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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Collaborations in Conservation: The value of a promise

Welcome to the fourth and final instalment of the Darwin Initiative “Collaborations in Conservation” blog series. The project featured in this blog post is working with communities in the Dja Faunal Reserve, Cameroon to reduce the occurrence of illegal hunting. This article highlights that strong partnerships can only be established through a secure foundation of trust and mutual understanding between local communities and NGOs.

To read the full series please follow the links for the first, second and third blog posts.

Managing expectations in development and conservation

Ask anyone who has been working in international development or wildlife conservation in the past thirty years what the main challenges of working with the rural poor are, and the chances are that they would list “managing expectations” in their top three.

With the introduction of integrated conservation and development projects, participatory processes and trying to find ‘win-wins’ for people and wildlife has come the recognition that if people are being asked to modify their working practices, then they should receive some sort of benefit. What the benefits actually are, the amount of time they take, and the value of the benefit are areas where often there is a difference in perception between the ‘donor’ and the ‘beneficiaries’ and the direction they are heading.

Cameroon 24-005 Manfred Epanda introducing format to villagers, Credit - FCTV

Manfred Epanda from AWF presenting the format of the signing of reciprocal environment agreements to Ekom villagers, Credit – FCTV

This can often be the case when well-resourced NGOs interact with people living in poverty and aim to change situations based on principles of ‘doing the right thing’. All very admirable, but in order to change, people need options, and incentives. It can’t just be stick and no carrot.

The situation gets worse if expectations of the benefits are not met. In our experience, engaging with a community that has been a ‘partner’ in interventions where local communities felt ‘let down’ or promised more than what was actually delivered, is a far harder task than working with people who have no previous interactions with well-meaning NGOs.

One model that we increasingly rely on is based on working under some sort of agreement. We can call them ‘Conservation Partnerships’ or ‘Reciprocal Environmental Agreements’ the idea being – that if we’re asking for change, we need to pay. The payment is rarely monetary based, but from the very beginning of the project we are clear about what we want to see happen and what the benefits will be if people engage. Working under written agreements is part of the process because it helps to deliver clarity, responsibility, and commitment to action – from both the donor and the beneficiary.

Cameroon 24-005 Alternative protein source support signed for, Credit - FCTV

Reciprocal environment agreements were signing for alternative protein source support (effective fishing and cocoa production) Credit – FCTV

The people living in the northern buffer zone of the Dja Faunal Reserve (DFR) have had many years’ experience of working with Government agencies and NGOs, all looking to stop illegal hunting. Almost all of these interactions have been around conflict. Yes, it’s true that people have been breaking the law; it’s illegal to hunt anything in the DFR, or set snares, or take out trees. But when options are limited, law enforcement is weak or corrupt, and there are no incentives other than punishment if caught, it isn’t a surprise that tensions and conflict are a part of the daily struggle for survival.

After 16 months of discussions with the villagers that live alongside the DFR, agreements were signed that committed both sides of the party to various obligations. One of the very first things we had to do in order to show that we were genuine in our understanding of their circumstances was to deliver benefit. In return for agreeing to shift from hunting, we have taught them how to grow cocoa and market it so that they can earn an income. We have given them new fishing materials and taught them about water safety so that they can obtain more animal protein from fish, rather than just bushmeat. We know this will not completely solve the problem of illegal hunting, but it’s a start based on a clear understanding of what each party expects from one another.

For more information on project 24-005 led by Royal Zoological Society Antwerp in the Dja Faunal Reserve please click here. The full article for this project and many others have been features in the February 2019 Darwin Initiative newsletter that can be found here.


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Collaborations in Conservation: The power of community

Welcome to the third instalment of the “Collaborations in Conservation” series. This blog post features a project in the Moroccan High Atlas that through collaboration with Dar Taliba boarding school has created a community garden. The once vacant school garden is now teaming with life and encourages younger community members to get involved and improve their knowledge of local plants.

If you would like to read the full “Collaborations in Conservation” series, follow these links for the first and second blog posts.

Co-creating an ethnobotanical school garden for Amazigh girls in the High Atlas, Morocco

The landscapes of the Moroccan High Atlas have been shaped by the close relationship between humans and the environment over the course of millennia. They are maintained by contemporary cultural practices that support a regional biodiversity hotspot and ensure ecological resilience. Through this project the Darwin Initiative co-funds Global Diversity Foundation’s High Atlas Cultural Landscapes Programme, which seeks to strengthen these traditional practices while enhancing sustainable land-based economies and wellbeing.

