News Article | April 26, 2012
I'm leaning against a pine tree in Grenoside Woods on the outskirts of Sheffield, watching local hero Steve Peat flash by on his mountain bike. Peaty, as everyone seems to call him, is one of the all-time greats of downhill racing, world champion in 2009 and a world cup champion three times over. Today's race may not be in that league, but it's special nonetheless. Peat was born just down the hill in Chapeltown, and when he was learning his craft, he'd cycle up through these woods to reach the steeper downhill trails at Wharncliffe. This is home ground. But that's not the only reason he's offered his backing to the Steel City downhill event. The race is also a fundraiser for the Sheffield Wildlife Trust, which is completing a £1m purchase of the 440-acre site both for wildlife and the people of Sheffield. At the finish line, a sound system is belting out the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and young lads and a lasses are knocking back freebie caffeine drinks while leaning on some very pricey bicycles. They don't look like typical nature conservation types, but as Peat explains, looks can be deceptive. Sheffield has a huge mountain biking scene, supporting several specialist shops and manufacturers, including cult frame-makers Cotic. But there are proportionally fewer bridleways than most other parts of the country, and frustrated riders have been at loggerheads with the city council and other users, including some walkers and horse riders. Although the Trans Pennine trail goes through Grenoside, there are few designated bridleways in the woods and manicured surfaces aren't what riders like Peat want. They like their tracks a lot more challenging. But negotiating access to the countryside has been outside the scope of existing cycling groups, which campaign on safety and planning issues, or else oversee competition. So in February 2010, a group of local riders met in a pub to launch Ride Sheffield, an advocacy group aimed at fighting mountain biking's corner to improve access. The group was the brainchild of Henry Norman, whose day job is working for cycling charity Sustrans. Ride Sheffield has around 700 bikers signed up. It costs nothing to join, and relies on volunteers to attend meetings where access is up for discussion. Despite limited resources, it has quickly proved itself an effective voice. Apart from Grenoside, there are schemes and campaigns across the city to improve access and build new trails. Most recently, the National Trust and RSPB, which jointly manage the wild moors southwest of Sheffield, have agreed to create permissive bridleways on a few carefully chosen footpaths. Roy Mosley of Sheffield Wildlife Trust says that with a largely urban portfolio of properties, his organisation has to be pragmatic. "It comes with having sites on people's doorsteps. We want them to come, so we try to manage things to support biodiversity." Liaising with Ride Sheffield has, he says, produced a more interesting bike trail in a less sensitive part of the woods.
News Article | May 29, 2017
Conservationists want oil companies and regulators to consider leaving more old rigs in the North Sea rather than removing them, with the savings paid into a fund to protect sealife. After the Brent Spar debacle in 1995 when Shell provoked public outrage with plans to sink an old storage buoy, international regulations were imposed that work on the presumption that operators will remove rigs. Exemptions can be granted but are rare and on limited grounds. The Scottish Wildlife Trust says a rethink is needed of how the Ospar rules are applied, due to the multibillion-pound cost of decommissioning rigs – and because in some cases it would be better for the environment to leave platforms to become artificial reefs for marine life. Jonathan Hughes, the chief executive of the trust, said: “In the past, the natural reaction when you think of dumping a load of metal in the ocean is to throw your hands up in horror but when you look into it, it’s much more complicated. You could save money and have good environmental outcomes.” The trust said the savings for oil firms and the government – which has also been criticised over tax relief on decommissioning costs – could be ploughed back into a marine stewardship fund, as a form of compensation for leaving rigs in-situ. Hughes cited the example of MCP-01, a decommissioned North Sea rig owned by France’s Total that would have cost £387m for full removal or £11.7m to be made safe and left. The intervention by the trust, which has more than 40,000 members and manages a network of 120 wildlife reserves across Scotland, comes as Shell starts work on one of the region’s most high-profile decommissioning jobs. This month the world’s biggest ship removed one of the four platforms from Shell’s Brent field and delivered it to a Hartlepool scrapyard for recycling. The Anglo-Dutch oil firm recently awarded a contract to the oil services company Wood Group for the removal of a second Brent rig platform, Bravo. The Scottish Wildlife Trust said it did not want to be prescriptive about what the fund could pay for, but said examples could include enforcement of marine protected areas, cleaning up plastic rubbish in UK waters and supporting marine science research. The former energy minister Ed Davey and the environmentalist Jonathon Porritt have also suggested the industry should look more closely at the ”rigs to reefs” idea. Shell said it could not comment on the trust’s proposal while a public consultation on Brent was under way. WWF-UK warned against a blanket ”rigs to reef” option under the Opsar treaty. Lang Banks, the group’s executive director, said: “While finding new ways to fund the protection of our oceans and seas is important, it’s also important that any proposed scheme does not accidentally and fatally undermine one of the few legal mechanisms that currently exists to ensure the polluter pays anything at all.”
