Published: Sunday 31 March 1996

Fencing issues

I was very disturbed to read the article 'Fatal fencing' (Down To Earth, Vol 4, No 15). The article has distorted many facts about nature conservation in Bhutan and elsewhere. The article would have been most relevant if it had been written 20 years ago. Today, most resource managers and conservationists have learnt from the mistakes they had committed before the '70s and have successfully avoided excluding human settlements while planning protected areas. Conservation in most developing countries is being practiced with a human face.

For instance, in Nepal, 14'Per cent of th@ land has been reserved for pro- tection. Out of this, eight per cent houses permanent settlers, with over 200,000 people calling these parks their home. Another 300,000 people live in the lowland Terai buffer zone, dependent on the parks for their fuelwood, fodder and construction material. People living in and around the parks derive many benefits from them.

Similarly, Bhutan has developed nine protected areas covering approximately 20 per cent of its total area, where people live inside the parks. The availability of agricultural land in Bhutan is limited because of its topography and low soil fertility. Sixteen per cent of the land is used for agricultural production (not five-10 per cent, as mentioned in the article). Bhutan's terrain is one of the most rugged in the world. Over a distance of approximately 150 km (as the crow flies) from north to south, Bhutan covers a wide altitudinal range, from 150 in to 7,000 in A. above sea level. The actual arable land for agriculture in Bhutan is 138,572 ha, and there is not much room to expand, except to cultivate marginal areas such as steep mountain slopes. This would cause the kind of downward environmental spiral which impoverishes future generations apart from increasing downstream flood damage in India and Bangladesh.

Consequently, it makes far m ore sense for Bhutan to continue to preserve its extensive forest cover.

Due to the above factors and Bhutan's commitment to sustaiable development, the Royal, ' Government of Bhutan (RGOB) has placed high priority on the environmental sustainability of socieconomic development. RGOB sees more benefirin protecting the environment than in exploiting it for short-term gains. Hydropower and tourism, two of the country's foreign exchange earners, depend upon an intact forest cover and unpolluted environment. This explains the maintenance of 60 per cent forest cover and the setting aside of 20 per cent of the land for protected areas.

As part of the Bhutan Trust Fund, the RGOB, local NGos and the World Wide Fund for Nature (wwF) have developed and implemented - in partnerships with local communities - a series of community development initiatives. I hope you will highlight these aspects of biodiversity conservation and Global Environmental Facility funding at work in Bhutan....


The life sciences article, 'Real Vision' (Down To Earth, Vol 4, No 14) carried the wrong illustration. Here is the correct one.
The Titchener circles illusion:
(a) The standard version of the illusion. The target circles in the centre of the two arrays appear to be different in size, even though they are physically identical. For most people, the circle i n the annulus of smaller circles appear to be larger than the circle in the annulus of larger circles.

(b) A version of the illusion, in which the target circle in the array of larger circles has been made physically larger than the other target circle. The two target circles should now appear to be physically equivalent in size....

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