Tucson teen takes top honors in statewide nature photo contest

A 15-year-old Tucson girl has won the statewide “Adventures in Nature” Photo Contest with her shot of a snowy scene in the Catalina Mountains.

Arianna DuPont took home the $5,000 top prize for capturing the tranquil beauty of a “Rare March snow in Sabino Creek,” which was selected over more than 300 other photos from almost 200 teenage photographers.

“I’ve always been so drawn to capturing the beauty of our surroundings, and I’m so fortunate to live in such a beautiful city (and an) amazing state, where we have all these beautiful things to capture,” DuPont said in a written statement, after celebrating the award with her family and her photography teacher, Amy Haskell, at the Gregory School.

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Malia Means, 16, of Phoenix, took second place — and $2,000 — for a photo of the Superstition Mountains called “Towering Rocks Peeking Through Low Clouds.”

Corbin Rouette, 18, of Tucson, captured third place — and $1,000 — for a striking black-and-white image of “Saguaros Watching the Clouds.”

Corbin Rouette, 18, of Tucson won third prize in the statewide “Adventures in Nature” Photo Contest with this picture called “Saguaros Watching the Clouds.”

The 10th annual contest was put on by Arizona Highways magazine, The Nature Conservancy and Cox Communications.

“Our mission at Arizona Highways is to get people off the couch,” said Robert Stieve, the magazine’s editor. “We’ve been a proud co-sponsor of this photo contest for many years because it goes to the heart of what we’re trying to do.”

The judges for this year’s contest were Arizona Highways photo editor Jeff Kida, Phoenix-based professional photographers Suzanne Mathia and Mark Skalny, former Arizona Daily Star photo editor Rick Wiley and acclaimed photographer John Schaefer, who previously served as president of the University of Arizona.

Seven participants earned honorable mentions and $250 each. They are: Gibson Gallares for “Golden Hour with Bird Taking Flight,” Grace Shepard for “Fog Floating Through the Valley Alongside the Peak of Mt. Lemmon,” Faiza Tasnim for “Horseshoe Bend During a Semi-Cloudy Day,” last year’s first-place winner Kaden VanDuyne for “Sycamore Falls Evening,” Tobey Yamashita for “Portrait of a Red Fox,” and Aidan Yu for two entries, “Natural Elements of the Salt River” and “The Great Roadrunner.”

“Photography provides a purpose for these kids — it makes them think about what they’re seeing and experiencing,” Stieve said. “And even if their photos don’t finish in the Top 10, they’re already winners for having had the experience of being outside.”

Winning photographs from this year’s contest are expected to be featured in Arizona Highways and in promotional materials for future contests.

The water is running high in Sabino Creek in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. Snowmelt from the upper reaches of the Santa Catalinas has the creek flowing over the bridges along Sabino Canyon Road. Video Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@tucson.com or 573-4283. On Twitter: @RefriedBrean

Ansel Adams exhibit mulls nature amid a changing climate | Art

Ansel Adams created some of the definitive photographs of the Western American landscape long before climate change threatened to obliterate it forever. Born in San Francisco in 1902, Adams is best remembered for his lush black-and-white pictures of the Yosemite Valley and the Southwest, as well as for his role as an educator who influenced generations of photographers after him.

Now, the de Young — the site of Adams’s first exhibition in 1932 — hosts “Ansel Adams in Our Time,” a major retrospective organized in partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, examining the artist’s legacy in relationship with the work of 23 contemporary environmental photographers breaking new ground in the genre.

While the exhibition is full of iconic Adams shots, like “Clearing Winter Storm,” c. 1937, or “Moon and Half Dome,” 1960, both made in Yosemite National Park and many deep cuts, the artist’s work is only a jumping off point.

Richard Misrach’s “Golden Gate Bridge” series, shot from the back porch of his home in the Berkeley Hills, responds directly to Adams’s “The Golden Gate Before the Bridge,” 1932, a breathtaking view of the mouth of the Bay between the Presidio and Marin Headlands – sans bridge. Mark Klett implements collage to converse with Adams and other seminal landscape photographers. The titular view of “View from the handrail at Glacier Point overlook, connecting views from Ansel Adams to Carleton Watkins,” 2003, photographed in color by Klett, is overlaid with collage elements snipped from Adams and Watkins’s earlier black-and-white pictures.

