Helen Byron’s trip to Kenya has moved on the Dakatacha woodlands – here’s her latest letter from Africa (which sounds so much better than email).
First impressions of the Dakatcha woodlands
I've spent quite a lot of time working with Nature Kenya over the last year on their campaign to defend this site from a huge (50,000 hectare) Jatropha project. This inedible crop produces oil which can be used for biofuels. It’s planting – driven by policies in the EU and at home in the UK – is a major threat to sites in Africa that are really important for wildlife.So, after many emails and stacks of documents about the area and the threats it faces, it's fantastic to have the chance to visit the site in the flesh. Although its called Dakatcha woodland its actually a mixed habitat - large areas of undisturbed forest, areas of more open woodland and scrubland and areas where people are growing crops around their villages.Our host for the visit is Dominic Mumbu – NatureKenya’s (NK’s) man on the ground who clearly loves the site and its birds. Two of the most important are which include the globally threatened Clarke's weaver (pictured) which is thought to nest here, and Fischer's turaco.
Communities and conservation together
NK have been working in Dakatcha since 2008. They have been establishing a site support group (SSG) and Patrick Changawa, the energetic SSG Chair joins us for our trip. NK are working with the SSG to explore sustainable ways of generating money for local people from the site. At the moment, charcoal burning is a major threat to the site and although some of this is being done by locals it’s mostly large scale commercial operations. The Kenyan Forest Service should be clamping down on this, but the decapitated stumps of indigenous trees and smouldering piles of wood are all too evident in parts of the forest and tell a different story....This is sad to see, as there are other possibilities. NK and the SSG have been developing ecotourism initiatives. As well as the birding, there's the spectacular Hell's Kitchen site to visit - a kind of mini Grand Canyon in stunning shades of vibrant orange weathered from the rock. There's around 40 people a month currently visiting the site mostly from the coastal tourist resort of Malindi. And it’s at Hell's Kitchen where I see my first drongo....But Hells Kitchen is not the only thing to see there's also the Giriama Traditional Cultural Centre which is the burial site of Mekatilili Wa Menza - a female freedom fighter from the time of Kenya's independence. Her's is an amazing story - worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. Other NK activities include setting up a new resource centre and library and a central unit for processing honey generated by the bees in the new hives distributed by NK.
In early 2009 an Italian investor came forward with a proposal to clear part of Dakatcha to grow jatropha. Jacob from the minority Watta tribe that live in the affected area tells us about the court case taken in late 2009 by his community to challenge this project. This case was successful - excellent news for the Watta who make a living from growing pineapples, but did not deter the investor who simply moved the proposal to a different area within Dakatcha.You'll have read about this proposal on the blog before - it would devastate most of Dakatcha and displace 20,000 people. After a weak environmental assessment, the Kenyan environmental regulator rejected the large-scale project but the investor is still undeterred and has started a pilot project. We drive past the pilot area to take a look. Gone is the undisturbed forest replaced with a small jatropha plantation guarded by security and with bulldozers waiting to clear more land. Shockingly we hear that to keep the plants alive water is being brought in by bowser. Can this be right? Surely not when close by we see food aid being distributed as crops have failed due to lack of rain.We have to drive past the pilot area pretty quickly – threats to NK staff are by no means unknown.Community forest area
Next we visit Mulunguni village and meet the elders from the village which is setting up a Community Forest Area (CFA) to take control and manage their own natural resources and defend them from developments. Joshua the Chair of the CFA entertains the group with mimes about the local MP who was the one who brought the Italian investor to the region. We can't understand the language but the sentiment is clear and Joshua clearly enjoys being the focus of attention of Dixon the KBC TV journalist who is travelling with us. I wonder if the footage will make it onto the TV - it would make good viewing!
And we’ll try to link the blog to it if we can (ed)I'm blown away by the scale of the site - the landscape views are stunning and it takes us all day just to drive round the woodland. Although this is not helped by having to spend 2 hours digging our vehicle out of the loose sand - its not rained properly here for 2 years. Dixon continues the filming - I hope the footage of me labouring to push the bus isn't going to end up on TV! Although the delay does give us time to enjoy the solitude of forest and I see my first hornbills.
Having seen Dakatcha I'm even more passionate that this fantastic woodland must not be decimated to grow biofuels which could end up in our cars. The Life Cycle analysis study we've commissioned to look at the carbon consequences of the project and how it stacks up against the sustainability criteria in the EU Renewable Energy Directive is almost finished - so watch this space to hear about the results which we plan to share with decision-makers in the UK and Brussels as well as Kenya.This is the BirdLife Partnership operating at its best - teaming up across the world to influence policy-makers. I hope we’re successful with this case - as the consequences for Dakatcha and so many other sites if we're not will be terrible.
We'll here more about Helen's trip once she's back
Follow me on twitter
I wrote about an exciting project in Shropshire the other day – the Lapwing Meadows project. They’re running some consultation events at the moment – there’s one tomorrow, here are the dates:
Saturday 15 January 2011 – Parish Rooms, Newport. 9.00 AM to 1.00 PM
Wednesday 26 January 2011 – Ruyton XI Town’s Memorial Hall 6.00 PM to 9.00 PM
Project manager, Sarah Wheale, has been in touch and told me about a focus group that is to be set up to help the project.
