Friday, 28 January 2011

REDD for the World's Forests

People have been destroying forests for a very long time. In many cases this destruction has been done under population pressures and the need to clear land for crops. Although the pressure to clear forests has somewhat eased in most rich countries, the demand for arable land is very strong in many developing countries. In Congo, which has the most rainforest land, behind Brazil, most of the clearing is being carried out by smallholders, who are clearing the brush in response to population rises. However, in 2010, Brazil’s deforestation rate dropped very fast. According to The Economist, in 2004 Brazil razed 2.8 million hectares of rainforest in the Amazon. In 2010 only 750,000 hectares were raised.

Globalization is increasing the demand for agricultural products from tropical countries, and as populations become richer, there is an increased demand for those goods; however, as the standard of living improves, people begin to think about environmental issues and this gets eventually reflected in through their voting. Governments begin to pass enforce greener laws. It is however extremely important that the transition from deforestation to conservation gets accelerated and the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) programme i doing just that. The aim of the programme is to pay people in developing countries to look after their forests and leave them standing. For more information about REDD and the future of forests please follow this link.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Competition for a project in environmental and ecological risk assessment.

A €100,000 award will be given on June 14 to Europe’s best early career scientist who presents the most promising research project in the field of environmental and ecological risk assessment. Deadline for submissions is March 18. The European Chemical Industry Council, and Eurotox

established in 2003 the LRI Innovative Science Award. This award is available for a young European scientist presenting a promising research project in the field of environmental and ecological risk assessment. To read more about the awar, please follow this link.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Why people Need Plants (part 2)

This is the second part of blog written by Dr Heather McHaffie Edinburgh Network co-ordinator and Scottish Plants Officer at the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh. We are very grateful to her for this wonderful introduction to the usefulness of plants.

Plants are increasingly being used as a source of fuel. There are not indefinite reserves of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, and provision must be made for a cleaner future without them. Willow is one of the plants grown to provide wood chip that is described as carbon-neutral as it is using wood grown and consumed over a short period, rather than eating into fossil fuel reserves. There is still more energy used in the harvesting and distribution than is available to provide domestic heat and this needs be considered. Other plants such as maize, cereals and oil-seed rape have been used to make bio-ethanol but currently only sugar cane is currently cost-effective and there are problems in using potential food to make fuel when this might not be the best use of resources in a world with inadequate supplies of food.

Our clothes can be made from plants. Historically nettles were a significant source of fibre, but they have been almost replaced with flax (providing linen), cotton, hemp and even bamboo. Clothing made from synthetic materials does not readily decompose and adds to the landfill problems which are already excessive.

Wood has a long history of use as a building material and still compares well with modern materials. Weight for weight wood is stronger than concrete, it can last for hundreds of years but will rot down eventually. Manufacturing cement from limestone releases large quantities of fossil CO2 into the atmosphere. It is not easily recycled and will last for a very long time.

The medicinal use of plants also has a long history. Some compounds such as digitalis derived from foxglove and aspirin from willow can be made synthetically. Others still require direct harvesting of plant material. An extract from the bark of the Pacific Yew was found to be effective in the treatment of cancer but there were insufficient slow-growing trees in the wild to provide sustainable quantities. Then it was found that the same extract, named Taxol, was present in greater amounts in the leaves of the European Yew (Taxus baccata). Arrangements have been made to collect yew clippings from large gardens and this has proved to be an excellent source.

Plants are regularly used in wetlands to purify water. Small septic tanks in country areas have an overflow that usually goes into a watercourse, but this can contain excessive amounts of phosphate causing algal blooms and un-naturally vigorous plant growth. Sending the overflow through constructed reed beds means the phosphate is taken up by growing plants. The plants can be harvested or the phosphate slowly released as the reeds decay in the winter. Plants are also used in bio-remediation for the removal of heavy metals. Some species take up unusually large amounts of zinc and lead – even gold! When harvested and carefully disposed of they can aid in the cleansing of a polluted site.

Unfortunately there are some plants in the wrong places that we do not need. Over the centuries people have taken plants from around the world and planted them in their gardens, far away from their original source. Most plants stay in gardens but some have proved unexpected vigorous and might have seeded, spread or been dumped into the countryside. These plants then multiply, become invasive and can colonise large areas to the detriment of our own native plants. Native species associate with a complex range of other species such as insects, fungi and birds. Invasive plants might provide no useful nectar, have no predators or pathogens to naturally reduce their vigour and many have become a serious problem. Examples include Giant Hogweed, undoubtedly attractive but with large, smothering leaves and dangerous to control as sunlight on sap can raise blisters on the skin. Many estates planted different species of rhododendron but only Rhododendron ponticum has increased in an alarming way, covering whole hillsides and still continuing to expand rapidly. Expensive eradication programmes are attempting to eliminate these plants.

A final benefit from plants is simple enjoyment. There are health benefits from time spent in a green environment. People appreciate the aesthetic side of woods in springtime, bluebells beneath the trees, or a meadow with a mixture of scented flowers. We can have plants in our gardens, or window boxes and can to look for opportunities to grow them in church gardens too. The best species are those that provide nectar, pollen and seed rather than some modern varieties that have large flowers but offer little else to wildlife. Wildlife-friendly gardening does not have to involve a jungle of nettles and brambles but can be achieved with careful selection of species. Minimalist gardening with hard surfaces and a few neat shrubs will not provide the assortment of habitats of a less manicured plot perhaps with a small pond and a mixture of plant-types. The latter garden will be a rewarding place to spend time, enjoying the added interest of species which spontaneously arrive where the appropriate conditions are provided. Living in a part of the world rich in natural resources, enough rain and enough sunshine, we are very fortunate and need to take time to appreciate what we have and to take care of it.

