Wednesday, 18 February 2009

UNESCO Awards Recognize Young Scientists’ Contributions To Biodiversity

Nukunonu Atoll seaside,
one of the regions
of the world vulnerable
to climate change.

18 February 2009 – Young scientists from around the world working on projects ranging from working to conserve mangrove forests in Iran to conserving orchids in Cuba have been recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for their work on biodiversity.
Eleven people have been selected as winners of UNESCO’s 2009 Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Young Scientist Awards, and they will each receive a cash price of up to $5,000 for their research on ecosystems and biodiversity focusing on sustainable interaction between people and their environment.
One of this year’s award recipients, Khalid Osman Hiwytala of Sudan, was recognized for his work on the impact of the Umbararow tribe’s border migration on Dinder Biosphere Reserve, a biosphere reserve situated along the border to Ethiopia.
Two other winners, Paula Irrazabal and Soledad Contreras of Chile, are being honoured for their research on the effect of habitat disturbances on mammal species in Torres del Paine National Park and Biosphere Reserve.
Two scientists – Boshra Salem of Egypt and Gorshkov Yu of Russia – will also share the Michel Batisse grant, awarded every two years for biosphere reserve management case studies.
Biosphere reserves are sites taking innovative approaches to conservation, ecological sciences and sustainable development which are recognized under UNESCO’s MAB Programme. Currently, there are 531 such sites in over 100 countries.

Life After Death From Fallen Trees And Branches

Here is a nice article from James Reynolds, head of media for the RSPB.

A major snowfall of almost three quarters of a metre in the Cairngorms has created more dead wood than during any other single natural event in the past two decades on RSPB's Abernethy forest reserve.
But rather than be worried about the apparent damage done to many of the mature forest trees on what is the largest remaining expanse of the ancient Caledonian pine forest, reserve staff and scientists at the conservation charity are unconcerned with drastic change that the extreme weather has brought about to the forest.
Large numbers Scots pine trees have lost limbs, and some have even keeled over completely or have been split asunder by the sheer weight of snow that has fallen over the past week.
When trees die, their biological function within the forest ecosystem is far from over, and they continue to play a critically important role in maintaining the health and biodiversity of the woodland ecosystem.
As they gradually decay they become mini nature reserves in themselves - with the rotting process taking anything up to a century whilst they are gradually recycled back into the woodland ecosystem and at the same time providing niches for countless numbers of invertebrates, fungi, lichens, birds and even small mammals.
In fact, in a natural forest ecosystem free from human interference, between 20-30% of the existing trees will be either dead or dying. However, most of the remaining ancient or semi natural woodland in Scotland have been highly modified over several millennia, and this natural process is either absent or much reduced.
Desmond Dugan, one of the site managers at Abernethy, said: "We have had thousands of branches and limbs – some of them heavy muckle branches – ripped off by the weight of snow.
"When heavy snowfall is coupled with the extreme frost – and the temperature dropped to minus 19 over a couple of days – all the resin and sap in the pines gets frozen up, they become very brittle, lose their elasticity and the branches snap with extreme force. You hear a muffled crack due to the snow quietening everything. Last week it was like gunfire in the forest as limbs and branches snapped suddenly, and then a thud as it hits the soft snow beneath. The forest is just incredibly atmospheric now.
He added: "But rather than view this as damage, it is actually quite beneficial and actually creates opportunities for more life to flourish. All the dead wood serves as the building blocks of the higher ecosystem, because the birds feed on the invertebrates that live in the decaying wood, and then mammals feed on the birds and so on. When these trees are torn apart like this, it creates a ragged tear in the wood. This allows pathogens and bacteria to colonise and promotes decay of the fallen wood."
Some sixteen species of birds use dead trees at Abernethy. Woodpeckers drill nesting holes that are colonised by tree-nesting swifts , crested tits or by redstarts and flycatchers. Often there is great competition to secure these scarce cosy houses, and such is the demand for this valuable real estate that nesting birds and often evicted by pine martens or by larger or more dominant birds including goosanders, goldeneye, ducks or tawny owls.
The fallen branches and limbs has also had another beneficial effect. RSPB's Abernethy Forest is one of the largest registered seed stands in the UK for native species including Scots pine, holly, juniper, rowan and birch. Many of the fallen limbs are laden with this years cone crop, making it easier for staff to collect the cones which are sent to the Forestry Commission's research station and seed bank at Alice Holt Lodge in Farnham, Surrey. Here the seed is extracted from the cones and dried before being stored at regular temperatures in their seed bank. It is then sent out to order to nurseries, where it is germinated and grown into saplings to replenish native woodland in the north east of Scotland.
1.RSPB’s Abernethy reserve is the largest remaining expanse of the once sprawling ancient Caledonian pine forest, containing roughly 3.5million Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) trees.
2.Dead wood also provides nursery sites for the germination of plants, protection from grazing damage, shelter and mobility for birds and mammals, a store of nutrients that can be cycled through the ecosystem, and a store of carbon.
3.In a review of nationally rare and scarce non-avian species at Abernethy (Amphlett 2000), of 795 species occurring within the whole reserve, 601 were recorded from the existing forest zone, and 379 from woodland. From the available information it is not possible to say what proportion are reliant on deadwood, but in some taxonomic groups it is very high. For example, of 69 nationally rare and scarce lichens in woodland, >90% are restricted to dead wood (exposed lignum).
4.Beetles have been used as an indicator group for saproxylic invertebrates as a whole, and a Saproxylic Quality Index devised (Fowles et al 1999, Fowles 2004). Abernethy Forest is the 8th best site in Britain, and the only site in the top 100 in Scotland.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

