Archive for September, 2011

Drop Zone

When Everything Changed, ArtGorillas Art Gallery, Through Oct 30

For Kongsak Poonpholwattanaporn, water drops represent adaptability. His 30 water-drop-inspired sculptures portray the ever-changing nature of the environment. The opening reception will be held on Sep 30, 7pm.

V Open Mon-Fri 10am-8pm, Sat-Sun noon-8pm. ArtGorillas ArtGallery, 2/F, Lido Multiplex, Siam Square Soi 3, Rama I Road.

C 02-658-3975,,


Close to Ceramics, Close to Nature, Galerie N, Oct 1, 8

Ceramic designer Chanon Krairose and artist Thatree Muangkaew will lead an intensive Doll Mini Pottery Making programme covering The Beginning for Clay Building (Oct 1) and Painting on Ceramics (Oct 8).

V 1-4pm. Galerie N, 139/5 Witthayu Road.

C 086-601-7111, 02-252-1592,,

P B2,500 includes materials.


ANT(ARCTIC)A, La Lanta Fine Art, Oct 4-Nov 5

Stephen Eastaugh and Carolina Furque display a photographic series depicting the Arctic and Antarctica that portrays the mystifying beauty of Mother Nature. The opening reception will be held on Oct 4, 7pm.

V Open Tue-Sat 10am-7pm. La Lanta Fine Art, 245/14 Sukhumvit Soi 31.

C 02-204-0583, 02-260 5381,,


The 12th Art Exhibition of Dharma Artist Group, Jamjuree Art Gallery, Oct 5-25

Members of Dharma Artist Group including Pratuang Emjaroen, Boonying Emjaroen, Pitak Piyapong, and Perapong Kulpisal display their paintings. The opening reception will be held on Oct 5, 6:30pm.

V Open Mon-Fri 10am-7pm, Sat-Sun noon-6pm. Exhibition Room 1-4, 1/F, Jamjuree Art Gallery, Jamjuree 8 Building, Chulalongkorn University, Phaya Thai Road.

C 02-218-3709,


Creativities Unfold, Bangkok 2011, TCDC and Leading Creative Studios and Institutions, Through Oct 2

Exploring the creative possibilities in sustainable business development, the annual Creativities Unfold, Bangkok 2011 presents the theme of “Designing Impact: Building Sustainable Creative Business”. In a series of workshops and lectures, this year’s event will bring together a panel of international and local experts to share their views on the development of Thailand’s creative and design circle to explain the phenomenon of the modern era, and to explore the sustainability of modern products. The symposium will be conducted by the likes of Luke Williams, Hideshi Hamaguchi, Eric Riewer, and Cameron Sinclair while local creatives including Propaganda, Greyhound, Sretsis, B.O.R.E.D, Phenomena, Smallroom and a day will also open their ateliers.

V Thailand Creative and Design Center (TCDC), 6/F, The Emporium, Sukhumvit Soi 24.

C 02-664-8448 ext 213-4,,


Panoramas of Paris, Alliance Francaise Bangkok, Through Oct 30

Thai photographer Prachaya Achatewan captures panoramic views of the French capital covering legendary landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Parvis de la Defense esplanade.

V Open Tue-Fri 10am-7pm, Sat 8:30am-5:30pm, Sun 10am-1pm. Media Library, Alliance Francaise Bangkok, 29 Sathon Tai Road.

C 02-670-4231,,


Already Mades, Number 1 Gallery, Through Oct 31

Twenty-eight-year-old artist Krit Ngamsom showcases 3D installations and mixed-media sculptures that reinterpret significant 20th century creations of Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp, Nam June Paik, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.

V Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm. Number 1 Gallery, Unit B15, B26-27, The Silom Galleria, 99/1 Silom Soi 19.

C 02-630-3381,


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Conservation about far more than protecting nature, expert says

“There’s something you get from these open spaces, a community good that goes beyond the feel-good,” said Front, who runs Conservation Pathways and was formerly senior vice president of the Trust for Public Lands, having been involved in about $2 billion in conservation purchases in 48 states.

Front was one of three guest speakers at the Models of Innovation Series forum about conservation Thursday night as part of the Plum Creek timber company’s Envision Alachua effort to involve the community in planning future development of its lands in eastern Alachua County.

From the outset, Plum Creek officials have expressed a desire to balance development with conservation.

As much as being about scenic beauty, the landscape connects us to our culture and history — “the various facets of the American landscape that dwell in us as much as we dwell in them,” Front said.

He credited Florida’s water management districts with protecting land that filters water and provides flood control and other benefits.

“We need clean water. Do we want to create clean water by putting together water treatment plants that cover the landscape and cost hundreds of millions or billions of dollars?” he asked.

Forests can provide woody biomass as an alternative to mining, pumping and drilling for energy, he said.

Outdoor recreation supports one in every 20 jobs in America from outfitters who sell backpacks and other gear to communities that benefit from ecotourism, he said.

But conservation funding makes up a tiny slice of the federal budget pie, he said.

Asked about current public opinion of conservation, he said the general sentiment of anti-government involvement breaks down when it comes to open space in a politician’s district or state.

Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson of the Alachua Conservation Trust said Florida is seeing an unprecedented level of antagonism from the governor and legislators, even though 70 percent of Floridians identify themselves as environmentalists.

“We haven’t made voting green by our legislators an important litmus test,” he said.

Hutchinson provided a rundown of local conservation efforts that have produced the vast majority of preserved spaces over the last 40 years, including purchases by the state, the Alachua Conservation Trust, water districts and voter-approved tax-funded efforts such as Alachua County Forever and Wild Spaces Public Places.

Alachua County has 103,320 acres in conservation. That makes up 18 percent of the land area, ranking the county 37th out of 67 Florida counties.

The local efforts have conserved 14,000 acres, which ranks 11th in Florida.

Hutchinson said the young people in the audience may see a day when every legally developable lot is developed and the only green space is legally preserved.

“It’s a race between development and conservation,” he said.

Busy Byerly of the Conservation Trust for Florida recounted her group’s efforts to work with farmers and ranchers to provide conservation easements, transfer development rights or use deed restrictions to receive tax breaks on estate taxes.

Thursday’s forum was the second Models of Innovation event following an Aug. 4 forum on economic development. Plum Creek is hosting a community workshop at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Springhill Missionary Baptist Church, 120 SE Williston Road.

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Nature on show

Kuala Lumpur (The Star/ANN) – When the idea of a coffee-table book on the natural attractions of the state of Perak was broached, photographer Omar Ariff Kamarul Ariffin was doubtful if he could get the job done. But he need not have worried. In the end, the book is a hefty 320-pages thick and he reluctantly had to leave out many images.

“I would have continued photographing, if I hadn’t stop myself,” confesses the 45-year-old photographer. “Initially, I was sceptical as the only well-known nature spot in northern state Perak is the Belum forest. And you usually associate nature photography with Sabah and Sarawak. But after researching, I found that the state has many interesting places.”

Perak eventually offered Omar a diverse range of landscapes to shoot at, from the archaeological dig at Lenggong Valley to the limestone caves of Kinta Valley, lowland forests of Lata Kekabu and Ulu Kenas, mangroves of Lumut and Matang, highland forest of Bukit Larut, riverine reserves of Sungai Perak, and even the mining ponds of Batu Gajah.

The result is that Perak – The Natural Heritage brims over with stunning images of birds, insects, snakes, lizards, frogs, tortoises and mammals which inhabit the state’s wilderness.

Perak Regent Raja Dr Nazrin Shah had commissioned the book to promote the state’s unique natural wonders. In the foreword, he wrote of a childhood spent exploring the state’s stunning natural and historical features, which cultivated in him a love and appreciation of the environment.

“The book offers a glimpse into the astounding natural treasures of Perak and it is my hope that it will persuade many readers to visit this beautiful state,” he wrote.

Omar says the book gives readers an idea of the different and varied wildlife of Perak. “The landscapes are different and so are the animals. I am extremely lucky that Tuanku has given me the chance to come out with the book.”

Nature fascinates the photographer who has two previous publications – Pusaka Bumi and Corak (patterns in nature up close, compiled with proverbs from 80 countries) – on the topic, out of the nine that he has published over a span of 15 years.

“(With nature) you never know what to expect. It is not like photographing the F1 (which he has done several times) where you know what is to come, when the car will turn round the bend. You can set your camera up, chit-chat with people, and then press the trigger at the right time. In the forest, it is never the same. The scenery, the kind of animals you see, they are different with each visit and changes, before and after a downpour.”

This is not the first coffee-table book featuring Perak’s natural attractions but Omar made his different by his trademark close-up angles. This renders stunning shots such as those detailing the elaborate scales of a snake’s body, the rainbow of hues on the agamid lizard and the aggressive stance of the mantis about to pounce on an attacker.

“I don’t like it to be obvious, (for) then it becomes predictable. That’s what I like about nature photography,” says Omar, who honed his skills in macro photography in the marine realm when he was a dive instructor in the 1990s. He ventured into photography full-time in the late 1990s, shooting special events and commissioned projects, such as the Petronas four-wheel drive expeditions which took him to Africa and Siberia.

He started work on Perak – The Natural Heritage in early 2008, finally completing it two and a half years later. To ensure a top-notch product, he fussed over the project and made it a point to work with an acclaimed publisher and sought out quality paper and binding. So readers are rewarded with a visual feast of photos so brilliant and sharp that the animals appear life-like; you can even make out the fines lines on the Asian fairy bluebird’s plumage and the specks of dirt on the fire-tufted barbet’s bill.

Flipping through his book is like going armchair trekking: you get to see a myriad of creatures without having to don boots or work up a sweat. In fact, these are creatures you are unlikely to spot in the forest, either for lack of a sharp eye or because you just do not know where to look.

Omar has portrayed cryptic creatures which otherwise would have gone unnoticed or are too well-camouflaged to be discernible: the glow worm which is actually a stick-like beetle; the katydid that mimics a leaf; the mantis that could pass off as an orchid bloom; and the bristle-sporting David Bowie spider.

And hard as it may be to like the tiger leech, it actually is quite pretty when magnified, sporting brilliant stripes of red, yellow and green.

To best capture nature, Omar took time to study and understand animal behaviour. “That’s also what makes nature interesting. You learn along the way. And you have to let the animals get comfortable with you.”

To shoot a mangrove crab, for instance, he waited patiently in his boat for over 15 minutes until the crab emerged from the mudflats and slowly climbed up a tree.

The quest for perfection saw him seeking out different facets of animal behaviour. The Indo-Malayan bamboo rat was snapped with its mouth agape and the long-tailed macaque, while prying open a cockle. One shot has readers staring into the throat of the mangrove snake while in another, the blue-winged pitta grappled with a wriggling worm.

He photographed the animals in their natural habitats, and mostly at night as that is the time when his favourite subjects, frogs and geckos, are most active. Also, the cloak of darkness gives his images a clean, uncluttered background. He explains that it is also easier to shoot birds at night as they will be perched and sleeping.

I had to pose THE question: Did he see any tigers?

“No, didn’t even hear them. You’ll have to be very lucky to see or hear them.”

But the forests of Perak have lots of other wild and rare inhabitants to excite him, such as the green land snail that is found only in the state, the leaf insect that exists only in the vicinity of Jalan Pahang (on the way to Cameron Highlands), and other seldom-sighted species such as the vampire crab and cinnamon tree frog.

Many were spotted only because of his knowledgeable and sharp-eyed orang asli guides whom he depended on totally while in the jungle environment, which can be harsh at times. They were the ones who kept him safe and helped weed out rare wildlife for him to photograph.

“When you’re in the jungle, you really want to be with people you trust, people who can help you find your way out should you get lost. To really appreciate the place you’re going to, you need to have the sifu (expert) of the place,” says Omar.

