Best of our wild blogs: 4 Sep 14

One Ubin, Two Utanias
from Flying Fish Friends

Sun 7 Sept’14: Mid Autumn Evening Walk
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

The Terek Sandpiper in Singapore
from Francis' Random Yaks, Articles & Photos

Bats in my porch: 12. Grooming
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Butterflies Galore! : Apefly
from Butterflies of Singapore

E-waste recycling & hard disk shredding ! NUS U Town, Fri 12 Sep 2014: 10am – 4pm
from Otterman speaks

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Research on green building solutions to focus on key areas

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 3 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE: A S$52 million fund for research on green building solutions will kick off with a focus on several key areas – integrated building design, building envelope and facade systems, building management and information systems, or smart buildings, as well as air-conditioning and mechanical ventilation.

The announcement was made by Senior Minister of State for National Development Lee Yi Shyan as he launched the fund, called the Green Buildings Innovation Cluster (GBIC), on Wednesday (Sep 3) morning.

GBIC is part of the Building and Construction Authority's (BCA) third Green Building Masterplan, announced on Monday by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

“GBIC will help build up research and development capabilities, conduct demonstration projects and 'match-make' academia and industry to accelerate the adoption of new and novel technologies,” Mr Lee said.

By bringing together researchers, tech firms, developers and users, GBIC hopes to facilitate breakthroughs, said BCA CEO John Keung, "We are talking about going beyond the 30 to 35 per cent in energy efficiency in our typical Green Mark Platinum building. We want to aim for 50, 60 per cent, or even a higher degree of energy efficiency with all these ideas and innovations," Mr Keung said.


Buildings in the tropics heat up quickly, and this means more energy is required to cool the interior. So developing building facades with better insulation is one area GBIC will focus on. It will also look into how to create smart buildings.

Experts say for this to happen, it is important to get the right information. Said Mr Nilesh Jadhav, Programme Director of EcoCampus at Nanyang Technological University: "Imagine if you're going to sign up for a limited broadband subscription plan, and you don't know what you're doing and you'll be incurring costs for every byte you consume. This is the impact of data. You need to know what exactly your consumption is and which part of your system is doing the consuming. Is it air-con which is consuming the most energy. Is it the computers? Is it the lights that are on all the time?"

A national repository of energy efficiency data will be set up under GBIC to provide the building industry with data. "This will provide easily accessible data for the building industry to gain confidence in adopting innovative technologies," said Mr Lee.

Other areas of research for GBIC will include dehumidification technologies and more energy efficient air-conditioning. Apart from research, GBIC is also a platform that brings all building stakeholders together. For example, a researcher could test-bed new technology on a developer's site, or a developer could test a novel idea like a smart app that alerts residents when their energy consumption exceeds preset limits.

"In this way, home-owners will be able to adjust and optimise their consumption patterns to save energy," said Mr Allen Ang, the head for Innovation and Green Building at City Developments Limited. "In this way, they will be able to lower their electricity bills." GBIC funding will help defray some of the investment costs involved with developing the app, which is currently at the conceptualisation stage, he added.

GBIC funding will be disbursed over five years, and administered by the BCA's Centre for Sustainable Buildings and Construction at the BCA Academy.

- CNA/cy/xy

S$30.8m awarded to projects to improve living spaces
Channel NewsAsia 3 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE: A total of S$30.8 million in funding was awarded to 10 research projects as part of the Land and Liveability National Innovation Challenge (L2 NIC). This was announced in a joint news release from the Ministry of National Development and the National Research Foundation (NRF) on Wednesday (Sep 3).

Seventy-eight white papers were received after a call for proposals was made last November, to develop innovative technological solutions in four areas: the creation of space, optimising the use of land, creating highly liveable residential towns and supporting ICT and platforms.

Projects that made the final cut include one by the Singapore Management University's (SMU) iCity Lab, which proposes the use of sensors to support ageing-in-place. With the installation of sensors in the homes of the elderly, community volunteers could monitor and respond to seniors' calls for help in a more timely manner.

