Saturday, 30 July 2011

Green the Film

Here is the first part of 'Green the Film', which follows the journey of an orang-utan in the Indonesian rainforest, which is under severe threat from deforestation. It is a really sad story, but highlights just how humans can impact upon biodiversity.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

"Black day for badgers" as government backs cull

The Government has announced controversial plans to introduce a major badger cull in England to tackle TB in cattle. The RSPCA said it was a "black day for badgers", claiming the scientific case to support the mass slaughter of the animals had not been made.

Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, acknowledged there was "great strength of feeling" about the issue but told the Commons: "I believe this is the right way forward."

More consultation will be carried out before any mass cull is allowed, but the Government plans to carry out a pilot in two areas.

The Secretary of State said badger control licences would be issued by Natural England under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 to enable groups of farmers and landowners to reduce badger populations at their own expense.

If controlled shooting was found to be effective and humane, the policy could be introduced throughout England. Scotland and Wales set their own policy as disease control is a devolved issue.

Mrs Spelman hoped that her announcement would send a clear message to the farming industry, saying: "If culling is ultimately authorised, we will look to the farmers involved to show that they take their responsibility very seriously, and that they are committed to delivering culling effectively and humanely."

David Bowles, director of communications for the RSPCA, said: "Today is a black day for badgers - a day we have been dreading.

"At a time when the Welsh Government has stepped back from a cull, the Government in England is slowly shredding its own animal welfare credentials."

The RSPCA said vaccination of badgers, increased levels of testing, improved biosecurity and stricter controls on the movement of cattle were more effective ways of eradicating bovine TB in cattle for good.

Colin Booty, senior scientist for the RSPCA, said: "The RSPCA is sympathetic to farmers struggling to cope with the effects of this crippling disease and thinks that the problem of bovine TB in cattle needs a sustainable and effective solution.

"But this is not such a solution. We believe that the Government have taken the wrong fork in the road with this risky policy.

"This cull will contribute little or nothing to the long-term goal of eradicating TB nationally. Instead it will wipe out huge numbers of this much-loved species, including many animals which are healthy."

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said nearly 25,000 cattle were slaughtered in England last year because of bovine TB, which cost the country £90 million.

The problem is particularly bad in west and south-west England, where 23% of cattle farms were unable to move stock off their premises at some point in 2010 due to being affected by the disease.

Mrs Spelman said: "This terrible disease is getting worse, and we've got to deal with the devastating impact it has on farmers and rural communities.

"There's also the effect on the farming economy and taxpayers. Bovine TB will cost us £1 billion over the next decade in England alone if we don't take more action.

"First we need to stop the disease spreading even further. Then we need to bring it under control and ultimately eradicate it."

Investment in developing a TB vaccine was being made but there were "serious practical difficulties" with the injectable badger treatment, she said.

"I know that a large section of the public is opposed to culling, and that many people are particularly concerned about whether it will actually be effective in reducing TB in cattle and about whether it will be humane," she said.

"I wish there was some other practical way of dealing with this, but we can't escape the fact that the evidence supports the case for a controlled reduction of the badger population in areas worst affected by bovine TB.

"With the problem of TB spreading and no usable vaccine on the horizon, I'm strongly minded to allow controlled culling, carried out by groups of farmers and landowners, as part of a science-led and carefully managed policy of badger control."

Last week a key Government adviser said a cull would be a mistake.

Lord Krebs, who conducted a major review into badgers and bovine TB in the 1990s and recommended a trial cull which took place over the following 10 years, said he did not think it was "an effective policy".

He said research showed around a 16% reduction in new infections in herds following a badger cull, adding: "So you leave 85% of the problem still there, having gone to a huge amount of trouble to cull a huge number of badgers.

NFU president Peter Kendall said: "I join with farmers up and down the country today in breathing an enormous sigh of relief that the Government has shown leadership in tackling this terrible disease.

"This has never been about eradicating badgers; this is about eradicating disease.

"Today is a massive step forward and I thank Defra and the Secretary of State for the painstaking work that has gone into making what has been, I'm sure, a very tough decision in the face of not inconsiderable opposition.

"Sometimes we have to do what is unpopular because we know it is right. Not taking action is no longer an option and the Government has recognised that. As the most recent science shows, badger controls are absolutely necessary, together with cattle controls, to get on top of this devastating disease."

