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 41 
 on: Jul 25, 2016, 06:21 AM 
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'The best solution? Move the Mauritanian capital': water on the rise in Nouakchott

A prisoner of climate change, Nouakchott faces challenges of flooding and erosion that have been exacerbated by preparations for the Arab League summit

Alex Duval Smith in Nouakchott
AFP
Monday 25 July 2016 09.00 BST

The two events are not unrelated. As heads of state fly into Nouakchott’s new airport for the Arab League summit on Monday, Vieux Fall will be raising the roof – and the floor – of his family’s small compound.

“The water table has risen more than usual this year. The toilets are overflowing. We are flooded again,” says the 36-year-old computer technician, standing in a shallow pool of water in his yellow-tiled courtyard.

On the roof of the single-storey dwelling, a bricklayer is building a bedroom. In the street, another man is mixing cement. Downstairs, along all the walls, at a height of 70cm, Fall has drawn a line in blue pencil: the new level of the floor. Wedged between the advancing dunes of the Sahara and the rising Atlantic Ocean, the Mauritanian capital is a prisoner of climate change (pdf).

Nouakchott has no mains drains. Much of the city is at or below sea level, protected from the ocean only by an eroding dune. In the past decade, local and international studies have warned that the city is in danger of being swallowed by the sea. Yet a frenzy of construction has preceded the summit, leading to fears of disastrous flooding when the rains come in August.

“We are getting ready for the rain. We spend all our savings on masonry. It may seem like madness, but we cannot afford to move,” says Fall. He points out a tap, set in the wall just below knee height. “When I was a young man, it was level with my shoulder,’’ he says. “You see, we have raised the floor – and of course all the door frames – by about a metre in the past 15 years.”

Fall shares the compound with his wife, his two children, his younger sister and his widowed mother. The family were allocated the property in the 1980s when Fall’s late father was a customs officer and the Socogim PS neighbourhood came into being as a leafy suburb for civil servants.

“All the trees are dead. The water rising under Nouakchott is salty,” says Siré Camara, 48, the lucky occupant of the tallest building in Socogim PS – the two-storey culture centre he founded in 2006. From the roof, where he is building a third storey, he points out the skeletal trunks of the trees lining the roads. “The only patches of green are the tall reeds growing in the abandoned compounds, and in the primary school and dispensary that never reopened after flooding in 2013,” continues Camara.

“The area is full of stinking ponds where people empty their waste water and throw their household waste. It is disgusting and unhealthy. We have dengue fever, which was completely unknown in Nouakchott before. The best solution would be to move the Mauritanian capital and start again. That is what would happen in a rich country.”

Until 1960, Mauritania was not a mapped entity. Its French colonisers cared about the territory only as a sandy link between north Africa and present-day Senegal. Camel herders sipped green tea at a watering hole called Nouakchott (“the windy place”) with 200 residents and not enough annual rain to fill a thimble.

Now Nouakchott has a population of 800,000, precipitation that registers on bar charts, drinking water piped from Senegal, but still no drains. Three years ago, so much rain fell on Mauritania during August and September that more than 2,000 people were left homeless. In the wake of the emergency, the German cooperation agency (GIZ) designed a network of ditches and pumping stations to evacuate surface water in areas like Socogim PS.

Omnia Aboukorah-Voigt, GIZ project coordinator for climate change in Nouakchott, said: “I don’t think Nouakchott really needs a storm drain but it needs sanitation, better urban planning and management of the coastal zone.

“We are talking about very few days of rain a year. But the number of rainy days is increasing and the problem is the large amount of rain that falls in a very short time. Given the fact that the ground water is really high, when it rains there is no place for the water to infiltrate the ground. The more you build – roads or buildings – the more you are laying a waterproof cover over parts of the city, which will lead to flooding elsewhere.”

In Socogim PS, Camara says the pumps have been a disappointment. They have worked in the immediate run-up to the summit but previously they had not functioned, causing vast pools of stagnant water to build up.
Mauritania makes a fresh attempt to boost agriculture
Read more

Hamzette Ould Amar, director general of the national water board said residents were to blame.

“The problem is their behaviour. They throw solid waste in the canals. That creates huge problems for the pumps. We have now bought pumps with double the capacity – 120cm3 – and these will solve the problem.”

He claimed a long-term solution – full sanitation – will be operational within three and a half years. However, residents and donors remain sceptical of the extent to which a much-vaunted government contract, signed with China last year, will result in a comprehensive drainage system for all residents of Nouakchott.

 42 
 on: Jul 25, 2016, 06:18 AM 
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Can $15m worth of toilets finally clean up the Ganges?

More than 60% of the world’s open defecation takes place in India, but a donation from the spiritual leader known as Amma could help revive a flagging campaign

Karl Mathiesen
AFP
7/25/2016

A Hindu spiritual leader has donated $15m to build thousands of toilets in villages along the Ganges in an effort to cleanse India’s holy river from the pollution caused by the country’s open defecation crisis.

Mātā Amṛtānandamayī Devī, known as Amma (“mother”) to her followers, made the donation to prime minister Narendra Modi’s stuttering push to ensure all Indians are using toilets by 2019, saying it was “one of the most important tasks of the hour”.

In Hindu spirituality the Ganges is a source of purification, the holiest body of water on Earth. People living on its banks bathe in it and drink from it every day. This month during the Kumbh Mela, tens of millions of Hindus will cleanse themselves in its waters. But Amṛtānandamayī told the Guardian these acts of necessity and devotion expose people to danger.

“The river is a symbol of the ancient Indian culture. But only some of what is called the Ganges today is the original pure water. The rest is sewage and factory waste,” she said. “People still have the faith that the Ganga is the Divine Mother herself and has healing properties. As such, millions go there to bathe and drink the water. Due to pollution, this can cause sickness.”

More than 600 million Indians have no access to a toilet. This exposes them to disease, indignity and danger. More than 200,000 children under the age of five die each year from diarrhoea and almost half of under fives have stunted growth (pdf) as a result of exposure to faecally transmitted infections.