Foundational to this programme is our focus on capacity-building, particularly for the younger generation. One of our core training grounds is the ethnobotanical school garden at Dar Taliba, an all-girls boarding house in the Ourika Valley which was set up to enable students from remote villages to continue their education beyond primary school. What started out as a modest school garden has grown into a multifunctional garden and outdoor training space for students to develop new skills and knowledge in plant conservation, plant uses, permaculture techniques, beekeeping and indigenous practices. The garden also provides organic herbs, fruits and vegetables, which are used to prepare school meals for the 142 girls currently in residence – at least 15 of whom are able to attend Dar Taliba thanks to the funding from Darwin Initiative.

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Dar Taliba students watering newly planted seeds in greenhouse, Credit – Pommelien da Silva Cosme

Today’s success of the Dar Taliba school garden is the result of strong partnerships built during the co-creation of this green space, including collaboration with the students who were actively involved throughout its construction process. In 2016, the Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association (MBLA), a local non-profit that implements integrated in-situ and ex-situ conservation measures through community-based research, provided invaluable input in identifying the first steps of reviving the old school garden.

We have also been long-time partners of the Association de Bienfaisance pour le Développement du Bassin de l’Ourika (ABDBO), the Moroccan association dedicated to rural girls’ education that established the Dar Taliba boarding house in 1998. Together, we elaborated a strategy for the creation of the garden with the direct involvement of the students. We then began working with a team of local permaculture design specialists, Radiant Design, who created a multifunctional garden using permaculture principles. The garden now includes a plant nursery, green house, ethnobotanical garden, vegetable garden, aromatic and medicinal plant garden and a recreational space for students to study.

Morocco 24-010 Students in garden during a planting session, Credit - Fabien Tournan

Students in school garden during a planting session, Credit – Fabien Tournan

In 2017, all of our partners’ hard work and joint efforts were rewarded when the Dar Taliba students started to spend a lot of their time in the garden. We continued to work with MBLA and Radiant Design, using the space to deliver weekly permaculture trainings. Since then, the students have been learning more about indigenous plant botany and sustainable agriculture techniques while practicing new skills such as seed saving, making organic fertiliser and composting. Through these capacity building activities, the girls are rediscovering their local cultural heritage related to plants and actively engaging in local biodiversity conservation efforts. They also have begun engaging in their traditional knowledge and practices when they return home to their communities, setting the stage for the long-term sustainability of our programme.

More information on the Global Diversity Foundation project 24-010 in the Moroccan High Atlas can be found by clicking here. The full article for this project and many others have been featured in the February 2019 Darwin Initiative newsletter that can be found here.


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Collaborations in Conservation: Experts tackle alien species together

The first blog post of this series focused on the combination of science, art and education to raise awareness for the critically endangered Samoan Manumea through the publication of a children’s book. This post will focus on collaboration on a much larger scale through the combined effort of 163 experts over all 14 of the UK Overseas Territories. The experts joined forces under project DPLUS056 with a shared goal of identifying species that pose a risk to human health and biodiversity.

Collaboration of 163 experts led to predictions of impacts of invasive non-native species across 14 UKOTs

The UK’s 14 Overseas Territories (UKOTs) represent a diverse set of biological regions with fabulous species, habitats and people. The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology has been delighted to be involved with two projects working with the UKOTs, and are happy to share the incredible collaborations and experiences we have had over the last two years.

The first UKOTs project our team led was funded through the Darwin Initiative: DPLUS056 in 2017 Assessment of current and future Invasive Alien Species in Cyprus (http://www.ris-ky.eu). Along with our project partners, the Joint Services Health Unit (JSHU), British Forces Cyprus and the University of Cyprus we investigated current and future threats from terrestrial and aquatic invasive non-native species using historic data, field surveys and horizon scanning (Roy et al. 2014, Roy 2015). A horizon scanning workshop brought together scientists from Cyprus and across Europe to generate a list of species considered to impact biodiversity, ecosystems and human health. In addition, the project team developed and undertook surveys for native and non-native invasive species across the Western Sovereign Base Area (SBA) in Cyprus alongside the review and collation of historic data to assess the current threats.

Cyprus DPLUS056 South Atlantic Horzion Scanning team at workshop in Cambridge, Credit - Helen Roy

The South Atlantic Horizon Scanning Team at a workshop held in Cambridge, Credit – Helen Roy

The information we gathered was presented and discussed with regional through a capacity-building workshop in August 2017, that enabled us to better understand the monitoring priorities for biological recording in the SBAs and across wider Cyprus.

Invasive non-native (and native) mosquitoes were identified as a major threat to human health and well-being. Therefore, in the following year (April 2018), a workshop was organised looking at the challenges regarding vector-borne disease management within SBAs and beyond, with a focus on the impacts of invasive non-native species.