The English badger population was estimated to be 190,000 in 1995.

In the two planned pilot scheme areas - at least 150km squared - it is thought around 1,000-1,500 badgers would be culled over four years.

A nine-week consultation period will start, ending on September 19.

This article was taken from the Independent on Tuesday 19th July 2011.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Here be Monsters...

Sceptics love to poke fun at cryptozoologists, but there are strange creatures out there whose existence has yet to be confirmed by science.

Let me explain. Having interviewed Debbie Martyr (research conservationist with Flora and Fauna International) 12 years ago about her apparent sighting of the primate cryptid the orang pendek in Sumatra and more recently interviewing ape expert Ian Redmond on his research into sasquatch/big foot (supported by David Attenborough and Jane Goodall), over the years I have acquired a fascination for primate cryptids. So I was eager to attend a recent lecture at the Zoological Society London (ZSL) entitled "Cryptozoology: science or pseudoscience?".

Henry Gee, a senior editor at Nature looking and behaving like a jovial, off-duty roadie dressed in grubby T shirt and ruby crocs, chaired the event in which Drs Michael Woodley, Charles Paxton and Darren Naish presented their crypto data.

Paxton reminded us that atmospheric electrical disturbances such as sprites, blue jets and elves were only identified in the 1980s and 1990s when they were photographed. Until then, anecdotal reports of flashes of light above the clouds were frequently ignored. Scientists used to dismiss accounts of meteorites as paranormal fantasy and poured scorn on eyewitness descriptions from lucky survivors of rogue waves – until satellite images in the 1990s confirmed their existence. The mountain gorilla wasn't believed to exist by Western science until two were shot dead in 1902, and the bonobo was not credited with being a unique species until 1930. In the past 20 years, 70 species of primate have been newly described, including a Vietnamese gibbon and the Bili ape: a large, sub-species of chimp from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2009, a Papua New Guinean crater yielded up a cat-sized species of woolly rat, among other previously undiscovered creatures.

In an age of satellites and robotic submersibles, it's easy to assume, with a "been there done that" attitude, that we know all there is to know about Earth. Clearly nature is far from being fully understood by science, and yet some sceptics persist in contemptuously sneering at almost everything outside of their immediate knowledge. With their high-systemised inability to tolerate newness, they stymie open scientific debate, bully original thinkers and drive away those with fascinating new data on unknown species.

I was sad to witness this and their non-reflective guffawing at ZSL. Paxton and Naish seemed particularly conscious of this spiked criticism and made a point of distancing themselves from misleading and bad science. Nothing wrong with that, but they were so ardent in this respect that the friend I was with mistakenly thought the panel were themselves anti-cryptozoology.

The three speakers focused their statistical analysis on sea monsters, Paxton saying that he prefers the term monster to cryptid. He also wanted to assure the audience that, "taxpayers have no fear, your money is not spent on crypto research, scientists do this in their spare time." Paxton's talk underscored the fact that anomalies should be actively pursued and science should be about wonderment.

But how should science deal with low-frequency phenomena that might well be real? One approach is to break witness reports down and analyse interesting properties. To illustrate, Paxon used his data of "initial reported distance" from sea monsters given by witnesses aboard boats. Significantly, initial sighting are usually reported close to the boat. Paxton wasn't sure why this might be. I would suggest that it is because witnesses do not know what they do not know – they have to see it close-up to be confident they are witnessing something unexpected. An unknown creature seen at a distance could be dismissed as a dolphin or a piece of wood. Initial sightings of terrestrial cryptids also tend to be at close proximity, and again the same factor may well apply.

Naish addressed the "prehistoric survivor paradigm". Some 65m years ago, during the late cretaceous, the coelacanth, the plesiosaur and many other species disappeared from the fossil record during a mass extinction. But in 1938 and again in 1999 two species of coelacanth were discovered. This Lazarus-like survival of the coelacanth gives confidence to those who suggest a long-necked surviving plesiosaur swims in our lochs and oceans. As a palaeontologist Naish was able to explain how the vertebrae of plesiosaurs could not move in the flexible, swan-like motion often described in reported sightings. But he believes this is a case of wrong classification rather than an indication that sea monsters do not exist. We were reminded of the new Indonesian species of ray and shark and the two recently identified (1991/2002) species of beaked whale, inhabiting a deep-sea niche: the deep sea and its inhabitants are barely understood.

