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  • Big boost for endangered European sturgeons

        © WWF-Phyllis-RachlerAfter decades of plummeting numbers due to poaching and habitat loss, Europe's sturgeons have been given a sign of hope today. The European Commission and experts from EU member states endorsed the implementation of a continent-wide plan to save the species from extinction under the EU Habitats Directive. This will be the first action plan for a fish species implemented under this EU Directive.
     
    The Pan-European Sturgeon Action Plan covers 8 European sturgeon species – 7 of which are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
     
    The plan aims to conserve the last surviving sturgeon populations in Europe, restore habitats and reintroduce sturgeon to many rivers. Critically, the plan also outlines actions that countries will take to tackle poaching and the illegal trade in wild sturgeon products – the most immediate threat to the survival of the species.
     
    "This action plan could be the last chance for Europe's sturgeons. Without urgent action, the continent will lose these iconic fish species within our lifetime – species that have been on Earth for over 200 million years," said Beate Striebel-Greiter, WWF's Sturgeon Coordinator.
     
    While sturgeons were widespread in Europe a couple of centuries ago, their current status is dire. Today, natural reproduction occurs in only two European rivers – the Danube, and Rioni in Georgia. Small native populations are found in the Gironde River system in France and the Po in Italy; however, they are probably not reproducing.
     
    The same conservation action plan was adopted last November in Strasbourg by the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats – a legally binding treaty covering most of Europe's natural heritage.
     
    "The endorsement of the same Action Plan by EU states shows their renewed commitment to saving sturgeon. However, if not followed by swift action, the Action Plan will become just another great conservation strategy gathering dust on shelves around the continent – and sturgeons will become another statistic in the 6th Great Extinction," added Striebel-Greiter. .
     
    Developed by the World Sturgeon Conservation Society and WWF and in cooperation with many international experts, the plan includes a range of measures to protect the existing populations from illegal fishing or by-catch, as well as identify and protect natural sturgeon habitats and migration corridors. European countries also committed to creating living gene banks and taking steps to reintroduce sturgeons back into the wild.
     
    Indeed, several European countries like France and Germany have already started scientifically substantiated reintroduction programmes. However, it must be noted that because of the migrating nature of sturgeons from rivers into seas, no individual country will be able to save them by themselves.
     
    "Countries in river and sea basins must work together on this, otherwise they will fail. It is a true European challenge to safe sturgeons" continued Beate Striebel-Greiter.
     
    Due to the fact that they live long, mature late, and use many different habitats as they migrate between rivers and seas, sturgeons are ideal umbrella species; a species that indirectly protects the many other species that make up the ecological community of its habitat. Procedures to improve sturgeon habitats and integrity of populations will also benefit other species and communities. As such, they are invaluable as flagship species for free flowing rivers and healthy, well manged marine ecosystems.
     
    The world's 27 species of sturgeon are considered the most endangered group of species worldwide.
     
    The 8 European native species are Russian Sturgeon (Critically Endangered), Adriatic Sturgeon (Critically Endangered), Ship Sturgeon (Critically Endangered), Stellate Sturgeon (Critically Endangered), Atlantic Sturgeon (Critically Endangered), Beluga Sturgeon (Critically Endangered), Baltic Sturgeon (Critically Endangered) and Sterlet (Endangered/Vulnerable).

  • International Day for Biological Diversity shines a spotlight on the link between nature and food production

    Harvest season in the Krayan highlands © Copyright by Edwin Meru

    Our food system is the single biggest threat to nature today, leading to 70% of biodiversity loss and 93% of all our fish stocks being fished to their limits or beyond. As per the landmark Global Assessment Report on the state of nature by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), growing and producing food to respond to the expanding global demand has made agriculture and food consumption one of the key drivers of environmental degradation. And yet, we don't even eat all the food we produce - around one third of it is lost in the supply chain or thrown away. The problems are clear. We all need to eat, but the way we produce and consume food is putting an impossible strain on the planet.