News Article | April 22, 2017
‘An exuberant rite of spring” is how the New York Times described 22 April, 1970. In Manhattan, and across America, “huge, light-hearted throngs ambled down autoless streets.” Earth Day had been born, an outburst of protest – and revelry – that involved everyone from save-the-whales activists to opponents of new freeways. Denis Hayes, now 72, was the man tasked with organising it. “What we did was pull together an event that told all of those people, ‘You know you’ve really got something in common and this should be one big movement where we’re supportive of one another’.” It sparked, he tells me, the most profound change in American society since the New Deal. “We now have different kinds of buildings, different kinds of automobiles, different planes, different lighting, different land use. People are choosing to have diets for environmental reasons, choosing to have one child for environmental reasons.” And all that, he says, “didn’t come from political leadership at the top, it came from a bunch of demands down at the grassroots”. In 1990, Earth Day went international, reaching 200 million people in 141 countries. Now, according to its website, more than a billion participate in celebrations, teach-ins and protests around the world. This year, the Earth Day Network has teamed up with scientists for a rally on the National Mall in Washington DC. Volunteers around the world are convening their own versions of this “March for Science”, to champion “evidence-based policies in the public interest”. Vanessa Furey, one of the organisers of the London march, says she was motivated by the “rise in fake news and ‘alternative facts’” during the past year, “and that quote from Michael Gove [during the referendum campaign] that ‘people have had enough of experts’”. The experts are fighting back. “Scientists aren’t the natural group to go out marching – and I know there are some that still have reservations about doing it. But it felt like a proactive, positive move for [them] to come out and say, let’s get the public involved.” But is there any point in these big days out when the world seems to be hurtling ever faster towards disaster? Last year was the warmest on record, yet progress on environmental issues seems to be going into reverse. Donald Trump is still mulling over whether to abandon the US’s commitment to the Paris agreement on limiting global warming. Scott Pruitt, the man he appointed to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the creation of which was the original Earth Day’s greatest achievement, doesn’t believe the scientific consensus on climate change. The UK government, once a global leader in the campaign to reduce carbon emissions, will be absorbed by Brexit for years. This week it privatised the Green Investment Bank, with no guarantee its mission will be maintained over the long term. “It’s pretty tough to look at what’s going on today with clear eyes and not get fairly depressed,” says Hayes. The challenges facing activists have certainly changed in the 47 years since he became involved, when “you couldn’t see 100 yards in front of your nose” in cities such as Pittsburgh, Los Angeles or Gary, Indiana. “The easy stuff environmentally is when something poses an immediate threat to you, to your children, to your neighbourhood. When that’s happening, it is not that hard to organise people and to get them sufficiently incensed to demand change.” Hayes says that it’s tougher with the big global issues such as climate change, threats to the world’s oceans and migratory species – issues that cross national boundaries and can’t be solved by any one country acting alone. “Those sort of things are all in much worse shape in 2017 than they were back in 1970,” he says. But despair, appropriate as it might seem, isn’t just bad for the soul. A growing movement of “Earth Optimists” believes that it could actually make things worse. In an editorial for Science magazine’s Earth Day issue, professors Andrew Balmford and Nancy Knowlton argue that “presenting people with huge problems without solutions leads to disengagement”. They continue: “Without examples of conservation succeeding, hopelessness could itself emerge as a driver of extinction.” And there are successes: in Brazil, for example, the rate of Amazon deforestation is down to one-third of its 2004 peak. Chinese investment in renewable energy is set to exceed $300bn by 2020. It’s those kinds of triumphs, and myriad smaller ones, that have inspired the Earth Optimism summit, also taking place in Washington DC this weekend. In the UK, Earth Optimism Cambridge will carry the torch. Speakers including Jane Goodall, David Attenborough and Steven Pinker will relay “stories of hope”, and there’s a “solutions fair” with stalls telling people how to consume less and get involved in campaigns. Dr Rosie Trevelyan, director of the Tropical Biology Association, is one of the brains behind the event. She argues that if people dwell on the negative, they won’t learn what actually works, and what they can do to help. Examples come from near and far. “We’ve got someone from the Wildlife Trust, which has restored fenland around here,” she says. “It’s an incredibly important habitat and it had practically disappeared. I went to a fenland on Sunday and saw a bittern. Bitterns had almost gone extinct in this country, and they’re now breeding out there.” One of Trevelyan’s students from Ghana will talk about how he and his colleagues managed to save the Togo slippery frog from extinction. When they were selecting positive stories, she says, “we had to cut loads of them, we had so many. It’s about making people aware of the fact that we don’t need to just stand by and watch these things disappear, we can actually do something.” Earth Day has its detractors, particularly in the US, where environmentalism is seen through the distorting lens of the culture wars. “Earth Day is a yearly reminder that humanity must be controlled, manipulated and even destroyed for the good of the planet,” wrote rightwing pundit Glenn Beck last year. He claimed that the EPA’s ban on the insecticide DDT in 1972 led to millions of avoidable deaths from malaria as other countries followed suit – despite the fact that the US wasn’t the first to outlaw the chemical and continued to allow its use for public health reasons. For Ron Bailey, Reason magazine’s science correspondent, the mixing of politics and ecology has turned off many who might otherwise find common cause with the protesters. “When it was started back in 1970,” he says, “there were obvious problems with pollution and so forth that needed to be dealt with. But it wasn’t an all-out assault on capitalism and market economies, which it has more or less turned into. It’s very alienating for those who are actually anxious to address specific problems that are occurring in the environment both locally and globally. If the only solution is destroying the economy, you’re not going to get a lot of people on board.” No fan of Trump, Bailey nevertheless thinks the scientists marching in Washington today are making a mistake. “Certainly we should celebrate science and its objectivity, and what this has brought to modernity. But by tying it to Earth Day, they are undermining their message. It automatically tinges them with politics.” That, he reckons, could jeopardise funding for scientific research, which in the US has tended to be bipartisan. If not a day, though, then what? “If you’re interested in these kind of things, then go to your local city council, go to your local legislature, write letters to your congressman, testify at hearings, that kind of thing, about the issues that particularly concern you,” says Bailey. It is not a colourful solution. For Trevelyan, it’s not a question of either/or. And while she doesn’t strike me as particularly political, she believes the reaction to Trump and the new spirit of protest are something to be welcomed. “I think it’s mobilised more people to worry about things,” she says. “I think we should watch this space. The March for Science has been catalysed by seeing [him] as president. People are no longer being complacent.” Hayes addresses what he sees as the self-harming democratic choices we have made more directly. “If you happen to be an American or a Briton or a French person or a Turk, it’s difficult not to be a little bit ashamed of your country. That’s just a reason not to get despondent, but to get energised and angry and committed.” “In 1970,” he says, “we called it Earth Day, but it was really a focus on individual cities in the US and schools and neighbourhoods. As we move forward, I think it genuinely is becoming ‘Earth’ Day.” The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. “You know, this is not one of those casual things that if you win or lose, you don’t mind; or you say, ‘Jeez, sorry, we lost that one.’ We’re talking now about impoverishing the human prospect for the next 100 generations. We can’t lose on this.”