He also has his guides to thank for reaching some really wild, obscure places, such as the forests of Ulu Slim in southern Perak, where few have ventured. There, Omar photographed the rarely-visited Menau Falls which is accessible only by four-wheel drive, and animals such as the striped coral snake, mahogany frog and banded kingfisher.

He has also entered caves with beautifully lit chambers which few have stepped into, and reachable only with the right guide. Shooting caves prove to be a real challenge.

“You have to be there at the right time for the light to come into the cave chamber. Sometimes, after trekking for an hour to get there, you wonder if there is going to be clouds, rain or the right light.” So getting that perfect shot might entail several trips.

Unrelenting in his pursuit of new subjects to photograph and that rare species, he would rush over whenever he gets a call from his guides.

“The orang asli have many stories and myths about the forest. Once, I photographed a slow loris right up to 2am. Driving back on my own, I started recalling all the stories about how the slow loris is an omen of death and usually found in cemeteries.” Needless to say, he sped up after that.

He has had to camp out in the jungle, and sleep in his four-wheel drive, a lorry and even in caves, with only a fire to keep animals away. He has been bitten by spiders and insects but when it comes to poisonous snakes, his guides would alert him and ensure that he keep his distance.

“There were times when I wondered if my four-wheel could get back, as we were so deep in old logging trails. And what happens if it goes off into a ravine?” So he practises caution and always carries a satellite phone with him.

One of his favourite places to photograph is Jalan Pahang which winds up mountainous areas towards the town of Tapah in Cameron Highlands.

“It is an insects’ world here because of the climb in elevation. I like insects as they make dramatic pictures.”

Photographs of many rare species never made it to the book, however, as Omar did not deem them good enough. The selected images are what he considers his best shots.

“I want pictures that speak to you. That is why I focus on the subject’s eyes and try to get eye contact in my pictures.”

His most satisfying photo in the whole book is that of three smooth otters – part of a group of 20 – scurrying in the mudflats of Sungai Sepetang. “They’re not easily located and are difficult to photograph in the wild. I was quite far away and used a 600mm lens to shoot. I’m always looking for them and I finally got a nice image of them, in a line and with birds in the background.”

It was not always about photographing wildlife, however. It was also a learning experience for with each foray into the wilderness, he got fresh insight into animal behaviour and made new discoveries.

“Some snakes will still be at the same place when I return the next day. They feed, and then rest.” He also learnt that the trio of tailorbirds which he had photographed, huddled together and faced different directions in their slumber, for safety’s sake.

And all those claims about jungle plants and animal organs being sex-boosting? Mostly untruths. “Rarely have I met an orang asli who eats something for its aphrodisiac value. For medicinal purposes, yes,” shares Omar.

It was a tough decision when to wrap up fieldwork for each time he felt he had collected enough images, the jungle – and his guides – summoned him back. “I’d get a call, saying they’ve found something new. I could have gone on photographing and had to put a stop to it.”

Omar is hopeful that the book, apart from giving glimpses of the wilds of Perak, will spur people to preserve these natural spaces and creatures for the future. This, too, is the aim of Raja Dr Nazrin, who wrote in the foreword: “I hope the extraordinary pictures contained herein will inspire a greater appreciation of the need for sustained conservation of these spaces. We must never allow short-sighted objectives to jeopardise our priceless heritage. We must instead do all we can to ensure it is passed on to future generations in its current condition.”

The many images left out of the book will not go to waste; Omar intends to use them for future publications. So there should be more wonderful coffee-table books celebrating nature from this photographer to look out for.

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In North Dakota, Flames of Wasted Natural Gas Light the Prairie

They are not wildfires caused by lightning strikes or other acts of nature, but the deliberate burning of natural gas by oil companies rushing to extract oil from the Bakken shale field and take advantage of the high price of crude. The gas bubbles up alongside the far more valuable oil, and with less economic incentive to capture it, the drillers treat the gas as waste and simply burn it.

Every day, more than 100 million cubic feet of natural gas is flared this way — enough energy to heat half a million homes for a day.

The flared gas also spews at least two million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, as much as 384,000 cars or a medium-size coal-fired power plant would emit, alarming some environmentalists.

