The Darwin Initiative Blog

Insights and personal musings from the world of biodiversity conservation and development. For more info on the Darwin Initiative see

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Photographs and development – ethics of using images #Devpix


Using images to promote our work

The Darwin Initiative commonly uses photos provided by our projects to help promote the programme and its objectives. I am a keen photographer and have regularly contributed photos from my travels to Darwin publications. In fact I was very happy to get the front cover of the recent publication on SDGs and Darwin – I took this image while in the field in Kenya evaluating 2 Darwin projects.

Kenya 20-017 Mkwiro BMU 10 Credit L King.JPG

Girl carrying water in Mkwiro, Kenya 2015. Credit L King

Some of our projects are prolific in sharing photos and as a result have featured heavily in Darwin publications. It seems that as a general rule, if you share good images with the Darwin Initiative your project gets better coverage.

Great photos tell a story

Working in Monitoring and Evaluation I’ve found photographs to be a really powerful tool when portraying the results of projects. Pictures really can tell a thousand words. However pictures can also manipulate the story being told.


Reaching a wide audience – talking on TV in Myanmar, 2012. Photo Credit: P Bates

When we ask for images from our projects we also ask that they send in a description of the photo and credits for who took the photo. In the past this was largely shots of biodiversity or project staff at work.

However, as Darwin increasingly engages in issues of poverty the types of images we receive has expanded into classic development photographs. With this move into development photography, Darwin (and by extension our Darwin projects) have an obligation to ensure the stories we tell with our images and publications are dealing ethically with the people featured.



Beija man and his children – Dungonab MPA. Credit T Chekchak

Ethics of photos

Helpfully ODI hosted a Twitter chat some months ago to explore how development organisations can improve the way they use photography. It has the hashtag #Devpix if you are interested and the discussion has been helpfully curated here on Storify

This sparked a healthy debate about the pros and cons of development photos and the messages we are telling the world. From the images of helpless babies of the Liveaid era to the increasingly used ‘good news’ images of latter years showing the positive effect development work has had on people.

Comoros-17-011-Comoros Participatory analysis-Credit Kitty Brayne

Women engaging in participatory analysis in Comoros, Credit K Brayne

Helpfully the debate also resulted in participants suggesting what should be the do’s and don’ts of development photography. This included various organisations offering up their ethics statements on image use. Do’s and don’ts included:

  • Choose images and related messages based on values of respect, equality, solidarity and justice
  • Truthfully represent any image or depicted situation both in its immediate and wider context so as to improve public understanding of the realities and complexities of development
  • Avoid images and messages that potentially stereotype, sensationalise, or discriminate against people, situations or places
  • Get permission to use people’s images (or their parent/guardian)
  • Establish whether they wish to be named or identified and always act accordingly
  • Conform to the highest standards in relation to human rights and the protection of vulnerable people
  • Record their name and story as well as their image
  • Record people’s consent in the photos metadata
  • Be clear and transparent about your role and your sphere of influence in the world
  • Show tangible results. This will help avert ‘compassion fatigue’
  • Give context – explain as thoroughly as possible the underlying causes of the problems
  • Inspire people – make both your target group and audience co-owners of the solution
  • Give credit where credit is due. Success usually comes from a team effort and is rarely ascribed to one organisation
  • Communicate with dignity i.e. do not exploit the suffering of people for your own gain

Every Darwin project is expected to have developed an ethics statement – how many have also included how they use images and photos of their projects ethically? Do any of the do’s and don’ts listed above feature? Are there any that are specific to biodiversity conservation projects that are missing and should be added?

We’d love to hear about your experiences of using photographs in your Darwin projects and your thoughts on the ethics of photography in conservation and development.

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Illegal vs legal wildlife trade: UK Government launches Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund

KEN07 - lion - Darwin 13-019

The last 2 weeks has seen a lot of coverage of Cecil the Lion’s demise in Zimbabwe. Conservation and hunting have had an uneasy relationship for decades though perhaps what some of the recent uproar may tell us is that the general public were largely unaware of this relationship. . We’re not going to rehash the argument for and against here but here is a good article from Professor David Macdonald, ex-Chair of the Darwin Expert Committee whose tag was on Cecil the Lion.