News Article | February 13, 2017
There is so much being done to help stop elephants being wiped out in the wild. We’ve identified more than 50 campaigns and organisations around the world, from well-known charities like the World Wide Fund for Nature to grassroots groups like Elephanatics in Canada and Laos-based ElefantAsia. If you think we’ve missed anyone or anything, let us know at email@example.com. We’ll update the list with your suggestions. Please note, however: presence on this list does not constitute an endorsement. Organisations take differing approaches to elephant conservation, and even the most secure-looking can run into financial difficulties. As a conscientious giver it is your responsibility to make sure your contribution will be used wisely. Set up petitions, organise marches, lobby politicians or just spread the word: there are a number of ways in which you can campaign and really make an impact. There are many inspiring grassroots groups that do amazing work; why not join one of these, or set up your own if there’s none in your country? In the UK, Action for Elephants has organised marches and talks to highlight the importance of banning the ivory trade. This grassroots group also campaigns against keeping elephants in captivity. Even though 179 countries have signed up to Cites, the UN’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the illegal trade in wild animals remains a multibillion-dollar industry. The Bloody Ivory campaign aims to put pressure on Cites to do more to prevent poaching and ivory trafficking. Its online petition to tackle the black market in ivory has 56,000 signatures (and counting) and will be presented at the next Cites meeting in 2019. Based in Vancouver, Canada, Elephanatics aims to raise awareness of the poaching crisis and ensure the long-term survival of elephants through education, conservation and fun activities like the annual global march for elephants and rhinos. Inspired by her childhood in Africa, Joyce Poole has been studying elephant behaviour and communication for more than 30 years. She has a particular interest in how poaching and habitat destruction affects herds’ social dynamics. Through ElephantVoices, which she founded in 2002, Poole campaigns for elephants and promotes research and conservation projects, while providing others with the resources they need to do the same. Conducting the first pan-African aerial survey of elephant populations in 40 years and covering 345,000 square miles across 18 countries, this ambitious project set out to count and map Africa’s savannah elephants. The final report, published last year, showed a 30% fall in numbers over the last seven years. While the census itself is complete, the organisation is now using its database to help governments, scientists and NGOs manage and protect elephant populations. Committed to bringing an end to animal poaching and trafficking, IFAW campaigns for the bolstering of wildlife trade policy with supranational organisations such as the UN and the EU, while helping to train customs agents and wildlife rangers. It also investigates online crime. This offshoot of WildAid – one of the largest conservation groups working to eliminate demand for wildlife products such as elephant ivory and rhino horn – is responsible for the #JoinTheHerd campaign. Showing your support is as easy as uploading a photo of yourself – which the website then stitches to one of an elephant – and sharing the resultant image on social media, with the #JoinTheHerd hashtag. This non-profit aims to fight ivory trafficking on every front, training rangers, supplying sniffer dogs, working to make ivory less prestigious … Responsible for the #SaveElephants social media campaign, it also provides plenty of highly shareable pictures for your own activities. Named after the 96 animals killed for their ivory every day in Africa, this offshoot of the Wildlife Conservation Society works to highlight the plight of elephants and supports organisations caring for them around the world. Campaigns include Origami for Elephants (“create your own customised digital origami elephant”) and the #ElephantYogaChallenge (“You can help save elephants with yoga”). Putting pressure on politicians both at home and overseas is a powerful way to effect change. Save the Asian Elephant provides template letters and contact details for top-ranking officials, including the British prime minister, Theresa May, and India’s minister for tourism, Dr Mahesh Sharma, which you can use to urge them to follow through on their promises to protect Asian elephants. A grassroots organisation dedicated to raising awareness about the ivory trade and the fate of elephants across Africa. It offers a space to share knowledge, lobby government and join marches. Founded by two zoology students from the University of Exeter, this little organisation focuses on producing short films that target a wildlife crime or human-wildlife conflict issue. These are then shown to affected communities through a bicycle-powered cinema. In Malawi, Stop Wildlife Crime, Protect Malawi’s Wildlife, about elephants and the illegal ivory trade, was shown to more than 14,000 people. This World Wide Fund for Nature initiative is focused on ending Thailand’s ivory trade – once the world’s second largest – and has already enjoyed much success. In 2015, its efforts helped the Thai government to pass new regulations, while last year’s Ivory-Free Thailand campaign enlisted the help of local celebrities to discourage consumers from buying or accepting gifts of ivory. Launched by the World Elephant Society, which creates and distributes educational information about elephant conservation, World Elephant Day (12 August) asks elephant-lovers the world over to share their appreciation of these endangered animals. Youth 4 African Wildlife works with young people in the hope that they’ll become global conservation ambassadors. It offers conservation internships for people from all over the world, and also raises awareness through community outreach in the greater Kruger National Park area in South Africa. If you want to help elephants and have time to spare, these organisations want to hear from you. Some offer hybrid travel and volunteering experiences that will let you interact with elephants in their own habitat. Others need assistance with campaigns or administration. As always, make sure you understand their aims and approaches before signing up. Set in the lush countryside of Thailand’s northern Mae Chaem district, this sanctuary serves as a retirement community for some of the country’s 4,000-plus registered captive elephants, which have endured long lives of hard graft and exploitation, predominantly within the tourism and logging industries. Tasks for volunteers range from feeding and bathing the animals to teaching English to local children. With stays at the charity’s Cambodian elephant sanctuary lasting anywhere between one and four weeks, a good level of fitness is a must, as volunteers are expected to spend much of their time hiking through the Mondulkiri province’s mountainous terrain. Activities include observing the elephants in their natural habitat and planting seedlings to counteract deforestation. Elephants in Lagos are traditionally used in logging and worked to the point of exhaustion. The Conservation Center is home to the country’s first elephant hospital dedicated to victims of logging accidents, and has an elephant breeding programme. Reliant on donations and fees from volunteers, the centre invites visitors to learn about elephants and the importance of conservation in their natural environment. A useful starting point for any well-intentioned volunteer who doesn’t quite know where to start. There are dozens of opportunities across Africa and Asia to choose from, including data collection and research projects in Thailand, community outreach and wildlife education programmes in South Africa, and hands-on caretaking roles in a Sri Lankan elephant sanctuary. Human-animal conflict is one of the greatest threats to some of the world’s most at-risk elephant populations. The Great Projects links volunteers to conservation efforts in Asia and Africa; these include protecting the Namibian desert elephants – whose slowly recovering numbers were as low as 300 in the 1990s – by working with the local farmers, who frequently come into violent contact with the animals. Dedicated to protecting the Asian elephant, Save the Elephant Foundation provides a safe home for rescued elephants in its Elephant Nature Park in Chang Mai, Thailand. It invites volunteers and visitors to spend time with the animals, feeding, bathing and giving them care and affection in their natural habitat. One of the largest human-elephant conflict resolution projects in the world, this scheme run by the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society sees volunteers muck in across a wide variety of tasks. Daily activities might include