Plant Invaders on “Plants: From Roots to Riches”

Plant Invaders on BBC Radio 4 at 13:45 British Summer Time on 31 July 2014

Podcasts and Downloads from the series

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Photo: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04brrjg

The Victorians’ pride at the effortless movement of plants around the world during the late 19th century was having an unwelcome side effect. Invasive species were beginning to wipe out native populations of plants. With no natural predators to control them, one man’s flower was turning into another man’s weed.

Prof Kathy Willis hears how during the late 1800s, many invasive species from Japanese knot weed to Himalayan balsam to water hyacinth came from deliberate introductions and asks if today, trying to control them is ultimately futile?

As historian Jim Endersby explains both Charles Darwin and Kew’s director Joseph Hooker were the first to examine the impact of invasives, having noticed on the island of St Helena and Ascension Island the effect on native plants.

One of the current biggest invaders is lantana, familiar to British gardeners as a small pot plant. As Shonil Bhagwat of the Open University reveals, since its introduction to Kolkata Botanical garden in the 1870s it decimated native teak plantations. But today opportunities exist to exploit its presence for the wood, basketry and paper industries.

And Kathy Willis hears from Kew conservationist Colin Clubb on the extent to which we should view invasive plants in our ecosystems as part of a strategy to maintain resilience to environmental change in the future.

Credits

Presenter: Kathy Willis
Interviewed Guest: Jim Endersby
Interviewed Guest: Shonil Bhagwat
Interviewed Guest: Colin Clubbe
Production Coordinator: Elisabeth Tuohy
Assistant Producer: Jen Whyntie
Producer: Adrian Washbourne
Editor: Deborah Cohen

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Reconnecting faith and forests

List of publications on faith and forests to supplement Mongabay.com article “Next big idea in forest conservation: Reconnecting faith and forests

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Entrance to a sacred forest grove in Kodagu, India

Bhagwat, Shonil A.; Nogué, Sandra and Willis, Katherine J. (2014). Cultural drivers of reforestation in tropical forest groves of the Western Ghats of India. Forest Ecology and Management (In press) http://oro.open.ac.uk/39316/.

Bhagwat, Shonil A. (2012). Sacred groves and biodiversity conservation: a case study from the Western Ghats, India. In: Pungetti, Gloria; Oviedo, Gonzalo and Hooke, Della eds. Sacred Species and Sites: Advances in Biocultural Conservation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 322–334. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37001/

Bhagwat, Shonil A.; Dudley, Nigel and Harrop, Stuart R. (2011). Religious following in biodiversity hotspots: challenges and opportunities for conservation and development. Conservation Letters, 4(3) pp. 234–240. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37003/

Bhagwat, Shonil A.; Ormsby, Alison A. and Rutte, Claudia (2011). The role of religion in linking conservation and development: Challenges and opportunities. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 5(1) pp. 39–60. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37007/

Massey, Ashley; Bhagwat, Shonil A. and Porodong, Paul (2011). Beware the animals that dance: conservation as an unintended outcome of cultural practices. Society, Biology and Human Affairs, 76(2) pp. 1–10. http://oro.open.ac.uk/36958/

Dudley, Nigel; Bhagwat, Shonil; Higgins-Zogib, Liza; Lassen, Barbara; Verschuuren, Bas and Wild, Robert (2010). Conservation of biodiversity in sacred natural sites in Asia and Africa: a review of the scientific literature. In: Verschuuren, Bas; Wild, Robert; McNeely, Jeff and Oviedo, Gonzalo eds. Sacred Natural Sites: conserving nature and culture. London: Earthscan, pp. 19–32. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37011/

Ormsby, Alison A. and Bhagwat, Shonil A. (2010). Sacred forests of India: a strong tradition of community-based natural resource management. Environmental Conservation, 37(3) pp. 320–326. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37005/

Bhagwat, Shonil A. and Palmer, Martin (2009). Conservation: the world’s religions can help. Nature, 461(7260) p. 37. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37018/

Bhagwat, Shonil A. (2009). Ecosystem services and sacred natural sites: reconciling material and non-material values in nature conservation. Environmental Values, 18(4) pp. 417–427. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37017/

Bhagwat, S.A. (2007) Church forests in Ethiopia: the author replies. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 5(2): 66–67. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37024/