David has led numerous Darwin projects over the years including this project in Zimbabwe which was looking at offtake levels of Leopards to support the development of a National Leopard Management Strategy. For more details of David’s projects see the Darwin website.

Tanzania-11-007-cheetahs-Credit S.Durant (3)

One issue that was regularly being confused by commentators in the last 2 weeks was the confusion between legal and illegal wildlife trade. Not all wildlife trade is illegal – wild plants and animals from tens of thousands of species are caught and harvested from the wild then sold legitimately as pets, food, ornaments, leather, medicines etc. Legal trade is determined by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, with parties responsible for controlling all imports, exports and introduction from the sea of species covered by the Convention. This can range from the pretty fish in your aquarium to the leather on your shoes.

Illegal wildlife trade, often discussed as poaching, operates entirely outside of these legal channels. Classic examples are the poaching of elephant tusks for the ivory trade, or the trade in tiger bones for traditional medicine. The bad news is that unlike big game hunting, illegal wildlife trade is pervasive in our society – sometimes even in plain sight as highlighted by recent articles highlighting the volume of ivory that is traded by Ebay.

Kenya-13-019-Bull elephant Darwin-Credit N Leader-Williams

As well as the devastating consequences for biodiversity and the environment, illegal wildlife trade is a serious criminal industry worth billions of pounds, which damages local communities and undermines sustainable development. There is evidence that illegal wildlife trafficking is funding organised crime including terrorism. In 2014, the UN and Interpol released a report that suggested that illegal wildlife trade worth up to $213 billion dollars a year is funding organised crime.

Also in 2014 the UK Government hosted the London Conference which brought together global leaders to discuss and agree ways to help eradicate illegal wildlife trade and better protect key species from the threat of extinction. Progress on these commitments was reviewed at a follow-up Conference in Kasane, Botswana in March 2015.

32 countries plus the EU and 9 international organisations met, and agreed the Kasane Statement. The Statement contains 15 new commitments to action on demand reduction, the legal framework for tackling money laundering linked to the illegal wildlife trade, tougher law enforcement, and involving communities in protecting their wildlife resources.

Recognising the impact illegal wildlife trade has, the UK Government launched the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) Challenge Fund in 2014. This has funded 19 projects around the world, with total funding in the region of £5 million.

Cambodia-EIDPO030-Credit IIED (3)

Given the importance of the subject the UK government has once again announced it will be providing up to £5 million in funding to projects looking to tackle illegal wildlife trade through the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund. The Fund is open to applications until 12th October.

For more information on what the fund can support see the details here. Some of the funded projects can be viewed here as well.

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Gender equality and biodiversity

Gender and biodiversity have strong connections, especially when it comes to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Gender equity is shaped by social, cultural and natural environments and these realms are all relevant when considering biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction.

Depending on cultural values, and local laws, men and women can have very diverse contributions to biodiversity conservation. Men and women play different roles in communities and therefore often have different sets of knowledge and understanding. They use this knowledge in different ways and have differing levels of access to natural resources.  For example women often have few, or no, land ownership rights. This can impinge upon their access to natural resources on which they depend to feed their families. Yet, through their continued interaction with local biodiversity, women are aware of the delicate intricacies of ecosystems and are often the first to notice if there are any negative changes to local biodiversity.

Uganda-19-019-Dingolo, a Mutwa elder, shows the group a medicinal herb from the forest-Credit FFI_P Wairagala

Uganda-19-019-Dingolo, a Mutwa elder, shows the group a medicinal herb from the forest-Credit FFI_P Wairagala

Since the introduction of the International Development (Gender) Act in May 2014 including gender considerations has become compulsory for all Darwin projects.

Incorporating a gender perspective in project design is important as it widens the aspects of poverty alleviation that can be addressed by the project. Doing so helps to shed light on broader understandings of poverty alleviation including human wellbeing, an important indicator of poverty alleviation but one that is often disregarded in favour of economic indicators, which can be more simply measured.  However, improving gender equity has direct impact on human wellbeing and can heighten the impact of a project considerably.

As women are predominantly involved in the informal sector- much of this being taking care of families- they are well placed to know what really improves wellbeing and how to best demonstrate this.  Therefore, women can often be the best agents of sustainable development practices. A good example of this comes from the women of the Boni-Dodori area of Kenya (Project 20-011 ‘Community-based conservation and livelihoods development within Kenya’s Boni-Dodori forest ecosystem’). This project demonstrated that women are more likely to adapt to new technologies and initiatives such as village savings and loan schemes as they are more aware of their practical use and benefits they can provide.


Kenya 20-011 Shortages of water means people (predominantly women) travelling long distances to fetch water Credit J Bett.

Darwin project 19-017 ‘Building capacity for participatory ecosystem-based marine conservation in Central America’ also highlights the vital role of women to wellbeing and food security at the household level. In this project women were found to have a clear role focused on fishing, and the processing and selling of fish. Yet, as is commonly the case, they have often been overlooked in local participatory governance and management structures for marine resources.

Including women in decision making can lead to more informed project design, which leads to improved management of natural resources that promote biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation. An example of this is Project 19-005: ‘Underpinning the design and management of Cambodia’s first Marine Protected Area’. Here including women in decision making revealed previously unreported roles of women, such as gleaning for molluscs to meet household food security requirements. Knowledge of this is now being used to inform zoning regulations and design livelihood enhancement support, which will help ensure the positive impact of the project on the local community and biodiversity.

By giving women a voice and including them in decision making- whether that be at a project level or higher- will improve a project’s design and its wider impact by making sure it is working appropriately in the local context. It will also help to maximise the benefits for both the local community and the environment. For more information on how Darwin projects are addressing gender issues, check out the latest edition of the Darwin newsletter.

Woman engaging in participatory impact assessment, evaluating change as a result of the project activities. Credit L Birchenough-FFI

Woman engaging in participatory impact assessment, evaluating change as a result of the project activities.

Credit L Birchenough-FFI


Field based monitoring and evaluation – what we do and why?

I was in Kenya last week undertaking some field evaluation work for the Darwin Initiative. This blog post is intended to shed some light on what we do during these field trips, what the value is (and to whom) and how we use the material we produce.

The Darwin Initiative has an overarching M&E framework which includes all the standard things such as a Theory of Change and Programme Logframe. In essence what this boils down to is a set of objectives, indicators and assumptions for the programme. Our job, as the M&E contractor is to measure the collective progress of Darwin funded projects against these objectives and test assumptions.

This sounds straightforward until you consider the diversity of projects funded under the Darwin Initiative – both in subject matter and in geography. Each project is collecting and presenting evidence in a myriad of different forms and somehow we need to make sense of it all. Here I’ll talk through what the fieldwork element of our work focuses on.

It serves a number of purposes depending on whether the projects evaluated are ongoing or closed. For ongoing projects the purpose for field evaluation includes:

  • the verification of results
  • obtaining an independent perspective on the projects
  • troubleshooting and supporting projects to reorient themselves

For closed projects fieldwork is more centred around the full Darwin programme than the individual project. The purpose of these activities includes:

  • analysis of evidence to meet a specific programme objective i.e. gender or traditional knowledge etc.
  • an attempt to understand what the legacy is of Darwin funding i.e. what happened next
  • an attempt to understand the collective impact of multiple projects


We tend to restrict fieldwork to 2 distinct periods – halfway through a project (a Mid Term Review) and after a project has finished (a Closed Project Evaluation).