observing elephant herds, identifying game trails, developing a dialogue with local communities, or maintaining the scenically situated base camp in north-western Sri Lanka. Giving money may seem the easiest way to help a cause you believe in. But deciding which organisation to donate to can be a daunting task. Some will use the money across their programmes, while others will let you back specific projects. Be sure to check that the organisation is legitimate and fits your objectives. Study its website, check its credentials and search the web to learn about its reputation and status. In addition to government regulators, these organisations provide advice for charitable giving: Charity Navigator, GuideStar, Charity Watch and GreatNonprofits. The rangers who risk their lives to prevent wildlife poaching and trafficking make little money and often spend months at a time away from their families. A guaranteed 100% of donations to this WWF-run initiative fund the equipment and infrastructure they need to do their jobs effectively and safely. For more than 30 years Born Free has been working to keep wildlife in the wild. You can support its work by (symbolically) adopting either orphaned Asian elephant calf Jubilee, or African elephant Emily Kate, who now has a calf of her own. The welcome pack includes a cuddly toy and personalised adoption certificate. Since its creation three years ago, this joint initiative between Save the Elephants and the Wildlife Conservation Network has channelled donations to the areas where elephant populations are collapsing the quickest, and the projects on the ground best placed to do something about it. Its celebrity-backed anti-ivory campaign in China played a vital role in changing policy in the country. With donations funding information-gathering operations and deep-cover field investigations, the EAL adopts an intelligence-led approach to uncovering and disrupting the criminal networks behind poaching and ivory trafficking. As well as using specialist investigators to infiltrate the criminal organisations profiting from the exploitation of wildlife, the EIA runs evidence-backed campaigns to advocate for meaningful policy change at a governmental level. Investigations typically cost between £10,000 and £20,000 and rely on donations from the public. Rather than paying into a pot that the charity will redistribute as it sees fit, this foundation allows donors to choose a specific programme and guarantees that 100% of their donation will reach their intended recipients. There are more than 20 research and conservation projects to choose from, including the Mounted Horse Patrol Anti-Poaching Unit for Mount Kenya. As well as its own investigative and policy work, the IFAW partners with media organisations around the world to raise awareness of the illegal ivory trade and the destruction it causes. Donations help to fund future media campaigns and awareness-raising projects. From elephants and tigers to chameleons and carnivorous plants, this research project run by the International Union for Conservation of Nature is aiming to gauge the health of the world’s biodiversity by assessing 160,000 species by 2020. It’s almost halfway there. Donations will support this ongoing research as well as supporting on-the-ground conservation projects. Elephants and tigers play vital roles in the ecosystem, and JTEF aims to raise awareness of their importance. It has several programmes to support conservation work, and reduce Japanese demand for wildlife products. It’s not just elephants and other wildlife that are at the mercy of the poachers’ weapons: more than 1,000 park rangers are estimated to have been killed in the past decade simply for standing in their way. This Australian-run foundation seeks to “protect nature’s protectors” by providing training and vital anti-poaching equipment, while also offering financial support to the families of those killed in the line of duty. Wild Philanthropy supports at-risk ecosystems and communities in Africa through grants to NGOs that are involved in managing protected areas. It also provides secured loans to local eco-tourist businesses.. As an all-volunteer organisation, the WAF uses every penny donated to help secure the longevity of animals and the delicate ecosystems that they inhabit. To show your support for elephants specifically – rather than the plethora of protected species ranging from fireflies to fish – you can symbolically adopt one for $35 (£28) a year. When elephants come into contact with farmland, they can wreak havoc and destroy livelihoods by eating or crushing crops. Many farmers respond by setting out poison or taking other extreme measures. World Animal Protection works with communities to come up with simple and sustainable solutions that allow humans and elephants to coexist, such as the introduction of chilli fences in Mikumi National Park in Tanzania. Most poaching takes place after dark, when rangers aren’t around. This initiative from the Lindbergh Foundation runs drone operations at night in collaboration with local rangers. With thermal imaging sensors, it can locate wildlife as well as poachers, and position rangers before an incident takes place. In two years of testing in a park in South Africa that had been losing 18 rhinos a week, not one animal was lost. Air Shepherd has now conducted around 5,000 missions, across South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Stepping in where local governments are unwilling or unable to act, African Parks manages 10 national parks in seven countries, taking complete responsibility for the day-to-day management and preservation of 6 million hectares of protected land. Already employing 600 rangers – the largest counter-poaching force on the continent – it aims to increase its conservation operation by 2020 to 20 parks and more than 10m hectares. The communities who share their land with elephants are best placed to conserve their natural heritage, but they often lack the means to do so. The African Wildlife Foundation recruits, trains and equips wildlife scouts from these areas, providing employment opportunities to local people and creating a large and effective poaching deterrent in the process. Renowned wildlife researcher and conservationist Cynthia Moss has been studying elephants in the Amboseli National Park, straddling the Kenya-Tanzania border, since the early 1970s. She founded the Amboseli Trust for Elephants after seeing elephant populations in Kenya plummet by an estimated 85%. As well as groundbreaking scientific research, the trust conducts extensive community outreach programmes with the local Maasai community. One such scheme compensates anyone who has lost livestock to elephants, which has more than halved the number of animals speared and killed in retribution. Policing the 2m acres of elephant habitat in the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro region of east Africa takes courage and dedication, with wildlife rangers spending weeks in remote outposts, putting their lives at risk every day. The Big Life Foundation employs hundreds of Maasai rangers, providing them with field units, vehicles, tracker dogs and aerial surveillance. You can support their efforts by joining the Ranger Club with a one-off or monthly donation. An elephant calf depends on its mother’s milk for the first two years of its life. So when one becomes orphaned – often because its mother has fallen foul of ivory poachers – the calf’s life hangs in the balance. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust fosters, feeds and rears these orphaned calves, eventually reintroducing them to the wild in the Tsavo East National Park. To date, 150 calves have been saved in this way. A research-based organisation that began life as Save the Elephants – South Africa, Elephants Alive! has been monitoring one of South Africa’s largest continuous elephant populations for over 20 years. It believes that extensive knowledge of elephants’ movements and needs is vital to ensure their long-term survival. An offshoot of the Wildland Conservation Trust, this non-profit organisation works with Maasai communities in Kenya to help elephants and other wildlife. On the banks of the Zambezi river, where Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe share a border, lies the town of Kazungula, from where Elephants Without Borders (EWB) runs its transnational conservation operation. African elephants regularly cross these international boundaries, leaving them at the mercy of changeable policy and conservation laws. Using state-of-the-art monitoring technology, EWB tracks their movements and works with the local authorities to create safe migratory corridors through which the elephants can move freely. In Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, elephant and other wildlife populations are at risk from bone-dry summers as well as from humans. In 2005, a particularly devastating drought saw scores of