Turning the tide on plastic pollution – Irish Examiner, November 12 2018

Seal Rescue Ireland’s innovative way to remove plastics from the sea is a step-up in their conservancy work, writes Amy Lewis

From a corner of north Wexford, a team of dedicated environmentalists are working towards, quite literally, building a better future for our planet and its inhabitants.

As resident volunteers at Seal Rescue Ireland — a registered charity established to rescue, rehabilitate and release sick, injured and orphaned seal pups — they’ve seen first-hand the effects that human activity is having on marine life. The threat of plastic pollution, famously highlighted in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series, is something to which Irish common and grey seals are not immune.

Such threats and what we can do to prevent them is something the team are keen to highlight to visitors at their rescue and rehabilitation centre in Courtown, Wexford. During my own visit, Seal Rescue Ireland Executive Director Melanie Croce tells me the story of a grey seal pup and former centre resident named Karma.

“Karma looked like she was in good condition. She was nice and fat with no visible injuries but she had some strange behaviours. In the end, she passed away.”

A necropsy at UCD’s School of Veterinary Medicine generated a stark conclusion. What had cost Karma her life was an item so commonplace, disposable and harmless to humans: a single crisp packet.

“As it turns out, she had a crisp packet blocking her intestines,” explains Melanie, pointing out how the reflective surface of a crisp packet can mimic that of a fish. “Seals are opportunistic feeders. They’ll eat anything they can get their teeth on, whether it’s crab, squid or fish. Now that there’s more plastic in their environment, they’re mistaking it for food and eating it.” Similarly to all soft plastics, crisp packets are not recyclable in Ireland. Even when disposed of correctly, they can easily get swept out into the ocean and cause harm to marine life, says Melanie.

“The best thing we can do is cut down our use of plastics,” she says.

Using your purchasing power to support markets that don’t use unnecessary packaging is important as we try to work towards a better environment.

Until we further develop novel eco-friendly alternatives, non-biodegradable single-use plastics will still exist. However, Seal Rescue Ireland has adopted an innovative way to put unavoidable plastics to good use. Known as Ecobricks, this simple building material consists of large plastic bottles which have been tightly packed with soft plastics.

“Firstly, making Ecobricks stops the plastic from going out into the environment. Secondly, it is upcycling it into something useful and finally, it makes you very aware of every single piece of non-biodegradable piece of plastic you will use because you have to stuff it into a brick,” says Melanie, stressing that the Ecobrick is not their own invention.

To date, these surprisingly heavy “bricks” have been used by the team to make sturdy furniture such as stools. Looking into the future, they also hope to use them to make benches and as the building blocks of a second rescue facility in Ireland.

To do so, they will utilise any plastic collected from their volunteer houses nearby, where between 15 and 20 volunteers reside while working at the centre. Additionally, they’re accepting Ecobricks from members of the public keen to put their waste to good use. In order to be deemed acceptable, these bricks must be made from 1.7 or two-litre plastic bottles densely packed with as much clean, soft plastic as they can hold. Water bottles will not be accepted.

“You have to make sure you get rid of all of the open spaces because they will compromise the integrity of the brick,” says Melanie.

Seal Rescue Ireland hope to eventually run public workshops on Ecobrick making. In the meantime, there are various tutorials and videos available online.

Entanglement in discarded fishing line, which cuts into skin and blubber as they grow, is another major threat to pups. Poor water quality from pollution and raw sewage discharge is also problematic, as are dog attacks.

Extreme weather conditions are placing additional pressures on seals, particularly during breeding season. Vulnerable pups resting on the shore are knocked against rocks, separated from their mother or drowned during heavy storms.

Additionally, depleting fish stocks are forcing seals worldwide to travel further to find food. As a result, they often don’t have the energy to provide pups with the fat-rich milk they require and may abandon them.

Well-intentioned humans can also cause harm. Although pups rest on land, bypassers may mistake it for being ill or orphaned and approach it. Watching mothers may abandon the pup as a result.

“We advise people to stay two hundred metres away. If you think it needs help, call our rescue hotline number and don’t try to take matters into your own hands,” says Melanie.

All of these threats and how to minimise them are communicated to schoolchildren in Seal Rescue Ireland’s Marine Conservation Roadshows, as well as during school tours to the centre.

“Kids are amazing and absorb everything,” says Melanie. “If we can get them to care about this, then future world leaders will care about this.” Seal Rescue Ireland also runs daily public tours and facilitates corporate days at the centre.

The organisation currently has 800 trained volunteers around the country, who are ready to assist if a seal is in peril. This growing network have been vital in assisting with the increasing number of seal pups requiring rescuing. Indeed, intakes are rapidly rising, a trend Melanie says is largely due to weather conditions. In 2013, the centre took in 62 pups compared to a record 145 last year.

Through working with everyone to create a safer marine environment, they hope to minimise the number of seal casualties.

“We’re in the business of wanting to put ourselves out of business. We are rehabbing seals but if we can educate people and keep the marine environment safe and sustainable, there are fewer seals that need to come in,” says Melanie.

Seal Rescue Ireland’s Centre is open to the public daily.

Seal Rescue Ireland operate a 24/7 rescue hotline on 087 195 5393.

http://www.sealrescueireland.org

http://www.ecobricks.org

(First published in the Irish Examiner on November 12 2018. Available online at: https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/lifestyle/features/seal-rescue-irelands-plan-to-turn-the-tide-on-plastic-pollution-884672.html)

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Ireland’s Wildlife Warriors – Sunday Business Post, November 4 2018

Across the country, there’s a network of dedicated individuals who work tirelessly to help some of our most vulnerable neighbours.