Faculty members of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will also get funding for their proposal to develop an integrated solution for ensuring structural fire safety and life safety of occupants in underground structures. "The project will support the development of safe, robust and cost-effective designs for future mega underground developments in Singapore," according to the release.

One of the underground developments here is the Jurong Rock Caverns, which was officially opened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday.

Professor Yong Kwet Yew, the Scientific Lead for L2 NIC, said the projects selected were reviewed by international and local experts as well as a technical evaluation panel and are of "high research quality".

"I am delighted to see universities, research institutes, Government agencies and private sector companies working together to develop integrated and innovative urban solutions to make Singapore more liveable, resilient and sustainable,” Prof Yong said.

- CNA/kk

S$30.8m funding awarded to projects to improve living spaces
Today Online 3 Sep 14;

SINAGPORE – A project that uses sensors to support ageing-in-place and a project to develop a modelling tool for urban planning are among the 10 research projects that have been awarded a total of S$30.8 million in funding.

The funding comes under the Land and Liveability National Innovation Challenge (L2 NIC) First Call for Proposals

“The awarded projects presented opportunities to use technology to improve the living environment for Singaporeans, as well as pushed the frontier of possibilities for future space development and land optimisation,” said the Ministry of National Development and National Research Foundation in a joint statement today (Sept 3).

The L2 NIC First Call for Proposals was launched on Nov 14 last year to support research and development for innovative technological solutions in four key areas, namely, the creation of space, optimising the use of land, creating highly liveable residential towns and supporting Information and Communications Technologies and platforms.

Singapore Management University’s (SMU) iCity Lab’s project aims to create sensor-enabled homes in support of ageing-in-place. The sensors, installed in the homes of seniors, could help community volunteers better monitor and respond to the seniors’ calls for help in a timely manner.

The modelling tool for urban planners, to be developed by A*STAR’s Institute for High Performance Computing and Institute for Infocomm Research, will incorporate a range of environmental factors such as wind, thermal, solar irradiance and noise in the urban landscape.

This will enable urban planners to visualise the effects of their designs on different environmental parameters, optimising the planning and design of our living environment.

A project by Nanyang Technological University faculty members will seek to develop an integrated solution for ensuring structural fire safety and life safety of occupants in underground structures.

Professor Yong Kwet Yew, L2 NIC Scientific Lead, said: “The projects selected for the L2 NIC First Call for Proposals are of high research quality that has been reviewed by international and local experts and a Technical Evaluation Panel. I am delighted to see universities, research institutes, Government agencies and private sector companies working together to develop integrated and innovative urban solutions to make Singapore more liveable, resilient and sustainable.”

A total of 78 White Papers were received at the close of the Call for Proposals in January.

Key players join hands on green research
Janice Heng The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Sep 14;

Developers, architects, engineers and academics are being brought together to develop and test green building technologies, under a new Economic Development Board (EDB) scheme.

In teams led by major industry players, they will tackle questions such as how to let in more natural light while not heating up the building.

The research will take place before any specific building projects have been decided on, and the solutions will be customised for Singapore's tropical climate.

This Pre-Project Innovation Consortium was launched yesterday at the Building and Construction Authority's annual International Green Building Conference.

Two groups have already been formed, and are expected to spend $10 million in research over the next three years, with the EDB providing an undisclosed amount.

One group, led by Australian developer Lend Lease, is looking at how to adapt cross-laminated timber for a hot and humid climate. This strong wood-based building material is lighter than concrete and allows for faster construction.

The other, led by Singaporean firm DP Architects and New Zealand engineering consultancy Beca, will look at lighting and cooling.

"The partners are experts in technology, but we can tell them how to apply the technology to meet the industry's needs," said Mr Lee Boon Woei, director of consortium leader DP Architects' unit DP Sustainable Design.

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Pulau Ubin cyclist collapses and dies

Colin Tham The New Paper AsiaOne 4 Sep 14;

What was supposed to be a fun cycling trip on Pulau Ubin turned tragic when 38-year-old Alex Tan Kok Wai suddenly collapsed.

