Best of our wild blogs: 6 Apr 13

First morning trip at Pasir Ris shore
from wonderful creation

Birds do eat the dragon fruit Hylocereus undatus
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Celebrate Earth Day at the launch of “The Diversity of Life on Earth”
from Raffles Museum News

"Beach Forest Species and Mangrove Associates in the Philippines (2012)" - A book review by Lawrence M. Liao from Habitatnews

Can eat or not?: Sea anemones
from wild shores of singapore

Read more!

Bukit Timah forests, SIT flats worthy of World Heritage status too

The nomination of the Singapore Botanic Gardens for UNESCO World Heritage Site status should be just the start
Terence Chong, Yeo Kang Shua and Tan Wee Cheng Today Online 6 Apr 13;

The Singapore Heritage Society welcomes and supports the Government’s intention to nominate the Singapore Botanic Gardens for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Indeed, the Society had mooted this back in 2009.

It is also pleased that the Government finally ratified the 1972 World Heritage Convention in June last year.

The 154 year-old Botanic Gardens is a worthy site. It was established in 1859 by the Agri-Horticultural Society on gambier plantation land formerly owned by Whampoa Hoo Ah Kay. Besides collection and experimentation of trees and plant species, additional land was committed for an ‘economic garden’ in 1879 to aid the establishment of plantation lands and plots in the region.

As stated in the justification provided to UNESCO, it stands as a testimony to the history of the economic, social and scientific development in Malaya. The Botanic Gardens saw pioneering work on rubber cultivation techniques carried out in the late 19th century which helped pave the way for its mass manufacturing in the early 20th century.

The Botanic Gardens also had an important hand in the distribution of rubber seeds to plantation owners in Malaya, persuading them switch to rubber from other crops. This move ensured Malaya’s early economic growth by giving a sizeable foothold in trading markets around the world.

Furthermore, while the Botanic Gardens is an undeniable symbol of the colonial empire’s power and reach, we should never forget the crucial risk-taking of local entrepreneurs who embarked on the rubber industry and the contribution of the numerous workers to the economic development of Malaya. Such is the interwoven nature of history.


With heritage education as part of its mandate, the Society would like to take this opportunity to explain the nomination process for UNESCO World Heritage status.

In order to achieve World Heritage status, a government must first prepare an inventory, known as the ‘tentative list’, of the country’s significant cultural and natural sites, or ‘properties’.

In the case of the Botanic Gardens, overseas consultants were hired by the Government in 2010 to conduct a feasibility study of possible sites that could be included in this tentative list. The Government has submitted the Botanic Gardens as the sole item on the tentative list, and is currently preparing a formal application for World Heritage status.

When the application is formally submitted, it will be evaluated by the International Council on Monuments and Sites or International Union for Conservation of Nature which assesses cultural and natural sites, respectively. After which, the evaluation is submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for its decision.

Though the Botanic Gardens meets many of the criteria or ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ to qualify as a World Heritage Site, it should be remembered that it is already gazetted as a ‘National Park’ under the Park and Trees Act. It is thus safe from destruction or encroachment, regardless of World Heritage status. Indeed, government protection is required before a site may be considered for World Heritage status.


Moving forward, the Society believes that two things are vital to the nomination process.

The first is consultation with local experts. This consultation process is crucial under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention and its Operational Guidelines.

These rules oblige governments to embark on consultation processes over the identification, nomination and protection of possible sites with a wide variety of stakeholders including the local community, academics and experts, and non-governmental organisations. This ensures that local knowledge and experience are taken into account throughout the application process, and not just as an afterthought.

It also encourages the government to be more communicative when it comes to its decision-making process. This will go a long way in enhancing long term interest in the site as the local community would have contributed to the process and feel that it has a stake in it.

The second is public engagement. What does achieving UNESCO World Heritage status mean for ordinary Singaporeans?

The Society strongly believes that the real value of winning World Heritage status lies not in global recognition or prestige. Rather, it lies in the opportunity to educate and raise awareness both locally and overseas, that contrary to popular belief, Singapore is a place rich with heritage.

