Friday, 30 December 2011

A little bit about Ushuaia...

The first stop on my Antarctic trip will be right on the tip of South America  in the  Argentinian settlement of Ushuaia, dubbed as ‘the most southerly city on earth’. With regular flights arriving from Buenos Aires, and Antarctic cruises departing from the port, summer will be particularly busy in this end of the world destination.

Street-life at the bottom of the world, by Luis Argerich
The capital of Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego province, Ushuaia is overlooked by the Marshal Mountain range and set beside the Beagle Channel. First settled by the Selk’nam Indians around 10,000 years ago, HMS Beagle reached Ushuaia in 1833, and British missionaries began settling here from 1869 onwards, living amongst the indigenous Yámana people. Today, Ushuaia is a well-established settlement with schools, hospitals and an efficient transport infrastructure in place.

Cruise boats waiting in the Beagle Channel, by Liam Quinn

The prison buildings
1873 saw the establishment of Ushuaia as a penal colony for notorious Argentinian criminals and re-offenders; the first prison opened and received inmates in 1896, with a second prison opening in 1906. The prisons were later combined, and life in Ushuaia in the early 20th century revolved around prison life and employment. They were closed in 1947 due to poor practice, and the buildings became a Spanish Naval base until the early 1990s. Today, the buildings house the well-respected, Museo Maritimo de Ushuaia.

A reminder of the city's former inhabitants, by Longhorndave

The southernmost city in the world?
There are settlements farther south, but Ushuaia is considered the most significant - the Chilean settlement of Puerto Williams is a close contender, though it lacks city status.

Temperatures in Ushuaia range from around 1.6 °C July to 10.4 °C in January, although lows of −25 °C and highs of 29 °C have been recorded in the past. Surprisingly humid, Ushuaia is subject to strong winds and snowfall.

Penguin spotting in Tierra del Fuego, by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo
Fishing, oil extraction, industry and sheep farming are all important occupations this far south, but in recent history, Ushuaia has firmly put itself on the map as a base for eco and adventure tourism. The Tierra del Fuego National Park is one of the main tourist highlights in the area, and visitors who come for hiking and wildlife watching often choose to access the park via the historic ‘End of the World Train’. Ushuaia’s more adventurous visitors might also try scuba diving or sea kayaking and, in winter, Ushuaia boasts the southern-most ski resort in the world, Cerro Castor. Though many come purely to appreciate the penguins and seal colonies that populate the Beagle Channel, enjoy bird watching and whale spotting, and soak up the atmosphere at the bottom of planet earth.

Photo by Leonora Enking

Thursday, 29 December 2011

January in Antarctica

Spending three weeks 'down south' this January, I'll be experiencing Antarctica in the height of summer, but it'll be a far cry from sunbeds and sandcastles...

Summer evenings in Antarctica, by Liam Quinn
January's Climate
Antarctica’s short summer is an important period of birth, growth and feeding in Antarctica, where long days and bright sunshine characterise the continent. December and January are the warmest months but climatic conditions and daylight will vary hugely, across this immense landmass, which can be divided into three distinct zones:

The Interior
The coldest area of the continent is characterised by extreme cold, blizzards, high winds, temperature inversions and light snowfall. The interior receives the least direct sunshine, has a high altitude, is plunged into darkness during the winter months and will be witness to the midnight sun in January. Its distance from the sea means that it received no warming effect from the water and January temperatures often peak at around -30°C.

Coastal Areas
With the tempering influence of the ocean, the coastal areas experience milder temperatures and more snow. January temperatures can reach 9°C. In January, northern coastal areas will experience bright sunshine, with stunning sunrises and sunsets.

Adele Penguin Creche, by Liam Quinn

The Peninsula
This is as far south as my trip will take me and, reaching much further north than the rest of the continent, the climate here will be warmer and wetter, with January temperatures above freezing. At times, fierce westerly winds and wild storms can also characterise the Antarctic Peninsula, which can bring icy winds and immense waves. Despite the bright sunshine, wind chill is a major factor throughout the year on the Peninsula, so I’ll be taking lots of layers and a windproof parka, as well as shades and sunscreen!

January’s wildlife
Following a month of warm weather in December, receding sea-ice in January will make navigation and shore landings easier, maximising our chances of getting up-close and personal with the Antarctic species.

Penguin Chicks, by Liam Quinn
With the sun remaining above the horizon for 24 hours a day at the south-pole, and the rest of the continent experiencing extended daylight hours, the continent will be making the most of the long, bright days, when phytoplankton grows rapidly to produce a vital food source for krill – the basis of the Antarctic food chain.

January is an exciting time for witnessing animal behaviour, when penguin chicks hatch; fur, crabeater and leopard seal pups can be seen feeding on squid and finfish; and whale sightings become increasingly prolific - summer is a core feeding time for humpbacks, and many other species.

Seal Pup, by Liam Quinn

To see the Antarctic summer in action, watch the third episode in the Attenborough's BBC polar series: Frozen Planet - Summer.

Photographer Liam Quinn joined the Spirit of Shackleton expedition in January 2011 - see more of his photos on his Flickr photostream

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Off to Antarctica - my trip to come

Photo by John E. Lester

As a prize for winning the Guardian's 2011 'Adventure' Travel Writing Competition, for my entry about the Amazon,  I'll be heading to Antarctica on the 10th of Jan, for a three week tour of the coldest, windiest place on earth, courtesy of G-adventures. I'm going to be blogging about my adventures before, during and after right here.