animals lose their lives. On the back of this disaster, Friends of Hwange was formed to pump water from underground sources, providing waterholes even in the most extreme conditions. Zambia sits at the heart of southern Africa, surrounded by four countries identified by Cites as centres of ivory poaching and trafficking. The Game Rangers International Wildlife Crime Prevention Project works with conservation organisations and law enforcement to end the illegal wildlife trade in and through Zambia. Malawi is one of the poorest, and fastest-growing, countries in the world, which is putting its natural habitat under severe strain. In 2008 the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust launched its first project, the Wildlife Centre, as a sanctuary for rescued animals and an education centre. The NGO now works across the country in rescues, advocacy and conservation education. Based in Tanzania, PAMS Foundation works in conservation to benefit both wildlife and the community. Its initiatives include training dogs to detect ivory being smuggled at borders, and supporting the Tanzanian government to undertake anti-poaching efforts. The elephants of northern Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve are some of the best studied in the world, thanks to the work of Save the Elephants. The charity’s main research centre is located in Samburu, from where it once pioneered the GPS tracking of elephant populations, and continues to try to understand ecosystems from an elephant’s perspective. Donations go towards various research and protection projects, from anti-poaching aerial surveillance to better understanding the herds’ migratory movements. Poaching is the immediate threat. But there is another, perhaps even more serious threat to Africa’s elephants: the loss of their habitat as economies grow and land competition surges. Space for Giants is pioneering efforts in Kenya, Gabon, and Uganda to lessen human-elephant conflict with specially-designed electrified fences, and spends a lot of time working with local communities explaining why fences help. This Japanese-Kenyan NGO is best known for its “No Ivory Generation” campaign, aimed at changing Japanese consumers’ attitudes to ivory. Tusk has invested about £30m in 60 conservation projects across Africa since its founding in 1990. Education and sustainable development are at the heart of its approach to conservation, working with local schools and rural communities to promote happy cohabitation between at-risk wildlife and the ever-expanding human population. The group behind the Ninety-Six Elephants campaign (see the campaign, lobby and educate section above) has a presence in 15 of the 37 African elephant range sites, from the savannahs of east Africa to the Gulf of Guinea. Donations help WCS’ efforts to stop the degradation of elephant habitats and prevent wildlife crime by providing rangers with essential technological and intelligence-gathering resources. A US Fish and Wildlife Service initiative financed by a mixture of government contributions and public donations, the fund awards grants to a variety of conservation and animal welfare projects. Recent beneficiaries include a scheme to mitigate human-elephant conflict in Nepal; counter-poaching operations in Thailand; and veterinary training to improve the care of captive elephants in Indonesia. As an all-volunteer organisation, the AES uses 100% of donations to fund numerous and diverse programmes everywhere from India to Vietnam. These range from English as a Second Language classes so that mahouts can develop their careers, to meeting the veterinary and housing needs of retired working elephants. ElefantAsia promotes alternative, cruelty-free careers for the elephants and mahouts that have traditionally served the logging industry in Laos and other parts of south-east Asia. The Laos-based non-profit also providing veterinary care in the form of mobile clinics and an elephant hospital in Sayaboury province. By making a one-off donation or sponsoring an elephant – generally a pregnant female, a mother with a baby, or an elderly or injured animal – donors can support the ECC’s efforts to rescue elephants from the Lao logging industry and re-home them in 106 hectares of protected forest. Rather than impose western ideas of how to run conservation projects, Elephant Family empowers local experts to develop their own solutions to protect Asian elephants in India, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Malaysia. Soraida Salwala founded Friends of the Asian Elephant’s first elephant hospital in Thailand in 1993. Since then, more than 4,000 elephants have received medical treatment in her facility. In their spare time, a group of young people based in Gudalur work in nature conservation in the Nilgiri region of south India. Part of their work involves research into how people and elephants can coexist peacefully. The next generation of conservationists could be the key to ensuring elephants’ long-term survival. Through its educational programmes, Think Elephants International is keeping the subject alive in classrooms both at home in the US and in Thailand, with ambitions to spread the word far beyond. Formed almost 20 years ago in response to the threats to wildlife in India. With 150 employees, the group is dedicated to nature conservation through a wide range of projects. For example, it has supported anti-poaching training for more than 15,000 people working with wildlife. You can make a real difference to conservation efforts by becoming a citizen scientist. You don’t need a PhD to help track elephant populations. Run by the University of Cape Town, the MammalMAP project asks travellers and citizen scientists to share their photos of African wildlife, along with information about the date and location that the photograph was taken. In so doing, you will be helping to build a valuable picture of the mammal population and how it is changing. This Android app, created by ElephantVoices, allows users to upload sightings and observations of Mara elephants to help the conservation charity with its research and campaign work. A must-download for locals and visitors to Maasai Mara. A fun, simple and interactive way to conduct valuable scientific research from anywhere in the world. Snapshot Serengeti asks citizen scientists to help classify the animals caught on some of the hundreds of camera traps dotted throughout the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. You will be shown a photo and provided with a user-friendly and searchable list of native animals. Get clicking to help researchers better understand the park’s animal populations. You don’t have to travel all the way to Mozambique to be part of the Gorongosa National Park’s conservation team. Simply review webcam and camera trap footage to help identify the movements of the park’s animal populations. Whether you would rather bake cakes or trek across Kenya, your hard work can raise money (and awareness) for elephant conservation. Just make sure you obey local regulations. Described by National Geographic as one of the “most authentic, most innovative … and most sustainable tours” out there, this annual nine-day expedition involves trekking across the Kenyan countryside, encountering wildlife and the people responsible for its conservation along the way. Participants are asked to raise upwards of $1,000 (£800), which goes towards preventing the slaughter of the region’s elephants. Simply select an elephant-focused charity or conservation project from the website’s vast database, and within a couple of minutes you can set up your own fundraising page. Crowdrise promises that at least 97% of the proceeds will go to your chosen cause. Alternatively (or additionally), you can sponsor and support others in their fundraising efforts. Functioning in much the same way as its crowd-funding cousin Crowdrise, JustGiving provides users with a simple way to share news of their fundraising campaigns with friends and family and to collect sponsorship. Whether you want to run the London Marathon, climb Mount Kilimanjaro or hold a bake sale in the name of elephant conservation, Tusk’s team can support your fundraising endeavours, be that by helping you get a place at an event, or by providing you with useful tips and ideas. An anti-poaching initiative, Veterans 4 Wildlife sends skilled veterans – and volunteers – to support rangers across Africa. Often poverty is the cause of poaching, so this organisation does a lot of community-based work, such as building schools and creating jobs. Provides all the tools and tips you need to create a successful fundraising campaign. Download flyers, posters and pictures direct from the website, or draw inspiration from other fundraising efforts. It’s easy to become so fascinated by elephants that you overlook ways in which you are harming them. Here are some of the things you should not do if you want to prevent exploitation and abuse.
