Monday, 27 December 2010

Snow Boosts Britain's Wildlife

2010’s double-freeze, at the beginning and end of the year, brought fears over the plight of British wildlife struggling to adapt to the arctic conditions; birds dehydrating from the lack of running water, berries and fruits inaccessible through inches of powder and chicks unable to withstand the freezing conditions. However, The Times and The Guardian revealed today that over the course of the year, British Wildlife gained more than it lost.

For the first time in ten years, Britain has experienced a year of four distinct seasons, in contrast to the mild winters and overcast summers of the past decade. The National Trust, who has closely monitored Britain’s ecological activities, say that there have been distinct challenges for several species this year but that, on the whole, wildlife has benefitted from the greater contrast in seasons.

The biggest challenges came with January and February’s cold snap, when wildfowl in the fens disappeared in search of open water, and trees were stripped of their bark by rabbits unable to access grasses beneath the snowfall. A late spring in 2010 led to a delayed daffodil season and postponed arrivals of skylarks and bluebells. Sadly, Cornwall’s recently reintroduced choughs saw not one of their new chicks survive early-spring’s harsh climate.

Thankfully, gains later in the year helped nature to bounce back from a tough start. In August, cranes in the Norfolk Broads had one of their best breeding seasons, and both hoverflies and ladybirds flourished. Somerset’s large blue butterfly had its most successful year ever and abundant rains in September encouraged high yields of fruits and berries, giving birds, mammals and insects plenty to feast on.

In addition, the cold winter has now given perfect conditions for animals to hibernate properly and, whilst the extremes of temperature have certainly brought challenges, the overall benefits of a return to a more traditional four-season year have been marked, including an increase in several endangered populations. Let’s hope to see much of the same in 2011!

Read the full article here in The Times or The Guardian

Image taken from

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Friday, 24 December 2010

Going Wild in China

When we think of modern-day China, it’s often the gob-smacking rate of urbanisation, the business hubs of Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong and the potential of the world’s largest and most industrious population that captures our imaginations. Glistening Peking duck, beef in oyster sauce and an appetite for dog meat and chicken feet complete the stereotypical imaginings of the nation, alongside a penchant for using endangered animals such as shark, tiger and panda, in delicacies and traditional medicines.

But it’s easy to forget that one of the fastest developing countries in the world also harbours some of our greatest tracts of forest and is home to some of the most diverse and unique wildlife on the planet. Yet China has largely neglected its natural heritage, sacrificing much of its rich wildlife in the name of economic and social advancement. Yu Kongjian, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at Peking University, comments that “China is almost completely a brownfield”, adding that “some 75 percent of China’s water is heavily polluted and 50 percent of wetland habitat has been lost”.

Whilst ancient beliefs emphasized the harmonious co-existence of man and nature, as the world’s number one coal-burning nation and with just 14% of its original forest cover remaining, today’s economic gain and material wealth in China have largely been achieved at the expense of the natural world.

However, it seems that we may be entering a new era of environmental awareness in China. NGOs and student groups have begun to campaign for the protection of endangered wildlife and in October this year, China announced an ambitious conservation plan to reverse the decline in habitat and species diversity.

Broadcast earlier this year, the BBC series Wild China gave a fantastic insight into the beauty and importance of China’s landscape, reconnecting its people with nature through documenting ancient and modern-day interactions.Co-produced by the BBC Natural History Unit and China Central Television, the series detailed China’s natural history in a six-part series, highlighting China’s ancestral ties with nature, from ancient fishing methods to the protection of sacred mountains.

A highlight was programme six, a feature on the iconic Giant Panda, listed as endangered in the World Conservation Union's (IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Animals. With around 1,000 left in the wild it was encouraging to see the positive, if somewhat bizarre efforts made in parts of China to protect and re-populate the species. The series was also broadcast in China, Australia and Canada, heralding a turning point in attitudes towards China’s natural heritage.

Watch highlights from Wild China here

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Thursday, 16 December 2010

Tourist Ban in Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market in central Tokoyo is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and is a major tourist attraction for visitors to Japan, who come to witness the 2000 tons of fish which pass through the market each day. But the market’s daily auctions have become such an attraction, that fish-traders have called for a ban on sightseers, who have become so prolific that they are beginning to disturb everyday business functions in the working market.

It’s estimated that a quarter of visitors to Tokyo wish to visit the market ( but, as bidding can only be done by licensed participants such as wholesalers, agents for restaurants, food processing companies and large retailers, the visitors come purely as spectators.

