Monday, 7 November 2011

Stamp collecting

I have a tendency to hoard things, whether it is a small plateful of leftover vegetables, old worn out jeans or jam jars. But the pots of used stamps that have always been present in my home have nothing to do with my hoarding nature. As far as I'm concerned stamps cannot be thrown away under any circumstance, that's just how I've grown up. Stamps go in the stamps pot-that is their home. For years I didn't even questions why this happened, or where the stamps went when, periodically, the pot became empty. The answer is not that we are a family of philatelists (although family tell me Dad dabbled in this before catching the bird watching bug!) but, as it often does, comes back to environmental concerns.

 I've been watching the BBC's new series Frozen Planet and this week it featured some gorgeous shots of the Wandering Albatross. These birds are some of the heaviest flying birds in the world reaching 10kg and (along with the Royal Albatross) have the biggest wingspan of 3.5 meters (11ft). I'm quite a tall person at 5ft 11" but that means I'm only just taller than one wing of these huge birds. 

There are so many other amazing facts about albatrosses that I couldn't possibly cover them all here. For example: they only land to breed, with young flying at sea for 5 years before touching ground again, they have developed intricate gliding skills so that they almost never have to flap to keep aflight and they can cover distances of 10,000km in only 10-20 days.

There are 22 species of albatross and they live in every ocean, except the North Atlantic, in the world. Most breed in the southern hemisphere, with three favouring the North Pacific and one on the equator. Unfortunately 10 species are endangered or critically endangered with all the other species either vulnerable or near threatened according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. In fact this means that 18 out of the 22 are seen to be at serious risk of extinction. There are many threats to the various types of albatross. The normal threats that affect almost all sealife such as floating plastic rubbish, pollution and climate change are important but there are also problems from introduced predators and various types of fishing. Longlined fishing involves (unsurprisingly) long lines of fishing line with hooks all along it. Problems arise when the hooks are visible from the air and albatrosses get hooked and killed. Trawling also kills a huge number of birds sometimes being caught in nets but also hitting the cables on the ships. The death rate of albatrosses has reached such a level that the birds can't reproduce quickly enough to sustain the population.

So, this is all very bad but what can be done to save these beautiful birds and how does any of this relate to the stamps? Solutions are simpler than you may think. Attaching "scare lines" (a curtain of plastic streamers) to boats, sinking the hooks deeper in the water and dying the bait blue are all simple ways to deter albatrosses and the Albatross Task Force has been working hard on the open sea to educate fishermen of the dangers and solutions. Many fishermen are really happy to make these simple changes once they are aware of the problem and the group have seen huge success over the past few years.

The RSPB are working closely with the Task Force and you can help support them. To join the fight to save albatrosses you could make a donation, buy albatross postcards or cuddly toys or, like me, save your stamps. While individually a used second class stamp doesn't have much value by collecting all our used stamps together and selling them on the RSPB raised £15,000 last year for the albatross campaign. Only £50 worth of stamps will buy a tori-line (scare line) for a long line fishing vessel.

It's little by little but to save these huge beautiful birds I'll keep saving my stamps and sending them to the RSPBs campaign address. And the odd looks from visitors when they find my piles of stamps are a great excuses for me to educate them to the albatrosses plight and hopefully spread the collecting bug.

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