Late-night feeds, cuts and scratches and constant goodbyes go hand-in-hand with their largely voluntary roles but neither this, nor juggling tasks with full-time jobs, families or other life responsibilities, deters them from their mission.

Indeed, Ireland’s wildlife rehabilitators are a determined and passionate bunch and this shone through at the recent Irish Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference at Rock Farm in Slane. Organised by Emma Higgs and her team at Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland (WRI) – an organisation established to promote wildlife rehabilitation and support rehabilitators – the event pulled together carers from Ireland and the UK to share their stories and knowledge.

Those familiar with the insomnia that can accompany human newborns may not entertain the idea of interrupting a good night’s sleep to feed a furry or feathered friend. So what drives wildlife rehabilitators? Bray-based veterinarian Dr Pete Wedderburn, aka “Pete the Vet”, outlined his own motivations in his talk on why it’s worth rescuing wildlife.

“The first reason for me is compassion for the individual creature,” says Wedderburn, who regularly sees wildlife patients at the BrayVet clinic. Concern for endangered species, picking up new skills to help other endangered creatures later on and raising awareness about the environment are some of the other reasons that Wedderburn is willing to treat wildlife. He also feels it helps to promote kindness in our society.

“The message of being kind to animals does eventually change our culture.”

Deciding whether to rehabilitate a sick or injured animal goes far beyond a love for wildlife, as stressed by all rehabilitators throughout the day. With each creature that comes their way, comes an ethical conundrum: should we leave the animal alone, try to heal it or consider euthanasia? Whatever the answer, the welfare of the individual animal and the likelihood of a successful release is key.

This is emphasised by vet Dr Liz Mullineaux in her own speech. She cites a definition of wildlife rehabilitation as the ‘treatment and temporary care of injured, diseased, and displaced indigenous animals, and the subsequent release of healthy animals to appropriate habitats in the wild.’

“Rehabilitation is not about captive animals. You need to keep that at the back of your mind at all times,” says Mullineaux, an experienced vet and Scientific Advisor to Secret World Wildlife Rescue.

There’s a fine line between wildlife rehabilitation and interfering with nature. While well-intentioned, members of the public often pick up animals they perceive to be orphans, unaware that the mother is nearby. Additionally, sometimes a single orphan is abandoned by a mother who is aware that it’s unlikely to survive.

“We should only take an animal from the wild when absolutely necessary,” founder of Secret World Wildlife Rescue Pauline Kidner tells us, adding that we should really only interfere when a casualty is rooted in human rather than natural causes.

For the less-experienced, whether or not to intervene can be a difficult call to make. This is why observing an animal and liaising with those with wildlife knowledge is critical before a creature is moved.

Observing for blood, limb injuries, vision problems or breathing difficulties, as well as noting whether an animal is conscious, are just some of the things that can be noted down according to Mullineaux. These observations also apply to birds, as can fluffed up feathers and poor feather quality.

Not all potential patients are found at the roadside, as outlined in RSPCA Wildlife Veterinary Officer David Couper’s informative talk on seal rehabilitation. Does the seal have injuries; is it struggling to breathe; how alert is it and is the mother nearby are all questions that should be asked. Hydration levels can also be determined, according to Couper, who explains that a healthy seal will have tears flowing down its face when on land.

Deciding whether to rehabilitate an animal yourself or pass it on to others is largely dependent on experience, time commitment and resources at hand. Additionally, rehabilitation of wildlife casualties requires a licence in Ireland. For those who can’t tick these boxes, it’s usually in the animal’s best interest to transfer it to a trained individual or organisation as soon as possible. The Irish Wildlife Matters website contains a list of Ireland’s wildlife-friendly vets and rehabilitators who are happy to advise on safe transportation and take in casualties.

However, having a university degree in a wildlife-related discipline isn’t essential for those who wish to become wildlife rehabilitators. So how can people get involved?

“People who want to get involved have natural empathy for animals anyway. But obviously, the best thing to do is come to a day like today so you can pick up advice and make contact with people who are going to help you,” Kidner tells me. “You’re going to start by deciding what your ethics are going to be. You have to decide whether you believe in euthanasia or not because that is the hardest question you are going to have. And you have to decide how you are going to do it because it can cost a lot of money.”

For those who do want to become a rehabilitator, WRI runs two-day Basic Wildlife Rehabilitation courses throughout the year, explains WRI chairperson Heidi Bedell. Such courses, in addition to the organisations, vets and other trained rehabilitators who donate their time for free, currently form the backbone of wildlife rehabilitation in Ireland.

“In Ireland, we don’t have any location that anyone can bring or send wildlife to for something more serious like surgery or rehabilitation,” Bedell tells me.

This is all set to change. WRI are planning the establishment of a large National Wildlife Rehabilitation and Teaching Hospital. Based at a site in Fingal due to be donated by Fingal County Council following the completion of a feasibility study, it will contain enclosures and pools for animals, a conference space, an educational visitor centre and accommodation for volunteers.

“It will also be a very valuable asset for universities,” explains Bedell. “We would hope to have students coming from universities who are studying some aspect of wildlife rehabilitation or veterinary practice. This could be a place where they can live and have stations where they can study and record wildlife.”

WRI will be seeking various sources of funding for the hospital going forward.