On accepting her donation, India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley said: “Every poor person on the banks of the Ganga must have a toilet so that we can keep the environment clean and the pollutants of the households don’t get into the Ganga itself.”

Successive governments have failed to tackle open defecation in India, meaning the problem is now much worse than in neighbouring countries. A report by the WHO and Unicef (pdf) found that almost half of India’s population do not have access to proper toilets – compared to 1% in China, 3% in Bangladesh and 23% in Pakistan. Almost 60% of the world’s open defecation occurs in India.

Women and girls are particularly affected. To preserve their privacy many walk far into fields under cover of darkness to go to the toilet. Last year, two teenage girls in Uttar Pradesh were gang-raped and killed while on one such trip.

Modi’s response to the deaths in Uttar Pradesh and terrible statistics of disease was to launch an ambitious nationwide campaign to end the practice of open defecation in time for Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday in 2019.

“Has it ever pained us that our mothers and sisters have to defecate in the open?” he said in a speech to the nation in August 2014, driving the problem right up the political agenda.

This first year of the programme has seen a modest rise in the number of toilets being built. “It is difficult to get a reliable picture of progress,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, Unicef’s chief of water, sanitation and hygiene.

“However for India to achieve the government target of open defecation free status by 2019, states will need to accelerate coverage to reach 12% [of India’s 1.25 billion people] per year. The challenge is immense and acceleration is critical” he said.

But Tom Palakudiyil, WaterAid’s director of international programmes in Asia warned that Modi’s promise to build toilets for 60m homes had the potential to spark a “construction craze” that would not actually solve the crisis if the toilets remained unused.

In the past, India has built millions of rural toilets. But surveys have found that even in households with access to toilets, a quarter of men and 17% of women do not use them. Often newly constructed toilets are used as storage spaces or rubbish bins.

Palakudiyil said that the government had mandated that education and training be included in the Modi plan, however “in practice, when that goes from Delhi to the state capital, to the district level, it gets lost in translation purely because the functionary on the ground will know that his performance will be measured in the number of toilets and not in awareness-raising education camps that he organised in the village”.

Amṛtānandamayī said the programme must not only encourage people to build toilets, but to use them.

“Devoid of another place to relieve themselves, the villagers do it in open ground. It isn’t really a preference, but has become a habit due to lack of other options. They are unaware of its ill effects. They do it out of helplessness. Proper education will certainly create a change,” she said. “I was also raised like that and lived like that till seven. Yet, I changed my ways. So, I am sure these people will also change.”

A representative of Amṛtānandamayī’s organisation, Embracing the World, said the organisation would provide sanitation training in villages where toilets are built.

Embracing the World raises money from across the world from followers who believe Amṛtānandamayī to be a saint. She is best known for the habit of embracing those she meets – she is thought to have hugged 35 million people – leading her to be known as the “Hugging Saint”.

The organisation promotes sustainable development. Embracing the World recently cleaned the Pampa River in the state of Kerala. Later this month, Amṛtānandamayī will release another $15m for toilet construction in the region.

Join our community of development professionals and humanitarians. Follow@GuardianGDP on Twitter, and have your say on issues around water in development using #H2Oideas.

 43 
 on: Jul 25, 2016, 06:16 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
A toilet or safe drinking water? The stark choice facing many people in rural India

India’s ambitious sanitation drive has created a health hazard, with many toilets built cheek by jowl with family water supplies
A hand pump with a cracked base in Dhenkenal, Odisha

Priyanka Pulla in Puri
AFP
Monday 25 July 2016 05.00 BST

June in Odisha state’s Puri district, and the mercury is hitting 39C. The monsoon is still days away but, when it comes, the Mahanadi river could flood low-lying villages, as it often has done. One such village is Aaruha, a network of congested huts surrounded by vast rice fields.

Chaibi Swain, 52, lives here with her husband, a rice farmer. Her home is little different to the rest of Aaruha’s low-rise dwellings, but it has a toilet, which puts her among a small minority in rural Odisha. Eight out of nine people in Odisha’s villages do not use toilets, instead defecating in the open, leaving them vulnerable to diseases. The Swains, with their tiny toilet, which empties into a leach pit – a hole in the ground used to compost faeces when there is no sewage system – are the face of progress.

There is a problem, however. The leach pit is next to the household’s drinking-water source, a tube well. Water so close to a leach pit is vulnerable to contamination from faecal germs, since bacteria, viruses and protozoa can travel through soil. Worse, when the monsoon comes and the Mahanadi overruns its banks, the groundwater levels in Aaruha rise, making the contamination worse. The Swains’ toilet could actually be a health risk.

They aren’t the only ones whose backyard toilet is a threat to the water supply. As the Swachch Bharat Mission (SBM) – India’s ambitious campaign to stop open defecation by 2019 – gains pace, about 1.3m leach-pit toilets have been built in Odisha alone.

In districts such as Ganjam, Balasore and Puri, these pits are often built without safeguards against contamination, say the NGOs working with the government. “It is quite alarming, because if this problem is not addressed at this time, we are building sites of contamination all around,” says Devdeep Saha, a research associate at the sanitation NGO Friend in Need Trust.

The safeguards in coastal districts such as Puri, which have high groundwater tables and are prone to flooding, include keeping a 10-metre distance between water sources and leach pits, raising the top of pits above the ground so that flood water does not enter, and sealing the bottom of pits to prevent pathogens escaping. But villagers who build their own toilets in return for funds from the mission often ignore these safeguards.

The reasons are many. First, many households in congested villages do not have the space to build toilets and tube wells far apart. Harendranath Pradhan, a government sanitation engineer in Odisha’s Balasore district, says this is the main reason for guidance being ignored. Even though his job is to ensure toilets are properly built, Pradhan says this isn’t always possible. “We tell the beneficiary to maintain a distance from the water source. But they say they don’t have the land. So we build the toilet, because we have to meet targets,” he says.

