Birding Diary #2

Yesterday we made the most of the last of the autumnal sunshine and went for a walk around Hickling Broad in Norfolk. The Wildlife Trust promises hen harrier, kingfisher, cetti’s warbler, and otters, but in reality we walked around and saw absolutely nothing for ages. Each hide we went in opened onto a small area of water that was totally unpopulated by bird life.

And then as we walked back towards the under-maintenance visitor centre we heard a “ping…ping” amongst the reedbeds, so we hung around. Suddenly, a party of bearded tits emerged. Bearded tits! I’d never seen any before. I was too slow off the mark to get my camera out of my boyfriend’s rucksack (our sightings had been so poor that I hadn’t even retrieved my camera yet). But we enjoyed watching them without technology as they were only a few feet away and it felt like such a privilege.

It’s always worth venturing out into nature – even in winter, even on a day when you’re disappointed by the lack of wildlife, something magical can suddenly happen.

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Trump’s threat to tear up the Paris agreement could help to make it law

Climate change denying president-elect (said with the contempt it deserves) Donald Trump has reiterated his campaign threat to tear up the Paris agreement signed less than a year that committed all nations to limit the global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees.

Trump believes (or claims to – who really knows what’s going on beneath the wig?) that climate change is a Communist conspiracy invented by the Chinese to bring down American capitalism. It’s not.

Last year, the UNFCCC managed to sign up all 195 nations of the ailing planet to a voluntary agreement to limit the global temperature increase and mitigate climate change; it’s key pledge is to:

Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change

This is the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement and is absolutely essential in reducing the impact of climate change before it is too late. Within a year, 111 of the 195 countries have ratified that deal, making it official. It is a monumental achievement that both the US and China, which together account for over 40% of global emissions, actually agreed to do this, and Trump has promised to retract that commitment.

It’s not clear whether Trump will be “allowed” to back out of it; however, the actual agreement is voluntary, and consists of promises to change behaviour, and crucially there is no fiscal punishment for backtracking or failing to keep those promises.

It’s tempting to deny climate change – I was never very clear about the evidence myself because apparently the climate has changed a lot throughout the history of the planet. But it’s obvious to me that humans are destroying the earth – we’ve been cutting down those rainforests for decades with no thought or care about the wildlife housed within them, and polluting the oceans with our discarded plastic. So it makes perfect sense that there would be some environment consequence of this.

There’s not much we can do on an individual level, apart from recycle the little we can, limit our waste and consumption where possible, and walk the distances we can manage rather than driving. But what’s the point of me carefully cleaning out yoghurt pots when China and America keep on coughing up coal?

This song ‘4 degrees‘ by Anohni is an ironic anthem for our doomed planet and a challenging reminder that we’re all part of the problem.

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If climate change deniers don’t give a damn about the environment, maybe they will consider the health impacts on people demonstrated in this graph.

 

 

Hickling Broad, Norfolk, is being sold to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Hickling Broad is one of our most famous and internationally important broads in Norfolk. It houses a significant proportion of the UK’s common crane population, along with resident marsh harriers, bitterns, pochards, water rails, Cetti’s warbler, and the infamous beared tit.

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A large area of the estate has been managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, which is this year celebrating its 90th birthday. At the end of the second world war, the Mills family, who have owner the estate for over 200 years, decided to hand over the management to the NWT. Now more than 1,400 acres of the important ecosystem have been agreed for sale to the charity, which is now campaigning to raise £1m to buy the land.

It’s not just birds that enjoy living on the broad – Hickling is also home to the rare swallowtail butterfly and the Norfolk hawker dragonfly. You can also spot otters and barn owls, if you’re lucky, as well as the hilariously teddy-bear-like non-native Chinese water deer.

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And it’s not just animals – the broad is the largest reedbed in the UK and contains three rare species of stonewort, milk-parsley and the holly-leaved naiad.

The current owner of this vast estate, Hallam Mills, said:

“The Hickling estate has been in my family for 200 years and during that time this lovely Broad has survived in fine style, despite the pressures of the modern world.  The family is delighted that, out of many expressions of interest, the Broad is going to Norfolk Wildlife Trust, who in many ways were the Broad’s natural owner.  The wildlife and conservation interest of the reserve will be very safe in their hands.”

You can donate to this appeal for the NWT to buy the Broad by texting LAND26 to 70070, including the figure you wish to donate. You can also visit the Just Giving page. At the time of writing, over £3,400 has been raised in just a few days but they need to get to £1m by March.

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Corruption and the illegal wildlife trade

A new report published by The Guardian yesterday has exposed key wildlife trafficking crime groups and the corrupt government officials enabling them.

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The investigation was carried out by Freeland over 14 years and identifies through Thai government surveillance the main crime networks and individual traffickers who have profited around $23bn through illegally trading in animals, including endangered species, such as elephants, tigers and rhinos.

‘The Bach brothers’, two Vietnamese siblings, allegedly control one of the main trade routes in endangered species and are some of the key suspects in the report.

Why and how is this criminal trade so lucrative? It is the fourth most profitable illegal trade, after drugs, people and arms trafficking. A pair of rhino horns, for example, can sell for 200 times the original price in Vietnam and 400 times in China. Around 5% of rhinos are alive today compared with four decades ago, and around 1,000 are killed by poachers each year. Just to be clear – the rhinos are ‘detusked’ and left to bleed to death.

Rhino horns have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, and used to treat rheumatism, fever, gout, headaches, and all sort of other ailments, despite having no scientific basis in fact. Rhino horn is mainly made of keratin and has no proven ability to cure anything.

The Guardian report reveals that the known wildlife trafficking kingpin, Vixay Keosavang, has apparently brought his operations to a close, since the US put a $1m reward on his capture. This is the only monetary reward historically offered for a wildlife trafficker, and seems to have been almost instantly effective in halting his business. Since then, however, new players have taken over – the Bach brothers, who are:

well-known locally for their criminal activities, which also include vehicle smuggling; the Bachs run legitimate businesses in wholesale agriculture and forest products, construction materials, electrical equipment, hotels, and food services.

Today, the Guardian has also revealed  that senior officials in Laos have profited through a 2% tax on trade involving tigers, rhinos and elephants. For over a decade, the office of the Laos prime minister has cut deals with three leading traffickers to move wildlife through borders. The statistics are truly shocking:

In 2014 alone, these deals covered $45m (£35m) worth of animal body parts and included agreed quotas requiring the disabling or killing of 165 tigers, more than 650 rhinos and more than 16,000 elephants.

This trade is illegal and prohibited by the International Trade in Endangered Species.

Laos continues to be a full member of Cites, despite having been suspended in 2015 for failure to produce a plan to tackle the ivory trade, and again this year for failure to implement a plan to tackle the ivory trade. This new evidence proves that not only has Laos shown little interest in confronting the illegal trade in wildlife, it has actually profited substantially from taxing the trade.

You can read about the WWF’s efforts to stop the illegal wildlife trade here.

If we are to end this horrific trade in wild animals, we need an international approach that must involve robustly tackling the demand, enforcing the laws, and investing in the areas that are targeted by poachers, to promote education about the ecological need for diverse habitats and species, and to enable local communities to protect wildlife on their doorstep.

Most importantly, we need to kill the demand in Asia and China.

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