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Posts Tagged ‘biodiversity’

Photo: Westcountry_Hedgelayer/Instagram.
A newly laid hedge at a farm on Dartmoor, Devon.

I haven’t visited England in decades, so I didn’t realize it had gone through a period of ripping out its iconic hedgerows. How sad! But as Tom Wall writes at the Guardian, renewed interest in biodiversity is bringing them back.

“The emerald-green five-year-old hawthorn hedge glistens in autumnal sunshine. In the cider apple orchard and grass pastures below, younger hedges shoot off towards a fast-flowing trout stream.

“History has come full circle in Blackmore Farm, which nestles in the foothills of the Quantocks in Somerset. The owner, Ian Dyer, remembers helping his father, who arrived as a tenant farmer in the 1950s, grub out old hedges in the 1960s and 1970s. But – like increasing numbers of landowners – he has hired a hedgelayer to bring back his hedges to provide habitats for wildlife, capture carbon and slow water pouring off fields into rivers.

“ ‘In my life, I’ve probably taken out three miles of hedge. It was seen as progress at the time. The government was pushing for more and more production,’ he says, standing in the long grass on his 750-acre arable and beef farm. …

“Dyer, 62, has planted 1km of new hedges in the last five years and has noticed more insects, nesting birds and small mammals, including water voles, since the work started.

One study found that hedgerows provide 21 ecosystem services – more than any other habitat.

“ ‘My views have changed in the last 10 years. I want to live in a green and pleasant land – not in a [ecological] desert,’ he remarks. ‘It’s starting to look like I remember it as a five-year-old boy.’

“The National Hedgelaying Society, which held its national championship event this weekend, says its members have been inundated with requests to lay hedges this season, which runs from September to April. ‘There is more work than anyone could ever do for the rest of their lives,’ says Claire Maymon, one of the charity’s trustees. ‘Our founders in the 1970s were worried the craft would be lost for ever, but now we are worried that we don’t have enough young hedgelayers coming through to meet demand.’

“The Campaign to Protect Rural England estimates that over 25,000 workers will be needed to deliver on the Committee on Climate Change’s call to plant 200,000km of new hedges in the UK. The committee has calculated that the nation’s hedgerows will have to be expanded by 40% in order to reach net-zero by 2050. …

“The government wants the post-Brexit agricultural subsidy system to encourage farmers to better maintain hedges. A pilot scheme, offering farmers up to £24 per 100 metres of hedgerows, starts next month.

“Hedges need to be carefully managed throughout their lives, otherwise they thin and eventually gaps appear. Paul Lamb, the hedgelayer helping to transform Dyer’s farm, ‘pleaches’ – or splits – hawthorn, blackthorn and spindle stems so that they grow back dense and thick next spring. ‘Every hedgelayer has their own style,’ he says. … ‘For me, it’s so satisfying to plant and lay a hedge and then see it full of birds, insects and wildlife.’

“Business is booming for Lamb, who lives in a converted horsebox on a nearby farm. He has never been busier, with commercial farmers making up a growing proportion of his work. …

“ ‘When I started hedging, it was a way of earning a bit of beer money on a Saturday. I would never have expected to be booked up for a whole season. But here I am, booked up for this season and half of the next – and still people are phoning me with jobs. There is a renewed interest in conservation and craft – and a feeling that we need to live in a more sustainable way.’

“Britain lost half its hedgerows in the decades after the second world war as farmers were encouraged to create large arable fields to increase production. Since then, legal protections have been introduced and hedges are no longer being ripped out – but the decline has continued due to poor management, including some landowners over-trimming hedges mechanically, without simulating new growth below. But the growing demand for traditional hedgelaying leaves many in the craft feeling optimistic.

“Nigel Adams sits on the HedgeLink steering group, which advises [the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs]. He says there has has been a sea-change in attitudes, with everyone from the National Farming Union to Natural England calling for more hedges. …

“Adams, who lays hedges throughout the country, including on Prince Charles’s estates, believes the role of hedges should not be underestimated. ‘Insects follow hedges and bats hunt along hedges,’ he says. ‘If we didn’t have hedgerows, then we would be living in a barren wasteland.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. Since the Guardian is free, you have access to the pictures, too. I think you are going to love the water vole there.

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Photo: Peter Aaron/OTTO.
Jean Shin’s installation “FALLEN” at the Olana State Historic Site, part of the recent “Cross-Pollination art show.

I don’t know if growing up near the Hudson River has anything to do with it, but I’ve always loved the monumental nature paintings of the Hudson River School. In recent years, different kinds of art have made the region famous, including art shown at Dia Beacon and the offbeat Visitors film screened at the ICA in Boston and elsewhere. (That’s the one with the Icelandic musicians playing haunting music in the bathtubs and salons of a ruined Hudson River mansion.)

Not far from Rokeby, the ruin in question, another mansion has been turned into a museum called Olana, and today’s post is about putting its classic paintings together with more modern conceptions of nature.

Sarah Rose Sharp wrote at Hyperallergic last October about Cross Pollination, “a collaborative exhibition that spans institutions and centuries, to put artists in conversation with each other on the topic of ecology — and hummingbirds.

“The exhibition is organized between the Olana Partnership at the Olana State Historic Site (once the home of Frederic Church), the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. The historic presentations include 16 paintings from a series of hummingbirds and habitats — The Gems of Brazil (1863-64) — by naturalist and painter Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904).

