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You are here: Home Resources Nature and Society, Journal of the Frank Fenner Foundation 2003 Nature & Society - April/May 2003

Nature & Society - April/May 2003

The Forum's Journal

Editorial
It has probably happened to you. You said something perfectly clear and sensible to somebody else, and back came an answer that seemed to have no relevance to your remark. You had been misunderstood; were not on the same wavelength. You tend to think that the other person was deliberately provoking – or was just plain stupid. This happens to me more often than I care to admit; sometimes the reply is so much off beam that I am left speechless with surprise. How can this happen?

If both people are reasonably patient and actually want to understand each other it can be sorted out. A little discussion will let you see that the very words used were capable of different interpretations, depending on the preconceptions and preoccupations of the two speakers. If one or both are hasty, will not believe that the misunderstanding is genuine and not malicious, then trouble results.

Some misunderstandings are trivial, others very important. In the anxious days leading up to war or no war they have the potential to affect the lives of millions of people and the deaths of many.

If two people from the same background can so easily misinterpret each other’s quite simple statements, how much more likely are people from different cultures to fail to understand. What is one person’s liberty may be the other’s licence. Thus it is hardly surprising that dreadful tensions arise. This is made worse when there is a complete unwillingness to want to understand. Protagonists tend to resort to the non-verbal techniques of bared teeth and snarls.

The events of the last few months have been instructive as well as disturbing. They would make a fascinating addition to Barbara Tuchman’s splendid book “The March of Folly”, describing some of the all-too-common cases of governments or leaders pursuing policies that are not in their own best interest, despite plenty of warning.

The sight and sound of presidents and prime ministers trying to put their point of view across to their own public would have been amusing if it were not so serious. In this case it is highly likely that both the government and the people mean much the same thing when they talk of freedom, but they still cannot understand each other. Governments in the USA, UK and Australia have been talking of fighting terrorism, but somehow ended up talking about fighting Saddam Hussein. While it is certain that many people in Iraq had experienced Saddam’s version of terror, there seems to be no proof, not even any clear indication that he has had anything to do with terrorism in other countries. How did a war on terrorism transmute into a war on Saddam Hussein? Was it a genuine belief in a connection, or just a convenient excuse? The people are suspicious about the motive.

Also, although many people supported the war on terror, many others did not. Terrorism is by its nature impossible to fight. Certainly, some terrorists, even the major initiators, can be captured or killed, but there will always be others to take their place. This is obvious in trouble spots like Israel. The answer is clearly not more killing, but doing something about the causes. While there are people who see their own culture under active attack, or inadvertently eroded by pervasive western culture; if they see themselves marginalised or vilified, they may turn to terrorism. Doing something about such causes is more difficult than fighting. It requires greater wisdom, larger amounts of patience and probably a lot of money. But it is money much better spent than it would be on war.

Both in the world situation and in disputes within our own community, I keep harking back to John Burton’s talk to us in 1997, and his occasional paper on conflict resolution. He pointed out that leaders of warring factions, of different ethnic groups or in any other divisions of society have to posture in public for their constituents. When, however, these same people can be brought together out of the limelight, with no news reporters present, they can often talk to each other as reasonable human beings, who basically want the same things: peace, security and a reasonable life for their people. It is impossible to imagine Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden sitting down with George Bush for a series of quiet discussions, so things could not have been resolved that way. But public posturings have certainly aggravated the situation and have got governments into situations they would have been wise to avoid.

This war will not have solved any problems. It may just begin to teach governments that winning elections does not give them a mandate to do anything – the ballot is too blunt to reflect the voters’ real preferences. If governments begin to realise they have to really try to understand the issues important to people, and resolve conflicts between different interests, then maybe some good will come out of the whole sorry episode.

 

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Forthcoming NSF meetings

16 April.

Helen James - The politics of sustainable development in Myanmar

Helen James will focus on the reform program outlined in Myanmar Agenda 21, the implications of land tenure arrangements, priority given to agricultural development, poverty alleviation strategies, and conservation of natural resources. She will discuss the linkages between political, economic and social reforms in Myanmar.

21 May.

Emma Murray - Greening your workplace: the example of the Green Team at Geoscience Australia

How an enthusiastic group are working to educate their peers on reducing waste, recycling and generally lessening their impact on the environment.

18 June

Peter Szlapinski - Grey water re-use.

Peter works for ActewAGL and will be talking about ways that grey water can be re-used.

