leads governments to allow expansion of airports such as Stanstead, not because Britain needs extra capacity, but simply to stop other European countries getting the traffic. Greed. Pure unadulterated greed, is unfortunately what seems to be the great motivator of the 21st century. Most people in the developed world have material wealth several orders of magnitude greater than the poorer parts of the world. But still we want more. And with our population still growing at an alarming rate, only a major pandemic of disease (or similar catastrophe) can reverse this, unless governments take the issue seriously -- really seriously and not just lip service. But there is absolutely no sign of it. And even the world's biggest conservation conference (IUCN in Barcelona 2008) did not exactly put it at the top of its agenda.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Credit Crunch and the bad news

Overall the WLT has been very successful in 2008, and has been able to help its partners buy lots of land, with over $2 million sent for this purpose (and more sent from the USA). However, suddenly we are noticing a big dip in donations from individuals. Compared with last year fewer individuals are supporting conservation. This is a great pity, as the environmental crisis is probably even greater than the economic crisis.

Never has there been a greater need for protecting land. And while land prices are unlikely to crash in the way stocks and shares have, there is little doubt that it will generally be much cheaper over the coming months.

So please, if you can spare it make a donation, however small to the WLT's Action Fund, where the money can be used for any important opportunity as it arises. At the meeting of the WLT's Trustees last week exciting new initiatives in Venezuela, Guatemala and India were all given the go ahead. Our vital work in Paraguay continues with a project that could ultimately benefit around 10 million acres. The land the WLT helps buy and save for ever, but even more important is the knock-on effect of making governments and others aware of the international importance of local heritage.

Help make this a greener Christmas.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The endangered lion

Lion numbers have plummetted from around 450,000 ca. 50 years ago to around 20,000. When I was the secretary for the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society some 20 years ago I suggested to the Council that the lion was in serious difficulty,and that the society (now known as Fauna and Flora International) should initiate a conservation programme -- a proposal that was turned down. I pointed out at the time that the lion together with the unicorn was on the royal coat of arms. In fact, one of the origins of the unicorn has been suggested as the Arabian or White Oryx -- a species saved from extinction by an initiative of the Fauna Preservation Society (as it was then).

But still lion numbers decline, and will continue to do so as more and more of their territory is taken over by humans and their ever expanding flocks of domestic livestock (particularly if charities continue to encourage more and more goats as Christmas presents). The fragmentation of their habitat is the real problem. While lions are not Territorial like most cats, they do need large numbers of prey, each time habitat is fragmented, the survival of lions is threatened. And because they are large predators, and both humans and cattle, as well as sheep and goats are all well within their natural prey range, conflict is inevitable. Lions were exterminated in Europe over 2000 years ago, and throughout much of the Levant and Middle East by the early 20th century. India has lost all but one tiny population. The Cape Lion has gone, and so has the North African population. The rest are pretty well doomed, unless we can create corridor ts between the fragmented patchwork of national parks and other protected areas. The World Land Trust is pioneering the creation of corridors, but as yet has not been able to do so in Africa. We probably need at least $2 million to kick start such work. Any Offers?

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Population, human population. That's the problem

Why, oh why do the politicians ignore it? The real problem behind all the crises facing the world is not a shortage of oil. It is not the credit crunch, it is not global warming. It is the thing that fuels all of these, It is the ever expanding human population and its ever increasing greed. The rich get richer, until many are what can only be described as obscenely rich, while the poor not only get poorer, but there are more of them. Governments and aid agencies pour millions into "poverty alleviation" in Africa, and meanwhile the population continues to grow, natural resources are further depleted, and wildlife disappears. Human population growth cannot continue indefinitely, so why not call a halt now?

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Tackiest fundraising awards

An opinion poll. I think this is one of the tackiest bits of fundraising for wildlife conservation, I have ever come across.

What do you think? Or is there something even tackier?

I have nothing against cuddly toys, but in this context, I do wonder if pursuing such blatant consumerism is the best way of saving wildlife.

Any ideas?

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

How to stop overfishing

I read a short item in The Ecologist this month (October issue) about Greenpeace dumping 3 tonne blocks of granite in the German North Sea to foul the fishing tackle of bottom trawlers. It struck me as a very neat way of enforcing fishing controls, and one that governments could do well to endorse. Dumping large objects in the sea could be a very simple way of enforcing no fishing zones -- at least as far as the highly destructive bottom trawlers are concerned. It reminds me of the proposal to decontaminate the decommissioned North Sea oil platforms, and sink them. This would have been far cheaper for the oil companies than towing them back to land for dismantling, but was unfortunately opposed by Greenpeace and other environmentalists at the time.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Awards (again)

It's that time of the year. One of the most useful magazines for me as the CEO of a charity is Third Sector. It is bang up to date and full of relevant news. BUT, it has awards for the most admired charity, the most admired ceo etc. And it smacks of the Eurovision song contest.
The winners are chosen from a list drawn up by 'a panel of the sector's leaders'. Three consecutive winners of the "Celebrity Charity Champion" were HRH princess Royal, Bob Geldorf, and HRH Prince of Wales. Beat that for originality. And Medecins sans Frontieres won two years running. And Actionaid was apparently the most innovative charity.

Only one of the so-called celebs listed for selection this year, have I actually heard of. The others, are all presumably minor TV actors

All goes to show something.

The goat season approaches

Last year the Environment Funders Network published a report "Where the Green Grants Went". And I presume it represents the interests of the Trusts and Foundations that make up the Environment Funders Network. In this report, one of the more bizarre pieces of information I came across was that these environmental funders had given grants totalling £1.3 million over a three year period to Farm Africa, an organisation that specialises in promoting livestock use in Africa. And in particular 'sells' goats and other livestock as a way of fundraising. Now any reader of this column will know that I have railed against this for several years. Promoting livestock in Africa, is about as environmentally irresponsible as one can get. The number of goats, cows, sheep, camels and other livestock has spiralled over the past half century, and habitat degradation is a direct result. So the question is how is funding organisation that promotes expanding the keeping of livestock and green?

I will, once again, urge everyone to question the agencies involved, as to why they see fit to encourage more and more livestock in Africa, in the full knowledge that one of the main causes of environmental damage is overgrazing by livestock, and it has a direct correlation with poverty. And also ask all the agencies involved to produce the Environmental Impact Assessments they carried out before dishing out more livestock. Finally, they could be asked about the studies carried out as to the likely socio-economic perturbations caused by hand-outs of livestock.

I know the answer to some of these questions: very few environmental impact assessments have ever been carried out, and very little information about the social impacts of the hand outs has been published. The aid agencies and charities should be held to account.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The Population Bomb. And the causes of poverty. An update

Readers of my blog, will be familiar with my rants about how we are ignoring the real issues that drive climate change, endanger species, destroy habitats: i.e. rapidly increasing human populations.

I have just returned from an extensive visit to South America, and unlike Africa, this is a part of the world that is experiencing rapid economic growth. Increasing prosperity. And even more rapid destruction of natural resources.

I was also able to see first hand the results of doing-good by aid charities and missionaries. Not a pleasant experience. And it reminded me of the response I got from one of the world's largest aid charities when I asked them what their policy on human populations was. Here it is, verbatim:

Thank you for your e-mail. Christian Aid does not have a specific policy on population. Our mission is to help people in developing countries improve their lives. We do this by exposing and tackling the root cause of poverty and injustice worldwide. We support and fund projects in developing countries that enable communities build sustainable economies.

To me, it is utterly incomprehensible how an organisation delivering aid to human populations in the most impoverished areas of the world does not have a policy on something so indelibly linked with poverty. And of course, the root cause, which they claim to be tackling, is obviously unsustainable population growth.