“This Audubon-like survey of Brazilian hummingbirds — and the resulting writing on the artist’s part to protest the overhunting of their populations — serves as the aesthetic and philosophical inspiration for a series of new works commissioned for the exhibition. The exhibition also includes paintings by Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, as well as botanical works on both paper and porcelain by Emily Cole, Cole’s daughter, and Isabel Charlotte Church, Church’s daughter. This generational affair also features some highlights from natural specimens collected by Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, including items from the Church family’s extensive collection of bird eggs.

“The exhibition is presented simultaneously at both Olana State Historic Site in Hudson, New York, and the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, New York.

“With these 19th-century collections that focused so intently on natural systems as their inspiration, a cohort of 21st-century American artists present works in response. The contemporary artists are known to take on issues of biodiversity, habitat protection, and environmental sustainability, and contributions include new works by Rachel Berwick, Mark Dion and Dana Sherwood, Lisa Sanditz and Emily Sartor, and Jean Shin.

“On location at the Thomas Cole Site, ‘The Pollinator Pavilion’ is a public artwork by Mark Dion and Dana Sherwood created for the exhibition, where pollinators and humans can share the same space. Jean Shin used the remains of a fallen hemlock tree at the Olana site to create a memorial artwork in its memory, titled ‘FALLEN’ (the tree died of natural causes). …

“Ironically, though Heade, Cole, and Church advocated for the preservation of natural spaces, the fad of biological specimen collections like the ones being presented fueled a market for hunting the birds that Heade idealized. Even these days, as evidence of our excess mounts in flaming piles on land and sea, it seems we can still hardly even agree that the planet is a finite resource, let alone determine who is entitled to take any little piece of it that catches their eye. Perhaps this exhibition [holds] the seeds of change within it.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

The video below did a pretty good job of educating me, but it’s painful. The “10-Minute” professor doesn’t ultimately shy away from our destruction of nature and native tribes.

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Photo: James Rebanks via BBC.
A farmer in England shows how regenerative farming can produce better food while fighting climate change.

There’s a farmer in the UK who hopes to change the way farmers farm in order to promote biodiversity and a healthier planet. He raises sheep.

Here’s a report by William Booth at the Washington Post: “Britain’s rock-star shepherd and best-selling author, James Rebanks, is out at the family farm, giving the tour, waxing rhapsodic about his manure. The glory of it — of the crumbly, muffin-top consistency of a well-made plop from a grass-fed cow. …

“Don’t get the man started on soil health. Rebanks is a soil geek, with the zeal of the convert. … Rebanks represents one possible future for farming, which is set to be transformed in the promise of a post-Brexit, zero-carbon world. The British government plans to strip away all traditional farm subsidies and replace those payments with an alien system of ‘public money for public goods.’

“What are these public goods? Not food. Bees! In 21st-century Britain, the goods will be clean water, biodiversity, habitat restoration, hedgerows, pretty landscapes, wildflowers, flood mitigation and adaptation to climate change. …

“This transformation could be huge: Farmland is 70 percent of England’s landscape and produces 10 percent of its greenhouse gases. There is no net-zero-carbon future without farmers.

“As the best-known farmer in the whole of the United Kingdom, Rebanks finds himself at the center of this transition. In agriculture circles, he’s a super influencer, famous for his Twitter feed. He has nearly 150,000 followers, who check for his posts and postcard-perfect videos and photos of his idyllic home in England’s poetic Lake District and the doings of his beloved Herdwick sheep.

“The shepherd riffs on the circle of life, the frenzy of lambing season, the deliciousness of grilled mutton and the wisdom of sheepdogs — speckled with rants against the alleged ruinous stupidity of industrial farming ‘where the field has become the factory floor.’ …

“He cannot fathom that the planet, and his little corner of it, has been so messed up. He also cannot make up his mind whether we are doomed or just might pull through, a feeling that resonates with many.

“He wrote two books about all this, both international bestsellers. The latest, published to stellar reviews this month in the United States, is Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey.

“On one level, the book is about how cheap food culture, globalization and super-efficient, ­hyper-mechanized, highly productive modern farms (giant monocultures of beets, wheat, corn) are terrible for nature (insects, rivers, climate) and our health (obesity, diabetes) and our farmers (indebted, pesticide-dependent, stressed).

“On a deeper level, though, the pages are about healing, about how one farmer in Cumbria is trying very hard to turn his landscape into a sustainable, profitable little Eden by deploying both ancient and cutting-edge techniques. …

“British politicians make the pilgrimage to see what he has done. So do British journalists. He has made the cover of the Financial Times magazine and is the subject of a 30-minute documentary on the BBC. He pens guest columns for the right-wing Daily Mail and the left-wing Guardian. …

“The government is embarking on the biggest change in the management of its countryside since the end of World War II. No longer will farmers live on the Basic Payment Scheme. They will be paid for those new public goods; the old subsidies for ‘food security’ will end. It is a radical experiment, to be carried out on a national scale.