During the Q&A an elderly sceptic quipped: "Some people say they've seen aliens and have even talked to them!" The panel trod an uneasy path as they attempted to accommodate these sorts of jibes while keeping on track.

The three speakers confirmed that their modelling indicates there are between 10 and 50 large species of marine animals yet to be described. They were also in agreement that marine sampling methods for cryptids must be established and remain constant.

For those readers left wanting more, the Weird Weekend is the biggest gathering of cryptozoologists in the world, held in Devon in August. Naish will again be speaking.

This article was written by Carol Jahme and published on the Guardian's website on Friday 15th July 2011 - for more articles written by Carol Jahme please visit

Government expect to back badger cull

The badger (Meles meles) is a protected species under UK and European laws but the government is expected to announce on Tuesday that it will back a widespread cull of badgers in south-west England.

The coalition has always said it was "minded" to introduce culling in England to help fight bovine TB. Bovine TB costs the UK economy about £100m per year, blighting farmers in areas such as south-west England, with tens of thousands of cattle killed.

The decision has been taken in the face of opposition from critics ranging from Sir David Attenborough to Lord Krebs, the senior scientist who wrote the first report on the badger-TB link in 1997, and who said last week that a badger cull would be a mistake. Campaign organisations remain opposed to a cull and are likely to challenge it in court.

But it will be warmly welcomed by livestock farmers, who have been pressing for a cull with the disease continuing to spread despite the official biocontrol measures of cattle testing, slaughter and movement restriction. More than 25,000 TB-infected cattle had to be slaughtered last year.

There is broad scientific consensus that badgers do form a reservoir of tuberculosis and do spread it to cattle; the argument has been over whether a cull would be effective. A group of experts brought together by Defra agreed that a cull would reduce the incidence of the disease in cattle herds by between 12 and 16 per cent. However Lord Krebs said that a policy which left "85 per cent of the problem still here" did not seem to be an effective way of dealing with the disease.

Sir David Attenborough's Warning...

A cull of badgers could worsen TB in cattle and vaccination is the only long-term solution to the problem, Sir David Attenborough has warned. The naturalist and broadcaster added his voice to the doubts of many scientists and conservationists before the government's expected confirmation on Monday of a proposed controversial cull of badgers to reduce bovine TB in cattle.

"You may think that culling is the answer and it sounds easy to start with but it can very well make things much worse," warned Attenborough. "Survivors will carry the disease into areas that have hitherto been unaffected. There's good scientific research available to show that culling badgers can make things worse and not better."

Sir David Attenborough continued "It's a no-win situation all way round. It sounds very pompous to say I have sympathy with farmers but one clearly does,"... "(T)he poor farmer has to put down animals that he cares for daily. Who am I, a townie, to tell people what to do or even to comment on what they do? All I'm saying is the latest research seems to suggest that [a cull] is likely to make things worse rather than better. Something has to be done. What has to be done is get a proper vaccine to enable us to inoculate badger populations."

Monday, 18 July 2011

Warning bells sound with loss of the world's top predators

A study in the journal 'Science' shows a dramatic decline of the world's top predators, from wolves and lions to sharks and tuna fish. A group of leading biologists place the blame on the influence of humans.

Top predators are the "apex consumers" of the world's ecosystems and their decline in numbers has powerful repercussions on animals and plants lower down the food chain. The decline, from such activities as hunting and habitat loss, has had diverse effects, from changes in vegetation and wildfire frequency to water quality and nutrient cycles, the scientists said.

"Apex consumers... have powerful effects on the ways ecosystems work, and the loss of these large animals has widespread implications," said Professor James Estes of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Professor William Ripple, of Oregon State University, said hunting larger animals to the edge of extinction takes away habitat and food from other animals. For example beavers are needed for tree growth, insects feed on large mammals and kills and whales provide a place for small fish to live. The death of larger animals also takes away the balance of the system, for example sharks being replaced by rays.

"We now have overwhelming evidence that large predators are hugely important in the function of nature, from the deepest oceans to the highest mountains, the tropics to the Arctic.

"In a broad view, the collapse of these ecosystems has reached a point where this doesn't just affect wolves or aspen trees, deforestation or soil or water.