All told, 30 percent of the natural gas produced in North Dakota is burned as waste. No other major domestic oil field currently flares close to that much, though the practice is still common in countries like Russia, Nigeria and Iran.

With few government regulations that limit the flaring, more burning is also taking place in the Eagle Ford shale field in Texas, and some environmentalists and industry executives say that it could happen in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Ohio, too, as drilling expands in new fields there unlocked by techniques like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

“North Dakota is not as bad as Kazakhstan, but this is not what you would expect a civilized, efficient society to do: to flare off a perfectly good product just because it’s expensive to bring to market,” said Michael E. Webber, associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin.

The oil companies say economic reality is driving the flaring in the Bakken, the biggest oil field discovered in the United States in four decades. They argue that they cannot afford to pay for pipelines and processing plants to capture and sell the gas until they actually drill oil wells and calculate how much gas will bubble out of the oil. And reinjection of the carbon dioxide, commonly done in conventional oil fields, is more difficult and expensive in less permeable shale fields.

“This field covers 15,000 square miles, so it takes time to go and test what’s there and then build a gathering system and plant,” said Harold G. Hamm, chief executive of Continental Resources, one of the biggest oil producers in the Bakken.

The widespread flaring is a step backward for a domestic energy industry. Most oil and gas fields in the United States have well-developed facilities to gather and process gas.

But the recent rise of shale drilling has changed the economic calculus. Natural gas prices have plunged since 2008 as vast shale fields laden with gas are tapped through hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Meanwhile, those same techniques have opened up other shale fields rich with oil.

With oil prices high amid strong global demand and leases as short as five years for land in the Bakken, drillers have found it more profitable to just grab the oil and burn the gas. Building out the infrastructure to handle gas would substantially raise costs and slow development, and efforts so far to use the gas for electrical generation have had limited success because it contains components that burn too hot.

“I’ll tell you why people flare: It’s cheap,” said Troy Anderson, lead operator of a North Dakota gas-processing plant owned by Whiting Petroleum. “Pipelines are expensive: You have to maintain them. You need permits to build them. They are a pain.”

Although capturing the gas is the best option, scientists say that flaring is better for the environment than venting the gas into the atmosphere. Pure natural gas is mostly methane, which has far greater heat-trapping qualities than carbon dioxide.

Regulations on flaring are loose in North Dakota, as they are in most states, and there are no current federal regulations on flaring at oil and gas wells. That is largely because flaring has not been a significant concern since the 1970s, when the federal government insisted that oil companies re-inject gas into Alaska’s North Slope rather than flare it.

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Conserving Nature for the Sake of Photography


While many were mesmerized by the display of fireworks at the Putrajaya Flower and Garden Festival 2011 (Floria 2011), a man was busy recording the spectacular sights on his camera. 


Azhar Azli, 41, is an avid photographer of 33 years. He is known as “Gai” among the photography community. Gai was at the festival in his capacity as the Johor government’s official photographer.

He tells Bernama that the country’s landscape was his favourite photography theme. However, he believed that nature conservation efforts in the country were a cause for concern.



Will It Still Look Like This 20 Years On?


“That’s what I ask myself every time I come across a beautiful landscape,” said Gai, while showing the writer several of the photographs he took.

The photographs were awe-inspiring, some depicting beautiful sceneries one only saw on TV programmes while others were similar to the landscapes overseas. Gai said although many factors contribute to the changes in nature, mankind still played a very important role in ensuring the beauty of nature is preserved.
“It’s true that the forces of nature causes floods, landslides and global warming. But all of it is a result of the things we humans do without considering the long term effects of it,” he said. 



Don’t Pass The Buck


Gai said the photography community needed to be more sensitive than others to the need to take care of the environment, as what happens to it would directly affect their source of income. He said Malaysians would miss out on the magic of nature photography if there are interesting landscapes, greenery and other wondrous scenes of the great outdoors were to lessen or disappear.