India is not yet meeting its mission goals. Only about 19m toilets have been built across rural India, meaning another 92m are needed over the next three years to meet the 2019 target. Vivek Sabnis, who previously worked for the Bangalore-based sanitation NGO Arghyam, says: “Unfortunately, everybody is pushing for quantity over quality.”

Odisha isn’t the only state that faces a threat to its water supplies from new toilets. Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand also have badly built toilets, according to Saha. This means that, as coverage grows, contamination may worsen.

A study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology in April found that certain diarrhoea-causing protozoa can travel 150 metres or more in the high groundwater of Puri to contaminate even deep tube wells, which are thought safer than shallow tube wells and open ponds. The study says full latrine coverage in high water table areas would reduce contamination in open ponds, but increase it in tube wells.

Marion Jenkins, lead author of the study and an environmental health researcher at the University of California in Davis, says recommended safeguards may reduce contamination a little, but won’t eliminate it. “Drinking-water aquifers are already seriously polluted with faecal protozoal pathogens from the existing stock of latrines in rural Puri,” she says.

Snakebites, diarrhoea and violence: why India's rural women need toilets...Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2014/nov/19/snakebites-diarrhoea-violence-india-rural-women-toilets

This means that unless the existing latrines are pulled down, and new ones built differently, pollution will remain.

Another study, published in January, found tube wells in Bihar to be contaminated by faecal pathogens about 18% of the time, when they weren’t far enough from pit toilets. This study was done in summer, and the authors predict contamination would increase during monsoon.

None of this means India should panic and abandon pit toilets, says Sandy Cairncross, an environmental health researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Improved toilet coverage is likely to benefit people much more than it hurts them, he points out, adding that it would be better to provide piped water to villages, instead of relying on tube wells and ponds.

Another solution is to train villagers to monitor the quality of their toilets, instead of relying on government officials to do so, says Sujoy Mojumdar, a former SBM director who is now with Unicef India. The system of a government official inspecting toilets before disbursing money doesn’t work because toilet users do not feel ownership, he argues. Village teams already exist in some states, he says, “but it is still a rare example and not widespread”.

 44 
 on: Jul 25, 2016, 06:07 AM 
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‘World can’t afford to silence us’: black church leaders address climate change

One of the largest and oldest black churches in the US warns that black people are disproportionally harmed by global warming and fossil fuel pollution

Oliver Milman
AFP
Sunday 24 July 2016 11.30 BST

African American religious leaders have added their weight to calls for action on climate change, with one of the largest and oldest black churches in the US warning that black people are disproportionally harmed by global warming and fossil fuel pollution.

The African Methodist Episcopal church has passed its first resolution in its 200-year history devoted to climate change, calling for a swift transition to renewable energy.

“We can move away from the dirty fuels that make us sick and shift toward safe, clean energy like wind and solar that help make every breath our neighbors and families take a healthy one,” states the resolution, which also points to research showing that black children are four times as likely as white children to die from asthma.

The resolution was passed at the church’s general conference in Philadelphia, where more than 30,000 members gathered. The AME church, the oldest independent Protestant denomination founded by black people in the world, has about 7,000 congregations and 2.5m members.

“Damage to our climate puts the health of children, elderly, and those with chronic illnesses at greater risk and disproportionately impacts African Americans. We believe it is our duty to commit to taking action and promoting solutions that will help make our families and communities healthier and stronger,” stated Bishop John White, president of the council of bishops of the AME church.

The resolution follows an open letter sent by African American clergy last year that called for political leaders to take “bold action to address climate change”.

The letter states: “The voices of communities whose inhabitants look like us often are dismissed or disregarded. But the world cannot afford to silence us, and we cannot afford to be – and will not be – silent. Climate change most directly impacts the poor and marginalized, but ultimately, everyone is in jeopardy.”

    Climate change most directly impacts the poor and marginalized, but ultimately, everyone is in jeopardy
    Climate letter

Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, director of AME church’s social action commission, said that will “hold elected officials accountable” over climate change.

“In communities of color, the church has been the voice on these kind of issues and we need to continue to be that voice,” she told the Guardian. “Many people may have heard that climate change is some sort of political trick – but when we speak, people will listen to us. We have an obligation to make this a focal point.”

Dupont-Walker said that the church’s voter mobilization campaign will work throughout the 2016 election cycle to question candidates on climate change. Local officials and landlords will also be put under pressure over inadequate housing and infrastructure that helps spread pollution to black communities.

According to the NAACP, African Americans emit far less carbon dioxide per person compared with white people and yet will bear the brunt of heat-related deaths, due to the concentration of black people in cities.

Faith leaders across the world have expressed alarm over climate change, with Pope Francis warning last year that “we may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth”. Some churches have backed the campaign to divest from fossil fuels.

June was the warmest on record in both the US and globally, marking the 14th consecutive month of record-breaking heat worldwide.

 45 
 on: Jul 25, 2016, 06:05 AM 
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Kenya jails ivory kingpin for 20 years

Paula Kahumbu: The conviction and sentencing of Feisal Mohamed Ali sends a message to poachers and traffickers that the net is closing around them

Paula Kahumbu
AFP
25 July 2016 08.52 BST

On Friday, a Mombasa law court sentenced Feisal Mohamed Ali to 20 years in jail after finding him guilty of illegal possession of ivory worth 44 million shillings (US $440,000). The court also imposed a fine of 20 million shillings.

This landmark ruling by the Kenyan court is the end of a long story that began with the seizure of 2 tonnes of ivory at Fuji Motors car yard in Mombasa in June 2014.

After more than 2 years of uncertainty and high drama, this exemplary sentence is justice for elephants. In a press statement, the Kenya Wildlife Service said:

    The guilty verdict is a strong message to all networks of poaching gangs, ivory smugglers, financiers, middlemen and shippers that Kenya will not watch as its elephant population is decimated or its territory used as a conduit for traffickers.