"These predators and processes ultimately protect humans. This isn't just about them, it's about us."

Q&A - The reform of the EU Fishing Policy

The EU Commission has proposed major changes to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), designed to cut waste and stop overfishing in European waters. Under the plan, the existing system of fishing quotas - which often leads to tonnes of perfectly good fish being dumped at sea - will be reformed.

The following has been taken from the BBC News website

What is wrong with the existing system?

The European Commission says the current policy is wasteful - 75% of stocks are still overfished and catches are only a fraction of what they were 15-20 years ago. Catches of cod for example have declined by 70% in the last 10 years.

The Commission believes that the "top down" system of micro-managing fisheries from Brussels is failing and that decision-making needs to be decentralised.

The method of allocating fishing quotas EU-wide has contributed to the serious depletion of stocks, the Commission says. Crews that haul in more than the agreed quota often throw large quantities of dead fish back into the sea - the much-criticised "discards".

The system is not meeting the European market's needs. Fish imported from non-EU countries now accounts for two-thirds of the fish sold in the EU.

What was the current policy designed to do?

The idea of agreed quotas was to make Europe's fishing stable and sustainable and prevent conflicts arising where foreign trawlers fish in a country's waters.

The quota system - called Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for each fish stock - is at the heart of the CFP, launched in 1983. The TACs are based on a country's previous catches.

Over time Europe's fishing fleets have grown too large for the dwindling fish stocks, but fisheries ministers are often reluctant to see their national TACs reduced. The Commission says the CFP has been plagued by short-term decision-making.

How does the EU plan to protect fish stocks now?

The practice of discards must be phased out, the Commission says. In future trawlers will have to land their entire catch - and that means member states will have to ensure that better technology is installed to monitor compliance.

The Commission wants EU governments to switch from subsidising fishing fleets to a more market-driven approach to fishing.

Large fleets will be allocated transferable catch shares, called "concessions", which they will be able to trade, in response to local conditions. Such trades will be organised nationally - they will not take place between EU states. The concessions will be valid for at least 15 years.

The Commission says fisheries should be managed on an "ecosystem" basis - there needs to be more flexibility in the system and more scientific data needs to be collected on a larger number of fish species.

A new funding mechanism will be set up for 2014-2020 called the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), with a budget of 6.7bn euros (£6bn).

Part of that fund will help support small-scale coastal fleets. Member states will be able to restrict fishing in a zone within 12 nautical miles of the coast, up to the year 2022.

What is the time frame for the changes?

The Commission wants the new CFP to be in place by 1 January 2013.

So there will be at least 18 months of negotiations between EU governments and the European Parliament before the new rules are adopted. There are likely to be many amendments.

The first transferable concessions are to be introduced in 2014, covering several species including mackerel, herring and tuna. More species will be covered in subsequent years.

What has been the response so far to the plan?

The UK government is enthusiastic, calling it a "vital first step" towards sustainable fisheries.

UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon said more work must be done to encourage consumers to buy a wider range of fish.

That message was echoed by Sainsbury's, which said "it is imperative that supermarkets such as Sainsbury's help create the consumer demand for lesser known species by promoting them to our customers".

Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said the EU reforms "need to be a lot more radical".

He praised the Commission's emphasis on conservation of stocks, but said more carefully targeted measures would be needed to stop discards.

The environmental group Oceana called for proper management plans for a much larger number of fish stocks.

It voiced concern that the Commission plan "doesn't establish any mechanisms to deal with landed by-catch". There is a risk that the surplus fish landed - instead of being discarded at sea - will simply be sold and that could incentivise overfishing, Oceana says.

Another green group, WWF, said the proposed tradable concessions could lead to a monopolisation of fishing by a few big fleets.

Related stories...

Demand for fish outstrips supply: Annual consumption of fish is almost double what can be caught in UK seas, says research -

Fish dumping must be banned to protect stocks, EU chief rules: The practice by European fishermen of throwing away large amounts of the fish they catch must end, the European Commission said yesterday, in outlining radical proposals to shake up Europe's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) -

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Rainbow Toad - Rediscovered!

"To see the first pictures of a species that has been lost for almost 90 years defies belief”

Dr Robin Moore

A colourful, spindly-legged toad that was believed to be extinct has been rediscovered in the forests of Borneo.