By returning to the source, both artists play to photography’s chronological promise, revealing how much – and how little – has changed.

Others are more concerned with interrogating the act of looking itself, challenging the ubiquity of the White male gaze. Catherine Opie’s landscapes, like “Untitled #1 (Yellowstone Valley),” 2015, respond to and contradict Adams in almost every way: colorful and completely out of focus. Binh Danh’s daguerreotypes of Yosemite, a printing process using a highly copper surface, mirror the viewer in the image.

Both Opie and Dahn’s pictures raise the question of how who looks changes what they see, placing the viewer inside the landscapes they photograph. In fact, the traditional absence of humans from many landscape photographers’ work, including Adams’s, presents a bit of cognitive dissonance: The human footprint is increasingly present in nature, from population growth to climate change, while the particular absence of people in Western landscapes carries colonialist connotations. What you don’t see is just as important as what you do.

Some photographers of Adams’s era attempted more ethnographic projects, like Adam Clark Vroman’s 19th-century playing card sets, illustrated with photographs of Native Americans and sold as souvenirs. Contrast that with Will Wilson’s contemporary portraits of Native Americans like “Nakotah LaRance,” 2012, a young man carrying a portable video game system and a comic book, or Wilson’s own self-portrait “How the West is One,” 2014. Wilson’s diptych represents the artist on both sides: on one, Wilson is dressed in Indigenous cultural garb; on the other, he’s dressed like a cowboy, each staring gravely into his reflection’s eyes. Here, we get a clear view of what’s missing from the supposedly objective presentation of the hauntingly empty landscape.

While Adams’s vision of the West became ubiquitous, it was itself far from objective. Credited with several advancements on the technical side of photography, he studiously crafted many of his images post-production, often combining multiple negatives and using all the darkroom trickery available to him to create impossibly breathtaking views. These technological experimentations were cutting edge at the time, and his work continues to be at home in the company of similarly daring experimenters.

Chris McCaw and Meghann Riepenhoff both play fast and loose with the negative, accentuating the illustrative — even painterly — quality photography can possess. McCaw, who builds his own giant cameras, outfitted with periscope lenses, makes long-exposure photographs in which the trajectory of the sun burns its way across paper negatives over time. Riepenhoff’s pieces are contact prints made by exposing photo-sensitive paper to various natural phenomena, like ice, in addition to light. It’s a level of integration with nature Adams never achieved, embedding nature into their work in an inversion of human’s impact on their


In one of his rare, urban landscapes, “Housing Development, San Bruno Mountains, San Francisco,” 1966, Adams turns his own lens on the direct impact of development, a zigzag of prefab homes tearing through the hillside. Compared to Adams’s earlier nature shots, this feels like a slap in the face, forcing the viewer to confront the degradation of the landscape. There’s a way in which all of Adams’s photos could be considered depictions of humanity’s impact on the land, and the continued impact on the land is fully displayed by his contemporary counterparts.

Mitch Epstein approaches environmentalism through absurdism. In “Altamont Pass Wind Farm, California,” 2007, the arid wind farm serves as a backdrop for a group of golfers playing on the green course that abuts it. “Signal Hill, Long Beach, California,” 2007, offers a scene of an oil pump wedged between homes in a suburban neighborhood, showcasing the intersection of industrial greed, urban sprawl and willful ignorance. Laura McPhee’s diptych “Early Spring (Peeling Bark in Rain),” 2008, is a view into a dense forest of burned trees, the soot-black bark of each trunk peeling away to uncover new growth beneath. It’s a heartbreaking record of wildfire damage, with a hint of a promising future.

The beauty of the natural world has grown bittersweet. Every picture in the exhibition is gorgeous, sublime enough to teach the Hudson River School a lesson, but they’re hard to look at without recalling recent and increasing environmental travesties in the Bay Area and beyond.

By avoiding the sort of didactics often present in climate activism, Adams and company remind us what we have to lose by showing us why we love it, doing so without sacrificing any of the complex dynamics present in humanity’s relationship to the land. These pictures aren’t for posterity: they’re a reminder that time is running out.

How a new ‘nature economy’ is transforming the fight for B.C.’s ancient forests

Another way a ‘nature economy’ is finding a foothold is through talent acquisition. Scott Sinclair, whose company, SES Consulting, retrofits buildings to move them off fossil fuels, says having a nature-first mindset baked into the business model attracts innovative young minds who grew up with the environment front and centre – as well as clients.

