Sumatra & Creative Conservation

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Traditional houses in West Sumatra. Ulet Ifansasti for The New York Times

Finding this story by Mike Ives, with Topher White getting up into the trees for a good purpose, brightens the day just a little bit:

Using Old Cellphones to Listen for Illegal Loggers

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Topher White installing a solar-powered listening unit in a rainforest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in July. Ulet Ifansasti for The New York Times

PAKAN RABAA, Indonesia — This village in West Sumatra, a lush province of volcanoes and hilly rain forests, had a problem with illegal loggers.

They were stealing valuable hardwood with impunity. At first, a group of local people put a fence across the main road leading into the forest, but it was flimsy and proved no match for the interlopers. Continue reading

Greta’s Generation Says Stop Digging

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Shell said last year that divestment had become a material risk to its business.’ Shell’s Brent Bravo oil rig arrives on Teesside for decommissioning, June 2019. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Bill McKibben explains the movement and its best chance of success:

Divestment works – and one huge bank can lead the way

On 15 October, the European Investment Bank meets to decide its policy on fossil fuels. The hand of history is on its shoulder

Millions of people marched against climate crisis over the past two weeks, in some of the largest demonstrations of the millennium. Most people cheered the students who led the rallies – call them the Greta Generation. But now we’ll start to find out if all their earnest protest actually matters.

Continue reading

Organikos, 100% Forward To 1,000,000

6555On July 5th I first read the news about what planting a trillion trees might do for the fight against climate change. One week later this magazine cover drove the point further home for me with the Woody Guthrie reference. Organikos already had ideas and imagery for the commitment of 100% of its profits to conservation, and by the time I saw this cover I knew our focus would be on planting treesComing back to this magazine cover now, I am struck by the power of the number referenced in the scientific study.

One trillion.

1,000,000,000,000.

How long would it take Organikos to plant one million of those trees?

Collapsitarian, No

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‘Wyrd goes ever as it must.’
Beowulf

After some weeks of letting the ideas in this essay settle in, and not reading (until now) any of the criticism of those ideas, it is more clear to me that I mistook Franzen’s position for something familiar, even close to home. Going back through my own postings on this platform, the mistake is understandable. We have been highlighting soft and gradual and mostly (but not all, by any means) comforting approaches to thinking about climate change.

I just revisited this post, thinking that Franzen’s position is like that word I heard 5+ years ago, but Franzen is not a collapsitarian. From my poking around, it is not clear that Paul Kingsnorth is one either. In that earlier post I linked to the About section on his website and it is still as funny ever, but now this:

Occasionally Asked Questions

Who are you?

I am 75% English, 25% Greek Cypriot, 100% European and 0% European Union. I share 96% of my genetic material with chimpanzees and 60% with bananas. I am descended from the Viking Earls of the Orkney Isles. I live with my English-Punjabi wife and our two children in the west of Ireland, where 85% of the men are descended from eastern Mediterranean farmers.

I’m a writer. I mainly write novels, poetry and essays.

Tell me about your writing

My non-fiction takes deep dives into big questions about how we might live in a world losing its cultural and ecological bearings at a rapid rate.

My fiction is mythological, otherworldly and multilayered, and is aimed at adults with at least one underworld journey under their belts…

It is worth reading in full, to see how his views may have changed in recent years, but mainly what caught my attention is the program of courses he has created, which look worthy of promotion, especially as captured in the photos (©Natasha Lythgoe) below and at the top:

The Wyrd School is a writing school unlike any other. Founded in 2018 by Paul Kingsnorth, an award-winning novelist, poet and essayist, with two decades of writing experience, we are home to unique writing courses, talks, and other events designed to bring the human and the non-human worlds back into contact, and to help you produce writing and art from the resulting sparks.

Wyrd is an old Anglo-Saxon word, often translated as fate or destiny. Continue reading

Elderberries, Up & Coming From The Past

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Heiko Wolfraum/dpa/AP

Thanks to Marisa Endicott at Mother Jones for this:

This Ancient Fruit Holds Secrets for How to Farm in Climate Change

Respect your elder-berries.

