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Sarah Dickson

Ambassador to Guatemala (June 2012 - June 2015)

Part of UK in Guatemala

9th September 2013

Saving the forest, one tree at a time

Recently I had the privilege of visiting Peten in Northern Guatemala. Without wanting to sound too much like a brochure, it is a truly stunning part of the country with tropical rain forests, colourful birds, loud monkeys and Mayan temples. The area is called the Maya Biosphere.  The reason for the trip was to visit those who are working to protect this incredible landscape using funds from the British people via DEFRA’s Darwin Initiative. The Darwin Initiative is a global fund that assists countries that are rich in biodiversity but poor in financial resources to meet their objectives under one or more of the three major biodiversity Conventions: the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES); and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), through the funding of collaborative projects which draw on UK biodiversity expertise.

In Peten the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), in alliance with the national parks’ administrators (el Consejo Nacional de Áreas Protegidas (CONAP), Association Balam (the Mayan word for Jaguar) and other local institutions will be implementing a Darwin project.The three year project will cover over 140 thousand hectares of forest and benefit 4 thousand people.

What I liked best about the project was that it links up local people with technical experts to manage the forest in a sustainable way. I met some of the communities that have benefitted from early work funded by the UK through a DFID programme on governance and transparency and through the BBC’s funds to protect the Scarlet Macaw. The results have been incredible in helping communities living in situations of poverty to manage their surroundings to improve their daily lives. Their ability to live sustainably from the forest and maximise the returns so that they can invest in education and health and the future of their children is a testament to the work of WCS.   One of the community leaders told me how proud he was that British people would help a community so far away but that had so much need for help.

The project in Peten is not the only one to have received a Darwin grant. Another project run by FUNDAECO in association with CONAP and the National Forests Institute (INAP) in Izabal, in the Caribbean protected area of Guatemala, will aim to conserve around 5 thousand hectares of forest and support 500 families. This too is an exciting project which joins community and conservation needs to achieve sustainable results.

I wish both projects well in their endeavours.

WebsitePeten1 WebsitePeten2 WebsitePeten3n Websitepeten5n

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