Most of the time we have 5-7 days with each project depending on logistics. For all projects visited we are driven by what the project has defined as being their measures of success i.e. the project Application Form. This includes the logframe, workplans, methods, team composition etc. We additionally have a Terms of Reference that defines what questions we are looking to answer through the fieldwork. This week my terms of reference centres around 3 questions:

  • What biodiversity benefits has the project achieved?
  • What has the contribution of the project been to poverty alleviation? Poverty should be considered in the context of the MDG’s.
  • What factors have governed the project organisation’s capacity to collect appropriate evidence?


Collecting evidence during fieldwork in Uganda, 2013. Photo credit: M Wieland

Collecting evidence during fieldwork in Uganda, 2013. Photo credit: M Wieland

2015-06-18 14.52.12

The methods we use are partially dictated by the types of evidence available from the projects. In most cases however we will also use semi-structured key informant interviews with the project implementers, key stakeholders and beneficiaries of the projects.

We may also undertake focus group sessions that may use methods such as participatory ranking, participatory pairwise ranking, and Most Significant Change.

For most ongoing projects we generally conduct a Theory of Change session at some point during the evaluation. This is a useful tool for an evaluator to better understand what the project team consider success to look like, what assumptions this success hinges on, what measures might be available to better understand this success and who the various actors are that influence this success. As well as being useful for the evaluator, this is often a useful exercise for the project team to undergo as it allows them to reflect on their progress and what tasks they must undertake in order to best achieve success. I will talk more about Theory of Change and its uses in a subsequent blog post.

The final outputs of this field evaluation is of course a report. This report is shared with Defra and DFID for approval before being published on the Darwin Initiative website. You can see some examples here.

We also develop a shorter learning note which is intended to draw out lessons for the wider Darwin community, which you can also see here.

This is rarely the end point of these reviews since they often result in recommendations for both the projects and the programme. We may therefore use this material to refine our systems and processes within the Darwin Initiative to better ensure impact such as the refining the application forms. Additionally we use this material to help improve understanding within the wider Darwin Initiative community, through a variety of forums including this blog!

I hope this blog post is helpful in understanding what the purpose of these field evaluation visits are. We have at least 2 Mid Term Reviews to conduct later this year and a Closed Project Evaluation in September, hopefully in Kyrgyzstan, so watch this space!

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Sustainable fashion and biodiversity

The issue of sweatshops and child labour has become more and more prevalent in the news. This was especially so after the awful disaster at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh last year when the garment factory collapsed and over 1,100 people lost their lives.

Since then more attention has focused on how these garments are made and the conditions of these garment workers. But have you ever given much thought to where your fabric comes from even before we get to the issue of garment factories?

Cotton is a major cash crop in Ethiopia but little of this has made it to the international market. This is despite the fact that Ethiopia is thought to be one of the originators of cotton cultivation in the world. Part of the reason for the lack of cotton export is that much of cotton growing is done by small-scale farmers – in 2007/8, US$19 million of cotton was exported from Ethiopia compared to US$100 million for coffee in the same period.

Since 2013 the Darwin Initiative has been funding a project in Ethiopia that is focusing on the issue of cotton growers in southern Ethiopia. In November 2014 I had the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia to evaluate the project run by PAN UK in partnership with PAN Ethiopia. The aim of the project is to better understand pesticide use in farming (particularly cotton farming) in Ethiopia and seek to support these farmers to reduce their use of pesticides to the benefit of biodiversity and human health.IMG_5101

Pesticide use by both smallholder and commercial farms is widespread in southern Ethiopia. Prior to this project there had been a small number of studies that suggested that it was having a detrimental effect on biodiversity and human health but there was no systematic collection of evidence of what pesticides were being used and in what volumes. There was also no systematic monitoring of the impacts of this pesticide use on human health and biodiversity.

So back to Ethiopia or more specifically Arba Minch. An area that is not only beautiful and chock full of important biodiversity (it’s one of the most important flyway for birds in the Rift Valley) but it’s also home to many Ethiopian people whose primary source of income is agriculture particularly cotton.


