Learning to monitor the forest

Another blog from our Patrol Coordinator Chris Hamley!

 

Locally effective forest protection activities have many elements: environmental awareness, alternative livelihoods, strong governance and enforcement. Central to CERCOPANs approach to conservation in Cross River State is also to build the capacity of local communities to conserve and monitor forest biodiversity autonomously of external organisations.

We have assisted our partner communities (Iko Esai, Owai and Agoi Ibami) to establish surveillance teams that function as part of community conservation and development committees. These CBOs are mandated with working with CERCOPAN to design new development and livelihood projects, and regulate the use of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in their forested locality. Following expansion of surveillance teams from Iko Esai to Owai earlier in 2012 we have recently conducted a week long training exercise with Agoi Ibami community members.

Two individuals from Agoi Ibami, Etim and Sunday, accompanied CERCOPAN patrol officers (Lucky and Jerry) and myself (the NTFP Coordinator) for a patrol through the community forests. The aim was to identify what level their abilities were at, familiarise them with conservation concepts and the by-laws, and develop their skills in data collection and GPS use.

Lucky explaining how to collect information on shed use

Through my work here at CERCOPAN, I have focused a considerable amount of time on building the accuracy and usefulness of our community forest patrol data collection. We focus on recording information on NTFP activity, forest threats (e.g. logging and slash and burn farming), species presence and bushmeat offtake. Equipped with GPS units, we are also able to add a spatial component to the work, allowing us to identify the locations of new sheds, streams, illegal activity and species sightings on mapping software. It was the competent ability of our patrol officers that allowed myself to take a small step back and allow them to undertake a large part of the teaching required over the patrol.

On the first day, the patrol officers confidently took the lead to explain how they write on the data sheets and take GPS waypoints while following the correct protocols. Lucky also gave a short presentation on CERCOPAN, by-laws and forest threats using some awareness cards that we take to hunting sheds to show NTFP collectors. This was followed up by an evening of lively discussion on the benefits of forests to local communities, the impacts of hunting and logging, and the need of hunters to obtain meat to provide for their family. With Sunday being a hunter and Jerry an ex-hunter there were a number of interesting points raised that allowed us to argue the case for conservation.

Sunday, Lucky, Jerry and Etim

Over the following 3 days we gradually gave more responsibility to the surveillance team, who were more confidently writing and taking waypoints towards the end of the patrol. In total we trekked almost 40km over 4 days and conducted 8 hunting shed checks, we did not encounter any hunters because of the full moon (reduces catchability) but did meet 16 wild salad collectors. We also observed numerous blue duiker, an African buffalo and a group of putty-nosed monkeys.

It is now the intention that the newly trained Agoi Ibami surveillance team will take an independent patrol of their community forests to identify any threats, map hunting sheds and communicate the conservation message to their forest users.

Chris Hamley

If any readers want to support our remote area patrol team, we would gratefully appreciate donations of the following equipment:

  • Hennasy Hammocks (currently the patrol sleep on the floor of hunting sheds in often uncomfortable and exposed conditions, if we could have 2 hammocks our patrols would be far more flexible –we could stay in areas with no active sheds if need be, and the staff would be more motivated)
  • Trekking rucksacks
  • Bivi-mats
  • Weatherwriter
  • Waterproof field notebooks
  • (Rechargable) headtorches
  • Rechargable AA and AAA batteries (and charger)
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