Speaking after the conference, Director of WRI Aideen Magee tells me that such an event is important for spreading the word about wildlife rehabilitation.

“We have everyone at it, from members of the public right up to people who do this as a profession,” says Magee, also a wildlife rehabilitator with Kildare Animal Foundation’s wildlife unit. “The more people we have in the community who are aware of wildlife rehabilitation, what it is and how to get involved, the more animals we can help.”

Attendees at the conference all have their own backgrounds and unique motivations. Kildare Superintendent Martin Walker and his colleague and Wildlife Liaison Officer Garda Sharon McGinty came as they’re often called upon to assist with injured wildlife.

“Deer mortality is a problem, particularly at this time of year because you have the rut on,” says Walker. “Motorists should exercise care, courtesy and common sense.”

Walker also has much experience in tackling wildlife crime. In December, An Garda Síochána will run a training course to equip specially-appointed inspectors from each division with tools to recognise and deal with wildlife crime. These inspectors will work alongside the NPWS.

It’s obvious that becoming a wildlife rehabilitator requires much time and commitment. Yet, final speaker of the day Mary Reynolds gives a simple message that everyone can take on board: look after the land that supports us and our wildlife.

“Rewild and remagic your garden,” says the award-winning gardener and author. “Allow it to become what it wants to become.”

Bedell hopes the key take-home message from the conference is one of kindness.

“Do we want to live in a world where it’s quite ok to see other creatures suffering? I don’t want to live in that kind of world, I don’t want my children to be brought up in that world,” she tells me. “I would like to promote that idea that it’s good to make that effort. Do stop, do get out, do help that animal that’s injured. It’s kind and that’s the world that we want to go into.”

TAKING ACTION

Director of WRI and wildlife rehabilitator with Kildare Animal Foundation’s wildlife unit Aideen Magee has a wealth of experience in dealing with wildlife casualties, from rescuing injured otters to nursing baby birds in her box room at home. For members of the public, who might be uncertain what to do if they find an injured or ill animal, she recommends taking the following steps.

“The very first thing is to ensure your own personal safety because if you end up becoming a casualty yourself, you’re no good to yourself or the animal either. Look at the context that you find the animal in. If it’s on the side of a motorway, always make sure it’s safe to stop and intervene,” she says.

“The next thing to do is to observe the animal for a while and see does it actually need intervention or not,” she continues, adding that sometimes seemingly abnormal behaviour is completely natural. “Particularly if they are in an area in which they are more habituated to people, they might not have the fight or flight response.”

If in any doubt whatsoever, she advises visiting the Irish Wildlife Matters website, finding your nearest wildlife-friendly vet or rehabilitator and contacting them for advice. When it’s something straightforward, they could guide you through how to safely handle that animal and transport it to the nearest expert. Otherwise, they might send out an experienced volunteer to assess and assist with the situation.

“If you’re a member of the public and haven’t handled these animals before, never try to do so on your own without getting expert guidance first,” says Magee. “If you don’t have somebody near you on that list, just look up your local vet. They may have contact numbers of somebody else who can offer guidance and assistance.”

(First published in the Sunday Business Post on November 4 2018. Available online at: https://www.businesspost.ie/magazine/irelands-wildlife-warriors-429332)

Curlew task force is on a mission to restore threatened wader bird – Irish Examiner, November 1 2018

The evocative cry of the curlew is a memory of summers past for many in rural Ireland.

Unfortunately, Ireland’s breeding curlew population has plummeted by 96% since the 1980s, so this memory isn’t shared by younger generations.

Loss and fragmentation of its habitats are the main reason why this ground-nesting bird is now on the IUCN red list of threatened species.

These reasons were in turn driven by factors such as drainage and restriction of bogland, agricultural intensification, unmanaged upland burning, land abandonment and afforestation.

Such habitat changes increased vulnerability to predation, further diminishing numbers. Fewer than 150 breeding curlew pairs remain.

That may surprise those who have seen curlew flocks in recent months. However, these are likely to be migrants arriving from Scotland and Scandanavia, from July until the spring. Breeding pairs, on the other hand, can be spotted in April, May and June and are identified by their distinctive bubbling call and circular display flight.

Surveys by BirdWatch Ireland and the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) in 2011 and 2015/2016, plus many calls for action, underpinned the decision by Minister Heather Humphreys to establish a curlew task force in 2017. This task force brings together stakeholders to make decisions aimed at saving the curlew. Established separately but running in parallel is the NPWS Curlew Conservation Programme, focused on monitoring and improving habitats in seven key sites for breeding curlew.

This year’s cold winter and summer drought were particularly difficult for curlews.

 

In monitored sites, 19 chicks were confirmed to have fledged in 45 territories, in 2018. While this may appear low, Barry O’Donoghue, who manages the Curlew Conservation Programme, says it’s “within the range for maintaining a stable population” and an improvement on the first year’s results.

“Compared to projects in the UK with similar numbers of territories, they had zero chicks produced, so we are hopeful that we have begun to see a turnaround in fortunes for the curlew,” he says.

“It won’t be easy, but we have made a good start and in some areas we have actually seen an increase in breeding numbers.”

Independent curlew task force chair Alan Lauder also notes an improvement on previous years, saying we should monitor what is happening at the most successful sites and learn from them.

He says, as monitored sites don’t contain the whole population of breeding curlew in Ireland, there were potentially more chicks elsewhere.

Senior conservation officer with BirdWatch Ireland Anita Donaghy says the results are “mildly encouraging” but echoes the sentiment that we have a long way to go.