16 July

Walter Jehne - Microbial dimensions to sustainability

Walter Jehne will discuss research on the role and management of microbial symbioses in the uptake and recycling of nutrients and how these govern the development, productivity and sustainability of the biosystems and foodchains on which human sustainability depends.

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Coffee, anyone?

Until 1989 the international Coffee Agreement kept the price paid to growers between $4.40 and $5.30 per kilo. In that year the USA withdrew from the agreement and thus caused the deregulation of the market. The World Bank and other organisations were encouraging poorer countries to take up coffee growing to earn export income; oversupply caused prices to fall below the cost of production, to about $1.25 per kilo. Many small-scale farmers had invested in coffee growing and could not afford to switch crops. The collapse in coffee prices on world markets over the last five years has pushed about twenty five million families into financial crisis.

Oxfam has launched a Coffee Rescue Plan to bring the price paid for coffee beans back above the cost of production. The Plan requires the four big roasters Kraft, Nestlé, Proctor & Gamble and Sara Lee, to pay farmers a decent price; to buy only coffee that meets basic quality standards; and to buy more fair trade coffee. It also calls on governments to help farmers grow different crops.

Fair trade coffee is purchased for a fair price above the cost of production, with long-term contracts to allow planning, and using payment policies that allow for local social and economic development. Fair trade coffee, both beans and ground, is available from Oxfam shops. It is labelled by its country of origin, so you know where your money is going.

Oxfam Horizons Feb 03

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In Search of Sustainability

This ambitious internet conference continues, with April being devoted to Land use and natural ecosystems, followed by Energy In May.

It would be good if more people get involved. If you personally don’t want to spend more time with your computer, please do at least bring the conference to the attention of others. The more who take part the better - and if you have ideas about how to attain sustainability this is a good place to air them. Internet conferences reduce greenhouse gas emissions!

Visit www.isosconference.org.au

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Trapping Cholera

Cholera is a very serious endemic disease particularly in poor regions of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Every year tens of thousands of people die from cholera-induced diarrhoea.

A trial run in some remote Bangladeshi villages showed that simply filtering water through folded cloth from old saris halved the infection rate. In laboratory tests the cloth trapped more than 99 % of Vibrio cholerae. Fortunately the tiny bacteria cling to plankton that are too big to squeeze through the cloth. Villagers quickly took up the practice of filtration when they were shown what was swimming around in their drinking water.

New Scientist 18 Jan 03

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The Right to Fly

Our first discussion meeting this year was led by Murray May talking on aviation travel futures. The aviation industry itself sees the future as continuing expansion, with more aeroplanes carrying more people flying further and more frequently. Past trends certainly indicate this, with air travel having grown a hundred-fold since 1950. The world aircraft aviation fleet is expected to double between 1996 and 2016. Continued expansion is seen as an unadulterated good, and is closely linked into regional and national economies. Air travel is seen as essential for business, and growing tourism as vital to economic well-being.

There are, however, stirrings of unease, which aviation companies will have to heed. In many places local people are objecting to the noise and air pollution caused by aircraft. Their protests can delay or prevent the expansion of airfields or construction of new ones, thus limiting “the right to fly”.

It is becoming obvious, at least to a minority, that air travel is or can become a major environmental problem and that tourism is not a “smokeless industry”. At the height at which subsonic planes usually fly, about eleven kilometres, the combined effects of all their emissions – nitrogen oxides and condensation trails as well as carbon dioxide – have three times the effect of carbon dioxide alone. Flying 12,000 km has as much adverse effect as driving 36,000 km. It is generally recognised that transport forms a significant part of total consumption and that it plays an important role in the enhanced greenhouse effect. If air travel increases its share of an expanding industry feeding on hyper mobility then greenhouse forcing must get worse.

There is an interesting theory of travel which suggests that people have a travel budget, and spend an almost constant share of both time and money on it. Surveys from various cities and countries suggest that people budget just over an hour per day on travel. As time available does not expand but incomes do, so people invest in faster transport. They are prepared to live ever further from their workplace and travel to more distant destinations.

Many environmentalists can see the problems this mobility imposes on the world, yet nevertheless fly (mea culpa). Airlines and governments see no problems and fear nothing more than a downturn in the industry. Many developing countries not only pursue the tourist dollar, but see it as an important way to ensure their own culture can survive, as that is what tourists have come to experience. Tourists can indeed provide the funds and interest to help local cultures to survive, but they can also destroy what they travel to see.