“When it comes to environmental conservation, we can’t just keep passing the buck. We need to contribute towards the effort. If we find a dirty or polluted area, help clean it. Don’t just look at it,” he said.

Gai, who was once a tourist guide, said that many tourists flock into the country to see for themselves the beauty of nature in Malaysia. 

“Therefore, every Malaysian needs to play a role in conserving the country’s natural treasures from being exploited by unscrupulous parties.

“What we need is merely civic consciousness. People need to be instilled with environmental awareness so that they can practice it and teach their children to do the same,” he said.   



A “Gift” from Pollution


Gai said some may argue that while pollution is bad for nature, it is “good” for photographers as it helps them achieve beautiful shots of sunsets. 

“Places with polluted air can produce sunsets with interesting variation of colors due to the presence of nitrogen, carbon monoxide and debris.

“It results in colors like purple and green, in addition to colors like red, yellow and orange. Other colors can also appear, depending on the impurities present in the air,” he said.

However, he said, nature conservation should not be compromised just for the sake of a pretty picture.



Birds: An Ecosystem Benchmark


Gai, who recently won the “Tenggol Underwater and Island Challenge” nature photography contest, has now developed a new photography interest: forest birds. Along with his best friend, entrepreneur Chin Wai Foong, they scour jungles like the Endau-Rompin National Park and Gunung Ledang in the quest to digitally capture birds of the forest.

Among the species of birds they have managed to photograph are the Yellow Vented Bulbul, Plaintive Cuckoo and Thick Billed Green Pigeon.

“Through our observation we found that many of the birds have fled their habitats as it has been disturbed by development activities,” he said.

“Their food sources have been greatly reduced due to the forest clearing activities using pesticides. With the food chain broken, many had to flee,” he added.



Best Sceneries Are in Malaysia


Photography has taken Gai to many countries in the Southeast Asia, namely Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore. While each country is unique in its own way, he believed that Malaysia was still the best destinations for nature photography.

“Almost all the states in Malaysia has something to offer, but Johor and Sabah are my favorites.

“I hope the beauty of these places will remain untouched forever, so that they can also be enjoyed by the future generations.”

– Bernama








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A good bill for the Gulf – Daily News

Published September 23, 2011

Most of the money that BP and other companies pay in penalties because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill should stay in the Gulf Coast states.

These were the states that suffered environmental and economic damage because of the spill. The money would help the states that suffered damage recover.

That simple appeal to fairness was enough to get the RESTORE Act over its first hurdle. A Senate committee approved the bill, formally known as the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies Act.

The bill specified that at least 80 percent of the money from penalties under the Clean Water Act would be returned to the states that suffered damage.

This is a significant amount of money. The Clean Water Act allows the Environmental Protection Agency to collect $1,100 for each barrel of oil spilled. That amount increases to $4,300 per barrel in cases of gross negligence. Estimates of the fines range from $5.4 billion to $21.1 billion.

After the spill, a task force chaired by the secretary of the U.S. Navy, Ray Mabus, issued a report that had several suggestions for better managing the risks inherent in drilling for hydrocarbons in the Gulf of Mexico. Several of the task forces recommendations are included in this bill, including the creation of an endowment to support research and long-term environmental monitoring. The research would include scientific studies on which restoration techniques work best.

The Gulf is an amazing natural environment. But its not a nature preserve. It has resources, including oil and gas, that are vital to the livelihoods of people in our communities. We must continue to manage and use those resources.

This bill will help us to manage them more efficiently and, perhaps, more wisely. And, when there is a mistake or accident, this bill would help us to repair the damage faster.

This is good legislation.

The good news is the bill has broad bipartisan support in the Senate. Among the senators introducing the legislation were Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Mary L. Landrieu, D-Louisiana. It would be nice to see a similar level of enthusiasm from the House of Representatives.


Impact On Texas

The damage to Texas was more economic, and not as environmental as other states. This bill gives states flexibility, and I hope Texas uses its share of the funds to help make whole our communities, which have suffered economically.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison

Copyright 2011 The Galveston County Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Betrayed by an act of despotism

Why should a government set up and pay for an independent organisation that is likely to criticise it? In terms of realpolitik, of course, there is no reason whatsoever, which is why in tyrannies such bodies do not exist.

