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Bringing back the Black-breasted Button-quail

2021-2030 is the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration – a global call to heal our planet and A Rocha projects around the world are making a significant contribution.

In Australia, A Rocha is working with Friends of the Escarpment Parks (FEP) Toowoomba at Redwood Park – a 243-hectare property on the eastern slopes of the Great Dividing Range – to tackle invasive weeds that threaten to destroy endangered ecosystems like the semi-evergreen vine thicket by climbing and smothering the trees. On the forest floor, it can become difficult for ground-foraging animals and birds to feed, like the nationally vulnerable Black-breasted Button-quail Turnix melanogaster. This button-quail has a characteristic feeding habit: it turns on alternate legs as it scratches in the leaf litter to make a circular feeding scrape. Fresh scrapes are a good indicator that button-quail are present in the area.

In late 2020, a small team of A Rocha Australia volunteers started working alongside FEP to control major weeds at Redwood Park. Every month, they have been working at the site to weed out the invasives in the vine-thicket. The benefits for button-quail have sometimes been immediate, with fresh feeding scrapes being seen throughout the weeded areas the following day. Remote cameras have also confirmed that the button-quail are breeding in the park!

The challenge now is to complete weeding in a sizeable section of the scrub and establish a longer-term plan to maintain the habitat for button-quail and other animals.

Photo: Black-breasted Button-quail (Aviceda, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
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The risk of mortality for elephants and humans

The Bannerghatta-Hosur Landscape in southern India, a region stretching from Bannerghatta National Park to the North Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary and Hosur scrublands, is a critical zone for elephant migration. Urbanization and habitat loss here forces many elephants to travel through human settlements and agricultural lands, which inevitably increases human-elephant conflicts. Sometimes, that means death.

A recent study by A Rocha India concluded that there were 153 human and 69 elephant mortalities reported in the region between 1980 and 2020. Using records on elephant deaths and deaths of humans by elephants collected from Forest Department records, newspapers and scientific publications, they have examined the reasons behind variations in casualties.

For instance, the majority of human-elephant conflicts took place in September when crops are close to harvesting and elephants are more likely to venture onto farmlands in search of food.

Human deaths occurred when farmers attempted to protect their crops. For example, many farmers set illegal electric fences around their land to deliver a lethal voltage to raiding elephants. As a result, electrocution was the main cause of elephant mortality.

In this part of India, many villagers do not have access to a toilet. The majority of the human casualties recorded in the study took place early in the day or after dark in accidental encounters between elephants and people relieving themselves in the forest or collecting firewood.

A Rocha India has been working for many years to protect elephants and educate farmers living around Bannerghatta National Park. The study not only demonstrates just how complex an issue this is, but also the significance of A Rocha’s work here.

Read the paper: Ranganathan, Ekadh & Krishnan, Avinash. (2021). Elephant and Human Mortality in the Bannerghatta-Hosur Landscape, Southern India. Gajah 54. 30-33.

Photo: © A Rocha India

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Votes on land use around the Tatalu (Little Campbell River)

A Rocha Canada’s Brooksdale Environmental Centre is set on an 18-acre property – a living lab of forests, a threatened river system, organic gardens and heritage houses. This unique combination of sensitive wildlife habitat and agricultural land makes this British Columbia centre a place where critical environmental issues are researched, addressed and solved.

A big decision was made by Metro Vancouver recently concerning the 600 acres surrounding the centre. Unfortunately, the vote went as anticipated: the board voted 82 to 52 in favour of moving Surrey’s plan forward to amend the regional growth strategy, allowing servicing to come down into South Campbell Heights to accommodate ‘employment use’ of these lands. One member said it was the most intensely debated, longest, and toughest decision made by the Metro Vancouver Board in the last 10 years!

‘An incredible group of people, some old friends and some new to us, spoke in opposition with insight, clear evidence, professionalism, personal experience, creativity and conviction,’ says David Anderson, the Brooksdale Centre Co-Director. ‘It was an outpouring of love for creation from a diverse group. Several Metro board members fought hard for conservation with eloquence and with a significant degree of courage, as it was a political risk for some.’

So what’s next? ‘Well first, we take a bit of rest,’ continues David, ‘allow ourselves to feel grief and some righteous anger, and name and celebrate hard work well done. And then we re-group with our partners, connect with some of the seasoned board members who were allies, and make a plan for how to engage the process going forward that will span years.

Thank you for your prayers, networking, letter writing, social media sharing and encouragement.’