Feisal Mohamed Ali is a well-known member of the business community in Mombasa. A warrant for his arrest was issued soon after the seizure of the ivory in Mombasa, but he was able to evade capture. Exactly how this happened has never been adequately explained.

Although the warrant for his arrest had been issued, civil society organisations voiced their concern about the lack of effort being made to track him down. On 12 August, on behalf of my NGO WildlifeDirect, I presented a letter signed by 400 Kenyans to David Kimaiyo, the then Inspector General of Police, urging him to make good the arrest warrant.

The turning point came in October when, following a landmark request by the Kenyan Government, Interpol issued a Red Notice identifying Feisal Mohamed Ali as one of the world’s most wanted environmental crime fugitives. WildlifeDirect publicised the arrest warrant by running a full page ‘Wanted’ advert in several newspapers.

Feisal was arrested in Tanzania on Christmas Eve 2014 and returned to Mombasa to face trial.
Advert published by WildlifeDirect in Kenyan daily newspapers publicising the Red Alert issued by Interpol for the arrest of Feisal Mohamed Ali, October 2014.

The trial itself was dogged by irregularities. The major evidence in the case, 9 motor vehicles that were under police custody, allegedly “disappeared” and a ruling on the inquiry as to the evidence tampering is yet to be delivered.

At one point, the magistrate handling the case granted Feisal Mohamed bond, overturning a previous high court ruling. A few weeks later, a new magistrate was assigned to the case. She opted to restart proceedings, but within days, the scene of crime, the Fuji Motors building in Mombasa, was demolished.

Throughout the court proceedings WildlifeDirect has held a watching brief on behalf of civil society, communities in Kenya that derive their livelihoods from wildlife—and elephants. Legal interns have acted as courtroom monitors, ensuring that the public is kept up-to-date on progress in the case and alerted when irregularities occur.

This work is not without its risks. Members of the courtroom monitoring team have been threatened by thugs on the stairs of the Mombasa court.

Courtroom monitoring is also not cheap. When hundreds of elephants are being killed across Africa by poachers every week, it might be argued that the money could be better spent protecting elephants on the ground.

Fortunately we have been supported by far-sighted donors who have understood the need for a joined-up strategy in the battle against wildlife crime.

Our ‘Eyes in the Courtroom’ project that monitors trials across Kenya is funded by Save The Elephants, through the Elephant Crisis Fund at the Wildlife Conservation Network. The Whitley Foundation provided additional funding for the watching brief at the trial of Feisal Mohamed.

Kenya’s massive ivory burn at the end of April received huge global publicity, as a powerful statement of intent. The message was simple: Kenya will never condone or benefit from the slaughter of elephants for their tusks.

But this grand statement would be meaningless if it was not accompanied by concrete policing measures to protect elephants in the wild and apprehend poachers and traffickers. And arrests are meaningless unless those arrested are properly tried and, if convicted, punished.

It is often assumed that courts throughout Africa are both inefficient and corrupt. But calls to improve the situation carry little weight if they are based on anecdotal evidence. In 2013, WildlifeDirect published its first Courtroom Monitoring Report, providing concrete evidence of systemic failings in the prosecution of wildlife crimes.

Our conclusions, based on 5 years of courtroom monitoring, were stark. The vast majority of suspects in wildlife crime cases were walking free from the courts. Suspects were able to plead guilty and pay a paltry fine or, if they chose to contest the case, could be confident that it would be dismissed due to procedural irregularities.

This report was a wake-up call and led to a series of measures being taken. A new law was passed providing for vastly increased penalties for convicted wildlife criminals, up to life imprisonment in some cases. A specialist Wildlife Crime Prosecution Unit was set up, training and procedural guidelines were provided to prosecutors and magistrates.

Our second report, published this year, shows an improving situation. Case management has improved, conviction rates in contested trials have increased and penalties for those convicted have got tougher.

But our report found the system was mostly effective against low-level criminals. The kingpins—the high level traffickers who control the ivory trade—were still evading justice. We concluded: no high level trafficker has yet been convicted and sentenced by Kenyan courts.

Until yesterday. The Feisal case is hugely significant because it means that another key element in Kenya’s joined-up strategy to defeat wildlife crime is in place. It fixes a hole in the net that is being drawn around poachers and traffickers.

This is not quite the end of the story as Feisal’s lawyers will be appealing against the conviction and sentence and prosecution will appeal against the acquittal of his five co-defendants.

But the conviction itself is a huge milestone and conservationists can breathe a sigh of relief. Acquittal in this case would have been a catastrophe. To Kenyans in wider society, increasingly concerned about corruption, the outcome of the case sends a positive message that justice can be achieved, with a lot of work and focused attention.

Political will, effective policing on the ground and enforcement of the rule of law in the courts are three essential pillars of a successful anti-wildlife crime strategy. The fourth pillar is public support. It was essential to keep the case in the public eye; otherwise I am certain it would have quietly ‘disappeared’ from the files on ongoing cases. Instead, continual pressure from the general public, civil society organisations and the media was able to ensure that justice was done.

I was heartened by the comments from the presiding judge, Hon. Diana Mochache, in pronouncing sentence. They showed how far the conservationist message is getting across to wider society. Wildlife conservation is becoming a mainstream issue in Kenya.

The judge reminded the court that elephants are part of Kenya’s national heritage and a source of pride, as shown by their widespread use in corporate branding. She said that poaching is a menace in Kenya and warned that if nothing was done to stop it children in the future would only know elephants from what they read in books. She also urged people not to wear ivory ornaments.

She concluded by saying that in this case more than 150 elephants were killed to supply the ivory involved: the court had to put away the people who committed these crimes, as an example for those behind the poaching menace in the country.

This is an excellent result for the people of Kenya and for elephants. It shows that with the necessary support from the Kenya Wildlife Service, prosecution agencies and the judiciary, a just and powerful result can be delivered.

