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Thursday, 8 June, 2000, 17:48 GMT 18:48 UK
Green charcoal gives butterflies a lift
butterfly with wings spread
The pearl bordered fritillary has declined drastically since 1900
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Conservationists in the United Kingdom say home-produced charcoal can save tropical rainforests, and also help woodland species at home.

They are working with British retailers to sell the charcoal in do-it-yourself shops, supermarkets and on filling station forecourts.

The conservationists, the BioRegional Development Group (BDG), based near London, are re-introducing a traditional woodland management technique, known as coppicing.

They say the scheme works directly to halt the decline of some of the UK's most endangered butterflies.

BDG says much imported charcoal comes from wood from mangrove forests. In the case of Indonesia, more than half its charcoal is made from mangrove wood.

Food plants flourish

In the last half century the world's mangrove forests have shrunk by 40-50%, according to the World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

BioRegional local charcoal, by contrast, is made from wood harvested from coppiced woodlands, where new growth is regularly cut back to allow more light to reach the ground.

butterfly on plant
Species like the wood white butterfly will benefit
As a result, woodland flowers flourish and serve as food for species such as the pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly, as well as providing new habitats for birds like the nightingale.

The pearl-bordered fritillary, which lives mainly in coppices, has declined by 75% since 1900. Since 1985 its numbers have fallen by more than 50%.

BDG says coppiced woodlands in the UK have been reduced as a habitat by 95% over the last century, and under 10% of the UK's broadleaved woodlands are currently being coppiced.

Reducing emissions

Its target is to restore at least 25% of the country's neglected woodland to coppice management by 2005. It is working with Butterfly Conservation to achieve this, under the slogan: "Have a barbecue - and save wildlife!"

BDG says locally-produced charcoal has other benefits as well. It provides jobs in the rural economy, and it reduces carbon dioxide emissions drastically compared with imported charcoal, because it has to travel far shorter distances.

The scheme is supported by the Worldwide Fund for Nature. Its chief executive, Robert Napier, said BioRegional was "breaking new ground by offering a solution which meets our needs as consumers while at the same time increasing the wildlife value of our woodlands".

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