Thursday, 30 April 2009

IUCN in retreat

IUCN -- the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources-- has just had a retreat. So I read in their newsletter today. And I always find the concept faintly worrying. To start with the idea of being in retreat has a distinctly negative connotation. And even if I sweep that aside, it then has a rather austere, monastic inference. Neither appeals to me. And while it might be a useful function, for the staff and board members to get together, I am not sure it is something that deserves publicity. Cynics in the conservation world have suggested that IUCN stands for International Union for Conversation about Nature, or even worse, I Used to Conserve Nature. The fact remains that too many meetings, with too many delegates are what IUCN has become known for. We need fewer conferences, fewer meetings, less research and more action. Much more action.

Needless to say there was no mention of the most serious of all conservation issues: human populations. IUCN seems to avoid this much of the time. But I was glad to hear over the weekend, that Sir David Attenborough has beome patron of the Optimum Population Trust.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Flying off to Sicily

Last Thursday I flew off to Sicily for a long weekend. Recharging of batteries etc. It was one of the best times of the year for seeing orchids, and we saw loads of them, together with masses of other wild flowers, plus migrating birds of prey. But of course many people then criticise trips like this -- flying and all that carbon footprint. How do I justify it? The answer is, I don't really have any logical justification. It does have a carbon footprint, but since on the whole I lead a relatively low-carbon life, I suppose I feel, a little bit of indulgence is justified. Furthermore, my raison d'etre for conserving wildlife, is my own personal enjoyment of it. But while flying, I did feel that the best way of reducing the amount of carbon is to ensure that fair and realistic prices are paid for air travel. And certainly it is getting much more expensive, and there were fewer people on the plane. But it's a dilemma which is not easily solved. What do others who fly a lot feel about this?

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Easter weekend

A few days away from the office, and some glorious spring weather. Slow worms were under the sheets of corrugated iron that I have strewn around the garden to provide a hiding place for them. Also a common shrew and a bank vole were under the sheets as well. The dawn chorus seems a bit better than recent years with at least four singing male blackcaps. And I saw my first swallow on Saturday. And best of all, in our tiny patch of woodland, I found a nice crop of Morels -- a spring fruiting fungus, that is truly delicious.

And an interesting piece of behaviour. Over winter I have kept our five Japanese Quail in the greenhouse -- they hate the wet cold English winter, and seemed very happy, and became exceptionally tame. On Sunday, I decided to put some seed trays in the green house, and gave it a thorough wetting, and the quail also had a great time in the shower. Then next day their behaviour totally changed. They became very flighty -- they had only ever run around, never taking flight -- and very vocal. Did the shower I had given them, trigger a migration response? Unfortunately none of the books I have (including the Handbook of Birds of the World give any information that enlightens me on this. Any leads from my readers would be

And so today, back to work, with a few donations resulting from Simon Barnes' article in the Times (fewer than I expected, probably because with the beautiful weekend weather, no one was reading their papers, they were all in the garden!)

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Wildlife, rainforests and vegetarianism

A few of WLT's supporters have suggested that being vegetarian is a way of saving wildlife and rainforests. As is so often the case, the answers are never that simple.

I was brought up a vegetarian (unusual in the 1940s and 50s), but changed in the 1960s to an omnivore diet. The fact is that while there is no question that we do not need to eat the vast quantities of meat that 'developed' (i.e. rich) societies eat, an omnivore diet actually makes as much sense as a vegetarian diet. Grazing sheep on upland pastures can be an efficient way of maintaining interesting habitats, and even in vegetarian areas of India cows are kept to provide manures.

More controversial is the fact that huge areas of rainforest have been devastated for the production of soya beans, which are among the mainstays of vegetarian and vegan foods. The more responsible soya producers only use organic soya, but even those do often get it from areas that were historically rainforest.

My personal belief is that the answer does not lie in vegetarianism per se, but in eating very limited amounts of high quality (organic, pesticide free, locally produced, cruelty free) meat, and locally produced vegetables when ever possible. But international trade is also important to benefit the poorer parts of the world, so ethically and environmentally friendly rice and other cereals etc should not be ignored.

Unfortunately there is no simple answer, other than simply reducing the size of the human population and its aspirations to ever increasing material wealth.