Let's kick off with an overview of the trip...

Flying from London to Ushusaia, via Amsterdam and Buenos Aires, my first adventure will be one heck of a plane ride, to get myself to the southern-most city in the world, where my G-adventures expedition begins.

Day 1 will be spent on the shores of the Beagle Channel: Ushuaia was originally inhabited by the Yamna people and was once a penal colony for political prisoners and hardened criminals. I'll be interested to see how tourism has shaped the modern-day town, which is now a hopping-off point for Antarctic cruises, as well as a magnet for skiers, hikers and nature lovers.

Photo by

Day 2 is the day we set sail. Embarking on our vessel - the M/S Expedition -  at 4pm, I'm looking forward to exploring the ship and meeting my fellow passengers.

Day 3 is a school day
En-route to the Falkland Islands, we'll begin our lecture and information sessions to start discovering all about the human and natural history of the Antarctic region.

Day 4-5 we set foot on The Falkland Islands 
Experiencing the biological diversity and scenery of the southern islands, I've been promised penguins, elephant seals, sea lions, king cormorants, black-browed albatross, skuas, night herons, giant petrels, striated caracaras, plenty of sheep, and some hardy local inhabitants.

Day 6-7 School time in the Southern Ocean
On course for South Georgia, we'll spend more time at school to prepare us for South Georgia, with the distraction of sea bird and whale-watching en-route.

Day 8-11 South Georgia - the true spirit of Shackleton
I can't wait to follow in Shackleton's steps, see his grave, walk through the former whaling stations and be bombarded by king penguins. If this doesn't mean much to you, then book yourself a few hours to watch this fantastic 4OD film about his South Georgia self-rescue.
                     Photo from

Apparently, there's around 300,000 elephant seals, 3 million fur seals, and 25 species of breeding birds, a king penguin rookery of 100,000 and around five million macaroni penguins - good job i got a new camera for Christmas.

Day 12-13 Shackleton's Scotia Sea voyage
Retracing Shackleton's epic sea voyage, we'll be sailing towards Elephant Island in the South Shetland Islands, where the rest of his expedition team, awaited his return. The  rich nutrients of the Scotia Sea, make for an abundance of whales, seals, and seabirds.

Day 14-17 Setting foot on the white continent
Four days exploring the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula! The weather makes the rules down here but, if all goes to plan, we'll be standing next to penguins, sighting whales, watching seals in the  ice floes, seeing the wingspan of the albatross and visiting scientific research bases, all with a backdrop of  ice-choked waterways, glistening icebergs, immense glaciers and snow-capped mountains.

Day 18-19 back via the Drake Passage
Sailing north across the Drake Passage, there'll be two more days to absorb the epic scenery of the south before arriving back in Argentina.

Day 20 Goodbye Ushuaia 
Ending as we started, we arrive back in Ushuaia before the long flight home.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Works on the line again

Even the train complains as we pull out of Victoria Station, articulating its protest with an ear-splitting screech of steel. Engineering works on the line have turned my fifty-minute trip back to Brighton into a gruelling, two-hour trudge.

We grind past the ribbed turrets of Battersea Power Station and pass tall brick walls, decorated with coils of flayed-metal burglar-stoppers that spiral past like abstract sculptures.

We rattle past the backs of flats and terraced houses, just slow enough to take in a gallery of rooftop gardens; a spectrum of plant-pots nurture obedient herbs and well-trained shrubs. We gain speed until public parks and private patios blur into manicured lawns and bean-poled allotments.

As roots and stems start to crumble the concrete, we plunge into the earth, clattering through a blackened tunnel and then shoot out the other side into dense jungle: vertical banks are buried in a mess of matted weeds, emerald bushes cling to the verge, and lime-coloured creepers clamber towards the train-tracks. A ginger fox flicks its eyes and yawns wide its raw-pink mouth, its curling tongue framed by jagged white teeth and wet black lips.

And then tangled grasses transform into windswept fields, the wilderness tamed as we speed past stable-yards, cricket-clubs and farm buildings – a living Lego-land of controlled countryside. History happens in such as rush, as a ruined fort blurs past, succeeded moments later by the immaculate fortress of Arundel Castle, its commanding stone columns rising around the crenelated keep.

We whizz along the coast-line, passing modest homes, unremarkable towns and unassuming dog-walkers; splashes of a sparkling sea wink just a few hundred metres beyond as the raspberry-red sun kisses the English Channel. I sink into my seat, watching autumn’s early-evening hues melt into the horizon until, giddy from my adventure, I alight at Brighton station all too soon. Walking home, I hope that they’re still mending the line tomorrow…

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

My 2011 travels so far..

It’s been a busy year of travels for me, so much so that my blog has been neglected – poor thing. Here’s a round-up of what I've been up to, to get us kick-started again…

Feb 2011: Sainte Foy
After spending my early twenties skiing and working in Val d'Isere, I'd always made a bee-line straight for my favourite ski-resort, without so much as a sideways glance to the umpteen other resorts I passed on my four hour journey there from the airport. This year however, I stopped half an hour before hitting 'Val', at the tiny station of sainte-Foy. Staying at Premiere-Neige's brand new hotel-chalet, 'The Peak', I shuushed down empty pistes, explored silent summer hamlets and feasted on fresh legs of lamb roasted over an open fire at Ma Maison. Find out more about this addictive resort in my upcoming article in the Independent on Sunday, this season.

