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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Darwin for Climate Action – improving watershed management from Morocco to Bolivia

In the second of our climate resilience themed blog posts (read out first one here!), we take a look at the different watershed management approaches used by projects to address both climate change adaptation and mitigation. First, we visit Morocco for an introduction to the adaptation work undertaken by the Global Diversity Foundation’s plant conservation programme in the Atlas Mountains. We then travel half way around the world to see the Natural Bolivia Foundation’s watershed project and the impact it is having on livelihoods, deforestation and climate resilience in the Chaco.

Conserving threatened plant species to support community adaptation and resilience to climate change in the High Atlas

The Mediterranean ecosystem of the High Atlas in southern Morocco is home to significant plant biodiversity – including endemic, endangered and economically important species – that has been sustained for millennia by Indigenous Amazigh communities. However, High Atlas cultural landscapes are under increasing threat from interrelated socio-ecological problems that include overharvesting of endemic useful plants, intensive grazing, inadequate water management and the erosion of cultural practices of conservation and sustainable land use management. The effects of climate change, heightened in fragile montane ecosystems, are compounding the impact of all these factors.

Morocco 24-010 Irrigated thyme, Credit Global Diversity Foundation

Irrigated Thyme, Credit: Global Diversity Foundation

In April 2017, Global Diversity Foundation began implementing a three-year Darwin Initiative project. One of the ways the project is seeking to improve the resilience and adaptation of local communities to climate change is by building and restoring water management infrastructure to provide more efficient irrigation of large tracts of agricultural land and community nurseries in partner communities. This contributes to climate change adaptation in partner communities whilst also ensuring that precious water resources are used wisely and can therefore continue to sustain the broader ecosystems within which these agricultural terraces are embedded. To support this work, the project team collaborate with diverse partners to provide training courses for local communities and associations on cultivating drought resilient crops and using water economically to improve resilience to climate change and increasingly arid conditions.

As part of this programme, the Global Diversity Foundation are establishing community seed banks to secure improved availability of locally adapted plant species, and carrying out research on the impact of climate change on the High Atlas flora to identify potential new climate change refugia for target endangered or endemic plant species. The results of this research will inform our ongoing conservation actions in the High Atlas. All of these activities enrich partnerships with Amazigh people, who continually assess the impacts of climate change on their cultural landscapes and devise further strategies to lessen its effects on their socio-ecological wellbeing.

If you want to find out more about this project, visit their project page here.

Watershared: adaptation, mitigation, watershed protection and economic development in the Bolivian Chaco

Bolivia’s Gran Chaco encompasses swamps, salt flats, scrublands, and the largest virgin dry forest on earth. Although the region offers high soil fertility, it receives minimal rainfall. Most of the economic activity in Chaco requires water, so there is an urgent need to increase water efficiency and, most importantly, ensure that the water arrives in the lowlands in the first place.

Upper watershed farmers in the Chaco often have no economic alternative other than to deforest their land for agriculture. Forests are destroyed and cows enter streambeds to drink, forage, urinate and defecate. The subsistence agriculture of upper watershed farmers is unproductive, while downstream water sources are contaminated. Children miss school with diarrhoea as a result of contaminated water, and waterholes dry up.

Bolivia 21-008 Compensation in the Chaco, Credit - Natura Bolivia

Compensation in the Chaco, Credit: Natura Bolivia

Reciprocal watershed agreements – otherwise known as Watershared agreements – are simple, grassroots versions of incentive-based conservation. They help upper watershed forest and land managers to sustainably manage their forest and water resources to benefit both themselves and downstream water users. Watershared agreements focus on changing behaviour through economic and non-economic incentives and building institutional capacity: in other words, by showing local authorities and water users that watershed protection is in their own interests, and then facilitate the creation of the institutional framework needed to plan and implement it.