 46 
 on: Jul 25, 2016, 05:59 AM 
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Wildflower heaven in the west of Ireland

Iveragh Peninsula, County Kerry Roadsides are a riot of primary yellow, pinks and purples

Matt Shardlow
Press Association
Monday 25 July 2016 05.30 BST

This verdant isle is indeed a green gem, but for the visitor from eastern England the abundance of richly coloured flowers is the stand-out botanical feature of the west coast of Ireland.

Roadsides are a riot of primary yellow – bird’s foot trefoil, St John’s wort, ragwort and cat’s ear; pinks and purples – including common, bell and cross-leaved heather and whole hedges of fuchsia; whitish umbels of angelica, and big white and pink striped, flared trumpets of the roseata subspecies of large bindweed.

Rossbeigh dunes project out from the north coast of the Iveragh peninsula into Dingle Bay. The low lying damp slacks are full of spiky little eyebright plants with their yellow-throated white flowers. Surrounding the slack, on the dune slopes, is a scattering of pyramidal orchids, each tight conical flower spike a sumptuous pinkish purple, as beautiful as a rhodolite garnet.

Further west, near Cahersiveen, are a couple of stone forts, or cashels. Cahergal is the most impressive – probably 1,500 years old, circular, 25 metres in diameter and with walls three metres high and five metres thick. Apparently this was a defensive building, but the steeply terraced interior feels more like an amphitheatre than a fort. Time, including rebuilds and repurposing, leaves us guessing how these impressive structures may have been used.

The more modest walls of the nearby Leacanabuaile cashel are topped with grass and flowers, including the very pretty sheep’s-bit, or duán na gcaorach in Irish. This is an under-appreciated little plant; the tanzanite blue flowers look similar to the unrelated scabious but are smaller and the petals are sharply pointed. It even has its own species of mite, thrip and moth.

As a follow up to my diary of 24 June, the Nene tributary without a name is apparently called Laxton’s Brook. The village of Laxton is five miles north of the brook’s catchment, so it is more likely that the name comes from the Laxton family, who lived in Oundle, downstream and to the south of the brook. In 1544 a William Laxton here became lord mayor of London and founded Oundle school.

 47 
 on: Jul 25, 2016, 05:58 AM 
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Young people urge UK politicians to help safeguard nature

Two-thirds of 16- to 34-year-olds consider environmental and wildlife policies a top voting priority, according to survey

Press Association
Monday 25 July 2016 11.42 BST

Almost nine out of 10 young people think it is important for politicians to take care of wildlife and the environment, according to a new poll.

Two-thirds of 16- to 34-year-olds agree the environment is a top voting priority for them, the CensusWide survey of 1,000 people of all ages revealed.

The findings come as a report by young environmental campaigners urges the government to ensure nature is flourishing by 2050.

The report, written by the A Focus on Nature group, is based on contributions from hundreds of young people across the UK. It urges ministers to create a long-term plan maintain the natural world for generations.

It calls for “rewilding” and the reintroduction of extinct native species such as beavers and lynxes at suitable UK locations.

In addition, the report stated that all UK tax breaks and fossil fuel subsidies should be redirected to renewables; all agricultural subsidies should incentivise wildlife-friendly farming and a quarter of the country’s land and seas should be managed for nature.

The campaigners also want 20% of primary school lesson time spent outdoors in quality green spaces, with half of that time spent learning about nature.

A programme between the government and other organisations should create 10 city national parks across the UK and develop urban nature reserves and wildlife gardens in the country’s most deprived communities, the report urged.

The report is backed by Sir David Attenborough, who said: “None of us own the natural world. We only hold it in trust for the next generation. It is cause for hope that, as this report shows, so many of those who inherit it feel the same.”

Almost nine out of 10 of the 643 respondents aged between 16 and 34 thought it was important for politicians, businesses, individuals and charities to take care of wildlife and the environment, the poll found.

Almost two-thirds (65%) said that environmental policies were more important than policies on transport. Half (51%) said they were more important than immigration measures. Around 59% said environmental policies were as important as those on healthcare.

Matt Williams, the associate director of A Focus on Nature and senior editor of the report, said: “We’re lucky to have so much wonderful wildlife and amazing places in the UK but study after study has shown that we’re losing nature at a faster rate than at any other time in recent history.

“This new data shows that young people have had enough of this and want to see more action to help protect nature for years to come. As young people, we will be affected far more by the future impacts of the loss of wildlife than older generations.”

He added: “We started work on this report two years ago. The fact that we’ve voted to leave the EU since then only makes it more important than ever that we have an ambitious vision for helping wildlife in our country.”

***************

Solar subsidy cuts lead to loss of 12,000 jobs

UK loses third of solar posts as survey reveals almost four in 10 companies are considering leaving market entirely

Adam Vaughan
AFP
Monday 25 July 2016 10.46 BST

More than 12,000 solar power jobs have been lost in the past year because of government subsidy cuts, according to the industry.

A third of solar jobs have been lost in the UK, found the report by PwC for the Solar Trade Association (STA), based on a survey of 238 companies, around 10% of the industry.

The losses are in addition to around 1,000 jobs that disappeared when several companies went into administration in a matter of weeks last year, but less than some dire predictions that forecast 18,000 jobs being axed.

Almost four in 10 companies are considering leaving the solar market entirely, and three in 10 told the survey they expected to employ fewer people in a year’s time. But half said they expected no change in staff levels and a fifth expected to increase numbers.

Leonie Greene, a spokeswoman for the STA, said: “The survey shows very regrettable damage to the fabric of the British solar industry and the need for prompt government action.”

The trade body blamed cuts to subsidy regimes made since the Conservative government took power last May, including a 65% reduction in payments for householders considering solar on their rooftop. Installations plummeted in February and March after the cuts took effect.

Nick Boyle, the CEO of Lightsource, which is one of the UK’s biggest solar companies, said he had been deeply disappointed by the changes. Jonathan Selwyn, the director of Solar Consulting Ltd, told the survey: “The UK is currently a very challenging market for solar companies.”

