Tag Archives: environment

The Panda Craze

The piteously extravagant and undeserved media and public hype over the breeding of Edinburgh Zoo’s two giant Pandas, Tian Tian and her prospective mate Yang Guang, is a cause for worry and concern. Especially at a time when we have witnessed a tragic blaze at Five Sister’s zoo in West Lothian killing a substantial number of reptiles and other animals including 11 meerkats. People seemed not too bothered by these events yet any news about Tian Tian and her oestrogen levels and we quickly turn to our screens. The BBC have now featured the sensationalised scrutiny of the panda breeding in their headlines alongside more justifiable stories, in terms of news values, like the capturing of the man suspected of being responsible for the Boston Bombings and the Earthquake in China killing more than 150 people.

Artificial insemination has been carried out on Tian Tian following a week when hormones showed she was approaching her 36-hour fertile period. In a desperate and almost forlorn attempt to get the Zoo’s most popular creatures breeding, it is telling of British Society’s very needless obsession with pandas. A grassroots campaigning animals charity, Scotland for Animals said the drive to breed Tian Tian is a a purely ‘financial and commercial’ project with the intention of ‘increasing visiting numbers to the zoo’. Scotland for Animals underwent a campaign to expose the ‘lies’ of Edinburgh Zoo who, they feel, hide the commercial implication of their actions behind a blanket emphasising ‘a conservation effort’.

Once entering the official website for the Zoo one can’t help but notice a special section dedicated to buying tickets to visit the Pandas, alongside a link to the  pandacam. Even when contacting the zoo the first thing they say is to visit the website if your inquiry is connected to visiting the giant pandas. Now it’s almost impossible to contact the Zoo unless it’s an emergency inquiry because of the melodramatic amount of international attention driven towards the sex life of these sexually uninterested, animals. You can’t get away from these black and white, bamboo-eating bears. When they first arrived in 2011, loaned by the Bifengxia Breeding Centre in China, massive cheering crowds gathered as they were driven to the gates, in a spectacle as exaggerated and pathetic as the opening of Krispy Kremes in February. The media flocked like a pack of birds to the airport desperately awaiting their arrival as if they didn’t have anything else important to report on. A costly, specially-refurbished VIP enclosure was created for these celebrities as they were taken down the ‘red carpet’ into the zoo’s grand entrance. Moreover, this move signifies a wider socio-economic, cultural and political deal between the Scottish and Chinese Governments, representing the culmination of five years of political and diplomatic negotiation at the highest level. Pandas are,therefore, not just animals but ambassadors to China,and symbols of international diplomacy at the greatest standard.

The question to ask is why this intensive publicity and hype? Perhaps it’s because pandas are an endangered species, a rare and valued Chinese national treasure, meaning complete and utter precedence over every other animal in the country. There are only 1,600 of them in the wild, and around 300 in captivity. we perhaps because they are simply endearing and pleasant to look at? If 158 million people like a video of a panda sneezing on Youtube then surely they safely tick the ‘cute’ box? A more plausible reason maybe that Edinburgh is home to the only two giant pandas in the UK, surely such a rarity on our Island will inevitably give way to mass appeal and attention? Or is it something more intricate and deeper, as Henry Nicholls, author of The Way of the Panda explains, it maybe  due to their almost baby-like features with their flat face, large eyes and clumsy nature.

The panda craze illustrates wider issues to do with journalism in today’s world. If there is such international and domestic fascination and excitement over the news of two pandas breeding does it qualify as important news? The acute distinction between ‘of the public interest’ and ‘in the public interest’ should be addressed. This story is quite clearly of the public interest but not in the interest of the public. In terms of generating mass political debate and changing the face and structure of countries for decades to come, the pandas are not in the same league as the conflict in Syria or the global financial recession for example.

However, as symbols of international relations, and subjects of mass tourism, marketing, merchandise and general (and genuine) adoration, these creatures will continue to attract special journalistic heed, News and the Zoo is a business, business is commercial and commercial is about selling. The Tian Tian and Yang Guang show is to go on for a while yet.

Interview with Scotland for Animals

Tea grown in panda poo most expensive worldwide

Green tea grown solely in panda excrement will command high prices worldwide.  An entrepreneur in the southwest Chinese city of Chengdu plans to charge up to £2,000 per 500 grams for his product, which he claims says will make it the world’s “most expensive tea.”