Currently the best way to support the Tatalu is to subscribe to the A Rocha Canada e-news and sign the petition to stay informed.

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Migration and momentum in Sweden

Photo: Peter Harris with Magnus Köpman at Falsterbo

The autumn bird migration over Falsterbo in Sweden is spectacular – millions pass overhead in a matter of days. It was during a migration watch here in the early 1980s that A Rocha was first dreamed up, and this year, founder Peter Harris returned with a group of birding friends, many linked to A Rocha in the Netherlands.  

Arne Mörnerud leads the A Rocha work in Sweden and set up a series of meetings and events for Peter and some of the group. They spent time with their partner organization at Hyllie Park, which comprises two schools and a care home for the elderly. After good discussions with the CEO, it is hoped that A Rocha’s influence will not be limited to the ongoing ecological transformation of the grounds but could be mainstreamed into what is now a sizeable organization, and not least have an impact on their investment policies. They were also glad to welcome several A Rocha members from other parts of the country including Magnus Köpman who first visited Cruzinha in the early 1990s. 

They also travelled to Knislinge to see Anton and Mirjam Flood who moved onto a farm there a year ago, when Anton began working at the nearby adult education college as chaplain. Peter writes, ‘Anton and Mirjam are advancing plans for a creation care track for students similar to other pathways through the syllabus and they have a clear vision for establishing an A Rocha community based locally. Things are moving fast and all of us spent a great evening together with friends from the area to talk about A Rocha’s commitments and the possibilities for future work together.’  

In this short clip, Anton talks about his hopes for a closer relationship with A Rocha. For more information about A Rocha in Sweden please visit https://arochasvanner.se 

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Greening businesses in Ghana

In Ghana, as in many places around the world, consumers are demanding greener, cleaner products and services, even if it means paying more. That’s why A Rocha Ghana, working in collaboration with IUCN Ghana, is engaging with companies across the country to help them respond.

Businesses in Environmental Stewardship Network (BESNet) provides a platform for businesses across Ghana to contribute to environmental sustainability and biodiversity conservation. Through training workshops and webinars, companies are being equipped and informed on how best they can value nature through their practices and decision-making processes.

Currently, the network includes close to 30 companies: from multinationals like Guinness Ghana, to small-scale businesses like Werlan Farm.

‘BESNet introduced us to the need to value natural capital in our business,’ says Ruth Kaweh Allan, the owner of Werlan Farm. ‘Through it we learned that protecting the land, the insects, the trees, and all living organisms on it would contribute to sustainability. We intensified our organic farming practices. Instead of pesticides we are using homemade concoctions with neem oil, pepper, onion and some spices to control pests and diseases. We also use farmyard manure to provide nutrition across the farm.’

The Green Corporate Star Award offers special recognition to businesses that demonstrate a particular commitment to environmental sustainability through their operations or by supporting environmental projects.

In time, the BESNet team hopes to develop more resources and tools that businesses can use to ensure their practices are environmentally friendly, as well as support them to develop environmental sustainability policies.

Through BESNet, A Rocha Ghana is demonstrating that it is possible to do business and protect the environment.

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A global conservation gathering

Every four years, the IUCN World Conservation Congress brings together thousands of leaders and decision-makers for the largest global gathering in the conservation movement.

Due to the pandemic, this year’s gathering in Marseille was smaller than usual, but A Rocha International and A Rocha Ghana were both able to attend and for the first time, participated in the Members Assembly. Decisions made here can inform international climate and biodiversity policies, so our presence demonstrated that a Christian organization is able to advocate for conservation across a wide variety of topics and that A Rocha is clearly respected for its solid scientific work.

The exhibition area, which functions like a trade fair for the conservation movement, welcomed 25,000 visitors and A Rocha France joined the A Rocha delegation to present Eglise Verte, a programme supporting French churches to go green. There were many significant conversations held at our stand with people from around the world and a generally positive response from those finding a Christian organization in the mix.

One particular highlight was the celebration of Prof Alfred Oteng-Yeboah, the Board Chair of A Rocha Ghana and trustee of A Rocha International. In recognition of his enormous contribution to biodiversity conservation in Ghana and around the world, he was bestowed the IUCN’s highest honour, the John C. Phillips Memorial Medal, joining the ranks of distinguished conservationists such as Sir David Attenborough, Mrs Indira Ghandi and Professor E.O. Wilson.

