Archive for June, 2013

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Is that blood on my hands? No, it is just blackberry juice staining my skin.

Everybody loves a nice walk in the country, especially when there are some blackberry bushes to pick at (being careful not to pick any within a dog’s reach).

Years ago, along my usual walk, I detoured down a small hidden pathway that I knew nobody else took- as the entrance was covered by stinging nettles. This secret path led to some blackberry bushes. When the season was right, I would take berries home to enjoy, ensuring that I only picked the ripest blackberries off the bushes. This went on for years; I would pick ripe berries and leave those that were not ready to pick for the following evenings.

However, this all changed one evening last year when the nettles covering the entrance were removed.

On my usual detour, I saw, to my horror, other people ‘trespassing’ on my secret path- how dare they?! Not only that, they were plundering berries from my usual stash. By the time I arrived to the bush, I found that there were very few ripe berries to be had.

I gathered the remaining ripe berries and went, not-so merrily, on my way.

The following day, I found there to be no ripe blackberries at all. I picked the berries that were as close to being ripe as possible, however I found that these were not as enjoyable. The following day, there were even fewer of these berries; therefore I picked even less-ripe ones, which were definitely not to my satisfaction. This, unfortunately, has been the case ever since.

The fact is, these bushes have enough berries for me (and even a few others, if I’m not being selfish) to be sustainable and replenish each evening with ripe berries. However, as there is nothing stopping the rest of the public accessing these bushes, my efforts to limit myself to only picking the ripest berries is useless because anybody else can pick the ones that I restrained from taking.

People take unripe berries, just because they know that if they don’t, somebody else will and there won’t be any by the time the blackberries would have been ripe. Therefore, it makes sense to the rest of the public to take them now, even if they are not ripe.

My experience here is a trivial example of the ‘tragedy of the commons’. My once-private supply of blackberries was opened up to the rest of the public, whom gladly took the opportunity to pick the berries I had once enjoyed- leaving the resource depleted. As no-one owns this resource, boundaries or exclusion zones cannot be created…and I (usually) have better things to do than to stand guard counting how many blackberries people take.

Nevertheless, I may not have to go searching for a new secret blackberry bush just yet.

Ostrom’s critique of the subject argues that the tragedy of the commons is less prevalent and less difficult to solve than initially thought when a community owns the resource. This is because communities are able to solve the problem amongst themselves. This is promising as I live in a tight-knit, community-orientated, village where few ‘outsiders’ will come walking through. Therefore, if I cross paths with the other foragers, I shall voice my concerns to them and perhaps we can come to some kind of agreement. I may also bring up my issues to the parish council, which will be able to email information to its mailing list or mention it in the local newsletter; however, this may attract people to the blackberry bushes who previously did not know about them, thus potentially exacerbating the problem. Perhaps, then, I will stick to a good old-fashioned sign tied to the bushes explaining the situation and rely on people’s good nature to pick sustainably.

Despite some potential free-riders, this solution could benefit everyone involved as we will have ripe berries to enjoy once again…but maybe just a few less than we’d ideally like.

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Nature Maths Time

An interesting ‘Nature Question Time’ debate at Bristol City Hall covered everything from Badger culling to Marine Conservation Zones to Nature in Schools. Education featured in so many of the answers on these subjects, including the questions asked by school children. One of these elicited the best answer of the evening – Devon farmer, Rebecca Hosking, thought that she was explaining agro-chemical reliance to 10 year olds, but gave a fantastic answer for all ages to learn from.

The challenges of getting children to engage with nature in schools (such as a packed curriculum and health and safety concerns) are not being overcome, despite the efforts made by many teachers and NGOs. Regarding health and safety, wildlife cameraman Simon King rightly said, ‘we need to grow up’.

The prospects of finding space for nature as a subject in the curriculum seem poor, but maybe there is another way in. I would bet that it is possible to teach the entire maths curriculum up to the age of at least 13 through nature.

So why not do it?

NGOs who work with teachers should start writing the teaching plans now… using assets most schools have access to: a patch of wild grasses; a tree; food; and a vegetable plot. Children could learn their maths curriculum and about nature’s (genetic) diversity, climate stability and the origin of their food.

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As the streets of Turkish cities host horrific scenes of police brutality against unarmed civilians, in the wake of peaceful protests against destruction of one of the last green areas in central Istanbul, the Turkish Parliament is preparing to rush through a vote on a policy that will allow much more widespread destruction of nature.

The Habitats and Biodiversity Bill is based on the European Union Habitats and Wild Birds Directives, but with two vital differences.

In EU member states the criterion of ‘over-riding public interest’ for allowing developments in conservation areas is applied through long-established systems of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), stakeholder engagement and public consultation.  But the definition of ‘overriding public interest’ is vague in the Turkish bill, there is no system of consultation in the country, and EIAs, if they are carried out at all, are often conducted long after a development project starts.