Cloverleaf Farm, a small produce operation in Davis, California, managed to do okay during the extreme drought that lasted from 2012 to 2016. But in the first wet year after the long dry period, the farm lost its entire apricot crop to disease—$40,000 to $50,000 down the drain.

Researchers predict that as climate change worsens, there will be more frequent shifts between extreme dry spells and floods. As Cloverleaf learned the hard way, the phenomenon is already taking a toll on growers in the country’s largest food producing state. During the drought, California’s agricultural and related industries lost $2.7 billion in one year alone. Big cash crops like almonds and grapes are at particular risk in the future, unnerving farmers and vintners already taking hits from erratic and extreme weather. Continue reading

Kids Saying It The Way Kids Say Things

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Thanks to Alex Kalman for the story and to Mmuseumm for the photos:

Children Lead the Way: A Gallery of Youth-Made Climate-Strike Signs

signs-4-BIO.jpgWhen is skipping school more important than attending? When is a child’s design more effective than a professional’s? When are children more responsible than adults? On September 20th, millions of children, led by the activist Greta Thunberg, took to the streets to protest the world’s inaction on climate change. Here are some of the signs made by children who participated in the New York City march. Inspiring and confrontational, these signs provide a visual counterpoint to the individual voices of our children as they plead with the powers that be to act, and act responsibly.

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See the entire collection here.

Gleaning Garbage From The Great Patch

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The floating boom skims up waste ranging in size from a discarded net and a car wheel complete with tire to chips of plastic with diameters as small as 1 millimetre. Photograph: AP

Some encouraging news from the big mess out in the middle of the Pacific:

Ocean cleanup device successfully collects plastic for first time

Huge floating boom finally retains debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, creator says

A huge floating device designed by Dutch scientists to clean up an island of rubbish in the Pacific ocean that is three times the size of France has successfully picked up plastic from the high-seas for the first time.

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Crew members sort through plastic on board a support vessel on the Pacific Ocean. Photograph: AP

Boyan Slat, the creator of the Ocean Cleanup project, announced on Twitter that the 600-metre (2,000ft) long floating boom had captured and retained debris from what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Alongside a picture of the collected rubbish, which includes a car wheel, Slat tweeted: “Our ocean cleanup system is now finally catching plastic, from one-ton ghost nets to tiny microplastics! Also, anyone missing a wheel?” Continue reading

133+ Reasons To Smile

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OC2.jpgIn early May Amie and I accompanied a group of conservation-minded investors to the southeastern tip of the Osa Peninsula, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Over a long weekend we visited lodges in that area, but the highlight of those days was our visit to Osa Conservation. We determined to return, to understand better what this organization has accomplished and what its future plans are.

OC3.jpegFinally we had the chance to do that this past weekend. The tree above is a good representative for why the Osa Peninsula is so important. With one of the longest life spans of any tree in this tropical forest, the abundance of diverse plants and animals that depend on the tree for life make it symbolically important as much as it is biologically important. The insect to the right, feeding on the top of a rice stalk, shifted my attention from the charismatic megaflora that made Saturday an immersive biophilia exemplar of a day–and helped me focus on acts taken by Osa Conservation to make their operation more sustainable. A one-time farm in their land holding has been rewilded. A few hectares were retained for experimental organic farming.

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OC5.jpegThe rice strain is an example of that, but I will save that story for another day. After being fully immersed in terrestrial wonders in the forest and the farm, the beach is where I had one of life’s more profound experiences. It started at dawn on Sunday when Amie and I joined a small team from Osa Conservation who focus on turtle habitat. Our family has had multiple experiences with sea turtle nesting and egg-laying, but we have never been witness to the hatchlings returning to the sea. Yesterday was our lucky day to round out our first hand knowledge of turtle birthing life cycle. It started with a couple of spot checks on nesting sites that had been predated–in the case of the nest in the photo to the left you can see the bird tracks all around were the eggs had been ravaged.

OC6.jpegWe may have been a mere 15 minutes too late in that case, but soon enough another nesting site was found and the surgical strike–to remove the eggs and transfer them to a hatchery where they are better protected–was under way. The protocols allow for digging carefully so that not a single egg is in danger of rupture, or even addled. They are removed one by one, counted, and placed in exactly the same formation as they were in the nest, so they can be re-nested in the hatchery as the mother turtle had laid them. Marine biologists believe that the order in the nest matters to their viability.