The Watershared model was first developed in 2003, in the Bolivian village of Los Negros. Six downstream irrigators negotiated a ground-breaking deal with their upstream counterparts. “For every 10 hectares [ha] of forest you conserve for a year,” Andrés Rojas told Serafín Carrasco, “we will give you a beehive and training in how to produce honey.” And so the first reciprocal watershed agreement was struck. The Reciprocal Watershed Agreements Darwin Project helped another six municipal governments create and consolidate Local Water Funds. These funds were designed to catalyse local investment in the upstream “Water Factories” of the Chaco and thereby simultaneously:

  1.  Mitigate climate change (conserve old growth forests);
  2.  Adapt to climate change (maintain water sources);
  3. Increase food security (maintain quantity of irrigation water and diversify upstream production systems); and
  4. Improve human health (enhance water quality).
Bolivia 21-008 Handing out conservation incentives, Credit - Natura Bolivia

Handing out conservation incentives, Credit: Natura Bolivia

Most importantly, by having water users and municipal governments pay for the conservation activities, the project developed the institutional framework for sustainable financing of climate change mitigation and adaptation activities. In addition to the 96,510ha that the project conserved under Reciprocal Watershared Agreements, there was a high demand from local authorities for the creation of new municipal protected areas. The project used Darwin Initiative funds, along with counterpart support, to help create three new municipal protected areas. The creation of these areas protected another 500,000 ha of the Chaco’s forests.

If you want to find out more about this project, visit their project page here. To read more articles about how Darwin projects are working towards improving climate resilience in developing countries worldwide, see our special edition of the newsletter from November 2017.


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Darwin for Climate Action – Mainstreaming biodiversity conservation at Yayu Biosphere Reserve

In honour of the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (CoP23) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that was held in Bonn in November 2017, the Darwin Initiative blog will be running a series highlighting a few of our most innovative and interesting climate change focused projects.

The first entry in this series looks at the climate resilience and biodiversity project in the Yayu Biosphere Reserve in Ethiopia. This project, led by Dr Aaron Davis of RBG Kew, took an approach to climate resilience which focused on empowering the communities living near the reserve. The Yayu team believed that improving the income and livelihoods of local coffee farmers would limit forest loss through land conversion and empower the farmers to put more climate resilient practices in place – and evidence to date suggests they have been successful. The project has had a number of positive impacts over its three-year lifespan, and is due to end in just a few months. Below is an extract from the article the project team submitted to the Darwin Newsletter to explain more about those successes and the methods used to achieve them.

Yayu Reserve in Ethiopia covers 167,000 hectares and is one of the most important storehouses of wild genetic resources for Arabica coffee. Given that these forests are suitable for wild coffee, it may come as no surprise that coffee farming occurs within the forests of the buffer zone and transition areas of the reserve, generating up to 70% of the cash income for over 90% of the local population.

Despite the popularity of Ethiopian coffee, most coffee farmers at Yayu are struggling to make sufficient income. This drives forest loss through land use conversion, leading to a reduction in biodiversity, deterioration of ecosystem services, and a narrowing of income diversity. In the longer term, coffee farming at Yayu has been identified as climatically sensitive and thus low coffee prices are also problematic, because farmers have a reduced capacity to adapt to increasing climate variability and change.

The overarching model of the project is to increase the income for the farmers who grow, harvest and process the coffee at Yayu, via improving coffee quality and providing sustainable access to market. One of the ways the project is working towards this is by training farmers in coffee harvesting and processing techniques, as well as installing the appropriate equipment, to improve the quality of coffee they produce.  If the value of the forest-based coffee production improves, this will serve to preserve the forest at Yayu. In turn, this brings benefits for coffee production, from the ecological services (including pollinator services) provided by the forest. With improved coffee prices, farmers also have the potential to invest in coffee-farming, including adaptation to climate change.

Ethiopia 22-006, Graciano Cruz, a coffee farmer from Panama, advises on drying bed construction, Credit - Emily Garthwaite.jpg

Graciano Cruz (HiuCoffee) a coffee farmer from Panama advises on drying bed construction, essential equipment for producing high quality coffee, Credit: Emily Garthwaite

Early on in the project it became evident that farmers knew how to improve climate resilience, but there was simply not enough value in their coffee crop to pay for it. This project has supported the Yayu cooperatives by providing them with what they need to improve their coffee quality and making direct links to the markets where they can sell it.

As a direct result of the project, more than 130,000 kg of high quality project coffee has been purchased from the five Yayu cooperatives, tripling the income from coffee for several hundred households across the community.

Ethiopia 22-006 - Yayu coffee sold in Waitrose 1 Credit - Union Hand-Roasted Coffee

Yayu Forest Coffee – which has tasting notes of citrus fruit and bourbon biscuits – is now on sale in Waitrose in the UK, with 25p from each packet sold going directly back to the project, Credit: Union Hand-Roasted Coffee

With improved and stable prices it is now possible to put climate resilience experiments into practice. If farmers invest in climate adaptation measures (such as soil mulching, pruning, and better shade management) what will this mean in terms of improved resilience, coffee productivity, quality and income? Following this, farmers will be in a much better position to quantify the precise value of climate adaptation measures and target their limited resources more effectively.

