Tag Archives: biodiversity

The Changing View of UK Conservation

By Jessica Hope, University of Manchester

Photo credit: Karen Roe via CC BY 2.0

Photo credit: Karen Roe via CC BY 2.0

Last month the Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPY) exhibition opened at the National History Museum, celebrating 50 years of the WPY competition.  The competition champions the diversity of life on Earth, encouraging photographers to think differently about the way that they tell the stories of nature and depict the natural world. The photographs in the competition present the diversity, beauty and wonder of the natural world. It seems an obvious next step to question how we look after and protect wildlife in the UK.

In the current issue of the journal ‘Transactions of the British Institute of Geographers’ William M Adams, Ian D Hodge and Lindsey Sandbrook consider recent developments in conservation in the UK, namely conservation’s expanding territorial claims. They argue that the models of  large-scale conservation being developed in the UK are a form of re-territorialisation, linked to wider neoliberal values and logic. For example, they consider the 2011 UK government White Paper on the natural environment. This White Paper restated a public policy vision for conservation in England, adopting “the positive language of success and expansion, rather than the more familiar conservation tropes of threat and retreat” (2014:574). However, the importance and value of conservation was justified with the logic of neoliberalism – presenting conservation as a means of meeting wider social and economic purposes, for example growth, prosperity and security.  This article charts these changes in UK conservation policy and raises questions about the challenges that this conservation model will face. Moreover, it draws attention to the need for more analysis of the power dynamics at play in the balance of public and private interests that come together in these larger conservation endeavours. The article reminds us that, like photography, how we see and value nature impacts how we protect it

Nature and economics: a necessary marriage?

By Joseph Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.

Adams et al. (2013; p. 585): “Neoliberalism may offer a new set of mechanisms in pursuing conservation ends, but also creates new risks and challenges.”

Sustainability and social and economic human prosperity resulting from ecosystem services provided by nature form the heart of the principle of human–nature connectivity (see UK NEA, 2011). Such services are categorised as supporting (e.g. soil formation), provisioning (e.g. food), regulating (e.g. flood regulation) and cultural (e.g. education, recreation) by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA, 2005). These services can then be assigned an economic value and, theoretically, be more wholly incorporated into a neoliberal economy where conservation is seen as protecting an area’s economic value, rather than diminishing it.

Adams et al. (2013) note regular mention of such ecosystem services in UK ‘Large Conservation Area’ (LCA) project descriptions; a shift towards neoliberalism in conservation, and the apparent need to assign an economic value to designated conservation areas, is present in the UK. Such themes also extend to conservation the world over, as we can see by two recent major biodiversity reports.

Near Ullswater, Lake District National Park, UK. Should this ancient landscape be valued?

Near Ullswater, Lake District National Park, UK. Should this ancient landscape be valued?

Two separate recent international reports on biodiversity – Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 by the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity and the WWF’s Living Planet Report – have been widely referred to by the press. Both reports discuss ecosystem services and the benefits of nature conservation to our well-being and economy. The Telegraph, on the WWF’s report, discusses how humans “depend on ecosystem services”. Meanwhile, The Guardian and Blue & Green Tomorrow discuss the Global Biodiversity Outlook report and the overall failure to meet current global conservation targets. Perhaps then, better incorporation of nature into neoliberal economies via ecosystem services is necessary to convey the value of nature to policy and decision makers, in the UK and beyond.

Of course, ideas of ecosystem services are seldom isolated from opposition to the valuation of nature and for its inherent value, which is arguably priceless. Key arguments against such valuation include: (i) not all of nature’s outputs are useful services, indeed some are disservices, or are neutral, in relation to ‘serving’ people, but the areas providing these may house amazing species and ecosystems (are they at risk if they cannot provide a useful service?); (ii) ecosystem service arguments imply that the conservation of nature should only happen when it is profitable to do so; (iii) technological advancement may surpass nature’s services in the future (then what of a nature reserve that was being protected just because of a service and associated value?); (iv) nature has an intrinsic value and would be better argued for on moral, rather than economic, grounds (list summarised from McCauley, 2006 in Nature). Also see The Ecologist on biodiversity offsetting who ask: “How many pandas is a five star hotel worth?”.