“Yesterday’s farms grew food and outgassed methane. The farms of tomorrow will grow food and sequester carbon. Or at least that is the idea. …

“British farmers, like their counterparts elsewhere in Europe, have subsisted for three generations on subsidies. Without the dole, government figures show, 42 percent of all farms here would operate at a loss. Most small operators wouldn’t survive without the checks. The payments — $3 billion annually — are to be phased out over the next seven years. …

“Rebanks doesn’t think the plan is nearly smart enough or big enough, or that the public understands how much it will cost to have a real impact for farmers, nature and climate. He thinks $3 billion year is ‘a drop in the bucket.’ …

“If anyone can make the switch to this new system of ‘public money for public goods,’ surely it should be Rebanks. He seems more than halfway there already. …

“His family has been shepherding in Cumbria for 600 years. His methods — moving sheep between the communal hilltop fells and the valley below — would be recognizable to the Vikings, who did the same when they settled here more than a millennium ago with a similar breed of hearty sheep.

“Over the past 10 years, with help from conservationists and supporters, he and his family — his wife and four kids — have ‘re-wiggled’ a drainage ditch and created a natural stream plus wetland. They’re planting 25,000 saplings. There were no ponds on the property before. There are 25 now, with otters. Three miles of hedgerows have been restored and 30 acres revived as a wildflower meadow. …

“He’s chopping up the farm to smaller and smaller fields — ‘it’s all hedges and edges, which is good for nature.’ He estimates he has taken 15 percent of his farm out of active production.

“ ‘Listen, the truth is there must be some letting go,’ he said. ‘You can’t drain it all and use it all for farming or grazing. You have to set some aside.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Meadowscaping for Biodiversity.
Laura D. Eisener, Massachusetts landscape architect and Meadowscaping design consultant, believes in giving people the skills to create their own environmentally sound landscapes.

For years now, my friend Jean has been spreading the word on biodiversity and the problems posed by our lawns. I think that Jean and her business partner, Barbara, have been especially savvy in teaching the principles of biodiversity to middle school kids in particular. It’s one way to influence a generation of parents addicted to lawn chemicals and at the same time raise the consciousness of a generation that will be responsible for the planet’s future.

Tik Root writes on biodiversity and lawns at the Washington Post: “For many Americans, [summer] means blankets of grassy green for kids to play in, or families to picnic on.

“There are an estimated 40 million to 50 million acres of lawn in the continental United States — that’s nearly as much as all of the country’s national parks combined. In 2020, Americans spent $105 billion keeping their lawns verdant and neat. But our grass addiction comes at an environmental cost.

“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, maintaining those lawns also consumes nearly 3 trillion gallons of water a year as well as 59 million pounds of pesticides, which can seep into our land and waterways.

“Department of Transportation data shows that in 2018, Americans used nearly 3 billion gallons of gasoline running lawn and garden equipment. That’s the equivalent of 6 million passenger cars running for a year.

“As these issues are becoming more prominent in climate change discussion, there are steps you can take to more sustainably manage the impact of your lawn. … Having less grass and more plants is among the most important factors in keeping a yard eco-friendly.

“ ‘Lawn, ecologically, is dead space,’ said Doug Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delaware and author of ‘Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.’

“The solution, he says, is ultimately less lawn. He recommends people aim to cut the amount of turf grass in their yard in half. … Laying down mulch is one place to start. It quickly kills grass and offers a blank canvas for planting. … Invasive plants, Tallamy said, ‘are ecologically castrating the land around us.’ Native plants, on the other hand, often have deep root structures, making them good for storing water or providing drainage. They have also co-evolved for local conditions. …

“Eric Braun, the water resources manager for the town of Gilbert, Ariz., is quick to emphasize that water-friendly landscapes, also known as xeriscapes, don’t have to look like moonscapes.

“ ‘Xeriscape doesn’t mean one saguaro and a cow skull. It can be very lush and inviting,’ said Braun. ‘The number one thing was showing people that it can be a beautiful landscape.’ he said. …

“More broadly, Tallamy said native landscapes can help refocus our gardens on the ecological purpose of plants, which is to produce food. Plant energy gets passed up the food chain, often via insects. But many insects only eat one native plant species, or group of related plants. So, if we are planting nonnative plants, that food doesn’t necessarily transfer from creature to creature, and the ecosystem can stall.

Monarch butterflies, for example, famously rely on milkweed, and as the plant has become less abundant, the monarch population has plummeted. Bird species are also in decline, as are more than 40 percent of insect species. The United Nations estimates that, globally, 1 million plant and animal species are under threat of extinction.

“Tallamy said native flora better supports native fauna and, as a result, helps combat these declines. Tallamy is a fan of oak trees, which come in 91 native species, grow almost everywhere in the country and attract caterpillars, a key species for supporting other wildlife — to raise a clutch of chicks, a pair of robins needs between 6,000 caterpillars and 9,000 caterpillars in just 16 days, Tallamy said. …

“Others put less emphasis on nativity, and more on the diversity of species and types of plants in a yard.

” ‘Yes, we want natives but let’s be inclusive and not exclude plants that have come from somewhere,’ said Juliet Stromberg, a professor at Arizona State University, who was one of more than a dozen ecologists who wrote a letter arguing that a plant’s origin is less important than its environmental impact.

“ ‘What I would suggest is just loosening the reins a little bit,’ she said. ‘If you’re bringing in the plant that’s the same genus, the insects are going to be fine.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Embassy of Switzerland in the United States of America.
The Swiss embassy has created a bird sanctuary in the heart of Washington, DC.