OC7.jpegIt was almost 6am at this point and by 8am this nest moved to safety and hatchlings from two previously moved nests were ready for release. Of all the photos I took yesterday it is difficult to choose one that is most evocative of the power of this experience. But somehow a bucket full of eggs is a candidate. We keep chickens in our yard at home, and on any given day we collect anywhere from zero to a dozen eggs from a group of 15 hens. Here one turtle had laid a hundred or so eggs (they were counted but I cannot recall the exact number now) that looked exactly like ping pong balls. Several kilometers of beach here are regularly patrolled by Osa Conservation staff, and the team of volunteers make their daily rounds to do this work.

This bucketfull was taken to the hatchery further down the beach.

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The signage is rustic but the message is clear.

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Inside the hatchery the re-nesting begins.

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The eggs removed from the nest on the beach are replaced in the hatchery nest and meanwhile Amie is taught how to extract hatchlings.

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Counting again, one by one.

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This time it is baby turtles coming out of the nest and into the box, and as always, seeing babies is a joy.

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Seeing them walked out to the beach has its own impact.

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And then the release.

OC15.jpeg133 in total, marching to the water. A race of sorts.

OC17.jpegAmie, a bird-lover, wields a stick to keep them away in case that is needed.

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And finally #133 of these Olive Ridley babies makes it to the edge of the waves.

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The Little Things We Can Do

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A hairstreak butterflies in a Florida backyard. Photo © Bill Spitzer / TNC Photo Contest 2019

If you are fortunate enough to have a yard of your own, consider this suggestion by Charles Fergus:

Create Wildlife Habitat Around Your House

By itself, a plain grass lawn is stark and visually unappealing—which is why most homeowners add shrubs, flower beds, and specimen trees. Today, there’s a new movement afoot known as natural landscaping: using native trees, shrubs, and low plants to add textural diversity to a yard while attracting and benefiting wildlife.

Research has shown that seeing wildlife around your home—hearing birds sing, glimpsing brightly colored butterflies and dragonflies, seeing a garter snake slither into a stone wall— makes life more enjoyable.

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Common milkweed growing in Illinois. Photo © Timothy T. Lindenbaum / TNC

Many of us have a visceral need to be in touch with wild creatures and to acknowledge that we ourselves are part of nature, even if we live in suburbs and other settings where housing is dense. Continue reading

Cleaning Up Productivity

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Harvard scientists and landscapers are testing a new fertilizer that could reduce pollution in water supplies. Unsplash

Thanks to Caitlin McDermott-Murphy for this story about cleaning up our growing systems:

Ending ‘dead zones’

How a biofriendly fertilizer could offer a greener way to grow plants

Every year, a “dead zone” the size of Massachusetts sprawls across the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi River, which travels through the nation’s farm belt, sweeps excess fertilizer and dumps the chemicals into the Gulf, where they feed rampant algae, deplete oxygen, and kill marine life.

Across the U.S., smaller versions of similar dead zones infect lakes, ponds, and rivers. In years with higher rainfall — like 2018 — Massachusetts’ Charles River collects enough pollutants from surrounding city streets, parking lots, and landscaped campuses to cause the water quality to drop. Unchecked algae growth, often the result of excess fertilizer, can damage marine, human, and even pet health: This year, several dogs died after swimming in water choked with toxic blue-green algae. Continue reading

A Thoughtful Discussion On The Green New Deal

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Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Thanks to Sarah Jones for The Future Is Ours for the Taking, an updated primer on the big policy bundle proposed to make the USA economy greener, healthier and more prosperous than ever:

In New York City and around the world, millions of people took to the streets on Friday morning. A single demand unified them: Leaders must act, and act now, to stop climate change from getting any worse. “I want you to unite behind science. And then I want you to take real action. Thank you,” Greta Thunberg, the teen climate-change activist from Sweden, told Congress on Wednesday.