And presumably the sustainable economies they are helping build, are based on the unsustainable market economies of the donor countries.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Collins New Naturalists

The Collins New Naturalists are a British institution. Not only are they a particularly fine series of reference books on British wildlife and natural history, the series has become even better known as highly collectible. There is no question that the volumes contained within the series remain among the finest books available on the topics they cover, and even those that are out of date, still remain useful as historical documents. Some of the volumes have been completely rewritten and revised, but even in these cases, the original, long out of date volume, still remains useful.

But as collectors items, the series epitomises the stupidity of collectors, who collect for collecting's sake. The fanatical collector of new Naturalists must have the first printing of the first edition, complete with mint dust wrapper. And of course, this often means that the first printing of a first edition had minor printing errors, that were later corrected. And in many cases dust jackets were what they claimed to be: Covers to keep the book clean, before sale. In the case of the Collins NNs, however, the dust wrappers were beautifully designed, and deservedly became collectors items in their own right. However, because of the collectors' market, dust wrappers became valued beyond any real intrinsic worth, and of course are very easy indeed, with modern high quality photocopying facilities, to fake.

If ever you come across a New Naturalist collector (and many of them are genuinely interested in natural history as well, they will, like so many collectors tell you how much this and that is worth, and how their prized possessions are increasing in value. The reality is rather different. If you were to compare the price of many of the books with their original value when sold, they have declined. A book costing 30s in the 1940s, when a week's wage could be under £5.00, may still only fetch £20-£30 . And a quick search of the internet will show that many of the so-called rarer volumes can still be picked up for relatively modest sums. And of course, for the real naturalist, there is the advantage, that reprints and ex-library copies, usually under a fiver, abound. Allegedly, one of the rarest was a monograph on Ants, published in the 1950s, and apparently withdrawn from sale soon after publication. But if this was the case, there are still a remarkable number of even this, which should be the rarest of the rare, floating around.

I cannot take too seriously the collectors market, but it is gratifying in one way -- it means that HarperCollins have got a guaranteed market for new volumes, on almost any subject they like to publish, however specialised.

Friday, 22 August 2008

The World Land Trust builds on success

By June this year, the WLT had already raised over £1 ($2) million in the UK alone, and is all set to at least double its 2007 income. And this is good news, as the increase in income is not matched by an increase in fundraising expenditure. This means that even more of the income goes to projects, and in particular buying land.

The downside is that land prices are escalating almost everywhere. As the world's population increases day by day, and there is a demand for more and more food, even marginal lands are being gobbled up. The WLT recognises that land often has even more important values -- water catchment, for one -- and that we must not allow short-term profits erode the world's natural heritage.

That's why the world Land Trust's approach to saving land has been so important. In the 20 years since we were founded (initially to support Programme for Belize) we have seen more and more organisations follow us. When we started, hardly any NGOs were funding land purchase internationally. Now its a veritable bandwagon, on which everyone wants to ride. And that has to be a good thing. But as as our partners know, there are significant differences in the way we operate, and we believe that the long term success of our projects is largely due to the strength of our partners. Fundacion Patagonia Natural, REGUA, Fundacion Jocotoco, Philippines Reef and Rainforest, Ecominga, Guyra Paraguay, and the Wildlife Trust of India are just a few of our project partners. But our partners are not just a group we give money to. We have long-lasting well-developed working relationships with them. I have just spent a 5 week sabbatical in Paraguay, and for the next three months a member of the Guyra Paraguay team will be working in the WLT Office, to ensure that we work closely together for the long-term success of conservation in Paraguay.

But all this needs funding, land is disappearing under the axe and the plough. So please make a regular commitment to the WLT The price of a bottle of wine a month is enough to save the area of a small vineyard every year!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

chiffchaffs and Spaniards

Biologists are currently going through a phase of species 'splitting'. That is to say that what were once considered variable, widespread species are now being split into two or more species. Little green warblers in Europe, lots of marmosets and monkeys in South America and numerous other species all over the world are suddenly being created. But some of the differences are so small that I wonder if these splits are justified. If an Iberian Chiffchaff has a slight difference in song, and some very minor plumage differences to those found in England does it really make it a different species? After all Spaniards sound different to Englishmen, sing different songs, and on average look darker. But they are certainly not a different species. They can (and often do) interbreed with English women. And so, I suspect, could the Iberian Chiffchaffs, interbreed with English ones, given a chance. Just like their human counterparts, language differences may make it difficult, but not impossible

In terms of taxonomy, it makes relatively little difference whether or not they are considered geographical races (subspecies) or allopatric species. It does however, have a conservation benefit, in as much as it can highlight declines more accurately, and it probably has increased the number of endangered species being identified. But is this a good thing? Or is it misleading? Answers please......

Monday, 28 July 2008

Fuel and food myths

There is a panic in the press about rising fuel prices and rising food prices. This is misleading the public, because the reality is that for the past 40 years we have been living in a blip in history. We are now getting back to normality.

Historically, the basic necessities of life have consumed most of an average family's income. For hundreds of years, most of the income a family generated went on feeding, clothing and housing. But for the past 40 years, in Britain and Europe, all these commodities have been getting progressively cheaper and cheaper. But this reduction in cost was based on unsustainable premises.

I could argue that a lot of the western economy, based as it is on extreme capitalism, is under threat. Crocodile tears have been shed at the collapse, or near collapse, of financial institutions, but why should we care? What do they really contribute? When capitalism is taken to the extremes of globalisation, there are huge numbers of people making money out of doing absolutely nothing productive -- simply shifting money around (but of course somewhere, someone is almost certainly being exploited, as any old fashioned socialist can explain to you). I can't get too upset about this, except it does have a major impact on wildlife. It leads to ever more rapacious attacks on natural resources. Agriculture expands, to provide more and more, cheaper and cheaper food, for our wasteful societies. I recall a recent statistic that stated around 40% of food in the UK was wasted. No wonder the rainforests are being cut for soya plantations.

What's the answer? Forget switching off the TV, we need to be far less wasteful in many other really big ways. Forget the idea of constant economic growth. Forget the idea that everything should be as cheap as possible, and thrown away in a few months. And bring population growth to the top of the political agenda. More and more people are going to put more and more pressure on resources; resources such as healthcare and transport.

I will repeat myself (and continue to do so whenever possible): Governments are using climate change and all environmental issues to obfuscate the real issue, and that is human population growth. And they are also ignoring the fact that any increase in population in a developed country, has significantly more environmental impacts than in a very poor country.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Should we call for an end to aid in Africa?

I have written about the problems of foreign aid on many occasions, and am going to develop the theme I first put forward on 28/06/07. Does aid wipe out poverty? Thinking about it, raised another question in my mind. Does aid actually encourage poverty? I don't know the answer, and would welcome feedback, particularly from the agencies which promote it. But surely if aid agencies pump in millions of dollars worth of aid into a country, they are really taking away the responsibility for carrying out those vital humanitarian actions from the government of the country concerned. Many of the recipient countries have significant natural resources

Take Uganda, for example -- a country universally accepted as being fairly corrupt. In the most recent budget I could find (2007-2008) income of $3000 million was projected, of which 10.2 million was to be spent on anti-corruption -- an indictment in itself. But $19 million was spent import of arms -- the most recent figures according to:

According to this latter website Uganda spends 2.2% of GDP on military, but only 1.9%on health. Could it be that pumping foreign charitable aid into a country on a longterm basis is actually a cause of ongoing poverty? It certainly does not seem to be solving the problem. Finding out how much aid the NGOs etc were pumping into Uganda proved beyond my resources.