In his paper on aviation published in the Journal of Future Studies in August 2002, Murray quoted David Kay who was an UN weapons inspector in 1991-2. Kay thought that the perception of the USA as the agent of Disneyfication, McDonaldisation and vulgarisation of other cultures was a driving force in terrorism. Since then of course tourism and the airlines have suffered from terrorism, whatever its cause. After the Bali bombing, when TV showed pictures of innocent tourists sunbathing on Bali beaches, I personally could see that although the local Hindus were not offended, there were many people in the region who would regard such tourists (and the culture they came from) as deeply offensive.

The airlines have been shocked by such events as that of 11 Sept 2001, have suffered as a result of it, and taken measures to try to prevent future such acts. What they do not appear to have taken account of is the possibility, and almost certainty, of diminishing oil supplies. It seems amazingly short-sighted for any industry that depends entirely on petroleum-based fuels to project accelerating expansion for decades into the future. Their increasing fleets and expanding on-ground infrastructure could turn out to be very expensive white elephants in just a few decades. Maybe they don’t want to mention it, in fear of putting off potential investors and customers. Maybe they are quietly working to find a substitute fuel. Unfortunately, maybe they intend to liquefy coal, which would be even worse for the environment. Certainly they are saying nothing in public about hydrogen.

In his paper, Murray suggested that anyone rewarded with “frequent flyer” points might be encouraged, or even required, to assume responsibility for their contribution to greenhouse emissions. Now, there’s a thought

Jenny Wanless

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A Hydrogen Future

The power point presentation on hydrogen, present and future, by Andreas Luzzi was hampered by technological incompatibility with the equipment. This, however, did not prevent Andreas from giving us an enthusiastic and interesting talk. Nor, of course, did it stop the usual flow of questions.

First Andreas pointed out that hydrogen is a strange substance – you cannot see it, smell it or taste it. It is not, in fact, a fuel, but an energy carrier. It is produced in large amounts already, but mainly as an industrial process commodity. At 45 million tonnes the hydrogen produced is equivalent (in energy terms) to about 5% of annual oil production.

Although the Hindenburg disaster gave hydrogen the reputation of being explosive, that accident is now known to have been caused by the electrical properties of the coating of the airship when it was caught in a storm. Modern carbon fibre containers that are bullet and explosion proof are completely safe even in vehicles. There is no problem with all the hydrogen produced and transported these days.

IThere are several ways of producing hydrogen, such as from natural gas. Andreas prefers and promotes photoelectrolytic systems in which thin, multi-layered devices using photoactive substances are immersed in water and lit by sunlight.

The problem, as usual, is the abundance of cheap carbon fuel in oil and coal, although the oil will run out. Meanwhile there is too little money or interest in researching renewable sources, including hydrogen.

Enough is known to be able to power cars and buses by hydrogen, and such a bus will soon be plying the streets in Perth. Iceland is powering both its bus and fishing fleets with hydrogen. The first hydrogen plane flew years ago, but nothing followed. However, Boeing has the plans for a hydrogen powered plane shut away. It will not be difficult to convert planes to this fuel and it will actually have an advantage, as it provides weight savings.

There are hydrogen pipeline networks in several places, including the USA and Germany. But as usual it is a financial problem – no market, so no incentive to develop distribution systems. Canada has gone for small bar-fridge sized refuelling stations for households so people manage their own supplies. Another individual system is a micro one for portable communication and computing.

Both Shell and BP, realising that things will change, are investing half a billion dollars in hydrogen research. China is a country in which major things are happening, in both energy efficiency and renewables including hydrogen.

So a lot is happening, but not enough, always because of lack of will, money and vision. Andreas asked quite seriously, will humans have a future in 200 years? If there is a future, it will be with lots of different renewable energy sources, feeding into the grid and drawing from it as needed. We cannot ever again think of just one or two energy suppliers.

Andreas offered to email his power point presentation to people present at his talk, if they provided their addresses.

You can find out more about hydrogen by going to www.ozfuelcells.com or www.eren.doe.gov/hydrogen/iea.

Jenny Wanless

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Proposed ACT Biosphere Reserve Project

David Eastburn

On 26 March, a workshop and a public forum, co-hosted by Nature & Society Forum Inc. and ANU Centre for UNESCO, took place to discuss UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and the process, relevance, and benefits to the ACT of becoming part of this global network. The concept emerged from discussions as a way to authentically address the sociocultural aspects of sustainability, following a series of People and Nature workshops conducted by Dr Stephen Boyden.