March 2011: Malaysia
Anna - one of my bestest ever friends - lives and works in Kuala Lumpur. When she announced that she was getting married to a diving instructor on a tropical island in the South China Sea, I had my ticket booked within a week. A family and friends reunion in KL was followed by driving north in convoy for 6 hours and then slamming and smashing across a stormy sea to the wedding island in a tiny speed-boat, whilst clutching onto champagne flutes, tea-light holders and a very pregnant wedding guest. Anna made me promise NOT to write an article about her wedding day, so I swapped the pen in my hand for a glass of bubbly and just about managed to restrain myself.

April: Philippines
After weeks spent pouring over a map of the Philippines and picking out which of its 7107 islands to attack, we decided to stay put. Saving on the domestic flights and ferry rides, we travelled a few hours north of Manila to the Cordillera Mountains and stumbled across a lesser-visited and fascinating kingdom, where back-doors open out onto vertical drops, ancient Ifugao tribes cultivate 2000 year old rice terraces and freshly ground coffee is enjoyed with home-made yoghurt and wild strawberries. Get a taste for this spectacular region in my winning entry to the Telegraph’s ‘Just Back’ competition, Festival Time in the Philippines.

August: Menorca
For the second year running, my other half’s family and I returned to a stunning villa that teeters on the cliff-tops over Mahon harbour (right opposite Branson’s place!). We spent two decadent days floating in the infinity pool, paddling around the harbour in our much-loved inflatable kayak - and peering into the port-holes of the super yachts – before I strapped on my backpack and boots and set off to explore Menorca’s recently re-opened ancient bridleway, that circumnavigates the island’s coastline for around 185km. Find out all about my hiking, biking and horse-riding escapades in my Independent on Sunday article: All along the Watchtowers in Menorca.

July-August: Peru
Working as an expedition leader with BSES, I travelled to the Pacaya Samiria national reserve in Peru for a three week adventure, with a bunch of hormonal teenagers. After 4 days of travel, my group, or ‘fire’ and I paddled, padded, stomped and sliced our way along piranha-filled back-waters, transects teeming with tarantulas and cochas alive with crocs. Read more in an article I wrote for the Guardian: 'Taking a baby crocodile's vital statistics...'

Sailing, fishing, rowing and ringo-riding in Newton Ferrers, surfing and mussel-collecting in Bigbury, autumn hikes and freshly-baked bread in Slaithwaite, riverside walks and Sunday roasts in Cambridge, Roald Dahl’s writing shed and woodland walks in Great Missenden, a steamy spa-day in a converted textile mill in Huddersfield, mountain-biking in the South Downs, white-night in Brighton…often some of my favourite trips are closest to home and I wonder why I feel the need to travel so far for adventure. Never the less, my next big trip is to....

Travel dates: 11 Jan - 30 Jan 2012
Travelling with: Gap Adventures: The Spirit of Shackleton

Monday, 6 June 2011

615 new species in Madagascar... and counting

The WWF recently reported that, in little more than a decade, over 615 new species have been discovered in the island of Madagascar - of Disney cartoon fame - which sits just off the East Coast of Africa. With record numbers of mammals, plants amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates recorded, most notable finds include Berthe's mouse lemur - the world's smallest known primate, the aptly named cork bark leaf-tailed gecko and the 4cm-long Komac's golden orb spider.

The WWF commented that Madagascar's isolation from the African continent and varied topography make for a hot-bed of biodiversity. With habitats found in deep rainforests, high mountain terrain and coral beaches, Madagascar's diversity is immense. But they also pointed out that the unique environment in which Madagascar's species thrive make them very vulnerable to changes and losses to their habitats. Which an ever-expanding population, political conflict, escalation of slash and burn agriculture and continuous scramble for valuable resources, this ecosystem is far from secure.

Mark Wright, conservation science adviser at WWF-UK, told the Guardian that local action and concern is at the root of Madagascar's conservation and that, although much work and greater environmental citizenship is still needed, there is a growing consciousness towards sustainability amongst local people.

Read full story at: The Guardian

Friday, 27 May 2011

'A spectacular presentation of pristine wilderness, human folly, consequences and alternatives, Tarnished Earth is a photo exhibition of devastating power'.

Extracting oil from tar sands is more than twice as damaging as deep-sea drilling. It involves stripping the trees that cover it, herding away the cattle that graze the land, ushering out the bugs and beasties that inhabit the area, driving the bitumen to purification plants - it's too thick to send down a pipeline, pumping fresh water and chemicals through the sands to purify the oil, and washing the toxic waste back into the downstream rivers, where fish swim and the indigenous First Nation Cree people live.
Tarnished Earth tells the story of Canada's tar sands in a graphic photo gallery, with images of Alberta's Boreal forests taken by Jiri Rezac - See a preview at -

Currently exhibiting in Brighton, the gallery tours the UK this summer: Brighton Promenade - from May 1, Plymouth, Cornwall Street - from June,  Cardiff, High Street - from July 1, Northampton, Abington Street - from Aug 1, Edinburgh, Botanic Gardens - from Sept 1

As part of Tarnished Earth, The Co-operative, WWF-UK and Greenpeace are asking people to join our 'Say YES to clean energy' petition to the UK Government - sign up using the photo booth at the exhibition or online at

The Co-operative presents Tarnished Earth, working together with WWF-UK and Greenpeace -

This article was also published with Responsible Travel News

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Virtual Arctic Installation in London

United Visual Artists has teamed up with London’s National Maritime Museum to create High Arctic - a gigantic exhibition that will give visitors a taste of what it’s like to travel to the Arctic.