More importantly, Singaporeans will be made to think deeply about what is meaningful us, why it is meaningful and, in the process, gain knowledge about a history that shapes our identity. The Society believes that all the accolades in the world will come to naught if citizens are not excited or engaged.


To achieve this, the Society would like to make several suggestions.

With respect to the Botanic Gardens, create a budget dedicated to raising public awareness of the historical significance of the Botanic Gardens and the establishment of research grants for scholars, local and overseas, to excavate stories, information and documents in order to enhance our understanding of the Botanic Gardens.

Educate the public about the importance of conservation and the significance of Outstanding Universal Values, by commissioning local studies and public forums on the other prospective sites in Singapore that may be considered for tentative listing.

Indeed there are other sites that might have Outstanding Universal Value, but without legislative protection by the Government, they will be unable to receive the UNESCO stamp of approval.

Some possible sites include Bukit Brown, a beautiful swathe of tranquil greenery full of historically important graves that tell a tale of our ancestors’ journeys and connection to the region.

There are also the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Nature Reserve, with tropical rainforests that are reportedly home to as many species of plants as the entire North America, and where a Belgium scientist discovered 150 new species of flies and where Alfred Wallace collected about 700 species of beetles in just two months about a century ago.

And then there are the Singapore Improvement Trust flats in Tiong Bahru, early examples of public housing development; and perhaps even our ubiquitous Housing and Development Board’s slab block flats that embodied modernist ideas that Le Corbusier tried to demonstrate in his Unitéd’Habitation.

In an era where the international community values sustainable development, the preservation of such sites in what is essentially one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and their successful listing as World Heritage, will be an ultimate tribute to the foresight and creative genius of our leaders and urban planners.


Terence Chong, Yeo Kang Shua and Tan Wee Cheng are Executive Committee members of the Singapore Heritage Society.

Read more!

What World Heritage status would mean for the Botanic Gardens

Besides tourism, it would bring intangible benefits such as cultivating a sense of civic pride
Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 6 Apr 13

WHEN Singapore turns 50 in two years' time, it could well receive a most befitting gift to mark its coming of age: a Unesco World Heritage Site stamp of approval.

It has hired a British consultant to put together a dossier for the Singapore Botanic Gardens to submit to the global body - known formally as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) - hopefully by its deadline next February.

Chris Blandford Associates helped the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London, snag the coveted status in 2003.

Once the nomination documents are submitted, experts from one of Unesco's advisory bodies will carry out site assessments and study the dossier before making their recommendations. This process takes a year.

The World Heritage Committee is made up of 21 elected members - including Malaysia and Japan - serving four-year terms. When they meet around June 2015, Singapore's fate will be decided.

It is a tedious, if not costly, affair.

In a 2007 study commissioned by Britain's Department for Culture, Media and Sport to look at the cost and benefits of World Heritage Site status in Britain, it was estimated that the cost of producing a bid which reaches the Unesco committee for approval is between £420,000 and £570,000 (S$793,000 and S$1.07 million)

Each year, up to 45 natural or man-made wonders are picked for protection.

If Singapore does get on the list, few are likely to quibble over the price. Benefits - tangible and intangible - that come with the Unesco tag are numerous.

"You may say it's an ISO 9000 on a heritage site," said Mr Tan Wee Cheng, honorary treasurer of the Singapore Heritage Society, in reference to the international quality standards for companies.

"The soft power of a place rises. People will think Singapore is not just a place to make money and to shop. You have culture of world significance."

There are 962 properties in 157 countries on the list, which recognises cultural or natural sites deemed to have outstanding universal value.

The 154-year-old Botanic Gardens is not a controversial choice, although it should not be seen as merely a colonial creation, argued Mr Tan, who says it is a repository of many histories.

The site's contribution to the world lies in the role it has played in scientific plant research and economic botany. Rubber tapping - in which latex is removed from trees without harming them - was pioneered at the gardens around the end of the 19th century.

"The idea that these places don't just belong to a country but are a shining example for all humanity is important," said Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society.

"Singapore Botanic Gardens could sit at the same table as Taj Mahal. It says something about our heritage."

The economic benefits, as evidenced by many other World Heritage Sites, are obvious.