“Farmers are the number one land managers when it comes to curlew in Ireland,” says O’Donoghue.

Indeed, farmers have been heavily involved in curlew conservation, in the many agri-environment schemes and in task force discussions.

For example, farmers with curlew in their area were prioritised for entry into GLAS, and the opportunity to get €5,000 annually for avoiding damaging activities and promoting suitable habitat.

The Curlew Conservation Programme has established curlew action teams, with advisers, curlew champions, and nest protection officers, in each monitored area.

Comprising people from various backgrounds, these teams work with the community and landowners to monitor sites and improve habitats.

Co-operation Across Borders for Biodiversity (CABB) was launched in December to improve breeding habitats for curlew and other species.

Supported by the EU, the €4.9m project aims to restore 2,228 hectares of blanket bog in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

“As part of this, BirdWatch Ireland is implementing a small number of management agreements directly with farmers who have breeding waders, including curlew, on their lands,” says Donaghy.

“We provide advice, pay them for basic habitat measures and have the facility to pay for capital works programmes.”

June 2018 saw the completion of the Results Based Agri-environment Pilot Scheme (RBAPS) in Leitrim and the Shannon Callows. Predominantly funded by the EU, it rewarded participating farmers for biodiversity measures on their land.

Looking ahead, a three-year Irish curlew breeding European Innovation Partnership trial (EIP) will soon commence in southern Lough Corrib and south Leitrim.

Overseen by BirdWatch Ireland, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA), Irish Grey Partridge Trust,and Teagasc, it will focus on training and assisting farmers in predator control, says INHFA vice president and EIP operational group member Henry O’Donnell, a cattle and sheep farmer in Co Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula.

“This is going to be a source of income for farmers and will supplement their conventional agriculture.”

Longer-term schemes would be extremely beneficial going forward, says Lauder.

“Curlew have large territories and often move big distances between farms,” he says. “It would be encouraging to have a scheme promoting a level of integration between neighbouring farmers.”

Agri-environment schemes are praised by O’Donnell, but he hopes other factors don’t override their success.

One of his concerns is the push for agricultural intensification, which he says is driven by Teagasc’s farm advisory services, Harvest 2020, and “other objectives not in keeping with sustainable agriculture”.

“Farmers should be advised that if you kept less animals in a less intensive situation, it would be better for conservation, better for your bank account and more sustainable for the environment.”

“The basis for environmental schemes and protection of endangered birds is to provide a suitable habitat and try to increase their numbers.

“That ignores the reality of things like predators, and the fact that blanket afforestation with conifers has provided an ideal habitat for predators.

“That is as much an issue in the decline of the bird species that we are concerned with as is producing a suitable environment for them.”

For Donaghy, agri-environment schemes like GLAS need to employ ecologists giving specialist advice to farmers, something she says proved very beneficial in RBAPS.

“That’s really going to improve results on the ground in terms of better habitats and better nesting conditions.”

While glad to see the curlew issue addressed by the Government, she’s equally “dismayed” that calls for action were responded to so late, saying that the curlew’s situation would be better if action had been taken “even five years ago”.

However, Donaghy is “cautiously hopeful” that efforts from all sectors can improve the bird’s prospects, and says, we “must not give up”.

Working with Nature

The Curlew Conservation Programme focuses on seven key areas for breeding curlew: Lough Ree, Lough Corrib, Stacks Mountains, north Roscommon, Leitrim, Monaghan and Donegal. Pat Devaney, who farms along the shores of Lough Ree in Roscommon, is one of the many participants. Through his involvement, he worked alongside NPWS ecologists to carry out habitat improvement measures on his land; these including clearing shrub to create open habitat for breeding curlew and erecting a predator-proof fence.

“I have been aware for some time of how sensitive the area where I farm is to the wading birdlife such as the curlew, geese and lapwing,” says Devaney, who farms suckler cows, sheep and ponies on his farm based in the townlands of Cloonmore, Clooneskert and Rinanny. “It’s an SAC area and I participate in GLAS which is a great scheme. When approached by the NPWS to restore the area to its former glory and the natural habitat for these birds, local farmers and the NPWS have cooperated very well, each realising the important role we both have in ensuring that farming and wildlife can co-exist in harmony. I was delighted to take part.”

(First published in the Irish Examiner on November 1 2018. Available online at: https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/farming/curlew-task-force-is-on-a-mission-to-restore-threatened-wader-bird-882531.html)

Food waste and circular economies – The Ecologist, October 11 2018

The idea that one man’s trash is another’s treasure has been thrown around for decades, but could taking it literally help to tackle food waste?

Approximately 88 million tonnes of food are wasted in the EU annually and the consequences seep far beyond homes, businesses and landfill sites.

Along with associated economic losses, and the ethical matter of disposing food in a world where eleven percent of the population are undernourished, wasting food amounts to a huge squandering of natural resources.

Through committing to UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, the EU endeavours to halve food waste at consumer and retail level by 2030 and reduce food losses along production and supply chains. The establishment of the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste bolstered this goal, but novel approaches are needed to support a growing population .

Avoidable waste

This circular economy model aims to reduce waste streams by reusing waste as a resource elsewhere.

The EU aims to transition towards this in many areas and in their Action Plan for the Circular Economy, it’s potential for food waste mitigation is recognised.

