Archive for [lang_en]the[/lang_en][lang_fr]la[/lang_fr] ‘Conservation’ Category

Sigourney Weaver, Ocean Acidification, Avatar, and the Belo Monte dam

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Sigourney Weaver is one of my favourite actresses. I first saw her as Ellen Ripley in Alien, when I was at college, and have enjoyed most of the films I’ve seen her in since.

I don’t know if it was “Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey” that set her on the road to environmental awareness, but whatever got her started, she is definitely a powerful voice for the protection of our world.

Her most recent blockbuster movie, Avatar, has certainly helped throw her into the spotlight in this role, together with its director, James Cameron. Even before that film came out, she was using the publicity it was attracting to divert attention to another film, for which she is the narrator. “Acid Test: The global challenge of ocean acidification” is a Natural Resources Defence Council documentary about what has been called “global warmings’ ugly sister”, the chemical changes in the ocean that are being caused by all that CO2 we are adding to the atmosphere.

Fox News wanted to interview Sigourney about her role in Avatar, even starting the interview with some trailers from the film. But she wanted to talk about Acid Test instead, and completely took control of the interview! It’s worth watching, she was clearly not going to be put off her stride by the hosts. One could almost feel sorry for them, but me, I enjoy seeing Sigourney in those ‘Ripley’ moments!

Now, she’s turning her attention to the Belo Monte dam. This is a hydroelectricity generation project which is planned to be built on the Xingu river, in the Brazilian Amazon. She has narrated a video which describes the impact of the dam (also shown here), and invites us to sign a petition to the Brazilian government to encourage them to cancel the project.

Dams which provide hydroelectric power are widely considered to be ecologically friendly things, so why does she think this one is bad?

Well, there are several reasons. One is that this will become the third-largest dam in the world, and the environmental impacts will be correspondingly huge. Building this dam will require moving more earth than was moved to create the Panama canal, and will block almost the entire flow of the river. An area equivalent to a circle 29 km across (18 miles) will be inundated.

Native peoples will have their way of life destroyed, obviously. It’s not surprising they rely heavily on the river for transport and fish, and that they farm much of the land that will be flooded by the dam. Ecosystems will be totally destroyed too, with several species that live only there doomed to extinction.

Of course, not all species will suffer, malaria mosquitos are expected to thrive in the new expanses of still water.

The dam is also destined to be one of the least efficient in the world. During the dry season, it will produce only one tenth of its maximum capacity. The annual average output will be less than 40% of the nominal capacity. In order to raise the efficiency, the Brazilian government needs to construct more dams upstream, to control and regulate the flow of water all year round. In fact, there are more than 60 large dams planned for the amazon basin over the next 60 years. That’s a staggering number!

Many people are hoping for a sequel to Avatar. For the people of the Xingu river, if the Belo Monte dam gets built, there will be no sequel, their world will be gone. So if you can spare 10 minutes, take a look at the video. Then, if you agree with me that this dam is a bad idea, please sign that petition!

Rescuing birds

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

great tit recovering on my hand

great tit recovering on my hand

A few days ago, a great tit collided with our living room window. It’s always heart-wrenching to hear the thud of a bird against the window, fortunately it doesn’t happen often. This poor fellow was on his back for a while, moving only slightly, and we weren’t sure if he would make it or not. But what do you do when this happens? Should you leave the bird to recover on its own, or try to help it?

Michelle, at Rambling Woods – The Road Less Travelled, is a great source of practical advice in such matters. She posted an article earlier this summer about a study by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on why birds hit windows, and what you can do to prevent it. Just last week she posted a detailed guide on how to help an injured bird, covering everything from songbirds to raptors!

There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye, if you really want to maximise the chance that a bird will survive you need to know what you are doing with it. Bookmark that page if you think you may ever need to help a bird! Michelle herself seems to be quite a dab hand at helping wildlife, just a day after posting the guide, she and her husband managed to rescue a great blue heron. That’s a 4-foot high bird with a wickedly pointed beak and lightening reactions. Definitely not something I would want to tackle. Well done, Michelle!

