Report on the March 2019 PAL (Public Affairs Link) Meeting

Whitley WI

Our Planet, our Countryside, our Choices

We were treated to two speakers.

The first was Fay Sherlock, Sustainable Palm Oil City Project Officer, from Chester Zoo. Fay won us over with her photo of a sad-eyed orang-utan surrounded by a devastated landscape. The orang-utans’ habitat is being destroyed by deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia to plant Oil Palm plantations. But it can be environmentally friendly if grown sustainably.

Palm oil is produced from the fruit and seeds of the Oil Palm plant and is the world’s most commonly used vegetable oil. It is found in over 50%of products in the supermarket.

 It is widely used in pastry–based food, bread, biscuits, frying oil, cosmetics and cleaning materials.

Oil Palm tree yields of oil are far more efficient than rapeseed or Soya oil, so in itself it is a good source of oil for the uses listed above. It is also important to the economies of Indonesia and Malaysia, which produce 85% of Palm oil.

However, unregulated land clearance for huge plantations of Palm trees is devastating for the habitat of orang-utan, and other wildlife. Therefore Chester Zoo, as a conservation charity, launched “Act for Wildlife” to promote sustainable palm oil.

Sustainable palm oil is produced without deforestation, includes wildlife corridors(walkways), bans forest fires, planting only with the community’s permission, returns the land to the community, ensures good working conditions, and aids economic development from the income generated.

Fay’s challenge was to “nudge” the use of sustainable palm oil with a social marketing approach, identifying behaviour, audience, barriers and benefits. She started with Chester.

The first action was to survey Chester’s hospitality industry.

50% of respondents had no knowledge of the environmental impact of palm oil production

40% didn’t know if palm oil was used in their products

However, there was high interest in engaging with the project.

In September 2017 the City Project was launched with the aim of making Chester the first sustainable palm oil city in the world, to source its palm oil entirely from sustainable sources.

The objective was sign up champions who would pledge to use only sustainable palm oil: 

·         25restaurants

·         5 workplaces

·         2out 5 schools, colleges( Chester university has embraced this and is encouraging other universities)

This was achieved in 2019, you may have seen this on the news recently.

The project is ongoing, encouraging more shops and restaurants to become champions and to roll out the project to other cities. It is hoped that the momentum will increase as customers and the public embrace the cause, with a positive impact on the sustainable palm oil champions’ businesses.

By 2020 the target is to produce 100% sustainable palm oil in Europe, and this snowball effect will extend to the huge markets of China and India.

Fay stressed that we can all play a role in raising awareness of this issue, by using cafes and restaurants who have signed up to sustainable palm oil( there is a map of these eateries on the website), by downloading shopping lists of items using sustainable palm oil, and by asking restaurants if they are champions.  The website is: actforwildlife.org.uk.

The second speaker was Martin Varley, Director of conservation at Cheshire Wildlife Trust

As Martin ruefully said, how can the more endangered white clawed crayfish compete with an orang-utan!

Martin gave some alarming statistics. A german project, counting insects over 25 years, found a 75% decline in populations. Globally the insect population has declined by 40%, predicting no insects by the end of the century. We are all aware that insects feed birds, so they are in rapid decline also, and this loss ultimately affects our food production. Loss of habitat also contributes to decline in wildlife. Once species are lost they cannot be recovered.

The UK is one of the most depleted countries in the world due to our earlier industrialisation compared with other countries.

CWLT promotes the recovery of nature in a number of ways.

·         owning and managing nature reserves in Cheshire; lowland, coastal, grassland.

·         Work with landowners to encourage practices beneficial to nature(much Cheshire land is agricultural)

·         Help nature to recover by managing habitats

·         Grow small populations  e.g. rare dragonfly re-introduced at Delamere

·         Re-introduced extinct species e.g beavers

·         Scrutinising planning applications in Cheshire to ensure proper wildlife surveys have been done

·         Scrutinising planning applications to ensure fragmenting natural areas will not destroy non-mobile wildlife

Regarding planning applications Martin encouraged us all to check applications in our areas for wildlife issues e.g a survey of nesting birds found no nesting birds, but on close inspection the survey was done in November!

CWLT collaborates with universities and Chester Zoo to improve knowledge through research.

It also works with ~ 1000 volunteers, and has a large education programme, 6000 children each year. However Martin  stressed the importance of parents being involved in enjoying the countryside with their children, and the benefits of being outdoors.

Humans are getting sick as well as nature.

Nature can help with wellbeing, physical activity, mental health.

Brexit has implications for the environment as current legislation is based on EU legislation, which the UK might revoke in the future.

The Government has just issued its 25 year plan for the environment, which is being scrutinised by environmental groups.  They are in discussions with Defra, the government and other organisations to ensure that the new legislation on agriculture and fisheries takes proper account of environmental issues.

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