Inspired by a trip to Svalbard, research for the installation involved sailing on the Noorderlicht, a 100-year-old Dutch schooner, with climate scientists, artists poets and musicians say: “the aim is to inspire a cultural response to the climate challenge and engage artists as catalysts to provoke cultural shift toward a more sustainable society”.

Exhibiting in London’s National Maritime Museum, 3,000 white pillars will echo the shapes of the glaciers of the Arctic, with columns of “ice” made out of MDF or a specially coated polystyrene.

The piece is set in 2111, reflecting on the fate of lost glaciers, and is accompanied by a narrative poem, which contemplates the history and future of the landscape.

High Arctic will be on display at the National Maritime Museum in London this summer.

You can take a closer look in Wired UK’s High Arctic image gallery.
Read full article at

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Chinese Tourists Put off Visiting the UK

This week, BBC program ‘Fast Track’ raised concerns over the UK’s lack of tourists, and suggests why we’re falling behind our European neighbours.
Highlighting China as a key source of overseas visitors, last August, David Cameron expressed his disappointment that, whilst England was China’s 22nd favourite country to visit, Germany was close to breaking into their top ten, “why can’t we do that?” he asked.  
Today, Germany receives six times the number of Chinese tourists than the UK does, and France welcomes even more. So why, when English is the second language of the Chinese, and they express a clear interest in our culture and landmarks, aren’t they visiting the UK?
Fast Track suggests that the reason is visas and stringent immigration laws. Chinese nationals are required to fill in their UK visa applications in English – no mean feat, when their native Mandarin is communicated in a series of intricate symbols. With forms filled in, a long process of fingerprinting and eye scanning can ensue, deterring many applicants.
And it’s not just the Chinese that are being put off. With over 100 countries requiring visas to visit the UK, it’s estimated by the ETOA that one in four applicants give up before attempting to process their visas, complaining of the long, arduous and expensive application system.
But why do we need more tourists? Our tourism industry is already worth over $1050bn, and creates around two million jobs in the UK. Sounds impressive, but being easily trumped by Germany, France and the USA, there’s work to be done.
Tourism is big business, and is an industry our economy relies on heavily. Visit Britain estimates that tourists spend more than £90bn a year in the UK and that one in twelve UK jobs directly or indirectly depend on tourism to some extent.
Patricia Yeates, of Visit Britain, expressed her frustration that Britain’s tourism is being driven away from this country and towards our rivals. She suggests that we need to be attracting more overseas tourists than ever, particularly with this year’s Royal Wedding hype and the lead up to the 2012 Olympics; ‘This is our moment to showcase Britain’, she urges.
To watch the documentary, see BBC Fast Track

This article was also published on Responsible Travel News
For travel journalism and copywriting services, visit

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

More footprints in the Forest...

A recent census suggests that tiger populations in India are bouncing back: the 2007 count registered around 1400 cats, a figure which has risen to over 1700 this year.

Conducting their study across 17 Indian states, experts used hidden cameras and DNA testing to collect one of the most accurate counts to date - the 2007 census was largely collected by counting 'pugmarks' and taking individual sightings during tiger watching surveys.

Despite the obvious excitement, Jairam Ramesh, India's Environment Minister,and Rajesh Gopal, director of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, agree that we still have a long way to go towards conserving India's cats and, ultimately, saving them from extinction, with the destruction of wildlife corridors (natural pathways between reserves) one of the most pressing issues.

To put the current census into a long-term perspective, whilst we have gained 300 tigers in this year's census, we have lost more than 98000 over the past century.

Related posts by Lucy Grewcock:
Broken Tail: A pioneer for tiger conservation
Fierce Roars over Tiger Tourism
Tiger Penis and Shark Fin Soup

This post was also published on Responsible Travel News
For travel journalism and copywriting services visit

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Lighting the way against high speed rail

At 6pm tonight, thousands of beacons will be lit across the UK, in protest of the proposed high-speed trainline, linking London to Birmingham.

The event coincides with the government announcement to begin public consultation on the HS2 proposal. If successful, construction will begin in 2015, to build a new line that will cut the journey time between London and Birmingham by half an hour.

Supporters believe that the railway could give the UK economy a £44bn boost, while protesters say it will be a waste of money with costs that far out-way the benefits.

The controversial project plans to run through areas of quaint English countryside, idyllic villages and renowned landmarks. Despite ploughing straight through their backyards, the communities of areas such as Amersham and Great Missenden (Roald Dahl's home-ground and the setting for many of his most famous children's stories) would receive no benefit from the new line, which will run non-stop at over 250 miles an hour.

Groups such as Stop HS2 and Stop The Route have drawn significant support, whereas support from the general public has so far been limited.

Thirty communities along the proposed route, from Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire will continue their protests by burning beacons tonight, including one in David Cameron's constituency of Witney, Oxfordshire. To find out more about the event, click here

Read more about the HS2 route at these links:
- BBC News: Government starts highspeed rail consultation
- Stop HS2 press releases
- Yes to HS2

For travel journalism and copywriting services visit
This blog was also posted on Responsible Travel News

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Dracula on the Rampage in Peru

Travelers heading to Peru are being advised take precaution against the potentially fatal bites of rabies-carrying vampire bats.

Recent increases in the number of rabies-related deaths in the Amazon have been attributed to the rising number of vampire bats in the region. The rise is thought to be a result of deforestation. As the habitats of more sensitive species are lost, the bats experience of loss of predators, leading to imbalances in the food chain. An increase in cattle farming is also thought to have created more food for the bats, further boosting their populations.