I hadn’t read her bird-rescue article when our great tit had his collision, it came out just a day or two after I needed it. But Dweezeljazz and I do know the importance of making sure the bird is safe and warm, while not adding to its stress by handling it if that can be at all avoided. We have cats in our neighbourhood that have been known to come into our terrace, and a stunned bird would be easy pickings for them. It was also a cool day with a fresh breeze, and since the bird wasn’t showing much sign of recovery, we decided we had to try to help it.

I went out and picked him up to keep him warm in my hand. He was conscious, and responded by looking at me, but was happy to stay in my hand. After some time, we decided to bring him indoors and put him in a box so he could recover there. As Michelle points out in her rescue-guide, bringing a bird indoors is perhaps not the best thing to do. If it panics indoors it could injure itself again trying to escape. That’s why we kept the box right by the door, ready to open the door the moment he showed signs of wanting to leave.

He was actually so relaxed on my hand that I didn’t want to force him off, so I stayed there, letting him sit as he wished. I was worried he might have broken a bone because he sat with one leg forwards and one backwards for some time, so I didn’t want to force him to move in case I injured him even more.

Eventually he righted himself on my hand, then a few minutes later he hopped onto the rim of the box. We opened the door, and he flew away. We were both very relieved that he seemed to be OK.

I think we saw him again an hour later. The great tits like to take sunflower seeds and perch on the bamboo canes in the garden, holding them between their toes while they hammer at them with their beaks. We saw one who was a little unsteady on his feet, using his wings to stop himself wobbling from time to time, as if he was having trouble using a hurt foot. Other than that, he seemed fine, taking several seeds one after the other. My guess is he’s going to be OK, and that makes us both very happy.

great tit on bamboo cane

great tit on bamboo cane

An Unusual Farm

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

I know of a farm where they don’t feed the animals. They even allow predators to roam freely, taking up to one fifth of their stock. And they’re proud of it.

That sounds pretty awful, but it’s not, it’s actually very good news. You can hear all about it in this video of a talk by Dan Barber. Dan is a New York chef who is quite outspoken in his views on the way we produce food today. He’s also a nice guy, which comes across clearly in the video. If you’d rather read a transcript, here it is.

The farm Dan talks about is Veta la Palma. It’s a fish-farm on the Guadalquivir river, in Spain. It produces 1,200 tonnes of sea bass, bream, red mullet and shrimp each year. Miguel Medialdea, the farm’s biologist, explains that they don’t need to feed their fish because of the way the farm is set up.

Miguel himself says that he is not an expert on fish, but he is an expert on relationships. By working with nature to build a sustainable ecosystem, instead of working against it to maximise profit, Veta la Palma produces fish in a way that also benefits the wildlife of the region.

In fact, their farm is one of the most important private estates for bird life in Europe. Before the farm, there were only 50 bird species there, now they count 250 species. This includes flamingos that commute 150 miles daily from their nesting sites to feed there, following the A92 highway.

If that’s not a recommendation for the quality of the fish, I don’t know what is!

A Bug hotel

Monday, November 2nd, 2009



Winter is approaching, and change is in the air. We’re wrapping up warmer these days, and we’re not the only ones. Insects, such as this lacewing, are looking for a safe place to spend the winter. This year, I’m trying to help them.