And is charitable aid, just another form of colonialism? Again, I don't know. But I I know huge quantities of western-manufactured medicines and equipment are purchased, and I see images of relief operations unloading vast packages of plastic bottles containing water. I do wonder if the bottled water industry is benefitting more than the aid recipients, and I am certain the pharmaceutical companies are profitting. Surely a lot of aid is simply encouraging the sort of consumerism that dominates our own societies? It certainly is not encouraging 'sustainable development' (what ever that is, if it's not an oxymoron).

There are other even more difficult questions that need to be answered: for instance, is it morally right to prevent the traditional forms of population limitation, to increase survival rates, but without introducing alternative forms of population control? I think it was Spike Milligan who once said that every loaf of bread sent to Africa should be inside a condom... or words to that effect.

These sorts of issues are swept under the carpet by aid agencies and politicians alike. But I think it is high time they were addressed. The quality of life is certainly not improving for the majority of Africans, and in the 40 years I have been taking an interest in it, the negative impacts on the natural environment and wildlife have spiralled out of control. And while putting more and more (often marginal)land under intensive agriculture may well make aid agencies feel happy, and will almost certainly line the pockets of agri-business, but is unlikely to help the starving of Africa. Anymore than increasing the out-of-control goat population of the continent will benefit the people living in marginal habitats.

It does seem that countries in South America and Asia, once just as poverty stricken as much of Africa, have fared much better. Why?

I wrote most of the above several weeks ago, and now I am on a sabbatical in Paraguay where I happened to watch a spokesperson for Oxfam on the BBC World News, justifying their activities in Africa. The problem was that nothing she said gave me any confidence that the aid agencies had thought through their activities properly. It was still full of the hyperbole of 'wiping out poverty' and worse too, almost everything the aid agencies say smacks of social Darwinism. That there is "progress" towards a "better" , more "advanced" society. As any biologist knows, that is not what evolution is about, though Soapy Sam Wilberforce tried to portray it as such. Organisms evolve to be fitter for their environment. They do not progress to a higher plane -- that was/is an anthropocentric view, based on the premise that there was/is God, them humans, then the rest of creation. Aid agencies are very little different to 19th century Christian missionaries. Convinced they know better, convinced that theirs is a better way of life. And what does long term aid actually achieve? One thing I do know it achieves: absolution of the governments concerned of their responsibilities -- those government invariably have the resources needed; they just choose to use them on lavish lifestyles, grandiose western-inspired 'development' schemes, or worst of all, armaments.

Finally, I would add that I am not discussing emergency aid, in the wake of disasters -- that, as recent events in Burma, China and elsewhere have demonstrated is an entirely separate issue.

And I am not coming to any conclusions, yet. But the more I see of the world, the more I doubt that most long-term international humanitarian aid has significant long-term benefits other than to the donors, and the economies of the donor countries. Clearly a controversial view, and one I would be happy to modify, should evidence present itself. Just as if aid agencies were to carry out environmental impact assessments before carrying out projects that impact the natural environment, I would have more respect for them. But at present I am more of the opinion that the majority modern the foreign aid programmes carried out by NGOs are far too similar to nineteenth century missionaries in both outlook and objectives. Of course this is a personal view, but I wonder how many people think this, even if they don't admit it? The world has become so politically correct, that it is often considered wrong to even question the staus quo.

Facts and figures contradicting some of my assertions would be welcome. Opinions are easy to find, but facts much more difficult.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Who is certifying the certifiers?

Guest blog by the World Land Trust's Special Projects Consultant, Mark Gruin

A recent article on the BBC News website (Carbon standard 'to renew trust') described a new Carbon Standard certification scheme launched by the Carbon Trust. While interesting, and arguably newsworthy, this news is more than a little frustrating and disconcerting. I have a basic mistrust of certification schemes, especially ones like this that make sweeping statements like this one that smear with a very broad brush, "...the new benchmark was in response to the public's growing mistrust of companies' claims to be cutting their greenhouse gas emissions."

The underlying motivation could be seen as noble, if it was not so limiting and frankly, blatantly self-serving. This new scheme specifically eliminates from ranking consideration companies that use a 'third party' to offset emissions on their behalf, in a supposed attempt to claim that only on in-house measures to reduce a company's emissions are worth certifying. (In the interest of full disclosure -- World Land Trust (WLT) does provide 'third party' offsets to businesses, but only if the company agrees to also pursue in-house emissions reduction programmes.

Mind you, making the effort to reduce emissions and putting in place systems to measure and account for the emissions reduction efforts is certainly a good thing. But why eliminate from consideration other sound and proven approaches? And, by not considering for this scheme companies that use a 'third party' - like WLT - to offset emissions on their behalf Carbon Trust could be seen to be aiming sideways criticism at not only those companies who do, but the providers as well.

What gnaws at me most is that the 'certifiers' often introduce schemes like this to try and scramble their way back into the picture. The field of emissions offsetting is maturing rapidly, is eminently verifiable, and recognised and both scientifically sound and beneficial. Furthermore, and this is always the icing on the cake, when the 'certifiers' start charging exorbitant prices just for the privilege of being certified that's where, in my mind, they really cross the line. It's bad enough that a small company, with annual energy expenditure of less than £50k, would need to spend £1,000 to submit an assessment form to be considered for certification; why would they have to, or want to pay an additional £700 to have Carbon Trust 'assist' them in completing the certification materials, then be evaluated by that same Carbon Trust to see if they met the standards? To be fully legitimate and transparent, certification should be prepared and submitted independent from the evaluator and grantor of the certification. How much faith in the standard is generated if the certifier is assisting in the preparation of the application, and is being paid to do so? That money could be much better spent applied to initiatives that prevent even more CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.

Eliminating from consideration for this 'Standard' companies that pursue dedicated in-house programmes to reduce their emissions and choose to offset their emissions with legitimate initiatives that provide credits for reforestation, assisted natural regeneration and avoided deforestation is at best counter-productive. Take for example Nikwax, one of WLT's carbon balanced companies: they do a stringent internal carbon reduction assessment and action plan, they offset their calculated current emissions with WLT, and they match that offset in order to offset what they've emitted 10 years back. Isn't this not only a sound approach, but one that seeks to mitigate the negative effects of greenhouse gas emissions by any legitimate means possible? Why should they be discounted from consideration, and not be properly recognised for their efforts and their leadership? Even worse, why remove the motivation to not only reduce but mitigate?

Certainly, businesses and consumers want to know that claims about emissions offsetting are valid. But they are not stupid, and should not be patronised or mislead by yet another supposedly authoritative certification standard. The information is out there, the public and the media are watching closely, and they are making their own informed decisions. (See Which? Magazine's April 2008 issue, highlighted on WLT's website.)

Maybe we should be asking who is certifying the certifiers, but we would rather spend our energy getting on with the hard work of providing legitimate and verifiable offsets that also benefit biodiversity conservation.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Oil Price hike great for conservation?

With world leaders trying to bring down the price of oil, one thing seems to have been overlooked. The dramatic rise is probably the best thing that could have happened for the planet.

It is surely the swiftest way of curtailing the profligate use of energy. And in any case the high price of petrol is not actually related to the high price of a barrel of oil (at least in the UK,) it is largely related to the tax that is placed on it. It seems bizarre that the UK and other governments are trying to get everyone to reduce their dependence on a carbon economy, to reduce emissions, but as soon as a simple way of doing it comes along they cry "Foul." Not only does a hike in oil prices reduce demand for petrol etc, it will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect on a whole range of consumer products. So all in all, surely for the sake of the future of the planet, we should be welcoming a dramatic rise in oil prices, and hope for further increases. Or have I got something wrong?