An Yanshi says he chose to grow tea in panda poo after learning of its high nutritional value. “The digestive and absorption abilities of the panda are not good. . .They are like a machine that is churning out organic fertilizer. Also, they absorb less than 30 percent of the nutrition from the food and that means more than 70 percent of the nutrients are passed out in their faeces,” he said.

Because pandas only eat wild vegetation, An also claims tea grown from panda feces is truly organic.

He also says using his unique fertilizer eliminates environmental damages caused by chemical fertilizer. He hopes to promote use of animal dung by other farmers throughout China.

Some locals have expressed cynicism at An’s high prices. “It’s sold at such a sky-high price, perhaps this is just hype. I don’t think the most expensive tea in the country is sold at such a price” said 49-year-old Li Ximing.

An defended his decision to charge high prices for his tea, saying that a portion of his profits would be set up a fund used to support environmental projects.

Turn off your lights with WWF for ‘Earth Hour’

Source: Maverick Photo Agency

By Georgi Bomb

This Saturday, 26 March, remember to switch off your lights at 8.30-9.30pm as people around the world sit in the dark to join in the world’s biggest environmental campaign, set up by WWF.

WWF are doing their bit for climate change week with ‘Earth Hour.’ It started in Australia during 2007 and has now stretched across 35 countries.

On 26 March at 8.30pm, not only will people in their homes switch off their lights but offices, government buildings and iconic landmarks such as Edinburgh Castle will be taking part in the campaign.

Tune into Edinburgh Napier News radio for the 12:30pm and 1:30pm bulletins where they will be talking to the director of WWF Scotland, Dr. Richard Dixon.

Environment – Preparing for change

Global Hawk Pacific (GloPac) Belly Camera
Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via Flickr

A report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) seems to suggest that recent engagement with eco-friendly activities may be too little too late.

The report, published last month, focusses on the urgent need for the UK to prepare for the effects that climate change will have.

Describing the report as “a wake-up call” Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman explains: “There is no part of our society which is immune from the effects of climate change.”

The report is the first of its kind to look not at how we should be looking to prevent global warming, but how businesses and homes should be adapting for the future.

Floods, heatwaves and droughts have all been forecast using computer models of climate change.

“The UK must start acting now,” said chairman of the CCC’s adaptation sub-committee, Lord Krebs.

It has been highlighted that preparing for the future may in fact help to reduce the overall effects of global warming.

“Super-insulating our homes and buildings will keep them warmer in winter and cooler in summer, and will also cut fuel bills,” said policy and campaigns director for Friends of the Earth UK, Craig Bennett.

But does this mean that recent activity has been in vein, or should institutions still do everything they can do reduce emissions and help those dependant on them to be more environmentally aware?

Many universities have recently invested large sums of money in being more eco-conscious.

The National Union of Students (NUS) is very much behind this campaign.

On the NUS website students are reminded of the “Three Rs”: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

An interesting sub-topic on the page is the reference to the Freecycle network: an online community divided into cities where people can offer and receive goods for free.

Freecycle goods range from compact televisions to sofas and even to large quantities of garden soil – for people who may be interested in helping the environment by growing their own food – another suggestion on the website.

It seems that awareness itself may not be the issue.

Joe Boyd studies Chemical Engineering at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and said, “I think that students and young professionals do know enough about environmental issues, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean they make any more effort.

“Awareness isn’t the problem: people know it’s bad but if it takes effort they often forget or can’t be bothered.”

Alasdair Murison, also a Heriot-Watt student, confirmed Boyd’s opinion: “there should be more incentive to act environmentally, as many are aware, but see practicality and comfort as more important.”

The CCC report was not completely negative, however, highlighting the possibilities that a warmer climate may bring.

Wine production could become more common and the South East of the UK may be able to grow fruits like apricots and lemons.

State of emergency declared after toxic mud spill in Hungary


The village of Devecser devastated by the toxic sludge.


By Edoardo Zandonà

Hungarian government declared a state of emergency today after a massive sludge spill from an aluminia factory put in serious danger the lives of about 7000 people distributed in three different counties. Emergency workers are now trying to stop the toxic mud spread, as well as to find the six people who are still missing.

The leak started yesterday after the breaking of a dam in the industrial waste reservoir of the Ajkai Timfoldgyar Zrt alumina factory. So far, the spill already caused four deaths, while another 120 residing in the nearby villages were led to the hospital after being subjected to chemical burns. The flood also deeply damaged several buildings and facilities in the region, leading to the evacuation of 400 residents.