Scientists from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) found three of the missing long-legged Borneo rainbow toads up a tree during a night time search. The team had spent months scouring remote mountain forests for the species.

Prior to the above photograph only illustrations of the toad had existed. These were drawn from specimens that were collected by European explorers in the 1920s and the toad hasn't been seen since 1924!

Conservation International, which launched its Global Search for Lost Amphibians in 2010, had listed the toad as one of the "world's top 10 most wanted frogs".

Pink Grasshopper found by two seven year olds

Two seven year olds (Noah Battelley and Meg Willis) have found a rare species of pink grasshopper close to their homes in west Norfolk. The inch-long critter was found in Dersingham Fen, which saw fires rip through the area just three months ago. Who'd have known that a grasshopper was actually pink - learnt something new today!

Climate Change could kill one in ten species by the end of THIS century

Climate change is speeding up the rate at which animals and plants are becoming extinct. By the end of the century, one in 10 species could be on the verge of extinction because of the effects of global warming, a study has found.

The findings support the view that the earth is currently experiencing a global mass extinction where the rate at which species are being lost is many times greater than the historical extinction rate. It is the sixth great mass extinction in the history of life on earth. Scientists said that previous predictions of how fast species are being lost because of climate change match the actual observed losses. They calculate that around 10 per cent of species alive today could be facing extinction by 2100.

Ilya Maclean and Robert Wilson, of the University of Exeter, examined nearly 200 previous predictions about how climate change may affect the extinction of species and compared them with about 130 reports of changes already observed.

The aim was to judge the accuracy of estimates made by scientists in the past about climate change predictions in relation to species extinction. They concluded that the observed threats matched well with the actual threats, based on real observations.

"We tried to see whether predictions were backed up by things that have already happened and this was what we found," Dr Maclean said.

Rising temperatures, changing patterns of rainfall and increasing acidity of the oceans are all having an impact on the viability of vulnerable species. In the oceans, for instance, rising acidity threatens the survival of the polyp organisms that make coral reefs while increasing temperatures are sending some mountain species of plants and animals to higher altitudes.

"Our study is a wake-up call for action. The many species that are already declining could become extinct if things continue as they are. It is time to stop using the uncertainties as an excuse for not acting. Our research shows that the harmful effects of climate change are already happening and, if anything, exceed predictions," Dr Maclean said.

"The implications are that unless we do something to reverse climate change impacts by lowering levels of carbon dioxide, or help species cope with climate change, we could be looking at a lot of extinctions by the end of the century. It's further evidence that we are experiencing a global mass extinction," he said.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that global warming ranks alongside habitat loss and invasive species as a major threat to endangered animals and plants. It concluded that the speed at which the climate is likely to change in the future threatens to overwhelm the rate at which species are able to adapt.

"By looking at such a range of studies from around the world, we found that the impacts of climate change can be felt everywhere, and among all groups of animals and plants," said Robert Wilson, the study's co-author.

"From birds to worms to marine mammals, from high mountain ranges to jungles and to the oceans, scientists seem to have been right that climate change is a real threat," Dr Wilson said. "We need to act now. This means cutting carbon emissions and protecting species from the other threats they face, such as habitat loss and pollution."

By Steve Conner, Science Editor from the Independent.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

EU to unveil Common Fisheries Policy Reform - the end of fish discards?

EU to unveil Common Fisheries Policy reform

Fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki says the current policy has been a failure Continue reading the main story The proposal, which would take effect from 2013, is expected to give vessels quota shares guaranteed for periods of at least 15 years.

The Common Fisheries Policy, which has been in effect for 28 years, is intended to keep catches sustainable. Environmentalists have criticised the plan, saying it would lead to a "virtual privatisation of the oceans".

Maritime and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said that the EU had to admit that the policy so far had been a failure.

"There is overfishing; we have 75% overfishing of our stocks and comparing ourselves to other countries we cannot be happy," Ms Damanaki told BBC Radio Four's Today programme.

"So we have to change. Let me put it straight - we cannot afford business as usual any more because the stocks are really collapsing."

One of the central planks of the expected reforms is to eliminate discarded fish. Currently, up to half the catch of some species has to be discarded because vessels have exceeded their quota, or because the fish are undersized.

Under the new scheme, boats are expected to land all the fish caught, and the whole catch would count against quotas. This would apply to species including mackerel, herring and tunas from the beginning of 2014.