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

More awards. Greenwash?

We have just been sent an invitation to apply for a Green Award. Of course, any one who reads my blog will have a fair idea of my reaction. Go to the website and see just how green the event itself is!

So why on earth would any green organisation want to enter such a competition? And why would any seriously green organisation want to pay £75 for the privilege of entering in the first place, and then go to the expense of paying to go to the Dinner?

Answers on a postcard, or by email

Thursday, 5 June 2008

The Menace of the Cat

The Menace of the Cat is the title of a leaflet I purchased on ebay recently, with a couple of other items all dating from 1922 and earlier. And it is an issue that has not gone away. My ebay purchases were all published in the USA, and despite all the evidence of the enormous damage that domestic and feral cats cause to wildlife, in almost all parts of the world, they are still allowed to roam free. In 1922 it was estimated that cats, in New York State alone, were responsible for killing at least 3.5 million birds, mostly songbirds.

These early pamphlets were all advocating licencing of cats, as a way of controlling their numbers. In fact, the spread of rabies has helped control cats in many parts of the US, as cat owners don't want their pets to come into contact with wild possums, raccoons and other species. But in Britain cats are probably more abundant than they have ever been. And almost every cat owner will defend their darling moggies claiming either 'They don't kill birds' or 'They only kill the occasional bird'

But even with a low estimate of the number of cats in Britain, of 10 million, back in 2003, the Mammal Society estimated that cats killed around 300 million mammals and birds a year. Another point to bear in mind is that cats often kill birds when they are at their most vulnerable -- when feeding young, and gathering food for nestlings. And cats do not always kill for food. They are often well fed, with cat food (another subject for the environmentally conscious), and consequently will kill to excess.

But it is a political hot potato, and I can't see the RSPB taking up the cudgels and lobbying for cat licensing, or a ban on cats roaming freely. Nor BirdLife International. The American Bird Conservancy, is one of the few major bird organisations that has really stood up and put its head above the parapet.

But unlike many of the other ways that wildlife is under attack, free roaming cats are something we could bring a halt to. Once upon a time dogs roamed the streets of England -- in my childhood I remember them being let out of an evening in suburban London -- and that is now a thing of the past. Time the same happened to cats?

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

New Naturalists

The Collins New Naturalist series has in recent years been the subject of a hyper inflationary price rise. Collectors have been snapping them up, and there has appeared a group of obsessive collectors, who must have first editions, complete with mint dust wrappers. Now to a naturalist such as myself, this is plain daft. In some cases the second editions are of course more use, because any typos and other errors have been dealt with. And a dust wrapper (very attractive in the case of most New Nat's) is only a piece of easily reproduced paper. In fact I am sure there are a significant number of fakes floating around, since modern photocopies make it very easy, and there are plenty of suckers who will pay a huge premium for one of the rarer volumes if it has a near mint dust-wrapper. And one of the rarer volumes is also the one on Ants, which was actually withdrawn by the publishers (making it rare). Therefore, it is a collectors market, not a naturalists demand that has pushed the prices up. So it was with great delight I noticed that the market appears to be becoming saturated, and confidence is declining. One can now go on to eBay and buy many of the titles at significantly less than their apparent "market value". And even at these greatly reduced prices, they are not actually selling -- perhaps because the dealers are not snapping them up any more. This can only be a good thing for the book buying naturalists. The New Naturalist books are without question some of the finest publications available, but they need to be used. Not put in some collectors cabinet to form a set.

Brazilian hardwoods

I have a large old shed covered with what I thought were very wide elm boards. And recently when remodelling the shed, we moved some of the boards around, and made a discovery. Stamped on one was 'Made in Brazil'. So they weren't elm at all. They were tropical hardwoods -- no wonder they were in such good condition after so long. There is no way I could feel guilty, they were old, dating from ca. 1984, if not before, they were being re-used when they were first put on the shed, and I was now re-using them again. And this is what is so important. Re-using is always better than recycling, and I am horrified at the vast quantities of perfectly good timber (mostly from pallets) that I see going into skips. It is perfectly re-usable. Pallets make extremely good compost bins. Four tied together creates a very good bin, which if bought custom made will cost £50 or more. So rather than just switching off a light, or the standby on the TV, why not re-use some timber? And help save the rainforests.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

A Voice from the past

While doing some filing I came across a paper I had written 27 years ago. It was presented at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and as I recall caused a considerable rumpus at the time. In fact the Chairman of the World Wildlife Fund contacted the Lord Craigton the Chairman of the Fauna Preservation Society (now FFI), and asked that I resign -- I was the Executive Secretary. It is difficult over a quarter of a century later to see what all the fuss was about, but it reached the columns of the Times newspaper, with conservationists joining in to defend my comments.

What I found interesting re-reading this paper (and it should be borne in mind it was given to the Palaeontolgy section of the Conference)is that nearly a decade before we founded the World Land Trust, it was already becoming apparent that land purchase was going to be the best way of conserving wildlife.

And interestingly, at the time I was writing a new glacial period seemed more likely than he global warming we are now recording. Times change, but the number of endangered species continues to spiral out of control. And then as now, human population was the key issue. And it still remains unaddressed.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Lewis Wind Farm Refused Consent by the Scottish Government

An update from WLT supporter, Deborah Kilner, on the proposed wind farm in Lewis.

When I wrote about the proposed Lewis wind farm (in 2004!), I never dreamt it would take until April 2008 to get a decision - thankfully, a full refusal of this inappropriate scheme put forward by AMEC and British Energy. The members of Moorland without Turbines (MWT) have continued to work tirelessly in defence of their much loved environment and they deserve sincere congratulations for their succesful campaign.

The Scottish Government's Energy Minister, Jim Mather, made the following quotes on why the scheme was rejected:

"I have considered this application very carefully. I have listened to representations from the applicant, taken the views of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (the Western Isles Council) and considered the 10,924 objections and 98 letters of support."

"The Lewis Wind Farm would have significant adverse impacts on the Lewis Peatlands Special Protection Area, which is designated due to its high value for rare and endangered birds."

There is no doubt that the professional approach of the MWT volunteers in persisting with rallying local resistance to the AMEC/British Energy proposals was an absolutely pivotal factor in the decision to refuse planning permission.

Much though the decision has been greeted with relief, there is still an ongoing battle to oppose two other large schemes - the Eisgein proposal from multi-millionare Mr Nick Oppenheim, now much amended from his original scheme, and the other large proposal for the Pairc area.

It really has been a "David & Goliath" contest and it is not every day that ordinary people take on and beat large corporations like AMEC and British Energy.

Please take a moment to look at MWT's web site, if you are interested in finding out more:

Friday, 25 April 2008

A bit more on awards

This is the time of the year when the nominations for charity awards are trawled. I have already had a gripe about the charity awards (see UK Charity Awards 2007 and Ripping off Charities with awards?) and that moan got quite a lot of positive feedback, from a wide range of sources, not just on the WLT website, but was picked up on other sites.

Coincidentally with this years Charity Awards, I also got notification of the Annual Whitley Awards for Conservation. Now I am considerably more ambivalent about these awards -- not surprisingly because anything that helps conserve wildlife must, per se, be a good thing. However, even here I do have serious reservations. The awards are given to individuals, on the grounds that charismatic leaders are what really move conservation forward. But is this true? In the short term, it probably is true, but in the long term, I think it is certainly rarely so, except in the case of world shattering leaders. Clearly people like Sir David Attenborough, Sir Peter Scott, Aldo Leopold, Julian Huxley, Max Nicolson, Jacques Cousteau -- to name but a few -- had massive and long-lasting impacts. But they certainly didn't need awards to tell them or the rest of the world so. But when I look at the list of the winners of the Whitley Awards, past and present, it is a pretty random selection.

