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    May 17, 2012

    161

    Climate Change and Forests: Earthwatch and the HSBC Partnership

    At this lecture, three Earthwatch scientists present five years of findings from the largest-ever employee engagement program on climate change and forests.

    Three climate change scientists presented five years of findings from the largest-ever employee engagement program on climate change and forests to an audience of 600.

    Chair and Earthwatch ambassador Kate Humble opened the evening with the observation that “There is something wonderful about an Earthwatch evening. It’s about energy. Everybody who is involved with Earthwatch has a kind of positivity.”

    TV presenter Kate Humble speaks with Earthwatch climate change scientists.

    Presenting the results of Earthwatch’s five-year partnership with HSBC, which explored the relationship between climate change and forests, were Earthwatch’s Dr. Dan Bebber, Professor N. H. Ravindranath of the Indian Institute of Science, and Professor Yadvinder Malhi of Oxford University.

    Dr. Bebber began his talk by assuring the audience that “the Earth is warming,” before discussing the fieldwork carried out in Oxfordshire’s Wytham Woods by Earthwatch researchers, Oxford University, and HSBC employees – known as “Climate Champions.” During the fieldwork, teams measured and mapped trees in areas of forest that had been impacted to varying degrees by human disturbance.

    Dr. Bebber then discussed the validity of citizen science. Over the course of the partnership, 2,267 nonscientists from HSBC have worked in forest research plots in Brazil, China, India, the U.K., and the U.S. Dr. Bebber asked if we could trust the data collected by nonscientists – before revealing that after validation, the rate of error was found to be less than 1%.

    Dr. Bebber also presented the results of a moth survey carried out in Wytham Woods headed by Dr. Eleanor Slade of WildCRU, Oxford University. Believed to be the biggest-ever mark-and-recapture study of moths, the project examined how moths dispersed through a landscape that was being altered by climate change. A total of 14,719 moths belonging to 87 species were caught and released. The study found that dispersal was related to wingspan, habitat affinity, and wing type and that lone trees in hedges were important to dispersal, as they served as “stepping-stones” for the moths.

    Professor Ravindranath discussed the work carried out by HSBC Climate Champions in the Western Ghats of India, where a total of 65,648 trees were mapped and measured. Professor Ravindranath stressed the need for long-term monitoring of forests in response to climate change but remained positive. Despite the dependence of communities on forests for resources, including food, fuel, and building materials, the biodiversity, biomass, and carbon stocks in the Western Ghats remain high. The data collected by HSBC Climate Champions will inform management of these forests by communities as the forests continue to respond to climate change.

    Professor Malhi discussed further the research at Wytham Woods. He explained how researchers were able to measure the forest’s “breathing,” that is, how the amount of carbon that it captures and releases changes in response to the seasons.

    Professor Malhi also illustrated how species within ecosystems can affect climate change. In the 1950s, an outbreak of myxomatosis led to a significant reduction in the rabbit population in Wytham Woods. As a result, many more trees – which rabbits would previously have eaten before they got established – were able to grow to maturity and hence increase the amount of carbon that was locked up in the forest 60 years later.

    During the question and answer session, one person in the audience asked what members of the public can personally do to help the fight against the impacts of climate change. In response, Dr. Bebber highlighted the importance of those living in a democracy to vote wisely and to vote with their money by buying only from organizations that take environmental concerns seriously.

    Earthwatch Chairman  Professor David MacDonald, CBE, wrapped the lecture up by noting that “Although it’s said you can’t please everyone all of the time, the HSBC climate partnership has got jolly close in terms of its dimensions, such as the relationship between business and biodiversity, and the importance of education and emerging scientists.”

    Finally, Professor MacDonald announced that just this week the Climate Partnership won the Business Charity Awards’ Charity Partnership (Financial and Professional) Award for an outstanding partnership between companies providing financial or professional services and a U.K. charity.



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