The circular economy model can apply to food waste but it’s not a one-size fits all solution. Determining the type of food waste involved is key to deciding the most appropriate way to deal with it according to Eoin White, a Research Development Specialist with AgroCycle – a Horizon 2020 funded project addressing agri-food waste.

White explained: “Residue is used to define unavoidable waste, such as fruit skins. They’re a natural part of producing food. The other is wasted food and that’s very much leftovers; things that should and can be eaten but due to consumer behaviour, poor storage and management practices, end up becoming waste.”

While unavoidable food waste can have high value secondary uses, the focus for tackling avoidable waste should first be on prevention: “If the goal is just to utilise this wasted food elsewhere, there’s no incentive to reduce it.”

Loop logic

Hilke Bos-Brouwers, senior Scientist Sustainable Food Chains at Wageningen University and Research, said: “Once this distinction is made, it’s important to seek out the best possible new destination for a waste stream.”

Bos-Brouwers, a scientific coordinator for the FUSIONS (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising waste prevention Strategies) and REFRESH projects, said: “With unavoidable food waste, we must valorise it with the highest value possible. You can interpret value on many levels but it basically involves keeping it as close to food as you can.”

If not fit for human consumption, high value applications could include animal feed, biomaterials, and ingredients. While recognising the potential to convert food waste to bioenergy and compost, Bos-Brouwers says it shouldn’t be the first resort.

Prioritising high value applications forms the basis of the cascading principle ̶ an idea that prioritises material uses for biomass before energy uses to prevent raw materials being lost.

White explained: “You could take potato peel, burn it and get a little bit of energy. Technically that’s recycling. But there’s a lot of value in that potato peel. You should try to take as much as you can from it and when everything is taken out, then you can burn or compost it.”

Integrated approach

The circular economy model aims to mitigate waste by creating closed loop systems, but how wide that loop is drawn varies. Internal loops may be preferable as they can ensure resources are conserved with given product lifecycles.

Food waste occurs at production, retail and consumer levels and the circular economy approach can be integrated at all stages.

For example, AgroCycle is partnered with Fraunhofer in Germany, IPCF-CNR Institute in Italy, and Demeter in Greece to help develop innovative products such as straws and cups using potato pulp and rice bran fibres from the agri-food industry, notes White.

Bos-Brouwers noted that innovations also happen where supply chain partners meet up. Her Wageningen UR team provided the example of a retail franchiser and a catering expert who recognised the potential to work together and were supported with knowledge on supply chains, logistics, legislative issues and business models. They founded a company that repurposes retail and food processors surplus into marketable products. Based in the Netherlands, this successful initiative is now known as De Verspillingsfabriek.

Households generate over half of the EU’s food waste and while its inconsistent nature make it difficult to find high value applications, apps such as OLIO allow consumers to share their unwanted food.

Instilling confidence

The recently revised EU Waste Framework Directive now includes a definition for food waste but a level of ambiguity still remains.

Bos-Brouwers said: “In the definition, when something becomes waste, it’s with the intention or the action to discard. Yet, if some entrepreneurs want to collaborate using the sideflow of one company as a resource of the other, they could run into permit problems trying to transport the sideflow as they’re not a waste management company.”

Instilling trust in new approaches to food waste can also be challenging. White added: “I don’t think you get the multiplier effect if it’s only enforced. It’s important to find the right nudges or confidence levels with the [large groups involved] to get them on board.”

“The research community plays a vital role, not by making this more complex, but by investigating what can be done with a fresh look.”

Introducing standards for material passports would help to instil trust within producers and consumers, who may be uncertain how a material created from biomaterials compares to its traditional counterpart.

Shared responsibility

While finding new destinations for unavoidable food waste is celebrated, food waste prevention when possible is preferable.

A study conducted by Oldfield and colleagues at University College Dublin found that food waste minimisation results in the greatest reduction of global warming, acidification and eutrophication potential when compared with other food waste management approaches.

Lisa Ruetgers, who is currently doing a PhD in food waste and market solutions in Coventry University argued that “everybody is responsible food waste reduction.”

Checking the fridge before shopping, sharing or freezing leftovers and purchasing imperfect produce can help at consumer level, while retailers can offer imperfect items, avoid overstocking shelves and inform consumers of best storage practices. Legislation is also very important.

Ruetgers added: “All approaches are needed and need to be aligned, ideally top-down as well as bottom-up. I don’t think you can blame just one part or solve the problem by just one approach.”

(First published by theeoclogist.org on October 11 2018. Available online at: https://theecologist.org/2018/oct/11/food-waste-and-circular-economies)

Luggage in limbo – Zafigo.com, October 9 2018

You’ve spent days painstakingly washing clothes, folding everything neatly into your suitcase, and cramming in the essentials, only to arrive at your destination without your luggage in tow. Lost luggage is probably every traveller’s worst nightmare. However, as frustrating as it is to be the last person staring longingly at the luggage carousel, it’s important to not let the upset cloud your thinking. Knowing your passenger rights and responsibilities is key to resolving such a dilemma.

Make it known

Once you’re certain that your luggage is in limbo, the first thing to do is let your airline know at their information desk. You’ll be required to fill out a Property Irregularity Report (PIR), which must be filed before you leave the airport. This will commence the search for your luggage, and as you’ll be assigned a reference number, you can likely follow the report’s progress online.

Make sure to get a copy of the report as well, as this is usually required if you choose to file for compensation. If you’re reading this and have already left the airport without filling out a PIR, don’t despair! Contact the airport and airline as soon as possible to report the problem; but be sure to get written confirmation from them that you’ve done so.