Unfortunately awards will also always tend to operate under Darwinian rules of 'natural selection', in that those with access to publicity media will come to the forefront, those with big egos will float to the top, and those who cultivate a wide network of contacts will gravitate to the centre.

Now I have supported applicants to the Whitley Awards in the past, and will no doubt do so in the future -- there's cash in it for conservation. But giving the prize to individuals simply feeds the all pervasive cult of the celeb'. We have already seen wildlife films debased by gung-ho figures such as Steve Irwin. And the argument is that it brings it to a wider audience - am not particularly anti even those presentations. And last summer a string of 'celebs' were flown around the world for the BBC's Saving Planet Earth series, again, justified on the grounds that it brought the issues to a wider audience. But is this all worth the sell-out? I am not taking a particular stance, but I do have concerns. Inside knowledge is potentially a dangerous thing -- I know many of the persons involved at all levels -- from selections committees to winners. And I know that a few of the winners represent totally unsustainable projects, that are dependent on one or two individuals. But does this negate the benefits of such awards?

Who thinks what?

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Water, water everywhere, and lights everywhere as well

850,000 litres of water were bought by the House of Commons, at a cost of £324,000, according to a recent article in London's Evening Standard newspaper. And this is a government allegedly committed to saving resources, reducing carbon etc etc. The company that delivers the bottled water clocked up some 70,000 miles delivering it, and each litre was packaged in a non-returnable glass bottle. According to the Evening standard Minister Phil Woolas claimed it 'Bordered on being morally unacceptable.' Perhaps an understatement.

Government twittering about energy, and everyone being exhorted to stop flying drive less, doesn't make a lot of sense, when you see huge amounts of waste. Bottled water must be one of the craziest of all -- shipping around the country a substance that it to all intents and purposes indistinguishable from what comes out of a tap, is a huge drain on energy and other resources.

And then there is my old gripe: street lighting. Light pollution is rife, with millions and millions of kilowatts blazing away into the night sky. Causing birds to get lost on migration, probably causing the extinction of many species of insects, and an aesthetically nauseating orange glow over much of the northern hemisphere. Before worrying about whether or not we have left the TV on standby, let's worry about the street lighting left on all night, the church towers floodlit, and all the other major forms of waste.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Indicator species

I noticed that there is a workshop at the next BirdLife Conference on birds as indicator species for biodiversity. This is a concept that I find rather annoying -- birders love to suggest that their favourite organism is somehow a more important type of animal than others. There is an implication that the areas that are important for bird biodiversity are likely to be equally important for other forms of biodiversity. To start with, I really don't like using the term biodiversity, because you never really know what is meant. The majority of times it is being used as a synonym for species diversity, which is not really the same. It's a dangerous route -- rather like the hotspot concept. And like the latter does as much harm as good. Hotspots tend to be equated with species richness, but as any naturalist knows, deserts tend not to have as great a species richness as tropical rainforests. The only problem is that if you want to conserve desert species, conserving hotspots in the rainforest wont help a lot. And the same is true for bird biodiversity. The Galapagos islands are important for bird species diverssity, but to all intents and purposes irrelevant for terrestrial mammalian diversity -- just like New Zealand, with only two native mammals, both bats.

Trying to sell birds as biodiversity indicators is, to me, missing the point. Birds, and all wildlife deserve to be saved for a varity of very good reasons, but trying to kid someone that some taxa are more equal than others, smaks a little of two legs good, four legs bad.

I have nothing against materialist arguments for wildlife conservation, but I think if science is going to be used, we should be very careful that th arguments really stand up -- and when it comes to biodiversity, hotspots, species diversity, biomass etc etc., there is often not nearly enough known to justify some of the claims being made. All to often the species diversity has direct correlations with observer activity. It is very well known, that rare species of orchid, for example are likely to be discovered close to other rare species of orchids -- this is because botanists are more likely to go to those localaities. Just as bird reserves often have far longer bird lists than very similar habitat a half mile away, simply because that's where the birders go.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

New Tribes Mission: a threat to the survival of traditional life-styles

On a recent visit to Paraguay I was horrified to find out the Florida-based New Tribes Mission -- an extreme evangelist group -- were still active in Paraguay. They have been accused of collusion with the former Dictator Stroessner and there are many reports available on the internet detailing their extreme measures to obtain converts. Paraguay is home to some of the world's last remaining uncontacted tribes, and it is clear from their behaviors that they do not want contact with so-called civilization. Unfortunately evangelists such as the NTM are determined to contact them. Having seen some of the Indians that have been rounded up by the Missionaries and herded into villages all I can say is that it is very depressing to see these people, most of whom seem extremely depressed, with huge numbers of children and lots of health problems. Fortunately there are people trying to help the indigenous peoples of Paraguay, and also help those who want to escape from the Missionaries.

Venezuela is apparently expelling the Missionaries, a move that has been welcomed by the local Roman Catholic church. "Even Cardinal [Rosalio] Castillo Lara supported President Chavez's measure to remove New Tribes".

And for more info check out the following

People in third world countries have too many babies

People in third world countries have too many babies
I was surprised to find this response put on the Oxfam website as a common myth.

And the paragraph below given as their response:

Rubbish! It really is time to get shot of this. First of all, in lots of poor countries, families are getting smaller, not bigger. This is because people have fewer children when they begin to prosper – which is good news, all round. And the bad news? Millions of kids are still born into poverty, and don't even make it past their fifth birthday

The problem with this claim is that it cannot be substantiated, and is actually contradicted by virtually all the published statistics. And not only do people in third world countries definitely have too many babies, so do many people in the developed world. The world population is growing at an alarming rate, and to deny it is on a par with denying climate change. And there is a strong linkage between the two. The fact that families are getting smaller, hides the more significant fact that the birth rate is still outstripping the death rate, and that the human populations of most parts of the world (including Britain) are not sustainable.

Making poverty history in these circumstances may be an admirable objective, but it is fundamentally completely unachievable -- which is probably why no one has ever shown a plan as to how it will be achieved. Apply crude animal population dynamic theories to any human populations and it is immediately obvious that the present rate of increase cannot be sustained. It therefore follows that there will be catastrophic declines from time to time, either from disease, natural disaster or warfare, or all three. I have yet to see any models that can demonstrate an alternative. And certainly none of the Aid agencies have any on their websites; it's an issue they conveniently ignore -- or as shown above are misleading. Interestingly the Charity Commission in the UK has recently revised definitions of poverty. In the developing countries it can mean "lacking basic essentials such as clean water, food and shelter", but in the UK "it could refer to those living on less than 60% of the average income". Now to me this certainly seems like one rule for the rich and another for the poor, helping the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Which definition do aid agencies use?

Friday, 14 March 2008

Community involvement and tourism as conservation aids in Paraguay (and a long list of birds!)

Guest blog by WLT's web manager, Helena Akerlund, who spent some time in Paraguay last year volunteering with Guyra Paraguay.

John will shortly return from a World Land Trust staff and supporter trip to Paraguay and will no doubt report on the journey here in Green Issues, perhaps including an account of having finally seen in the wild that most elusive of animals: The jaguar. I hope so, but if he still hasn't been lucky enough to spot one, let's hope none of the first-time visitors in the group did when John was looking the other way, or there will be no end to his grumbles!