Nature conservation, and associated themes (e.g. biodiversity offsetting, ecosystem services), in the UK and the wider world will only increase in importance and relevance as environments continue to change and, perhaps inevitably, the so called neoliberalisation of nature continues. As territories reserved for nature (and the value of these) are debated, understanding the spatial patterns of biodiversity, and indeed how these will change through time, will be vital so that we can move towards informed, resilient and sustainable decisions. Perhaps true sustainability can only ensue if nature’s intrinsic value takes a dominant role in discussions? Perhaps not, though; perhaps economic valuations will dominate by necessity? Personally, I hope that such intrinsic value is never overshadowed and that economic arguments, where necessary, simply supplement moral ones.

 Adams, W. M., Hodge, I. D. and Sandbrook, L. (2014). ‘New spaces for nature: the re-territorialisation of biodiversity conservation under neoliberalism in the UK‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39, 574–588.

60-world2 Bertini, I. (2014). Governments have failed to protect wildlife, UN biodiversity report findsBlue & Green Tomorrow.

60-world2 Global Biodiversity Outlook 4: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2014)

60-world2 Lean, G. (2014). Life on earth is dying, thanks to one species. The Telegraph.

60-world2 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005). Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington, DC.

 McCauley, D. J. (2006). Selling out on natureNature 443, 27 – 28.

60-world2 Scrivener, A. (2014). Nature as an ‘asset class’ – the free market’s final frontier? The Ecologist.

60-world2 UK NEA (2011). The UK national ecosystem assessment: technical report UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge.

60-world2 Vaughan, A. (2014). UN biodiversity report highlights failure to meet conservation targetsThe Guardian.

60-world2 WWF et al. (2014). Living Planet Report 2014.

The battle for the Chagos Islands: who counts?

Salomon Atoll in the Chagos islands
Image credit: Anne Sheppard

By Helen Pallett

In June this year the High Court ruled that the UK government’s decision to create a marine park around the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean had been lawful. This marked the end of a three year long struggle for the indigenous Chagossian islanders, who had argued that the 2010 designation of the archipelago as a protected marine reserve robbed them of their fishing-centred livelihoods and effectively prevented them from ever returning to their ancestral lands. At 545,000 square miles, the Chagos marine park is the largest in the world, claiming to protect an area as rich in biodiversity as the Galapagos Islands. In the absence of any further barriers to its designation, the new reserve will now be expected to live up to its promise of slowing the rate of regional biodiversity loss in the Indian Ocean and replenishing its fish stocks.

The media coverage of this legal struggle has shed light on the continuing influence of the archipelago’s colonial history on its present fate and that of its islanders. In 1965 the British expelled the Chagossians in order to allow the Americans to build an airbase on the main island, Diego Garcia, and also deterritorializing the islands from the Mauritian state. This act prompted an extensive legal battle for the Chagossians to try to secure their right to return, with challenges in the British and international courts both from the islanders themselves and the government of Mauritius. The recent decision to create the marine park has been interpreted as a continuation of the British colonial claim to the islands (which are still designated as part of the British Indian Ocean Territory), with the clear intent of preventing the return of the Chagossians to the archipelago and to their previous way of life.

There are strong parallels between the story of the Chagos islands and the account offered by Emma Norman in a recent article in Area on the governance of the activities of indigenous fishing communities in Boundary Bay, North America. Norman describes a process of what she calls ‘ecocolonisation’, whereby indigenous communities suffer the consequences of the seizure and degradation of their lands by an outside force. She sees this ecocolonisation as occurring in three main ways, all of which also resonate with the story of the Chagossians. Her first mode of ecocolonisation is through the containing of land and sea into different political regimes. In Norman’s account this is exemplified by how differently the activities of indigenous communities on the Canadian side of Boundary Bay have been governed, compared to those living the south of the bay which is governed by United States. Similarly, the territorialization of the Chagos Islands as a British Indian Ocean Territory and relatedly as a US military base has had direct and devastating effects on the landscape and people’s of the Islands, by designating who had rights to make decisions about the appropriate uses of land and sea. These territorial boundaries has been actively contested through the legal battles of the Chagossians and the government of Mauritius. The second form of ecocolonisation which Norman describes is the effects of pollution inputs which come from outside of the territory. Again, such debates are clearly alive around the creation of the Chagos marine park, as the degradation of this environment has been described as a problem of broader pollution and overfishing throughout the Indian Ocean.