When a Swiss bird lover became the ambassador to the United States, he was horrified that his embassy in Washington was maintained like a golf course. He decided to create grounds more welcoming to birds — and did a big favor to everyone who cares about biodiversity.

Molly McCluskey reports at Audubon magazine, “When Jacques Pitteloud arrived at his new home and office in the fall of 2019, he was dismayed to discover the state of the property. As Switzerland’s new ambassador to the United States, he had a piece of prime real estate in northwest Washington, D.C.,— a historic six-acre stretch of land that once was a farm called Single Oak. Now it hosted the country’s sleek, modern residence, and an embassy under renovation. But the grounds looked and were treated like a golf course.

‘I felt a tremendous amount of guilt and shame when I took over the residence,’ he says. ‘Golf courses are nice to look at, but they’re ecological disasters. … [Now] we have so many fireflies at night, it’s like fireworks.’

Normal diplomatic life was soon upended by the pandemic, and since then he’s been on a mission to rewild the expansive grounds, aiming to create a biodiversity reserve marked by the native plants of the region. He forbid the use of pesticides and allowed the lawn to grow out in spotty patches. Using resources such as Audubon’s native plants database and guide to birds, he worked closely with a local landscape designer, Aldertree Garden, that specializes in native plants. They uprooted all the non-native bushes and trees, such as ornamental burning bush and non-productive grass, and replaced them with meadows, bushes, and native trees, including white oak, scarlet oak, black oak, and others.

“Wildlife was also a part of his rewilding vision. Local beekeepers now manage the embassy’s colony of 50 hives, and he built a home for…

” ‘Within a short time, the results are amazing,’ Pitteloud tells me as he walks through the grounds, bending down from time to time to check on the plants or to take a closer view at the frogs in a newly installed pond. ‘We have so many more birds, butterflies. It’s incredible how quickly they returned. We have so many fireflies at night, it’s like fireworks.’ …

“Soon after his arrival in Washington, with the pandemic in full swing and diplomatic life thrown into disarray, Pitteloud immersed himself in local birding clubs and outings as a way of getting to know his new community and environment. His snapshot of an unusual Painted Bunting sighting on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park — a bird more typically found in Florida than in southern Maryland — was featured in the Washington Post.

“Pitteloud’s efforts to rewild the embassy and residence are a part of a growing movement of local embassies adding more natural elements to their buildings and grounds. The Finnish embassy prides itself on being the first U.S. Green Building Council LEED-certified embassy in Washington. The Irish ambassador’s residence has a low-impact, xeriscaped garden. The Tunisian embassy and residence both have wild, untamed pollinator gardens, in addition to vegetable gardens. The Canadian residence on Pennsylvania Avenue has beehives, and a community-engaged program around beekeeping.

“But the Swiss are perhaps going the furthest on the land they tend. Pitteloud says the efforts are labor- and cost-intensive, but he sees no other option. And staff in D.C. and back in Switzerland at the foreign ministry, he says, have largely applauded the work — especially as the effects of climate change, and the dramatic loss of birdlife around the world, gain more attention. Around the time he took the helm at the embassy, in September 2019, a team of scientists concluded that North America has lost some 3 billion breeding adult birds since 1970, with every biome impacted.

“The news hit Pitteloud hard: ‘We’re five minutes to midnight on biodiversity loss,’ he says. ‘In 30 years, we’ll have empty skies, with no songbirds left. We’ll have to carry bees around because we won’t be able to pollinate our agriculture.’

“Though the Swiss embassy in Washington is only one property, Pitteloud hopes that by fostering favorable habitats for wildlife and inviting in beekeepers and other neighborhood groups, he is engaging in a form of ‘environmental diplomacy.’ Essentially his goal is to set an example for others, whether local neighbors or other embassies (or maybe even the White House, a property whose garden is notably lacking in native plants).

“Because ambassadors and their staff often cycle in and out of their posts every few years, Pitteloud may never see the full effects of the landscaping changes come to fruition, but he hopes the legacy lasts.”

More at Audubon, here.

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Photo: Bassem18/Wikipedia.
The rare Mountain Gazelle is returning to Turkey.

Today’s story is about both environmental rescue and the power of one individual to make a difference.

Carlotta Gall writes at the New York Times, “Turkey’s southern border with Syria has become a place of hardship and misery, with tented camps for people displaced by a decade of war on the Syrian side and a concrete wall blocking entrance to Turkey for all but the most determined.

“Yet amid the rocky outcrops in one small area on the Turkish side, life is abounding as an endangered species of wild gazelle is recovering its stocks and multiplying.

“The mountain gazelle, a dainty antelope with a striped face and spiraling horns, once roamed widely across the Middle East, and as Roman mosaics reveal, across southern Turkey as well. But by the end of the last century, it was hunted almost to extinction, with only a dwindling population of 2,500 left in Israel, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“In Turkey, the gazelle was forgotten and thought to no longer exist. The only ones officially recorded were a subspecies, known as goitered gazelles, in Sanliurfa Province in the southeast of the country.

The rediscovery and survival of the mountain gazelle in Turkey has been largely thanks to one man and his love of nature.

“Yasar Ergun, a village teacher who became a veterinarian and professor at Hatay Mustafa Kemal University in the city of Antakya, heard in the mid-1990s from an old hunter that there were wild gazelles in the mountains along the border with Syria.