In the meantime I thought I'd squeeze in the last and long overdue account of my visit to Paraguay - now a distant six months ago.

The Eco Club: Ensuring the future of the Pantanal is in safe hands

Teenagers from the Eco Club singing by the campfire
"Los Exploradores" performing a song they had written themselves, complete with synchronised arm movements, which not everybody had mastered!
The Three Giants Lodge, the visitor facility at the Chaco-Pantanal Reserve in the north of Paraguay, was brand new when I was there, so our visit coincided with a dinner celebrating its opening. The local Eco Club and rangers attended and Guyra staff gave thanks to all who had helped realise the vision. (The work on the lodge is now completed and John and the others took part in its official grand opening last week.)

The Eco Club members are children and teenagers from the nearby community Bahía Negra, who, thanks to Guyra's involvement, are learning about reserve management and species identification. The idea is that responsibility for the management of the Chaco-Pantanal Reserve will soon lie completely with the local community, without the need for Guyra staff to travel quite so often between the capital and the reserve. For this to be achieved long-term it's essential to involve the younger generation. (Find out how you can support Guyra's community work in Bahía Negra here.)

Generally speaking not many local children stay in Bahía Negra when they grow up - there's simply not much there for them to do, and being located in a really isolated part of the country, the temptation to move south to the cities is great. The Eco Club provides some of the training needed to equip future reserve staff with key skills for managing the reserve and visitor facilities.

Most of my time in Paraguay was spent in the company of only a few people, so it was great to be able to meet with all the children of the Eco Club (who were very keen to practice their English) and witness their apparently endless enthusiasm for the club and the reserve.

Why visit Paraguay?

The location of the lodge in the Pantanal.
This image, taken from a plane by Pepe Cartes of Guyra Paraguay, shows just how isolated the Three Giants Lodge is. The lodge is the small white square on the riverside, and it's completely surrounded by the vastness of the Pantanal wetland, forest and palm savannah.
A few weeks ago I watched a TV programme about the (Brazilian) Pantanal and the giant otters living there. Seeing the floating lily leaves, the otters' heads bobbing up and down in the water and hearing the call of a Great Kiskadee and grunting of herons and jabirus, I was transported right back to the Chaco-Pantanal Reserve. If it wasn't for the distance and cost involved, I would not hesitate to make it my annual holiday destination!

The Pantanal is quite simply a fantastic place to go for a complete wilderness experience. The relatively high chance of seeing jaguars is a clear bonus! It's a heaven for birdwatchers too - as is the rest of the country. As John pointed out in an earlier blog post about visiting Paraguay: "Paraguay is at the cross-roads of several very important biogeographical regions. This makes it a very good place to go and see a huge range of species."

San Rafael, with its combination of forest and grassland, makes a perfect location for watching butterflies and birds - with the added bonus that it's relatively close to cities and airports. With a track running through the reserve it also makes it a tad more accessible to visitors who may not want to walk for miles along narrow forest trails.

Going to Paraguay also makes for a great conversation starter! If I had a penny for every person who asked me "Why Paraguay?"... Well, why not? The wildlife, the people, the cheap cost of getting around - and the fact that there weren't thousands of other tourists, made my trip thoroughly enjoyable.

For conservation projects to be successful in the long run, reducing the need for continuous donations and grants is an important factor. Tourism plays one part in the vision for making the Guyra reserves sustainable. This is a project still in its infancy, but I have no doubt that better facilities and services will be developed in the future, to make the reserves more attractive to the high-end of the market. (People like me, used to camping and bringing my own food to cut costs, just don't bring in that much money!)

In the meantime, adventurous travellers can get the best of two worlds: Intimate contact with nature, whilst sleeping in a comfortable bed!

More information about Paraguay and WLT's work there

See also the previous blog posts about my stay in Paraguay and some wildlife videos I made whilst in Paraguay, which can be seen on WLT's new multimedia website Wildlife Focus.

Jaguars in the Pantanl on TV

Jaguar in the Pantanal
Jaguar in the Brazilian Pantanal © Bill Markham
WLT supporter Bill Markham kindly informed us of a project he has been working on, recording a series about the Pantanal (in Brazil) for Channel Five. Entitled Jaguar Adventure, the series starts 8th April at 7.30pm and from the synopsis it looks like it could be very interesting:

"The Pantanal - the world's biggest wetland, the size of Britain... and home to the planet's largest population of Jaguars. These big cats are notoriously hard to find, let alone film. But when Tigress Productions heard of a location where they were being sighted regularly, Nigel Marven couldn't wait to get there."


Becoming a birder... (Birds in Paraguay)

I knew very little about birds before going to Paraguay - not because I wasn't interested, but because I never had anyone to teach me, and always had a slight fear of binoculars (don't ask). Now, on the other hand, I feel as if I know more about birds in South America than I do about European birds, and have also managed to identify some species here in the UK that were previously unknown to me, based on their similarities to their South American cousins.

This list is in no way complete. Although my knowledge improved exponentially, thanks to the help from Guyra staff and knowledgeable rangers, I have a notebook full of scribbles and questionmarks that I have am unable to add. Still, I hope it will give some sort of idea of the birds that can be seen in the Pantanal, Chaco and Atlantic Forest. (I will gradually edit the list to include links to the photos I took of some of these birds, so if you are interested in seeing these, check back in a couple of weeks.)
Latin nameEnglish name
Tapera naeviaStriped Cuckoo
Mita jaryiGreat Kiskadee
Colaptes campestrisField Flicker
Milvago chimachimaYellow-headed Caracara
Pseudoleistes guirahuroYellow-rumped Marshbird
Vanellus chilensisSouthern Lapwing
Tyrannus savanaFork-tailed Flycatcher
Coragyps atratusBlack Vulture
Progne chalybeaGray-breasted Martin
Falco sparveniusAmerican kestrel
Pardirallus nigricanusBlackish Rail
Buteogallus meridionalisSavannah Hawk
Barypthengus ruficapillusRoufus-capped Motmot
Synallaxis ruficapillaRoufus-capped Spinetail
Chlorostilbon aureoventrisGlittering-bellied Emerald
Hylocharis sapphirinaRoufus-throated Sapphire
Pionopsitta pileataRed-capped Parrot
Milvago chimangoChimango Caracara
Ceryle torquataRinged Kingfisher
Trogon surrucuraSurucura Trogon
Rhea americanaGreater Rhea
Rhynchotus rufescensRed-winged Tinamou
Nothura maculosaSpotted Nothura
Sturnella superciliarisWhite-browned Blackbird
Xanthopsar flavusSaffron-cowled Blackbird
Buteo albicaudatusWhite-tailed Hawk
Polystrictus pectoralisBearded tachuri
Ammodramus humeralisGrassland Sparrow
Glaucidium brasilianumFerruginous Pygmy Owl
Donacospiza albifonsLong-tailed Reed-finch
Coryphaspiza melanolisBlack-masked Finch
Elothoeptus anomalusSickle-winged Nightjar
Athene cuniculariaBurrowing Owl
Circus buffoniLong-winged Harrier
Pyrocephalus rubinusVermilion Flycatcher
Jacana jacanaWattled jacana
Phalacrocorax brasilicusNeotropical Cormorant
Anhinga anhingaAnhinga
Arunolinicola leucocephalaWhite-headed marsh-tyrant
Amblyramphus holosericeusScarlet-headed Blackbird
Stelgidopteryx ruficollisSouthern Rough-winged Swallow