There are lots of places on the web where you can get good information about the type of home that you can provide for insects for the winter. They range from simple things like a pile of leaves in a wire cage to more elaborate and attractive DIY projects like the one at Herbs and Dragonflies. Other sites have more detailed information, such as the Paignton Home Garden & Allotment Society, or the Cheshire Wildlife Trust. For the ultimate in accomodation for garden wildlife, take a look at the invertebrate habitat they designed as part of their exhibit at the 2005 RHS Tatton Park Flower Show.

bamboo pieces

bamboo pieces

I wasn’t nearly as ambitious as that, maybe next year, who knows! I put together a simple bug-home from a plastic container, a few pieces of bamboo, and a bit of string. I started by sawing off the bamboo into sections, just behind the knuckles so that each section is closed at one end. Many of the sections were still filled with pith, I used a long drill-bit to clean them out.

assembled ladybird house

assembled ladybird house

Then I made four holes in the plastic container, two at the top, two at the bottom. The holes are spaced about a quarter of the way around the container, and the pairs of holes line up along the axis of the container. Oh just look at the picture, you’ll get the idea!

I threaded two pieces of string, one in and out of the top pair of holes, one in and out of the bottom. Then I stacked the bamboo in the container, with the closed ends inside of course! Pack the bamboo in tight, so that it holds itself firmly.

I made sure that the string was looped around the bamboo inside the container, so that when I pull it tight it will hold the bamboo tighter together. Otherwise, the string might just tear through the plastic over time, and that would not be good.


ladybird house mounted on fence

ladybird house mounted on fence

Then I simply tied it to our fence. It’s deliberately placed on a slight downward angle, to prevent water running down into the bamboo and drowning any unsuspecting occupants. It’s also close to our wall, and facing it, so that it gets protection from direct rain and winds.

My only question is, how will I know if there’s anyone living in there? Any ideas?

Doing Nothing to Help Nature

Thursday, July 16th, 2009
path cleared of grass

path cleared of grass

orange butterfly

orange butterfly

The country lanes in the Pays de Gex need to be cleared of grass and wild plants from time to time, or they would rapidly become overgrown. I guess it’s necessary, but it always makes me sad to see all that lush green growth cut back in its prime. The photo above was taken one week after the one of the orange butterfly on the right, and in the same place. All those flowers gone in a moment, and the insects that relied on them for food and shelter now have to go elsewhere. Spiders, lizards, frogs, and other creatures that feed on the insects all get disturbed too, of course. It seems such a shame to harm all those plants and animals in the process, but is there really any alternative?

Even if it is necessary to cut back the growth to keep the paths open, there are ways that it could be done that are less harmful to both the plants and the animals that depend on them. For example, don’t cut back all the growth in one area at the same time, leave some as a refuge for insects. Not all insects can easily move on to new grounds. Some bees, for example, nest in banks along paths like this one, and are more exposed if their cover is removed. Other insects may have already laid their eggs on these plants, and the eggs will not survive when the plants are cut back. Even those insects that can move on can’t always move far or fast, so may not survive if the nearest intact stand of plants is too far away. They may not be able to feed on the crops in the fields, so the nearest food plants may be a long way off down the lane. I’ve no idea how far a caterpillar can walk, but with that many legs, sore feet can’t be fun! If a patch of plants every few metres or so could be left alone all season, instead of mowing down an entire area, these insects would have a chance to complete their lifecycle in a more natural manner.

It’s not just the insects and other animals that will benefit from a stay of execution, the plants need it too. They need to be allowed to flower and set seed, and for those seeds to be dispersed, or the next generation of flowers will have to come from somewhere else. For some flowers, this might not seem to matter, dandelions and daisies can probably survive the worst that the lawn-mower can throw at them. But sometimes, it really is important. Near to where I work in Geneva, there are grassy areas among office buildings that have been found to harbour orchids. There are at least two orchid species there, in fact, and one (Ophrys Apifera) is rare enough that it is on the CITES list of endangered species. The other (Anacamptis Pyramidalis)is more common, especially so since the grass it grows in is now left alone until late in the summer, so the orchids are allowed to flower and set seed in peace. A simple act of not cutting the grass is enough to help these orchids to thrive.

floral reserve

floral reserve

Anacamptis Pyramidalis

Anacamptis Pyramidalis, an orchid

So before you cut your grass again, or dig over that plot of land at the bottom of the garden, why not pause to take a good look at what’s living there. Even if you don’t have rare orchids, you might find some pretty wild flowers that you have overlooked in the past, or maybe a small frog or two, as I have found in my Mums garden in recent years. If so, maybe you can leave a patch of ground undisturbed for a while longer, and let nature do its stuff. You can help it to survive, by simply doing nothing to it.