“A keen hiker, he set out to try to find them. Barely 25 miles from Antakya — the ancient city of Antioch — Kurdish villagers knew about them and shepherds occasionally saw them. The gazelles live on the rocky hillsides, where their markings and coloring make them almost invisible. But they come down in groups to graze and find water on the surrounding agricultural land.

“The professor spotted his first one in 1998 and, after a decade of observing them, estimated that there were about 100 living in the area.

“With a small grant for a teaching project, he bought a camera and telephoto lens, which led to a close encounter and a breakthrough discovery.

” ‘It was the mating season,’ he recalled. ‘I ran to the road, and the male ran toward me to defend his females. It was very unusual.’

“When he examined the photos, he realized the gazelles differed from those in southeastern Turkey.

“ ‘This one was light brown, with some parts white, and the horns were completely different,’ he said. He was sure he was looking at the mountain gazelle, but found little interest in his claims in academic circles, he said.

‘I sent the photographs around — professors just laughed,’ he said.

“He drew on the help of Tolga Kankilic, a biologist, who gathered samples of dung, fur and skin from the remains of dead gazelles for genetic testing, and found that the DNA matched that of mountain gazelles.

“The discovery presented Mr. Ergun with an altogether more important task: to help the gazelles survive. There were several threats to them — lack of water and habitat especially — but by far the greatest danger was illegal hunting. Hunting is allowed only under license in designated areas in Turkey, but illegal hunting is rife.

“The gazelles had disappeared completely from other regions, including Adana, farther west, where American soldiers stationed at Incirlik air base used to hunt them 20 years ago, he said.

“ ‘The end of a genetic source is the same as the collapse of Earth,’ he said. ‘Nature needs biodiversity.’

“He won a grant from the World Wildlife Fund in Turkey for a grass-roots project with local villagers and bought mountain gear and amateur walkie-talkies for several shepherds, who began monitoring the gazelles. They dug basins in the rock to collect water for the gazelles, though it took the animals months to trust the water source.

“With his knowledge of village life, Mr. Ergun began softly, gaining the support of local shepherds, educating children to protect the gazelles and even encouraging a local Kurdish legend of a holy man who lived with the gazelles and milked them.

“With the hunters, Mr. Ergun and his helpers adopted an approach of traditional courtesy and respect, drinking tea with them but never mentioning their hunting.

“ ‘We never tried to use force to stop them,’ he said. ‘We would say, “Hello, we are from the Nature Project.” Sometimes silence is more powerful than talking.’

“The local people were Kurds, a mountain people with their own language and culture — and a history of resistance to the Turkish state.

“ ‘If you make an enemy, just one, in 10 years you will have 10 enemies, and in 100 years you will have 1,000,’ Mr. Ergun said. But as the shepherds began monitoring the gazelles, the hunters got the message.”

More here.

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Photo: SIE / GWC / Leibniz-IZW / NCNP)
Rabbit-sized Silver-backed Chevrotain live in the scrubby forests of Vietnam’s coast. Also known as mouse-deer, they are the world’s smallest ungulates, or hooved animals.

The great environmental radio show Living on Earth covered this hopeful story in early March, and despite the changes happening in our constantly upended world, it’s still good news.

“HOST STEVE CURWOOD: When a species hasn’t been seen for years, we start to worry it might be gone forever, just a ghost from a bountiful past. But in the forests of Vietnam, a team of scientists from Global Wildlife Conservation and its partners have caught just such a ghost on camera: The Vietnamese Fanged Mouse-deer.

“There have been no scientific records of this tiny creature in nearly 30 years, but now, camera traps have identified at least one population of the elusive creature, also known as the Silver-backed Chevrotain. The chevrotain is the first species found as part of Global Wildlife Conservation’s hunt for 25 ‘Most Wanted’ species, which they think may be lost. But the discovery of this particular species doesn’t necessarily mean that it is safe from extinction. Vietnam has a lot of biodiversity, but it also has huge conservation challenges, including a thriving bush meat trade.

“For more about the search for the chevrotain, Andrew Tilker, the Asian Species Officer for Global Wildlife Conservation spoke with Living on Earth’s Aynsley O’Neill. …

“AYNSLEY O’NEILL: How did it feel to see this creature for the first time?

“ANDREW TILKER: It’s a really cool animal. So it looks like a tiny deer.

And when I say tiny, I mean the size of a rabbit. It looks like a small deer that somebody had dipped halfway into a bucket of silver paint and then pulled it out again. …

“I was overjoyed, as was the entire team. We felt confident that we had a good shot at getting photographs of the species because local people said they saw this animal that couldn’t be anything else. … Just highlights the importance of [working] with local people and local ecological knowledge. …

“In two different locations, local people told us they had seen a gray colored chevrotain. And so we went to one of these locations and put out camera traps and obtained the first photos of the species and the first record that the species exists in almost 30 years. So the species wasn’t lost to local people, which is why we try to be very careful to say that silverbacked chevrotain was lost to science. …

“We don’t yet know if there are threats that are specific to the chevrotain. But the species is, without a doubt heavily threatened by rampant indiscriminate snaring because every mammal species in Vietnam is threatened by snaring.