There is around 10GW of solar power installed in the UK, up from almost nothing in 2010 and 5GW by the end of 2014. But the report warned solar’s meteoric rise was over and not returning any time soon.

“The rapid growth seen in 2014 and early last year will not be seen again under the current policy environment and while grid parity [cost parity with conventional power plants] remains out of reach,” it said.

The industry is also worried that its woes will be worsened by Brexit. “Concerns about solar investment will be exacerbated by the decision to leave the European Union and the expectation of a turbulent period of economic adjustment,” the PwC authors warned.

In May, new solar panel installations and the closure of several coal power plants saw solar generate more than coal over a month for the first time. On several days the amount of electricity produced from coal dropped to zero.

The government defended the reductions in solar support, which are levied on energy bills, by saying it needed to protect householders and businesses from rising energy costs. At the time, solar subsidies accounted for around £10 of an average annual household bill of £1,338.

The prospects for new solar in the UK are bleak in the short term but could be more hopeful in the longer run. While the recent abolition of the government’s climate department led to criticism that Theresa May was downgrading action on climate change, ministers in June committed to ambitious new carbon targets for 2030.

Greene said: “There are many good economic reasons to back the British solar including minimising the cost of decarbonising our power supply to retain competitiveness, while creating exceptionally large numbers of jobs.”

****************

Burning coal for gas in UK seabeds would flame pollution, says report

Friends of the Earth condemns Coal Authority for granting licences for underground coal gasification at 19 UK sites

Rob Edwards
AFP
Monday 25 July 2016 06.00 BST
 
Plans to set fire to coal under the seabed at up to 19 sites around the UK would cause significant climate pollution, groundwater contamination and toxic waste, according to a report by environmentalists.

The UK government’s Coal Authority has granted licences for underground coal gasification (UCG) covering more than 1,500 sq km of seabed off north-east and north-west England, Wales and east central Scotland.

The Scottish and Welsh governments have put temporary moratoriums on the technology because of concerns about the dangers. Scottish ministers are awaiting an independent review in September, which is likely to be critical of UCG.

But a company led by the veteran oil entrepreneur and former owner of the Spectator, Algy Cluff, is pursuing major developments near the shores of northern England.

Cluff Natural Resources has licences for nine potential undersea coalfields amounting to 640 sq km, valid until 2018-2020. Two are off the coast near Durham, two off Cumbria, two off Wales and three in the Firth of Forth in Scotland.

The company said that progress in Scotland “has been delayed due to local politics”. But it is continuing “to evaluate the development options for its acreage in England, particularly the north-east of England, which shares many of the commercial advantages of the Firth of Forth projects”.

The Coal Authority

Another 10 licences for UCG around the coast, valid until December this year or January 2018, are held by Five Quarter in Newcastle. Though the company ceased trading in March this year, there are fears that its licences could still be assigned to others.

UCG involves drilling boreholes up to 1km deep, setting fire to underground coal seams, and extracting the resulting gas to heat homes. But according to the new report by Friends of the Earth International, it has “left a trail of destruction in its wake across the world”.

The report says that UCG has caused groundwater contamination, subsidence, accidents and toxic waste where it has been deployed in Australia, South Africa and the US. Its total potential carbon dioxide emissions – 1,650bn tonnes globally, or 46bn tonnes in the UK – would wreck efforts to cut climate pollution, it warns.

Flick Monk, the report’s author from Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “On climate change grounds alone there is no way these plans can possibly make sense.

“Given what we know about this technology’s terrible history around the world, Cluff’s plans to burn coal seams off English coasts are utterly reckless. The UK government should stop this industry now before Cluff gets his foot in the door.”

But Andrew Nunn, the CEO of Cluff Natural Resources, accused Friends of the Earth of having a predetermined position on fossil fuels.

He said: “We fully expect that this new report will continue to perpetuate that position by ignoring those UCG projects which have proceeded without incident and focusing purely on a small number of projects, which fall well short of the standards that would be required to operate a UCG project in the UK

“This is a blatant attempt to influence the public and other stakeholders prior to the publication of the Scottish government’s independent report on UCG.”

 48 
 on: Jul 25, 2016, 05:52 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Bring on the orphaned elephant: why TV's animal takeover is almost complete

Crime thrillers, game shows, dramas – is there no TV territory that animals haven’t got their paws on? As the tearjerking family reunion genre is recast with bears and rhinos, we go on the trail of Beast TV

Mark Lawson
AFP
Monday 25 July 2016 09.30 BST

Television schedules often seem to have been constructed by picking titles out of a hat in the dark. Next week, though, ITV has a peak-time double that belong together like, well, owner and dog.

Wednesday’s latest edition of Long Lost Family, the Bafta award-winning show that seeks to reunite people with their relatives, is preceded by Wild Animal Reunions, which promises to “follow animal keepers and caregivers” as they seek to restore contact with creatures who they looked after before they were released into the wild.

    Though it’s rare for a dog to take the lead in a drama, there are enough supporting stars for a canine branch of Equity

ITV advises that the show is not currently in a finished state for preview – perhaps some of the special guests proved hard to track down – but the opening episode promises to include a rendezvous between orphan elephants and the zookeepers who raised them, and a sequence in which a scientist who has worked with black bears puts his theory of species affinity to the test.

In common with much contemporary TV, the series is tailgating web traffic: more than 100 million people have watched clips of a man being reunited with the lion he bought from Harrods and returned to nature. The show also, though, has strong links with traditional television. A publicity picture shows a woman cuddling a chimp, an image that invokes one of the single most famous moments of British television: when Sir David Attenborough plays with a baby and mother gorilla in Rwanda. A second encounter between Sir David and his friends would be the ultimate moment for Wild Animal Reunions, although the age of both participants would probably rule against it.