If you want to find out more about this project, visit their project page here. To read more articles about how Darwin projects are working towards improving climate resilience in developing countries worldwide, see our special edition of the newsletter from November 2017.

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Darwin Initiative’s 25th Anniversary celebrated on Jersey stamps!

2017 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Darwin Initiative! Since it was first announced in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, Darwin has gone from strength to strength. This year saw us passing the 1000th project mark, bringing the total number of funded projects to 1,055 – a fantastic legacy!

In celebration of this anniversary, and celebrating the legacies of famous naturalists Gerald Durrell and Charles Darwin, six stamps and a miniature wooden sheet, illustrated by artist Sara Menon, were issued by Jersey Post on Wednesday 14 June. The animals and birds that feature on the stamps are subjects of conservation projects undertaken by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust with support from the Darwin Initiative over the past quarter century. Featured on the stamps are: Livingstone’s fruit bat, Telfair’s skink, the mountain chicken, Hispaniolan solenodon, the pygmy hog and the mangrove finch. As the symbol of the Darwin initiative, the finch is the subject of our latest blog looking at the extraordinary work done by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, with the Darwin Initiative’s support, to protect the species.

Durrell & Darwin_Mint Set
Six stamps, illustrated by Sara Menon, celebrating 25 years of Darwin, Credit: Jersey Post

In 2005, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust was invited by Galápagos Conservation Trust to look at the apparently catastrophic decline of the critically endangered mangrove finch in Galápagos, Ecuador. This endemic finch, one of Darwin’s finches and the rarest bird in the archipelago, was once found at several mangroves on the coasts of Isabela and eastern Fernandina. Since limited to two small mangrove patches on Isabela, the exact reasons for its decline were unclear. Durrell, in partnership with the Charles Darwin Foundation and Galápagos National Park, began identifying the causes of decline and establishing strategies for restoring the species while developing a much better understanding of the finch’s ecology across two Darwin supported projects.

Fundamental to the success of these projects was the identification of dedicated and experienced key personnel with the ability to work in challenging field sites, as Galápagos can be both beautiful and very hostile. Field manager Birgit Fessl had already studied the finch before taking on this role, advisor Hernan Vargas knew the bird intimately and team member Segundo Goanna had worked with Hernan at the field sites before joining Birgit’s team. This team, with support from Francesca Cunninghame who headed up the second project, and the overall project partners, can be credited with the success of these projects.

15-005 Mangrove Finch Cactospiza heliobates Galapagos 2008 Photo by Michael Dvorak (37)

Mangrove Finch, Cactospiza heliobates, on the Galápagos, Credit: Michael Dvorak

And the finch? Things move fast in conservation. The team quickly learnt that the mangrove finch is not only a specialist of mangrove, a rare habitat in Galápagos anyway, but that it only likes one specific type of mangrove, where uplifted beaches prevent the tides from removing leaf litter and where crabs are not present. The team found that invasive rats were suppressing the finch; their removal from the mangroves brought about immediate signs of recovery. This, however, threw up new problems. Where previously rats would limit the number of hatching chicks, their removal allowed invasive parasitic flies to inhibit chick survival, presenting further challenges for the finch’s protection.

The mangrove finch is still very rare and only survives through ongoing support of the Darwin projects’ partnership long after the original projects were completed. All of the key personnel from the projects remain committed to the finch’s survival – removing the chicks from their nests, hand-rearing where the flies can’t get to them and returning them safely to the mangroves. The Darwin Initiative has allowed Durrell to develop an extraordinary international partnership and team that remains committed to this remarkable bird and to ensure survival of the Darwin logo!

Many thanks for Glyn Young from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust for his contribution to this blog. For more articles celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Darwin Initiative, please see our newsletter

Do you have a project that has been supported by the Darwin Initiative? How has the fund helped you over the last 25 years? Be sure to tweet us @Darwin_Defra, and use the #Darwin25 hashtag to celebrate this special milestone! And feel free to get in touch at


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Ecotourism and biodiversity conservation – experience from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda

by Lesley King

According to the UN, tourism has become ‘one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world’ (UNWTO 2016). Indeed if you look at the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers for many of the countries Darwin projects work in, tourism is seen as an important area of investment to support development.  International tourism represents 7% of the world’s exports in goods and services and represents a key source of future jobs and investment in things like infrastructure for developing states.