     

    Today, 22 May, is the International Day for Biological Diversity. This year's theme 'Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health' shines a spotlight on the interconnectedness of nature and its ecosystems, and our food production. Take a look at initiatives from around the world highlighting the threats to food systems while emphasising on the urgent need for transforming the way we produce and consume.

     

    Indonesia- Wise Foodways for Nature and People

    Maintaining and strengthening the conservation practices of traditional food systems could be the key to reduce the pressures of food production and consumption on the environment, and mitigate water, soil and air pollution.

     

    To promote local food systems and educate consumers of the impact of food production on nature,  WWF Indonesia launched "Pangan Bijak Nusantara" (or Wise Foodways) on International Day of Biological Diversity. This is part of the Switch Asia EU supported project, "Local Harvest: Promoting sustainable and equitable consumption and local food systems in Indonesia" and implemented by Hivos, WWF-Indonesia, NTFP-EP, ASPPUK and AMAN. The consortium aims to encourage a significant shift in food consumption and production towards more ethical, healthy and sustainable food through increasing consumers' and producers' knowledge and awareness about the environmental and social impact of their practices and food choices. To read more about traditional sustainable agricultural methods practiced by Indonesian farmers, click here.

     

    South Africa- Our food system requires a radical overhaul, Says WWF South Africa report

     

    We need a fundamental overhaul of our food system which, in its current form, is a threat to the environment and human health.  This is the key message of a recent WWF South Africa report titled "Agri-Food Systems: Facts and Futures". The visible manifestations of the current system failure are food poverty, hunger and malnutrition, a lack of dietary diversity and , increased vulnerability to disease and obesity.. The report notes that the way in which we put food on our tables has done more damage to our natural environment than any other human enterprise. Yet, to meet the growing demand, we will need to double food production by 2050. How will we meet this? We need to transform our food systems so that it nurtures human health and the environment focussing on those most affected by the nutritional deficit, namely women and children in low-income communities. You can read the complete report here.

     

    International Biodiversity Day  'Design to win' Contest

     

    This #BiodiversityDay WWF is asking people to draw or illustrate how you #Connect2Earth. Show us how diverse the natural world around you is what you love about nature or your favourite species and habitats To participate in the contest please visit https://www.bankofcreativity.co.uk/blog/wwf-omb


    For further information, please contact:
    Kanika Kohli | WWF International I kkohli@wwfint.org

  • How communities and their forests can thrive together

    A woman waters plants at a nursery in East Usambara Landscape, Tanzania © Juha Pekka Kervinen / WWFForests are a vital safety net for people living in poverty, providing food and fuel, medicines and materials, as well as maintaining freshwater supplies. At the same time, though, poverty can be a threat to forests, as people clear land to grow food and cash crops and harvest more resources than the ecosystem can sustain. On top of this, forests continue to be cleared for commercial agriculture, infrastructure and extractive industries in the name of economic development.

    In the East Usambara mountains of Tanzania, though, a different story has been unfolding. Here, forest loss has been reduced considerably, and more than a million tree seedlings have been planted. Forest fires have been virtually eliminated. Food security has improved. And many villagers have more than tripled their income.

    This transformation is the result of a 10-year forest landscape restoration (FLR) project, led by WWF and local partner NGO Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG), that has empowered local people to manage their forest resources and improve their livelihoods. And with Tanzania joining other African countries in pledging to restore up to 100 million hectares of deforested and degraded land over the coming decade, there are valuable lessons to learn.

    A biodiversity hotspot

    The forests of coastal East Africa are one of the world's most endangered biodiversity hotspots. Only about 10 per cent of the region's natural habitat remains, but it still harbours an array of unique and endangered wildlife – including over 1,500 plant species, 16 mammals, 22 birds, 50 reptiles and 33 amphibians that are found nowhere else on Earth. Some 333 species are listed on the IUCN Red List as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable.

