Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column. kerrscorner@ulsteronline.org.uk

Monday, November 21, 2005

In conversation with WWF-NI

WWF is probably one of the better-known conservation charities in the UK. It's probably best known for its work to preserve endangered species around the world - most notably the Giant Panda that appears on its logo - but also tigers, polar bears and great apes.

Few people are aware that the WWF has a regional office here in Northern Ireland. The office, in West street in the centre of Carrickfergus, has been open for about five years in order to lobby on conservation and environmental issues to local councillors, the (phantom) Northern Ireland Assembly and the local media. There is now a staff of four full-time workers and one part-timer. Prior to that, the WWF here was just another voluntary action group.

I spoke to Sara McClintock, the Communications Officer for the WWF-NI about the group's work in the province. Her job is to make the important issues of endangered species and conservation relevant to ordinary folk here in the likes of North Belfast or Fermanagh where it's often hard to see what they can do to save the polar bear or the orang-utan.

These things, she says are all inter-related. We need to preserve habitat in order to save wildlife. For example, climate change means that melting ice makes it harder for polar bears to find food. "Polar bears are starving" she says. "Sea ice in the Artic is forming later and melting earlier and more quickly as our climate warms up. The thickness of Artic summer sea ice has decreased by 40% in the last 30 years. The sea ice allows polar bears to hunt for seals, their favourite prey. Without the sea ice, the polar bears can't reach the seals so when there is less ice around and for a shorter period of time, the polar bears will have less to eat". They have to travel further and go for longer gaps between meals. This has a knock-on effect on the population as bear numbers decline alarmingly.

Weather changes in Costa Rica affected a species of toad that lived in the upper branches of humid forests. The Golden Toad is believed to be the first species to become extinct because of climate change. As amphibians toads need moisture to survive. The Golden Toad thrived on the rain and temperatures in this habitat. Climate change made this area hotter and drier, killing the toads.

Another species to be affected lives on cool, moist mountaintops in North America. The Pika now has nowhere to go. "As temperatures rise due to increasing levels of carbon dioxide, scientists expected to see pikas migrating/moving to new places to live. This didn't happen though as there were very few suitable places for the pikas to move to and so the species have seen a rapid decline in numbers".

The WWF-NI works to create greater awareness of the dangers of climate change and the need for sustainable development. This allows space for endangered species to survive and in time thrive. In Northern Ireland it works alongside the Ulster Wildlife Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to help protect endangered native Irish species and their habitat. One on-the-ground project in the Cookstown area aims - working with residents and farmers - to clean up a local river inside a year. Sara says that the farmers have responded brilliantly. Sometimes such projects are just a simple matter of redirecting waterspouts or separating clean rainwater from dirty run-off water. Even little changes can have a positive impact.
Another local project involves a joint marine partnership with the UWT to monitor the number of porpoises in Belfast Lough. This entails seeding six or seven 'T-pod' monitoring devices across the mouth of the lough in a rough line from Carrick to Bangor.

Anyone can help the valuable work of the WWF-NI. The Walk for Wildlife, which talkes place in Ballyboley Forest in Larne on October 8th aims to raise funds and awareness of the issues. This year's theme is the orang-utan. Find out more by visiting the website or ringing Sara on 9335 5166. Alternatively, you can just drop into the offices at 13 West Street in Carrick. If you're reading this in time you can also visit the WWF-NI stall at the Green living Fair at Castle Espie on September 18th 2005.

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