Inspiring film about energy use in Eigg

This is a wonderfully inspiring film about enery use in Eigg. Awareness of energy use seems to be a crucial element in reducing CO2. Thanks to Adrian Shaw for sharing!  Happy viewing.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

10th Anniversary of EcoCongregation Scotland @ Annual Gathering 2011

We would like to invite you to celebrate with us the 10th Anniversary of Eco-Congregation Scotland at the Annual Gathering 2011, which will also include the charity’s first AGM. The Gathering will take place on 5th March 2011, 10am – 3.30pm, at Bridge of Allan Parish Church Halls, Keir Street, Bridge of Allan FK9 4QJ.

We are very pleased to welcome Kathy Galloway, Head of Christian Aid Scotland, to preach at the Celebration Service. The programme of the day will focus on ‘Our daily Bread’ and look at issues of sustainable living. As usual, a variety of interesting and challenging workshops will be part of the programme.

Register now to participate in the event, by contacting us at or the address below before 16 February 2011.

While everyone is warmly invited to attend the AGM, only charity members of Eco-Congregation Scotland are able to vote. You can register as member of the charity by filling in the form attached to the invitation and sending it back to us. We look forward to seeing you at the Annual Gathering!

If you have any news about eco-congregations or would like to display a poster in about the 10th Anniversary in your church halls and other appropriate places please email  Anikó Schütz or phone the Climate Change project at  0131 240 2274

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Why People Need Plants (Part 1).

We are extremely grateful to Dr Heather McHaffie Edinburgh Network co-ordinator and Scottish Plants Officer at the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh for this wonderful introduction to the usefulness of plants. The second part of her contribution will be published shortly.

The presence of plants is fundamental to our life support systems on this planet; without plants, life could not be sustained. Plants use water, nutrients and energy from the sun to process carbon dioxide (CO2) and give us oxygen. Plants make a major contribution to reducing the amounts of CO2 that our activities have released into the atmosphere. Some of the CO2 that we produce is taken up by the sea and marine algae and is locked up on the sea bed in carbon sinks and was the source of ancient oil deposits. On a similar time-scale trees store carbon which can go into long-term storage in the form of coal. Tropical rain forests store the greatest amounts of carbon, as do peat bogs where the plant remains do not decompose. Damage to these habitats liberates stored carbon and through our use of fossil fuels we are rapidly releasing enormous amounts of carbon that have taken hundreds of millions of years to accumulate. This has not only raised the CO2 in the atmosphere, but is also an unsustainable use of natural resources and poor stewardship of the planet.

All our food supplies are derived from plants. Even if we don’t eat plants directly we might eat animals that have eaten plants, or fish that are part of food chain with algae at the lowest level. A certain amount of food value is lost at each stage and various ratios are quoted on the efficiency of beef cattle converting grain into meat in the order of 7:1. In a world with inadequate food supplies it might provide more food if people ate less meat and ate the grain instead. But cattle can derive a lot of their nourishment from grass at a conversion of 30:1 and this is something that people cannot do. As with everything, a balance is required.

Perhaps a greater issue with food is how we source it. We have become accustomed to a varied diet that depends on a high proportion of non-essential imported food out of season. Considerable amounts of energy are used to transport it and in some cases the local people are growing food to export with very little benefit to themselves, but with large profits to multi-national companies. The growers could be using scarce supplies of local water and pesticides (that might be banned in European countries) to ensure higher yields but without providing adequate protection for the workers. Fair trade schemes provide good conditions for the workers and are receiving well-deserved support. Those of us who are infinitely better off need to be aware of the need to pay real costs for food from these sources so as not to continue to exploit people who are barely living at subsistence level. With greater travel around the world our expectations have been matched by the availability of previously unknown fruit and vegetables. We need to question to what extent it is reasonable that we continue to demand a disproportionate share of the world’s resources.

Closer to home our own farmers do not necessarily receive the support that they need to run viable businesses, with subsidies adding a further complication, more favourable for some, than others. There is an increasing trend to try to source as much as possible from local sources and this has reciprocal benefits in providing local jobs and reducing food miles. Of course, the most accessible food can be grown in our own gardens, with the satisfaction of producing our own crops and re-establishing a link with the seasons.

Most food is probably grown using very different varieties compared with fifty years ago. Modern crop varieties have been selected to produce shorter stems and larger seeds. With greater availability of artificial fertilisers, crop yields have been increasing for some time. But there is a limit to the amount of fertiliser (especially nitrogen) that can be applied without harmful effects to the ecosystem and research is now directed into more sustainable farming maximizing crop yield with minimum additional inputs. Modern farming methods have relied on growing large areas as a monoculture that by the lack of diversity is more vulnerable to pests and diseases and where a minimal amount of ‘weeds’ or wild plants are tolerated. Wild plants are the food plants for caterpillars, the seed source for birds and the bottom of the food chain that enhances our environment with colour: butterflies, a whole range of other insects and bird life. If agriculture is too intensive there is an ever-diminishing space for our native species and a corresponding reduction in the diversity of plants and animals, making our environment all the poorer. The presence of a rich diversity indicates a healthy environment for us all, enhancing our well-being and providing room for us to relax, exercise, and benefit from the natural environment. Fortunately in Scotland we do still have many hedges, edges of fields, woodland, cycle paths and open spaces that should be valued.