News Article | November 24, 2016
Large populations of wild beavers living in the southern and western Highlands of Scotland are to be allowed to expand naturally after ministers granted them protected status. For the first time since it was hunted to extinction about 300 years ago, the beaver will be officially designated as a native British species,the Scottish environment secretary announced on Thursday. Rosesanna Cunningham said this was the first formal reintroduction of a once native mammal in the UK, a significant milestone in the slow process of rewilding parts of the British isles. Until now, official reintroductions have focused largely on birds of prey, though wild boar have colonised forests in southern England after escaping from farms and parks. The beavers were reintroduced to Scotland from Norway. Conservationists said they were delighted. The Scottish Wildlife Trust said beavers created new wetlands, which supported otters, water voles and dragonflies, and helped to regulate flooding and reinvigorate woodland. Jonathan Hughes, the SWT’s chief executive, said: “This is a major milestone for Scotland’s wildlife and the wider conservation movement. Beavers are one of the world’s best natural engineers. Their ability to create new wetlands and restore native woodland is remarkable and improves conditions for a wide range of species.” Cunningham’s announcement was seen by zoologists and conservationists as inevitable: dozens of European beavers have been illegally and stealthily released in the Highlands or have escaped from private collections over the past decade. Previously captive beavers have also tried to colonise parts of southern England. An expensive and long-term pilot reintroduction project in Knapdale, Argyll, where three beaver families were released in 2009 under a government licence, was usurped by the rapid spread of illegally released beavers in Tayside and Perthshire. Up to 250 beavers are estimated to be living in rivers and lochs over several hundred square miles in the catchments of the rivers Tay and Earn, reaching as far north as Kinloch Rannoch and eastwards to Forfar, north of Dundee. Dozens have been shot by landowners and farmers, who are angry about consequent flooding and tree loss. One study found that 21 had been shot around Tayside since 2010, including two which were pregnant and two feeding young. Conservationists have urged ministers to have a summer closed season for shooting amid suspicions that farmers were culling as many as possible before the animals were protected legally. Roisin Campbell-Palmer, conservation projects manager at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), which has funded and helped run the Knapdale project, said there was a depressing tendency to kill beavers in the area. The RZSS had had to buy a freezer for beaver carcasses, she said. Cunningham’s officials and the conservation agencies involved in beaver reintroduction had since brokered a deal over the terms of the reintroduction from the National Farmers Union of Scotland and Scottish Land and Estates, which represents Highland landowners. While beavers would have an official designation under the EU habitats directive, land users would be able to actively manage them by cutting water channels through dams or protecting valuable trees. Culling in specific circumstances would be licensed by Scottish Natural Heritage if no other solution could be found, the government said. Cunningham said there immediate action would be taken if any more beavers were released illegally. “Today’s announcement represents a major milestone in our work to protect and enhance Scotland’s world renowned biodiversity,” she said. “But I want to be absolutely clear that while the species will be permitted to extend its range naturally, further unauthorised releases of beavers will be a criminal act. Swift action will be taken in such circumstances to prevent a repeat of the experience on Tayside.” The RZSS chief executive, Barbara Smith, said Cunningham would oversee a comprehensive management plan. Officials were preparing a formal survey of Scotland’s beaver population to be carried out next summer. Smith said further controlled releases should be considered in other parts of Scotland, despite their unofficial dispersion in the Tay area. “We also feel strongly that further release sites will need to be considered in the short- to medium-term if the species is to fully re-establish itself as part of the Scottish landscape.”
News Article | November 2, 2016
Launched in December 2014, Pledge 1% is a corporate philanthropy movement. Its goal is to encourage individuals and companies to pledge 1% of equity, product, and employee time for communities. Founding companies Atlassian, Salesforce, Rally, and Tides have all experienced first hand how “pledging a small portion of future success today can have an enormous impact tomorrow”, and Pledge 1% is turning that success into a global movement. Over 1,000 companies from 30 countries have joined the movement, with Clearvision the latest to pledge 1%. In doing so, Clearvision brings an added level of structure to the company’s ongoing charitable fundraising efforts, which include raising over $1700 for The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in three days at the recent Atlassian Summit in San Jose. As Platinum Enterprise Atlassian Experts, Clearvision has a close relationship with Atlassian. Having seen up close the impact of the Pledge 1% movement, joining Atlassian in dedicating resources to helping the community was an easy decision. As well as fundraising for The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a charity dedicated to the protection and preservation of elephants in Kenya and its wilderness, Clearvision’s previous charitable efforts focused on collaborative team activities, from taking on the ‘Tough Mudder’ obstacle challenge to cake sales and prize draws. These team fundraisers have all been raising money for Clearvision’s chosen charity for 2016-2017. Voted on by staff, Clearvision’s current charity is Dreamflight, a UK charity that changes young lives through taking children with a serious illness or disability on the holiday of a lifetime to Orlando, Florida. Pledge 1% gives Clearvision the opportunity to officially recognize the corporate philanthropic efforts of its staff. “Signing up was easy,” said Clearvision CEO Gerald Tombs of the pledging process. “It was a simple process, and it brings a level of structure to Clearvision’s charity action while helping us to donate funds we raise directly to charity. “I’d strongly encourage other organizations to pledge 1%. In fact, in my role as a Pledge 1% Ambassador, I’ll be working with companies similar to ourselves, who are often already making commitments to charity but don’t currently have a framework to support them,” he added. With the help of Ambassadors like Gerald Tombs and Clearvision, Pledge 1% is currently running a Pledge it Forward campaign. Its aim is to increase its membership by 25% to over 1,250 members by the end of November, to continue its transformational impact on communities around the world. For more information on Pledge 1% and how to get involved, visit: http://pledge1percent.org/ For more on Clearvision’s charity work, see: https://www.clearvision-cm.com/clearvision-charity
News Article | September 25, 2015
In the school summer holiday of 1937, the conservationist Ted Smith, who has died aged 95, cycled 14 miles from his home in rural Lincolnshire to Gibraltar Point. The sixth-former took his cheap binoculars to look for terns on this lonely stretch of sand and salt marsh beyond Skegness and, surrounded by sky and sea, he fell in love with the place. He noted three “gaudy new houses” on a road cut into the sand dunes, typical of the unrestrained development then enveloping the British coastline. A passion for wildlife and its habitats fired Smith for the rest of his life. This unassuming teacher battled against the tides of his time, industrial agriculture, toxic pesticides, the supplanting of ancient woods with conifers, the ploughing of heaths, and urban development, to cajole into existence a national network of 47 conservation charities now known as the Wildlife Trusts. Smith combined practical action – saving the last fragments of heath, meadow and coast (including Gibraltar Point) from destruction in Lincolnshire – with farsighted thinking, stressing the importance of landscape-scale conservation and the need to open the trusts’ 2,300 nature reserves to the public. The founders of the conservation movement in Britain tended to be academics such as the botanist Sir Arthur Tansley or wealthy aristocrats, such as Charles Rothschild, the banker, who first envisaged a national network of nature reserves. Smith was neither: born in Alford, Lincs, he was the son of an industrious plumber, Arthur, and his wife, Emma (nee Taylor), who also ran a bakery and grocery. From Queen Elizabeth’s grammar school in Alford he went to study English at Leeds University. When he returned to his home county to work in adult education, he set about saving Gibraltar Point. In 1948, he visited the Welsh island of Skokholm to see how its bird observatory operated and met a botanist, Mary Goddard, who became his wife. Smith founded Lincolnshire Naturalists’ Trust, later Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, and the following year Gibraltar Point became the first nature reserve protected by the fledgling group, with a membership of 129. A nature reserve, an area where entire ecosystems were protected, was still a radical concept in the 1940s, and the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, the charity created by Rothschild, was short of money and dynamism. Some people also believed its mission had been accomplished when the postwar government founded the Nature Conservancy (now Natural England) to establish and manage statutory nature reserves as well as national parks. The ailing society was jolted into life by Smith’s energy. In 1954, he addressed its annual meeting with a surprising message: many naturalists, he argued, were indifferent to the great wave of destruction instigated by industrial agriculture, and this must be fought by new county conservation groups whose members would be drawn from a wider section of society than the elitist natural history societies of the day. His egalitarian words were backed up by deeds. He campaigned on many fronts – from stopping the chemical spraying of flower-rich roadside verges to legal protection to save otters – and also believed that nature must not be fenced off from people. He remembered how one botanist used to pick the only lizard orchid left in Lincolnshire each summer, so that schoolchildren would not see the beautiful flower and pick it themselves. “That ‘keep it to yourself’ attitude was totally self-defeating in the end,” he said in 2012. “The idea that reserves were there for people as well as wildlife was a new concept” – and he put it into practice at Gibraltar Point. In the 1950s, Smith toured the country, persuading others to set up their own county conservation groups. He inspired friends in Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire to create wildlife trusts in 1956. Others followed in the West Midlands in 1957, Kent in 1958, Surrey in 1959 and Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire in 1960. With Smith orchestrating discussions, the new country groups agreed that they needed a national association – and that the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves could perform that role. A national conference was held in Skegness in 1960, and during Smith’s time as its the first general secretary (1975-78) it became the Society for the Promotion of Nature Conservation. In 1981 it became the Royal Society of Nature Conservation, and in 2004 the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, the umbrella organisation for the Wildlife Trusts, with which Smith remained involved both nationally and in Lincolnshire, where he became chairman and then president. Despite Smith’s efforts, Lincolnshire lost 99.7% of its meadowland in his lifetime. Faced with similarly catastrophic losses nationwide, in the 1970s Smith urged a parliamentary committee to look beyond nature reserves to create buffer zones and corridors so that birds, mammals and insects could move freely through the countryside. But it took three more decades for this prescient desire for landscape-scale conservation to become the mantra of policymakers. Appointed CBE for services to nature conservation in 1998, Smith received a special award on the centenary of the Wildlife Trusts in 2012, when the television naturalist Sir David Attenborough paid tribute to Smith’s forbearance in sitting through countless meetings, a necessary evil for the practical conservationist. Smith was “quiet, unobtrusive, diplomatic, but with steely determination”, Attenborough said. “He understood, to a degree that verged on the magical, the diplomacies needed to coordinate and energise organisations.” Mary died in 2008. Smith is survived by their daughters, Alison and Helen, and two grandchildren, James and Alice.