Claim expenses

Under the international Montreal Convention, every passenger is eligible for compensation when a bag is lost, delayed, or damaged, regardless of whether or not they have travel insurance. What an airline will compensate for is usually limited to the cost of bare essentials (such as clothes, underwear, and toiletries) if your bag is delayed, repair costs if your luggage is damaged, and part of the cost of replacing belongings if your bag is declared officially lost after 21 days. How much you’ll receive depends on a number of factors.

When it comes to replacing delayed items, what is considered ‘essential’ is dependent on the airline’s policy, so get clued up on this (note: it’s probably not a new Chanel handbag). While some airlines will give you cash up front, others will ask you to make your purchases to be reimbursed later on. In the case of the latter, check the airline’s individual spending limit and keep receipts for all purchases.

Bad news for those who hate paperwork. The PIR is only intended to help you to trace your bag; a separate form must be filed in order to make a claim. If your bag is declared officially lost after 21 days, file a claim as soon as possible. However, if your bag is missing and later returned, you must write the claim within 21 days of receiving it. In the event your bag did arrive but is damaged, you must file a claim within seven days. A boarding card, receipts, luggage labels, your PIR form, a description of what happened, and photos of any damage will help you to make a claim.

Step it up

It’s impossible to predict how your airline will respond to your complaint or claim. If you’re not satisfied with their response, you are entitled to submit a complaint to your destination country’s aviation commission or airport authority. For instance, if you lost your luggage in Malaysia, you may make a complaint to the Malaysian Aviation Commission (MAVCOM) who will look into the matter further.

Damage control

Losing one’s luggage is never a part of a holiday itinerary. As it’s bound to happen sometimes, preparing for such a scenario can soften the blow if you’re unlucky enough to be affected. First, pack all medication and valuables in your hand luggage. A spare outfit is also a good addition if you’re parted from your travel wardrobe for some time. Take a photo of what’s inside your check-in luggage so that if your bag does go missing, you can check and prove whether its original contents are in it upon its return. If you have travel insurance, check your rights. Some policies will allow you to make a claim, and this may result in a better settlement than one you’d receive from the airline.

Enjoy your trip

While it may not be law, every traveller has the right to enjoy their holiday! Try not to let your luggage dilemma take over your trip. Carry out the necessary steps and then park the problem until you hear more. The situation may be out of your hands, but whether you choose to spend your trip moping around or making memories is completely down to you.

(First published on Zafigo.com on October 9 2018. Also available online at: http://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/luggage-limbo-lost-delayed-damaged/ )

A thrifty guide to visiting Dublin – Zafigo.com, September 12 2018

It’s no secret that a visit to Dublin can make a dent in your bank balance. Ireland’s capital was recently named by Mercer as the most expensive city in the Eurozone in terms of cost of living for expatriates. A separate report by ECA International lists Dublin as the 72nd most expensive city worldwide, beating the likes of Abu Dhabi and London. Yet, this shouldn’t put you off visiting the fun-filled and friendly city. With a bit of planning and some tips from a thrifty Dubliner, an affordable trip can most certainly be achieved.

Accommodation

Be it a hotel or a long-term rental, accommodation in Dublin is notoriously expensive. Hotel room rates are at a record high, with the latest average rate of a standard room at €136.96 (approximately USD159) per night. If you’re visiting Dublin with friends, your best bet is to share the cost of an Airbnb in or near the city centre.

If you aren’t fussed about staying in the city centre, considering planting your roots on the outskirts. Dublin is a small county, so provided you stay somewhere along the bus, Luas (light rail), or DART (train) lines, it’ll be pretty easy to get into the city. Howth and Dun Laoghaire are two beautiful seaside towns within close proximity to Dublin that I recommend. Of course, no matter where you choose to stay, it’s always worth hunting out hotel deals on sites such as Living Social and Groupon. Those willing to give couch-surfing a go will also save themselves some cash.

Long-term visitors will likely struggle to find a cheap pad, owing to a lack of accommodation available to meet the demand. The average monthly rent for a single room in the city is €643 (approximately USD746), and even at that price, rooms are often miniscule and in poor condition. The nightmare that is the search for rentals in Dublin is well-documented, and the best tip I can offer is to start early, long before the college year begins in September.

Keep an eye on university noticeboards and online pages for room shares or consider renting a room in a family home (known as digs) to cut on costs. If commuting is an option, staying in the suburbs or in neighbouring counties such as Wicklow or Meath may save you some stress as well as cash.

Food

The cost of dining out in Dublin varies depending on where and when you choose to grab a bite. Lunchtime offers are aplenty and you’re sure to stumble across them if you simply follow the students. Lolly and Cooks, KC Peaches, Chopped, Boojum Burrito Bars, and any supermarket deli counter are good choices for quality and affordable sandwiches, salads, and wraps. You also can’t beat a good cheese toastie in Peter’s Pub.

Govindas offers massive vegetarian plates for €6.95 (approximately USD8), while Yum Thai Noodle Bar and the Mongolian BBQ do cheap and extremely filling stir fry and noodle dishes for between €6.95 and €10 (approximately USD8-11.60). Luncheonette offers variety at a low cost, with a new menu of healthy dishes under €4 (approximately USD4.60) every few days, while the adorable and affordable Italian café Dolce Sicily is one of my new favourite spots to meet a friend for a hearty bowl of soup, pasta, or Italian pastries.