“It’s just, I think, an incredible business opportunity,” he says.

Why protecting the planet and making a profit are no longer at odds

For some environmentalists as well, this work is about combining environmental action, long associated with protesters blocking roads and affixing themselves onto trees, with the idea of promoting business.

Though still niche, it’s starting to happen.

‘Valuing’ Nature

To understand the economic value of their natural assets, some communities are putting a price on them.

The District of West Vancouver is one of the first in Canada to do so.

There are some rare strands of urban, old growth trees left standing in the city’s Lighthouse Park. In a walk through the park, District officials Matthew MacKinnon and Heather Keith explained the uniqueness of the old growth forest. They told Global News how these ancient trees, some over 500 years old, maintain an extremely biodiverse ecosystem in the park, while offering people a break from the hustle and bustle of city life.

“There are trees here that have lived longer than any person that’s alive right now,” says Heather Keith, the senior manager of climate action and environment for the District.

The municipality has determined the idea has value in dollar figures. It’s one of the first places in Canada to take this approach, estimating its natural assets – forests, waterways, parks – to be in the ballpark of $3.2 billion, with forests providing up to $1.8 billion in ‘services.’

They’ve estimated that to be the cost of ‘replacing’ those assets, which provide immeasurable ecological and health benefits to the community, Keith says.

Many Indigenous communities are also charting a clear path forward toward that new nature economy.

One model that’s proven successful is called Coast Funds. It’s an investment strategy created by coastal First Nations to pool money to help local communities shift from extraction – logging old growth trees, for example – and toward protection. This means keeping those vital resources intact and leveraging them to make them profitable – ecotourism, carbon credits or guardianship programs.

“We understood that 500-year-old trees don’t just grow up overnight,” says Dallas Smith, the president of Nanwakolas Council, a group of six First Nations that’s part of the Coast Funds initiative.

The broader financial and business communities have realized that the costs of environmental inaction are far greater – and are starting to move toward a sustainable direction, too.

Adam Scott is an analyst whose group, Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health, monitors how credible Canadian pension funds are when it comes to climate action. In January, Shift released a report arguing there’s a long way to go. But at least there is a recognition that things need to change.

“The smart players in the financial industry have understood that […] the financial performance of their institutions is based on having a climate strategy,” he said.

Unfortunately, the moves are largely voluntary and without teeth, says Tom Rand, a managing partner with ArcTern Ventures. In other words, he insists, there’s a long way to go before a nature economy becomes the norm.

“If you’re asking if the broad swath of economic actors are understanding that we can make money preserving nature, absolutely not.”

But big trees are offering an inspiration for change. People name them. They trek through the forest to see them, and in the case of photographer TJ Watt, to document them before they’re gone.

TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance

“These are some of the most enchanting and beautiful ecosystems on all of Planet Earth,” says Watt, who represents the Ancient Forest Alliance.

“They’re really some of our oldest friends.”

Tracking giants

When author and book editor Amanda Lewis set out to write a book about big trees, she thought she’d focus on the dwindling, majestic resources nestled in the coastal forests of B.C.

But, solo expedition after solo expedition hiking through various groves in search of the biggest of the big led her to another, more optimistic conclusion – “I wanted to focus on what we have left” and not so much on “what we’ve lost.”

The pandemic was a catalyst for Lewis – and, it seems, for many other Canadians too.

In Africa’s Okavango, oil drilling disrupts locals, nature

MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) — Gobonamang Kgetho has a deep affection for Africa’s largest inland delta, the Okavango. It is his home.

Elephants are seen in the Chobe National Park in Botswana, on March 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Charmaine Noronha, File)

The water and wildlife-rich lands is fed by rivers in the Angolan highlands that flow into northern Botswana before draining into Namibia’s Kalahari Desert sands. Several Indigenous and local communities and a vast array of species including African elephants, black rhinos and cheetahs live among the vibrant marshlands. Much of the surrounding region is also teeming with wildlife.

Fisher Kgetho hails from Botswana’s Wayei community and relies on his pole and dug-out canoe to skirt around the marshes looking for fish. But things have changed in recent years — in the delta and across the country.