World Oceans Day, June 8th

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

The Aegean

The Aegean

Next Monday, June 8th, is World Oceans Day. At the risk of turning this blog into a diary of global eco-events, I’d like to draw your attention to it.

The idea to have a world-day for the oceans came in 1992 from Canada, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It’s been celebrated every year since then, but this year marks the first time it has official U.N. recognition. Henceforth, World Oceans Day will be celebrated on June 8th, every year.

You might think that since I live near Geneva, about as far away from the sea as it is possible to get in Western Europe, I would not have much to say about the sea. If you think that, you must be new to this blog (welcome!), the sea is one thing I can talk about for hours. I grew up in England, closer to the coast than most people there. Nobody in England is more than 70 miles from the sea, I grew up much closer than that, about one mile away from the shore, on an island, no less. I spent many a childhood summer day freezing in the cold water, picking my way over the stony beaches, trying to see what I could through the opaque grey-green waters of the north Kent coast (not much, as it happens). I collected foraminifera (tiny shells, less than 1 mm across) and looked at them under a microscope. I remember the first time I saw sea-anemones, on the beaches of Jersey on a family holiday. I’ve seen octopus and nudibranchs on crowded Greek beaches, and sharks and dolphins in the Maldives. Oh yes, I can safely say I love the sea.

The oceans are huge. They cover almost three-quarters of the surface of the earth, and something like three fifths of the earth is over a mile below the surface of the sea. There is an awful lot of seawater out there. So why do we need a world-day event to draw attention to the oceans? Well, as it turns out, the seas and oceans of the world are not in good shape, and it’s our fault, again. You can find out more about the threats to the oceans on the Marine Conservation Society website, here are a few of the highlights.

Everyone knows about global warming, and the melting of the polar ice-caps. That’s bad news for penguins and polar bears, but also for people. A large fraction of humanity lives near the coast, making a substantial part of their living from what they can haul out of the sea. Rising seas and warming waters will change that. Not only will islands and low-lying regions be lost under the waves, the ecosystems at the coastal fringes will suffer too. Coral reefs, for example, provide living space and nurseries for a great many species, and are essential to the marine environment. Even creatures that don’t live on or in them directly often depend on the animals that do. Excessively warm water leads to ‘coral bleaching’, which can kill it if the water stays warm for long enough. Bleaching events are more common than they used to be, and are predicted to become much worse over time. Despite some research showing that some corals may adapt to warmer waters, there is strong reason to believe that most corals will be killed by warm seas by the end of this century unless we make big cuts in our emissions of greenhouse gasses. Scientists are working to find ways to help coral survive, but they’re racing against the clock.



Globally, there’s an even bigger threat, ocean-acidification. The oceans absorb a great deal of the excess carbon dioxide that we are pumping into the atmosphere, and this is slowly turning the seas more acidic. This slows coral growth because it is harder for the coral to form its chalky skeleton. Other creatures, many of which are right at the bottom of the marine food chain, will suffer the same fate. Acidification of the oceans is a global problem by its very nature. It will affect reefs and other ecosystems worldwide, not just those near to cities and industries.

Overfishing is another major problem for the oceans. By depleting stocks of even a few species, we change the way entire ecosystems behave, often seriously. Tuna have been fished almost to extinction in the Mediterranean sea, and there is little sign that common sense will prevail to reduce the pressure on them. Tuna are predators, high up in the food chain. When you remove top predators, often the result is that a few species lower down the food-chain start to dominate, out-competing other creatures. The ecosystem becomes unbalanced, and may change its nature completely. It may not be enough to simply stop hunting the predators, the ecosystem may no longer be able to recover on its own.