The number of tourists to the ancient town of Hoi An in Vietnam, for instance, jumped 24 per cent the first year after it was inscribed in 1999 and 82 per cent the year after.

The town has had an annual economic growth of 13 per cent since the Unesco listing, with tourism making up more than half of it. Tourism has also created employment opportunities and lifted income levels and standards of living for residents.

The Botanic Gardens may not be the first stop on every tourist's "to do" list right now as it competes with shopping, the integrated resorts and the Gardens by the Bay.

But Ms Alicia Seah, senior vice-president for marketing and public relations at CTC Travel, believes the Unesco brand will draw crowds.

"The Singapore Tourism Board is after quality tourism now. If the Botanic Gardens becomes a World Heritage Site, it becomes a must-see. I'm sure it will sell," she said.

Beyond the dollars, a Unesco listing has other positive knock-on effects such as cultivating a sense of civic pride.

George Town in Penang and Malacca were listed together by Unesco in 2008 and have both undergone gentrification, said leading Malaysian conservationist Laurence Loh, who was instrumental in getting the former named as a World Heritage Site.

"There is a sense of pride. People now understand what heritage is. Penang is slowly but surely renewing itself," said Professor Loh, whose conservation projects like Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Merdeka Stadium and Cheng Hoon Teng Temple have won him Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards.

"Everyone says the city looks nice, tidy and clean. The feeling of dilapidation is not there any more. And new businesses have opened."

If the Botanic Gardens does get the Unesco nod of approval, the site would be responsible for sharing its knowledge and assets with the world, said Dr Lum.

"The gardens will be in a position to generate interest not just for itself but horticultural science and public education, and it would benefit many, if it could take its expertise and spread it more widely.

"Unesco status would give it that extra authority."

However, there is a real danger that a heritage site could "turn into a Disneyland", warned heritage conservation expert Johannes Widodo, a jury member of the Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards.

"We tend to commoditise the heritage. The original spirit is the opposite of that. It's not about selling things to make more money, but to preserve it for mankind," said Professor Widodo.

A listing should be seen as a responsibility rather than an endorsement, he said.

"The most difficult task now is to make people realise that with the Unesco inscription, comes this new responsibility, that we are protecting and nurturing something that does not just belong to us, but the world."

Indeed, many World Heritage Sites have suffered from mass tourism.

Temples at Cambodia's 1,000-year-old Angkor Archaeological Park have been damaged by pollution from planes flying close overhead and hundreds of nearby hotels that pump water from underground.

Experts have warned that its renowned Bayon temple could even collapse.

Unregulated businesses that have popped up at many World Heritage Sites have also spoiled the overall experience and hindered conservation work.

Unesco has been trying to arrest such problems by drawing up guidelines and asking countries for management plans.

In its nomination dossier, Singapore will need to spell out how it plans to protect the Botanic Gardens.

Unesco demands that any nominated property must already be protected under local laws. The Botanic Gardens is gazetted as a national park under the Parks and Trees Act.

The authorities would also have to submit a report every six years to make sure the outstanding universal value of the site has not been compromised.

In rare occurrences, Unesco can choose to delist a site or categorise it as "world heritage in danger" to encourage corrective action.

Ultimately, getting on the list is as much about having something truly worthy in your backyard as it is about pushing the right buttons.

Much depends on how the dossier is compiled.

"In the hands of someone knowledgeable, with a good command of English, you will be in a better position to represent the values of the place accurately," said Prof Loh, who was involved in the first draft of George Town's submission.

"There is a lot of politics in the run-up to the listing."

When Malaysia was putting in its bid for George Town and Malacca, it held an exhibition at the Unesco headquarters in Paris, "just to persuade and get visibility".

"In a nutshell, it's how many hands you press. That counts for a lot," said Prof Loh.

Chris Blandford Associates is not the only consultant the Singapore Government has hired for the job.

In 2010, it engaged the help of two conservation experts, professors Lynne D. DiStefano and Lee Ho Yin of the University of Hong Kong, to examine which site held Singapore's best chance of Unesco status.