“The fish sizes have shrunk, and stocks are declining,” Kgetho, whose life and livelihood depends on the health of the ecosystem, told The Associated Press. “The rivers draining into the delta have less volumes of water.”

Drilling for oil exploration, as well as human-caused climate change leading to more erratic rainfall patterns and water abstraction and diversion for development and commercial agriculture, has altered the landscape that Kgetho, and so many other people and wildlife species, rely on.

The delta’s defenders are now hoping to block at least one of those threats — oil exploration.

A planned hearing by Namibia’s environment ministry will consider revoking the drilling license of Canadian oil and gas firm Reconnaissance Energy. Local communities and environmental groups claimed that land was bulldozed and cut through, damaging lands and polluting water sources, without the permission of local communities.

Kgetho worries that rivers in his region are drying up because of “overuse by the extractive industries, including oil exploration activities upstream.”

In a written statement, ReconAfrica, the firm’s African arm, said it safeguards water resources through “regular monitoring and reporting on hydrological data to the appropriate local, regional and national water authorities” and is “applying rigorous safety and environmental protection standards.”

The statement went on to say that it has held over 700 community consultations in Namibia and will continue to engage with communities in the country and in Botswana.

The company has been drilling in the area since 2021 but is yet to find a productive well. The hearing was originally scheduled for Monday but has been postponed until further notice. The drilling license is currently set to last until 2025, with ReconAfrica previously having been granted a three-year extension.

Locals have persisted with legal avenues but have had little luck. In a separate case, Namibia’s high court postponed a decision on whether local communities should pay up for filing a case opposing the company’s actions.

The court previously threw out the urgent appeal made by local people to stop the Canadian firm’s drilling activities. It’s now deciding whether the government’s legal feels should be covered by the plaintiffs or waived. A new date for the decision is set for May.

The Namibian energy minister, Tom Alweendo, has maintained the country’s right to explore for oil, saying that European countries and the U.S. do it too. Alweendo supports the African Union’s goal of using both renewable and non-renewable energy to meet growing demand.

There are similar fears of deterioration across Botswana and the wider region. Much of the country’s diverse ecosystem has been under threat from various development plans. Nearby Chobe National Park, for example, has seen a decline in river quality partly due to its burgeoning tourism industry, a study found.

In the Cuvette-Centrale basin in Congo, a dense and ecologically thriving forest that’s home to the largest population of lowland gorillas, sections of the peatlands — the continent’s largest — went up for oil and gas auction last year.

The Congolese government said the auctioning process “is in line” with development plans and government programs and it will stick to stringent international standards.

Environmentalists are not convinced.

Wes Sechrest, chief scientist of environmental organization Rewild, said that protecting areas “that have robust and healthy wildlife populations” like the Okavango Delta, “are a big part of the solution to the interconnected climate and biodiversity crises we’re facing.”

The peatlands also serve as a carbon sink, storing large amounts of the gas that would otherwise heat up the atmosphere.

Sechrest added that “local communities are going to bear the heaviest costs of oil exploration” and “deserve to be properly consulted about any extractive industry projects, including the many likely environmental damages, and decide if those projects are acceptable to them.”

Steve Boyes, who led the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project that mapped the delta, said researchers now have even more data to support the need to maintain the wetlands.

Aided by Kgetho and other locals, whose “traditional wisdom and knowledge” led them through the bogs, Boyes and a team of 57 other scientists were able to detail around 1,600 square kilometers (1,000 square miles) of peatlands.

“These large-scale systems that have the ability to sequester tons of carbon are our long-term resilience plan,” said Boyes.

For Kgetho, whose journey with the scientists was made into a documentary released earlier this year, there are more immediate reasons to defend the Okavango.

“We must protect the delta,” Kgetho said. “It is our livelihood.”

Changes to dog policy for nature reserves

The UK is without doubt a nation of both dog lovers and nature lovers, but these two passions are not always completely in sync, writes Erin McDaid of the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.

Dogs are more popular than ever before, with an estimated 34% of UK households now sharing their home with man’s best friend.

Just as appreciation of nature and local wild spaces grew during lockdown restrictions, it seems that dog ownership grew too ­— increasing the chances of issues when walking dogs on nature reserves.

Dogs must now be kept on short leads at Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves. Photo: 2020Vision.