Cod, hake and sole would follow a year later, with virtually every other commercial species coming under the regulation from 2016.

The reform is also expected to include plans to restore fish stocks over the long term and allow EU member states to set incentives for the use of selective fishing gear.

Other measures are expected to include:

* ensuring catches are within levels that can "produce the maximum sustainable yields" by 2015

* implementation of an "ecosystem-based approach" to limit the impact of fishing

* reduce fleet over-capacity through market measures rather than subsidies

* promote the development of "aquaculture activities" to ensure food security and job opportunities

* developing alternative types of fish management techniques

There has been widespread public opposition to discards across the EU, with more than half a million people signing a petition publicised by UK celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Though the reform proposal will be published on Wednesday, there is likely to be even more strident debate before the final package is agreed in 2013, says the BBC's rural affairs correspondent, Jeremy Cooke.

The proposals now have to be considered by the European Parliament and member states before they can be adopted as binding legislation.

"It is not going to be easy," said Markus Knigge, policy and research director for the Pew Environment Group's Brussels-based European Marine Programme.

"I do believe that most member states accept that we have to do something, but when it comes to solutions, that can be more difficult to discuss than the failures of the current policy," he told BBC News.

He said that there were a number of nations that were not happy about particular parts of the proposals, such as the role of scientific advice in the process of setting catch limits etc.

He added that it was not possible to gauge how negotiations would go because, as a result of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament would have an equal say as the traditionally more powerful Council of Ministers.

Article taken from the BBC News Website and was published on 13th July 2011

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Deforestation in the heart of the Amazon...

After years of decline, the felling of trees in the Amazon and the murderous violence that accompanies it is rising ahead of proposed changes to Brazil's forest code. In order to document the increases in deforestation in the world's largest rainforest, Greenpeace went airbourne and took a series of aerial photographs of the Amazon and the images are certainly worrying.

The images, combined with satellite data, are being presented to the Brazilian government today - will be interesting to see what their reaction is.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Shell's drilling off Australia could 'devastate' endangered marine life

Shell's drilling off Australia could 'devastate' endangered marine life
By Alison Rourke, the Guardian

Shell's drilling off Australia could 'devastate' endangered marine lifeWWF demands full environmental impact assessment before Shell starts work near the Ningaloo marine park, north of Perth. Conservation groups in Australia say a decision to allow Shell to carry out exploratory drilling near Australia's newest world heritage site, Ningaloo marine park, could devastate the area if there was a spillage.

"It beggars belief that the government is not requiring a full environmental estimate of this drilling proposal," said Paul Gamblin of the World Wildlife Fund.

Instead, the enrgy giant must abide by certain conditions, including visual observations for whales. The Australian government said Shell's proposal did not require further assessment.

Ningaloo reef, about 750 miles north of Perth, is best known for its whale sharks, the world's largest fish. The 160m long reef is also home to rare and endangered wildlife including whales, sea turtles and birds. Ningaloo marine park, which includes the reef, was designated a world heritage site last month.

The exploration well will be dug 30 miles from the edge of the park, primarily in search of gas.

In a statement Shell said it was "mindful of significant biodiversity and heritage values of the Ningaloo region and plan to continue our operations accordingly". The proposal said in the unlikely event of a spillage travelling towards the reef "there is sufficient time to collect dispersant and contain any damage."

Several drilling and floating platforms already operate to the north of the reef but conservationists say this well – to the west – would expose a much bigger section of the reef to danger.

"One of our main concerns is a spill off the side of the reef because of the way the winds and currents work – there's only so far for a spill to go before it ends up hitting the reef," added Gamblin. The area is also prone to cyclones.

Two years ago Australia suffered its worst oil disaster in the Montara oil field off the northern coast of Western Australia. It took three months go bring the spill, which led to 2000 barrels of oil spewing into the ocean each day, under control.

The government says since Montara it has adopted a "more rigorous approach for the assessment of offshore drilling".

And the loudest animal in the world is...erm..the water boatman

Scientists have found that the water boatman Micronecta scholtzi produces more noise than any other animal relative to its body size. The creatures, which are around three quarters of an inch in size and swim upside down using two long legs like oar paddles, produce 99.2 decibels of noise – the equivalent of listening to an orchestra play loudly from the front row.

