Conservation News

The poachers and the treasures of the deep: diving for abalone in South Africa

The seafood delicacy can sell for £420 a plate in China. As demand outstrips legal supply, divers from the poor suburbs of Cape Town are making up the shortfall

A muscular, bald man moved through the kelp, hunting forbidden shellfish. His scuba rig bubbled and hissed. He was nearly 100 metres from the seashore and 20 metres below the surface, which was grey and flat like a lake. The water was clear, giving far range of sight. Below him the seafloor spread out until it blurred into nothingness.

It was dangerous territory, but Shuhood (not his real name) accepted the risks. For more than a decade he’d been an abalone poacher, lifting a marine snail worth hundreds of pounds per kilo in Asia from reefs around South Africa. The first time he’d used scuba gear, without training, he’d almost drowned, held down by his weight belt and a mesh bag stuffed with abalone. Another day, his air hose broke underwater, and he blacked out as he swam up to the surface. One night the skipper of a boat he was working on ran him over while fleeing a police patrol vessel, and Shuhood was almost chopped by the propellers. Months later, a poacher was decapitated in a similar incident off Robben Island.

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Stone-stacking: cool for Instagram, cruel for the environment | Patrick Barkham

From Orkney to Australia, adventure tourism and social media are turning a benign impulse into a plague on the natural world

They stand by the sea at Lindisfarne. You’ll find them in the glens of Skye, in Slovenian gorges, on the peaks of Chamonix, Barbadian beaches, American national parks and Australian creeks. Stacks of stones, miniature monuments made by enraptured visitors and photographed for posterity are tiny tributes to human industry, our desire to make a mark, and our deep love of special places. But what appears a completely benign form of play in the natural world has become a plague.

Is there ever a right place? I’d say yes. Below the high-tide line on a well-visited beach, it's harmless and ephemeral

Almost every beach we visited in Orkney was spoiled by people leaving their mark and for a photo for social media. It's a worrying trend. It ruins the scenery and the environment. #CountryFile

It’s an offence against the first and most important rule of wild adventuring: leave no trace

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On patrol with the wildlife rangers of Chinko – photo essay

Rangers in this Central African Republic nature reserve face an array of dangers in their bid to protect a rich variety of species

Deep in the heart of Africa, a dedicated group of rangers patrol the Chinko nature reserve. In baking equatorial heat, they are weighed down with body armour and camouflage fatigues. Beads of sweat run down their faces; mosquitos whine. The men keep watch over a vast patchwork of savanna and rainforest in the Central African Republic – a country mired in civil strife and one of the many frontlines of a poaching war that spans the continent and reaches across the globe.

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Hugh Synge obituary

Botanist and conservationist who was one of the founders of the UK’s leading wild plant charity Plantlife

The botanist Hugh Synge, who has died of cancer aged 67, was a roving ambassador for wild plants. In 2007, he was voted one of the 20 most influential British conservationists by BBC Wildlife magazine.

While on the staff of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the 1970s, he helped to compile the first Red Data Book of plants. Published in 1979, co-edited with Gren Lucas, this was a landmark publication that assembled for the first time detailed case histories of plant species to explain why so many of them were vanishing.

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Nutria: the rodent wreaking havoc on California's landscape – video

The rapid influx of these beaver-like rodents has decimated parts of the Californian wetlands. They were introduced to the US for the fur trade and now share wetland areas with some of the west coast’s most endangered species. The California department of fish and wildlife has compared the threat of their presence to that of wildfires

California v nutria: state seeks to eradicate scourge of giant rodents

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