The Forum was introduced by Professor Ralph Slatyer, ecologist, and former Chief Scientist of Australia, and chaired by Professor Henry Nix, ornithologist and former Director of CRES. Presenters included: Dr Peter Bridgewater, Secretary, UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program, Paris, France; Mr Ian Weir who had recenty coordinated the nomination of Australia’s newest Biosphere Reserve - Mornington Peninsula & Western Port, near Melbourne; Mr Duncan MacKenzie of Bookmark Biosphere Reserve in the Riverland of S.A.; Dr Maxine Cooper, Executive Director of Environment ACT; Mr Jim Muldoon, Assistant Director, Park, Policy and Management Section, Environment Australia; and Emeritus Prof. Ken Taylor AM who discussed Canberra as a city in the landscape.

Workshop and Forum participants included, Dr Joe Baker, ACT Commissioner for the Environment; representatives of CSIRO, ACTEW AGL, the Office of Sustainability, Environment ACT, ANU Arts, CRES, Environment Australia, Australian National Biocentre, Landcare, Friends of Grasslands, AIATSIS, Birds Oz, and ANU Environment Collective.

Key Messages

Community leadership – ideally, the nomination of an area as a Biosphere Reserve should be a community initiative. The Nature and Society Forum Inc. is offering to coordinate the ACT Biosphere Reserve nomination project but will need the strong and active support of community members, other groups, government, and industry as partners.

A network - the process of completing the nomination form should ideally involve working with and raising the profiles of existing groups and organisations working towards a sustainable future in their areas of interest and expertise, rather than the creation of a separate organisation.

A communication exercise – the process of completing the nomination form should largely be a communication exercise - a vehicle to contribute to the transformation to a sustainable society – rather than a technical exercise

Dynamic - biosphere reserves are not static. Membership is voluntary. They are reviewed every decade and should reflect the unique attributes and developments in each area.

A celebration of diversity – the process of consultation to complete the nomination form should be inclusive to allow community members to participate with ‘experts’ to create a powerful, creative, learning and visioning community within the ACT.

Market – the process of nomination, and acceptence, provide great marketing opportunities for the people, places and products of biosphere reserves.

Reserve’ - the word ‘reserve’ is a product of history and does not accurately reflect the flexibility in the implementation of the Biosphere Reserve concept which is one of its strengths. Biosphere Reserves do not ‘lock up’ land, impose new rules, or exclude people.

What is a Biosphere Reserve?

A Biosphere Reserve is an internationally recognised designation to conserve examples of characteristic ecosystems from the world’s natural regions or to provide a significant model of ecological, cultural, social, and economic sustainability. Each Biosphere Reserve is intended to fulfil three basic functions, which are complementary and mutually reinforcing:

  • A conservation function – to contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation
  • A development function – to foster economic and human development which is socioculturally and ecologically sustainable
  • A logistic function – to provide support for research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development

The most recent development in the Biosphere Program has been the application of the concept to urban areas and their hinterlands. Canberra is ideal for this as a planned National Capital with a significant population adjacent to large areas of original habitat and located on the upper reaches of one of Australia’s major inland rivers.

Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments participating in the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program. The concept is dynamic, flexible and does not ‘lock up’ land or exclude human activity. They remain totally under the jurisdiction of the countries where they are located. Membership of the Biosphere Reserve Program is voluntary and as such it is possible to withdraw at any time without penalty. The global network of Biosphere reserves includes a total of more than 400 reserves in almost 100 countries. Australia currently has 12 reserves..

A focus and a framework for an ecologically sustainable ACT

…our new conservation paradigm must place people at the heart of conservation. … we need to blend scientific and local knowledge, aspirations and experience from all sectors of society, Aboriginal people, bushies, business, academics and environmentally concerned citizens working together. … Science must be the base, but the best science will be for nought if the community is disengaged …

Dr Peter Bridgewater, Sectretary, UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program, Paris
Canberra Times 17/1/02

The process of preparing the Biosphere nomination for the ACT will help to identify and celebrate the natural, cultural, and human resources of the region through participatory activities. As Canberra is a knowledge-based society, it is proposed to involve residents in the presentation of the ‘story’ of the region. Artists and scientists will be invited to assist in the process of developing and sharing new perspectives. All residents will be invited to be involved in activities that will enable them to actively participate in the transformation to a sustainable society.