Mr Tan was with his colleagues for the cycling outing on Monday when, at around noon, he felt unwell.

He got off his bicycle to rest, but collapsed and started foaming at the mouth, reported Shin Min Daily News.

The Hewlett-Packard engineer lost consciousness soon after that.

He was brought back to the mainland in a police rescue boat and taken by ambulance to Changi General Hospital.

He died shortly after being admitted. The cause of death is unknown.

Police have classified the case as unnatural death and are investigating.

Mr Tan's 65-year-old father told Shin Min that he was shocked to hear of his son's death.

He became aware of his son's plans to go on the outing only that morning.

The storekeeper of a bike rental shop on Pulau Ubin, who wanted to be known only as Ah Kai, said the shop had received a booking for 40 bicycles a few days earlier from Mr Tan's group.

He said the group collected their bicycles at around 10am and returned at 2pm.

"I saw a person pushing two bicycles and went over to ask him what had happened," he said.

"They only told me that someone had collapsed."

Marriage registration records indicate that Mr Tan married his Malaysian wife in May last year, and they moved into a flat in Toa Payoh with his parents.

He has an older and a younger sister.

Clarence Yeo from Killiney Family and Wellness Clinic said precautions should be taken for group outings.

"In large group outings, the leader or organiser of the group should make the necessary preparations, and any member who may feel unwell should opt out of the activity," he said.

Dr Yeo added that the leader also needs to be aware of the areas where they can get quick medical attention in an emergency.

On how to deal with a case of sudden fainting, he said: "The person should first be taken to a safe place out of the way of traffic.

"If the victim is in a stable condition, he or she can be put into a recovery position."

Once this is done, call for further medical assistance.

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Firms should be responsible for their impact on the environment: Dr Balakrishnan

Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 3 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE: Companies need to account for unintended consequences to the environment as a result of their business decisions. Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan made this point at the second annual Global Green Economic Forum on Wednesday (Sep 3).

More than 300 delegates - including environmentalists and policy makers - attended the event, for discussions on building a sustainable future.

Dr Balakrishnan said it is important that companies be responsible for their impact on the environment, especially following the recent haze episodes.

"There is nothing wrong with planting palm oil. But if the companies that plant palm oil do not have to pay for the externalities of polluting the air because they have burnt the forest in order to plant the palm oil, and they have privatised the gains and socialised the external costs, that is not sound economics, that is not sustainable development," he said.

“We recently passed legislation, not as a reflex fit of anger, but because we are trying to put this principle that you have to account for externalities."

- CNA/ms

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Wet conditions to continue for first half of September

Siau Ming En Today Online 4 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE — Following a prolonged dry spell earlier this year, more rain than usual pelted down on Singapore last month, in the middle of what is supposed to be the dry season.

And the relatively wet conditions are set to continue over the first half of this month before drier conditions set in, said the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) in response to queries.

The dry season typically runs from June to October. Last month, however, saw 240.2mm of rainfall, higher than the average rainfall of 175mm for the month. Last year and in 2012, the total monthly rainfall recorded for August were 179.8mm and 119.4mm, respectively.

The wetter conditions in July and August are due to the slightly higher occurrence of convective thunderstorms and the Sumatra squalls, a MSS spokesperson said.

Just yesterday, the PUB reported flash floods at the junction of Lower Delta Road and Telok Blangah Rise following heavy rain in the afternoon. In July, a heavy downpour accompanied by strong winds that lasted more than two hours left behind a trail of fallen tree branches. Flash floods were also reported on some roads, such as Mackenzie Road.

The MSS added that since the onset of the South-west Monsoon season in June, the region has been generally wet with brief periods of drier weather. While the occasional dry periods had led to an escalation of hot-spot activities in Sumatra and Kalimantan, Singapore has not been affected by the transboundary haze as the prevailing southerly winds have kept the haze away.

