The people of Burkina Faso rely on burning wood for 90 per cent of their energy needs

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Exhausted, deforested landscapes show the truth about over-population

I imagine most people would be hard put to place Burkina Faso on a map; it neatly fits that cliché of a faraway country of which we know nothing.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Coming to terms with winter is part of growing up

More's the pity we haven't evolved the ability, like bears, to snooze until the damn thing is over

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: There's beauty, and mystery, in any river's flowing waters

I cannot see a river, any river, without a quickening of the spirit, and this is such an automatic reaction that I sometimes wonder if it is hardwired into the genes, from our previous existence as hunter-gatherers. If I cross a river on any journey I want to know its name, and if at all possible, stop on the bridge and gaze into its currents.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Are we just going to talk our way to oblivion?

At Durban in eight weeks' time, the world's gaping split over climate change will be clear

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: In a city of falcons, it's worth looking up

City of royalty, city of riches; city of poverty, city of squalor. City of billionaire Russian oligarchs; city of hate-filled Islamist preachers; city of English gentlemen's clubs. City of 300 languages. City of black cabs, red buses, green parks. City of blue plaques, marking the homes of its famous inhabitants. City of endless variety. London's been called all of those.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: A glorious burst of the warm south

It's an extraordinary event, is it not? This miniature summer granted us weeks after what was meant to be the summertime, but was a chilly washout, is over and gone. Not long – five days only of cloudless skies, blistering sunshine and balmy evenings – but five days of such splendour as we never had in all the rest of the year, and October starts tomorrow.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Betrayed by an act of despotism

Why should a government set up and pay for an independent organisation that is likely to criticise it? In terms of realpolitik, of course, there is no reason whatsoever, which is why in tyrannies such bodies do not exist.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Saving the Pole – not such a strange idea

A week ago today I experienced a peculiar pang when John Sauven, the leader of Greenpeace in Britain, told me his group wanted to save the North Pole.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Don't underestimate the power of tiny things

It is a strange fact, not often remarked upon and indeed, strongly counterintuitive, that among the wild beasts of Africa, herbivores are much more dangerous to humans than carnivores. Elephants, hippos and buffaloes (or perhaps we should use the old-Africa-hand singular form of the plural, buffalo), which are all vegetarians, are far more likely to kill you than meat-eaters such as lions, leopards and even crocodiles. This is because they will not be killing you as prey; the great herbivores will kill you for being an irritation or a perceived threat if you intrude upon their territory (especially, if you get between a mother and her young). They are so whoppingly big and fearless that their way of dealing with you is simply to take you out, and once they head for you, it will take a rocket-launcher to stop them.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: In search of another great moth snowstorm

One of the lousiest aspects of the lousy summer which ended yesterday, for me at least, was that for yet another year, there was no chance of witnessing the moth snowstorm. Not in England, anyway.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Bright red berries and a literary curse

Three years ago, in 2008, human history passed a significant milestone: the proportion of the world's population living in towns and cities, rather than the countryside, exceeded 50 per cent for the first time. So now the human animal is a predominantly urban one.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: The loveliest living creature

What's Britain's most beautiful creature? Many people would name a bird: the kingfisher springs to mind at once, and there'd be a raft of other candidates from the goldfinch to the roseate tern, all plausible. Some might name a mammal: I can see how the pine marten might have its supporters, all sleek deadly elegance in fur; and the common dolphin, with that great pale stripe along its side, is a heartstopping animal when you see it surging around your boat. But I'm going to name an insect.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: The best discoveries canbe entirely accidental

It seems to me a curious part of the human psyche that we more deeply enjoy special things seen casually and accidentally, than those which have been expressly sought out. Certainly this applies to the natural world. So much of the wildlife which once surrounded us has been lost that to set eyes on many distinctive species we are now obliged to make expeditions. We go birding, or botanising or butterflying: you're unlikely to see a wood warbler, or a military orchid, or a swallowtail, without going in search of them. Often, of course, the results are very satisfying, and long to be remembered, and worth the journey.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: It's badgers and cuckoos that really matter

It is a curious sensation, to be working in the middle of a national newspaper newsroom convulsed with the noisiest scandal for years, involving public outrage, gross malpractice, a media group in meltdown, Scotland Yard in turmoil and the political system in ferment, and to be writing about badgers and cuckoos.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Precious estuaries we must protect

In the ugly litany of environmental crimes, perhaps the worst is the destruction of a whole ecosystem. In its sweeping finality it's like the sacking of a city. Troy resonates with us still, as does Hiroshima; so, one day, may lost forests.

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