Kilpatrick A.M.,University of California at Santa Cruz |
Briggs C.J.,University of California at Santa Barbara |
Daszak P.,Wildlife Trust
Trends in Ecology and Evolution | Year: 2010
Emerging infectious diseases are increasingly recognized as key threats to wildlife. Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), the causative agent of chytridiomycosis, has been implicated in widespread amphibian declines and is currently the largest infectious disease threat to biodiversity. Here, we review the causes of Bd emergence, its impact on amphibian populations and the ecology of Bd transmission. We describe studies to answer outstanding issues, including the origin of the pathogen, the effect of Bd relative to other causes of population declines, the modes of Bd dispersal, and factors influencing the intensity of its transmission. Chytridiomycosis is an archetypal emerging disease, with a broad host range and significant impacts on host populations and, as such, poses a crucial challenge for wildlife managers and an urgent conservation concern. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
News Article | November 10, 2016
Leprosy in Britain's red squirrels is being caused by the same species of bacteria responsible for human infections, a DNA study has found. One of the strains - affecting squirrels on Brownsea Island, off England's south coast - shares close similarities with that responsible for outbreaks of the disease in medieval Europe. Researchers tested 25 samples from red squirrels on the island and found that all were infected with the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae, though not all showed signs of the disease. The bacteria shared close similarities with a strain discovered in the skeleton of a leprosy victim buried in Winchester 730 years ago. It is also similar to a strain that is endemic in armadillos in southern states of the US. Scientists say their findings suggest that leprosy has affected red squirrels on Brownsea Island for centuries but stress that the chances of people catching the disease are low. Red squirrels in other parts of England, Scotland and Ireland are also affected by leprosy. The study found that these animals were infected with another species of the bacteria called Mycobacterium lepromatosis. DNA analysis revealed that this strain is similar to those found in human cases of leprosy in Mexico and the Caribbean. The international team - led by the University of Edinburgh - collected samples of the bacteria during post mortems carried out on red squirrels from each of the locations. Not all of the squirrels that were infected with the bacteria showed symptoms of leprosy. Those that did had swelling and hair loss on the ears, muzzle and feet. Red squirrels have drastically declined in the UK with fewer than 140,000 remaining. The main threat is from habitat loss and the squirrelpox virus carried by grey squirrels. The species was re-introduced into Ireland by transfer of animals from England in the early 1800s. The team says their findings suggest that the squirrels transported were likely infected with leprosy at the time. Researchers say it is unclear whether leprosy poses a significant threat to the future of red squirrels. They have recently launched a major study on Brownsea Island to study the disease. Human cases of leprosy are virtually unheard of in the UK but the disease continues to affect people in developing countries. The scientists say their findings suggest that animals could be a reservoir for the bacteria in these areas, thwarting efforts to eradicate the disease. Vet experts from the University's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies worked with researchers at the Moredun Institute and experts in human leprosy from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. The study is published in the journal Science. Professor Anna Meredith, of the University of Edinburgh's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, said: "The discovery of leprosy in red squirrels is worrying from a conservation perspective but shouldn't raise concerns for people in the UK. We need to understand how and why the disease is acquired and transmitted among red squirrels so that we can better manage the disease in this iconic species." Ongoing research on Brownsea Island is supported by its owners - National Trust and Dorset Wildlife Trust - which manage a large nature reserve on the island. Brownsea will remain open as usual during the four-year project. Angela Cott, National Trust General Manager for Brownsea Island, said: "Brownsea's wild red squirrel population has been living with leprosy for at least four decades. But by working with the University of Edinburgh and Dorset Wildlife Trust, we hope to understand how best to look after Brownsea's wild red squirrels. Brownsea Island remains a spectacular place for people to see wildlife."