Dr James Windmill, from the University of Strathclyde, said the sound was within the human hearing range.

He said: "Remarkably, even though 99% of sound is lost when transferring from water to air, the song is so loud that a person walking along the bank can actually hear these tiny creatures singing from the bottom of the river."

The song, used by males to attract mates, is produced by rubbing its penis against its abdomen, in a process called stridulation.

New Ranger protecting wildlife in Guatemala

New ranger protecting wildlife in Guatemala

Meet Ricardo Caal whose experience working with local communities will be invaluable in his job as a reserve ranger, funded by the World Land Trust’s Keepers of the Wild appeal

Thanks to support from the Keepers of the Wild appeal by the World Land Trust (WLT), a new ranger has been hired to help protect the Laguna Grande Sarstún Reserve in eastern Guatemala. This 1,623 acre (657 ha) reserve – owned by WLT partner organisation FUNDAECO (Fundación Para El Ecodesarrollo y la Conservación) – safeguards a unique system of lagoons, mangroves, and forest habitats.

The new reserve ranger, Ricardo is 32 years old and lives in a village near the reserve. He walks for an hour and a half each day to the reserve; his main role is to patrol the protected area, on foot and by canoe, to make sure there is no hunting or illegal removal of timber. The reserve lies within an area that is thought to be the single most threatened habitat in Caribbean Guatemala region; less than 20 per cent of the area’s original forest remains, the rest has been logged and cleared for agriculture.

It is a thriving habitat for diverse wildlife, from five big cat species that are found in this region, to the River Otter, the Mexican Black Howler Monkey, and West Indian Manatee. It also protects a vital border between Guatemala and Belize, helping to strengthen conservation efforts between the two countries.

An important part of securing the long-term success of their conservation projects, FUNDAECO ensures that local communities are actively involved. They work with the Q´eqchí communities, who live to the south of the reserve, to develop a wide range of outreach activities, including environmental education.

FUNDAECO are also creating alternative employment opportunities; two successful projects so far include the training of Q’eqchí women as tourism caterers and working with local fisherman to set up aquaculture to farm native fish species, with the aim of moving away from over-exploiting wild fish and further depleting populations.

Providing alternative employment opportunities offers local communities greater financial security and reduces the likelihood of local people encroaching on to the protected reserve to carry out illegal resource extraction, such as cutting timber.

Ricardo’s interest and experience in working with local communities will be of great benefit; he has undertaken several training programmes to help promote local development, from training as a rural health promoter to teaching reading and writing. He has volunteered on a Teach and Write Q’eqchi programme, to help enrich his own community.

As with all the rangers funded by our Keepers of the Wild appeal, Ricardo will post regular updates on our website about his plight to protect threatened habitat and wildlife.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Natural History Museum cancels its biggest expedition in 50 years.

The museum had hoped to send out scientists last year to discover hundreds of new species in the ‘Gran Chaco’, a vast dry forest that has as much wildlife as the Amazon but is relatively unknown.

However, human rights groups protested that the 40 scientists and their large backup teams could stumble upon groups of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation, and pass on dangerous and even fatal diseases. There was also concern that the scientists would be in danger from the Ayoreo tribe, who can carry bow and arrows.

The trip was suspended in November to allow for consultation with the tribes. The Paraguayan Ministry of the Environment, that is leading talks with the Ayoreo, believe an expedition can go ahead at some point in the future and are keen to try and document the unknown wildlife in the area.

The vast area of dry forest across parts of Bolivia, Argentina as well as Paraguay, known as the Gran Chaco, is the only place in South America outside the Amazon where there are uncontracted tribes. Until about 1950 it was thought there were around 5,000 people in the area but now there are thought to be less than 150 as people leave or die out.

The area is under threat not only from illegal logging but farmers planting soy.

The museum argues that the best way to protect the Gran Chaco is to start documenting the insects and plant in the area, many of which will be new to science, but at the moment the concerns of the Ayoreo tribal leaders have not been resolved and until talks are resolved there will be no expedition.

Half of all tuna species at risk of extinction

More than half of tuna species at risk of extinction, say conservationists as an IUCN study shows three species are threatened with extinction, while two more will be under threat without action to help them. Five out of the eight tuna species are at risk of extinction, conservationists warned today, as they called for urgent action to tackle over-fishing.