    Within this region, Tanzania's East Usambara mountains hold some of the most important remaining areas of forest. About 30 per cent of the landscape is forested – some 31,000 hectares in total. The two largest forest blocks are protected as government forest reserves, but the rest is made up of hundreds of smaller scattered fragments. The landscape is home to around 135,000 people spread across 35 villages, and the population is growing, increasing the pressure on the remaining forests.

    To protect this globally important biodiversity and maintain the services that forests provide to people, in 2004 WWF and partners launched a long-term project to maintain, restore and reconnect forest ecosystems in East Usambara. From the outset, the project also aimed to improve the livelihoods of local people in a region where poverty levels are high.

    With funding from the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, WWF and TFCG worked with communities across the landscape to protect and plant trees and to develop alternative livelihoods to reduce the pressure on forests.

    Empowering communities

    One of the most important steps was to enable communities to take ownership of their forests by setting up village land forest reserves. Since the end of the colonial era, most forested land in Tanzania has officially belonged to the government. The reserves give legal control back to the communities. Local people are responsible for developing a management plan and bylaws for their reserves, which are approved by the village assembly and the local council.

    Over the course of the project, WWF and TFCG helped set up 19 village reserves and six community forest reserves, which are managed at the level of the clan rather than the village. Between 2006 and 2012, forest clearance fell by 88 per cent as communities became more actively involved in preserving the forest. They protected their forests from other threats too: by November 2013, forest fires in local reserves had declined by 97 per cent, while illegal mining was reduced by 78 per cent as many villages prohibited it in their bylaws. Satellite images suggest that almost no deforestation is occurring across the landscape.

    Added to this, several hundred small tree nurseries were established in villages across the landscape to grow a diverse range of native and exotic species. Villagers were given training both in growing the saplings and in understanding the use of different tree species – including to recover degraded lands, to protect water sources, for fuel and medicine, and in agroforestry systems that combine trees with crops. Over the 10 years of the project, around 1.2 million trees were planted in the landscape, and the nurseries continue to provide a source of saplings for villagers to plant out on their farms, along river banks and around their reserves.

    None of this would have been possible, though, if local people hadn't also benefited – which is why improving people's livelihoods was a key part of the project. Local people, especially women, were given support to develop alternative sources of income, like growing camphor basil (a medicinal plant), beekeeping and butterfly farming (breeding butterflies within the landscape and selling the pupae to zoos and exhibits). In the villages, based on a sampling of local people, average incomes rose by an incredible 239 per cent between 2004 and 2013 as a result of these activities.

    On top of this, newly created fish ponds provided local people with a good source of protein. To reduce the pressure on forests, four brick-pressing machines were bought so villagers could use bricks instead of timber to construct houses, and an increasing number of households started using fuel-efficient stoves – reaching 825 in 2008 and 3,465 in 2013. Microfinance schemes were introduced in five villages, allowing women and men to save and borrow money to set up and expand new enterprises.

    A lasting legacy

    After a decade of work in the region, the project ended in 2013. But although WWF is no longer active in the landscape, the project has had a lasting legacy. Recent visits show that communities in East Usambara continue to care for their forests and apply the skills and knowledge they acquired. And the project has important lessons for other parts of Tanzania and beyond, which are captured in a newly released report – part of a series detailing WWF's experiences in forest landscape restoration.

    In 2018, Tanzania announced a historic commitment to restore 5.2 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2030. The pledge is part of the African Forest Landscape Restoration (AFR100) Initiative under the Bonn Challenge, which aims to restore 100 million hectares in Africa and 350 million hectares globally by 2030. It's an effort that's urgently needed: according to recent national statistics, Tanzania is still losing around 469,000 hectares of forest per year – a 25 per cent increase from three years ago. Meanwhile, an estimated 12.5 million hectares, or about 13 per cent of Tanzania's land area, has become degraded through deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, poor farming practices, overgrazing, erosion, soil pollution and biodiversity loss.

    While meeting these challenges is a huge ask, experiences in East Usambara demonstrate that with long-term vision, commitment and collaboration, it's possible for people and forests to thrive together.