Heath authorities are taking action by trying to vaccinate the communities living in bat-prone areas, but face a tough challenge. Many indigenous people are used to biting bats and are wary of modern medicene, so have been reluctant to accept modern vaccinations, preferring instead to rely on traditional remedies.

Five people died in recent outbreaks, with young children most vulnerable. The disease can lie dormant for up to six months, but once it takes hold, fever, hallucinations and, ultimately, death, are inevitable.

Hoping to learn more, and prevent future outbreaks, researchers have been carrying out research in Lima, by raiding Amazonian bat colonies and using DNA sequencing to monitor the evolution of the disease.

British travelers at risk are able to receive pre-exposure vaccinations in the UK. Go to for more info.

Listen to the full report on BBC World Service

Watch a video clip of bats on location at

Image taken from BBC World Service

For travel journalism and copywriting services visit
This blog was also posted on Responsible Travel News

King Colobus Devon

A West African, King Colobus Monkey has been successfully bred at Paignton Zoo in Devon. Rated as 'vulnerable' by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the successful birth of the healthy baby is thought to be a significant step towards boosting the species' population. At the time of writing, the threatened species can be seen in only six zoos within Europe.

Image taken from Pittsburgh Zoo website

For travel journalism and copywriting services visit
This blog was also posted on Responsible Travel News

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Broken Tail - A Pioneer for Tiger Conservation

This evening's Natural World told the story of Broken Tail, a plucky young tiger who met his end when he wandered far from the safety of his home-ground in India's Ranthambore National Park, described by narrator Colin Stafford-Johnson as "tiger paradise".

Colin communicates the personality behind the predator, describing how Broken Tail was unique in his mischievous, confident and often arrogant behaviour; traits which no doubt motivated his bold decision to leave the reserve. A year later, the animal was hit by a train, 100 miles away in Darrah.

In what seems initially like a futile journey, Colin aims to retrace the tiger's journey, through inhospitable landscapes and "tiger killing territory", rife with poachers. But he assures us that his mission is vital to aid tiger conservation, in highlighting the scattered habitats where Broken Tail would have found refuge on his route through the badlands.

Having left his home "in search of girls", we realise the cold reality that, for Broken tail "there was no-one else out there", and we are warned that "tigers are absolutely on the edge". If current trends continue, India's 1400 wild tigers will have disappeared in five years time. Making a vital connection, Colin conveys to us that human survival in India is wholly dependent on the existence of tigers: without tigers the forests will not be protected, and without forests watersheds will disappear.

But through the eye-witnesses he meets, Colin finds a glimmer of hope for the future of India's tiger population. The reverence many of India's people continue to hold for nature is evident in those who watched the tiger drink and pass through their homes on his journey. And when Broken Tail's body is stretchered off the railway track, he's cremated with the same respect as a human would be. "Can you imagine anyone allowing such a predator to roam freely in Europe?" Colin asks us.

Colin's quest was not in vain. Following his campaign to to connect India's unprotected habitat fragments, Darrah has since been designated a National Park and discussions over whether Ranthambore should become a designated tiger reserve are underway.

If you missed Natural World tonight, you can watch it again here on BBC iplayer

Image taken from WXXI

Other articles about Tiger conservation in India:
- The Lost Land of the Tiger
- Fierce Roars Over Tiger Tourism
- Tiger Penis and Shark Fin Soup

For travel journalism and copywriting services visit
This blog was also posted on Responsible Travel News

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Times publishes damaging and ill-informed ski-resort shock stories

In The Times this Saturday, Marie Tourres and Adam Sage commented that holidaysmakers heading to French ski resorts should "brace themselves for bumps, bruises and broken bones on rock hard slopes". Having returned fully intact from a week's skiing in Sainte Foy,where all but one of the pistes had a decent covering of dense white snow, I was intrigued to learn that, according to The Times, only resorts "at the highest altitudes" "such as Les Deux Alps" (3600m), were snow covered.

According to the article, with a resort height of 1550m, Sainte Foy's ski season should be non-existent, yet being predominantly north facing and well sheltered, Sainte Foy was enjoying a spectacular season with good quality snow all the way down to resort level, despite snowfalls being less abundant than 2009-10. In fact, with my chalet, The Peak, conveniently located on the piste, I could literally ski all the way back down to resort level and shoosh right into my own driveway.

It's no secret that, right now, boarders will not find metres of champagne powder to carve through off-piste, but seriously, with most tourists spending no more than one week-a-year on the slopes, how many of us could honestly say we plan to spend our ski holidays being chased by avalanches and doing massive cliff-drops into fluffy powder bowls? In reality, push your average punter off-piste and into a foot of fresh powder, and within five minutes they'd be crawling back onto the piste, begging for something more solid.

But maybe I got lucky. Local residents explained to me that Sainte Foy is one of the best resorts in The Tarentaise are for holding onto its snow. So I contacted a few friends half an hour's drive up the hill in Val d'Isere, a resort The Times reported to have "no more than a sprinkling of white amid green pastures and grey escarpments". does seem odd that, considering skis come to an abrupt halt the second they touch but the tiniest section of turf, that 144 out of the resort's 156 pistes were still open, despite all those 'green pastures'.

The Times' article, which seemed to based on little more than exaggerated hearsay, has the potential to fuel further misguided rumors and, of most concern, to translate into damaging impacts in resorts which often depend solely on seasonal income. There's no hiding from the fact that France has seen a far lower accumulation of snow this season than is usual, but in publishing an article which portrayed all but the highest altitudes as being almost completely devoid of snow was both irresponsible and factually untrue.