A few places were suggested: the historic districts of Little India, Kampong Glam and Chinatown; the civic district, Tiong Bahru, Fort Canning and the Botanic Gardens.

Since news broke that Singapore has made a pitch for the gardens to be listed, there have been renewed discussions about other potential sites.

Bukit Brown has been mooted for its rich biodiversity, being a testament to a cultural tradition and bearing unique and outstanding artistry on the tombs' architecture.

Its supporters point to a 1917 cemetery, Skogskyrkogården in Sweden, which was inscribed in 1994 for having successfully blended nature and architecture.

The Singapore Heritage Society said it believes "all possibilities should be explored" and that there should be open discussions on current and future nominations.

"Public engagement doesn't stop if and when we get on the list. It should not be seen as a trophy. It should instead be the start of a process of understanding our own heritage, what is important to us and what we want to conserve," said Mr Tan.

What it takes to be declared a World Heritage Site
Straits Times 6 Apr 13;

IT ALL started in 1954, when Unesco launched a global campaign to save the twin 13th century Abu Simbel temples in Egypt, carved out of a cliff, after they were about to be flooded by the building of the Aswan Dam.

It collected US$80 million from 50 countries and managed to relocate the temples to higher ground. Other campaigns followed to save Venice in Italy as well as the Borobodur temple compounds in Java, Indonesia.

A site, whether cultural or natural, must be deemed to have outstanding universal value in order to be named a World Heritage Site.

It must also meet at least one of 10 criteria:

To represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
To exhibit an important interchange of human values over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world;
To bear an exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or civilisation;
To be an outstanding example of a type of building or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history;
To be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land use or sea use which is representative of a culture;
To be associated with events or living traditions of outstanding universal significance;
To contain areas of exceptional natural beauty;
To be an outstanding example representing major stages of earth's history;
To be an outstanding example representing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of eco-systems, plants and animals;
To contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity.

Famous World Heritage Sites include Jordan's Petra, China's Great Wall and Egypt's Great Pyramids of Giza.

Read more!

Horned ghost crabs change camouflage from day to night: A Singapore study

Ella Davies Reporter BBC Nature 5 Apr 13;

Horned ghost crabs change their appearance from day to night for camouflage, a study has revealed.

The species Ocypode ceratophthalmus builds burrows on beaches from Japan to East Africa to shelter from predators.

Researchers investigating young crabs' defences found they fine-tune their brightness to mimic their background.

The crabs reflected changes in their environment throughout the day, becoming lighter in the daytime and darker at night.

The same crab can look very different in the day (top) and at night (bottom)

The findings are published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.

Horned ghost crabs are named for their eyestalks which extend upwards resembling horns. The crabs are mostly active at night and juveniles are slightly translucent.

Dr Martin Stevens, working for the University of Cambridge, undertook the study with colleagues from the National University of Singapore.

"They have a remarkable match to the sand on which they live to provide camouflage against predators like birds and primates," he told BBC Nature.

"They can even match the colours of particular grains of sand found on the beach where they occur."

Scientists first suspected the crabs' unusual day to night colour change after noticing differences in images of them taken at different times.

They tested their theory in the laboratory using crabs collected from beaches in Singapore.

Observing the colour of the crabs over a twenty-four period, they recorded a distinctive change from a dark appearance through the night to the lightest appearance at midday.

When placed in a dark tank, the crabs did not change colour but they did become brighter when placed a on a white versus a black surface.

Dr Stevens explained that, rather than directly reacting to the ambient light, the crabs combined a natural daily rhythm of colour change with reactions to the colour of the surface they occupied.

"This changes their camouflage so that they are very well camouflaged against the yellow sand during the day, and dark at night - we think to blend in with shadows on the beach," he said.

Dr Stevens added that if the crabs simply became darker when in shadow, such as when they enter their burrow, they would then appear very noticeable against the sand when they next ventured out in daylight.

This camouflage trick directly contrasts with how other species of crabs alter their appearance to suit their surroundings.

Fiddler crabs from the Uca genus are known to appear darker during the day and lighter at night. Scientists have suggested this may help the crabs to regulate their temperature or protect them from UV radiation in the day.

