Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Serengeti Highway

Mention ‘African safari’ and most people think ‘Serengeti’. The setting for Disney’s Lion King and the most iconic savannah biome in the world is central to Tanzania’s cultural heritage and has been protected by its people for centuries. The integrity of the 1,476,300 hectare park is under threat, with plans to send a high-speed, commercial highway through its north-eastern territory, connecting the Lake Victoria area with Eastern Tanzania. Recently approved by Tanzania’s government, an Environment and Social Impact Assessment, to be completed by the end of 2010 will determine the overall viability of the project, and construction is due to begin in early 2012.

The approval has been long awaited by some; twenty years ago, submissions to build the road were rejected on the grounds that it would cause environmental degradation and, following recommendations from an EIA, the World Bank turned down funding.

Now, the 2012 highway is to be funded by the Tanzanian Government and the section from Serengeti to Musoma, expected to cost around £144 million, is part of a larger plan to link a proposed new port at Tanga to Musoma on Lake Victoria via Arusha and Lake Natron’s shores.

Supporters of the project say that the road is essential in meeting public and economic needs. Mr Deusdedit Kakoko, of the Tanzania Roads Agency, says that the current route connecting Lake Victoria and Eastern Tanzania requires drivers to travel 418km to the South, to avoid the UNESO World Heritage Site and Tanzania’s Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ms Shamsa Mwangunga, insists that that the road would not interfere with wildlife migration patterns or the wider Serengeti eco-system. Ms Mwangunga stated that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has already proved the feasibility of the project and added that “We’re all keen to preserve our natural resources…We’ll never compromise on that”.

The most pressing concern is that the road will disturb one of the biggest migration patterns in the world - the annual movement of 1.8 million wildebeest, as well as that of tens of thousands of antelope, elephant and zebra, between the Mara and Serengeti watering and grazing grounds.

The Frankfurt Zoological Society recently warned that if wildebeest are cut off from watering holes in dry season areas, their population could decline by around two thirds and potentially bring an end to ‘the greatest migration on earth’. The knock on effects of such a massive change would entirely alter the landscape of the Serengeti.

There are also fears that the route, which arcs from east to west across the north-eastern edge of the Serengeti, will massively damage the tourism industry on which Tanzania is so dependent. The high-speed route will also provide increased opportunity to poachers, who will have easy access to endangered species such as the black rhino – prized for its ivory horn.

Lying in one of the world’s Endemic Bird Areas, the park is home to around 500 species of birds, including 34 raptors, 6 vultures, and groups of over 20,000 water-birds. Cutting through a major flamingo breeding area, major international bird conservation groups, such as the RSPB, are amongst those campaigning against the construction. BirdLife International (a network of over 100 international conservation NGOs) have expressed fears over the impact the road will have on biodiversity, partly through road kill of mammals and scavengers. In addition, Birdlife uphold that Tanzania has an obligation to fulfil biological diversity commitments to the World Heritage Convention.

Campaigners do not deny the need for better transport routes but insist that slicing through this sensitive area of the park is not necessary. Dave Blanton, founder of The International Galapagos Tour Operators Association, is a major supporter of the coalition group ‘Save The Serengeti’, and emphasized that the campaign is not an ‘animals vs. people’ protest but one that favours an alternate route which would promote economic development whilst preserving Tanzania’s ‘greatest natural treasure’.

Upholding the cultural and political values of stewardship and sustainability, Save the Serengeti is an alliance of conservation groups who are campaigning hard to oppose the road. Despite government denial, they maintain that the proposed route cuts directly through a major wildebeest migration pathway and insist that a more economically and environmentally viable southern alternative route exists, which would skirt the reserve and avoid the immense damage of the northern route. Amongst others, their petition, was signed in June by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), whose president, Shannon Stowell expressed the association’s great concern and shares hopes for an alternative route to be considered.

To find out more, visit Save The Serengeti

Photo taken from www.savetheserengeti.org

Seychelles and Vietnam Sign Sustainability Partnership

Earlier this month, Hanoi hosted its Second International Forum, on the theme ‘Vietnam-Africa: Cooperation on Sustainable Development’. The conference emphasized Vietnam’s efforts to develop and improve cooperation with African countries and Communities. A key outcome of the event was the signing of an agreement between Vietnam and the Seychelles.

Speaking on behalf of the Seychelles at the two day event was Minister Adam, who expressed the importance of cooperation in food security, agriculture and fisheries, and emphasised the importance of tourism, education, and training.

Minister Adam also conveyed the Seychelles’ view of the importance of maintaining open and safe maritime routes between Africa and Vietnam for trade, fisheries, research, and tourism, calling for greater cooperation from maritime and trading nations around the Indian Ocean.

Following discussions with Mr. Pham Gia Khiem, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Seychelles signed an agreement Vietnam concerning economic, cultural, scientific, and technical co-operation between the two countries. An emphasis on collaboration in agricultural, health, tourism and military affairs, and the establishment of air and sea links were discussed.

Following the agreement, the first joint commission will meet in Seychelles in early 2011.

Image Taken from The Foreign Press Centre

Monday, 16 August 2010

UK Heritage Sites to be Blacklisted?

Earlier this month, UNESCO warned that two UK Overseas Territories, Henderson Island – an unihabitated raised reef island, in the South East Pacific, and the Gough and Inaccessible Islands – one of world’s least disrupted islands and marine eco-systems in the south Atlantic, could be blacklisted.