Closer reading of the article allows for some lenience, with quotes from those in the know promising that pistes are still open and snow quality is "good". But these voices were lost under the tabloid-style headline, and overshadowed by a shocking photograph of skiers desperately trying to slide down a patch of snow running through a sunny meadow. And, although the sunny mood in Sainte Foy matched the weather, staff at luxury chalet company and Sainte Foy specialists, Premier Neige, were well aware at how damaging such headlines can be. However, they were confident that the genuine reports from their, somewhat surprised, guests returning to the UK would filter through.

Is it just Sainte Foy and Val d'Isere that are exempt? Do all other resorts resemble the Times' depiction of snow-starved Leysin in Switzerland? I would be very cautious to comment without physical evidence, which is perhaps where the Times went wrong; maybe they should consider commissioning journalists based in Val d'Isere, rather than in Paris...

Just returned from a ski-resort? What were your experiences of snow cover? Post your genuine piste-reports below...

Friday, 11 February 2011

Human Planet: Mountain - Life in Thin Air

Last night’s episode of Human Planet is guaranteed to have been a talking point in many workplaces today; conversations that will no doubt inspire anyone who missed ‘Life in Thin Air’ to catch-up on BBCiplayer this weekend.

The fifth episode in the BBC’s eight-part series documented the lives of those who live in some of the most brutal mountain environments on earth. From the practice of ancient ancestral traditions, to the introduction of modern science and economic demands, stunning camera-work and well-paced narration will have left many jaws gapping for the full duration of the 50 minute documentary. If you can’t wait till tonight to watch Human Planet on iplayer, read on…

Beginning in Mongolia’s Altai Mountains, we meet 16 year old Berick who trains a baby eagle for five months, to become his loyal hunting partner. Essential companions for Kasak hunters, Berick would stand little chance of successful tracking in this remote wilderness, where elusive creatures, such as the Mongolian fox, are essential sources of food and clothing.

Forty degrees south, we meet the children of Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains, whose essential job it is to protect their community’s harvest from 600-strong troops of Gelada monkeys, who can strip a field of grain in minutes. With their skeletal faces, scarlet markings, broken fangs and glowing eyes, these sinister-looking creatures threaten the daily lives and livelihoods of those who share their habitats.

Closer to the equator, Indonesian miners risk their lungs and life-expectancies to extract sulphur crystals from the heart of active volcanoes. A 90kilo load of the sweetcorn-yellow element rewards each miner with a payment of $5. “They say working here can shorten your life” explains one miner, “I do it to feed my wife and kids”, “No other job pays this well”.

A reminder of how more traditional methods of resource exploitation sustain human life, communities in the mountains of New Guinea turn to the ways of their ancestors when protein has become scarce. After cutting a corridor in the forest, they rig a huge net, to catch giant bats which fly through the forests at night. After successfully trapping 15 fox-like bats in a single night, they return home with enough protein to feed their families for two weeks.

A glimpse at how modernity can benefit mountain communities across the globe takes us to high altitudes in the Himalayas and Swiss Alps. In Nepal, modern medicine is helping to cure blindness caused by strong UV rays, and in Switzerland, avalanche control has become an essential component of longevity for both residents and tourists.

Finally, a consideration of the practicalities of death and disposal at altitude, where decomposition is slow. At 4000 metres, with no trees to burn for cremation, sky burials have been practiced for centuries. Allowing vultures to consume the corpses of their dead, Buddhists see these burials as sacred acts, essential to sustain the life of another by avoiding the spread of disease.

You’ve got two months left to watch Mountains – Life in Thin Air. Click here to view in BBCiplayer, where you can also see the previous four, equally mind-blowing, episodes of Human Planet. Don’t miss next week’s episode, ‘Grasslands’, the sixth in the series.

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Ths blog was also posted on Responsible Travel News

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Deadliest Soup

On Sunday night, Gordon Ramsey revealed the grizzly truth behind the insatiable appetite for shark fin soup, in a distressing Channel 4 documentary. The expensive dish, hugely popular amongst Chinese communities throughout the world, is readily available, even in UK restaurants.

The concern is over the brutal and prolific slaughter of the endangered fish, which involves catching anything from bus-sized Great Whites to goggle eyed Hammerheads, slicing off their eight or so fins, and then throwing their worthless and, often live, torsos back into the ocean, to endure a slow death on the bottom of the sea bed.

Gordon starts his investigations in Taiwain, where he finds shop after shop of dried fins. Those selling the fins have little knowledge, or regard for that matter, of where the fins have come from. It's the high prices they fetch that they're interested in.

Despite their disregard for the bearers of the fins, the shark finning industry is a very hush hush business. Doors are slammed and cameras ushered away from London to Tokokyo; by the end of the show we've become accustomed to barking dogs and casual threats. Loose restrictions apply at ports, often including a requirement to land both toros and fins together, but there is zero policing and many seem to prefer closing their eyes to the obvious malpractice. Why waste space on a small boat with the worthless body of a two metre-long shark, when their fins are the only valuable product.

After trying the £100 a bowl soup, Gordon discovers that the fin itself is utterly tasteless, likening it to glass noodles. A man on a mission, he brings harrowing footage of the sickening practice back to the UK and holds an open-discussion with some of London's top Chinese restaurateurs.