The benefits to the ACT community:

  • identifying and promoting the natural, cultural, and human assets of the region
  • providing a focus and a framework for individuals, communities, government and industry to cooperatively work towards a sustainable future
  • showcasing the National Capital bio/cultural region to generate regional and national pride, encourage tourism and market products
  • providing the opportunity for community members to be able to ‘read the landscape’ of the ACT and establish an enriching life-long skill
  • providing ‘space’ for people to reflect on their community and region to identify ‘common ground’ to help build stronger links between:
    • a healthy people and a healthy environment
    • the ACT, and the rest of Australia, and the Earth
    • Western and Aboriginal cultures
    • scientific and local knowledge
    • between government, industry, commerce, and community

The workshop and public forum revealed enthusiasm and support for the nomination of the ACT to become a part of the world-wide UNESCO Biosphere Reserve network. It would become the world’s first biosphere reserve to include the whole of a national capital.

 

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Replacing The Boboyan Pines With Bush

With well over half the ACT’s pine forests burnt out and a prefire audit questioning whether they give best value in land use for the territory, it is not surprising the government has announced a review of ACT Forests. In other areas also, the commercial worth of particular pine plantations is being reconsidered. At Eildon reservoir in Victoria it has been decided to re-establish bush over 1500 ha no longer considered suitable for commercial harvesting. Jounama (600 ha), near Tumut, established to test suitability of different pine species at altitude, now falls within Kosciuszko National Park and has been undergoing rehabilitation since the ‘80s. Locally, in the Boboyan Pine Plantation (380 ha) at Gudgenby in the southern ACT, a program of progressive felling and rehabilitation has been under way for the past six years.

All three projects show conclusively that mixed eucalypt forests can be re-established quite readily following a pine plantation; it is not true that only pines grow where pines have been grown before.

At Gudgenby, in almost five years since the first seeding work party, we have established something of the order of 500,000 eucalypts from five species that occur naturally in the area, mainly by voluntary labour. Seed from three species of acacia has also been spread.

The regeneration has done very well this summer, despite the dryness. The largest saplings are now small trees with trunks several inches in diameter, and candlebarks are changing from their round, blue-green juvenile leaves to long, deep green adult leaves.

Because of this growth and the success of the firefighters in limiting the damage done by spot fires, the regeneration area is one of the bright spots in Namadgi today. Fortunately the fire reached the area after the worst days had passed. It even did us a favour by burning felled pine slash that had been waiting for two years for the right conditions for burning. Where spot fires did hit, the saplings are already sprouting at the base.

Most trees in the regeneration have grown from direct seeding. This year, with an unplanned burn in summer, rangers and volunteers got together to do a summer seeding.

 

 

The main advantage of direct seeding over planting is that each unit of labour produces thousands more seedlings in the ground. Plantings sometimes have to be replaced, but seed in the ground will germinate over a spread of years, and the natural variability in germination times is retained.

Another factor in the success of the Gudgenby Project was that the Parks & Conservation Service employed contractors to collect an ample quantity of seed in the early stages. In the first three years we spread about 500kg of seed over an estimated 350km of seed line (allowing 4m width for a seed line), and seed was available in store for immediate use after the January fire.

The history of the Boboyan Pines shows why the area is being returned to bush and why volunteers became involved. It was planted in 1966, in an area cleared for grazing, and began badly, with much of it being replanted in 1969 after drought and frost took a heavy toll.

The Proposed Gudgenby National Park Land Use Study (1976) stated that “The plantations are poor and would not have much commercial value. The location relative to market, the fire risk, the age, growth rate, vermin control and management remoteness all reduce the plantation as a commercial enterprise”.

The area is surrounded by some wonderfully unspoilt bushland, however, and was included in Namadgi National Park in 1984. The Management Plan (1986) specified that the plantation would be harvested and replaced with appropriate native species. These are determined by observation of surrounding hills and slopes.

The Land Use Study’s prediction of fire risk came true in 1983 when a wildfire destroyed the southwestern corner of the plantation and damaged much more. The remaining trees were not managed to improve timber yield, but wildings and dead pines were removed from the southwestern corner.