And a growing number of climate-change activists have coalesced around an answer to this imperative, a Green New Deal. The proposal, which would transition the U.S. economy to clean energy and create millions of new jobs, has become a rallying cry for organizations like the Sunrise Movement and left-wing Democrats like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Although Ocasio-Cortez helped popularize the Green New Deal, and so has her fellow congressional democratic socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the basic concept is at least 12 years old. Not long after New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called for a “Green New Deal” in 2007, a group of British academics and activists began drafting a substantive proposal that was published in July 2008.

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Photo: Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images

Why do you think it has taken this long for the Green New Deal to catch fire in the public imagination?

For several reasons. Really, it takes an American, doesn’t it? I mean, when the Americans decide something is important, then it suddenly becomes important, and that’s fantastic. But I think what happened back in 2008 was that we were going through this grim financial crisis and London was at the heart of it already thanks to the City of London. We were writing [the British Green New Deal] after the date that I called Detonation Day — on the ninth of August 2007, when interbank lending froze and the system blew up. Continue reading

Are Strikes Going To Get Us To A Solution?

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Illustration by João Fazenda

During last week my attention has been commanded more than at any other time by the increased attention to the perils of climate change and the clamor for action. I do not tire of reading on this subject, in the hope that one day I will read something that will give some hope of progress. Thanks to Elizabeth Kolbert for weighing in on the debate over whether we should admit defeat, or instead insist on finding another way out of the pending doom, in the manner prescribed by a former Vice President of the USA (a country now officially leading a race to the bottom on this issue):

Summits, Strikes, and Climate Change

There are positive signs that the politics of climate change are changing in America. And giving up isn’t really an option.

Late last month, Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old climate activist from Sweden, arrived in New York. Thunberg, who is sometimes compared to Joan of Arc and sometimes to Pippi Longstocking, doesn’t fly—the emissions from aviation are too high—so she’d spent two weeks sailing across the Atlantic in a racing boat. When she reached New York Harbor, she told Trevor Noah, on “The Daily Show,” the first thing she noticed was “Suddenly, it smells.”

Thunberg doesn’t adhere to social niceties. (She’s spoken openly about having Asperger’s syndrome.) She began her crusade last year, sitting outside the Swedish parliament building, in Stockholm, handing out flyers that read “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.” It’s a trait particularly well suited to the cause she’s taken up: on no other issue is the gap between what’s politically acceptable and what’s scientifically necessary wider than it is on climate change. In an address to the French parliament, in July, Thunberg put it this way: “Maybe you are simply not mature enough to tell it like it is, because even that burden you leave to us children. We become the bad guys who have to tell people these uncomfortable things, because no one else wants to, or dares to.” Continue reading

A Few Sane Words From Al Gore

There are some excellent graphics in this op-ed, but the words are better, and a fitting third entry of the last week on this topic:

Al Gore: The Climate Crisis Is the Battle of Our Time, and We Can Win

We have the tools. Now we are building the political power.

Things take longer to happen than you think they will, but then they happen much faster than you thought they could.

The destructive impacts of the climate crisis are now following the trajectory of that economics maxim as horrors long predicted by scientists are becoming realities.

More destructive Category 5 hurricanes are developing, monster fires ignite and burn on every continent but Antarctica, ice is melting in large amounts there and in Greenland, and accelerating sea-level rise now threatens low-lying cities and island nations.

Tropical diseases are spreading to higher latitudes. Cities face drinking-water shortages. The ocean is becoming warmer and more acidic, destroying coral reefs and endangering fish populations that provide vital protein consumed by about a billion people…

Libraries As Architectural Gems

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Winnie Au for The New York Times

We occasionally hail architecture, and frequently hail libraries as essential to our shared humanity, and when we get the chance to hail both at the same time, the world seems in good order:

Why Can’t New York City Build More Gems Like This Queens Library?

The Hunters Point Community Library is one of the finest public buildings New York has produced this century. But it cost more than $40 million, took a decade and almost died.

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The canyon-like lobby entrance of Hunters Point Community Library. Winnie Au for The New York Times

Against a phalanx of mostly dreary new apartment towers, the soon-to-open Hunters Point Community Library by Steven Holl Architects is a diva parading along the East River in Queens, south of the famous Pepsi sign. With its sculptured geometry — a playful advertisement for itself — it’s even a little like the Pepsi sign.

Compact, at 22,000 square feet and 82 feet high, the library is among the finest and most uplifting public buildings New York has produced so far this century.