In December 2008, all tourists were banned from the tuna auctions, because of the disturbance they created, and subsequent, short-term bans have followed. The most recent ended in May 2010, and was followed by a restriction which allowed a maximum of 140 visitors a day.
Wanderlust Magazine and The Sunday Times recently reported that a new ban has been put in place, which will last ‘several weeks’. It was suggested that the restrictions will not only allow business to operate smoothly, but will also safeguard visitors, in ensuring that the market remains ‘accident free’.

Image taken from Wanderlust Magazine

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Monday, 6 December 2010


After several shark attacks last week, Egypt’s tourist minister reported that the waters around tourist hotspot Sharm-el-Sheik were safe – shockingly, the mauled body of a 70year old tourist proved the claims to be untrue...

Following the attacks of three Russian and one Ukrainian tourist, Egyptian officials assured holiday makers that the ‘killer sharks’ had been caught and that the Red Sea waters surrounding Sharm-el-Sheik were once again safe. However, just days later a 70-year-old German female was found with her limbs torn off and four other tourists suffered fatalities.

Sharm-el-Sheik is one of Egypt’s most popular tourist spots and is a magnet for Britons seeking the winter sun. Famed for its world-class scuba diving, as well as being a mecca for many other watersports enthusiats, including windsurfers, kitesurfers and sailors, the sea is often the main, if not the sole attraction for many visitors.

Marine experts have commented that the attacks are very unusual and that the area has not reported signs of sharks for around 15 years. Several theories have been put forward, to explain this abnormal behaviour:

1. Overfishing in the region has brought the sharks closer to shore to feed.

2. Cattle and sheep imported from Australia that die during the journey to Egypt are thrown overboard, attracting the sharks – made more prolific with the approach of the Islamic feast of Eid al-Adha.

3. Dive operators have been criticised for chumming the waters to encourage sharks for paying tourists, encouraging an association between humans and food.

Egypt is hugely dependent on tourism and Sharm-el-Sheik alone attracts over four millions holiday makers each, so bad press is certainly not welcome. But officials have been accused of playing down the dangers and putting the lives of their guests at risk. Authorities have been criticised of being too slow in reacting to the danger and for not informing holiday makers of the dangers. It was claimed that, just hours after the first attacks, tourists were pictured enjoying the waters once more.

Tourism minister Zuhair Garana insists that further investigation is underway, but that there is no need to disallow scuba diving, as “We are advised that sharks will not attack divers”, adding that “I cannot say that deep waters are completely secure but shallow waters are 100 per cent secure”.

However, British travel operators are following warnings given by the Foreign Office, and have taken the authority to cancel all boat and dive excursions. Thomson and First Choice have also advised holidaymakers to stay out of the water altogether.

Whilst both an oceanic white-tip and a mako shark have already been caught, it seems that the real monster is still out there…

Read the full article at the Mail Online

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How to Ski Green in the French Alps

Skiing and snowboarding occupy a tenuous position in the field of responsible travel. On one hand, it can be claimed that an affinity with the natural environment is key to promoting preservation and that mountain resorts are fundamental in creating a tangible awareness of climate change. On the other hand it’s undeniable that mountain tourism holds huge potential to threaten nature’s fragile beauty and that if we want our beloved pistes to be there in ten years’ time, it’s high time we started to ‘ski green’.

One problem is that, when surrounded by never ending vistas of seemingly pristine natural beauty, it’s quite easy to become oblivious to the idea that there’s any problem at all. So let’s tackle this one issue at a time…

Issue 1: Fake Snow
Barometers of climate change, ski resorts are threatened directly by rising global temperatures, which have led to low altitude resorts like Abondance in the Haute-Savoi being forced to close. Yet you’d be forgiven for thinking the issue had resolved if you’d visited resorts such as Tignes, Val Thorens and La Grave la Meije last year, which extended their 2009/10 season until the second week of sunny May.

It’s likely that you were skiing on man-made snow. Determined not to be beaten, most resorts now rely on snow cannons to replenish their rapidly thawing pistes. Over recent years, investment in ski resorts has shifted from getting you around the mountain, to giving you something to ski on; it’s largely been acknowledged that recharging the snow pack must take priority over upgrading lift systems, and many resorts now depend on ‘fake’ snow, having given up on the reliability of the real stuff.

Referred to by the French conservation group, Mountain Wilderness, as ‘the cancer of the Alps’, snow cannons work by spraying water particles and nucleating agents into frozen air. They require vast quantities of water to fuel the machines and then later in the season, drain the melted snow back into rivers, full of nutrients which disrupt natural biodiversity further downstream. In addition, cannons use masses of energy to create the snow, and the unnatural snow cover can prevent fauna germinating come spring time.