Platalea ajajaRoseate Spoonbill
Himantopus melanurusSouth American Stilt
Asio clamatorStriped Owl
Busarellus nigricollisBlack-collared Hawk
Sorophilia collarisRushy-collared Seedeater
Hydropsalis torquataScissor-tailed Nightjar
Nyctibius griseusCommon Potoo
Otus cholibaTropical Screech-owl
Synalaxis albescensPale-breasted Spinetail
Gubernetes yetapaStreamer-tailed Tyrant
Geothlypis aequinoctialisMasked Yellow-throat
Agelaius cyanopusUnicoloured Blackbird
Elaenia flavogasterYellow-bellied Elaenia
Coryphospingus cucullatusRed-breasted Finch
Rynchops nigerBlack Skimmer
Phaetusa simplexLarge-billed Tern
Sterna superciliarisYellow-billed Tern
Caracara plancus Southern Crested-caracara
Cranioleuca obsoletaOlive Spinetail
Sittasomus griseicapillusOlivaceous Woodcreeper
Cacicus chrysopterusGolden-winged cacique
Synallaxis albescensPale-breasted Spinetail
Cranioleuca obsoletaOlive Spinetail
Syndactyla rufosuperciliataBuff-browned Foliage-gleaner
Thamnophilus caerulescensVariable Antshrike
Caicus solitarisSolitary Black Cacique
Piaya cayanaSquirrel Cuckoo
Dromococcyx phasiarellusPheasant Cuckoo
Platyrinchus mystaceusWhite-throated Spadebill
Cyanocompsa brissoniiCyanocompsa brissonii
Tachycineta albiventerWhite-winged Swallow
Guira guitaGuira Cuckoo
Ardea albaGreat Egret
Ergetta thulaSnowy Egret
Botaurus pinnatusPinnated Bittern
Ardea cocoiWhite-necked Heron
Tigresoma lineatumRufescent Tiger-heron
Nycticorax nycticoraxBlack-crowned Night-heron
Mycteria americanaAmerican Woodstork
Ciconia maguariMaguari Stork
Jabiru mycteriaJabiru
Theristicus caerulescensPlumbeous Ibis
Phimosus infuscatusBare-faced Ibis
Dendrocygna autumnalisBlack-bellied Whistling-duck
Butorides striatusStriated heron
Calindris melanotosPectorial Sandpiper
Aramus juaraunaLimkin
Chloroceyle amazonaAmazon Kingfisher
Verniliornis passerinusLittle Woodpecker
Lepidocolaptes angustostrisNarrow-billed Woodcreeper
Melanerpes candidusWhite Woodpecker
Paroaria capilataYellow-billed Cardinal
Fluvicola albiventerBlack-backed Water-tyreant
Buteo gallusGreat Black-hawk
Picoides mixtusCheckered Woodpecker
Colaptes melanochlorosGreen-barred Woodpecker
Piculus chrysochlorosGolden-green Woodpecker
Ramphastos tocoToco Toucan
Heliomaster furiciferBlue-tufted Starthroat

(Many thanks to Pepe, Roberto, Rionaldo, Juan, Arne and Silvia for help with identification. Any errors in this list are entirely my own and most likely due to difficult to interpret handwriting and clumsy typing. Please do let me know if you spot any!)

Finally, a massive thank you to everybody at Guyra for having me, showing me around and making me speak Spanish (mostly), despite not being very good at it!

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Letter to the Guardian in response to The Great Land Grab

Last week, John Vidal published an article in the Guardian, The Great Land Grab, which was very critical of land purchase as a method of conservation. World Land Trust Patron, Sir David Attenborough, responded on the Trust's behalf in Buying land can save the world's wilderness areas and a discussion sprung up on the WLT's group page on Facebook. Below is a letter to the Guardian in response to Vidal's article, from Dr. Michael S. Roy of Conservation through Research Education and Action, providing a voice from the 'front line' of conservation, which we thought our readers would find informative.

Dear Editor

In his article "The Great Green Land Grab" of 13th February ( John Vidal raises our awareness of the current trend of land purchasing by environmental charities in order to save critical and highly threatened habitats across the world. He also brings to our attention the failures of some of those purchases but does not provide full details as to why they failed. The article offers little hope only nightmarish scenarios of conservation groups cheating indigenous people out of their birth right, but fails wholly to identify the complexity and ultimate causes of both the conservation crisis nor the plight of indigenous peoples.

In my first point I would like to set the record straight since John Vidal paints a very disturbing picture of environmental NGOs, the great majority of which are standing against the tidal wave of planetary change using justice and peace as their core weapons. As our last wilderness areas with high biodiversity come under the axe, the developing world, where most of these areas are, have been incapable of thwarting the pressure to give up their natural resources by large corporations and western governments. To work with local people and hope for internal change through aid incentives and education is a necessary but long term approach to conservation. Sometimes however, these simply do not work as stand alone strategies in the face of governments with huge foreign debts to first world nations that will bend over backwards to attract international investment. In these cases natural resources may be a long term necessity but are often seen as a short term luxury. We simply don't have time to wait in many critical areas of the globe and as many learned reports show (eg Millenium Ecosystem Report), conservation is losing the battle. It has therefore been reasoned by many conservation groups that the best and most lasting way to conserve what is left is to buy or rent land, before developers can irreversibly extract the natural resources from them, and provide education and develop sustainable livelihoods for local people during and after the process. Buying land to advance conservation and social ideals is a valid and acceptable practice that has brought prosperity and sustainability to many poor rural communities.

In my second point, Mr Vidal cites conservation as a major player in the social upheaval of indigenous people in the developing world, coining the phrase eco-colonists. However this is very far from the truth in my experience. In many countries again root causes stem from indebted or corrupt governments and multi-national business. It is these that pose the greatest concern for indigenous groups, from eviction from badly planned national parks by national governments (as Mr. Vidal correctly identifies), to mining, petroleum and logging. In Panama, a tropical country rich in biodiversity, indigenous peoples are not being evicted from their land, they are just totally neglected in land use planning. In one case a multiple hydroelectric scheme to be built and operated by the US firm AES will flood part of the Amistad National Park, a World Heritage Site, and drown the homes and livelihoods of the indigenous Teribe people whose ancestral home is the watershed. These dams will also cause the very likely extinction of at least 9 fish species representing about 75% of the river biomass and food source for local people. Many conservation organisations, local and international, are rushing to the aid of the indigneous people and helping them with their legal battle against the government who gave away the concession without the consent of the tribe.

Along the Caribbean coast the Panamanian government has given a 13,000 ha concession to the Canadian Petaquilla mining company, that will devastate this Atlantic primary forest and make it an huge toxic open cast gold and copper mine. This region is part of the Meso-American Biological corridor, a supposed conservation region that has cost millions of dollars to implement (a large part paid for by the European Union) and has included rural development projects to aid local communities achieve their conservation goals. Conservation and social justice groups in Panama are joining forces to condemn this project due the impact that it will have on the local people and the environment.

It is of course necessary to take indigenous and rural communities into full consideration and even hand over control of natural resources to them but this must also be done with caution and good planning. Indigenous people in Panama remain the poorest group with high infant mortality, low life expectancy and chronic malnutrition. Under this situation even indigenous people can fall into the natural resource sell off trap for short term profit. The Ngobe-Bugle of Panama have laid waste to their forest habitat as a result of selling off their timber and adopting western farming techniques but still remain the poorest of the indigenous groups in Panama. The Kuna of Madungandi are currently selling their forests (albeit unwillingly) to logging companies and trucks laden with trees hundreds of years old are often seen in long convoys along the Pan-American highway to saw mills outside the city. The Kuna remain desperately poor and many live in squalor. Through the responsible buying, renting or shared ownership of land and the provision of post purchase development aid that trains communities for sustainable livelihoods which can include sustainable natural resource extraction, conservation groups can and do deliver conservation and development goals at the same time.