Bhagwat, Shonil A. and Rutte, Claudia (2006). Sacred groves: potential for biodiversity management. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 4(10) pp. 519–524. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37025/

Bhagwat, Shonil A.; Kushalappa, Cheppudira G.; Williams, Paul H. and Brown, Nick D. (2005). A landscape approach to biodiversity conservation of sacred groves in the Western Ghats of India. Conservation Biology, 19(6) pp. 1853–1862. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37029/

Brown, Nick; Bhagwat, Shonil and Watkinson, Sarah (2005). Macrofungal diversity in fragmented and disturbed forests of the Western Ghats of India. Journal of Applied Ecology, 43(1) pp. 11–17. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37028/

Bhagwat, Shonil A.; Kushalappa, Cheppudira G.; Williams, Paul A. and Brown, Nick D. (2005). The role of informal protected areas in maintaining biodiversity in the Western Ghats of India. Ecology and Society, 10(1), article no. 8. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37030/

Boraiah, K. T.; Vasudeva, R.; Bhagwat, Shonil A. and Kushalappa, C. G. (2003). Do informally managed sacred groves have higher richness and regeneration of medicinal plants than state-managed reserve forests? Current Science, 84(6) pp. 804–808. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37031/

Emergence of sacred forests at Resilience 2014

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A session on community forests, ecosystem services and resilience of smallholder agriculture at Resilience 2014

Handout of talk on emergence of sacred forests: Bhagwat_Resilience-2014_2014-05-06

Description of the session:

Reconnecting culture and agriculture: community forests, ecosystem services and resilience of smallholder agriculture

Do community forests in farming landscapes make smallholder agriculture more resilient? This session will examine the social-ecological system of community forests in the context of resilience of agriculture. This topic is important and urgent because it addresses the relevance of cultural institutions for food security, nutrition and wellbeing of some of the poorest people in the world.

Research thus far has suggested that community forests are ubiquitous in the rural landscapes in many developing countries and due to their cultural significance to local people many of them are considered sacred (Bhagwat and Rutte, 2006). In addition to their cultural role, sacred forests also provide a variety of ‘ecosystem services’. They are known to conserve biodiversity, preserve watersheds and store carbon alongside their cultural, religious or spiritual importance to local people (Bhagwat 2009). Furthermore, community forests provide services that are particularly beneficial for agriculture: habitat for pollinating insects and pest-control agents, and sources of green manure and non-timber forest products. These ecosystem services are particularly important for subsistence agriculture, which is increasingly under pressure to increase the productivity and variety of crops within small landholdings. Community forests are often the last remnants of native vegetation in many developing countries and are also under increasing pressure from land use change. In some parts of the world the area of community forests has reduced dramatically due to the expansion of agriculture. For example, in Ethiopian church forests are now the last remnants of afromontane tropical forest ecosystem (Bhagwat 2007).

If community forests are important for supporting smallholder subsistence agriculture and ensuring food security, nutrition and wellbeing of some of the poorest people in the world, then land use policies need to recognise their importance and the benefits of these forests for farmland (Bhagwat et al. 2008). This has further repercussions for international and national policies on food security. In Africa, for example, despite large-scale foreign land investments, 80% of people are still smallholder farmers. How can international and national policies support these farmers in a culturally-sensitive manner? In the face of rapid social-ecological transformation in developing countries, there is need to examine contemporary relevance for cultural institution for smallholder subsistence farming. This session will bring together researchers working on community forests in developing countries to collectively review the findings of research to date, and to discuss policy options for conservation of community forests. The session will examine these forests from the lens of resilience and social-ecological systems, and discuss their contemporary relevance for smallholder subsistence farming.

Article on invasive species in The Conversation

Invasive species: if we can’t beat them, maybe we should eat them

By Shonil Bhagwat, The Open University

What to do about invasive species, which are having a growing and generally detrimental effect on Europe’s environment and economies, is the subject of discussion in both the European Parliament and UK Parliament this week.

Invasive alien species are animals and plants introduced accidentally (or deliberately) into an environment where they are not normally found. Although estimates indicate that there are some 12,000 alien species in Europe, only 10-15% have become invasive, that is, have become damaging and of concern. However, just these 10-15% cost Europe €12 billion a year. So while the European Union has put in place its 2020 biodiversity strategy, it has not yet managed to provide a comprehensive framework to address this threat to European biodiversity.