Just like most of us, to keep healthy and happy, dogs need fresh air and exercise, but depending where people choose to exercise their dogs, this can bring them into conflict with wildlife. Even the friendliest, most gentle dog still looks like the predator they evolved from ­— and that’s just how wildlife such as birds and small mammals see them.

An encounter with a dog, even a very brief one, can be hugely stressful for birds, mammals, reptiles, and other animals. Sometimes it can even prove fatal either through an rare attack or because disturbance leads to nests or young being abandoned.

Our dogs can also have less direct impacts on the natural world around them. It might seem harmless to leave dog poo in the undergrowth, but the extra nutrients this adds to the soil, especially on sites popular with dog walkers, can disrupt nature’s balance, leading to the loss of wildflowers as delicate plants are replaced with nutrient-hungry species such as nettles. Cleaning up after your dog and keeping them on a short lead whilst on nature reserves and in other vital wildlife habitats will go a long way towards keeping wildlife safe.

Birds, reptiles and other wildlife view even the friendliest of dogs as predators. Photo: Mike Vickers.

While many nature reserves across the UK don’t allow dogs at all, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has a long standing policy of welcoming well-behaved dogs ­— and well-behaved owners.

Until recently, we asked people to keep their dog under close control but sadly this advice can be misinterpreted and is difficult to enforce. With the advent of extendable leads and the significant increase in dog numbers, we’ve changed our policy and now ask people to keep dogs on a short lead when visiting our sites unless there is explicit signage saying otherwise.

A few weeks ago, we issued a news release outlining our change of policy – timed to coincide with the start of the bird nesting season and lambing season – a period when dogs, wildlife and livestock often clash. But the issue of dogs disturbing wildlife and livestock is year-round.

The ground-nesting nightjar is particularly at risk. Photo: John Smith.

The sad fact is that dogs off leads is one of the biggest causes of wildlife disturbance and this issue is particularly problematic for the many species that breed on or close to the ground.

Ground-nesting birds, such as corn bunting and skylark, are particularly at risk. Research shows that 66% of ground-nesting birds are in decline in the UK, compared to 31% of other species. When you consider that some ground nesting species, including the mysterious nightjars that breed on heathlands in Sherwood Forest, have come all the way from Africa for the short breeding season, it is incumbent on us all to ensure they have every chance of success.

Dogs can also be a threat to livestock, especially sheep, with regular problems reported on our reserves where we use conservation grazing to manage habitats.

Many of us at Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust are dog lovers too and the last thing we want to do is spoil anyone’s fun or that of their dog’s, but our sites are primarily havens for wildlife and we need all visitors’ help to ensure that wildlife can thrive and that everyone can enjoy them. Many people are unaware that birds can be nesting on the ground just a short distance from footpaths and familiar birds such as dunnock and blackbird can also nest very close to the ground in bushes and brambles. An inquisitive dog wandering just short distance off the path could impact on birds’ chances of breeding success.

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. (2682719)

So, next time you visit a nature reserve remember to keep dogs on a short lead and don’t forget to clear up after them ­— taking the dog waste home with you if there’s no bin or the bin is full. By following these two simple guidelines it’s possibly to enjoy taking your pooch for a mooch around your local nature spot without harming or disturbing wildlife.

Further details of our Dogs on Nature Reserves policy can be found at nottinghamshirewildlife.org.

Are Humans Falling Out of Love with Nature?

When Masashi Soga was growing up in Japan, he loved spending time outside catching insects and collecting plants. His parents weren’t big fans of the outdoors, but he had an elementary schoolteacher who was. “They taught me how to collect butterflies, how to make a specimen of butterflies,” Soga recalls. “I enjoyed nature quite a lot.”

That early exposure helped foster Soga’s appreciation for nature, he says, and today, Soga is an ecologist at the University of Tokyo. Soga specializes in the psychological benefits of nature. He studies how people’s interactions with nature affect their attitudes toward it, and his research contributes to the growing body of scientific literature showing how spending time outside has a positive effect on people’s well-being.
Within Soga’s field, research on biophilia — which explores the consequences of humans’ affinity for the natural world — is much more extensive than studies of biophobia, the fear of nature. But in a new opinion paper, Soga and a team of researchers argue that biophobia is a growing phenomenon that seems to be increasing with urban development.

