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A string of good news

September 25, 2012

1. Dr Suyanee Vessabutr has been appointed the new Director of the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden. With her and Dr Watthana (head of research) and Dr Piyakaset (head of the garden) I am sure this new young generation will take the QSBG to new heights. Being only some 20 years old, it is catching up with century-old European gardens at a tremendous speed! A new project is a wild plants trail.

2. I just posted an important observation by Anita in Chiang Mai regarding ladybirds. She said she found ladybird pupae among grass, which confirms my suspicion that one reason you do not see them often in Thai farms is the mowing (fire, pesticides and herbicides will of course kill them too). Grazing or hand tools are more gentle if applicable to a small garden. Any management is correct if the gardener likes it, herbicides too, but this piece of information will help those gardeners who aim at high biodiversity and a natural pest control.

3. The Irish orchid journal Pollinia has published an article about the Orchid Ark in the October issue.

4. On Sunday we listened to Darcy Duggan and his experience from environmental work in Australia. He also made some references to what he had seen in Thailand and China, and he remarked he was  shocked by the immense soil erosion along the Mekong and the Chinese roads (the hills are clearcut and keeping a road on sand without trees leads to incredible soil erosion). He also said that the many concrete canals contribute to the flash flooding, while forested hills and inter-urban wetlands slow down the accumulation of water in ‘bowls’ like Ayuttaya.

Similar mistakes were made in Australia 40 years ago. Although we may be surprised that someone makes the same mistakes again, I think one can consider a developing nation to be like a young person; although adviced what not to do, confidence and lack of personal experience makes you not believe the old-timers until you see the problems with your own eyes. It is ancient knowledge, and the duty of an old-timer is simply to keep limiting the damage.

Darcy went on describing mass extinction of indigenous Australian mammals and plants, and how the Australian society developed from destruction to care, although too late for many gorgeous orchids and innocent mammals. The same is going on in Thailand, where all vultures and Javan rhinoceros are extinct already, and many more species are confined to tiny pockets where they may die out of inbreeding, hunting or fire.

Darcy also explained that cats are serious threats to Australian wildlife. I discussed this with a group of visitors afterwards, and they urged me to remind people that cats are killing hundreds of millions of wildlife everywhere, in Thailand too. The American Bird Conservancy gives good advice about how to cope with the cat problem.

It is not so much the stench of cat pee on the kitchen floor, ripped orchid shade cloths and chewed up shoes that troubles a gardener, but the disappearance of the garden’s treasured wildlife and the powerless feeling when neighbours invade your sacred garden to shape it their way.

A complicating factor in Thailand is that many people simply dump kitchen garbage in barren land, creating a rodent infestation. People get cats to cope with the rats, instead of arranging for garbage pick-up. The small village administrations are often too corrupt to care about investing in garbage handling, but with the steady growth of an educated Thai middle class villagers will expect more than a few hundred Baht in cash from their elected representatives.

Neighbourhoods can shortcut this transformation by decades by taking private initiatives and create a healthy environment for their families. Garbage removal and absence of fires and herbicides are some reasons why gated communities are so popular among westerners in Thailand. We should try to expand the green islands like rings on water to benefit everyone in Thailand.

An interesting observation: the female black-backed mud wasp (Delta companiforme gracilior) whose mud nests are often found on furniture, walls and garden sculptures may have many separate clay houses simultaneously. This one has a nest near my breakfast table, but at night when I expected her to guard her young, she was gone. I thought maybe a bee-eater took her, but two days later I saw her again shaping her urn-like kindergarten. Mud wasps are predatory and so contribute to the pest control, but I do clean away their nests if found in awkward places. I have never been stung by one.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt Owens Rees permalink
    September 25, 2012 12:36 PM

    Near my home the locals have set up a communal compost heap which is looked after by a volunteer appointed by the pooyaibaan. Some districts are getting quite proactive and moving away from the corrupt image you describe. Let’s hope it gathers momentum.

  2. September 25, 2012 3:58 PM

    Fortunately vultures are not extinct yet in Thailand. The Griffon Vultures had been spotted last January at our place in Chiang Dao!

    • September 26, 2012 9:12 AM

      That is fantastic! Chiang Dao is an amazaing place for nature lovers and I foresee in the future it will be a hot spot of the same magnitude as Yosemite in California. We just need to eradicate the opium fields first.

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