The most central element of Emma Norman’s account of Boundary Bay, is the third mode of ecocolonisation that she describes; a process she feels has been left out of many accounts of the governance of indigenous communities, and something which helps us to understand the more subtle negotiations and practices which are at play, beyond the narrative of colonial greed. This process is what Norman calls the politics of calculation. A focus on the politics of calculation forces us not only to think about who counts in the sense of whose perspectives are sought and whose welfare is valued, but also to think literally about who is doing the counting in these processes. Norman argues that the technologies and methods with which governments and administrative bodies measure pollution, assess biodiversity and designate certain territories and species as threatened, all carry with them certain kinds of rationalities which themselves have political effects. In this case the technologies and rationalities used by the British government and by conservation bodies such as the IUCN, designating the Chagos islands as in need of environmental protection, are very different rationalities from those which govern the (relatively low impact) activities of the Chagossians themselves. Norman would argue that the political effects of these instruments are central to understanding the story of the Chagossians and how the British high court was able to justify its decision to uphold the creation of this marine park. This politics of calculation is what sets the Chagos Archipelago apart from the other inhabited islands in the Indian Ocean as an area of rich biodiversity which must be protected. It is also what foists the responsibility for replenishing the Indian Ocean’s fish stocks onto the beleaguered Chagossians and decentres the gaze from the polluting activities of sea-faring industries and the American military.

60-world2 Chagos Islands marine park is compatible with law, high court rules The Guardian

60-world2 Chagos Islands: open secrets The Guardian

60-world2 Britain Faces UN tribunal over Chagos Islands marine reserve The Guardian

60-world2 Chagos marine park is lawful, High Court rules BBC 

books_icon Emma S Norman, 2013, Who’s counting? Spatial politics, ecocolonisation and the politics of calculation in Boundary BayArea 45 179-187

“are We Whistling in the Wind?”

By Briony Turner

MEC's green roof among others by sookie (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This was the question posed by Dr Bob Bloomfield, Head of Innovation at the Natural History Museum, whilst chairing a discussion at the IHDC 2012 conference, on designing ecosystem services into the built environment.

Our connection with nature is at times, and certain locations, tenuous to say the least.  The National Trust has documented the children of Britain’s declining connection with nature and the external environment.   Stephen Moss, who reviewed the findings, diagnosed a “Nature Deficit Disorder”.  This report, “Natural Childhood”, marked the National Trust’s launching of an inquiry to determine the barriers and the solutions for children’s connection with nature.   The inquiry found that children’s love of nature is best started in the home. If we are to avoid creating a generation cut off from the natural world, we need to look not only at the role of parents and authorities, as recommended in the findings, but also at that the built environment practitioners can play by designing in nature to the places we call home.  This call for greater practitioner attention to nature-based assets within metropolitan boundaries is mirrored in the recently published UNEP “Cities and Biodiversity Outlook” report and in research by Luca Salvati and colleagues on the link between urban planning and land degradation.

Our connectivity with nature is not just a childhood concern.  Some may recall the 2009 flood of Victoria Station that brought transport chaos to London and the greater South East.  Well it also served as a spark to rethink growth plans in the Victoria Business Improvement District (BID).  The event served as a stark reminder that economic growth of an area is vulnerable to nature, that there is work needed to improve the climatic reliance of local businesses and that nature can play a vital role in doing so.  The Landscape Institute case study explains the actions of the Victoria BID, including conducting a green infrastructure audit which identified a phenomenal 25ha suitable for green roofs capable of intercepting 80,000m3 of rain water each year.  This now ties in with the new London Plan and its All London Green Grid Supplementary Planning Guidance, which formalises consideration of design and management of green infrastructure within London.  The Mayor of London has recently teamed up with the Landscape Institute and the Garden Museum to run a High Line for London competition, which made for some interesting visions of London, and commentary in the London Evening Standard.

Whilst the rhetoric; urban greening, green infrastructure, ecosystem services make nature seem like a distant planet, manageable only by institutions and an abundance  of bureaucratic processes, this is not the case.  Any patch of ground, free of tarmac, even that hidden under decking/concrete slabs, has the potential to help intercept heavy rainfall.  The Guerrilla Gardening movement is hot on the case with their ‘pimp your pavement’ campaign and a number of water companies have teamed up with the Environment Agency and other organisations to produce a free ‘UK Rain Garden Guide’ for household action.