The EU legislation pending a vote has been under discussion since September 2013 and has steadily gathered support from various European bodies and committees. The case for new legislation is persuasive, and in all likelihood it will pass and become a new EU regulation, bringing with it legal obligations on member states to ban the import, keeping, sale, exchange and so on of specific species.

But foresters and horticulturists, whose professions depend on valuable exotic plant species, have raised concerns. After all, many “alien” species of plants have long been cultivated for timber or for ornamental purposes – too broad a ban and these will be drawn into it.

Some of the poorer member states have argued that the proposed measures for surveillance, monitoring and control of invasive alien species will put a heavy burden on their already over-stretched budgets. It’s estimated that this legislation will cost the EU €560,000 between 2015 and 2021 – small change compared to the cost the damage these species cause, but an extra cost nonetheless. But, most importantly, questions remain about the results: experience from around the world suggests that the large sums of money spent on control and eradication programmes have not yielded the promised results.

Lantana camera. Pretty – for a triffid.
Joaquim Alves Gaspar, CC BY-SA

No proven response, yet

Some colleagues and I carried out a historical analysis of the spread and management of Lantana camara, wild or red sage, one of world’s top 50 worst invasive species. We found that despite many different measures – mechanical removal, chemical poisoning, biological control – Lantana continued to spread throughout subtropical regions during the 19th and 20th centuries.

It was evident that countries spent large sums of money trying to control the plant. For example, in 1973 the cost of Lantana control in Queensland, Australia was estimated at A$1 million (US$800,000) per year. In South Africa, chemical poisoning cost an estimated 1.7 million rand (US$250,000) per year in 1999. Indian estimates in 2009 put control costs at 9,000 rupees per hectare (US$200) – reaching a total of US$2.6 billion to tackle the 13m hectares where it has spread in India, a sum greater than the GDP of the neighbouring Maldives islands.

Despite all this money spent in Australia, South Africa and India, the notorious weed has continued to spread. And unfortunately it is not the only invasive species that has proved unmanageable: hundreds or thousands of others have spread across the world, defying all attempts by countries to make their borders “biosecure”.

New approach required

To deal with alien and invasive species that have already made it through porous borders and have established themselves in their new homes, we need more creative approaches than throwing mechanical excavators, chemicals, and enormous amounts of money at the problem.

With the help of NGOs, some rural communities in India have started a cottage industry of making baskets and furniture from Lantana. Other radical solutions that have been proposed to control invasive species include eating them.

A Chicago restaurant owner sells Asian carp burgers at his specialist fish shop to help the problem of this giant fish infesting North America’s Great Lakes. Others making dinner out of invasive alien species include Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, Connecticut, which has a special invasive species menu, through which they “return to the roots of sushi, meaning simply to use what we have available.” Crayfish Bob in London offers a variety of invasive crayfish dishes, providing “quality food for a better environment”.

So the new EU legislation is a precautionary measure to prevent the ecological, economic and social costs that invasive species might in future impose. This will try to ensure Europe is more biosecure through a variety of control measures at borders, tackling those species that have made it through, and efforts to eradicate those that have become a nuisance.

But the costly failures elsewhere in controlling and managing invasive species makes one wonder whether we should find more creative ways of dealing with the problem: local economies based on harvesting invasive species, or recreational hunting, fishing or foraging as a part of nature tourism, perhaps. In any case, a new approach is needed.

The Conversation

Shonil Bhagwat has received funding from Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme of the Natural Environment Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council and Department for International Development, UK.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Hunting for conservation?

dehesa

Agro-silvo-pastoral system of Dehesa in southern Spain (Source: http://www.permaculturevoices.com)