However, tourism and biodiversity conservation have a chequered history with ecotourism ventures widely touted as the silver bullet for funding conservation – predominately by the marketers of such ventures. What is often misunderstood by the general public is the impact this tourism can have on biodiversity – both directly through increased human footfall in areas of high biodiversity, but also indirectly through policies and incentives that often end up pushing local poor, often the guardians and curators of such biodiversity, into greater poverty.

It was this issue of equity and how it incentivises biodiversity conservation that came up when I visited Uganda in 2015 on an evaluation of Darwin projects.

The Darwin Initiative has funded a number of projects focusing on Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the south-west of Uganda. It is an important park for Mountain Gorilla with roughly half the world’s population residing in the park. It is also an important source of revenue for Uganda with tourists visiting to track habituated gorillas paying over $500 per permit.

The impact of this tourism on the local communities living just outside the fence of the park is complex. When the park was gazetted in 1991, the Batwa, indigenous forest peoples residing in the forest, were removed and resettled outside the park with no compensation. The Batwa were especially disadvantaged as the forest was the basis of their livelihood and practices that defined their ethnic identity.

Uganda 19-013 Batwa children on edge of Bwindi National Park Credit L King

Batwa children on the edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Credit: Lesley King

In addition to the Batwa, the majority of the local population around Bwindi are poor subsistence farmers growing crops on terraces on very steep hillsides.  Whilst a proportion of the fee tourists pay to enter Bwindi is shared through a benefit-sharing scheme, there is often bad feeling towards the park; local people feel that they pay a high cost as a result of human-wildlife conflicts. They see rich tourists arriving and spending large amounts of money to access the gorillas but little of that benefit is felt by them.

During my visit in 2015 I evaluated 2 Darwin-funded projects working on different aspects of these issues.

The first, “Integrating Batwa cultural values into national parks management in Uganda”, was a project led by FFI. It supported Batwa people to increase their engagement with the park management authorities and to negotiate access into the park to engage with their spiritual values – an essential for life as a Batwa. In addition, the project supported Batwa to develop livelihood initiatives including organic farming (as traditionally forest peoples, they have limited skills in agriculture), handicrafts to sell to tourists, and the flagship Batwa Forest Experience project.

Uganda 19-019 Batwa Forest Experience guides in their new uniforms Credit L King

Batwa Forest Experience guides in their new uniforms, Credit: Lesley King

The Batwa Forest Experience is a new venture that was negotiated by the Darwin Project. It is a cultural experience directed at tourists that have already completed their gorilla tracking and looking for something else to do in the area. Tourists will be led by a Batwa guide and interpreter through the forests within the National Park and the life of the Batwa will be explained through stories, singing and dancing. Some of the tourism businesses the reviewers spoke to saw this venture as having real potential for increasing tourism revenue in this area. The biggest challenge for tourist providers is, once tourists have completed the gorilla tracking, there is little to keep them in the area. The Batwa Forest Experience was seen as a new niche product that would entice visitors.

The second project I visited, “Research to Policy – building capacity for conservation through poverty alleviation”, was led by IIED and looked to boost the capacity of Ugandan NGOs and research groups to undertake research-into-use. They used Bwindi as a case study and, in addition to boosting capacity to undertake research and advocacy work, made positive inputs to how the park was managed to the benefit of poor local communities.

One of the issues the project looked at was the issue of equity in the park’s benefit-sharing scheme. A proportion of the fee tourists pay to enter the park is shared out with local people living around the outskirts of the park. By supporting the Ugandan partners to develop their advocacy skills, the project resulted in an important agreement for the Ugandan Wildlife Authority to increase the benefits paid out to local people, in the form of the gorilla levy. Due to the work of the project, the share of revenue from tourists paid to local people was doubled (by potentially more than $100,000 per year) which is hoped to support local poor and reduce conflict between the people and the park authorities and reduce illegal incursions into the park.