If we are to manipulate ecosystems to provide enhanced service to our cities, then we perhaps need to ponder the “banal violence of configuring spaces exclusively around human proclivities” (p. 580) as highlighted by Kathryn Yusoff in her paper on the “Aesthetics of loss”.  Perhaps, before we get carried away with the services and quantification rhetoric, we should ask ourselves does nature have to have a function for us to have it in our urban areas?  How depressing if the answer is yes.

Whilst some would argue that there’s an inherent tension between the built environment and nature, others might argue that urban ecosystems themselves show the wonderment of nature, its adaptability, and how many other species put us to shame.  You can make your own judgement at the Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum –there’s a category for urban wildlife, defined as images that focus on nature’s occupation of the man-made environment.

Ecosystem Services Come to Town; Adapting to climate change by working with Nature,  IHDC 2012 Conference, 15 October 2012, Natural History Museum, London.

We’ll take the high road: off the streets and into the sky could be the future for London bikes, London Evening Standard, 11 October 2012

Case Study: Greening for Growth in Victoria, Landscape Institute 2012

Natural Childhood, National Trust, London

Reconnecting children with nature, National Trust, London

Pimp your Pavement, campaign from GuerrillaGardening.org

Luca Salvati, Roberta Gemmiti and Luigi Perini, Land degradation in Mediterranean urban areas: an unexplored link with planning?Area 44, 317-325.

Cities and Biodiversity Outlook, UNEP

Victoria Business Improvement District (2012)

KathrynYusoff, Aesthetics of loss:  biodiversity, banal violence and biotic subjects, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 37, 578-592.

The Return of that Great British Institution, the Weather

By Briony Turner

Source: author

Somewhat regrettably, those scorching days admiring sporting finesse, feeling the heat of the sun against skin (and the 100% recycled polyester iconic top of a Games Maker –the not so regrettable aspect) are now a distant memory, washed out by a month’s worth of downpour in one day.

Having had the topic of weather embargoed for the summer (Games Makers were implored not to be quintessentially British and moan about the weather), the country has returned to its favourite topic of conversation, wiping even the Duchess of Cambridge off the front pages.  According to the Met Office official blog, the culprit is an ‘unusually active’ and ‘lingering’ (blame that part on the jet stream) low pressure system from the Atlantic which has had a field day moving north across the UK, picking up the cooler polar air en route, causing a deeper depression, not only meteorologically but also metaphorically in its wake.

Future climate projections suggest a rise in frequency of such extreme events.  Some geographers, Marc Tadaki and colleagues, are caught up in whether physical geography needs to exist,  and/or indulge in a ‘navel gazing and angst’ debate as to the purpose of geography (Dalby, 2012 p.270).  However, others have simply rolled up their sleeves and are conducting geographical analyses, improving the understanding of and addressing climate change and human vulnerabilities, as noted by Simon Dalby in his recent book review in The Geographical Journal.   These applications and analyses form the basis of information provided by organisations like the Environment Agency, whose website provides the latest flood alerts and enables householders to identify the extent to which, if at all, their homes are at risk of flooding. A catastrophe modelling firm, working with the European Space Agency, has recently launched a mapping tool with geo-coded ‘snapshots’ and impact assessment features to help insurers handle the aftermath of flooding.

Extensive systems and infrastructure, including governance arrangements, are in place to attempt to reduce the impact and effects of flooding.  Homeowners in the UK at risk of flooding currently benefit from the “Statement of Principles”, an agreement between Government and insurers, although it will expire on the 1st July 2013.  Defra are currently working on a replacement.  An article in The Geographical Journal, provides a timely reminder of the complexities encountered in public engagement within flood risk management (FRM) and the potential negative consequences that can result if the local micro-politics are not understood and sensitivities, particularly repercussions of shifts in local power relations, are not accounted for before application of FRM engagement.

One way of reducing the scale of flooding in urban areas is to intercept and delay rain and surface runoff by utilising and improving urban ecosystems.  Built environment industry experts are looking at innovative ways of ecologically adapting the built environment, there’s an annual conference and, this year, a public exhibition of the Integrated Habitats Design Competition’s winners and finalists in October at the Natural History Museum (a Fringe Event of the UN Convention on Biodiversity).  This just goes to show that urban ecosystems can be enhanced, have social, economic as well as ecological value and, as Robert Francis and colleagues point out in their article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, offer opportunities for innovative research.

