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Good news for trees and humans

logo of the UNEP
Aug 2009

Campaign: Seven billion trees for the Earth

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched a major worldwide tree planting campaign. Under the name 'Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign', people, communities, business and industry, civil society organizations and governments are encouraged to enter tree planting pledges online with the objective of planting at least one billion trees worldwide each year. The first year succeeded in even reaching the 2-billion mark!

In a call to further individual and collective action, UNEP has set a new goal of planting 7 billion trees by the end of 2009 – one for every human on the planet.

The campaign strongly encourages the planting of indigenous trees and trees that are appropriate to the local environment.

Check it out at

the old oak at Crewkerne. © Ben Hartshorn
July 2009

People power saves oak tree

The venerable old Lucombe oak (Quercus x hispanica, a cross between the Cork Oak, Q. suber, and the Turkey Oak, Q. cerris; cultivated in 1762 by William Lucombe) in Henhayes Crewkerne, Somerset, was found to have a fungus infection (or perhaps just be in the way of a new sports center development?), deemed a hazard and due to be felled by the local council. The council's insurers appeared to be bullying the councilors into taking drastic action and threatening to sue any individual who stood in the way.

But the citizens of Crewkerne did not obey and began the Save the Oak! Save Henhayes! campaign and flew in arboreal experts from Germany with more precise scientific equipment – which proved that the tree had a future! The campaigners collected over 2,000 names supporting a petition and the council agreed to preservation rather than destruction, at least for the following three years.

The campaign showed, so their spokesman, Green politician B. Hartshorn, said, that 'we need to value and protect our green spaces and the species that inhabit them. … We have a magnificent oak tree to enjoy.'

Update Feb 2013: The tree still stands.

sources: BBC News
This is Dorset

conifer forest in the Altai Mountains. © Seth Judd
Aug 2008

Hope for the Taiga

There has been a lot of concern for the Russian Taiga, particularly since the change in Russian forestry law in early 2007 in many respects puts timber trade well above conservation.

On the other hand, since 2004 a number of Russian institutions became concerned that the value of the Siberian forest was not properly understood. They looked to the certification schemes of the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) but then teamed up with a number of UK groups* to create an action plan. In 2005, Darwin Initiative funding was gained, and with The Tree Council initially taking the lead, a three-year project began.

* The Tomsk Taiga project involved The Tree Council, the British Trust for Ornithology, Cambridge University Expeditions Society, Pricebatch (Altai-UK), Traidcraft and WTA Education Services Ltd.

Since then, the Kaltaiskii Forest in the Tomsk province has been designated as a model for FSC application, and six further sites within the area are in the process of being given Special Protected Area status. FSC principles are being applied to the Forest Plan of the Tomsk region.

Other targets include identifying areas of high biodiversity to gain further protection, to carry out ecological surveys and monitoring, to support the existing community-based harvesting of sustainable forest products, to raise awareness of the value of the forest, and to develop eco-tourism.

The Taiga, also known as boreal forest, is a belt of dominantly coniferous forest which makes up a third of the world's total forest area. The term is Russian, but this type of forest covers large regions of North America, Europe and Russia/Siberia itself. The main trees are spruce (Picea), fir (Abies), pine (Pinus) and larch (Larix), with a few deciduous trees like alder and aspen.

source: TreeNews, Issue 15, Autumn/Winter 2008, pp26-7

Vandana Shiva. © Vandana Shiva
March 2005

India wins landmark battle vs. multinational bio-piracy

The Neem tree (Azadirachta indica) is a wide-spread and popular tree throughout South Asia, especially in India, Sri Lanka and Burma. Its many medicinal properties have been known for thousands of years. And yet, the international agro-chemical business has been staking its claims by patenting Neem products since 1985. Indian environmentalist Dr Vandana Shiva was willing to challenge the bio-piracy of the behemoths. [1]

Due to its vast spectrum of medicinal uses Neem features in ancient Sanskrit texts and it is called 'India's tree of Life' or, more pragmatically, the 'village pharmacy' of South Asia. Neem twigs are known, for example, throughout India as a natural antiseptic toothbrush. Furthermore, Neem trees give shadow, prevent soil erosion, and preparations from Neem seeds can be used as a natural pesticide or fungicide. All in all the tree is so crucial to life that in Indian Hindu villages it is regarded sacred.

Outside those villages, it has been recognized that Neem 'can have a global impact on some of the world's greatest problems including malaria, dengue fever, Aids and human population growth' [2], and the interest of pharmaceutical and agro-chemical giants has long been awakened. In China and Brazil, millions of Neem seedlings are being cultivated each year.

Already in 1995, the European Patent Office (EPO) [why them?] granted a patent to the US Department of Agriculture and chemical giant WR Grace for a method of using Neem tree oil for fungicidal purposes. But an international group led by Dr Vandana Shiva campaigned against the hijacking of ancient indigenous knowledge and finally took the case back to the European Patent Office. 'We wanted to reveal what bio-piracy is, this patenting of indigenous knowledge and bio-diversity,' she says. [1] The patent was revoked by EPO, six years after it had been granted, but the legal battle continued, altogether for ten years. The EU Parliament's Green Party and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) began to challenge the patent too. The final victory is heralded by campaigners as a landmark in the fight to stop big business exploiting plants and genes at the expense of poor people in the developing world. [1]

The next step of the Indian government to counteract the continuing threat of bio-piracy was to set up the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library in Delhi. Here, millions of recipes of traditional ayurvedic medicines are translated from ancient texts into modern medical terms and collated into an online library. This database will be made selectively available in different languages to patent offices around the world to enable them to check whether a request for a patent is for a genuinely new use of an ancient medicine that has been known for thousands of years. [2]

Tip: Youth Leader: Campaign for Seed Freedom; Vandana Shiva.
video tip: Vandana Shiva: 'The Future of Food and Seed – Justice, Sustainability and Peace in the 21st Century', speech at the Organicology Conference in Portland, Oregon, Feb 28, 2009
video tip: Vandana Shiva on Geo-engineering, TV debate

[1] India wins landmark patent battle, BBC News, 9 March 2005
[2] Anna Horsbrugh Porter, Neem: India's tree of life, BBC News, 17 April 2006