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Winnie Au for The New York Times

It also cost something north of $40 million and took forever to complete. So it raises the question: Why can’t New York build more things like this, faster and cheaper?

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The library is full of nooks and corners, illuminated by big windows with sculptured walls covered in bamboo.Credit Winnie Au for The New York Times

Opening Sept. 24, Hunters Point is surely what Queens Library officials and the borough’s former president, Helen M. Marshall, had in mind when the project was proposed more than 15 years ago: a crown jewel among Queens branches, at a singular, symbolic spot facing the United Nations and Louis Kahn’s exalted Four Freedoms Park across the water. Continue reading

A Different Kind Of Getting Clear

A flock of red-winged blackbirds over Long Island, N.Y.CreditCreditVicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography/Moment, via Getty Images

Thanks to the authors of this op-ed for a bit of clear thinking:

The Crisis for Birds Is a Crisis for Us All

The mass disappearance of North American birds is a dire warning about the planet’s well-being.

By John W. Fitzpatrick and 

Dr. Fitzpatrick is the director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Dr. Marra is the director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative.

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Steve Maslowski/Science Source, via Getty Images Plus

Nearly one-third of the wild birds in the United States and Canada have vanished since 1970, a staggering loss that suggests the very fabric of North America’s ecosystem is unraveling.

The disappearance of 2.9 billion birds over the past nearly 50 years was reported today in the journal Science, a result of a comprehensive study by a team of scientists from seven research institutions in the United States and Canada.

As ornithologists and the directors of two major research institutes that directed this study, even we were shocked by the results. We knew of well-documented losses among shorebirds and songbirds. But the magnitude of losses among 300 bird species was much larger than we had expected and alarmingly widespread across the continent. Continue reading

Dark Plastic

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It is likely that marine debris kills hundreds of thousands of sea birds, turtles, and marine mammals each year. Photograph by Paulo Oliveira / Alamy

It is a 10-15 minute read with a two hour hangover of depression. But a must-read. Thanks to Carolyn Kormann for getting us very clear on the problem of plastic in our oceans:

Imagination At Scale Is Our Only Recourse

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A journalist and novelist for more than fifteen years, in 2012 Ledgard began to refashion himself as both an evangelist of radical thinking and a prophet of specific doom. Photograph by Rafal Milach / Magnum for The New Yorker

Jonathan Franzen’s relatively short, but powerful essay got my thoughts well-prepared to digest this profile of Jonathan Ledgard. The implication of Franzen’s essay struck me more clearly when Ledgard–having quit his career in journalism in favor of deeper exploration for answers to the most intractable challenges–was quoted saying “Imagination at scale is our only recourse.” Neither the essay nor the profile is comforting; but by embracing uncomfortable conclusions maybe possibilities open up:

…“You have to acknowledge that the probability of success is vanishingly small,” he said. “But if just one of these ideas came off in the next twenty years, in some form, and in a really significant way—and it improved the lives of poor people, or helped save other life-forms from extinction—then that would be really worth your time.” He added, “My main point is to move the conversation in a more imaginative direction.”…

We had heard of the drone-delivered medical services thanks to Seth’s work in Rwanda, but frankly I was not convinced back in May that it was yet in the realm of possibility. Now I am. To see the man behind it in a photo like this, which at first glance might make you think he is a bit off his rocker, is refreshing.

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Outside a Czech village, Ledgard searched for wild boar, which he is studying for an immersive art exhibit. Photograph by Rafal Milach / Magnum for The New Yorker

Maybe that is what it takes to say something so clear:

“There’s a significant minority—or maybe a majority—of human beings who are biophiliac. They like living things. And that hasn’t been priced correctly.”

If You Must Bet, Bet On This

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Woodland Trust has not been mentioned in these pages before, surprisingly. Its origins and its mission make us feel at home:

Stand up for trees

We want to see a UK rich in native woods and trees, for people and wildlife.

But we can’t achieve our vision without you.

And its accomplishments are awesome:

43,069,424
trees planted,
1089 woods saved,
34,075 hectares of ancient
woodland under
restoration.