A further oddity of the ghost crabs, according to Dr Stevens, is the fact that only the juveniles can change their appearance in this way.

"The adults probably don't change colour as much... because the carapace becomes thick and dense with pigment when the crabs get big. But why that should happen I'm not sure," he said.

The biologist intends to investigate other crab species in order to understand more about their ability to change colour for concealment.

Read more!

Wasps key to survival of 1,200 species

Global warming may kill pollinators of figs, food for many animals: Study
David Ee Straits Times 6 Apr 13;

IF WASPS that pollinate fig trees die out due to global warming, it could lead to a "massive loss of animal species", Singaporean researchers have found.

A worldwide temperature rise of 3 deg C - which scientists predict could happen by 2050 as greenhouse gases warm the planet - could kill the wasps that the 750 known fig varieties rely on to reproduce.

This would reduce fig numbers, which could in turn lead to the decline of up to 1,200 species that rely on it as a food source - including orang utans, fruit bats and hornbills.

The claims come from a two-year study into wasps led by Singaporean ecologist Nanthinee Jevanandam, who was a PhD researcher at the National University of Singapore when it started.

She had been studying fig trees in Kent Ridge during a hot spell in 2010 when she noticed unusual pollination patterns.

The study's results, published last month in Biology Letters - the journal of the Royal Society, the United Kingdom's national academy of science - could have far-reaching implications.

"Because of their ecological importance, any loss of fig species or reduction in their abundance would be of major conservation concern," the paper concludes.

A knock-on effect would result, said Ms Javanandam, affecting not only species that feed on figs, but also others further up the food chain.

Figs are widespread globally and can be found in both temperate and tropical regions, including Japan and Australia.

The researchers exposed more than 4,000 wasps of four species to increasing temperatures in a laboratory, starting from 25 degC.

They found that an average temperature rise of 3 deg C led to declines of up to 25 per cent in the lifespans of three of the species.

These tiny fig wasps typically live for just one to two days.

With a shorter time to live, they would have less time to locate figs to pollinate.

But Ms Javanandam cautioned against sounding alarm bells. There is the possibility, she said, that the wasps could genetically adapt to higher real-world temperatures as the planet warms.

She added that she hoped her team's findings would encourage more research in the area.

She said: "I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a crisis. We cannot predict these things absolutely. But the importance of figs is clear - this cannot be disputed."

Read more!

Indonesia releases 10,005 maleo birds

Antara 6 Apr 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian forestry ministry has released 10,005 maleo (Macrocephalon maleo) birds into their habitats in Sulawesi forests since 2001.

The maleo chicks had been bred at a maleo conservation center in Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park, North Sulawesi Province, Indonesian Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said at a press conference here on Friday.

"Without conservation efforts, the population of maleo in the wild would have been decreasing due to maleo egg predators such as lizards, python snakes, dogs, wild boars, and human beings.

When maleo birds exist in an area, it indicates that the ecosystem in the area is still good, according to the minister.

In addition to maleo, the ministry has also released Rangkong (Rhyticeros cassidix), Perkici Dora (Trichoglossus ornatus), Kus Kus (Ailurops ursinus), and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) ta) into Batuputih eco-tourism forest in Bitung, North Sulawesi.

The minister said one of the main challenge facing the nation in trying to preserve its endangered animals is lack of the public awareness.

"Many tigers were killed for their skins, rangkong bird`s beaks were taken out, and elephants were poisoned," the minister said.

The ministry has limited budget to protect and preserve those endangered animals, he said.

The maleo is a ground-dwelling bird endemic to Sulawesi. Eggs are buried in communal warm sand nesting areas. It is considered endangered, in part due to egg harvesting by local people.

The maleo is a large, black and white bird with a prominent medium-length tail. As its alternative name, maleo megapode suggests, it has characteristically large feet.

This striking bird has a distinctive bony, dark casque on its crown, a yellowish face, and a bare pale bill. The thighs are black, and the belly white, with pink hues on the breast.


Editor: Jafar M Sidik

Read more!