On 9th February 2014 Prince William, second in line to the British throne, came under fire from conservationists.  Days before he was due to address a conference on illegal wildlife trade, he was spotted with his brother Harry and some other friends hunting wild boar in Spain.  The site of his crime would have looked somewhat similar to the landscape pictured above. On 12th February, the eve of the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade, Prince William made a speech calling an end to wildlife crime and the illegal killing and trafficking of the world’ most iconic species.  The media were quick to spot the contradiction and to criticise the Prince for the “unfortunate timing” of his hunting trip.  The critiques remarked that Prince William, who is also President of a charity called United for Wildlife, is not exactly walking the talk by hunting in Spain whilst asking others to stop illegal wildlife killing. Now that the euphoria of Prince William’s contradictory and controversial actions has died down, it might be worth ‘deconstructing’ his actions. In analysing this, I am perhaps taking somewhat controversial angle myself, but there we are! My argument has three strands: (1) Throughout history, there are numerous examples of conservationists who were also hunters; (2) Hunting certain species, particularly prolific breeders, helps keep their populations under control; (3) Hunting has been an integral part of some traditional landscape management systems.

Hunters turned conservationistsHunting and conservation don’t exactly sound like natural bedfellows, but strangely for much of the history of contemporary conservation movement, hunting and conservation have gone hand in hand.  Theodore Roosevelt, a 20th century American President often credited for the wilderness preservation movement in America, was also an avid big-game hunter.  Jim Corbett, the legendary British naturalist, or Salim Ali, the celebrated Indian ornithologist, were also hunters who later turned conservationists and influenced the formation of the Indian protected area network.  Prince William’s grandfather Prince Philip, who co-founded the WWF, now a leading international conservation organisation, also once came under criticism for his recreational hunting.  So the apparent contradiction between the prince’s wild boar hunting in Spain and conservation diplomacy in London three days later is not necessarily new and throughout history, many celebrities have nurtured their passion for wildlife conservation alongside their passion for recreational hunting.

Population control of prolific breeders: Whether or not recreational hunting is ethical is a matter of personal values and beliefs. Personally, I would’t go hunting but it is not for me to judge whether hunting is right or wrong. Also, the ‘wilderness preservation’ model of conservation purports a very subjective view of conservation, which does not always sit well with the provision of livelihoods or alleviation of poverty. There are arguments both for and against the wilderness preservation ideal and I don’t want to go into those here. But as far as hunting and conservation are concerned, I think, what is hunted matters far more than the act of hunting itself.  Rhinos and tigers have become endangered because of their historical overhunting and illegal trade of their body parts – a serious concern for their future survival – but wild boar in Spain is a different story all together. Wild boar (Sus scofra) is native across much of Northern and Central Europe and the Mediterranean region and is also widespread throughout the rest of the world.  During the European colonial period, wild boar was introduced to Americas and Australasia, where it quickly became invasive threatening the habitats of native wildlife.  Today it is a popular domestic animal in Europe bred in captivity for its meat, but some of these captive animals have escaped and established themselves in agricultural areas, plantation forests, rangelands and sometimes even in urban areas.  So wild boar is a pretty versatile species that can breed quickly and spread rapidly in places where it has escaped from captivity.  This adaptability and versatility of wild boar makes it one of the world’s 100 most invasive species.  In many parts of the world, wild boar digs up the ground with its sharp tusks damaging crops.  As an omnivore, wild boar can relish a varied diet including endangered reptiles, birds and invertebrates in some parts of the world.  So hunting wild boar can actually help, rather than hurt, nature conservation because it keeps the population of an invasive species under control. By doing that, it also helps protect many endangered species.

Hunting as part of traditional management: The 15,000-hectare Finca La Garganta estate near Seville, where Prince William and friends went hunting is a private estate in the remote rural countryside of southern Spain surrounded by small villages and their oak trees and olive groves.  This kind of traditional landscape or ‘Dehesa’ is a multifunctional agroforestry system where farmers keep trees and animals on farms.  Wild boar has been part of this traditional system and their population has to be kept under control by occasional and selective culling.  Without hunting, the wild boar can quickly overtake everything else on the farm and the ecology of this agroforestry system can collapse rapidly.  The upkeep of traditional landscapes such as these Dehesas requires careful management and hunting is considered integral part of it to balance economic activities and nature conservation.

Prince William came under fire for the “unfortunate timing” of his game hunting and conservation advocacy, but his act of hunting may not necessarily be bad for conservation.  Wild boar is one of 100 invasive species in the Global Invasive Species Database, 68 of which are mammals, so there is no shortage of species for the future British Monarch, and for that matter his descendants, to hunt!