And now it is possible to place a bet on their behalf in a fun contest:

Now is your chance to vote for your favourite trees in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as we reveal the shortlists in our Tree of the Year contest. Continue reading

Craft, Creativity & Visual Pleasure

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Iterations, from left, of the New Craftmen’s Brodgar chair (an unfinished lounge chair and a dining chair) next to traditional chairs on Mainland, Orkney. Sophie Gerrard

Deborah Needleman offers a short and sweet journey to a place, and with people, who I can relate to as we proceed to stock and open the Authentica shops in Costa Rica:

The Windswept Scottish Islands Producing Beautiful Artisanal Goods

One London gallery is determined to continue the tradition embraced for centuries by the Orkney chain.

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The New Craftsmen artists during their Orkney residency, Gareth Neal (far left), O’Sullivan (far right) and Butcher (second from left) with the local Orkney furniture maker Kevin Gauld (second from right). Sophie Gerrard

LAST MAY, THREE England-based craftspeople — the basket makers Mary Butcher and Annemarie O’Sullivan and the furniture maker and designer Gareth Neal — were sent by their London gallery, the New Craftsmen, for a weeklong residency in Orkney, a chain of about 70 small islands off the northern coast of Scotland. They explored Mainland, Orkney’s largest island, as well as North Ronaldsay, a three-and-a-half mile spit of land (population approximately 50) rich in farmland, marram grass, seaweed-eating sheep and Neolithic ruins. They also met with the Orcadian furniture maker Kevin Gauld and the sculptor Frances Pelly, both of whose work is deeply bound up with the islands’ history and landscape.

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Gathered Orkney straw ready to be woven in Gauld’s workshop. Sophie Gerrard

The New Craftsmen’s co-founder and creative director, Catherine Lock — who travels across Britain in search of potters, textile designers and other artisans to highlight at her Mayfair showroom — has long been inspired by Orkney’s culture, and commissioned the first piece she sold at the gallery, a collaboration between Gauld and Neal, on the archipelago seven years ago. Since then, the pair’s beautifully austere straw Brodgar chair has been a consistent best seller, with more demand than Gauld can answer.

09tmag-orkneys-slide-WJT0-jumbo.jpgBefore craft was called craft, when it was just the stuff people made from what was around in order to get by, objects were indivisible from their provenance. And in a place as remote as the Orkney Islands, that connection is still strong — but the link to the outside marketplace less so. Lock invited these three makers to “see how they might channel the spirit of this place through objects.” The goal of the project is the creation of new work — both collaborations and individual pieces — that express the spirit and traditions of Orkney, exposing it to a larger global audience while preserving and reinvigorating the distinctive skills found there.

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Local seaweed gathered and bundled by the basket weavers Annemarie O’Sullivan and Mary Butcher. Sophie Gerrard

One can understand a place by what its people make. Because trees are scarce here, Orcadians historically had to rely on driftwood and shipwrecks for timber; you can still find stone houses with roofs made of upturned old boats. The islands are flush with heather, peat, seaweed and sandstone, but locals have a special relationship with straw, which they have long used for everything from roofing and bedding to shelving, rainwear and furniture. Continue reading

Camera Trap Treasure

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A black bear mother with three cubs. Photo © TNC

Camera traps have proven valuable in the work we have been doing in Belize, India and elsewhere in the wilderness areas of the developing world. But equally important are the photos captured in areas closer to urban settlements. Thanks to The Nature Conservancy’s publication of these photos with the article below:

As a Nature Conservancy forester in Pennsylvania, Mike Eckley spends a lot of time assessing the health of woodlands. That means he spends as much time thinking about white-tailed deer as he does trees.

Many conservation biologists consider over-abundant deer to be an even bigger threat to eastern forests than climate change. Deer can fundamentally change the forest ecosystem, threatening everything from rare wildflowers to migratory songbirds. These deer also can cause deadly vehicle collisions, increase risk of Lyme disease, and cause significant agricultural and property damage.

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Two white-tailed deer boxing. Photo © TNC

Eckley educates hunting clubs and landowners on deer management issues, and recently co-edited a book on the topic. He also works to make sure the deer herd is healthy on Conservancy projects like the West Branch Forest Preserve, a 3,000-acre preserve in north central Pennsylvania. Continue reading