Indonesia: Ministry to relocate one-horned rhino in West Java

Antara 6 Apr 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Forestry Ministry will do its best to relocate one-horned rhinoceroses from their habitat in Ujung Kulon National Park (TNUK) in Banten province to a certain place in West Java.

"The number of rhinoceroses in the park has been increasing. So we will do our best to relocate the animals," Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said here on Friday.

The minister said the rhinoceroses would be relocated to a new location in West Java. "Possibly in Sukabumi or other areas in West Java. We still have many places that could be used as rhino`s habitat," the minister added.

However, the minister expressed concern about whether the new location would be suitable for the rare species. Zulkifli admitted that it was not easy to find a location which was really suitable, particularly for protected animals.

"It is a challenge. We are still looking for a location and are conducting popularization to the people so that the fate experienced by an orangutan in Kalimantan recently would not be repeated," the minister said.

He said that the people still lacked awareness of the need to conserve the protected animals.

Based on the forestry ministry monitoring which was done by the Directorate General for Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHAK), the population of Java rhinoceroses in 2012 was recorded at 51. They consisted of 29 male and 22 female. Eight of the female were calves.

"This is encouraging development," the minister said.

He said that the population of Java rhinoceroses was only found in the TNUK park because its population in Vietnam was already declared extinct.(*)

Read more!

UK: Hundreds of wild boars face cull

Numbers are doubling every year and locals are worried that breeding and behaviour is getting out of control
John Vidal The Guardian 5 Apr 13;

Just a decade ago, the wildest creatures in the Forest of Dean were deer, sheep, foxes and badgers. But today there are as many as 600 wild boars roaming the 111 sq km (43 sq miles) of ancient Gloucestershire woodland – and they are breeding so fast that hundreds may have to be culled, according to an assessment by the Forestry Commission (FC).

The commission's deputy surveyor, Kevin Stannard, told the Forest of Dean council that boar numbers were doubling almost every year. "It is difficult to put a figure on the population but [we] estimate there are in excess of 500 and probably 600 boars in the Forest of Dean. Last year, we set a cull target of 100. That target was met in January, with 78 animals culled by FC staff and 22 animals killed through road traffic accidents."

The FC says that up to 200 boars might now have to be culled but the fiercely independent locals – who led the national battle to prevent the woodlands being privatised by the government in 2011 – are split. Proud of the fact that the forest sustains the biggest population of boars in Britain, they are also worried that numbers may be out of control. "The largest group could be 20 animals, made up of two or three breeding females and their litters," Stannard said.

Locals have complained that rampaging boars plough up gardens and crops, panic horses, rip up roadside verges, open rubbish bags and are increasingly causing road accidents. "In 18 months' time, it is said we could have 1,000 wild boars in the forest. Nobody knows how many it can sustain," said Martin Quayle, the district council cabinet member for the environment. "They make a hell of a mess of the verges. Some people say the place is so untidy that it's begun to look like a tip. On my lane, they have dug up the verge three times in the last year."

"A lot of people get really steamed up about them. But it's very delicate. Everyone feels there should be some culling, but others say it should be turned into a tourist attraction and that we should attract hunters. Some poaching already goes on."

The boars roam freely in family groups called sounders across the whole forest, staying in one place for a few days before moving on again, according to the FC, but have been invading communities more frequently. "Adult male boars can move rapidly between eight to nine miles in one night. There are many reasons why boars have been more prevalent in the communities this autumn and winter. These include the lack of beechnuts and acorns caused by the very wet summer and a general increase in the size of the population," Stannard told the councillors.

Council chairman Norman Stephens said: "A lot of people I speak to are sick and tired of the boars. You have only got to drive around to see the damage they do. There are a lot of people who would like to see a stronger cull."

Scott Passmore, co-founder of the UK Wild Boar Trust, based in the Forest of Dean, said he did not support a cull but was prepared to provide advice to the commission. "We want to ensure it's done on as accurate an estimation of the population as possible. It's always this time of year when people call for the boars to be controlled because the roadsides are messy. It might look bad to some people, but as soon as the weather improves it will get better. The grass just isn't growing over at the moment.