Secondly, for protected land, the EU also requires that there be ‘No Alternatives’ for siting the development.  The draft bill in the Turkish Parliament, by contrast, will simply abolish the National Parks law. The draft bill has been opposed to by 113 NGOs, and the European Commission itself described the draft bill as “worrying” (Turkey Progress Report, 9 November 2010), but the criticisms have been ignored.

This highly controversial legislation is being rushed through the Turkish Parliament, under cover of civil unrest, and represents a catastrophe for nature conservation in Turkey.  As natural and social scientists leading European research in biodiversity conservation and the human benefits derived from natural systems, we support our Turkish academic and NGO colleagues in deploring this myopic legislation and calling on the Turkish government to redraft this legislation taking account of their legitimate concerns.

Signed: coordinators and researchers at the following European Commission funded biodiversity related research projects.

Ms Ece Ozdemiroglu, Managing Director, economics for the environment consultancy,http://www.eftec.co.uk, United Kingdom

Dr Robert Tinch, Brussels Representative, eftec and OPERAs project, Belgium

Prof Dr Wouter de Groot, BIOMOT project, the Netherlands

Dr Rob Bugter, BESAFE Project, the Netherlands

Prof Dr Josef Settele, SCALES, Germany

Dr Sybille van den Hove, SPRIAL project, Spain

Dr Rupert Read, University of East Anglia, United Kingdom

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I’ve been away from cowburps for a long time due to pressing commitments on our official work. We’ve been doing some good, useful work. But never enough.

This is a post about my home pasture, Turkey. You will have read about the protests in the news.

The protests started by a few environmentalists who wanted to protect Gezi Park in central Istanbul. This is a park equivalent in cultural and social significance to Hyde Park but in space and quality equivalent to a communal garden in a run-down council estate in a run-down part of the town. But it’s the only green space in the centre.

The peaceful protests (which, yes, included tree-hugging) were escalated when the police raided their tents at dawn on 31 May waking the protestors with teargas and burning their tents. Media blindness, provocation on the street and provocation by the politicians continued.

For more information you can see the British press (The Guardian has excellent coverage).

As this is an environmental economics blog, here is the environmental economics angle to what’s happening.

I strongly believe that had there been a tradition of environmental impact assessment, Impact Assessment, Cost Benefit Analysis, i.e. in short EVIDENCE BASED POLICY, in Turkey, the analysis would highly likely conclude that:

The economic benefits of the last park in the centre of town, however small and unkept, are higher and wider and longer than financial benefits from developing it

Had such evidence based participatory policy making been a tradition in Turkey, the park would have been protected and there would have been no need for this protest in the first place. We might have still seen the police brutality and political provocation but at least the environmental concerns would not have been the cause.

In fact, it is precisely this, lack of evidence based participatory policy making in any sphere of government that has brought the thousands to the streets.

Back to the environment:

Amidst the chaos, Turkish government has today brought the draft Habitat and Biodiversity Bill to the Parliament after waiting for 3 years and not engaging with any of the criticisms made against the draft bill.

The draft Habitat and Biodiversity Protection Bill that will be voted on in the Turkish Parliament tomorrow and Thursday is based on the European Union Habitats and Wild Birds Directive – but it contains two key departures from this legislation:

  • The Turkish Bill and the EU Directive both use the ‘overriding public interest’ criterion to decide which development projects to allow and which areas to protect.

Public health and human wellbeing (beyond financial gain) are included in the definition ‘overriding public interest’. While the legal definition is vague, in practice this definition is implemented through a long established system of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), stakeholder engagement and public consultation that contribute to the individual decisions made under the Directive.

Definition of ‘overriding public interest’ is vague in the Turkish bill and there is no system of EIA and consultation in the country. It is typical for EIAs to be conducted long after a development project starts. The Turkish Government who did not conduct these basics tasks for a small park in the centre of Istanbul (Taksim Gezi) does not leave any hope for doing so for the National Parks of the country.

  • In the EU, ‘overriding public interest’ is even more strictly interpreted for the Natura 2000 network and National Parks protected by the national laws of the Member States. It requires that in the case of development of protected land, in addition to ‘overriding public interest’ that there are  ‘No Alternatives’, i.e. there is nowhere else the development necessary for overriding public interest can take place.

The draft bill in the Turkish Parliament, on the other hand, abolishes the National Parks law. This leaves all protected areas that can be developed without having to prove ‘no alternatives’.

The timing of the draft Bill cannot be coincidence in light of what’s been happening in the country in the last week or so. Given the speed with which other highly controversial legislation has been passed through the Turkish Parliament, to say that ‘it does not bode well for the nature and biodiversity in Turkey’ is a vast understatement.

For a longer text on the Turkish media’s coverage of the bill: http://bit.ly/13CxWmz

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