The bush regeneration project began in earnest in 1997 when ACT Forests felled about 80 ha of pines. ACT Parks and Conservation Service felled sections which had no commercial value in 1998 and 1999 and ACT Forests felled a further 30 ha in 2002. The rest were scheduled for felling this summer, but now pines still standing have been partially burnt and we do not know when they can be felled.

After each section is felled, the slash is allowed to dry out for a year. Even where the best timber is removed, plenty of slash and leftover logs remain. These are burnt in the following autumn or winter. The fire clears branches and mess away but leaves the large logs. It kills many weed seeds and pine cones.

The ash provides good nutrients for young seedlings and chemically aids germination. The logs provide valuable shelter for young seedlings and a continuing supply of nutrients as they decay. Seedlings beside the logs grow much faster than seedlings just a metre or so away from them. The first logs burnt are now obviously breaking down.

The Gudgenby Bush Regeneration Group was formed in June 1998 to provide voluntary labour to assist with seeding, planting and weeding. We hopped straight into the job with 80 ha to seed in the first winter. At the start of each work party we faced a desolate scene of bare earth crisscrossed by black logs, often with a crusting of white frost. We toiled away over many weekends, trying out broadcasting, and scraping and covering of the seed.

We were fortunate with the timing of our work, for the winter of ’98 saw the break of the ’97-’98 drought. The site gradually became green with a good growth of weeds, mainly sorrel. It was not until November, when we were digging up briars, that we saw our first eucalypt seedlings. I still remember the thrill as I raised my mattock once again and this time saw a group of tiny snow gums on the ground beside me.

We now have confidence that the seedlings will come up, for we have found that they continue to germinate over several years. We also know that broadcasting the seed is most effective, at least for the eucalypts. One memorable day in August ’99 we broadcast seed as a series of snow showers scudded down from Mt Gudgenby. That has been the only work party when we have retreated to the cars for lunch.

We have had patchy success with the wattles, however. Our best result came where we sowed seed in spring and covered it, so we will try doing that again.

Although most saplings have come from direct seeding, we have also planted tubestock in some of the gaps. Greenfleet contributed by planting seedlings in grassed areas with machine access, mostly areas burnt out in ’83, but the survival rate has not been good.

We have found that some native seed remains dormant for a long time or is brought in by birds. For example, solanum plants have appeared scattered over the site, perhaps from seed dropped before the area was cleared for grazing.

Spreading leaf litter helps obtain a good growth of ground cover plants. We have done this in a number of exclosures (built to prevent kangaroos and rabbits eating the seedlings) to create centres of good vegetation from which plants can gradually spread.

We have found that perennial problem of pine forests, the blackberry, coming up all over the place and requiring repeated removal and treatment with herbicide. Small pine wildings are easy to remove, but some have spread long distances into the bush and grown large. Briar roses regenerate from underground stems and they are common and widespread. St Johns Wort unfortunately has appeared in patches around access tracks.

A project of such a scale cannot depend entirely on voluntary labour. Before it started, the ACT Legislative Assembly voted a special budget of $400, 000 for it. Project Manager, Ann Connolly was appointed to co-ordinate arrangements for felling the pines and collecting local seed.

However, once the trees were felled, remaining funds were withdrawn, and Steve Welch, the new Project Manager, had to fit this extra responsibility around his normal ranger duties. For a while revegetation work depended entirely on volunteers.

Funds were restored over the next two financial years and we had two spells of a full time Project Manager for about six months each. This gave them time and funds to organise more seed collection, spraying of weeds, the building of exclosures and the work of Greencorps teams, as well as the activities of the Gudgenby Bushies.

The $400, 000 has now been fully spent. We probably have enough seed to finish the project, but our manager once again has to fit this responsibility in with other duties, and funds for weed control have to be fitted in with the program for the whole National Park. A policy of rotating staff also means there is now little continuity in the supervision of the project.

The Boboyan Pine Plantation was a misguided initiative of the Federal Government, although administered by the ACT since self government. We have managed to access some Federal funds for the rehabilitation, through the Natural Heritage Trust and through the Greencorps program, but they have not significantly addressed the area of most need, that of weed control.

We can compare our progress with the regeneration that occurred where the pines were destroyed in the ’83 fire. There, only a sparse scattering of eucalypts has become established in almost 20 years, in contrast to our young forest.

It will take another 10 to 20 years before the area begins to look like natural bush, but the project is well under way and Canberrans and bushwalkers of the future will be able to thank the volunteers and their regular monthly workparties for the quality of that regeneration.