Following a recent meeting in Brasilia, UNESCO say that the natural qualities for which these islands are listed, are coming under jeopardy, as poor management has lead to several of the islands’ native birds becoming Critically Endangered; non-native rats and mice are killing the islands’ unique birds species, including Murphy's petrel and the wandering albatross.

Henderson Island received World Heritage Site status in 1988 because of its pristine phosphate reserves and untouched bird life, including endemic species such as the Henderson Crake, Henderson Fruit Dove, Henderson Lorikeet and Henderson Reed-warbler. If rats are allowed to continue pillaging the eggs and killing Henderson’s chicks, the future status of the island will be seriously threatened.

UNESCO have also said that the Gough Islands, which owe their world heritage status to having no introduced species, will be added to the ‘danger list’ by 2014 if non-native house mice have not been removed.

Tim Stowe, International Director of the RSPB, expressed embarrassment on behalf of the UK, in falling behind in its duties.

Plans are now in place to remove the rodents, with fundraising well underway. However, unless the full £1.7 million needed is raised by October, the rats cannot be dealt with in 2011 and another 25,000 chicks are likely to lose their lives.

Many conservationists believe that the UK government should be taking greater responsibility for safeguarding the wildlife of the UKs overseas territories. Richard Porter, of Birdlife International, commented that ‘2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. Wouldn't it be a great boost if the new UK coalition government could attend the UN Biodiversity Summit in Japan, in October, and lead by example by finding the cash and commitment to fund our unique wildlife treasures.'

Downe House Turned Down

The application for Darwin’s home in Downe, Kent, to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site has been has been put on the backburner by the World Heritage Committee.

Responsible Travel News reported in July that, following nomination by the UK government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Downe House was being considered, alongside 32 other applicants, for UNESCO World Heritage Status, at the 34th committee meeting, held in Brasilia (read 'UK Submits Downe House for UNESCO World Heritage Site Status' here)

However, it was announced at the meeting in Brasilia, that greater investigation and more in-depth analysis of the site was needed before offering World Heritage Status. Not to be deterred, the bid partnership are taking a positive outlook; pleased at the recognition given to the site, they hope to re-nominate Darwin’s home and workplace in the future and are now looking at ways in which to strengthen their application.

Photograph taken from International Academy of Pathology

India to Reintroduce Cheetahs

The Wildlife Institute and Wildife Trust of India have recommended three sites as the best places to re-introduce 18 cheetah into India.Scientist Dr Y V Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India, reports that, mainly due to overhunting, the cheetah is India’s only large carnivore to have been eradicated from the country and have not been seen since 1967. Experts have decided to redress the balance for both ecological as well as ethical reasons; it is thought that the cheetahs will play a large role in restoring India’s grasslands and creating an ecological balance.

Shri Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests compared this function to that of other large cats: ’the way tigers restore forest ecosystems, snow leopards restore mountain ecosystem, the cheetah will restore grasslands’

Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh and Shahgarh Landscape in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan have been recommended as sites for reintroduction, sites that have been selected following detailed reports on their abundance of prey, forest resources and local community’s attitudes towards wildlife

It is also expected that the reintroduction program is likely to boost tourism in these areas, benefitting local communities.

Read the full article at Wildlife Extra News

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Green light for Cotswolds 'eco' service station?

Plans to develop Britain’s greenest service station by 2013 are set to go ahead in the Cotswolds, on Junctions 11 and 12 on the M5. Pinpointed as a ‘priority area’ by the highways agency, the site lies in a 50 mile gap between services at Ross-on-Wye and the South Gloucestershire border. Aiming to keep carbon emissions at an absolute minimum, the goal is to use five times less energy than a conventional service station and to take at least 10% of their energy from on-site renewable technologies.

The plans of the £35m project include a grass roof, vegetable patch, onsite recycling and composting facilities and a bus service for workers. Charging points for electric cars and bio-fuel pumps are to be featured and the fast food restaurants which are commonplace in most service stations will be banned, favouring local produce and farmhouse roasts, with 70% of meat, dairy, eggs and bakery products sourced from the local area. The ‘Gloucester Gateway’ project will echo its rural surroundings, using timber from the Forest of Dean and aims to blend in with the Cotswold countryside, so as not to create a blot on the landscape.

In addition to its environmental commitment, the company, Westmorland, who have already experienced great success with their service station in Tebay on the M6 in Cumbria, promises to donate around £500,000 a year to local charities over the next two decades.

Those in favour of the project say that the services will bring in around 300 jobs when completed, plus 200 temporary jobs in the construction phase. Local farms should also see a boost in trade, as the aim is to source much of its produce from a 30 mile radius.

However, following meetings with Stroud district council, environmental groups are fiercely opposing the ‘eco-service-station’, claiming that the development will scar the surrounding landscape on the site at Onger's Farm, Brookthorpe (a designated area of outstanding natural beauty), and fear that by improving facilities for motorists and, it will in-fact encourage more people to drive and potentially even attract them to visit the new attraction. In addition, the carbon emissions and noise pollution produced during construction will disrupt wildlife habitats and further damage the environment.

A disapproving Gloucestershire Green Party Councillor, John Marjoram, expressed that, despite an ‘eco-friendly design’, it was, nonetheless, still a motorway service station, designed to make car travel more convenient, a view shared by the site's editor, Mark Goodge, who described the controversial idea of an environmentally friendly service station as an oxymoron.

Lucy's article was also featured on www.responsibletravelnews.com

Image taken from thetraveldepartment.co.uk