They go a step further, positing that biophobia is being reinforced and proliferated through society in a vicious cycle, which can have harmful consequences for people’s well-being. Existing research already shows that people who are biophobic are less likely to support conservation efforts, meaning growing biophobia is hurting wild ecosystems as well.

In their paper, ecologist Masashi Soga and his colleagues outline how they envision ‘the vicious cycle of biophobia’ playing out.
Illustration courtesy of Masashi Soga and his colleagues.

To prevent or even reverse biophobia, it’s important to understand how it begins. The researchers’ vicious cycle of biophobia is based on the premise that humans tend to fear pain and seek to avoid it. Negative reactions like disgust can also lead to avoidance behaviour.

When a person begins to view nature as something to be avoided — because of direct experience, family or friends, or the media — it sets the stage for biophobia, say Soga and his colleagues. Over time, this may cause someone to increasingly avoid nature, or worse, try to eliminate it. The person’s progressively infrequent experiences with nature can lead to a feeling of disconnection. And since people are generally afraid of the unknown, this can feed into the phobia.

Even just one person’s phobia has worrisome implications, the researchers say. If a person lacks the knowledge to interact with wildlife safely, or never learns to tell the difference between approachable and potentially dangerous species, aside from avoiding nature, they become ignorant of the natural world. This ignorance often leads to the sharing of sensationalist stories and spreading of misinformation. The result is growing biophobia at the societal level and fewer people interacting with nature. And, since people are unlikely to protect something they fear, the end result is a cycle of environmental degradation.

To reverse the cycle, the researchers say, education is essential. Children are especially impressionable, and multiple studies show that early exposure to nature in a safe environment, such as with a schoolteacher or parent, greatly impacts their attitudes. Parents’ behaviours have a big impact on kids, too, Soga says.

Outside school, educational outreach programs at places like museums or parks can boost people’s knowledge about nature. Naturalist-guided walks, or activities like gardening, can provide firsthand positive interactions. In places where it’s not easy to access nature, Soga suggests virtual reality can play a role.

Creative solutions will be necessary because as cities grow bigger and denser accessing green space is increasingly difficult for many, especially those in lower-income communities, says Linda Powers Tomasso, an environmental health researcher specializing in human-nature interactions at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston who was not involved with the study. What used to be routine daily interactions with nature are disappearing, which is negatively impacting people’s attention spans, physical activity levels and resilience to stress, she says — not to mention the spiritual benefits of connecting with something larger than themselves.

While Powers Tomasso “absolutely agrees” with the researchers’ ideas, she points out that there is another mindset between biophilia and biophobia that leads to the same consequences as biophobia: indifference.
“If you don’t care about something, you’re not going to take that next step to protect it,” she says. That’s why education, nature mentorship, and making natural places and urban green spaces welcoming and accessible are so important for conservation and human well-being, she says.

“We only protect and care for what we know, what we love,” Powers Tomasso says. “If we don’t have an opportunity to get to know something, we will never develop that sense of love.”

Helping nature rewards us as well as wildlife

Last week was National Nest Box Week, but as a dear colleague once said to me, the best time to put a nest box up is whenever you think of installing one. A nest box languishing in a shed waiting to be installed or sat on a shelf in a shop is of no help to birds, writes Erin McDaid of the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.

Despite growing awareness of environmental issues and millions of people caring about nature, natural nesting sites have been in decline for decades. As a result, installing a nest box in a garden or shared community space is a no-brainer and a real boost for our feathered friends.

In addition to helping a surprising number of species, from the ubiquitous robin to much larger visitors such as tawny owls, installing a nest box also gives a great opportunity to get up close to nature, to really connect.

Making a bird nest box from scratch or from a kit can be very rewarding and provide a safe place for birds to rear their young, like these blue tit chicks. Photo: Lucy Wallington (62590509)

A well-placed box will give you front row seats to observe birds through the fascinating nesting season.

With many species nesting earlier than they used to, its still worth putting up boxes now.

Even if it is not used straight away, a new box will provide birds with options and may well be used later in the season for a pair raising a second brood or even get used next winter by birds such as wrens seeking shelter from the cold.

Making a bird box from scratch or from a kit can be very rewarding. Photo: Evie & Tom Photography (62590551)

Considering that the area of gardens in the UK is larger than the total area covered by the 2000-plus nature reserves cared for by wildlife trusts, and as development destroys trees, hedges and old buildings, natural nesting sites continue to disappear.