Pesticide use is rife in Ethiopia. Part of the problem is when it was first introduced in the 1960s is the word given for it in Amharic was ‘medicine’. Farmers were taught that this stuff was magical and it could cure practically anything. The pesticides used up until very recently ranged from the nasty to down right scary pesticides like endosulfan and DDT. They applied it by hand with no protective clothing – they even used the left over containers for storing food. Scarily it is even applied directly to the skin or clothes to treat ectoparasites.

Thankfully there is this Darwin project is demonstrating to farmers that pesticides are harmful to people, to biodiversity and, through excellent systematic research, to yields. Because you see bizarrely pesticides are causing farmers to grow less cotton than no treatment at all! They’ve been teaching farmers to apply agroecological methods – in essence this means teaching them about biodiversity and its value to them. They use the phrase ‘farmers friends’ for insects and birds. Previously they thought all insects were harmful and would treat their farms excessively with pesticides if they felt there were too many insects. Now they discuss with one another what insects and birds they have on their fields and apply organic practices (including the low tech ‘food spray’ – more on this here). Applying these organic practices has resulted in up to 100% yield increases for these farmers.


The project is also supporting these farmers to establish cotton farming cooperatives with the intention that they achieve organic cotton certification and sell their cotton on the international market. A triple-win that will mean more money for the farmers, better health for the farmers and a stronger more biodiverse environment.


They are in talks to sell their cotton to H&M and C&A once they achieve certification. Which should mean these farmers will be entering the international market and securing a fair price for farming that doesn’t cause untold harm to their health, their family’s health and globally important biodiversity.

What about you? Do you ever think about where your fabric comes from or how your clothes are made? Have you attempted to change the way you buy or source your clothes to reduce your impact on poverty or the environment?

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Who’s who in the Darwin Initiative?

By Lesley King

As this is my first blog for the Darwin Initiative I thought I’d do a nice intro to myself. Then I thought – well why not introduce the rest of the team! We have many new projects about to start with us – some of whom are entirely new to Darwin – so it would be nice to introduce ourselves and what we do.

As I’m sure you’re aware, the Darwin Initiative was launched in 1992 by Defra who have oversight of the programme. They were joined by DFID in 2011 but Defra still retains the role of overall management of the Darwin Initiative.

Since 2003, LTS has been contracted by Defra to provide support to the Darwin Initiative in varying forms. We’re a small company based in Scotland, Kenya and Malawi (as of January 2015!) and have been working in the field of development since 1973. Our job is to provide support to the Darwin Initiative programme including administration of the applications cycle, financial administration of projects, monitoring and evaluation of the programme and through targeted communications support the Darwin community to learn from what works. It takes a team of people to do all this work – we have busy periods in the year when it’s all hands on deck and quieter periods when only 1 or 2 of us are undertaking extensive work.

 So who is who in our Darwin team?

Eilidh - Aug 08

Eilidh Young – Darwin Administrator

Eilidh has worked on the Darwin Initiative for over 10 years and is the person you’re most likely to speak to during your funding. Her name seems to cause much confusion so here is the definitive guide to pronouncing Eilidh’s name:

Eilidh = Ae – lee

Or as an easy alternative just think of Hayley but drop the ‘H’!

Don’t worry if you still can’t get it right – Eilidh would never be offended by the various mispronunciations of her name. In fact its generally a point of great humour to hear how her name can be pronounced by various nationalities.

Eilidh is the first point of contact for all Darwin projects both during application and during funding. She is something of an agony aunt for some of our projects and dispenses incredibly useful information on how to manage a Darwin project based on her long experience supporting these projects. She is a whizz of an administrator and a walking encyclopaedia of all our Darwin projects. Her particular favourites are the projects on cats – especially if they send her pictures of cats.


Lesley King – Technical Lead

That’s me. I’ve worked on the Darwin Initiative for 7 years now and I’m the Technical Lead and responsible for managing the whole programme of work here at LTS. Where I spend most of my time is on conducting monitoring and evaluation of the projects and developing learning materials from this to share with the Darwin Initiative. It’s me that’s been behind much of our social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

My background is in marine conservation and I have a particular passion for tropical marine ecosystems with an extra special soft spot for sharks. However since joining Darwin I’ve had to become much more of a generalist conducting evaluations on projects covering diverse subjects such as microfungi, plant taxonomy, indigenous people and agriculture.  I particularly enjoy deconstructing and reconstructing logframes with projects to develop useful, workable tools that really help them to demonstrate their impact. Hey – someone has to like logframes!


Dr Paddy Abbot – Contract Director

Paddy is our Contract Director at LTS and has worked on the Darwin Initiative for over 8 years. He has overall oversight of our work. He’s a forester by background though these days he tends to work on larger, multi-disciplinary programmes dealing with chronic environmental and climate change issues such as watersheds in Malawi. Paddy is an expert in monitoring and evaluation methods and challenges the team constantly to ensure our methodologies are robust and stand up to academic rigour. Paddy is also a great asset when it comes to the workshops we hold to support Darwin projects to develop coherent M&E plans that are useful and not a burden.


Zoe Hyde – Finance Director

Zoe is the Finance Director at LTS and lends a hand on the financial administration of the Darwin Initiative. She is a chartered accountant and comes into her own during application time when she reviews all the accounts and annual reports of applicants against our eligibility criteria. Zoe is also involved in processing financial claims, spot audits and review of financial guidance to projects. She’s very much behind the scenes of the Darwin Initiative but critical to ensuring things remain on track financially.

2013-03-25 09.40.44 (1)

Simon Mercer – Senior Consultant

Simon is very new to the Darwin team. He joined us in January having just finished a PhD at UEA looking at the issue of climate change and managing a protected area in Nepal. Simon is sharing a lot of the technical support Lesley has been providing to the Darwin projects – you should be seeing some learning notes being published in the coming months crafted by Simon. He’s looking forward to meeting you all at the New Projects workshop in March.


Jami Dixon – Research Associate

Jami is also very new to Darwin having joined at the same time as Simon in January. She has joined us to lead on a very specific project – a thematic review of poverty and the Darwin Initiative. You’ll hopefully have seen some of her interesting blogs on the subject. She’s recently completed a PhD at Leeds University on the issue of climate change in agriculture in Uganda and used to live and work in Uganda supporting an NGO working on similar issues. She has the joy of getting to sit about thinking about how to apply theoretical approaches to our very practical programme to get the most useful information out about what works.


Joanne Gordon

Joanne has been working on Darwin for 2 years now and bridges the technical team and the administration team here at the Darwin Initiative. She’s doing all the administration for the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund but is also providing support to the technical team on the Darwin Initiative. She is the mastermind behind the Darwin newsletter and supports us in the various workshops we hold over the year. Despite a heavy workload she is also undertaking a part-time MSc at Edinburgh University in Environment and Development.

 Giraffe manor

Victoria Pinion

Victoria is also a recent addition to the Darwin team. She is passionate about wildlife conservation with time spent in Kenya and Paraguay working with local NGOs to support conservation efforts. She is also a data junkie and is particularly good at analysing large datasets which is useful for our programme level evaluation work – categorising and quantifying 900 projects into something usable takes some skill! We’ll shortly be losing Victoria for a few months as she’s off to Malawi for a posting supporting a project assessing Malawi’s biodiversity which will hopefully result in the development of management maps and guidance, community environmental education products, biodiversity catalogues and tourist maps and guides.


Victoria Spinks

Victoria provides administrative support to the Darwin Initiative. She’s been with the team almost a year now and has successfully survived her first applications cycle. Considering we had over 350+ applications to stage 1 this year that is no mean feat.

As well as the core Darwin team here at LTS we have a whole panel of independent M&E experts who conduct the reviews of your annual reports, reviews of applications, support field-based evaluations. Given the diversity of Darwin projects we need a large panel of experts who have specific knowledge on the types of issues being tackled.