Conservation is a crisis discipline and adaptive management is its core philosophy. Conservation in practice is highly complex and requires teams with diverse skills in diplomacy, anthropology, biology, economics, marketing, agriculture, natural resource management, law and politics to name a few, that must deal with the specific cultural, religious and political nuances of each human society. But true conservation respects all biological diversity including the diversity of people and for this reason conservation is an all encompassing movement and the people involved in this field deserve much better than that article written by Mr Vidal.

Dr. Michael S. Roy
Executive Director and Chief Scientist of
Conservation through Research Education and Action

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Good news for tigers

We hear a lot about the depressing fate of tigers in India and elsewhere. Numbers continue to fall, and last year they were declared extinct in Sariska National Park. However, it is not all doom and gloom.

When I was in India over Christmas I visited Nagahole National Park and was told that tigers are doing well there, and that they were also increasing in Corbett National Park. A depressing fact is that a worryingly large proportion of the money spent on tiger conservation over the past 40 years or so, has probably been watsed. Tigers now only survive in viable populations inside National Parks and other protected areas.

Huge amounts of money have been spent on public education, and protecting tigers outside the protected area network. But if all that money had been spent on ensuring the integrity of the best reserves, with the largest populations, and if money had been spent on corridors between protected areas, the tiger population would probably be in far better shape now. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but what is now apparent to me, and everyone else at the WLT, is that our approach is certainly one of the approaches most likely to succeed in conserving wildlife. Over the 20 brief years that the WLT has been in existence, we have evolved an approach, which seems to have a very high chance of success -- building on and strengthening existing successful local NGOs, and expanding protected areas, based on biodiversity, and creating networks and corridors.

One of the corridors our Indian partners, the Wildlife Trust of India, have created for elephants, has already been used by tigers. Corridors are expensive, as the land needed is often expensive, but in the long-term, it is a very cost effective way of conserving endangered species. Donate now, and ear-mark it for corridor projects. We can't predict the land will be £25 an acre (sometimes is may be £2500 an acre or more) but we can predict that even a small corridor will have disproportionate benefits to the wildlife.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Tacky gifts

To start off my quest for the most inappropriate wildlife gifts here are a few websites for you to evaluate. What do readers think of them? Do they do more harm than good? Is this a good way of raising funds? Should the World Land Trust develop a similar range of gifts for sale (I have already made up my mind!).

Fundamentalist religion and conservation

Conservative religion and conservation are rarely sympathetic. As the rest of the world becomes more and more enlightened, it often appears that the USA becomes more deeply entrenched in pandering to the fundamentalist wing of Christianity -- none of the presidential candidates seem prepared to speak out against what is a significant minority of voters. Not all conservative Christians are right-wing bigots of course, and some are even perceived as rather benign isolated, peace-loving outsiders. The Amish (Mennonites) for instance.

But the Mennonites in general, while avowedly peace-loving, are also a major threat to wildlife and the natural environment. They are a priori farmers, often living on the edges of the modern world. Often ultra conservative in both their dress, and their way of life, as well as their farming methods, but they can destroy nature on a grand scale. The last desert-dwelling population of the Aplomado Falcon, in the grasslands of Chihuahua is threatened by Mennonites plowing up their habitat. In N Belize, it is the Mennonite famers that have cut down the rainforest surrounding those protected by the Programme for Belize, while in Paraguay, they are spreading into the Dry Chaco, one of the world's most fragile habitats. Mennonites have large families - often very large - and nearly all their children want to have land. And they are very efficient at clearing wilderness. And they are great pioneers of the untamed frontiers -- do we really want to see those last untamed frontiers disappear under the plow......?

Any suggestions.....?

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Poverty: What does it mean?

One of my (many) criticisms of charities aiming to "make poverty history" in Africa, is that they never define what they mean by poverty. Try and find a definition on Christian Aid's website, or any of the other charities -- or try writing to them and you will see what I mean.

The UK Charity Commision have really helped muddy the waters now to the point of 100% turbidity. According to a Third Secor report: 'poverty', in charity law "means people who are financially disadvantaged"..... It continues 'in developing countries the phrase could mean those "who lack even the most basic essential to sustain life, such as clean water, food or shelter. But in the UK, it could refer to those "living on less than 60 per cent of the average income, or below the level of income support." Talk about all people being equal, but some being more equal than others...." Either way, it remains to be seen how any of the organisations aiming to raise the entire human population of Africa out of poverty, intend to do it. While it may be a noble aim, I would suggest that it is an impossibility, and that they are misleading the public by suggesting it can be done. Worse still some of the methods being used could actually be creating long-term poverty. Goats for eaxample, to cite my bete noir....

World Land Trust in India and an old quoteation.

Just after Christmas, I returned from visiting India, and seeing what the Wildlife rust of India has been doing over the past few months. And very exciting it is too. The elephant corridors are a great success, with not only elephants using them, but lots of other wildlife including tigers.

That was the good news. But travelling around India, it was hard not to be filled with a sense of foreboding. Every three years or so, the human population increases by the size of Britain's population -- that's an extra 60 million people. And the standard of living, for a large proportion of that population is galloping ahead. The almost grid-locked cities are a testament to the new prosperity.

But one has to ask, What is fuelling this economic growth? And the answer is, to a large extent, the west's demand for cheap, mass produced goods. And despite all the rhetoric about 'sustainable development', there is no question that this development is far from sustainable.
And while travelling, I read a book, published nearly 70 years ago. Before foreign aid, and organisations like Christian Aid were saving Africa. But the writing had an amazingly contemporary ring to it. But can any of my readers identify the source of the following passage?

"..... the most significant facts are these: the inhabitants of every civilized country are menaced; all desire passionately to be saved from impending disaster; the overwhelming majority refuse to change the habits of thought, feeling and action which are directly responsible for their present plight. In other words, they can't be helped, because they are not prepared to collaborate with any helper who proposes a rational and realistic course of action. In these circumstances, what ought the would-be helper to do?'
'He's got to do something'said Pete.
'Even if he thereby accelerates the process of destruction?'....Doing good on anything but the tiniest scale requires more intelligence than most people possess. They ought to be content with keeping out of mischief; it's easier and doesn't have such frightful results as trying to to do good in the wrong way. Twiddling the thumbs and having good manners are much more helpful, in most cases, than rushing around with good intentions, doing things..... Incidentally, the price measured in human terms, is enormously high. Though, of course, much lower than the price demanded by the nature of things from those who persist in behaving in the standard human way. Much lower than the price of war, for example -- particularly war with contemporary weapons'...'

I would make a strong case for this line of thinking being just as valid today, as it was before the outbreak of World War II, when it was written. Rushing around doing good by aid agencies has caused many of the problems they set out to solve, simply because they do mot deal with the underlying, real reasons for the problems. They treat symptoms, not causes.

But can any reader identify the source of this quotation? I'll happily send a copy of Endangered Mammals of the World -- now 20 years old, and one of my last remaining copies, to the first person to identify the quote.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

How to support a wildlife organisation and help destroy the world

Why do wildlife conservation organisations encourage blatant consumerism of tacky goods, many of which will be made in China, causing an accelleration of pollution, depletion of fossil fuels, etc etc etc.? It's too depressing for words.

I would be very interested to hear others' views on this. I make no claims to being a hair-shirted dark green conservationist, but I do think that some organisations have seriously lost the plot, when they use really tacky consumer goods. What are the worst examples you know of?