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Good news on forest regeneration

Local communities help Cameroon rainforest

A new study using satellite imagery and aerial photographs has revealed that thanks to local community management, significant regeneration of one of West Africa`s most important areas of montane forest, Kilum-Ijim in north-western Cameroon, is taking place. The news features in the latest edition of the award-winning magazine, World Birdwatch, specially-prepared for launch at the IUCN Vth World Parks Congress. [The IUCN Vth World Congress on Protected Areas, or IUCN Vth World Parks Congress as it has become known, is a 10 yearly event which provides the major global forum for setting the agenda for protected areas. It is taking place in Durban, South Africa, from 8-17 September 2003. Previous Congresses have had a tremendous impact in assisting national governments to create new protected areas, and direct more resources towards biodiversity conservation] Survey work at Kilum-Ijim by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew since 1995 shows an annual rate of regeneration of 2.3%, significantly exceeding the rate of deforestation, and that, by 2001, the forest area had increased by 13.8%. The rapid regeneration is all the more remarkable as it was estimated in 1992 that if rates of clearance had continued unchecked at Kilum-Ijim, set in one of West Africa`s most densely-populated areas, the entire forest would have disappeared by 1997.The 16-year collaboration between BirdLife, the Government of Cameroon and local communities originally began at the 20,000-hectare forest within the Cameroon Mountains Endemic Bird Area because of the sheer importance of the area. Kilum-Ijim is a refuge for 15 montane bird species endemic to the EBA, several of which are endangered, and, at least six of the sixty-two mammal species recorded in the forests are found nowhere else. [Endangered bird species include Bannerman`s Turaco, Tauraco bannermani, and Banded Wattle-eye, Platysteira laticincta. The forest is also the last West African stronghold of Alpine bamboo, Arundinaria alpine.] Kew botanists have also undertaken a plant check list which has found 56 endangered plant species and several species new to science.The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew`s study using satellite imaging and aerial photographs, found that more than 50% of the montane forest had been lost between 1958 and 1988, under pressure from clearance of forest for crops and grazing, despite the Cameroon Government having attempted to protect the forest and stabilise its border since the 1930s. Since 1987, when BirdLife began its conservation efforts involving local communities to establish forest boundaries and drawing up plans for sustainable use of forest resources, regeneration has taken root. Now, local communities, supported by the Kilum-Ijim Forest Conservation project and the Cameroon Government, legally manage half of the forest with the remainder soon set to come under similar management. The forest provides communities with food such as mushrooms, honey and meat, with firewood, building materials such as bamboo poles, and wood for carving, and with medicinal plants. Sustainable cash crops, controlled by local co-operatives, thrive, including bee-keeping, the gathering of medicinal plants, such as Prunus Africana tree bark, an ingredient in pharmaceutical prostate treatment, and controlled paper-making and wood-carving. There are also plans to develop ecotourism, with revenues to go directly to the communities.Kew has been lending its expertise to train a number of Cameroon scientists and botanists in conservation management. The skills and knowledge they have acquired is transferred directly to the BirdLife project, where the local community now has an ecological monitoring unit, continuously assessing the condition of the forest and with responsibility for policing the area. Infringements are handled by village committees empowered to impose penalties on local people. This approach was taken after attempts to appoint formal wardens proved potentially divisive, with the risk that the project would be resented as an interfering outside agency.

The regeneration of the Kilum-Ijim forest demonstrates the success of entrusting the management of valuable forests to local communities and empowering them to do so, says Dr Michael Rands, BirdLife International`s Director and Chief Executive. The Kilum-Ijim project demonstrates that the management of forests by the communities living in them should be the key to biodiversity conservation in the future.NB The Kilum-Ijim Forest Project is being carried out by BirdLife International in collaboration with the Cameroon Ministry of the Environment and Forestry and forest adjacent communities. The project is currently funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF/UNDP), and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) through the Civil Society Challenge Fund. In the past, it has also received funding from the Joint Funding Scheme (DFID), the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the Cameroon Biodiversity Conservation and Management Programme, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries through the Programme International Nature Management (PIN), Comic Relief and WWF Netherlands (through the WWF Country Programme Office in Cameroon).

For further information, contact Ade Long in Durban: tel 082 370 0553; birdlifeatWPC@yahoo.com or Gareth Gardiner-Jones at BirdLife International in Cambridge, UK: tel. +44 (0)1223 279903; 07779 018 332 (mobile); gareth.gardiner@birdlife.org.uk

4th July 2014