Updated: Mar 29, 2019
Two Cornish based companies are pioneering a new approach to conserving tropical rain forest in Belize. Survival Wisdom and Selvana Ltd, who are both based at Mount Edgcumbe on the Rame Peninsula have joined together with a Belizean charity, Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), to help save over a quarter of a million hectares of tropical rain forest in the Maya mountains, known as the Chiquibul Forest.
Chris Minty MBE, Managing Director of Selvana said, “This rain forest is particularly important as it provides critical habitat for countless rare and endangered species, including tapir, scarlet macaw, howler monkey and the elusive jaguar. It also regulates local and regional climates and soaks up carbon gases from the atmosphere, an essential process to help combat global warming.”
According to The Nature Conservancy, a leading US conservation charity, the forest also harbours up to 400 species of resident birds, with several million individuals resting whilst migrating through the area during the North American winter periods. However, like so many areas around the world, the forest is coming under increasing pressure from illegal deforestation, particularly along its western border with Guatemala.
Chris warned, “If something is not done soon, the forest may be lost forever.”
The collaboration has developed a unique approach to halting the illegal activities within the forest. By using a range of remotely sensed imagery technics and ground-based acoustic technology, a global network of trained volunteer observers will monitor the forest in real-time from anywhere in the world – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This means that they can inform Friends for Conservation and Development in Belize quickly and effectively across the internet if they monitor any evidence of encroachment or deforestation, thus enabling FCD to respond quickly and effectively on the ground.
Executive Director for FCD, Rafael Manzanero OBE, said “we are delighted to be working with the Cornish team in the challenging task of protecting this forest. Modern technology, if used appropriately, will be a great addition to our strategic conservation management of the Chiquibul and greatly assist our park rangers in their day to day duties". Manzanero has been very instrumental in raising awareness internationally on the issue of illegal logging and poaching in the Chiquibul National Park for over 10 years now.
Managing Director of Survival Wisdom, Richard Pyshorn, who is helping to train the park rangers said, “The success of this campaign depends greatly on the quality and effectiveness of the ranger teams who patrol the area. It’s why we are teaching the team everything from jungle navigation to evidence gathering and protection of human rights. They will need to be experts in many areas including GPS tracking, satellite image interpretation as well as basic ‘know how’ on surviving in the impenetrable jungle for long periods of time.”
Richard first met Chris in the 1980s when they served together on an RAF Regiment Squadron in Germany. Chris left a few years later and went on to study at the Defence Academy in Shrivenham, followed by 25 years working in Belize, supporting many researchers, students and military units who have operated in the Chiquibul Forest. Richard remained in the Royal Air Force latterly worked at the Defence, Survival Evasion, Resistance, Extraction (SERE) Training Organisation (DSTO) at RAF St Mawgan, before retiring as a Warrant Officer and going on to form Survival Wisdom Ltd in 2012.
The project, called Maya 2020, has recently been endorsed by Her Majesty the Queen through the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy Initiative. It was launched at Buckingham Palace on 16th November 2016 and aims to set a new global standard in forest conservation whilst providing sustainable jobs for local people. http://queenscommonwealthcanopy.org/
Chris said: “we are not only dealing with the symptoms of deforestation but also the causes and getting to the heart of the problem. By supporting jobs such as tree planting and agro-forestry, tour guiding or conservation monitoring, we are fundamentally providing the economic incentive for local people to conserve the forest rather than destroy it.”
Maya 2020 is also endorsed by the Government of Belize, supported by the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, the Belize High Commission in London and Rainforest Concern, a UK charity helping to conserve rain forests. The project has also received support from the Tremough innovation centre in Falmouth, developing early project concepts and models.
Further details on the project can be obtained by visiting www.maya2020.co.uk