A Cure for Man Flu Might Not Be Far Away

Steve Liggett, a genetic scientist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute for Genome Sciences, Baltimore, led a study team that identified the DNA sequences of all the known strains of the rhinovirus that causes the common cold.
It is hoped that other scientists that are working towards a cure for the common cold will be able to make use of there findings by targeting drugs at area's they all have in common.
A cure or even effective treatment for the virus has so far eluded scientists as it constantly changes its genetic make up, but after studying the virus's genes they found that there was a few area's that remained the same.
The rhinovirus is also responsible for half of all asthma attacks, so any any advances that would help protect people from them would alleviate suffering for millions of people the world over and save billions of pounds in medical costs and lost work production.
Lets hope it wont be long before a cure can be found, I for one will not miss the yearly round of colds that seem to drag on forever.
Curing the common cold will undoubtedly raise other serious issues.
What would people use as an excuse to miss a few days at work if the cold is finally cured?
Would it also cure man flu? You can check for this at

Thursday, 12 February 2009

UN-backed ‘Peace Club’ launched in Darfur secondary schools

A club for youth to exchange ideas on peace, to be established in all schools of secondary and above levels in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region, was launched this weekend, the African Union-United Nations joint peacekeeping operation there (UNAMID) said today.
Over 100 new members attended the opening of the first UNAMID Peace Club, sponsored by UNAMID’s Community Outreach Unit, at the Model Secondary School for Girls in El Fasher – the headquarters city for the mission.
“As leaders of tomorrow, your views and contributions towards sustainable peace and security in Darfur is imperative and UNAMID will provide you the forum through the club’s numerous programmes and activities to express them,” Daniel Adekera, the head of the Unit, said, adding that the mission was doing everything possible to ensure negotiated peace for Darfur.
The Peace Club will bring youth together through activities like debates and poetry competitions, which will focus on an end to war, as well as sporting and cultural activities, Mr. Adekera said.
The establishment of a Peace Library is also planned for the club, which will make it a resource centre for information related to UNAMID, the UN and peacemaking efforts.
The opening celebration included a quiz game in which the students showed off their knowledge of UNAMID and its activities in Darfur, where fighting erupted in 2003, pitting rebels against Government forces and allied Janjaweed militiamen and causing an estimated 300,000 deaths, while forcing some 2.7 million people to flee their homes.
The Peace Club will be launched in three more secondary schools within the week, UNAMID said.
If you want to see what good things UNAMID peacekeepers are achieving in Darfur visit their web site at

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Dogs step in to help protect villagers from ‘Man-eating’ tigers