What’s most striking about Wild Animal Reunions, though, is that it shows the increasing territorial footprint of beast-TV. Programmes about long treasured meetings are one of the network’s hottest current genres – former bandmates and TV co-stars were recently brought together in Where Are They Now? The Reunions – and now four-footed performers have a toe-hold in this field as well.

The talent-show genre long ago went to the dogs, starting with the pooch that could say “sausages” on Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life and the 80s American show Those Amazing Animals. More recently, the victories in Britain’s Got Talent of owner-and-dog acts Ashleigh and Pudsey and Jules O’Dwyer and Matisse threatened to make human wannabes feel at a disadvantage. However, the controversy over Matisse’s use of a double for one of his signature stunts was a warning to non-human performers that they are as subject to the Ofcom guidelines as any other screen star. Many quadruped game shows have also been attempted, in which the star prize should ideally be a bone or a bowl of water: the most memorable of which was Pets Win Prizes.

Although it’s rare for a dog to take the lead character in a drama, there are more than enough supporting stars for a canine branch of Equity. The success of Poldark on BBC1 transformed the casting chances of its human stars – Aidan Turner has been spoken of as a possible James Bond – but also of its standout animal character. Barley, the lurcher cross who plays Demelza Poldark’s canine companion, Garrick, has recently appeared alongside (and sometimes behind) Sophie Okonedo in the police series Undercover, and has also shot Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson and the new JK Rowling movie, Fantastic Beasts.

Crime fiction – the most popular form of TV drama – has been relatively resistant to dog detectives for obvious reasons of dialogue and on-set hygiene. However, Inspector Rex, a series about a police dog who had better deductive powers than his handlers, was a long-running hit in Austria, and Rin Tin Tin: K-9 Cop was a similar Canadian franchise. In both those shows, the mutts are Holmes to the Watson of their human sidekicks.

Unsurprisingly, given the strong anthropomorphic impulse in the world since Walt Disney, most creature TV has presented the protagonists as cute and cuddly. But there have been documentary exposés, such as When Animals Attack, and When Good Pets Go Bad.

With animals having moved far beyond their expected television territory of children’s shows, wildlife documentaries and vet series, the obvious question is what genre can they put their paw print on next?
FishCenter Live … the talkshow set in an aquarium.

Perhaps surprisingly, the non-human talkshow (insert own Piers Morgan jokes) has already been attempted in various forms, including FishCenter Live, on the Adult Swim cable channel, a content provider new to me. Ambitiously, this is a phone-in show, although disappointingly, the fish don’t take the calls, but swim in tanks that surround the presenters.

So perhaps the next challenge is an Animal Question Time – although, in an edition with a farmyard panel, David Dimbleby might endure less barking, whining and bullshitting than he does from the usual human crew.

 49 
 on: Jul 25, 2016, 05:48 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
No more rats: New Zealand to exterminate all introduced predators

Possums, stoats and other introduced pests to be killed in ‘world-first’ extermination programme unveiled by PM

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin
AFP
Monday 25 July 2016 08.05 BST

The New Zealand government has announced a “world-first” project to make the nation predator free by 2050.

The prime minister, John Key, said on Monday it would undertake a radical pest extermination programme – which if successful would be a global first – aiming to wipe out the introduced species of rats, stoats and possums nation-wide in a mere 34 years.

According to the government, introduced species kill 25m native New Zealand birds a year including the iconic ground-dwelling, flightless Kiwi, which die at a rate of 20 a week, and now number fewer than 70,000.

The government estimates the cost of introduced species to the New Zealand economy and primary sector to be NZ$3.3bn (£1.76bn) a year.

“Our ambition is that by 2050 every single part of New Zealand will be completely free of rats, stoats and possums,” said Key in a statement.

“This is the most ambitious conservation project attempted anywhere in the world, but we believe if we all work together as a country we can achieve it.”

Existing pest control methods in New Zealand include the controversial and widespread use of 1080 aerial poison drops, trapping and ground baiting, and possum hunting by ground hunters (possum fur has become a vibrant industry in New Zealand, and is used for winter clothing).

Emeritus Professor of Conservation Mick Clout from the University of Auckland said he was “excited” by the “ambitious plan” which if achieved would be a “remarkable world first”.

“Even the intention of making New Zealand predator free is hugely significant and now it has money and the government behind it I believe it is possible, I am actually very excited,” said Clout.

“The biggest challenge will be the rats and mice in urban areas. For this project to work it will need the urban communities to get on board. Possum extermination will be the easiest because they only breed once a year and there are already effective control methods in place.”

Economist and philanthropist Gareth Morgan, of the Morgan Foundation, said he was “ecstatic” about the government’s announcement.

“This is the first time the government has really swung in behind investing in New Zealand’s environmental capital,” he said.

“This is a big, ambitious project but with the government making it a priority you will see increased interest in the sector, and further exploration of innovative trapping and extermination techniques beyond toxic chemicals like 1080.”

The Royal Society of New Zealand Forest and Bird was optimistic about the country’s chances of success.

Advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said: “I think 2050 is a conservative goal, we could be on track to doing it by 2040. The government has just come on board but many groups around New Zealand have been working towards being predator-free for years.”

“New Zealand is a world-leader in eradicating rats from the landscape. New Zealand can’t go predator free without targeting the cities so we will have to look to places like Alberta, Canada, on how to tackle rat infestation in an urban environment. But it is doable, and not that hard.

“A predator-free New Zealand has been National party policy for the last three elections, but now it has gone from being the governing party policy to becoming government policy. But National has already invested a lot of money and resources into research on this.

“The biggest hurdle in the end will be public support for the project. That will be the most important facet of this.”

 50 
 on: Jul 25, 2016, 05:46 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
On the trail of the wolf, Europe’s much maligned and misunderstood predator

When Poland banned wolf hunting, numbers doubled. But now animal scientists fear that politicians could turn back the clock

Alex Duval Smith
AFP
7/25/ 2016 19.22 GMT

Robert Mysłajek stops dead. Between two paw prints on a muddy mountain track, the scientist finds what he is looking for. “Scats!’’ he enthuses. Wolf sightings are so rare that a flash of faeces marks a good day, even for a seasoned tracker.