Photo: Alfred Oteng-Yeboah receiving the John C. Phillips Memorial Medal. Photo by IISD/ENB

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Mapping the world’s coral reefs

Understanding where coral reefs are and monitoring their changes is an important part of conserving these special marine habitats. Although they occupy just a small proportion of the world’s oceans, they harbour an enormous diversity of marine life. They also support the livelihoods of fishing communities and protect coastlines from the damaging effects of climate change.

On the doorstep of A Rocha Kenya’s field study centre, Mwamba, lies Watamu Marine National Park. Established in 1968, it is one of Kenya’s oldest marine parks. Over a period of three months, A Rocha Kenya’s marine team checked coral reefs in the park assigned to them by the the Allen Coral Atlas project and then used their SCUBA gear and research boat ‘Tewa’ to document specific details, such as percentage coral cover. Their data contributed to the development of a global map of coral reefs.

In September, maps of the world’s tropical, shallow coral reefs were completed, marking a major milestone for the Atlas. Thanks to this global collaboration of more than 450 teams who led expeditions and contributed data, we have information about this marine ecosystem in unprecedented detail, which are downloadable and accessible to all. Now organizations like A Rocha Kenya have a new tool to guide their conservation efforts.

 

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A new member of the family in Sweden

We are delighted to welcome our Friends of A Rocha group in Sweden as an A Rocha Associated Project. Kristna för naturvård i Sverige (KriNa for short, or in English: Christians for Nature Conservation in Sweden) is helping individuals, groups and churches in Sweden to care more for creation and protect places for biodiversity, especially locally. Their Hyllie Park Gardens Project is a joint venture with the local church and adult education college and focuses on environmental education and the creation of a meadow, wildlife habitats and nature trail that will promote biodiversity onsite.

Through practical workshops and seminars, people are learning how to make bird houses and insect hotels, as well as finding out about environmental issues such as plastic pollution and how to live more sustainably. Local children and adults are enjoying trips to nature parks and church study groups are learning what it means to be an eco-church.

In time, KriNa hopes to improve awareness of and care for nature among the children and students at its partner schools and to increase their reach beyond Hyllie Park – positively impacting biodiversity and engaging with different churches within Sweden.

Welcome to the A Rocha worldwide family, Kristna för naturvård i Sverige!

Photo by Arne Mörnerud

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New species to science discovered in Atewa

The Atewa Forest campaign was boosted last month by the publication of a formal description of a new species of frog, known only from Atewa. Discovered in the forest in 2006, for some time it was believed to be the Togo Slippery Frog Conraua derooi. However, subsequent studies have concluded that it is a species in its own right. It has been given the English name Atewa Slippery Frog and the scientific name Conraua sagyimase, which honours the local Sagyimase community that has helped its conservation. The Akan common name for the new species is kwaeɛ mu nsutene apɔnkyerɛne, meaning the ‘frog of the forest streams’.

One of its distinguishing features is its loud and distinctive call. A Rocha International is working with A Rocha Ghana and the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana to survey Atewa’s streams for the frog, using passive sound recorders to record their nocturnal calls. Read A Rocha Ghana’s press release and the academic paper published in Zootaxa.

[Photo: Atewa Slippery Frog Conraua sagyimase by Dr Caleb Ofori Boateng]
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Securing a future for Dakatcha

Dakatcha Woodland, on the coast of Kenya, is home to a number of globally threatened species, including Africa’s smallest owl, the Sokoke Scops Owl. Yet this woodland is being destroyed at an alarming rate due to rampant charcoal burning and the uncontrolled expansion of pineapple plantations. Now with COVID-19 hitting the local economy hard and people losing their jobs, the pace of forest destruction has picked up, making the situation even more urgent.

With help from others, A Rocha Kenya has been buying blocks of forest from willing sellers and creating a nature reserve to conserve this unique landscape and safeguard its precious inhabitants. But the recent initiation of land adjudication by the government has led to intensified demand and a rapid escalation of land prices.

Already A Rocha Kenya has acquired 1,517 acres of the planned 10,500–acre A Rocha Dakatcha Nature Reserve, but there is an urgent need to secure 500 acres immediately before they are bought to be burnt for charcoal or ploughed for marginal agriculture.

Throughout the process and as part of A Rocha Kenya’s community conservation approach, the team are involving people adjacent to the reserve in the sustainable management of their land, teaching in schools and churches and introducing restorative farming and income-generating activities such as honey production.

Read more about Dakatcha and how you can help.