News Article | January 30, 2015
Is there anything more stupid than the government’s plan to kill grey squirrels? I ask not because I believe – as Animal Aid does – that grey squirrels are harmless. Far from it: they have eliminated red squirrels from most of Britain since their introduction by Victorian landowners, and are now doing the same thing in parts of the continent. By destroying young trees, they also make the establishment of new woodland almost impossible in many places. As someone who believes there should be many more trees in this country, I see that as a problem. A big one. No, I oppose the cull for two reasons. The first is that it’s a total waste of time and money. Here’s what scientists who have studied such programmes have to say: “To date, there has been no successful method developed in the long-term control (nor indeed the eradication) of grey squirrel populations ... a recovery in numbers was found to take place within 10 weeks of intensive culling programs.” You pour the money in and it pours out the other side. The government’s plan to sponsor an “eradication programme” to the tune of £100 per hectare per year is futile; though it will have the effect of transferring even more public money to rural landowners. I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear that the idea was approved by the former environment secretary Owen Paterson, whose primary mission in office appears to have been showering his chums with gold, while ruthlessly cutting any spending that might have delivered wider benefits. This was the man, remember, who almost doubled the subsidy for grouse moors. My second reason for opposing the cull is that there is another way of dealing with grey squirrels, which requires hardly any expense, indeed hardly any human intervention at all. Unlike trapping, shooting or poisoning, it works. It is happening with extreme prejudice in Ireland at the moment. There is a scientific term for this method. Pine martens. Pine martens are predators native to Britain and most of Europe. They are members of the otter, badger and weasel family (the mustelids), that are at home both on the ground and in the trees. They are, to my eye, exceptionally beautiful. They look like sinuous chestnut cats with yellow bibs. Like many predators they turn out to be essential to the survival of healthy living systems. It now seems that many exotic species, like grey squirrels, that appear to present intractable problems do so only because they are moving into depleted ecosystems. They become invasive and destructive because there is nothing left to restrain them. American mink, for example, are a major problem in Europe where there are no otters, proliferating rapidly and wiping out water voles, birds and other species. But when otters, which are highly territorial, move in, they drive the mink out. White-tailed eagles, which have recently been reintroduced to the Hebrides, but once lived throughout Britain, prey heavily on mink and, according to a study in Finland, keep them out of areas they would otherwise occupy. There might be no grey squirrel problem – in fact there might be no grey squirrels here at all – had pine martens not been eliminated across most of their range, primarily by gamekeepers. If you love grey squirrels, look away now, for Ireland has become a bloodbath. The North American rodents that once occcupied the whole island east of the River Shannon are now in full-scale rout, and the reds are pouring into the territory they have abandoned. While until recently the greycoats looked invincible everywhere, in around 20 years the frontier has shifted 100km to the east. At this rate, in another 20 years the last of them will have been driven into the Irish Sea, and Ireland will have been reclaimed by the reds. (No political metaphor is intended.) So what’s going on? Well it now seems that the reason why grey squirrels never got past the Shannon is not that they couldn’t cross the river. They can swim, and there are plenty of places in which they could move through the trees without getting their feet wet. It’s because the far side of the Shannon was pine marten territory. And pine martens love grey squirrels – in the strictly carnal sense. Red squirrels have a simple adaptation to pine martens: they are small and light enough to get to the ends of the branches, where the martens can’t follow. But grey squirrels, which did not co-evolve with these predators, are, by comparison, lumps: slower and heavier than the native species. They are also more terrestrial than the reds – more dependent for their survival on foraging on the woodland floor. Meals on legs, in other words. As people in Ireland have mostly stopped killing pine martens, which are now legally protected, they have begun to recolonise their former ranges. And the grey squirrels appear to have vanished into thin air. You have to read the paper published on this phenomenon last year to believe just how rapid and comprehensive this process has been. But in case you don’t, here are some extracts. “The grey squirrel population has crashed in approximately 9,000 km2 of its former range and the red squirrel is common after an absence of up to 30 years.” “Grey squirrel sightings accounted for less than 8% of animal sightings in [the Irish Midlands], which is remarkably low considering that they are a much less elusive species than either the red squirrel or the pine marten, and are also more commonly associated with human settlements.” The health and weight of grey squirrels in the pine marten zone is “extremely poor,” while squirrels in an area without martens “are thriving”. “This is the first documented evidence of a grey squirrel population retracting, without any human intervention, subsequent to having established itself as an invasive species.” Two aspects of this story jump out at me. The first is the greys’ astonishing speed of retreat. The numbers just don’t add up: the martens simply couldn’t eat that many squirrels. As the paper points out, “it would be unlikely that a low-density pine marten population could impact a high-density grey squirrel population by direct predation alone.” The second is that grey squirrels in the region haunted by pine martens are much thinner than those elsewhere. At first sight this makes no sense: with fewer competitors, you would expect the survivors to be fatter and healthier. So what’s going on? Though the paper doesn’t speculate, there seems to be a likely explanation. The pine martens are creating a “landscape of fear”, rather like the one that some ecologists (though others have now challenged the claim) believe wolves have generated among deer in Yellowstone National Park in the US state of Wyoming. It’s not just that pine martens are eating the squirrels: they are terrifying the living daylights out of them. If grey squirrels have no defences against martens, they must spend much of the time they would otherwise have spent feeding trying to avoid them. They are likely, metaphorically or perhaps literally, to spend so much time looking over their shoulders while they should be foraging during the summer that they don’t accumulate sufficient fat to get through the winter. The pine martens are starving them out. The lesson is obvious – to everyone except the dunderheads administering public policy in Britain. If, as they claim, their aim is to eliminate grey squirrels, rather than to pour money into the laps of the landed gentry, they should abandon the useless programme of trapping, shooting and poisoning, and instead bring back a native predator. While pine martens are once again thriving in parts of Scotland (and, surprise, surprise, these are the places in which red squirrels also survive and grey squirrels are absent), across England and Wales they are functionally extinct. This means that while there are some tiny remnant populations in a few areas (Cumbria, Snowdonia and the North York Moors for example), due to intense persecution by gamekeepers, and others in the past, their genetic base is too narrow to allow them to expand. Re-establishing pine martens means reintroducing them: bringing new genetic stock both to the pockets in which they survive and to places from which they have been eradicated. That is what the Vincent Wildlife Trust, among others, hopes to do. Meanwhile, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, which I see as a greenwashing agency for the shooting industry (how many conservation groups do you know that teach children to use shot guns and run courses on snaring, lamping and trapping?), is campaigning to reduce pine marten populations in Scotland. Yes, reduce. It claims that it wants to do so to protect capercaillies: the giant grouse that also once lived across much of Britain but are now confined to a few glens in Scotland. But there is no evidence that pine martens are implicated in the capercaillie’s decline: in fact the capercaillie is doing best where pine martens are also thriving, and doing worst where the predator continues, illegally, to be persecuted. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s attitude is typical of the views that have long prevailed amongst shooting interests: all too often estate owners would rather cut their own throats than tolerate the presence of predators, even when those predators are protecting them from massive problems, like grey squirrels or (due to the absence of lynx) exploding roe and sika deer populations. Unfortunately, it is these entrenched interests and attitudes that still dominate government policy. The futile plan to cull grey squirrels was hatched at a symposium of chinless wonders convened by the Prince of Wales and Owen Paterson in one of Charles’s many properties, Dumfries House in Scotland. This meeting took place several months after the Irish study was published. But the British establishment is almost impervious to new thinking and new information, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that this confederacy of dunces decided to pour millions into a futile gesture, rather than to do something useful. I dare say that most of them still regard pine martens as vermin anyway. Like the army and navy in the 18th century, the governance of the countryside is still dominated by titled amateurs, while those with professional knowledge and expertise are frozen out. So perhaps there is a political metaphor here after all. Isn’t it time that these grey and ponderous relics of the Victorian era were pushed out of policy-making, and replaced by bright-eyed and bushy-tailed people who are agile enough to respond to new situations?