Following the breaking news that three people were killed by Bengal tigers last week in the Sundarbans, conservationists from ZSL are hoping that dogs are not just man’s best friend - they may also prove to be the tiger’s best friend. For the first time, humans’ canine companions are being used to help protect man from tigers, and therefore, tigers from man.
Field staff from ZSL working on tiger conservation and research in the Bangladesh Sundarbans have a tough job persuading the locals to protect the endangered Bengal tiger from extinction, because it has gained a formidable reputation as a man-eater.
The Sundarbans in Bangladesh form the world’s largest mangrove forest and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. The forests are dense and rich with wildlife, providing many resources for local communities – and they are also home to one of the largest surviving populations of wild tigers in the world. The tigers are the top predators of the forests, and ensuring their survival helps keep the wildlife of the forest in balance.
Around 50 people are killed each year by the tigers of the forest, and most at risk are those who have to work in or close to the forests’ borders. It is not completely understood why tigers become man-eaters but it is thought that some older, sick or injured tigers may find hunting humans easier than animal prey.
The human-tiger conflict in the Sundarbans is escalating and despite tigers being legally protected since 1974, many are still being killed in response or anticipation of attacks. It is estimated that there are only 300-500 tigers left in the area.
Conservationists Monirul Khan and Adam Barlow from ZSL are working on various projects to conserve tigers. One of which is training the local stray street dogs to act as a deterrent for any prowling tigers that come too close to the village borders. By alerting the villagers to a tiger’s presence, the animal can be frightened away instead of being hunted and killed.
Monirul Khan, a tiger biologist, has set up a trial study putting the local stray dogs to use. By training the street dogs to act as an alarm for the villagers when a tiger is approaching, the work will begin to ease the human-tiger conflict in the area. Although using dogs to protect humans from animal predators isn’t a new idea, it is the first time they have been used in the battle to save tigers from extinction.
The Zoological Society of London ( ZSL) runs conservation programmes in Britain and over 80 countries worldwide, they state.“The conservation of wild animals and their natural habitats is fundamental to our mission. We work with local communities to conserve their environment and promote sustainability.”
You can find more good stories about ZSL animal conservation work at

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s feathered friends show love is in the air for Valentine’s Day

Hearts are a-flutter at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo this week as the famous scarlet macaws, Inca and George give each other a “peck” on the beak for St Valentine’s Day.
Eighteen-year-old George and 17-year-old Inca have been “love-birds” ever since they met at the zoo many years ago. They are among many macaws who mate for life, says senior bird keeper Rebecca Feenan.
“The majority of parrots do pair up for life,” she said, “it is part of their psychological nature, they make a bond which they never break, they are very intelligent .”
Inca and George share an aviary at the zoo and spend all their time together, including their memorable flying episodes in the Birds of the World Shows.
It is easy to see what’s attractive about this pair, with their trademark bright red heads, yellow crest and bright turquoise plumage over the rest of their body. They make a fantastic and colourful display when they swoop overhead.
For Valentine’s Day, George presented Inca with hearts and a rose, demonstrating that love can be everlasting, whatever your breed.
What a nice news article from “The Zoological Society of London” website at

Sunday, 8 February 2009

UNICEF Gets Aid From Japan To Rebuild Earthquake Damaged Schools In Rwanda

UNICEF have ratified an agreement with Japan for US$7.500,000 to repair and rebuild fifteen of the most heavily earthquake damaged schools and several health centres in the Nyamasheke and Rusizi area's of Rwanda.
Over twenty seven thousand students have had their education brought to a standstill for nearly a year because of the earthquake damage caused to forty five schools in these districts.
The money is also going to local people to allow them to develop and manage their own projects addressing the needs of the young people, women and children in the area and allowing them to maintain the new facilities, toilets and fresh water resources.

UNICEF stands for,The United Nations Children's Fund, it was created by the United Nations General Assembly on 11 December 1946, to provide emergency food and health care to children in countries that had been devastated by World War11.
In 1953, UNICEF became a permanent part of the United Nations system and its name was shortened from the original United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, but it has continued to be known by the popular acronym UNICEF based on this old name.
With headquarters in New York, UNICEF provides long-term humanitarian and development assistance to children and mothers in developing countries
UNICEF relies on contributions from governments and private donors.
Governments contribute two thirds of the organization's resources; private groups and some 6 million individuals contribute the rest through the National Committees.
UNICEF's programs emphasize developing community-level services to promote the health and well-being of children.
In 1965 UNICEF was awarded the Nobel Peace Award.
To see the many nice and worthy projects that this organisation for good contributes too, visit their website at