In 2018 our team at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology began working on a UK Government funded project through support from the Non-Native Species Secretariat to undertake horizon scanning and biosecurity workshops across all 14 UKOTs. This provided an excellent opportunity to extend the horizon scanning methods developed through our Darwin Plus project DPLUS056 to all UKOTs to derive lists of invasive non-native species that could have adverse impacts. Our project team with collaborators from around the world worked with biodiversity experts from the UKOTs in order to develop priority lists and develop Pathway Action Plans in collaboration with the regional experts and guided by the biosecurity teams.

Cyprus DPLUS056 Professor Roy talking to children from Jamestown School St Helena, Credit - Helen Roy

Professor Roy talking with local school children in Jamestown, St Helena, Credit – Helen Roy

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, along with their project partners through their new Darwin Plus project DPLUS088: Addressing drivers of ecological change in Lake Akrotiri SBA, Cyprus continue to build on the work of our initial Darwin Plus project. Alongside remote sensing, hydrological surveys and plant assessments, which will be relevant for other UKOTs and will include a Code of Practice for Managing Mosquitoes in Wetlands.

These projects are intrinsically linked through a network of stakeholders working across common global challenges. We worked with experts from policy, environmental and research Government departments, representatives from biosecurity departments, education centres, universities, NGOs and the volunteer biological recording community. We have worked with over 150 people, through the Darwin Initiative and the UK Government funded project linking to the inspiring work within these regions. It has been a great privilege to foster networks with people working around the world on the invasive non-native species and biosecurity. The collaborations will continue in the future and we are looking forward to sharing the outcomes of this project in many different ways.

For more information on the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology’s DPLUS056 project in Cyprus please click here. The full article for this project and many others have been featured in the February 2019 Darwin Initiative newsletter that can be found here.

 

 


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Collaborations in Conservation: Combining Science, Education and Art

Our latest Darwin Initiative blog series highlights the importance of collaboration between project organisations and local communities, Governments and NGOs. We feature projects which have benefited from strong relationships between project partners and stakeholders, and who work together to achieve their goals.

This first blog post shares the success of a project working to protect the Manumea (Didunculus strigirostris) in Samoa. The project leader teamed up with a local school teacher and artist and through the combination of science, art and education they published a children’s book to raise awareness and promote the conservation of Samoa’s national bird.

Can a story save the little dodo?

The Manumea or the little dodo is the last of its kind, found nowhere else in the world apart from Samoa. The national bird of Samoa is seen by locals and visitors to the Pacific nation every day on the 50 sene coin and $20 tala note, yet it is a rare sight in its natural forest habitat. The Manumea is often referred to as the ‘princess of the forest’ and is one of the rarest birds in the world. It is considered as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Research funded through this Darwin project has allowed scientists and researchers from the Samoan Government Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and local conservation NGOs to undertake research to determine the reasoning behind the disappearance of this symbolic bird.

Unfortunately, the results from this critical study were not as wide reaching as was originally anticipated and the scientific publication did not attract many readers. The complex jargon and lengthy nature of the publication meant that the information was not easily shared with a wide audience – a solution was needed.

Project leader Dr. Rebecca Stirnemann summed up the dilemma – “To prevent the species’ decline, the science needed to be in the hearts of everyone”. Because the aim of the study was to prevent a further decline in species numbers, the results needed to accessible to everyone and in a format that was suitable for both adults and children in the community.

Samoa 21-001 Miss Samoa 2018 reading to school children, Credit - Jane Vaafanga

Miss Samoa 2018 reading ‘Mose and the Manumea’ to a group of local school children, Credit – Jane Va’afusuaga

Aiming to create awareness around the decline of Samoa’s national bird, as well as increase literacy among Samoan children and adults, the two authors – Rebecca Stirnemann and Jane Va’afusuaga – joined forces to write “Mose and the Manumea”. Prior to the publication of the book, the authors contemplated making a poster or a brochure but decided to write a children’s book that would be available in both Samoan and English.

Mose and the Manumea

The cover and illustrations for ‘Mose and the Manumea’ were done by artist Christina Brady and represent the colours and beauty of Samoa, Credit – Christina Brady.

It was important to the authors that the beauty and colours of the Pacific Island were accurately represented in the story and artist Christina Brady was recruited to the team as the illustrator. As a team they combined science, education and art and through dedication and teamwork were able to publish “Mose and the Manumea”.

The creation of the book is the true definition of collaboration. Author Jane is a school teacher and even the children in Samoa helped. In order to make a book that children would love the authors made several visits to local schools and had 8-10 year olds critique the text and help shape the book. The book is complete and has been published by Little Island Press and is a prime example of the success that can occur through collaboration. The book will fund active conservation on the ground to save the iconic species.

“Mose and the Manumea” is available on Amazon and all royalties are donated to the conservation of the Manumea by the authors.

For more information on project 21-001 lead by the Australian National University please click here. This article is featured in the February 2019 edition of the Darwin Initiative Newsletter, you can read the full newsletter here.