“In Vietnam and in other parts of Southeast Asia, bushmeat is something of a status symbol. So if you’re upper middle class and you want to show off to your friends, an easy way to do that is to go out and go to a bushmeat market and buy bushmeat rather than domestic meat. …

“We’re very intentionally not releasing the name of that site or the location of that site, just to be sure that there is no chance that any poachers who want something different or novel would try to hunt animals from that population. We know that the species is threatened by poaching, there’s no question about it. …

“O’NEILL: What are the next steps? Where do we go from here?

“TILKER: So the work is just beginning. The first step is securing the single known population. The second step, I think, is try to figure out where else the species occurs. If we lose these species from Vietnam, because they’re only found in this country, then that equates to global extinction. …

“[The] story, I think, gives much needed momentum for a positive outlook to conservation in Vietnam. And I’ve seen that in my interactions with local stakeholders, both from NGOs and also from the Vietnamese government. So it’s it’s nice to be part of a story that has such a positive direction because I think that’s often needed when you’re working in such a difficult field.”

To read more or listen to the original episode, click here.

By the way, you can join a free Living on Earth Zoom call with ecologist Carl Safina on Monday at 7 pm. Register here.

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Photo: REUTERS/Toru Hanai
Insects are facing habitat loss across Europe, so London and other cities are taking action.

This story is for Jean, whose booth on MeadowScaping for Biodiversity I visited today at the high school’s sustainability event. Forward-thinking students at our school want this town of many lawns and too many lawn chemicals to change its pollinator-killing ways.

Charlotte Edmond at the World Economic Forum reports on how the city of London is getting serious about making bees and other important insects welcome.

“At any one time it’s estimated there are 10 quintillion insects alive. … Many of us hold no great affection for creepy crawlies, so it’s easy to overlook the crucial role they play in supporting ecosystems. Sitting at the bottom of the food web, they are also nature’s waste disposers, crucial to decomposition. Without them we would more than likely go hungry, with many crops needing pollinators to thrive.

But habitat loss and widespread use of insecticides and agrichemicals has led to insect numbers plummeting in recent years.

“In London, as with many other cities, you’re more likely to hear the buzz of cars than insects. But the UK’s capital is looking to give bugs a boost by creating an insect highway through the north-west of the city.

“A seven-mile wildflower corridor is being planted in parkland to provide a safe haven for insects. To support a range of bees and other pollinators, a mixture of seeds has been chosen.

“There has been a catastrophic loss of flower-rich grasslands in England since the 1930s, often as a result of intensive farming or redevelopment of green sites. … Recent studies have shown some species of pollinators in Britain have decreased by up to a third in the past two decades. There has also been a dip in the range of insects seen: in contrast to the sharp decline seen in some species, other insects, particularly those that [eat] crops, have become more prevalent.

“Experts are concerned by the impact the falling bug count will have. The UK government is five years into a strategy to curb pollinator loss, and is working with bodies such as Buglife to introduce more spaces to support pollinating insects. The charity is introducing a network of insect pathways throughout Britain, running through towns and countryside to connect existing wildlife areas together.

“Alongside this, it is working to create ‘urban hotspots’ for insects, transforming mown and unused areas of land by introducing shrubs, flowers and so-called bee hotels.

“Elsewhere, Norway has built a ‘bee highway’ through its capital, Oslo. And Berlin is one of a number of cities around the world to have introduced urban hives in a bid to support bee populations.

“Honey bees, bumblebees, wild bees and other pollinators are estimated to bring at least $25 billion to the European agriculture industry, ensuring pollination for most crops and wild plants.”

For more on London’s biodiversity efforts, go to the World Economic Forum site, here, where you can also find related stories.

Student-run fair to encourage town residents to use sustainable practices in their yards.

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Photo: National Park Service
Female mountain lions (cougars) are an increasingly common sight in the mountains surrounding Southern California cities.

I like the idea of sharing space with wildlife, but there are limits. Not sure I want too many skunks in my suburban backyard or even one cougar. Richard Conniff at Yale360 explains how coexistence is working in a variety of people-inhabited places around the world.

“One morning not long ago, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka,” he writes, “I traveled with a Wildlife Conservation Society biologist on a switchback route up and over the high ridge of the Western Ghats. Our itinerary loosely followed the corridor connecting Bhadra Tiger Reserve with Kudremakh National Park 30 miles to the south.

“In places, we passed beautiful shade coffee plantations, with an understory of coffee plants, and pepper vines — a second cash crop — twining up the trunks of the shade trees. Coffee plantations managed in this fashion, connected to surviving patches of natural forest, ‘provide continuous camouflage for the predators’ — especially tigers moving through by night, my guide explained, and wildlife conflict was minimal.

“Elsewhere, though, the corridor narrowed to a thread winding past sprawling villages, and conservationists played a double game, part hand holding to help people live with large predators on their doorsteps, part legal combat to keep economic interests from nibbling into the wildlife corridor from both sides. It was a microcosm of how wildlife hangs on these days, not just in India, but almost everywhere in the world.

“For conservationists, protecting biodiversity has in recent years become much less about securing new protected areas in pristine habitat and more about making room for wildlife on the margins of our own urbanized existence.  Conservation now often means modifying human landscapes to do double-duty as wildlife habitat — or, more accurately, to continue functioning for wildlife even as humans colonize them for their homes, highways, and farms. …

“Corridor protection on the grand scale has achieved remarkable results, notably with the 2,000-mile long Yellowstone-to-Yukon Conservation Initiative. It aims to connect protected areas and to ensure safe passage for elk, grizzly bears, and other wildlife across 500,000 square miles of largely shared habitat, both public and privately owned.