For dinner, avoid the sky-high prices of touristic centre Temple Bar and check out somewhere around the Dublin 2 area. Some personal favourite choices are grabbing a mouth-watering mezze platter to share at Jerusalem, anything on offer at Café Bliss (which has the added bonus of being BYOB), the €12 (approximately USD14) pizza and a pint on board the Big Blue Bus behind Bernard Shaw (weekdays 5-7pm), and the €5 (approximately USD6) Monday paella deal at Havana.

On weekends, I also love going to the farmer’s market at the seaside town of Dun Laoghaire for some cheap local grub. Try the falafel, it won’t disappoint! Of course, there are always discounts on offer across the city, so keep an eye on the aforementioned deal sites. Another way to save on dining out is to eat a bit earlier; many restaurants in the city offer great early bird deals.

If you’re here for a longer stay, you’re unlikely to be dining out every night. Lidl, Aldi, and Tesco are the best places to do a weekly shop and offer deals on fruit, vegetables, and meat. Though a bit pricier than the supermarkets, farmer’s markets such as those in Temple Bar, Howth, and Dun Laoghaire offer delicious baked goods and organic produce.

Nightlife

Dublin has become awash with trendy cocktail bars, but unfortunately, behind every delectable drink usually lies a €12 (approximately USD14) price tag. If you’re trying to cut costs, pass these places by, along with tourist hotspot Temple Bar which is renowned for its rip-off prices. Diceys, O’Reillys, and The Living Room are known to be student magnets, predominantly because of their affordable drinks and regular deals.

If you prefer a more relaxed environment, try somewhere like The Porterhouse on the weekdays, or hunt out offers in any of the cosy and unassuming pubs in the city’s side streets. When cocktails are on the cards, Capitol Lounge offers them from €5 (approximately USD6), while Sinnotts, 777, and Pygmalion offer two-for-one deals on certain days of the week.

Should you be lucky enough to catch a rare balmy evening in Dublin, head straight to the Pavilion (aka The Pav) at Trinity College. During the summer, this green area welcomes swarms of students, locals, and tourists alike, who can bring their own food and drinks to enjoy on the grass.

Concerts are expensive in Dublin, but many of the pubs offer live music several nights a week for little to nothing. The Bleeding Horse Pub and Whelans are two great choices. Alternatively, wander along Grafton Street for some free entertainment from one of the many buskers and street artists.

If you’re in need of a warm beverage in a chilled environment, head to Accents. This cosy late night café has plenty of comfortable seating, perfect for snuggling up on with a mug of hot chocolate and a brownie.

Activities

In the summertime, most of Dublin’s best activities are free of charge. The city is home to several parks, including Stephen’s Green, Iveagh Gardens, and Europe’s largest urban park, Phoenix Park. All are perfect picnic spots while at the latter, you may even get a chance to watch a polo game or meet some of the park’s wild deer.

Just a short DART journey from the city centre is Dun Laoghaire, where you can enjoy relaxing evening walks along the pier at any time of the year. Buying an ice cream cone from famous shop Teddy’s is an absolute must there. North of the city, the cliff walk in Howth is also a wonderful way to spend some time in nature, as are the tranquil National Botanic Gardens.

While not within Dublin, the scenic neighbouring county of Wicklow is also worth a trip if you have time. Spots within it such as Glendalough and the quaint village of Avoca are stunning throughout all four seasons.

Indeed, Ireland is not renowned for having a tropical climate (or anything remotely close), so outdoor activities may be out of the question. Not to worry. The city homes plenty of free museums worthy of visiting, including the Natural History Museum (known as the ‘dead zoo’), the National Museum of Ireland, the National Gallery, the Science Museum, Chester Beatty Library, the Hugh Lane Gallery, parts of Dublin Castle, and much more.

A walk around the grounds of Trinity College is also worth ticking off the list and is completely free. However, if you wish to view the Old Library and Book of Kells as many tourists do, it’ll set you back €11 (approximately USD12.80).

History buffs may wish to check out Kilmainham Gaol Museum, where many of Ireland’s revolutionary leaders were imprisoned and in some cases executed. A tour will provide a good overview of the country’s history and costs just €8 (approximately USD9.30) including museum entry.

From pay-what-you-can yoga classes to free talks and lectures to kilo sales, there’s always something happening in Dublin. Websites such as Eventbrite, Meetup, and Ticketmaster can help you find some of the more unusual events.

Transport

Dublin’s city centre is small and walkable, so if you want to save on transport, slip on those trainers and get moving. Cycling is the next best option. Dublin Bikes is a city-wide bike rental service that allows you pick up and drop off your set of wheels at various stations for just a few Euro.

Dublin Bus, the DART Service, and the Luas are the three modes of public transport in Dublin, with lines extending beyond the city centre and into the suburbs and even Wicklow. If you choose to avail of this, purchase a Leap Card in order to get discounted prices and avoid the hassle of fumbling for change for a bus. Unfortunately, Grab and Uber don’t exist in Ireland, but taxis are plentiful. They can be extremely expensive, however, so probably best avoided unless all other options are exhausted.

(First published on Zafigo.com on September 12 2018. Available online at: http://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/thrifty-guide-dublin-ireland/)

Ireland’s battle to save our wildlife – Irish Examiner, September 3 2018

Amy Lewis highlights the measures taken in tackling crimes against Ireland’s wildlife and the need for more action.

Protecting the voiceless victims of wildlife crime is a constant battle.