The CBD chose the International Day for Biological Diversity to highlight its chosen theme for 2017 – biodiversity and sustainable tourism. In the coming months in Darwin we will be pulling out more examples of how our Darwin projects work to support sustainable tourism. The theme for the next Darwin Newsletter will be sustainable tourism – find out how to submit an article here – or if you are working on issues mentioned above and would like to write a guest blog post for us please contact

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Learning from Monitoring and Evaluation, Darwin Initiative projects in Nepal

by Simon Mercer

In our 1st blog post of 2017 Vicki gave a great account of all of the monitoring activities that keep us busy throughout the year here at LTS. With ever increasing scrutiny of the effectiveness of UK aid spending, the importance of effectively monitoring projects has never been greater. The Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) component of the Darwin Initiative and IWT Challenge Fund programme, led by LTS International, uses a range of tools and approaches (outlined in Vicki’s article) to support projects to gather the data they need to demonstrate their impact. At the same time these activities give us the chance to identify and capture lessons on project implementation and design that can be shared across the Darwin community to foster learning.

Towards the end of 2016 I flew out to Nepal to visit two Darwin-funded projects, one based in Kathmandu led by BirdLife International, and the other by Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in the Far West of the country, led by the Zoological Society of London. These projects were selected for Mid Term Review (MTR) based on a range of criteria, including the potential for lesson learning, the scope for M&E support, and the organisations involved. Geographical focus was also a really important consideration, as it is vital that we are able to visit more than one project at a time during these visits. This helps to keep costs down and maximises value for money.

In technical terms, MTRs are formative evaluations that follow a rigorous evaluation framework based on the DAC criteria for evaluating development assistance, focused on project effectiveness, impact and sustainability. In practice, these visits are used to assess project progress against its logframe objectives. In addition they provide an important opportunity for us to provide technical support and assistance where needed, and to engage with project teams to influence project implementation. Importantly these visits also offer a great opportunity for lesson learning.

For those of you who are interested in finding out more detail about these recent visits, the full MTR reports will soon be available on the Darwin Website. These reports will provide a detailed technical account of the MTRs including data collection methods, key findings, and recommendations. For those of you who can’t wait for these to be published a selection of key lessons is presented below.

1 – Clear logframes with SMART indicators are vital for demonstrating project progress. This was a clear lesson that emerged from both projects visited, in slightly different ways. The project in Suklaphanta was using its logframe and robust monitoring and evaluation systems to effectively track progress, making sure the project remained on course and adaptive to changing circumstances. This enabled the team to accurately report project progress. The logframe for the BirdLife project was less clear; over the years we have found that the selection of appropriate indicators is a common challenge facing Darwin projects with a strong policy component. These weaknesses in the logframe had led to reporting challenges that suggested that the project may be struggling. The MTR gave an opportunity for some focused logframe and theory of change support. The project was also able to demonstrate that progress to date has been good, the challenge created by the weak logframe was in clearly reporting and communicating this progress.

2 – Engaging partners in project formulation and design brings real benefits. With its focus at the policy level, success for the BirdLife project is dependent on the strength of interaction with Government of Nepal partners. Any risks associated with this have been significantly reduced by involving key government stakeholders right from the start. Whilst the focus of the ZSL project is very different, it has demonstrated similar benefits as a result of early engagement. Partner interactions at the national park level are working well, with different stakeholder groups working efficiently towards a single shared goal.

3 – Darwin projects can achieve more than originally planned. Interacting with other Darwin and non-Darwin projects working on similar issues can enable projects to make savings, leverage additional funding, and broaden their impact. For the BirdLife project, this was evident in the selection of project sites to complement ongoing work by Bird Conservation Nepal, the local BirdLife partner. This has allowed field level activities to get up and running quickly, whilst making sure some of the associated costs can be covered.

For the ZSL project, shared meetings with key local stakeholders including other conservation organisations and donors is allowing knowledge to be effectively shared, new funding sources explored, and impact to be extended to new sites, beyond the original scope of the project.


Members of women’s cooperative, ZSL Suklaphanta project, Credit: Simon Mercer

A key personal lesson from this latest batch of MTRs is that even in its 25th year, Darwin continues to carry out vital conservation work in the most challenging of contexts, and remains at the cutting edge of conservation thinking. This blog can only provide a snapshot of the achievements and key lessons coming out of the current batch of Darwin projects – remember to keep an eye on the Darwin website for the reports of these and other MTRs.

When you think that there are well over 100 current Main Darwin Projects, and almost 1,000 have been funded since the scheme began, the achievements of the Darwin Initiative are truly staggering. Monitoring and evaluation remains the key tool for projects to demonstrate and provide evidence of these achievements more widely.

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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.


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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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.