“At the same time, research by Nick Haddad, a conservation biologist at the University of Michigan’s W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, has demonstrated substantial improvements in biodiversity from corridors as little as 25 yards in width, well within the range, he says, of ‘what’s reasonable in urban landscapes.’

Indeed, a new study from northern Botswana has found that elephants traveling from Chobe National Park to the nearby Chobe River will use corridors as small as 10 feet wide to traverse newly urbanized areas.

“Urban areas now increasingly recognize that it’s cheaper to protect clean water by buying up natural habitat both within their own borders and at the source, instead of installing expensive technology to purify it after the fact.  It’s not just about New York City purchasing huge chunks of the Catskills. North Carolina’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund, for instance, has also protected 500,000 acres of watershed and riverside habitat over the past 20 years — with enormous incidental benefits for wildlife. …

“Scientists were stunned in October by the report [that] that over a 27-year period, from 1989 to 2016, the population of flying insects at nature reserves across Germany had collapsed, down by 76 percent overall, and 82 percent in the peak mid-summer flying season. Most of the likely causes — including habitat fragmentation, deforestation, monoculture farming, and overuse of pesticides — were factors outside the borders of these ostensibly protected areas.”

For more on global efforts to protect biodiversity near human habitation (and the unlikely entities getting on board, such as power companies, highway systems, and active train systems), click here. You can also learn ways of protecting beneficial insects outside your home at my friend Jean’s Meadowmaking website, here.

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Photo: North Carolina Arboretum
Plant physiologist Joe-Ann McCoy extracts seeds from black cohosh collected in western North Carolina.

A plant physiologist, worried about the future effects of global warming on biodiversity in Appalachia, is not only preserving seeds but working to attract preservation-based economic development. It would be almost like getting a sponsor for one of the plants there, a plant whose roots are used in popular herbal remedies.

At Yale Environment 360, Nancy Averett writes, “When she can spare the time — away from the grant applications, journal articles, and economic reports strewn across her desk — plant physiologist Joe-Ann McCoy laces up her hiking boots and heads to the Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina.

“Dodging copperheads and black bears, she winds her way deep into the forest, her eyes scanning the lush understory for black cohosh, a native plant whose roots have been used in herbal remedies for centuries, primarily to treat symptoms related to menopause. When she spots her quarry, McCoy gently pulls the plant’s seed pods — tiny brown orbs that rattle when shaken — off the stem and slips them into a paper envelope.

“The seeds inside those pods — which will be cleaned, vacuum-packed, and then stored in a freezer at -20 degrees Fahrenheit — give McCoy hope. As the director of the North Carolina Arboretum’s Germplasm Repository, her job is to preserve native seeds in this highly biodiverse area in southern Appalachia before climate change makes it impossible for some native vegetation to survive there.

“But the black cohosh holds another promise, as well. The plant’s roots are used in top-selling herbal remedies, and, if someone could succeed in growing black cohosh as a crop and manufacturing supplements here [it] could help drive economic development in this job-scarce region. …

“North Carolina [is] special in terms of biodiversity. Studies have documented more than 4,000 species of plants, 2,000 species of fungi, and 500 species of mosses and lichens in the region. Unlike much of the U.S. East Coast, during the last three ice ages the ground in this region did not freeze, which means the plants here have a much longer genetic history and more diversity than in other areas.

‘If I had to pick one place in the entire U.S. for this project,’ McCoy says, ‘it would be here. This is the ultimate spot.’ …

“When she first came to the arboretum, she focused on black cohosh and creating a robust seed collection from the plant’s entire geographic range — she has 22 different strains — and then growing plants from each strain so she would have enough seeds to back up her collection in three different repositories. These include two federal storage sites — in Ames, Iowa and Fort Collins, Colo. — plus the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.”

After cataloging the seeds, McCoy turns her attention to the economic possibilities. Read here about her work with investors. The Yale article also describes her ginseng efforts and her assistance to Cherokees who value plants used in traditional medicine.

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My friend Kristina is an artist with a long-time interest in shells. At a Harvard-based shell club that she frequents, she meets many interesting artists and scientists — including George Buckley, a Caribbean coral reef researcher who made the video below.

Buckley says, “Little did I know in 1976 that my first visit to Bonaire to study land snails … and dive with Captain Don Stewart would lead to a career interconnected with Bonaire and to some 100 more return trips!

“Bonaire became the focus of case study after case study of marine management and biodiversity in my Harvard University environmental management program. [Dozens] of research and study groups, students, magazine writers and photographers that I brought to the island all fell in love with the landscapes and the emerald sea of Bonaire.

“The early years of the Bonaire Marine Park [BMP] and STINAPA [Dutch acronym for national park] … were a great adventure and while my efforts with the Carco Project and Marecultura were not as successful as hoped, both helped to lay the groundwork for future efforts around the world as to best practices in that field.