But it said for the rest of the South-west Monsoon season — which lasts until next month — periods of dry weather leading to increased hot-spot activities may still be expected in the region.“Singapore could be affected by transboundary haze if the prevailing winds blow any smoke haze in the region towards Singapore,” added the spokesperson.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) had predicted in June that weak-to-moderate El Nino conditions could develop over the next few months. In the latest El Nino update dated Aug 8, the NEA noted that while Singapore would usually experience drier and warmer conditions during El Nino events — especially during the South-west Monsoon period — the impact on rainfall and temperature is not uniform over time.

For instance, there were years where “relatively weaker events” induced more significant changes in rainfall, added the NEA.

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Thailand totters towards waste crisis

Aidan Jones AFP Yahoo News 1 Sep 14;

Bangkok (AFP) - A blaze at a vast rubbish dump home to six million tonnes of putrefying trash and toxic effluent has kindled fears that poor planning and lax law enforcement are tipping Thailand towards a waste crisis.

Locals had long pressed for the closure of the foul-smelling Praeksa landfill site, which is wedged between a cluster of industrial estates on the fringes of Bangkok.

But a ferocious eight-day fire that cloaked the eastern suburbs of the capital in poisonous smoke earlier this year thrust Praeksa to the heart of a national debate over rubbish.

Bangkok -- a sprawling city of 12 million and counting -- produces around 10,000 tonnes of waste a day, a substantial portion of the 27 million tonnes generated each year across the kingdom.

The ruling junta has put waste disposal high on its to-do list, recognising that poorly regulated pits are fast filling up and prone to disaster.

But Thailand is not alone in struggling to tame its trash.

From Jakarta's Bantar Gebang dump to Manila's 'smokey mountain', open landfills blight Southeast Asia's booming megacities, as urban planners labour to keep pace with rapid urbanisation and industrial growth.

Experts warn those dumps are a timebomb for the environment and the increasing number of communities forced to live cheek-by-jowl with them.

Open dumping "offers a quick and easy solution in the short run," the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific says in a study, warning of severe environmental problems and long-term health issues caused by contaminated water and land.

- 'Close the dump' -

Of Thailand's 2,500 open rubbish pits, just a fifth are properly managed, according to the kingdom's Pollution Control Department.

The rest are at the mercy of illegal dumping -- including of hazardous waste -- fires and seepage into nearby land and water systems.

The department says the mid-March blaze at Praeksa, which has caught fire several times since, was just one of 10 raging every month at dumps across a kingdom.

A lack of enforcement is to blame, says Nicha Rakpanichmanee of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (EARTH), explaining the whole waste disposal chain is skewed towards "anyone who can pay".

She says that 1.9 million tonnes of toxic waste goes unaccounted for after leaving factory gates every year, with many factory owners flouting laws to save on the costs of safe disposal and tip operators willing to turn a blind eye to the illegal dumping of toxic run-off.

"The people who will remain with the problems are the poorest who cannot move," she says of the communities forced to live with contaminated water and land.

For residents near Praeska, in Samut Prakan province neighbouring Bangkok, the intensity of the blaze has left them in little doubt that inflammable chemicals swash around the fetid mounds of trash.

The tip is meant for household waste only.

"I want it closed," said 85-year-old local resident Jad Pimsorn. "I have lived with it but I don't want my children and grandchildren to live with it too."

The dump operator denied he had allowed chemicals to be illegally stashed at his site.

"But there were several companies operating the pit before me," Krompol Samutsakorn told AFP.

- Trash talk -

Until the Praeksa blaze, talking about trash was a conversation few wanted to have.

Currently Thai households pay less than half a dollar a month to get rid of their waste.

Local authorities say that leaves them short of cash to invest in modern, environmentally friendly incinerators or recycling plants, but they are reluctant to raise rates on would-be voters in already poor neighbourhoods.

That could be about to change, with military ruler General Prayut Chan-O-Cha vowing to tackle the kingdom's garbage problems.

"Can people throw away garbage in outer space?" he asked in a typically enigmatic weekly television address to the nation on August 8.

"They cannot... they have to throw it away in Thailand."