The end result is that four of the establishments are said to have agreed to take the soup of their menus and are seen placing posters advertising the fact in their restaurant windows. However, learning from Gordon's introduction to the documentary, which showed consumers buying 'under-the-counter' (quite literally!)fins, we could be forgiven for questioning how stringently the new policy is being applied.

Out of his kitchen comfort zone, Gordon gave a watered-down performance of his characteristic palm-slapping, F-ing and blinding routine, showing genuine shock and sorrow, and about as much restraint as we could expect from the outspoken celebrity.

Although the uncontrollable industry is no doubt still enjoying rich profits right now, the program concluded with a feeling that it had been a step in the right direction. Love him or hate him, you can't argue with Ramsey for his attempt at opening the eyes of British viewers eyes to the shocking practice, which could well be in full swing at the Chinese Takeaway round the corner.

Gordon Ramsey is now a patron of The Shark Trust
You can watch the documentary again here, at 4OD

Other articles by Lucy Grewcock about shark finning:
Shark Fin Soup on Environmental Graffiti
Tiger Penis and Shark Fin Soup on Responsible Travel News

Photo taken from Indy Media

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Ths blog was also posted on Responsible Travel News

Monday, 17 January 2011

Brighton and Hove - Climate Change Connections

Since the 9th of January, residents of Brighton and Hove have had a new reason to stop and ponder their place on the planet.

A collection of free-standing, six-foot poster boards have been tastefully erected in the square, featuring the photos and stories of individuals from the Carteret Islands to the people of Brighton.

Detailing the impacts of climate change, such as extreme weather, rising sea-levels in small island states and excessive flooding of river deltas, the exhibition draws connections between Brighton's local people and far flung destinations, by detailing the local actions being taken in the city, to reduce climate change and raise awareness of the poverty and destruction felt in other nations.

Rather than taking the doom and gloom approach of many climate change activists, or pointing the finger at our industrialised societies, Climate Connections paints an optimistic look at the issue, reinforcing both our global interdependence as well as the opportunities and successes brought about by global citizenship.

The Climate Connections project is a partnership project with Brighton Peace and Environment Centre (BPEC), Brighton & Hove City Council and Oxfam. All parties uphold the belief that we should take greater responsibility for our lifestyles and consumption of resources. They take the positive, forward thinking outlook that 'Our actions can have a positive impact here, and everywhere, on this planet'.

The exhibition can be seen in Churchill Square until Saturday 6th February.
To find out more, visit their interactive website

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Ths blog was also posted on Responsible Travel News

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Arctic with Bruce Parry: Greenland

The second in the series of 'Arctic with Bruce Parry', saw the adventurer living with Inuit communities in Greenland, experiencing spring in the Arctic and confronting the shocking clash between Inuit and Western conservation values.

Living on a diet of raw narwhal fin, seal stomach skin and seal eye jelly, Bruce joins a group of hunters, looking for walrus to feed their families. Government restrictions limit the amount a hunter is allowed to shoot and we learn that it's virtually impossible to become wealthy through following a traditional Inuit lifestyle. But hunting is about much more than wealth, hence the decision by many to continue the work of their ancestors. The unbreakable bond between man and nature is undeniable with these people, who hold a deep respect for their landscape, and can be seen developing in Bruce throughout the program.

Bruce gives a fascinating insight into the economy and traditional values of a rapidly changing landscape and people. In this remote, frozen ecosystem where nothing grows, locals pay the equivalent of £2 for a shrivelled green pepper in a supermarket, and around £30 for imported lamb chops. Despite a desire to stay close to their traditional heritage, many Inuit have turned to mining, amongst other jobs, to fund their increasingly expensive lifestyles.

Although climate change is a serious issue for Greenland's people, they held the forward-thinking attitude that they would simply have to adapt to their changing landscape. The strongest argument to emerge from the program was the tension between conservationists and the Inuit people. Bruce battled to make a decision whether or not the traditionally sustainable practice of polar-bear hunting should be condemned, with local people arguing that their survival not only depends on hunting these and other Arctic species, but also that the causes of their population decline were due to the actions of industrialised nations, not theirs.

You can watch the episode again here on BBC iplayer

For travel journalism and copywriting services visit

Ths blog was also posted on Responsible Travel News

Monday, 10 January 2011

Free Extreme Arctic Talks in Newcastle

The British Schools Exploring Society (BSES), based at the Royal Geographical Society London, takes young people aged 16-23 to extreme locations to learn essential survival skills and carry out research projects in some of the most sensitive areas of the world.

BSES will be visiting Newcastle at the end of January, to speak at schools and youth groups across the North East about expedition opportunities in the Arctic, Himalayas, Amazon and Desert.

The week will kick off on 23rd January at 17:00-18:00, at the Royal Station Hotel in Newcastle, where wannabe explorers will have the opportunity to try out Arctic equipment, such as ice-axes and crampons, and find out how they could join a BSES expedition this year.

Young people in the North East can also apply for a £2500 bursary towards expedition costs for an Extreme Arctic gap-year trip, or for a £1000 bursary towards a 3 or 5 week summer expedition - find out how by coming along to the Sunday afternoon talk.

The talk is free and open to all, but it's recommended that you book a seat by emailing

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

For travel journalism and copywriting services visit

Free Extreme Arctic Talk in Newcastle

The British Schools Exploring Society (BSES), based at the Royal Geographical Society London, takes young people aged 16-23 to extreme locations to learn essential survival skills and carry out research projects in some of the most sensitive areas of the world.