Yet we have prided ourselves in Britain on being more than a tyranny, and so the arm’s-length quango which can tell the truth to power has been a valued feature of our society, considering that governments of whatever complexion do not always know best and can act out of base motives; and that sometimes public advice to them, official yet independent, is very necessary.

We have been particularly fortunate in this country that for more than 60 years nature conservation had such a quango on its side. When it began in 1949 it was called the Nature Conservancy; and then in the 1970s it had its research arm amputated and became the Nature Conservancy Council; in a ferocious row in the 1990s the Scottish and Welsh bits were stripped off and it became English Nature; and then in the 2000s it was reshuffled once more, and was rechristened Natural England.

Through all its different incarnations, this body maintained a single animating purpose: to speak up for wildlife. It was a miracle that with its independent advisory role it ever came into existence, and we owe it to the 20th century’s most influential nature conservation figure, Max Nicholson.

Nicholson, the man who thought up the World Wide Fund for Nature in 1961 (helped by two other great naturalists, Peter Scott and Julian Huxley), had thought up Britain’s Nature Conservancy 12 years earlier while a senior official in the post-war Attlee Government. Being in a powerful position as the right-hand man of Herbert Morrison, the deputy prime minister, he basically designed the beast himself from scratch, and slipped it through the government machine, independence and all; and for the six decades that followed, to a greater or lesser extent, it championed the cause of the natural world.

Now it is silenced, probably for good, as part of a stifling by the Coalition of all its independent environmental advice. Prompted by the cold-eyed zealot who is the Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude – the man really responsible for the forestry sell-off fiasco earlier this year – the Environment Department has abolished its two advisory bodies, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Sustainable Development Commission, and laid down that on all matters of policy its green agencies, the Forestry Commission, the Environment Agency and Natural England, will henceforth Shut It.

This ruthless piece of despotism, barely noticed by the general public at the time of a teetering economy, has caused real resentment among many of those involved with nature conservation, which came to a head in the angry polemic by the naturalist and writer Peter Marren, published in The Independent on September 14. (“Our wildlife needs a voice”.)

Marren’s charge was that while Natural England has been silenced, the green groups and wildlife charities have lamentably failed, for a variety of reasons, to step in and hold the Government to proper account. This has ignited an impassioned debate in the conservation community, with many of its senior figures taking part, and you can find the debate in the comments appended to Marren’s original article (, on The Independent letters page ( and also on the blog written by Dr Mark Avery, the former conservation director of the RSPB and now an independent writer and conservation advisor (

A wide range of opinions is presented, particularly in the Avery blog; most agree on the ailment, but have differing views on the cure. My view is that Marren’s own prescription is entirely right. Britain needs a new champion for its wildlife. Not for the environment – let’s for now forget the E-word, which has come to cover everything from waste management to carbon sequestration to cycle routes, and there are thousands of people pursuing all those.

The focus must be narrow. What we need is an impassioned voice to speak out without fear or favour for nature, for kestrels and bee orchids and large blue butterflies and wild brown trout. Others can shout about carbon footprints. (They already do, in their thousands.)

The new voice will probably have to come from a new body, although it must be small, a miniature think-tank, perhaps; the last thing that is needed is a major new organisation, (Marren himself writes among the responses: “What I think we need is not a new Natural England so much as a new Peter Scott”). But if the body be small, the voice must be loud. Can such a voice emerge, to carry on Max Nicholson’s message and tell truth to power about the wildlife of Britain? Let us wait upon events.

As the dams go, the salmon return

A piece of good news concerning large dams, those economic quick fixes beloved of powerful governments which nearly always bring environmental disaster: the largest dam removal in US history is currently under way.

Two big dams on the once salmon-rich Elwha River in Washington State are being removed at a cost of $27m. When they were put in, early in the 20th century, they reduced the salmon population by a factor of 1,000; now a major river restoration is returning the river to something like its natural state.;

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