Hungarian Environment Minister Zoltan Illes described the event as “Hungary’s worst chemical accident”. He referred to it as an “ecological catastrophe”, and he stated it will need at least one year and tens of millions dollars to completely clean up the area from the 2cm deep layer of soil covering the region. Illes added that, if the leak would not be immediately recovered, the Raba and Danube rivers could be at risk of contamination as well.

According to what Gyorgy Bakondi, head of the National Disaster Unit, declared today, there are three major tasks to fulfil for the cleaning crews. The first one and the more important is to “close the burst in the dam by the afternoon”, and after that “cleaning off the red sludge from the walls of houses, and off streets”, and protecting the waters from contamination.

Police is still investigating on what could have been the real origin of the disaster. Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said the spill could have been caused by human error, and there was no sign of it being due to natural causes. MAL Zrt, the current owner of the factory, rejected any responsibility in the disaster, stating there had been no previous sign of the impending catastrophe, since the last inspection of the factory on Monday didn’t show anything suspicious.

The sludge is believed to have a caustic effect on the skin, due to its highly alkaline structure, and since the presence of heavy metals in it, it’s considered slightly radioactive and could cause lung cancer if inhaled. Greenpeace experts said the impact of the spill could be much worse than the cyanide spill which happened in Baia Mare, Romania, in 2000, contaminating the Tisza and Danube river with the toxic substance.

Scotland’s New Eco-hotel Recycles Former Red Light District

Click here for a video tour of this Glasgow icon's £25m makeover

By David Henderson

Seaweed baths and solar panels. Underwater heat pumps and rainwater harvesting. It sounds like utopia for eco-campaigners but the green dream is reality. And it’s in Glasgow:  the city’s first eco-hotel. The five star Blythswood Square.

Blythswood Square. Glasgow's New Boutique Hotel
Blythswood Square. Glasgow's New Boutique Hotel

25 million pounds has been invested in transforming the former Royal Scottish Automobile Club building into a splendid boutique hotel and spa where they promise to be kind to mind, body, soul and the environment. 

The spectacular sandstone building, constructed in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, has been completely transformed, well, recycled and now re-used an eco-hotel. Even the location and the name have been treated to makeovers. Until recently the name ‘Blythswood Square’ had altogether different connotations for Glaswegians. It was infamous for being the city’s red light district. Now?  The ten feet high fence erected around the perimeter of the Square’s central gardens to keep the prostitutes and punters out, has been torn down. The lawn in the former no-mans land in the middle of the square is now used for lunchtime picnics by financial and media sector workers. Where there was once an eerie silence, there is the buzz of conversation and the sound of laughter.  “Are you interested in any business” has a different meaning in ‘ra Blythswood’ now. Urban recycling.

When BSQ was built in 1823, Glasgow had a population of over one million. The  then Second City of The Empire choked in the smoke and smog created by heavy industry. Dealing with environmental problems in Blythswood Square then meant using a shovel and a bucket to clear up after the horses. How the world had changed by the time Townhouse bought the building in 2006.

“Our vision for Blythswood Square was to retain the essence of this landmark historical building and safeguard architectural features whilst bringing it into the 21st century using the most sustainable methods possible,” says chairman Peter Taylor. 

He’d already designed his own home to be eco friendly by the time work on the hotel started. His carbon footprint doesn’t make an impact; BSQ certainly does: “We felt a responsibility to ensure that this wonderful hotel met the environmental standards for our low carbon future so we closely managed and reduced the carbon emissions and chose to work with suppliers who also had the same commitment to protecting the environment, approaching these kind of large scale projects with a clear sustainability strategy not only benefits the environment but it also creates better business performance”.

The architectural features of Blythswood Square were retained, whilst exploiting the latest in green innovation has helped reduce the carbon footprint by a massive 43 per cent, when compared to buildings of a similar age and size. Green technology has be embedded in the new design: rainwater harvesting (and what a harvest there is to be reaped in Glasgow), renewable energy supply, geothermal grid (solar panels), a percentage of water will be drawn from the ground.

John Stocks, manager of the Carbon Trust in Scotland, congratulated the hotel’s eco-investment: “Blythswood Square is an excellent example of what can be achieved by specifying low carbon. The redevelopment of the building has successfully incorporated low carbon design principles, whilst being able to retain the grandeur of the original building. It will not only bring financial savings through the low carbon design solutions implemented, it will also deliver a more pleasurable environment for guests who will undoubtedly benefit.”