Floating garbage is another serious problem. On the tiny atoll of Midway in the Pacific ocean, albatross often mistake floating plastic garbage for food, which they then feed to their chicks. That kills many of them, not surprisingly. Albatross aren’t meant to digest golf-tees, toothbrushes, and lego blocks.

Even the efforts we go to to protect the oceans and their inhabitants can often be misguided. I’m sure we’ve all heard of dolphin-safe tuna, it even got a mention in Lethal Weapon 2, released some 20 years ago. I’m fond of dolphins, like many people, but I was shocked to learn about just how much damage dolphin-safe tuna-fishing can do. The methods used to catch tuna without harming dolphins have a much higher rate of bycatch than other methods. ‘Bycatch’ is another word for ‘collateral damage’, animals accidentally killed while hunting a specific species at sea. Much of the bycatch in dolphin-safe tuna is in itself seriously endangered, far more so than dolphins themselves. No, dolphin-safe tuna is not a good thing for the marine environment.

Sunset on the Beach

Sunset on the Beach

More and more people are becoming aware of and involved in environmental issues. They are paying attention to the environmental cost of the goods they purchase, insisting on packaging that can be recycled, lower power consumption from electrical goods, or higher mileage from their cars, for example. But what can you change in your daily activities to help the oceans, especially if you live far from the sea? The Marine Conservation Society have some advice, and there’s also a page of hints at The Ocean Project. One obvious thing is to be more informed and cautious in your seafood purchases, both sites have suggestions there. If you prefer to avoid seafood altogether, simply buying organic food is a good idea. That encourages farmers to produce more of it, which means less pesticide in use. Reduced pesticide use means less of it getting into our rivers and from there into the sea, finally ending up in marine mammals like that dolphin we were trying to save a moment ago.

You can find out more about World Ocean Day at the World Ocean Network site. Maybe one of the events that they list is taking place somewhere near you. If not, there are plenty of web-based resources available, like the 24 hours in the Ocean online event from the Musée Nausicaä. I’ll certainly be following that for some of the day.

Zemanta, and the Marine Conservation Society of the UK

Sunday, May 24th, 2009
Zemanta Firefox plugin
Image by Tom Raftery via Flickr

Zemanta recently won second prize in the Change the Web Challenge for web-innovation, and they are giving away the prize money to whichever charities most people vote for. Zemanta, in case you haven’t heard of it, is a tool for suggesting content (photos and links to related articles) to add to your blog, based on whatever you’ve already typed in. It works for WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, and a wole bunch of other blogging platforms. If you’re using FireFox, you can run it as a plugin in your browser, so you don’t need to install it on your blogging host.

You can try the interactive demo on their website. Just cut and paste the text from one of your old blog posts to replace the sample text they put there, hit the ‘run demo’ button, and see what pops out. I’m willing to bet you’ll be impressed. Oh, and did I mention it’s free?

So, Zemanta, congratulations on winning that prize, and thank you for a great tool. Now on to my vote. I would like you to donate to the Marine Conservation Society UK, to help them with the work they do. The Marine Conservation Society UK is involved in a large number of activities around the British coast, and beyond. Coastline is something that Britain has lots of, so it’s an important charity!

They actively campaign to persuade the UK government to establish Marine Protected Areas, and encourage people to get involved at several levels, such as reporting sightings of basking shark, turtles, pink sea fan and many other creatures that can be seen in the seas around Britain. They encourage divers to become better observers by learning about their marine environment so they can in turn provide more accurate and useful observations to help drive conservation efforts.

Coral reefs in Papua New Guinea
Image via Wikipedia

They have a lot of educational resources for schools and project-suggestions for college students. They even organise coral reef surveys in the Maldives for recreational divers.

