Olympic rings superimposed over map of the world

2016 Olympic Games In Brazil; Keeper Of The Earth’s Natural Wonders

Help save the natural wonders of the world at the Brazil Olympics 2016

The Olympic Games being held this year in Brazil will open the gateway to millions of people who otherwise would not have thought of visiting this remarkable country. Four and a half million tickets are available for sale and hopefully a large percentage of these visitors will be able to experience the unique natural wonders this country has to offer. There are 206 nations competing in 306 events spread over 42 sports. The Olympics started around the 8th century BC at Olympia in Greece and took their present form in 1894 when the first International Olympic Committee was formed. They were cancelled in 1916, 1940 and 1944 due to the First and Second World Wars and have been subjected to many controversial events over the years including bombs, a massacre and numerous boycotts due to the policies of various participating countries. Despite all the political turmoil surrounding the games Great Britain has participated in every games since 1896.

Their motto is: Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) with at least one colour of the blue, yellow, black, green and red rings being present on the national flags of every country taking part. The 5 rings represent the five inhabited continents of Africa, America, Asia, Oceania and Europe. Several months before the start of the games the Olympic torch is lit, by the power of the sun, at Olympia by a female athlete representing the ancient games. This is then carried in a relay to the games venue by various means and by people from all walks of life.

Rainforest

Brazil is one of the most ecologically diverse countries on Earth due to its vast size and large number of different ecosystems. These include the tropical Amazon rainforest, flooded grasslands and savannas, mangrove swamps, Atlantic Forest, desert, freshwater and marine environments. The Atlantic Forest runs from northern Argentina to south-eastern Paraguay, and varies in width from 10 – 200 miles inland. It is as ecologically important as the Amazon and just as threatened. Approximately 85% of it has been destroyed since it was first discovered 500 years ago, with about 250 species of amphibians, birds and mammals becoming extinct and many thousands more species being severely threatened. In the short span of time between 1990 and 2006 over 1,000 new plants have been discovered, so who knows what potentially life-saving plants could be wiped out before they’ve even been discovered and their properties investigated. After Indonesia, Brazil has the highest number of endemic species (found no-where else on earth). It has the highest number of vertebrates and invertebrates, mammals (77) and primates (524). It has the second highest amount of amphibians (517), the third highest total of birds (1,712) and the fourth highest amount of reptiles (651). It contains about 30% of the earth’s plants, an estimated 56,000 species, with thousands of species still undiscovered.

Mangrove swamp

Mangrove swamp

If you can’t get to the Olympics you could bring a taste of the tropics to your home by creating a display of these tender plants. Many of these plants are already familiar to us as we keep them as houseplants; Mandevilla (Dipladenia) is a beautiful perennial climber, with bright red trumpets. These plants can be put outside in the garden in summer but must be brought indoors before the temperatures become too cold. There are hardy species of Passionflower which can be left outside in a sheltered spot over winter. The Anthurium is a really easy houseplant which doesn’t mind some shade, just don’t let it dry out. A lot of the bromiliads we keep as houseplants come from the tropical forest canopy; clinging to the upper branches of tall trees. Just keep them in a sunny spot and the wells filled with water. Philodendron is an easy green climbing plant if you just want a non-flowering specimen. Other indoor plants originally from the tropics you will find in the houseplant department of your garden centre include Abutilon, Croton, Miltonia, Peperomia, Schlumbergera, Tibouchina and Tradescantia.

Orchid Miltonia

Orchid Miltonia

All this amazing natural abundance is threatened by logging, both official and unofficial, slash and burn clearance for grazing cattle and growing sugarcane, manioc and cassava. An estimated 60 – 80% of all logging operations are thought to be illegal. Previously forest was cleared for growing soy but a moratorium has now halted this practice; however as a lot of the countries’ fuel is ethanol based there is still a huge amount of forest being cleared to grow ‘biofuel’ crops. Along with the planting of sugarcane, biofuel planting has been responsible for the destruction of approximately 15.8 million acres of primary forest. Logging not only clear-fells trees but the industry also constructs roads making the whole area more accessible, which leads to settlers and farmers moving in and clearing even more land. The logging camps also attract other supply companies and eventually a small town is created bringing with it an influx of poor people seeking work. Being poor means that a lot of their protein based food is obtained by hunting which wipes out mammal species in the vicinity of the town.

Mining is not only as destructive as the logging industry but also pollutes water courses which drives indigenous tribes from their ancestral lands in search of fresh water. The construction of hydro-electric plants has flooded huge swathes of land and the use of timber to drive power plants and for the paper industry have all contributed to the loss of these rare habitats and the species they contain.

Bromiliad Neoregelia carolina Fancy

Bromiliad Neoregelia carolina Fancy

It is hard to come up with workable solutions in countries with a need for power and a booming population requiring employment. The vastness of the country and the lack of resources make policing the illegal mining and logging operations virtually impossible. A change from clear-felling to selective removal of single trees and a halt by the government in major infrastructure construction could dramatically slow the destruction. Using plants to advance medical science could help slow the destruction of the forest as they will then have a monetary value.

Hopefully these Olympic games can bring the plight of these habitats to a wider global audience and bring in the necessary revenue needed to tackle some of these environmental problems. The removal of the forest will have serious climactic implications for us here in the UK, as the destruction of these trees releases stores of carbon which is one of the main contributing factors to climate change, which scientists believe could result in wetter winters and hotter summers.

Ambleside flooded in December 2015

Ambleside flooded in December 2015

If this scenario proves to be the case then this winters’ floods in Cumbria are going to be the norm.

Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas