The Darwin Initiative Blog

Insights and personal musings from the world of biodiversity conservation and development. For more info on the Darwin Initiative see https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/the-darwin-initiative


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Managing conflict for conservation and wellbeing

We will soon be releasing our next Darwin Newsletter, themed around Conservation and Conflict (for details keep an eye on our website and twitter, or see past editions of our newsletter here).

In advance of this, we’re pleased to feature a guest blog from the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) Santiago Ormeno, Project Manager for their Lake Ossa Project in Cameroon:

The Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve is a refuge for endangered fauna, among them West African manatees, freshwater turtles and crocodile populations. It is also home to an array of fish species on which surrounding fishing communities rely for their subsistence. However, overfishing, poaching and the destruction of lake habitats pose a severe threat to wildlife, and harm the livelihoods of local communities. With the support of the Darwin Initiative, ZSL works with local communities, the Ministry of Forestry (MINFOF) and local NGOs to implement a clear co-management framework for this unique freshwater ecosystem. However, bringing people together in an ecosystem-based management approach often involves managing conflicts among communities. There is also a need to address the challenge of human-wildlife conflict; manatees and freshwater turtles found in the reserve often damage fishing nets.

ZSL is working to resolve conflict in a number of ways:

Addressing conflict between protected area managers and fisher communities through local bylaws

Often, conflicts between resource-users and law enforcement agencies are due to lack of awareness of national law, or bias on how these are enforced. We are supporting communities and the Conservation Service to develop a local code of fishing. This code clarifies regulations and access to fishery resources and was developed following extensive and participatory community consultation. It was also ensured that management measures were aligned with national regulations.  The code of fishing was established in December 2015, and was revised one year later to give communities the opportunity to amend it and reflect on its implementation. Since its application, it has proven an effective tool to prevent conflicts among fishers using different fishing gear and to develop a better framework for the conservation of biodiversity. It does this by restricting certain fishing techniques and establishing no-take zones in areas where there are lots of manatees.

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Validation of the code of fishing, Credit: ZSL

Addressing conflict within fisher communities through Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) 

Conflicts among community members are another challenge tackled by the project. Disagreements frequently arise due to jealousy, a lack of dialogue between fisher leaders and fishers, elite capture (unequal access to resources across the community), or theft of fish-catch and gear. Often, the leadership and legitimacy of fisher management committees are undermined due to bad financial management, personality issues or a lack of understanding of the roles and responsibilities of committee members.

Through our project we have encouraged the creation of VSLAs in the zonal co-management committees and farmer groups in order to provide communities with a clear methodology to manage their finances. VSLAs are self-sustaining savings groups that have successfully been used by ZSL in marine and freshwater ecosystems in Cameroon and the Philippines, with the support of the Darwin Initiative. VSLAs operate with internal rules established by the members themselves, providing community members an opportunity to hold regular meetings. These meetings facilitate communication between fishers and the administration. In order to ensure that committees adequately represent fishers, community delegates and traditional chiefs are invited to participate in fisheries management debates. Also, fishers and farmers are given the opportunity to participate in income generating activities through VSLAs. As a result, conflict between these groups is reduced.

Directly addressing the cause of human wildlife conflicts 

Human wildlife conflict is also an issue. By designating 200ha of the reserve as a no-take-zone, this project has helped protect important grazing and breeding sites for the West African manatee. In doing so it has helped to limit the risk that manatees destroy fishing nets – a key cause of human wildlife conflict in the area.   

Do you work on a project that deals with conflict? How do you mitigate and manage against this? To find out more about this project, “Community-based conservation for livelihood development in Lake Ossa Manatee Reserve”, visit its page on our website here.


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Tracking Darwin project progress – lobsters and logframes

For anyone who is involved with a Darwin project, the below probably won’t come as much of a surprise but for everyone else – have you ever wondered how we track how Darwin projects are getting on? It may be more exciting than you think!

Twice annually, we ask Darwin Initiative projects to submit reports (believe me, it gets more exciting…), updating us on their progress towards their expected outcomes and sharing any lessons or challenges. At any one time, there are over one hundred active projects (145 right now), quite a lot for any one person to get their head around! We rely on a team of experts with experience from all over the World and across a huge array of conservation and development themes – necessary to match the diversity of the Darwin portfolio.

As each project has its own context, barriers, and often innovative methods, writing a paper report that captures everything it needs to is a challenge in itself. And the reviewers have a job on their hands, too, using the report and evidence provided to independently verify and track project progress against the project’s logical framework, or logframe (see our information note on logical frameworks here). These reviews are then shared with the project, and can include recommendations to help the project team achieve their overall aims.

But, here’s where it really gets interesting. In addition to the dozens of independent, desk-based reviews carried out annually, it is valuable for both the programme as a whole, and for individual projects, to carry out a field-based review of a few projects at their mid-way point (i.e. at 18 months of a three-year project). Projects are chosen for mid-term reviews using a number of criteria and visited by an independent reviewer for a week-long field trip. These trips provide opportunities for progress, challenges and lessons to be discussed not just with the project team, but with project partners, stakeholders, and beneficiaries. This helps the reviewer gain a much better perspective of how the project is truly progressing.

This year, I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in such a review, and visited the beautiful country of Belize in November. One of the projects visited, “Maximizing Benefits of Marine Reserves and Fisheries Management in Belize”, is led by Wildlife Conservation Society and partnered with the Belize Fisheries Department, Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy and the University of Miami. The project is part of a broader programme that is revolutionizing the sustainable fisheries management in Belize through “Managed Access” licensing and zoning of fisheries in Belize, and increasing the area under “no-take” zones, with a focus on lobster and conch fisheries.

The review team spent the week with the project team, discussing their key successes and barriers  as well as watching them in action carrying out boat-based surveys at Glover’s Reef Atoll (find out more about WCS’s broader research programme at Glover’s here: http://www.wcsgloversreef.org/).

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View from the watchtower at Glover’s Reef Research Station, Credit: Victoria Pinion

We also had the opportunity to meet with project partners, and a range of project stakeholders. For example, we were even invited into the home of Mr and Mrs Thomson, both fishers, who spoke to us about how the recent changes under the project, and broader programme, were affecting their livelihoods – and what they thought were the continued challenges to sustainable fisheries in Belize.

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Mr. and Mrs. Thomson, both members of the Warafu Fishers Association in Dangriga, show off their boat license, Credit: Victoria Pinion

Big changes don’t come easily or quickly, and this project really demonstrates how proper engagement with stakeholder communities is crucial to success of rights based access schemes, and perhaps all conservation initiatives. We were particularly struck by one of the innovative tools the project uses to engage with the community, which has already been recognized by winning the Millbank Social Marketing Award for Innovation in the Environmental Field. “Punta Fuego” is a radio drama and call in show, and hugely popular across the country. It has just finished its second season, and has already changed the attitudes of those who listen to it to respect the no-take fishing zones being proposed under the project. The project team spoke to one fisher, who after listening to the first season said: “I will be honest, I used to fish in the [no-take] zones from time to time. Now I think about what I hear in the show and I don’t think I will be doing that again.” Listen to Episode 1 of Punta Fuego on YouTube: https://youtu.be/7f4qIqq4hGU

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Vonetta Dawson (maybe Punta Fuego’s biggest fan!) shows off her “legal size” haul of red snapper ahead of the Garifuna Settlement Day celebrations on November 19th, Credit: Victoria Pinion

Visiting this project on the ground enabled us to generate wider lessons that could be shared with other projects, which is more challenging to do with just the desk-based reviews. Additionally,  it provides an opportunity to feedback recommendations to the project about how they could make some small changes to improve upon what is already a fantastic project.


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Securing marine fisheries, livelihoods and biodiversity in Burma through co-management

In the build up to CITES CoP17 we have been sharing articles from our upcoming newsletter themed around the Conference. We have heard how learning about trends in the illegal ivory trade can inform decision making on elephants and how robust legal protection has the power to reverse population declines.

In our final taster before the full newsletter is released, we hear about fisheries co-management in Burma. Alongside their work with communities developing sustainable co-management plans, the project team is gathering data on shark and ray catches and trade. This can then feed in to international policy making, and support Governments in developing their national conservation strategies.

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Rakhine Coastal Association facilitating a stakeholder workshop, June 2016, Credit: Martin Callow, WCS

Burma’s marine resources have long provided sustenance to its coastal people. Over 25,000 small-scale fishing vessels are registered to fish its coastline and nearly half of the country’s population lives in coastal states and regions. Despite fisheries’ importance, Burma has limited capacity for sustainable management.

This overexploitation has resulted in drastic declines of stocks; a 2014 marine survey carried out by Norway showed that pelagic stocks are currently only 10% of their 1979 biomass, with similar estimates for inshore fisheries. Inshore fisheries are of particular concern as the decline directly influences local livelihoods and food security. The impacts of fishing practices on protected marine species, such as dugong, turtles, sharks and rays, are also evident.

Fortunately, the tide is on the turn. The newly elected government of Burma is in the process of decentralising authority of the inshore fisheries sector to its states and regions, a development that provides the platform for empowering local people and enabling fisheries co-management.

In support of this process, WCS is working in southern Rakhine state, and harnessing the needs of local fishers and fish-workers to explore how to rebuild their resources. By working in partnership with the Rakhine Coastal Association, Department of Fisheries, Pyoe Pin and our academic and technical implementing partners (University of Exeter, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) respectively), we are implementing a participatory process to document catch and effort, and collect social and value chain data (with a reach of over 1,200 fishers). Combined with outreach and training, we are working to improve coastal fisheries governance, secure fishers’ tenure for sustainable fisheries management and develop a spatially explicit sustainable co-management plan.

Owing to the political shift towards federalism, the model has significant potential to scale in Rakhine state, and beyond. Working in partnership with EDF, we are assessing additional sites across Burma to ensure our resources offer value for money and impact. Similarly, our work is enabling us to improve knowledge of shark and ray catches and trade. In addition, this is enabling us to support the government of Burma with preparations for CITES CoP17, and to build links with our broader efforts (funded by the UK Government’s IWT Challenge Fund) to combat illegal wildlife trade and support the national plan of action for the conservation of sharks.

For more information about Burmese fisheries, see: https://myanmarbiodiversity.org/portfolio-items/marine-fisheries

by Martin Callow, Project Leader, Wildlife Conservation Society. To find out more about project 23-024, click here.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these first few articles! Be sure to follow us on Twitter @Darwin_Defra and add us on Facebook to be the first to hear when the full newsletter is released!

 


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Ascension Island’s new CITES Ordinance receives Category 1 status

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Ascension Island Green Turtle Cover Up, Credit: Sam Weber, AIG Conservation Department

We hope you enjoyed our first peek into our upcoming CITES CoP17-themed newsletter! In her article, Learning about trends in the illegal ivory trade to inform decision making on elephants, Dr. Fiona Underwood discussed the legacy of her project and its impact on decision making.

In this next article, Dr. Nicola Weber of the Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Department discusses work under various Darwin Plus projects, a scheme that funds environmental projects in the UK Overseas Territories. These projects have helped develop the legal framework for wildlife trade on Ascension Island, and the Island’s fascinating history highlights the transformative power of robust legal protection.

Over the past 4 years, through projects funded by the Darwin Initiative and with support and expertise from overseas partners, Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Department (AIGCD) has undertaken a major strategic planning exercise. This has resulted in the development of a National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBAP), a scientific roadmap for the designation of an evidence-based marine protected area at Ascension Island, and the enactment of four Ordinances relating to the protection of Ascension’s biodiversity. These can all be accessed here: www.ascension-island.gov.ac/government/conservation/projects/bap.

The most recent piece of legislation to be enacted is the Control of Trade in Endangered Species Ordinance 2015 that has just received Category 1 status from the CITES Secretariat. This Ordinance makes provision for the regulation of trade in endangered species by Ascension Island Government. While the import and export of species listed by CITES occurs very infrequently at Ascension Island, having the legislation in place provides the legal framework to ensure that this remains the case. Ascension Island is famous for the green turtles Chelonia mydas (CITES listing: Appendix 1) that nest upon its beaches and until the 1920s provided fresh meat for residents and passing ships.

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Credit: Ascension Island Heritage Society

Now, over 70 years after legal protection and the cessation of commercial turtle harvesting, the average number of green turtle clutches deposited annually at Ascension Island has increased six fold since monitoring began in 1977, from approximately 3,700 to 23,700 clutches per annum. This highlights the need for the robust legal protection of threatened species and shows that with the correct measures and conservation actions in place, population declines can be reversed.

by Dr. Nicola Weber,  Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Department

 


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Learning about trends in the illegal ivory trade to inform decision making on elephants

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From Saturday 24th September, experts from all over the World will gather in Johannesburg for the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties for the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species, or CITES CoP17 for short.

CITES is one of the core conventions that Darwin Initiative projects support, and we wanted to highlight this with our upcoming newsletter by inviting articles from projects working on illegal or legal trade of species. In advance of the full newsletter being published next week, we wanted to share a sneak peak!

The article below comes from Darwin project 17-020 “Enhancing the Elephant Trade Information System to guide CITES policy, led by the University of Reading. Although the project finished in 2012, its legacy is ongoing. Find out more below!

At the upcoming CITES CoP, trends in the illegal ivory trade will be a key focus of discussions. These discussions will be based around a report using data on illegal ivory seizures collected by the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS). ETIS is one of two global monitoring systems for elephants that were mandated by CITES in 1997 and it is managed by TRAFFIC International (the other being MIKE – Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants).

Clearly, it is the results that are of most interest to the audience (of policy makers and NGOs) to help inform decision making about elephants but some work is needed to obtain these results. To turn ivory seizures data into useful information about trends in the illegal ivory trade requires quite a complex statistical analysis; the analysis is complex because of the inherent biases in seizures data. Specifically, countries differ in their ability to make and report seizures – so an increase in seizures might be because of increased law enforcement, or countries getting better at reporting their seizures to ETIS, not because the illegal ivory trade is increasing. Thus, strategies for accounting for differences in the ability of countries to make and report seizures must be accounted for when trying to describe the trends in the trade.

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Three elephants eating at Mana Pools in Zimbabawe, Credit: Fiona Underwood

In 2009, there were no off-the-shelf statistical methods for analyzing these data and so some analyses were ad-hoc without a coherent and robust framework. This is a major challenge for many monitoring programmes. It is often relatively easy to obtain resources to collect data, including training of those collecting data and building database to store the data. In comparison, it can be much harder to obtain funding to help turn this data into usable information for policy makers.

One component of Darwin Initiative Project 17-020 “Enhancing the Elephant Trade Information System to Guide CITES Policy”, which ran from 2009 – 2012, was to develop a methodological framework for making sense of the ETIS data. This project was a collaboration between statisticians, then at the University of Reading, and TRAFFIC International. A further project aim was to translate these statistically complex findings into simple language and concepts that could be communicated to a non-technical decision-making audience. Two indicators were developed (Transactions Index and Weights Index).

This framework is now being used routinely to produce indicators of the illegal ivory trade to inform decision making by CITES and others, on elephants. It was first used to produce indicators of the ivory trade for the previous CoP in 2013 using data from 1996 – 2011. Since then the methodology has been used to update these trends every year and most recently for the upcoming CoP. Such analyses have provided key pieces of information for the development of National Ivory Action Plans for eight CITES Parties and will continue to be useful in monitoring their progress.

by Dr. Fiona Underwood, Project Leader


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New Darwin Projects – Round 22 – Part 2

Our last blog explored two of our fascinating new Darwin projects, one working on micro-credit schemes for guinea-pig husbandry in DRC which aims to reduce the pressures of bushmeat hunting in DRC, and another working to address Cameroon’s status as an illegal wildlife trade hub.

This time, I’m going to introduce two more projects, each with yet another approach!

Ex-situ conservation and capacity building

Ex-situ conservation is the conservation of a species outside of its natural habitat – either in a wild area outside of its normal range or in an artificial environment, such as a zoo or laboratory. It can often be viewed as a safeguard where the natural population, and/or its genetic diversity is at high risk from threats such as over-exploitation, climate change, invasive species, or disease. But what happens when this “insurance”, or ex-situ, population is also at risk? In Papua New Guinea, a new lethal plant disease called Bogia syndrome disease threatens the diversity of coconut plants. Coconut is a hugely important livelihood crop across the world, and Papua New Guinea’s International Coconut Genebank is threatened by this new disease. Darwin project 23-008Upgrading and broadening the new South-Pacific International Coconut Genebank”, led by Bioversity International, will support plans to relocate the genebank to new and secure sites in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa. The project will also focus on building the capacity of these institutions. It will work to train scientists in genetic resource conservation, and also to identify emerging threats for the different types of coconut in different areas so that their conservation can be targeted in coming years.

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Women selling coconuts in Papua New Guinea, Credit P. Mathur/Bioversity International via https://creativecommons/org/licenses/by-nc/nd/2.0/

Partnerships between government, private sector and indigenous groups to meet national goals.

Partnerships are a crucial aspect of all Darwin projects and can ensure a project’s successes outlive the length of the project. A new BirdLife International project, 23-016Yerba mate – a market-driven model for conserving Paraguay’s Atlantic Forest” aims to achieve great things, building upon strong partnerships between key stakeholders in Paraguay.

The Atlantic Forest, although perhaps less well known that the Amazonian rainforest, is a global biodiversity hotspot and yet less than 10% of its original area remains. In Paraguay, most Atlantic Forest is surrounded by buffer zones which are legally inhabited by indigenous groups and campesino, or farming, communities. Extreme poverty in these groups, combined with lack of access to markets or technical skills, leads to food insecurity and encroachment into the reserve for agricultural clearance. Through over 15 years of experience of working with key stakeholders in the area, BirdLife and partners Guyra Paraguay have identified some potential solutions to this challenge. This project aims to establish organic shade-grown yerba mate, used to make hugely popular drink maté tea, to provide alternative income sources for Atlantic Forest buffer-zone communities whilst also protecting the forest’s biodiversity.

This project shows how important a full understanding of local situation is crucial for good project design, and how appropriate solutions and market-based approaches can incentivize communities to conserve their country’s biodiversity. Ultimately, the project hopes to integrate shade-grown yerba mate into long-term conservation strategies nationwide to help Paraguay meet its National Development Strategy and National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan.

 


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New Darwin Projects – Round 22 – Part 1

The results of the 22nd round of Darwin Initiative funding has just been announced, and we are happy to introduce this year’s 34 new Darwin Main projects 1 Fellowship and 6 Scoping Awards.

Yet again, Darwin is funding a fascinating range of projects, each of which uses different but integrated approaches in order to address both poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation. This is something Darwin projects excel at, as highlighted in a recent information note – “Understanding Poverty and Biodiversity Links”. Below, and over the next couple of blogs, I will explore just a small number of new projects and the different approaches they plan to use.

Alternative livelihoods and micro-finance schemes

23-015Guinea pigs as guinea pigs, reducing bushmeat hunting while improving communities wellbeing” is a new Wildlife Conservation Society project, which will work near the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP) in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Although one of the most biodiversity rich protected areas in Africa, and home to iconic and highly threatened species such as Grauer’s gorilla – a species endemic to mountainous forests in eastern DRC – bushmeat hunting around KBNP is a very serious threat to park’s wildlife.

Grauer's gorilla, KBNP DRC Joe McKenna creative commons 2.0 licence

Grauer’s gorilla, KBNP DRC, Credit – Joe McKenna via https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Regional insecurity and historical war mean that rural communities in DRC do not have sufficient access to agricultural or livestock production, leading to often severe cases of malnutrition. Bushmeat hunting often provides a much-needed source of protein. This project’s goal is to reduce the pressures of bushmeat hunting whilst simultaneously increasing the quality of the rural poor living near KBNP.

It aims to do this by working with community members to raise awareness of biodiversity values, and provide access to micro-credit schemes and training in cavy, or guinea pig, husbandry. Although not perhaps to the appetite of the British public, cavy husbandry is an ideal livelihood option for poor households in this area as it has low start-up and upkeep costs, and guinea pigs can provide much need protein in deficient diets, as well as attracting high market prices. In doing so, this project aims to directly impact 600 poor households in rural DRC.

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Grauer’s gorilla, KBNP DRC, Credit – Joe McKenna via https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Tackling illegal wildlife trade and trafficking

A previous Darwin blog touched on the important differences between legal and illegal wildlife trade, and highlighted that as well as being a criminal industry worth billions of pounds, illegal wildlife trade also damages local communities and undermines sustainable development and the security of local communities.

A new ZSL project 23-001Strengthening Cameroon’s capacity to monitor and reduce illegal wildlife trafficking” aims to address Cameroon’s status as an IWT hub. The country currently acts as both a source of illegally poached wildlife as well as a transit route for trafficked wildlife from Central African Republic, Congo and Gabon. Project interventions intend to monitor trade routes, improve site-based protection and increase enforcement capacity using an integrated approach. As a result, enforcement agencies will be better able to apply wildlife laws and increase protection of species such as the black-bellied, white-bellied and giant pangolins. In addition the project hopes to help Cameroon meet its international commitments and empower communities by strengthening ownership of their natural resources.