But it is getting easier. There are now an estimated 1,500 wolves in Poland. The number has doubled in 15 years. Wolves are – along with the brown bear, the lynx and the wolverine – Europe’s last large predator carnivores. Conservationists from Britain, Germany and the Netherlands are beating a path here to find out how the country has saved this protected species, slandered even in fairytales.

Bits of bone and hair protrude from the precious black faeces. “It ate a red deer,’’ says the University of Warsaw biologist. “In my lab, I can tell you all about this wolf – not only its diet, but its gender, sexual habits, age, state of health and family connections.’’

DNA tests have established that Polish wolves are travellers. “One wolf reached the Netherlands, where unfortunately it was hit by a car. They have a tremendous range. They need space. The average territory required by a Polish pack is 250 sq km (96 sq miles),’’ said Mysłajek.

“Is there any prospect of our ever being able to reintroduce wolves to Scotland?’’ asks student Alex Entwisle, 23, on a field trip to southern Poland from his college near Chippenham, Wiltshire. The animal science students have spent the day observing scat and paw prints in the spruce-clad Beskidy mountains of the Polish Carpathians.

They are more used to discussing the red ants of the New Forest than the current hot topic among advocates of rewilding: whether to reintroduce wolves to the British Isles for the first time since the 18th century

As the guest of a British charity, the Wolves and Humans Foundation, Mysłajek toured the Scottish Highlands in September and took questions from villagers about the Polish experience. “The big difference between Scotland and Poland is that we eat pork. We do not have many sheep here.

“The similarity is that we have a lot of ungulates – 300,000 red deer and more than 800,000 roe deer. In Poland we also have a massive overpopulation of wild boar – about 200,000 – and these are ravaging farmers’ cereal crops. Here, wolves are part of the solution,’’ he says.

The scientist, who is a familiar face on Polish television, says wolves are exceptional animals that are capable of moving up to 30km (18 miles) during a single hunt. “The Beskidy pack’’ – the one that left us the scat – “is a strong unit, eight or nine individuals. This year we have recorded five cubs, two yearlings and two adults.

“We track them using motion-activated cameras in the forest, and by following their prints in the mud and snow. In each family group, only one pair reproduces, once a year. All pack members care for the young with solidarity and devotion.’’

Mysłajek, the son of a shepherd, is puzzled by wolves’ bad reputation. “Why does one speak of a ‘lone-wolf gunman’? Why did we have to have Little Red Riding Hood?’’ But that is about as dewy-eyed as he gets.

He is fascinated by these aloof canines who remained in the wild 33,000 years ago when others decided on a much more comfortable existence as domestic dogs.
Biologist Robert Mysłajek says snow is nature’s helper, making the detection of wolf tracks much easier for scientists.

Wolves are not pooches. Mysłajek says only scientific arguments – the need to regenerate forests and control the ungulate population – can save Europe’s wild carnivores, especially the unpopular wolf. “Natural predators balance the eco-system. They keep herbivores in check, thus allowing trees to grow tall for birds to nest in.’’

Shoot the deer? “It is only a partial solution,’’ he says. “In a diverse environment you have the so-called ‘landscape of fear’, where herbivores no longer spend all day grazing on the tender riverside grass. They move away, as a precaution, to avoid being trapped by a predator. This gives the vegetation a chance.’’

The ban on wolf hunting in the western Carpathians came into force in 1995, and nationwide in Poland in 1998. There are now resident packs in virtually all the country’s major forests. The predators coexist with humans rather than being fenced off, as they are in African safari parks.

The Polish government pays compensation for livestock killed by wolves. Mysłajek advises farmers on erecting electric fences. He has helped revive the use of two deterrents that, for reasons no one quite understands, wolves find particularly scary: red bunting (hung around sheep pens) and the bark of the fluffy white Tatra mountain sheepdog.

The survival and mobility of Poland’s wolves has been helped by the country’s belated infrastructure development. In 1989, when the communists relinquished power, Poland had only one motorway. Major road projects – requiring wildlife impact studies – began after Poland joined the European Union in 2004. The country now has one of the highest densities in the world of overhead crossings and underpasses for wild animals.

But attitudes have also changed. “For many years, hunting was cultural. In 1975 there were fewer than 100 wolves in Poland. Beginning in the 1950s, hunting wolves had been encouraged by the authorities. They paid a reward for killing a wolf worth a month’s salary. It was carnage.’’

Mysłajek says the improvement in Polish wolves’ survival chances has been considerable, but remains fragile. Packs are mobile across borders and hunting still goes on in neighbouring Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Slovakia.

He claims Poland’s new national-conservative government, elected in October, is hostile to wolves. “The environment minister, Jan Szyszko, makes no secret of being a hunter. There are 120,000 licensed hunters in Poland, and they are influential in parliament.

“The hunters claim wolves are a pest and that there are 4,000 of them in Poland, which is a spurious figure based on an unscientific count. This government is capable of turning back the clock. They will go for wolves before brown bears or lynx, just because they can.’’

Being a wolf advocate is no easy mission. “It is not as if you can argue to the politicians that wolves are a big tourist attraction. Most tourists want to see the animals, not the just the scat. Wolves stay away from humans. They have a tremendously sensitive sense of smell.’’

The 12 British animal sciences students leave the Polish Carpathians without a sighting; just smartphone photographs of paw prints and scat. Entwisle is convinced that Scotland will never be able to match Poland’s success.

“It would be amazing for the environment to have them back, because of the problem of too many deer. But it would just not be viable because of the roads and sheep.

“There would be problems with farmers. We had our industrial revolution too long ago. We ruined it for ourselves. In Britain we like predators to be far away, and to watch them in David Attenborough’s films,’’ said Entwisle.

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