BSES will be visiting Newcastle at the end of January, to speak at schools and youth groups across the North East about expedition opportunities in the Arctic, Himalayas, Amazon and Desert.

The week will kick off on 23rd January at 17:00-18:00, at the Royal Station Hotel in Newcastle, where wannabe explorers will have the opportunity to try out Arctic equipment, such as ice-axes and crampons, and find out how they could join a BSES expedition this year.

Young people in the North East can also apply for a £2500 bursary towards expedition costs for an Extreme Arctic gap-year trip, or for a £1000 bursary towards a 3 or 5 week summer expedition - find out how by coming along to the Sunday afternoon talk.

The talk is free and open to all, but it's recommended that you book a seat by emailing

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

For travel journalism and copywriting services visit

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Outdoors Show 2011

Next weekend , the Outdoors show will be returning for its sixth consecutive year.

Held at ExCel London from Thursday 13 to Sunday 16 January 2011, some of the highlights will include mountain boarding taster sessions, ice climbing instruction and the British bouldering championships.

Responsible Travel's News writer and BSES Expedition Leader, Lucy Grewcockwill be speaking at the Careers Café at 10:30 on Saturday morning, and speakers at the Outdoor Heros Stage include Sir Ranulf Fiennes, Ray Meres and Ben Fogle.

For tickets and further details, visit

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Himalayan Viagra Destroys Peace

The isolated and breathtaking Annapurna region in the Himalayan mountains is a magnet for tourists, travelling their to climb the 5,000m snowy passes. Located between Nepal and Tibet, the area is home to centuries old Buddhist communities who, despite their long legacy as a peaceful people, have turned to crime, conflict and corruption.

The source of tension? The fungus-embalmed body of the Himalayan bat moth caterpillar, known as Yarsagumba. Famed as an aphrodisiac and immunity booster in ancient Chinese medicine, the natural substance is comparable to Viagra.

Collecting Yarsagumba is against Buddhist tradition, and trading in it is seen as a sin, so the resource has been unexploited, until recently. Now, it's reported that a new youth generation, less mindful of ancient tradition, have seized the opportunity to make money from this valuable resource. Sold illegally at around $10,000 per kilogram, many Tibetan traders have found a quick route to wealth.

With hundreds flocking to the hillsides from March each year, when the picking season commences, the district government have begun to enforce a permit system, to control the collection of Yarsagumba; greater rights are given to local mountain villagers and outsiders are banned from picking it.

But the high value of the drug has lead to crime and punishment. Local mobs, guarding their picking territory, murdered seven men in June 2009, an incident which spurred a large-scale police investigation and resulted in the arrest of thirty-six villagers. Although many have since been released on bail, it’s thought that over half still remain in a makeshift mountain prison, despite their protests of innocence.

Until the case comes to trial in March, their wives and families will continue to feel the brunt of both emotional and economic loss, with their men behind bars and unable to work.

The turmoil being caused by the fight for economic gain seems only to reinforce the reasoning behind the traditional Buddhist beliefs of leaving Yarsagumba well alone.

This summary was also featured on Responsible Travel News

Read the full article by Joanna Jolly on BBC News

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Arctic with Bruce Parry

From riding reindeer and sucking their antlers, to bring cleansed with horse hair, 'Arctic with Bruce Parry', broadcast this Sunday evening, saw Bruce Parry embark on the first of five Arctic adventures.

In the new series, Arctic with Bruce Parry will see the former marine immerse himself in the cultures and environments of indigenous peoples living within the Arctic Circle. The BBC2 series examines man’s relationship with the natural world but Bruce admits that he is also on a personal quest to further explore his fascination with spiritualists, or ‘shamans’.

In Sunday's adventure, Bruce journeyed to Arctic Siberia, forming a close bond with the Shaman who hosted him, experiencing Siberia’s moving summer solstice, alongside a set of spiritual practices which allowed Bruce to have his aura cleansed with a horse hair brush and be spiritually charged by the vibrations of the traditional mouth harp – a music instrument previously banned during Soviet rule in the Arctic.

Bruce then travelled further north to live with the Sakha horse people. Here, he not only revealed how the collapse of the Soviet Union has allowed economic ventures such as horse breeding to flourish and liberate indigenous populations but also how education and deep respect for family forms an integral part of everyday life here.

Moving deeper into the Arctic Circle to live with Eveny reindeer herders in the Verkhoyansk Mountains, the most northerly populated region of the Arctic, Bruce sensitively uncovers the challenges and opportunities presented to semi-nomadic people in post-Soviet Arctic. His slow-blossoming friendship with the father of a family of herders is deeply moving, growing from a guarded demeanour and sharp denial of a belief in ancient beliefs, to deep friendship and a sharing of spiritual teachings of the ghosts of the ancestral heartland, as well as an honest account of personal failings and resolutions.

Portraying what appears to be a candid view of everyday life, Bruce looks close to retching when instructed to suck the broken antler of a reindeer and cringes as his World War II tank bulldozes through the sacred landscape, obliterating saplings and grasses in his path – a sharp juxtaposition to the careful respect paid to other natural features they pass on their journey.

But what emerges from Bruce’s time in one of the planet’s great wildernesses, and the underlying message in teh programme, is an equilibrium between people, nature and economy, a trinity bound by spirituality, understanding and respect.

The next episode, in which Bruce visits Innuit hunters in Greenland, can be viewed on BBC2 next Sunday at 21:00 or click here, to view on BBC iPlayer. If you missed part one, watch back on BBC iPlayer.

Image taken from

This article was also published by Responsible Travel News

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