Conservation victory: Serengeti highway plans cancelled

Plans to build a paved, two-lane highway through the Serengeti National Park have been canceled.

The road, which was supposed to bring better access to Lake Victoria, will possibly be rerouted further south to avoid having an impact on the Serengeti’s rich wildlife.

There’s already a gravel road across the park, but paving it would have attracted much more traffic and probably fencing. The U.S. government expressed concern, as did UNESCO, after a study showed the project would affect the annual migration of millions of animals that’s one of the wonders of the natural world.

This is a rare victory of common sense over unbridled “development.” It’s also an example of how being eco-friendly can be good for the economy. Tourism generates a major part of Tanzania’s income, and there’s no way a road cutting through the nation’s most valuable natural resource wouldn’t have had a negative impact.

[Photo courtesy D. Gordon E. Robertson]

United Kingdom government does U-turn on forest sell-off

Back on January 27 we reported that the government of the United Kingdom was planning on selling all of England’s publicly owned forests. Well, the English love their heritage (at least those English outside the government) and there was a huge public outcry. Half a million people signed a petition in opposition to the plan. Now the Guardian reports the government has backed down.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman stood up before Parliament and apologized for her “wrong” decision. The forests will not be sold and new laws allowing them to be will be struck from the books. The previous law allowed for 15 percent of forests to be sold, and Ms. Spelman wasn’t clear what would happen to the forests recently put on the auction block. Apparently this isn’t a complete victory for sanity.

The sale would have affected all forests owned by the Forestry Commission in England but not the rest of the UK. The Commission owns 18 percent of all forests in England. Now the Environment Secretary will have to find another way to slash her department spending by a third, the goal she set for herself.

[Photo courtesy user tomhab via Wikimedia Commons]

Controversy over development near Victoria Falls

Environmentalists are complaining that the tour company Shearwater Adventures has violated national and international law by expanding their luxury resort into the rainforest near Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Shearwater has constructed a new restaurant, bar, kitchen, and information center next to the public entrance to the World Heritage Site. A lawyer for Shearwater insists the development is a legal replacement of earlier structures that had fallen into disrepair and that none of the new buildings go outside the area already reserved for facilities. Opponents to the construction contend that the buildings are on a much larger scale than the previous ones and are forbidden by a 2007 moratorium. This was put in place after UNESCO threaten to rescind Victoria Falls’ World Heritage status after a local businessman tried to build a hotel and golf course in the World Heritage zone.

Without being on the ground it’s hard to say if who’s telling the truth here. Last week The National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe ordered that no new construction take place. It is now running the site along with the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, which used to have sole authority. The government is currently trying to decide which body will run the Falls.

As this shakeup is going on, conservationists say Shearwater is planning a giant $6 million development next to the VIP entrance to the Falls. This will include a complex of buildings close enough to the Falls to threaten its World Heritage status. There’s also worry about the development’s location only a few yards from the Zambezi River.

[Photo courtesy user colmdc via Gadling’s flickr pool]

Solar-powered plane flies at night

An airplane that relies entirely on solar energy has flown for 24 hours straight, cruising along happily through the darkness and emerging into the dawn with three hours left in its batteries. Once the sun rose, of course, the batteries immediately began to recharge.

The Solar Impulse is the product of the same great minds that brought you the cuckoo clock–the Swiss! The entire wingspan is covered with 12,000 solar cells that power four electric engines. Average cruising speed is 70 km/hr (43.5 mph). You can see complete stats on the plane here.

The next step for the engineers is to make the next generation of the plane, one that will fly around the world by 2013. The Solar Impulse is not the first solar-powered airplane, only the first to complete a manned night flight. Scientists and engineers have been experimenting with solar-powered planes since the 1970s and manned flights since the 1980s. This new leap forward will add impetus to a field of study that has so far received little attention from the press.

While this technology is still in the experimental stage, the potential impact for the airline industry and the environment is obvious. Airline emissions pose a major environmental threat, and G8 leaders have called for a 50 percent reduction in airline emissions by 2050. That’s a tall order, but it looks like the Swiss have shown the way forward. Of course the Solar Impulse’s slow speed and small cockpit mean the age of solar-powered 747s is a long way off, think of it as the modern equivalent of the Wright Brothers plane. It was only a generation after Kitty Hawk that passengers started flying to international destinations.

Environmentalists protest BP art sponsorship

If you’re planning to see some art in the United Kingdom this summer, you might have to walk through a picket line.

Environmental groups are protesting BP’s sponsorship of exhibitions and galleries across the UK, saying the oil giant is trying to clean up its image despite being responsible for the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Protests have already taken place at the National Portrait Gallery in London, which receives large donations from BP. On Monday there will be protests at London’s Tate Britain as the museum hosts a special celebration of twenty years working with BP.

Other recipients of BP money read like a Who’s Who of prestigious museums, including the Tate Modern, Royal Opera House, and the British Museum, among others. With the disaster in the gulf showing no sign of abating, this summer is looking to be a hot one for some of the UK’s biggest museums.

Should museums be held accountable for the actions of their donors? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

Photos of oil-soaked pelicans courtesy International Bird Rescue research Center.