So what’s the solution? Should we start sabotaging the snow machines and ski on grass? No, don’t be silly. What we could do is avoid booking holidays at the tail end of a ski season. Fuelled by increased demand, many resorts now remain open until early May thanks to snow machines, despite temperatures reaching the high 20°Cs. We could also give other snow-related activities better recognition. Before the revolution of snow cannons, if cover was light, we turned to activities such as snow shoeing, ski touring and ice-skating.

Issue 2: Carbon
Perhaps the biggest environmental impact of skiing is the carbon produced getting us out there. Around 15% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the UK are thought to derive from flying, a figure which increases year on year, with the appearance of new flights. The European ski-season has a big part to play in this; the past decade has seen ski-specific airlines such as Snowjet appearing on the market, and additional flight routes are added each year to keep up with the ever increasing demand – in 2009 Snowjet opened their new Gatwick to Geneva route and for the 2010/11 ski season British Airways announced a new scheduled flight from London city airport to Chambery.

Mountain Riders, a French environmental ski charity, believe that reducing carbon travel costs is the most important step we can take towards skiing green. Following an environmental audit of French resorts with the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, it emerged that 74% of carbon emissions associated with a ski holiday came from transporting skiers and snowboarders to and from their resort.

This doesn’t bode well for the UK government, who are aiming for a 60% cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. But the good news is that, if we choose to ski within Europe, even more so in France, the alternative options for getting into the mountains are often more convenient and less expensive than the combined costs of flying and transfers…

Option 1: Rail Travel - Daniel Elkan, founder of snowcarbon (specialists in rail travel to ski resorts), suggests that travelling by rail produces less than 10% of the carbon a flight does. The added bonuses include a wonderfully relaxing journey with room to move around in, sleep and do a few stretches ready for the first run, so that you arrive in resort refreshed and ready to hit the slopes.

Option 2: Self Drive - The website saveoursnow claims that a single short haul flight for one person generates as much carbon as three months driving a 1.4 litre car. So long as your car contains more than one passenger, a road trip across France can massively reduce your carbon footprint, plus you have the added advantage of travelling door to door with no hanging around at airports. Oh, and don’t forget to save some boot space for duty frees on the way home.

Option 3: Carbon offsetting – Always an option to help ease the conscience of anyone who can’t tear themselves out of their confined, refrigerated easy-jet seat. Approved by TICOS (The Tourism Industry Carbon Offset Service), the additional money paid by passengers can go towards projects such as replacing diesel generators with hydro-electric plants in mountain resorts, or replanting areas of woodland.

Issue 3: Litter
Snow is a litter-bug’s dream. Drop as much as you like and just watch it sink beneath the surface, gone forever…well, at least for a few months. Cigarettes, banana skins, bottles, gloves, hair bands, dropped poles, even skis, the debris left behind after a few million skiers have descended on the Alps for a season is immense but is rarely seen by those who cause it – blissfully unaware litter-bugs are likely to return the following year to a fresh blanket of pristine snow, oblivious to the damage created the previous year.

In the resort of Val Thorens, it’s estimated that over 30,000 cigarette butts are found beneath the lifts when the snow starts to thaw. Taking up to five years to biodegrade, the butts not only contaminate water supplies but are also ingested by animals who graze the slopes during the summer months.

French resorts do not ignore the issue, and many have a commendable supply of recycling bins in resort towns, but on-piste waste disposal remains an issue, where the presence of bins is not a particularly practical or aesthetically appealing option, not to mention potentially hazardous for skiers and boarders.

We can’t really blame the ski-resorts or tour operators for this one, although they could be encouraged to follow the lead of some US resorts and ban smoking on chair lifts altogether. But is it really too much to ask skiers and boarders to take litter back to their chalets and dispose of it there? And thanks to a rather bespoke range of portable ashtrays available nowadays, it need not mean smelling of decomposing rubbish in your back-pack all day - Keep Britain Tidy has the low down on some of the coolest.

So it seems there’s so much room for redressing the balance between environment and exploitation within the ski industry but the good news is that there’s much that we as skiers and boarders can do directly, and with immediate impact. By not fuelling the demand for unseasonal snowfall, considering alternative travel options to flying and by taking greater responsibility for our own waste, we’re already moving closer to the reality of skiing green.

Luckily, there’s plenty of momentum behind this move. Compared to other commercial ventures, the majority of people involved in the ski industry, whether chalet owners, tour operators or first time skiers, there’s a genuine desire to conserve nature’s beloved mountains. We just need a firm reminder and a push in the right direction…

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Friday, 3 December 2010

High Hopes for Google Earth Engine

New forest monitoring platform 'Google Earth Engine' launched this week. Their are hopes that the cloud sharing engine will strengthen international trust and will be used by researchers and policy makers worldwide.

