Deserts: Living Drylands

Posted on: 26 March 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Fascinating landscapes, laden with diverse plants and animals.

Think of a desert and a barren sandy landscape, dotted with the odd struggling cactus springs to mind.  Yet nothing can be further from the truth as a new publication, Deserts: Living Drylands, written by Sara Oldfield demonstrates with spectacular photography.

Covering Africa, The Middle East, Asia, Australia, and The Americas, Deserts examines well-known areas such as the Sahara, the largest desert in the world at 9 million square kilometres, the spectacular Uluru, and the awesome Death Valley in California, which has the lowest altitude in the western hemisphere and some of the hottest recorded temperatures on earth. Lesser known regions covered include the continually-expanding Thar Desert in Northern India and the South American Sechura and Atacama coastal deserts, which encompass the most arid areas in the whole world.

Surprising though it may seem, a staggering 850 million people inhabit the world’s drylands, from the nomadic Bedouin people of the Arabian desert to the Aboriginal tribes of Australia’s Northern Territories. Deserts reveals the traditions of centuries-old cultures, far-removed from the Western lifestyle we are accustomed to, and shows how desert communities survive in often poor conditions, reliant on agriculture and pastoralism in extremely unforgiving environments.

Since many desert species have specially adapted to the harsh conditions, they are often rare and vulnerable to human interference through over-grazing, tourism and exploitation of desert resources such as oil. Deserts outlines the threats to the world’s dryland eco-systems and provides an overview of the various protective measures that can, and have in some cases, been introduced.

Filled with dazzling photography from the world-renowned Bruce Coleman Collection, Deserts captures the spirit of the drylands in vivid detail. These images evoke the spectacular desert landscapes and the life within, and celebrate the architecture of natural forms in awe-inspiring clarity. These photographs, combined with Sara Oldfield’s expertise, comprehensive coverage and easy-to-read style, result in a fascinating exploration of the world’s deserts in one beautifully presented volume.

The author, Sara Oldfield is Global Programmes Director at the wildlife conservation charity, Flora & Fauna International (FFI), the world's longest established international conservation body.  FFI is one of the few organisations whose remit is to protect the entire spectrum of endangered plant and animal species on the planet.  It acts to conserve threatened species and ecosystems worldwide, choosing solutions that are sustainable, based on sound science and take into account human needs.

We caught up with her to talk about conservation, eco-friendly holidays and her latest publication, of which all royalty proceeds will be donated to the Global Trees Campaign.

When did your interest in conservation begin?

"As a child I loved wild flowers and natural history in general. I grew up in Derbyshire and enjoyed many family picnics in the Peak District. I also liked reading copiees of the National Geographic Magazinee, or at least looking at the pictures."

"Through school and university I became interested in why plants grow where. At around the same time in the early 1970s there was a strong growth in the environmental movement and it really caught my imagination. In 1972, for example, when I was in the Sixth Form, the governments of the world met in Stockholm for the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and I remember taking an interest in that. I was also interested in the idea of restoring disused industrial and mining areas of which there were quite a few in Derbyshire."

What has been your inspiration in pursuing this career?

"I have been extremely fortunate in developing a fascinating career in a subject which has always interested me and that I care so much about. I don’t think there was any particular source of inspiration. The only other career option I considered was working in the travel industry but I was lucky enough to get a temporary job with the Nature Conservancy Council when I left University. This involved travelling up to Scotland to survey peat bogs and identifying the best sites for conservation."

Can you describe your most personally rewarding project to date?

"I have immensely enjoyed developing the Global Trees Campaign because it was great seeing an idea for an integrated conservation programme for tree species turn into reality, and there is so much more potential. I enjoyed visiting Cuba in May this year for a workshop on rare trees – mainly because the botanists were very welcoming and knowledgeable."

You are employed by Flora Fauna International (FFI).  How did you first become involved with this conservation charity?

"I became a member of FFI 20 years ago because I was impressed by the types of project undertaken and the fact that these focused on some of the less popular species like bats and snakes. At the time I was working at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew as Conservation Officer and the FFI held regular meetings at London Zoo, which were also attended by friends from Kew and the Natural History Museum. I met my husband, wildlife artist Bruce Pearson, at one of these meetings. Subsequently

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