The latest assessment for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) showed that three species are threatened with global extinction, while two more will be under threat without action to help them.

A study, published in the journal Science, which looks at all "scombrid" fish, which include tuna and mackerel, and billfishes, which include swordfish and marlins, found that seven of the 61 known species were under threat.

The study said some of the species were heavily over-fished, with little interest in conserving them because of the high commercial value of the catch.

Pig-nosed turtle species decline by 50%

Numbers of pig-nosed turtles have declined steeply over the past 30 years, researchers have discovered.The unique reptile has become an international conservation icon, due to it having no close relatives and being considered the turtle most adapted to life underwater in freshwater ponds and rivers.

Yet demand for its eggs and meat in Papua New Guinea, one of the turtle's main homes, has led to the species being dramatically over-harvested by indigenous people.

Details of the decline are published in the journal Biological Conservation, which shows that the species have declined by 50% since 1981.

The majestic Black Bear

After yesterday's post about a Black Bear saving its cub from a fishing net we thought we would post a few more videos of this majestic animal.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Black Bear saves Cub from Fishing Net

Amateur video has captured footage of a mother bear saving her cub from a fishing net in Anchorage, Alaska. The mother desperately struggled to save her cub as fisherman Dane Havard pulled the small bear out of tall reeds behind his house with his truck.

The trapped black bear squirmed and thrashed around inside the net, while another small cub watched at a distance.

The mother bear tried to free the screaming cub for several moments before cutting through the net with her teeth and claws.

The mother then ran away with the cub in her mouth - follow the link to watch the video:

£50 trillion needed to avert "major planetary catastrophe"

£50 trillion needs to be spent on going green if world is to avert 'major planetary catastrophe’

Almost £50 trillion must be spent on green technology over the coming decades if the world is to avert a “major planetary catastrophe”, the United Nations has claimed.

By Jon Swaine, the Daily Telegraph - 6th July 2011

Governments must invest three per cent of world GDP – about £1.2 trillion in 2010 – annually for 40 years to stop climate change and famine, according to the UN's department of economic and social affairs. At least £688 billion of that will need to be spent each year in developing countries, in order to meet their populations' increasing demands for resources, the 2011 World Economic and Social Survey said.

Rob Vos, the lead author of the report, said that “business as usual is not an option” if the world were to “reverse the ongoing ecological destruction”. His report said that to feed a rapidly growing number of mouths, farmers around the world will have to essentially double total international food production between now and 2050.

But to do this sustainably would require huge spending on “clean” energy production, on reducing the non-bio-degradable waste and on other improvements to farming and forestry techniques, it said.

This broader analysis prompted a rise of about 50 per cent in the amount of money said to be required to make human life sustainable. Last year's survey called for spending of up to £750 billion a year.

The report said that the extent of technological transformation required was greater in scale, and must be done more quickly, than the industrial revolution.

"It is rapidly expanding energy use, mainly driven by fossil fuels, that explains why humanity is on the verge of breaching planetary sustainability boundaries," the report said.

"A comprehensive global energy transition is urgently needed in order to avert a major planetary catastrophe."

Related stories

Famine to be declared in Horn of Africa unless more food is sent to area. Aid agencies have warned that famine will be declared in the Horn of Africa unless more food and aid is pumped into the area.

UK government claims it has exceeded its own carbon reduction targetMinisters say emissions have been cut by 14% in the past year, compared to the 10% reduction that had been promised

Climate change will increase threat of war, Chris Huhne to warnUK climate secretary to tell defence experts that conflict caused by climate change risks reversing the progress of civilisation

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Bite of the Tasmanian Devil

Over the next few weeks we will be looking at posting some videos of some of the most amazing animals that we've come across on the planet. This week is the Tasmanian Devil, which may look cute but has one of the hardest bites in the animal kingdom, and makes one of the oddest howls going. 

Friday, 1 July 2011

Dinosaurs from The Lost World...

We are going through some videos from the 1925 'Lost World Film' as a bit of inspiration behind our own film, which is to premiere at the Royal Geographical Society on Tuesday 13th June 2011. All inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle's 'Lost World' adventure novel - the animations are actually amazing considering it was done close to 85 years ago!

To buy your ticket for the premiere visit - priced at just £15.00.