With the depletion of tropical forests thought to be responsible for around 17% of our greenhouse gas emissions, forest protection is ever high on the agenda.

Effectively measuring the success of conservation schemes is vital but can be expense, timely and difficult to monitor by land, due to obstacles such as corruption and illegal logging that purvey in areas such as the Amazon, Indonesia and Congo Basin.

Earlier this week, reported that Google Inc have recently launched ‘Google Earth Engine’, a platform which takes satellite forest images and uses cloud computing through shared data centres to allow scientists to instantly monitor the forests from computers around the globe.

Google believe that that the tool will valuable to carbon traders, policy makers, and researchers, as well as speeding cooperation in the global forest conservation and climate change plan, named ‘reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation’, or REDD.

REDD is an international agreement that involves wealthier countries financially rewarding poorer nations for forest restoration. At last year’s climate talks in Copenhagen, rich nations, including the US, Japan and Norway promised $3.5 billion, to fund the development of REDD.

Google Earth Engine will not only cut the costs of monitoring the forests but will also allow both donor and developing countries access to exactly the same tools and data. It’s hoped that this sharing platform will strengthen trust and international negotiations.

Read the full article here

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Thursday, 2 December 2010

Love the snow? Try the Arctic

There are two kinds of people. Those who, after three days of snowball fights and frozen toes are sick and tired of the white stuff, and those who just can't get enough. If you're in the later group, I've got just the thing...

How about spending a couple of weeks, a month, or even two whole months in the stuff, learning real polar survival skills? You'd be mastering the art of crossing glaciers in a pair of crampons, finding out how to deter a polar bear, practice ice-ace arresting and crevasse rescue and could even try your hand at ice-climbing.

You don't have to be a mountaineering expert or polar guru, in fact all you need is a bit of drive and enthusiasm, and a love of being out in the open. Anyone from the age of 16-23 can apply as a Young Explorer, and adults with experience might like to consider leading.

The British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) are the 'Daddies' of Arctic adventure and have been running polar expeditions since the 1930s. You can choose from a 3 week or 5 week Arctic Adventure, 2 week Arctic Skills or Environmental Studies expedition, or for those up for a challenge, the 2 month Extreme Arctic Gap Year Expedition.

Check out the website or contact to find out more!

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£2500 BSES bursaries available to the North East

In addition to offering bursaries in the Channel Islands, The British Schools Exploring Society (BSES), based at the Royal Geographical Society London, has also secured funding of £2500 for young people aged 18 and over, who are residents of the North East.

Lucy Grewcock, a marketing coordinator with BSES will be speaking at schools, colleges and youth groups in December and January to inform students of how they can get involved and apply for a bursary. Offered on a first-come-first-served basis, the bursaries are available to residents of the North East, who apply for BSES Extreme Arctic 2011.

This two month long 'Gap Year' trip is open to anyone aged between 18 and 23, and gives young people the opportunity to learn essential Arctic survival skills such as polar bear defence, ice-axe arresting and cravasse rescue whilst staying in the comfort of a guest-house in Norway's Svalbard archipelago, before heading deeper into the Arctic wilderness to complete adventure and research phases of their expedition.

The expedition departs the UK on in April 2011.

If you're up for the challenge, check of the finer details of the trip at or contact

Schools or youth groups that would like to find out more or book at talk should contact

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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

How to build an igloo

There's loads of snow outside and it's still falling, school's closed or you're off work... there's only one thing to do...BUILD AN IGLOO!

Watching the experts build an igloo
Now, building a safe, good looking igloo is going to require a bit of effort and a lot of snow. The best people to learn from is from the people who traditionally live in them - Inuits. Take a look at this BBC clip to see how it's done:

Making bricks to build your igloo
You Probably noticed how he used 'wind slab' and you may be patting at the snow outside and watching it poof away in the wind, thinking "this ain't wind slab!" So you're going to have to make some....

Do this by packing snow densely into a square/rectangular frame (use pieces of wood or strong cardboard) and leave to re-freeze for as long as poss (even overnight). You could even add a spritz of water to it if your snow is very dry and powdery.

Building the shape of your igloo
When your slabs are ready, saw them out and start to build you igloo. You should aim to build it like a snail shell, starting at the bottom and winding up.

Great step by step guides= for building an igloo
For a detailed step by step guide with diagrams, this is by far the best I've found There's even a link to Bear Gryll's making an igloo, if you're a fan!

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