The comments from the can-do junta chief have raised hopes of a policy revival towards waste after years of short-term planning -- abetted by short-lived governments -- in the politically turbulent kingdom.

Fearing landfills are incubating massive health issues down the line, the Pollution Control Department wants to see collection rates raised locally and laws tightened to encourage recycling.

One solution is better facilities to compost organic waste -- especially in places such as Thailand where nearly half of the daily 1.1 kilograms of household waste produced per person is bio-degradable.

As they heave a wheelie-bin full of rotting food and broken beer bottles into the back of a rubbish truck, a group of Bangkok binmen say Thais must change their habits or live with the consequences.

"It is hard to solve the problem," said Wutthichai Namuangrak, seemingly inured to the sickly-sweet stench rising from the back of the truck.

"We can help by collecting the trash, but people cannot just rely on us."

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Pacific fisheries chief warns tuna stocks dangerously low

AFP Yahoo News 2 Sep 14;

The outgoing head of the fisheries management body for the western and central Pacific has warned that some tuna stocks were now so low they should not be fished.

Glenn Hurry, executive director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), said the situation was not yet unrecoverable, but it was at a dangerous level and worsening.

"The Pacific bluefin is I would have thought at the biggest risk, it's at about 3.0 percent of its original spawning biomass, so the amount of adult fish in the water that can spawn ... it's at a pretty dangerous level," Hurry told AFP late Tuesday.

Hurry said other species were also depleted, with bigeye tuna below the critical level of about 20 percent of its original spawning biomass, and fishing this species should stop to allow it to recover.

"Of the big ones -- bigeye and skipjack tuna -- bigeye is about 16 percent of its original spawning biomass, so it's below the limit," he said.

Yellowfin tuna was below 40 percent of its original biomass.

Hurry, an Australian, welcomed Japan's plans to propose a 50 percent cut on catches of young bluefin tuna in the western and central Pacific in a historic shift aimed at safeguarding the at-risk species.

But he said fish stocks in the Pacific had slowly worsened in the four years he had spent in the job, which he expects to leave this month, and more tough decisions needed to be made.

Pacific island nations have complained that there are too many fishing boats catching too few fish.

"We started with one of the best stocks of fish in the world, and we've fished them down," Hurry said.

"And when it comes to the crunch and you've got to make hard decisions about reducing the catch on the stock, it gets really difficult.

"Take a little country like Tuvalu; 50 percent of the income of Tuvalu is the income they get from fishing. If you're going to reduce (its catch) it's going to hurt."

Hurry said fishing stocks could recover, but the more valuable fish became, the harder it would be for small countries dependant on the fishing industry to pull back on their hauls.

"They will bounce back so long as you restrict the fishing pressure on them and we're just increasing it," he said. "It's not looking particularly positive if you keep doing that."

With too many boats catching too few fish, Pacific island nations in June said they were ratcheting up the fees they charge tuna fishing boats to enter their waters by a hefty 33 percent.

The eight countries involved are from the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which control waters covering more than half the world's skipjack tuna, the most commonly canned variety.

From January 1, 2015, the PNA will raise the fishing day fee for so-called "distant water" fleets from as far afield as Europe, China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, from US$6,000 to US$8,000.

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Nearly two dozen fish species off U.S. West Coast deemed sustainable

Reuters Yahoo News 3 Sep 14;

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Nearly two dozen species of fish have been deemed sustainable seafood options once again after rampant overfishing left areas off the U.S. West Coast devastated, a marine watchdog group said on Tuesday.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program upgraded the status of 21 species of bottom-dwelling fish, including varieties of sole, rockfish and sablefish, to "best choice" or "good alternative" from the group's "avoid" classification.

The designations allow consumers, restaurants and seafood retailers to be confident in the sustainability of the once over-harvested species.

The change comes after fishing grounds off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington state were declared an economic disaster by the federal government in 2000. Overfishing in those areas brought some species to dangerously low levels and caused fishing income to drop sharply.

"The turnaround in such a short time is unprecedented," said Jennifer Kemmerly, director of the Seafood Watch program.