The ongoing persecution of wildlife overseas is often highlighted but such incidences aren’t as far away from home as one might imagine. In fact, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Gardaí face them each week.

In July, two men were charged before Portlaoise District Court for the trapping of protected wild goldfinches using bait and rat glue.

Meanwhile, an investigation is underway in Louth regarding the unlawful killing of two peregrine falcons nesting in the Cooley Mountains.

However, these and other known cases are only the tip of the iceberg.

“Many cases go undiscovered because by their nature, they’re suspicious and secretive activities,” says Dr Barry O’ Donoghue from the NPWS Agri-Ecology Unit.

The stakes are being raised to combat wildlife criminals and their increasingly sophisticated methods.

An Garda Síochána recently announced plans for a wildlife crime training course. Commencing in September, it will equip specially-appointed inspectors from each Garda division with tools to recognise and deal with wildlife crime.

Each inspector will work closely with their opposite number in the NPWS.

“Information is key. We want to show [inspectors] what the main offences are and demonstrate how to deal with them and prosecute them in the District Court,” says Kildare Superintendent Martin Walker, who previously led the Garda’s anti-poaching investigation Operation Bambi alongside the NPWS.

Although the Wildlife Act is the principal legislation regarding wildlife crime, Supt Walker says prosecution powers within it are limited.

Through training, he hopes to encourage Gardaí to ‘think laterally’ about other legislation that relates to these cases.

A surreptitious nature is a common denominator among wildlife crimes but offences take many forms.

According to Supt Walker, the illegal hunting of deer at night using lamps or lurchers is common.

Indeed, the Irish Deer Commission recently reported a significant increase in deer poaching and badger baiting in the Midlands.

“That’s particularly cruel. These animals release stress hormones and the meat isn’t even fit for human consumption. It’s just an absolute bloodlust,” says Supt Walker.

Catching finches is widespread, as is hare poaching with hounds.

“People are hunting hares across farmer’s land. They’ve no authority to be there, farmers are afraid and sometimes their livestock is getting injured,” says Supt Walker, who says that poachers often use hunts as intelligence-gathering operations for farm theft.

Birds of prey are also regular targets. The RAPTOR (Recording and Addressing Persecution and Threats to Our Raptors) protocol is a collaborative approach between the NPWS, Regional Veterinary Laboratories and the State Laboratory to determine non-habitat related threats to birds of prey.

“We needed a mechanism of investigating and recording incidents, as well as using that data to inform and provide intelligence for addressing these issues,” says O’ Donoghue, who is a Project Investigator for RAPTOR.

The sixth and most recently published report showed that in 2016, there were 19 poisonings, six shootings and one incident involving a vehicle collision.

Common buzzards, red kites and peregrine falcons were the most highly-recorded victims.

Niall Hatch of Birdwatch Ireland notes that peregrines are common targets.

While he says some crimes have been at the hand of pigeon-fanciers, he stresses that most people involved in this hobby wouldn’t harm peregrines in any way.

Project Manager of the White-tailed Sea Eagle Reintroduction Project Dr Allan Mee adds that peregrine chicks are sometimes taken from the wild by those without a licence.

“Buzzards are [also] being targeted because some see them as a threat to pheasants being released. Buzzards aren’t well-regarded by some gun clubs in parts of the country,” continues Mee, stressing that generally, his team have a good relationship with gun clubs.

“Buzzards were almost extinct in Ireland but now have spread across the country. There’s no earthly reason for anyone to persecute them,” adds Hatch.

People are sometimes worried that they’re a threat to lambs but they couldn’t kill a lamb in a million years. They’re nothing but a benefit to a farm as they kill rats and rabbits.

The RAPTOR report notes that some poisoning incidents, particularly those involving buzzards, red kites and barn owls are the result of bio-accumulation i.e. birds ingesting rodents that have been poisoned with rodenticides.

These cases are considered secondary and unintentional.

Through spreading awareness, Mee has seen that this can be mitigated.

Of 14 confirmed poisoning cases of white-tailed sea eagles, since their reintroduction from Norway commenced in 2007, Mee says not one has taken place since 2015.

He credits this to awareness, education and working with landowners.

“In the past when they were poisoned, it was largely because people weren’t aware that the birds were out there or of a change in their population.”

Some other poisoning incidents are more sinister, such the illegal placing of poisoned meat baits.

According to O’ Donoghue, some have been laced with enough poison to kill a human if touched and accidentally ingested.

To tackle these crimes, it’s universally agreed that more education and public awareness is key.

“We must engage with local communities so that they have someone they know and trust they can report something to,” says O’ Donoghue.

The 2013 and 2015 Wildlife Crime Conferences organised by Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland have helped to spread awareness.

The organisation, who run the information website Wildlifecrime.ie, will hold a public Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference in Slane this October which includes talks on wildlife crime.

Additionally, Hatch says that more resources could help.

“The NPWS needs to be much better resourced. They’re doing great work but are struggling because they don’t have the resources they need and deserve.”

Supt Walker hopes that with the upcoming training, potential plans for a wildlife crime recording system and liaising with various stakeholders, wildlife crime nationwide will be minimised.

This can be aided with the cooperation of the public.

If aware of a suspected wildlife crime, they should report it to the Gardaí and local NPWS ranger.

Supt Walker stresses that anyone who reports will have their anonymity fully respected.

(First published by the Irish Examiner on September 3 2018. Available online at: https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/lifestyle/features/irelands-battle-to-save-our-wildlife-866228.html)