"We are aware that rooting done by the wild boars can be a controversial subject and will attract a wide range of opinions, from being great for the richness of the soil to being an unsightly mess. We maintain that 99% of any effects from wild boar rooting is temporary and the ground will usually repair itself, though in some cases it may need a little help just by turning the turf back over."

Plants in the vicinity will grow back the following year much stronger, said Passmore: "In fact, it isn't very different to digging a flower bed in a garden, and regularly turning the soil to enrich the area."

The boars are thought to have been illegally reintroduced to the forest around 2004. A few animals had earlier escaped from a nearby wild boar farm and are believed to have met others which had been dumped in the forest. Wild boars have no natural predators in the UK and females can give birth to eight to 14 piglets a year in two litters.

Read more!

Chinese fishing fleet in African waters reports 9% of catch to UN

Researchers say a new way to estimate the size and value of catches shows the extent of looting of Africa
John Vidal 3 Apr 13;

Just 9% of the millions of tonnes of fish caught by China's giant fishing fleet in African and other international waters is officially reported to the UN, say researchers using a new way to estimate the size and value of catches.

Fisheries experts have long considered that the catches reported by China to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) are low but the scale of the possible deception shocked the authors.

"The study shows the extent of the looting of Africa, where so many people depend on seafood for basic protein. We need to know how many fish have been taken from the ocean in order to figure out what we can catch in the future," says Daniel Pauly, at the University of British Columbia (UBC). "Countries need to realise the importance of accurately recording and reporting their catches and step up to the plate, or there will be no fish left for our children."

The alleged gross misrepresentation of the official Chinese catch suggests that many countries are being systematically cheated, leaving them unable to devise effective management plans to conserve stocks. The long term implications for food security could be severe because many millions of people in developing countries depend on fish both for their livelihoods and for their diets.

But a spokesman for the UNFAO, the agency that keeps track of global fisheries catches, disputed the new figures. "The estimates in this paper of Chinese catches off west Africa are far too high."

In their new study, scientists at UBC estimate that China's "distant water" fleet of 3,400 vessels catches 4.1m tonnes of fish every year, worth $11.5bn, from the coastal waters of 93 countries. But the Chinese government, says the report, tells the UNFAO that its vessels only took an average of 368,000 tonnes a year from 2000-2011.

The team of 20 researchers calculated the number of Chinese vessels fishing in international waters by consulting news reports, online articles and local fishery experts and estimated that nearly 75% of all the fish caught by Chinese vessels came from African waters, with almost 3m tonnes a year from west Africa.

According to the UNFAO, the west African coast has some of the world's most abundant fishing grounds, but almost all are fully or over-exploited by international fishing fleets.

The FAO spokesman said the estimated 3m tonne take by China off west Africa was on the same scale as the total catch of all 22 west African coastal states and 38 foreign nations fishing in the region in combined. He noted that unregulated catches are by definition unreported but said the "best" estimate for these was less than 560,000 tonnes a year.

If Chinese vessels are taking far more fish than suspected, it would mean that many poor countries are losing tens of millions of dollars, having signed contracts with Chinese companies to catch far fewer fish. However, the study does not try to estimate the amount of illegal fish caught by Chinese vessels.

According to Greenpeace, sub-Saharan Africa is now the only region on earth where per capita fish consumption is falling, largely because foreign fishing fleets have removed so much fish.

Public pressure both in Europe and in developing countries has forced European fleets to stop fishing in some west African coastal waters, but Chinese vessels have moved in, to the consternation of local fishing fleets .

"Chinese agreements are generally the most private and secretive and are often only known to a few individuals within a host country's ministry," says the report.

"China hasn't been forthcoming about its fisheries catches," says Dirk Zeller, a co-author of the study. "While not reporting catches doesn't necessarily mean the fishing is illegal – there could be agreements between these countries and China that allow fishing – we simply don't know for sure as this information just isn't available."

The authors estimated that 345 Chinese ocean-going vessels fish African waters with several thousand others working in Pacific waters. Some of the fish is sold on the international market but much is returned to China. The only large regions of the world where Chinese distant water vessels do not operate are the Arctic, the Caribbean and the coasts of North America and Europe.

Read more!