"Fishermen, federal agencies and our environmental colleagues have put so much effort into groundfish recovery, and now we're seeing the results of their work," she added.

The group attributed the region's revitalization to government-imposed fishing quotas, the creation of marine protected areas, and the use of better monitoring and control of catches.

Now, 84 percent of commercial groundfish caught off the West Coast are sustainable options, according to the Seafood Watch program.

"This recognition highlights the success of the West Coast groundfish catch share program," said Frank Lockhart, who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's West Coast recovery efforts.

"Not only has it reduced impacts on the species we need to protect, but it has allowed fishermen increased flexibility to fish more effectively for the species they want," he said.

The West Coast's recovery mirrors improvements seen elsewhere in the United States following updates to the federal fishery law passed by Congress in 2006, the Seafood Watch program said.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner)

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Reserves and parks not enough to protect nature – David Attenborough

Broadcaster calls for radical new approach to conservation, urging people to use all spaces from gardens to roadside verges to help wildlife
John Vidal 3 Sep 14;

Nature reserves and national parks are not enough to prevent a catastrophic decline in nature, David Attenborough has told politicians, business leaders and conservationists, saying that every space in Britain from suburban gardens to road verges must be used to help wildlife.

Britain’s leading commentator on wildlife called for a radical new approach to conservation which did not bemoan the past but embraced the changes brought by climate change and a rapidly growing human population.

“Where in 1945 it was thought that the way to solve the problem was to create wildlife parks and nature reserves, that is no longer an option. They are not enough now. The whole countryside should be available for wildlife. The suburban garden, roadside verges ... all must be used”.

Attenborough, speaking at the RSPB’s Conference for Nature in London, said it was now understood that British wildlife was in grave peril of disappearing. “50% of the hedgehog population has gone in 25 years, 90% of the wildlife meadows have disappeared in 100 years; 60% of all wildlife is diminishing and in danger, with 10% doomed to disappear in the next decades. Nowhere in Britain is unsullied, is unaffected by human action. We now have a huge population living cheek by jowl with nature”.

But rather than lament the changes, he urged everyone to act. “We know climate change is happening. It is regretted by some but it is also to be embraced. It is causing great changes in the distribution of animnals and birds in the countryside. We must take advantage of that. It is very important that we accept there are things coming in ... We must recognise that new animals and plants are coming in. Others are moving north. We ought to be giving thought to wildlife corridors ... and not think that every new arrival is to be repelled.

“Because of the complex relationship society has with nature, it is obvious that our response to saving it must extend from every possible quarter too. With an increasing global footprint, mankind is intensifying the crisis for wildlife, but as individuals we can all be part of the solution for saving it too.’’

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who will speak at the conference on Wednesday, pledged to keep funding the Royal Botanic Gardens at last year’s levels for a further nine months. The gardens, which are a major tiourist attraction, face a shortfall of around £5m and had their budget cut by £1.5m earlier this year.

Government funding for Kew will now be maintained at the same level as it was for 2013-14, until at least the end of the 2014/15 financial year, said Clegg. “Kew is one of the most important scientific and environmental institutions in the world. That is why I am so pleased to announce that I have secured £1.5m for Kew Gardens until at least April 2015 so its vital work can continue,” he said.

“This is something that I know a lot of people have been campaigning for and is a significant step towards protecting the future of our environment.”

Richard Deverell, director at Kew, said: “We welcome this government recognition of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s importance and the value of our work. In recent months we have been actively articulating this. This funding will go some way to assist us in achieving the transition to a sustainable future for Kew. However, it will not fully resolve the original £5m gap we identified in our budget for 2014/15 that we have been managing.”

Clegg also announced that the coalition planned to speed up the building of a 2,795 mile national coastal path round England, bringing completion of the project forward from 2030 to 2020.

The move was welcomed by the National Trust, the Ramblers and other countryside groups who had lobbied strongly for the trail for many years but who feared that the project was stalling. Only two short sections have been completed, with work starting recently on several other lengths. Until now, no indication had been given by government about when work might start on many long stretches.