“The BMP’s pioneering leadership in education, moorings, gloves policies, banning light sticks and spearfishing, creating the ‘Nature Fee’ and so much more led to Bonaire’s well-deserved world-wide recognition. The efforts to save Klein Bonaire were a testament to international collaboration and stand to this day as the Hallmark of what a committed group of concerned people can accomplish. It is indeed true that Bonaire is to conservation of nature as Greenwich is to time – with credit to Captain Don.”

If you are on Facebook, check out the rest of Buckley’s post.

Photo: Sand Dollar in Bonaire

 

 

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In June I wrote (here) about my friend Jean Devine’s latest venture, “Meadowscaping for Biodiversity.” Jean hoped to get middle-grade kids involved in creating a meadow where once there was lawn juiced with chemicals — and learning how meadows provide habitat for many small creatures. She conducted a pilot program over the summer with her collaborator Barbara Passero and an 8th grade science teacher, Steve Gordon.

Jean e-mails her friends and fans, “We’re delighted to announce that our 8-week summer pilot of “Meadowscaping for Biodiversity” in Waltham, MA, was a great success! The three of us, along with a strong soil turner and a landscape designer, worked with a few boy scouts (and their mothers) to repurpose a 400 square foot plot on the east lawn of Christ Church Episcopal (750 Main St. across from the Waltham Public Library) into a meadow filled with native plants.

“Why did we do this? To engage youth in fun, project-based, outdoor education, while providing native plants as habitat — especially food source — for bees, caterpillars, butterflies, birds, etc.

“The end result? An aesthetically pleasing product and proof that Meadowscaping for Biodiversity, a generative/environmental education program, pays a solution forward to the next generation by inspiring, engaging, and empowering students to be problem solvers and stewards of the Earth. All involved, including the vendors who supplied plants and garden materials, were able to see that this program helps heal the Earth and improve outdoor educational opportunities for youth ‘one meadow at a time.’ Now all we have to do is convince funders, teachers, city planners etc. of the benefits of this program!”

If you fit any of those categories or just want to learn more, contact information is here.

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My friend Jean Devine is always up to something interesting. A Brown U grad, with an MBA from Simmons, she used to work in investor relations but in recent years has been testing the waters of social entrepreneurship.

Her latest initiative, with Barbara Passero of Sandpiper Creative, is called meadowscaping and is intriguing on many levels.

With access to a Waltham church lawn for a summer youth program, Jean and Barbara will work with kids to convert the yard into a meadow that uses native species from Garden in the Woods and provides a habitat to the bugs and other small creatures that make a healthy environment.

From the Meadowscaping for Biodiversity website: Meadowscaping “is an outdoor, project-based, environmental education program that provides middle school youth with real-world experiences in STEAM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), while inspiring and empowering them to address challenges to the environment and our society.

“Today, few children spend time experiencing Nature and the benefits of outdoor recreation, education, and contemplation. Founder and former Director of the Children and Nature Network (C& NN) Richard Louv coined the phrase nature-deficit disorder to describe the negative effects of reduced outdoor time on children’s development. …

“Children who spend little time outdoors may value nature less than children who spend time outdoors in free play. Similarly, children who feel part of something bigger than themselves may … understand their dependence on a clean environment and know that they are responsible for caring for the Earth as their home.” More here.

The idea behind the meadowscaping summer program is that children, both at a young age and as they become adults, can actually do something about the environment.

Remember our post “The Doctor Is In” about the woman who sets up in a Providence park to listen to your worries about global warming (here)? Stop worrying and do something, say the meadowscape entrepreneurs. Give up lawn chemicals, plant a meadow, provide a home for tiny necessary critters, and work to make change.

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Cathryn J. Prince has a story in the Christian Science Monitor about a research ecologist who thinks we can have our cake and eat it too: that is, have a strong economy and a sustainable future.

Prince writes, “As head of the conservation biology department at Antioch University New England in Keene, NH, [Tom] Wessels isn’t against chopping down trees or clearing land to farm. He just wants to see more people embrace sustainable forest and land management practices.

“Wessels, trained as a research ecologist, says economics plays as much a role in protecting the environment as does saving energy. Think how the adoption of fair trade principles for growing and selling coffee have changed the economics of that industry. Forests can benefit in the same way.

“ ‘Adam Smith, the father of modern economic theory, wrote about this in Wealth of Nations,’ Wessels says. ‘People will act out of self-interest, but they can support each other doing it. …

“Market forces can help to conserve forests and farmlands, says Wessels, who also serves as chair of the Vermont-based Center for Whole Communities. …

“ ‘We are incredibly frivolous about our energy use,’ Wessels says. ‘Any organism or population that is energy wasteful gets selected out of the system.” Charles Darwin explained this when he wrote about survival of the fittest, he says. Survival of the fittest also means survival of the most adaptable, and the most energy efficient, he says. …

“Partnering with more than 400 organizations in 47 states, Whole Communities aims to help create communities where people rely on each other for their food and other needs.

“For example, Wessels would like to see Detroit become a different kind of urban jungle. The city has lost about 50 percent of its population since the late 1980s. Empty lots abound. But now community gardens have begun to fill these open tracts with food crops. The Detroit Food Policy Council and the city government want to make Detroit food secure by 2020 – meaning that everyone will have access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food.

“ ‘A lot of our focus is around food security,’ Wessels says. ‘Detroit will become a model for other urban areas.’ ” More here.

Photograph: Cathryn J. Prince

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