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Science
COSTING THE EARTH
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Thursday 21:00-21:30
Repeat Friday 15:00
Costing the Earth tells stories which touch all our lives, looking at man's effect on the environment and at how the environment reacts. It questions accepted truths, challenges the people in charge and reports on progress towards improving the world we live in.
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Listen to 21 December
PRESENTER
TOM HEAP
Tom Heap
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Thursday 21 December 2006
Miriam with Steve Hugman of SOS Lynx and Eduardo Goncalves of WWF

Portugal: Species Wipe Out

Portugal says that nearly half of its bird, mammal and fish species are in immediate threat of extinction. Everything from the Iberian lynx and the monk seal are endangered, as are hundreds of species we barely notice but which are vital to the eco-system.
Portugal is a microcosm of man’s impact on the planet – it’s been claimed that if every country were to consume energy in the way that it does, we would need three planets in order to survive.
Over-development, increasing forest fires, dams, hunting, timber-planting, abandonment of farmland, and the draining of wetlands are all cited as the reasons for the disastrous state of Portugal’s environment.
It’s all happened in the years of industrialisation and rural flight since Portugal joined the European Union and there was a rush for much needed development. Tourism became the country’s most important industry, and the Algarve quickly became the focus for investors and builders who raced to build holiday complexes and golf courses for the two million Britons and other tourists who now visit each year.
Portuguese environmental groups such as WWF and Quercus say that bad planning and misuse of European funding led to some disastrous decisions over where and how to build the roads and infrastructure that have improved Portugal’s economy and way of life but have damaged the ecosystem irreparably and forced hundreds of species to find alternative habitats. In some cases they have simply become extinct. There are now officially no lynx left in Portugal, and while a handful are being bred in captivity in next door Spain, conservationists fear they may never return to the wild in Portugal. Everything from the lynx to the tiniest insect plays an important role in preserving the country’s biodiversity, but what Miriam O’ Reilly sees on her visit to southern Portugal is described by Eduardo Goncalves of WWF as a ‘green desert’. He believes Portugal is on the brink of a major environmental disaster, and that it will take a massive effort to reverse just a small part of the damage.
The situation in Portugal serves as a stark warning to countries like Bulgaria and Romania, already being hailed as the next investment opportunities for developers, as they prepare to join the EU. But will they learn the lessons from Portugal’s mistakes?


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