“I’ve been pushing for this process to be speeded up. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m pleased to announce today that the government will be ensuring that the path is completed by 2020 by allocating extra funding,” said Clegg.

“Investing in the coast path is not just good news for walkers, but will help to breathe new life into our coastal towns and villages, boosting tourism and the local economy and reconnecting people with their stretch of coast, helping to promote health and wellbeing,” said Benedict Southworth, chief executive at the Ramblers.

The conference, which attracted politicians from all parties, heard shadow minister for natural environment and fisheries, Barry Gardiner, pledge to protect and enhance the public role of the Forestry Commission and to hold landowners who received large subsidies more accountable by insisting that they worked more for the public good.

He said landowners had worked for their own rather than society’s betterment in the past. “Progress has been opposed by big landowners since 1945. Public access has not led to the destruction of landscape. Increasing access is perfectly compatible with sound management of the environment.”

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Food crime occurring on 'unprecedented' scale - report

Claire Marshall BBC News 4 Sep 14;

"Food crime" has reached unprecedented levels, a new report to be published on Thursday is expected to say.

Commissioned by the UK environment agency and health department, the report is understood to recommend the creation of a "food crime unit".

It draws on evidence from international police bodies Interpol and Europol.

They say that international gangs are diversifying - shifting from drug trafficking and armed robbery to illegal and fraudulent food trading.

The review of Britain's food supply chains was announced in response to the horsemeat fraud in 2013.

Michael Ellis, assistant director of Interpol, told BBC News: "This has changed the scope of investigations. Criminals have realised that they can make the same amount of money by dealing with counterfeit food. Invariably the sentences are much lighter.

"In my experience, the patterns used by criminals involved in counterfeiting are very similar to those used in the dealing of drugs. They operate front companies, they employ front bank accounts, they will have false declarations for the movement of their goods, they will mis-declare their shipments."

Operation Opson III in December 2013 and January 2014 involved co-ordinated raids across 33 countries in the Americas, Asia and Europe.

More than 131,000 litres of oil and vinegar, 20 tonnes of spices and condiments, nearly 430,000 litres of counterfeit drink and 45 tonnes of dairy products were seized. In addition, 96 people were arrested.

Food crime can have fatal consequences. In China in 2008, an industrial chemical, melamine, was added to increase the protein content of baby milk. Six babies died of severe kidney damage as a result.

In the Czech Republic in 2012, more than 40 people were killed by vodka and rum that had been laced with methanol.

Mr Ellis said: "Counterfeiting impacts on everyone. The criminals have no care at all for the hygiene or bacterial content in the end product. They just want the brand name in order to get their money."

Huw Watkins from the Intellectual Property Office explained that it was a difficult issue to tackle.

"The problem with fake and illicit food is that not many people understand how complex the issue is. The initial response is that it doesn't happen; that it happens elsewhere. We enjoy a very good standard of food safety in the UK, and we want that to continue," he said.

The methanol poisoning deaths in the Czech Republic changed the mindset of the organisations in charge of food safety. Mr Watkins said: "People were actually shocked at the sheer numbers, not just killed but seriously injured."

In the UK, the system to ensure the safety of the food chain is complicated. Different elements are dealt with by different departments.

For example, food labelling is dealt with by the Food Standards Agency, the Department of Health, Defra, and also Trading Standards officers who are employed by local authorities. There are also Environmental Health Officers who deal with complaints about food quality, hygiene and safety issues.

Novel technology created in a laboratory could help in the fight against the food fraudsters.

Pulsar, developed by Oxford Instruments in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, can identify meat in a matter of seconds rather than days.

Rather than isolating DNA, it looks at the so-called "fat fingerprint": each animal has a different amount of fat in its meat. However, the machine cannot yet identify the different meats in processed foods, so could only be used to screen meat before it gets into the factory.

Responsibility for checking food sellers, restaurants or processing plants, is principally down to Trading Standards officers. However, according to the Trading Standards Institute, budgets for this in England and Wales have been cut by an average of 40% since 2010.