The Jounama and Eildon projects have tried different approaches. Both have greater funds available for using machinery and less availability of volunteers.

At Jounama burning has not always been used and wildings and blackberries have become much more of a problem than at Gudgenby. Placing seed on bare ground has been important, whether the ground was cleared by bobcat or fire. Seeding has been done in winter and not directly after burning in autumn.

At Eildon burning was not considered an option. The land is forestry land rather than national park. Fallen timber is piled in rows and the area between is ripped. Eucalypt and acacia seedlings are planted on the edges of the rip lines and seed is scattered over suitable adjacent areas. Contractors have done the work and initial results are pleasing. The project has been underway for two years.

Eleanor Stodart is president of the Gudgenby Bush Regeneration Group. New volunteers are always welcome, contact 6281 5004

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Half-empty Houses

Another threat to the environment has emerged over recent decades – half empty houses. According to UN figures for 141 countries for the period 1985 – 2000, more than half the increase in the number of households was caused by a reduction in the number of people living in each house. Demands for houses and apartments is increasing even in countries where the total population is decreasing. If the trend continues it would mean an extra 233 million households by 2015 even if the world population does now grow.(Of course, the population is growing).

The trouble is that a three bedroom house uses the same amount of land and materials to build and the same amount of fuel to heat, irrespective of the number of occupants. In China a fall in the average household size has led to the consumption of more wood for fuel, with a serious impact on panda habitat. Indeed the most dramatic effects of decreased household size are seen in regions with rich biodiversity such as Brazil, New Zealand and China.

New Scientist 18 Jan 03,

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Farrago

Elephants

An enterprising student has been studying the dung of African elephants. This can be a hazardous occupation as elephants are dangerous. They kill many people, and in the jungle are hard to see, so the student needed an armed guard at times when she was collecting.

Her work showed that the African elephant is not a single species. There is a distinct West African elephant that has been separated from its eastern cousins for at least a million years. In the east the forest elephant and savannah elephant are also species in their own right and separated about two million years ago.

Studies of dung also enabled an estimate of elephant numbers to be made. There are about 3 – 400,000 savannah elephants, maybe 60,000 forest ones and fewer than 10,000 West African animals.

Science Show, Radio National, 8 March 03

Malawi’s Green Gold

Dr Mfutso Bengo, a senior lecturer at the Malawi College of Medicine and a member of the UNESCO International Bioethics Committee, has ethical and moral objections to the World Health Organisation’s campaign against the growing of tobacco in his country.

Malawi is the most tobacco-dependent country in the world. Tobacco brings in more than 70% of Malawi’s foreign exchange and contributes one third of the country’s gross domestic product. The FAO estimates that 70% of the eleven million population depend directly or indirectly on tobacco for their livelihood.

About 15% of the tobacco crop is grown on a few commercial plantations. Hundreds of people are employed on these and each worker supports about eight dependents. Wages are not high, but there are other benefits for the worker, such as a large midday meal, food subsidies, and help with accommodation, schooling and training.

The bulk of the tobacco crop is grown by small farmers, who also grow food crops. Tobacco only occupies a small area, grows quickly without the aid of bought fertilisers and pesticides or irrigation. The leaves are dried on simple wooden racks, then stored and sold locally for American dollars.

Unfortunately this ideal component of Malawi’s farming economy does not find favour with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but these organisations have not been able to suggest a suitable alternative, nor has the anti-tobacco lobby. Suggestions such as coffee, cotton or cut flowers for the European market all have drawbacks, such as an oversupply on world markets or more expense and greater inputs.

Few Malawians smoke, mainly because they cannot afford to; cigarettes are very highly taxed. Even if they did smoke they would be unlikely to live long enough to suffer from smoking-related illnesses, as the male life expectancy is about forty years.

Without the income from tobacco the economy would be in ruins and what health and education services there are, would collapse. Yet without the support of foreign aid organisations, most of which oppose tobacco growing, Malawi’s economy would crumble. The country is in trouble either way.

Dr Mfutso Bengo sees double standards at work in the international anti-tobacco lobby, which chooses to overlook the immediate health and economic problems in his country. “In a country where sixty percent of people live below the poverty line, basic health needs are most pressing-things like the prevention of cholera, malnutrition, malaria. Dealing with tobacco-based cancer is a luxury”.

From “Up in smoke” – the Lab, ABC Online

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