Here's some more details – direct from Sarah.
RSPB, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Natural England and the Environment Agency are working together with farmers and landowners to revitalise the wetlands of the Weald Moors and Baggy Moor in Shropshire to enable breeding wading birds and a host of other wildlife to flourish in the area. This project has been called “Lapwing Meadows”; to reflect the type of landscape and wildlife we hope to see more of in the future. Wetlands are a key component of our countryside, offering unique wildlife habitats and interesting places for people to visit. They also play an important part in our everyday lives supplying us with fresh water, helping to control flooding and mitigating the effects of climate change.
As part of this project we are looking to set up a focus group made of people from the local community, who live in and around the Weald Moors and Baggy Moor or who live in the wider community and are interested in the project. The aim of the focus group is to learn more about how people use and engage with the local countryside, their thoughts on the Lapwing Meadows Project and their ideas for how the project could be developed in the future.
Being part of the focus group won’t take up much of your time and you will be making a valuable contribution to a project which will support local wildlife and the environment, as well as potentially providing opportunities for education and training.
If you are interested in being part of the focus group please contact Sarah Wheale on 01952 433211 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The focus group meeting will take place in early February at Wellington Leisure Centre in Telford and a range of refreshments will be provided.
Follow me on twitter.
I doubt you would be in for much of surprise – the recent spate of campaigning should leave no one in any doubt that people love trees, and woods and forests, the wildlife they contain and the ability to get closer to nature amongst the trees.
And that goes for us here at the RSPB too. The future of England's forest is centre-stage.
The mix of effective grass-roots campaigning and the UN designating 2011 as International Year of Forests should leave the Government in no doubt that the stakes for their soon-to-be-announced plans for the English forests are high.
There has been a lot of speculation in the media over the past few weeks about the possible sale of woodlands currently owned or managed by the Forestry Commission in England.
We expect the government to make an announcement later this month regarding a public consultation about the future of England’s forests. We are waiting to see the content of the consultation but we recognise and welcome the grassroots campaigns to save our forests. The campaigns demonstrate the importance of these iconic landscapes to all of us, as well as the risks to government of getting the consultation wrong.
The devil is always in the detail and, while we can see some sense in the state selling off some purely commercial timber plantations, we would be very worried if forests of high biodiversity value, and, crucially, those capable of restoration, are not protected. A lot of the Forestry Commission’s work is about looking after nature and landscapes, so we are concerned that their land is managed in the best interests of wildlife and local people.
To this end, we will be testing the government’s plans rigorously – but at this stage we are not going to prejudge the consultation. Any management or ownership bodies, whether public, private, charitable (or a partnership of these) needs to demonstrate that the future of both nature conservation and public access are safeguarded.
Follow me on twitter.
When a colleague of mine was talking to a friend at the BTO about birds seen at our respective headquarters, it all went a little too far! And now we locked in a year-long competition to see how many species (and not just birds) we can see here at the Lodge (pictured in the December snow) or at the BTO’s HQ, the Nunnery in Thetford.
You can read all about it on this blog (and yes, I know, we’ve got some ground to make up but there’s still time!)
The challenge will be fun – but behind it is the illustration of the richness of the wildlife around us. We’ll be using BirdTrack to record the details – run by the BTO in partnership with us, BirdWatch Ireland and the Scottish Ornithologists Club. The value of records in terms of both helping to conserve species and protect the places they depend upon should never be underestimated – and BirdTrack is a great way for bird-watchers to make their birding really count – I’d really recommend having a go to see if it’s for you.
But of course there’s a great way you can let us know what birds are in your garden – in just a few days time over the weekend of 29 – 30 January. Yes, it’s Big Garden Birdwatch time! And you can pre-register here.
It’s a surprising fact that England is the only country in the UK that doesn’t have any kind of strategic, spatial plan. In fact, it seems to be one of the few countries in the world not to have one. OK, we’ve got plans that cover England that do things for different sectors, like national policy statements for energy infrastructure or ports (in England and Wales). There’s even a National Infrastructure Plan (for the UK), and an England Biodiversity Strategy. There are probably lots of other different types of plan for England if I looked hard enough.
But there’s definitely no integrated, strategic, spatial (i.e. with maps) plan for the use and development of land in England. Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and umpteen other places do it, so why can’t we?
Just before Christmas, the Government announced that it would produce a ‘simple national planning policy framework setting out their priorities for the planning system in England in a single, concise document covering all major forms of development proposals handled by local authorities’.
The Government has asked organisations and individuals to offer their suggestions on what priorities and policies might be adopted to produce a ‘shorter, more decentralised and less bureaucratic national planning policy framework.’
Well, that’s maybe not quite what we had in mind, but it’s a start.
In a couple of weeks we’ll be publishing our own report on what a Natural Planning Framework for England should look like.
The deadline to make proposals to the Department of Communities and Local Government is 28 February 2011.