I have to say we seem to be in a purple patch of positive news at the moment – and long may it last! In England the announcement of 12 Nature Improvement Areas and two very different but successful planning cases in Dorset at Talbot Heath and in Suffolk at Kiln Meadow. In Portugal, authorities have taken a robust line with a developer illegally damaging coastal wetlands ... and next in line is some hugely welcome news from Kenya – the rejection of plans to plant jatropha (a biofuel crop) which would have destroyed the Dakatcha Woodlands.
The Dakatcha Woodlands first appeared in these pages back in June 2010 – here’s an earlier post that sets the scene. Nature Kenya with support from the RSPB have been stepping up the campaign to save the Woodlands since 2009.
The woodlands, are home to several globally threatened birds, would have been destroyed if the proposals had gone ahead. However after a long battle the Kenyan Government has formally recognised the environmental damage that would be caused by the European-backed project.
The forest is one of only two places in the world where the endangered Clarke’s weaver bird is found and holds a substantial proportion of the global population of Sokoke pipits. It is also home to the beautiful and threatened Fischer’s turaco (pictured).
I've used Doug Jansen's fantastic picture of an endangered Fischer's turaco before - but make no apologies for using it again.
There has been strong community support for the campaign as clearing g the forests would have made thousands of people homeless, led to water shortages and meant the loss of sacred ancestral land.
Over and above the crushing impact on local people and their natural environment, the perversity of the biofuels market (driving the pressure to grab land in Kenya and many other parts of the tropics) means that felling forest to grow biofuels would result in up to six times more carbon emissions than would be generated by fossil fuels! Working with Action Aid we published a study backing the campaign to save Dakatcha. Biofuel currently makes up around 3.5 per cent of the petrol and diesel in UK fuel pumps. However, the UK Government wants to increase this.
Our own Helen Byron, Senior International Site Casework Officer, who has visited the Dakatcha Woodlands, is delighted with the outcome: “This decision is fantastic news for threatened wildlife at Dakatcha, which was under threat from the rush for biofuels.
“The UK Government is aiming to increase the amount of biofuel going into our petrol and diesel as part of efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Yet the evidence in cases such as Dakatcha suggests that biofuels will in fact increase emissions.
“Whilst today is great news for the wildlife and people of Dakatcha, sadly this case is just one of an increasing number of European companies grabbing land in Africa to cash in on biofuel support in the UK and Europe.
“Ultimately, the only thing that will stop it is the UK Government, and others in Europe, ending support for damaging biofuels and developing an ambitious plan to cut carbon from transport through efficiency, public transport and electric vehicles instead.”
Dakatcha is by no means the only wildlife site under threat from biofuel plantations. Elsewhere in Kenya the Tana River Delta faces a similar threat. The area, a vast floodplain ecosystem of seasonally flooded grassland, swamps, riverine forest, lakes and mangroves, provides refuge for 350 species of birds as well as primates, hippopotamuses and crocodiles.
Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya, said: “We applaud the Kenyan Government’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) for this wise decision to reject untested biofuel crops in an area of high biodiversity.
“It is heartening to see NEMA’s decisions being guided by science. We now urge them to apply the same criteria to the proposed biofuel plantations in other sensitive areas such as the Tana River Delta.”
Much of the biofuel proposed for production in Kenya is destined for Europe because of a European Union target for biofuels. The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) requires 10 per cent of transport fuels to be renewable by 2020 and the UK, like most other member states, plans to meet its target mostly through biofuels.
It's been a great few days - but we couldn't do any of this without your support - so thank you! It ain't over of course, and if you are inspired to take another step for nature, do help us press home the message that the environment shouldn't be sacrificed on the alter of un-sustainable development
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One of the great privileges of working at the RSPB is that we can bring together colleagues from different