Flooding – availability and coverage of insurance Association of British Insurers

S. Dalby, 2012, Geo 2.0: digital tools, geographical vision and a changing planet, The Geographical Journal 178 270–274

UK Climate Projections:  Briefing report (UKCP09) Defra

R. A. Francis, J. Lorimer and M. Raco, 2012, Urban ecosystems as ‘natural’ homes for biogeographical boundary crossings, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37 183–190

Defra tweaking statement of principles replacement Insurance Times.co.uk

What’s bringing the stormy weather to the UK? Official blog of the Met Office news team

Satellite Flood Footprints PERILS

M. Tadaki, J. Salmond, R.  Le Heron and G. Brierley, 2012, Nature, culture, and the work of physical geography, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37 547–562

C-P. Tseng, and E.C. Penning-Rowsell, 2012, Micro-political and related barriers to stakeholder engagement in flood risk management, The Geographical Journal 178 253–269.

Britain gets almost a month of rain in 24 hours , The Guardian

Illegal Logging Threatens Isolated Tribe, Wildlife, the Amazon and the Globe?

by Caitlin Douglas

The plight of the Amazon is not a new story and although it may no longer be in the headlines recently released photos return the spotlight to this region.  Six years ago Maslin et al. stated that although the Amazon has withstood huge climate shifts in the past, the forest has not previously been exposed to the dry climate predicted for the region. The situation is further complicated by the speed of climate change which is too fast to allow for the large-scale shift of these forests to the necessary higher precipitation areas, and, even if this migration was possible these regions are already occupied by human land-uses. The Amazon is headed into uncharted territory, and from the perspective of climate change the future existence of the Amazon is precarious. Depressingly the authors also describe the more immediate threat to the region – land clearance and degradation. Large conspicuous parts of the forest have been cleared for pasture land and soya-bean agriculture, and a less visible but still important threat exists from legal and illegal deforestation. These activities lead to a declining wildlife population due to the associated increase in bushmeat and intensive hunting.

Today, illegal forestry is still a major issue and is threatening not only biodiversity but also local indigenous groups. Survival International, a charity dedicated to the rights of tribal people, recently released pictures of a remote Brazilian tribe whose livelihood is threatened by illegal logging. Widespread illegal logging in Peru is pushing Peruvian tribes closer to the Peru-Brazil border and it is feared that they will soon come into conflict with the isolated Brazilian tribe. Survival International hopes that these photos will serve as a reminder of their existence, that they are a thriving society, and that action against illegal forestry in Peru is urgently needed to protect the tribe’s future viability. The Amazon is an essential component of the global biosphere-atmosphere system and as a result its continuance is important on many scales. We now have a timely reminder that for people living their lives in the heart of the Amazon the threat is already at a critical level.

Read the journal article:  Maslin, M., Malhi, Y., Phillips, O., Cowling, S. 2005. New views on an old forest: assessing the longevity, resilience and future of the Amazon rainforest. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 30(4): 477–499.

Read the BBC news article: New images of remote Brazil tribe

Have a look at the charity: Survival International

Marine biodiversity

I-Hsien Porter

The Census of Marine Life was published earlier this month, after a decade-long study by hundreds of scientists across the world. A total of 201,000 species were listed, but there may be up to 750,000 more species that are yet to be identified.

The census provides a baseline against which changes in biodiversity can be monitored. Many species are under pressure from climate change and pollution.

In a paper in The Geographical Journal, Liam Carr and William Heyman investigate the management of coastal marine resources in the Caribbean. The high biodiversity of the Caribbean is a resource for subsistence living, commercial fishing and tourism.

However, these activities aren’t without their conflicts. Marine resources are threatened by over-exploitation, as the tourism industry forces local people to widen the scope and intensity of fishing activities.

Carr and Heyman argue the need for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), where active conservation, education and enforcement of sustainable resource management practices take place. If focused on breeding grounds, MPAs can replenish biodiversity and fish stocks, with benefits beyond the immediate area. However, to be effective, MPAs must be introduced now, to maintain the health and resilience of threatened ecosystems, rather than attempting to repair damage after it has occurred.

Marine biodiversity faces a range of pressures and challenges. However, with prompt action, it might be possible to mitigate the effects of future change.

The Guardian (4th October 2010) Census of Marine Life

The Guardian (4th October 2010) TV Review: ‘Horizon: The Death of the Oceans?’

Carr, L M and Heyman, W. D. (2009) ‘Jamaica bound? Marine resources and management at a crossroads in Antigua and Barbuda’ The Geographical Journal 175 (1): 17-38