In Worcestershire, for example, reports suggest there may just be six Trading Standards officers for the whole of the county next year as opposed to 25 in 2013/14. There has also been a cut in the number of public analyst laboratories, which is where food samples are sent to be tested.

Data on the number of official food samples taken shows that for the year 2012-2013, dozens of district councils including Swindon, Brent and Cheltenham carried out zero or minimal tests for food contamination and composition.

Rebecca Kaya, from Buckinghamshire Trading Standards, explained: "We have about 20 officers left in Buckinghamshire and we have got to cover the entire county so that's actually quite a long distance. It's a lot of area to cover, a lot of businesses, we've got in Bucks around 2,500 farms, and all the businesses associated with selling food and retailing meat."

They are no longer able to routinely visit premises. "We are somewhat diminished, but what we are finding is new ways of working, much more intelligence led ways of working, using the slightly more limited resources that we have got now," she added.

The consumer organisation Which? recently tested 60 lamb takeaways and found that 24 of them contained other meats such as beef or chicken. The meat in five samples couldn't be identified at all.

The Food Standards Agency response has been to order 300 samples to be taken from restaurants across the country.

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Sustainable development of Small Island Developing States a global litmus test

"We want more than just survival. We strive for sustainable development." - FAO Director General at SIDS Summit in Samoa
FAO 3 Sep 14;

3 September 2014, Apia, Samoa/Rome - Coping with climate change should be seen as more than just a question of survival for small island countries - the international community should view it as a challenge to take unified action and notch up efforts to shift to a sustainable model of development, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said today.

"Climate change is happening before our eyes. Rising sea levels, higher air and sea surface temperatures, and changing rainfall patterns are affecting countries worldwide. But there is no doubt that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are more vulnerable," the FAO chief said during remarks delivered at the 3rd International UN Conference on SIDS in Apia, Samoa (1-4 September).

Climate change has particularly profound implications for the development of SIDS, affecting their food security, livelihoods, and economies, he noted.

Long-term thinking and a more holistic approach are necessary, said Graziano da Silva, explaining: "To ensure food security you cannot simply give a person bread. You need to help him produce food; you need to adapt to climate change; you need to ensure him access, including by social protection; you need to ensure a diversified diet that guarantees adequate nutrition."

SIDS are a group of island countries, mostly from the Pacific, Caribbean, Atlantic and Indian Ocean regions that, while diverse, face similar development challenges. These include small populations, limited resources, susceptibility to natural disasters, vulnerability to external shocks and a high level of dependence on international trade.

The growth and development of SIDS is often further hampered by high transportation and communications costs, expensive public administration and infrastructure, and limited opportunities to create economies of scale. (Learn more)

SIDS also struggle with a spectrum of malnutrition-related challenges, ranging from undernourishment to obesity, Graziano da Silva added, noting that according to the World Health Organization (WHO), nine out of the 10 countries with the highest female obesity rates are Small Island Developing States.

Tackling nutrition issues in the developing world will feature front and center during discussions this coming November at the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), being convened by FAO and WHO in Rome (19th-21st).

Areas for action

Graziano da Silva highlighted three key fronts where action is needed to promote greater resilience and sustainable development in SIDS:

=Helping them improve their management and use of natural resources:
=Boosting local food production and building local and regional consumption circuits
=Strengthening the resilience of communities in the face of natural disasters and emerging climate-related challenges

FAO's contribution

FAO is working with governments and other partners to promote resilience and sustainable development in SIDS on a number of fronts.

Over the past two years, the Organization has invested over $40 million to support SIDS in their efforts to tackle issues related to food and nutrition security, agriculture, fisheries, forestry and natural resources management.

In the Caribbean, the Organization is supporting the development and implementation of resilience-building and disaster risk reduction plans.

In the Pacific, FAO is actively support the Food Security and Sustainable Livelihoods Program being developed by countries of the region.

And through its new Blue Growth Initiative, FAO is helping Small Island Developing States around the planet sustainably use their aquatic resources to advance food security, better nutrition, and poverty reduction.

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