For the less well-heeled visitor to the British seaside, they monitor the state of beaches and publish an annual guide to the best beaches in the UK. This is not just cosmetic, many beaches pose health risks for swimmers, so knowing where to go is important. To help you get there, they even provide downloadable maps for your in-car GPS. How’s that for service!

Zemanta have had over 50 charities proposed to them so far, and will donate to the five that get the most votes. If you think that the Marine Conservation Society UK deserves a donation from them, all you need do is blog about it yourself, to add your vote.

Image representing Zemanta as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

This blog post is part of Zemanta’s “Blogging For a Cause” campaign to raise awareness and funds for worthy causes that bloggers care about.

Celebrating Wildlife

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Field of dandelions

Field of dandelions

Last Friday, May 15th, was ‘Endangered Species Day‘ in America. This event is aimed at encouraging people to learn about endangered species and what they can do to help them. Endangered Species Day is coordinated by, and is held on the third Friday of May every year. It was first celebrated in 2006, so this year sees the fourth edition. The event was created by the US Congress, this year a resolution was introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein encouraging schools to spend time teaching students about endangered species and conservation efforts, among other things. Senator Feinstein has been mentioned on this blog before in the context of another endangered creature, namely, Patricia Rattray.

Blue flower

Blue flower had all sorts of events on their list for this year, educational, inspirational, hands-on, the lot. If you went to any of them I’d love to hear about it. Here’s a quick sampling.

The Wyoming Children’s Museum and Nature Center held presentations on how even one degree of warming can affect wildlife (and what you can do about it). Few climatologists today would say we can avoid one degree of warming, so this is setting the bar low. Even one degree can cause a great deal of harm to ecosystems, and it’s already happening. If you’re in any doubt about that, read these articles about Cedar Canyon Road and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge from The Clade.



For a more leisurely approach, there were events like the birdwalk on the Tijuana river in California, where you could see and learn about the birds that live there. This is actually a weekly event, so if you missed it last weekend you can go another time. Check the Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center calendar for details of all their upcoming events.

Then there’s at least one activity that can only be described as boring. That is to say, it takes place in the town of Boring, Oregon. No, I’m not making this up, the town of Boring really exists. Boring recently began a project to restore some parkland, and if you were there on Friday you could have participated in helping to restore the Boring Trail Station Trailhead Park (a note to the stopextinction siteadmins, you have broken links on that page). You can find out all you want to know about this project at their own webside,

The website has practical advice on things you can do to protect wildlife near you. They list some very simple things, like driving slower to reduce the chance of impact with animals. You’ll probably save yourself money that way too, I did. Another simple thing you can do is to plant native plant species in your garden. Many insects are poorly adapted to non-native plants, so planting native species can encourage them, and the birds and other animals that feed on them.



Coincidentally, across the Atlantic, ‘Fete de la Nature‘ took place in France at practically the same time. This is an all-weekend event, and again there are a variety of events. It’s a year younger than Endangered Species Day, having started in 2007, but boasts an impressive 300,000 participants in the past. Among the events taking place near me there was a chance to see chamois at the Col de la Faucille.

Of course, by now, those events have been and gone. Not to worry, there’s still plenty of opportunity to learn about the nature near you, endangered or otherwise. Many of the events organised for either Endangered Species Day or Fete de la Nature were organised by clubs or societies, who have an ongoing program of events. If you look them up, you might find something interesting. If they were one-off events, maybe you can contact the organisers anyway, and ask them if they plan to repeat it? If they get a demand, they might just do that.

If that doesn’t lead to something, why not just go out there and take a look for yourself? There’s plenty to see, and if you’re handy with a camera you can always find something worth photographing. Some of the best blogs out there are by nature-lovers, take a look at “Chipper’s Alley” in Oregon, “Everything is Permuted” in England, “2nd star to the right, straight on till morning…” in Malaysia, or “My birdpics” in Sweden for some of my personal favourites. Have fun!

dandelion flowers

dandelion flowers