Entering a competitive boutique-break-and-business market in Glasgow, BSQ has its enemies close – main rival, The Malmaison Hotel, is just 500 yards away on West George Street. With 100 rooms, the new hotel is around one third bigger than the long established ‘ Mal’.

Blythswood Square is the fifth addition to the portfolio of The Town House Collection. It is the boutique hotel chain’s first venture outside Edinburgh since being set up in 1990. Existing properties: The Bonham, Channings, The Howard and The Edinburgh Residence are established leaders in the capital’s chic town house hotel culture.

 For Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, BSQ represents a massive expansion of the city centre’s boutique hotel sector; a “trophy” build. The Bureau’s chief executive, Scott Taylor enthuses about how Glasgow has acquired some of Edinburgh’s chic by luring the Town House Collection along the M8 motorway.

“We are delighted to welcome home one of Scotland most celebrated and modest entrepreneurs, who has helped shape the hotel industry beyond recognition. “Peter Taylor’s decision to invest in Scotland’s largest and most vibrant city speaks volumes about where Glasgow is heading, and its competitive position on the global stage. Blythswood Square is unique and will become a landmark trophy hotel for Glasgow, and one of the city’s newest style icons.”

In its former incarnation, The Royal Scottish Automobile Club had to be seen to be believed. In the club’s latter years, my bank had a branch located on the first floor. Passing through the grand Greek-style pillars of its main entrance was like passing through a time portal and being transported back to the days when one third of the globe’s surface was shaded pink. Elderly men with handlebar moustaches snoozing on leather couches. More energetic club members sat awake. Only just. They all wore blazers. Most of those adorned with a row of military decoration. Some had a very long row of medals. Gins all round. Cigars too. Large ones. God forbid if your mobile phone rang. If looks could kill. These were men of a generation which knew how to use a bayonet. Anyway, they’ve gone now. Passed into history with The Empire they served.

Now the smell of mothballs has been replaced by the smell of scented candles. (Oh, and case you were wondering the ladies of the night have been shunted off into a ‘controlled area’ a few blocks away).

Blythswood Square bedroom. Spacious and stylish.

The penthouse has a decadent rooftop hot tub which will raise eyebrows and, you would assume, a chill.  The rooms have a mixture of original features and contemporary bespoke furniture and floorings. White marble bathrooms are a luxury from a bygone era, an era when the Scottish banking system was more solid than stone. This is a place to relax and forget the credit crunch.

The Royal Scottish Automobile Club’s ballroom has been transformed into the hotel’s main 120-cover restaurant and cocktail bar, grand in scale and in detail.  It’s intended to be a relaxed setting – gone is the stuffiness of the previous tenant – a place to enjoy delicious seasonally chosen and locally sourced food from award winning Executive Head Chef, Dan Hall.

It’s an amzing transformation. Bythswood Square has it’s old swagger back…and a style to suit it’s third century of service to Glasgow.

£25 million well spent. The recycled Blythswood isn’t square.

British Winemakers Bask in Climate Change Sunshine

By J.C Dick

Vineyard Wanderers (Courtesy Reuters)

Two people wander gaily through a vineyard in the balmy autumnal sunshine, buckets in hand picking pinot noir grapes. However this is not Burgundy, or Champagne, this is Dorking, home to Denbies Wine Estate and the largest vineyard in England with 265 acres of land under vines.

Denbies are in the process of reviving a tradition of winemaking in Britain that has been relatively unseen for over 600 years. This revival is due to the global shift in climate that has seen the southern regions of England begin to have more temperate climates that are near perfect for wine production. Research carried out by the University of Burgundy has shown that the best latitudes for winemaking in the northern hemisphere may move 1,000 km (620 miles) north by the end of this century if nothing is done to stop global warming.

This has naturally caused a rift in opinion as British winemakers such as Denbies are keen to cash in on an improving climate but in traditional wine growing regions outrage is growing. These developments prompted fifty famous French chefs and sommeliers to write an open letter to President Nicolas Sarkozy urging action as fine wines, “jewels of French culture,” were in danger.

However though the genuine advent of British wines seems a little further off in the future as British vineyards are still struggling to ripen grapes that produce the most popular varieties of red wine. As well as these unavoidable natural issues, cost continues to prove a problem as English red wines sell for approximately 8 pounds a bottle, against an average price of 4.26 pounds for a bottle of wine in the UK. Wine critics and wine buyers remain unconvinced as Wine buyer Field said while some “very nice” reds are being made, Berry Brothers has been unable to find one it feels is good enough to stock.