Nest boxes in gardens can, therefore, make a real difference.

While there are a myriad of nest box designs available to buy, you can add to your sense of connection with nature by making your own.

Blackbird in a nest box. Photo: Amy_Lewis (62590504)
Jenny Wren. Photo: Jane Bowen (62590513)

As long as you follow a few simple guidelines, you don’t have to be an expert joiner or to have expensive tools and materials to build a perfectly serviceable box.

Birds don’t require precise dimensions and the key factors are that a box is weatherproof and as safe as possible from predators.

There are plenty of good designs available online, from our website as well as sites such as the British Trust for Ornithology ­— the bastions of nest box know-how.

They also published a great book called simply The BTO nest Box Guide written by Chris Du Feu, a long-term member and volunteer with Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.

You will need to scale your creation to suit the type of birds you would most like to attract and to decide whether to have a box with a hole ­— to suite birds such as tits and sparrows ­—or an open fronted design favoured by robins and wrens.

Tawny Owl chick. Photo: Sandy Aitken (62590553)

You also do not have to use new timber. Perfectly sturdy and serviceable boxes can be made from off cuts or even old pallets ­— but do make sure that there are no preservatives on the wood, especially on the inside surfaces.

Whether attached to a wall or a tree, the height above ground is not critical for most species as long as it’s away from disturbance of humans and predators, including cats.

If the location has no natural shelter, it is best to mount a box facing between south-east and north to prevent strong direct sunlight heating the box and to limit the impact of wind and driving rain.

Do not be tempted to install your nest box close to a bird table or feeding area. The frequent toing and froing of other birds will most likely prevent birds from choosing to breed in the box.

But do site it somewhere you will be able to watch it from a distance. That way, once a family does take up residence; you will be able to enjoy their antics for weeks to come.

Positive news on farm environment funding but sights must be set higher to secure nature’s recovery say Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

Readers will be well aware that I have not been shy in highlighting that the development of the UK Government’s ‘flagship’ Environmental Land Management schemes ­— designed to replace payments to farmers previously linked to our membership of the EU ­— have lacked ambition, transparency and urgency. ­— Writes Erin McDaid, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

Last week, Defra finally set out much-needed details about what activities farmers will get paid for in 2023.

New support encouraging farmers to improve hedgerow management are a step in the right direction cpt 2020VISION (62192461)

This included bringing forward new payments to incentivise farmers to reduce the use of damaging pesticides and be more efficient with fertiliser use.

Farmers improving the management of hedgerows and providing habitat for birds and pollinators will also be rewarded.

The latest announcement represents a more rounded programme of rewards for farmers who choose to take action for nature.

This is hugely welcome, and we very much hope it will encourage increased numbers of farmers to take up ELM schemes this year.

New payments will encourage farmers to provide habitat for pollinators. Photo: Al Greer

News of a further round of investment in the Landscape Recovery scheme, which was heavily oversubscribed in its first round, is also pleasing.

This has real potential to unlock enormous benefits for nature as well as for rural communities.

Getting the approach to these schemes right will be critical to tackling the climate and ecological crises, which must be addressed to ensure long-term food security.

While we are always happy to give credit where credit is due, the announcement was not all good news. As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but the fundamental ‘nuts and bolts’ of a positive delivery mechanism do now seem to be in place.

For farm payments to make a real contribution to restoring nature we need a step change on the level of ambition and investment in the years to come. Photo: Andy Jamieson

However, several of Defra’s decisions could undermine the schemes’ effectiveness when it comes to restoring nature and improving our environment.

The introduction of the management payment for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), for example, could see more than £60m paid out in administration payments.

Defra has also failed to put in place any safeguards to ensure management payments of up to £1,000 a year are only paid where substantive environmental actions will be delivered.

As things stand, the payment will apply to applications where one or two simple actions are included.This could considerably reduce the budget available for rewarding those farmers who commit to much more ambitious actions.

How Defra will build on the new offer is also unclear.

A yellow hammer. Photo John Smith (62192465)

While the SFI supports farmers choosing to take action for nature, we have reservations about the ‘free-choice’ approach planned.

Experience suggests that this approach comes with an inherent risk of poor outcomes.

We are therefore urging Defra to layout a clear route for encouraging and rewarding farmers to go further ­— delivering win-wins for both farming and nature.

Time and time again farmers tell us that confusion about the support on offer is a real barrier, so by setting out clear standards and offering a simple, standardised options, Defra can help ensure greater outcomes from uptake of the scheme.

We still need much more detail about how Defra plans to develop the Countryside Stewardship scheme and it will be essential that the right positive actions are targeted in the right place.

Land managers must also be supported to deliver actions suited to their local area. They also need access to trusted advice.

For farm payments to make a real contribution to restoring nature we need a step change on the level of ambition and investment in the years to come. Photo: Andy Jamieson

For Countryside Stewardship to deliver the ambition set by the Local Nature Recovery scheme, and make a significant contribution to nature’s recovery, there must be a step change in ambition for the scheme in the years ahead.

In addition to understanding how the proactive funding schemes will protect the environment and enhance biodiversity, we also need clarity on the future regulatory framework for farming. The current scheme, Cross Compliance, is designed to provide basic protections from the worst farming practices but only runs to 2024. Whilst far from perfect, it at least has clear baselines. Defra has so far provided no detail on how it will be replaced.

Defra is unquestionably at a crossroads in terms of the development of ELM, but the latest announcement represents a welcome, positive step in the right direction.

Together with partners such as the National Trust and RSPB, we look forward to working with Government to ensure that the future of ELM helps deliver the legally binding long-term targets for nature and climate and a sustainable, resilient future for farming.

One Planet photography winners celebrate Cheltenham and Weihai 35th twinning anniversary

Published on 1st February 2023

Mayor Cllr Sandra Holliday presented certificates to the winners and highly commended

To celebrate 35 years of twinning between the twin towns of Cheltenham and Weihai in China, an amateur photo competition was organised, with the theme ‘One planet … many ways to care for our environment’.

The entries were judged by representatives of Cheltenham Twinning Association and Cheltenham Camera club, who felt the successful photos captured people’s interactions with nature illustrating images that motivate us to live sustainably.

The winners:

Steph Gore, Ist place with the image ‘Peace at Last’

David Elder, 2nd place, ‘Weeding in Naunton Park’

Balcarras school pupil Joha Nawar, 3rd prize with the image of ‘Save the Bees’.

Highly commended went to Tim Howarth and David Hyett.

Mayor Cllr Sandra Holliday said: ‘’It’s always a privilege to see people’s creativity flourish to mark a special occasion. I was impressed by the quality of entries that demonstrate interactions with nature to help motivate us to live sustainably. Congratulations to all and special thank you to Cheltenham Camera Club for their assistance with this project.’’

All images can be viewed on the Cheltenham Twinning Association website.

For press enquiries contact communications@cheltenham.gov.uk 01242 264 231

Image single use only. Steph Gore with Mayor of Cheltenham Cllr Holliday.

Biodiversity talks open as UN chief calls for ‘peace pact’ with nature


Draft targets for the 10-year framework include a cornerstone pledge to protect 30 per cent of the world’s land and seas by 2030, eliminating harmful fishing and agriculture subsidies and tackling invasive species and reducing pesticides.

Finance is among the most divisive issues, as developing nations are demanding increased funding for conservation.

Earlier this year, a coalition of nations called for wealthy countries to provide at least US$100 billion annually – rising to US$700 billion a year by 2030 – for biodiversity.

Guterres told AFP: “It must be recognized that without a significant mobilization of funding, of various origins but with a substantial volume, developing countries will not be able to meet the requirements of biodiversity conservation.

“It should not be forgotten that most of the world’s biodiversity wealth exists in developing countries.”

The sticky issue of biopiracy is also causing roadblocks, as many mainly African countries demand that wealthy nations share the benefits of ingredients and formulas used in cosmetics and medicines derived from the Global South.

Implementation has emerged as another sticking point in recent days, with disagreements over how to ensure any final deal is put into practice – unlike its predecessor agreed in 2010.


The meeting, delayed two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, follows crucial climate change talks in Egypt last month that ended with little headway on reducing emissions and scaling down the use of planet-warming fossil fuels.

China is chair, though it is being hosted in Canada because of Beijing’s long-standing zero-COVID policy.

NGOs say the lack of world leaders at COP15 risks dampening momentum at the talks and could scupper an ambitious settlement.