Un­der the canopy

A con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tive ded­i­cated in the name of The Queen har­nesses the global power of the Com­mon­wealth to ar­rest the de­cline of the world’s na­tive forests.

Australian Geographic - - Contents - Story by Chrissie Goldrick

The Queen har­nesses the global power of the Com­mon­wealth to ar­rest the de­cline of the world’s na­tive forests.

AN EL­DERLY LADY and gen­tle­man take a stroll through a leafy park on one of those per­fect English sum­mer days still rare enough to dom­i­nate the con­ver­sa­tion of a na­tion that needs lit­tle en­cour­age­ment to talk about the weather. The smartly dressed pair en­gages in friendly ban­ter as they walk through the dap­pled shade be­neath the gen­er­ous spread­ing boughs of grand old de­cid­u­ous trees. It’s a scene that might be played out right across Bri­tain on such a day. How­ever, it’s not so much the weather that this pair dis­cuss as the cli­mate – specif ically the chang­ing cli­mate and ur­gent need to save the world’s na­tive forests. For the woman is Her Majesty Queen El­iz­a­beth II, and as she guides her guest, Sir David At­ten­bor­ough, through the pri­vate gar­dens of Buck­ing­ham Palace they dis­cuss a new con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tive bear­ing her name – The Queen’s Com­mon­wealth Canopy (QCC). This en­gag­ing in­ter­ac­tion be­tween two of the UK’s most ad­mired in­di­vid­u­als cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of the coun­try when it was broad­cast last April and helped pro­pel the rel­a­tively new con­ser­va­tion ef­fort into the pub­lic eye and The Queen into a new role as en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tag­o­nist.

THE QCC WAS BORN out of the Com­mon­wealth Heads of Gov­ern­ment Meet­ing (CHOGM) in Malta in 2015. Orig­i­nally the brain­child of vet­eran Bri­tish MP Frank Field, it was apt that the idea took f light at such a fo­rum – an assem­bly of world lead­ers from ev­ery cor­ner of the for­mer Bri­tish Em­pire, now a vol­un­tary net­work of coun­tries with a com­mon her­itage and pow­er­ful col­lec­tive knowl­edge.

The coun­tries of the Com­mon­wealth en­com­pass a third of the world’s to­tal pop­u­la­tion, and the QCC unites them in de­fence of the world’s forests, which are dis­ap­pear­ing at an alarm­ing rate, es­pe­cially in the de­vel­op­ing world. Its key ob­jec­tives are to: in­crease aware­ness of threats; form a net­work of ex­ist­ing con­ser­va­tion ef­forts; and cre­ate a fo­rum for the ex­change of ideas, re­search and knowl­edge. It also seeks to show­case the modern Com­mon­wealth and cre­ate a last­ing legacy of Her Majesty’s long ser­vice as its head.

So far, 42 coun­tries have com­mit­ted more than 90 projects cov­er­ing 78,500sq.km of na­tive for­est. These en­com­pass con­ser­va­tion and man­age­ment of ex­ist­ing forests and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of logged or de­graded for­est ecosys­tems that meet the QCC’s cri­te­ria. Projects re­quire the en­dorse­ment of rel­e­vant gov­ern­ment and forestry con­ser­va­tion bod­ies and ideally in­volve lo­cal peo­ple in de­ci­sion-mak­ing and man­age­ment. QCC mem­ber­ship is free and there are no reg­u­la­tory obli­ga­tions for ac­cred­i­ta­tion, but the ben­e­fits are seen as wide-rang­ing.

Aus­tralia has ded­i­cated three ini­tia­tives to the Canopy and also con­trib­utes through the Aus­tralian Cen­tre for In­ter­na­tional Agri­cul­tural Re­search (ACIAR), which is part of our for­eign aid pro­gram. ACIAR con­nects sci­en­tists from uni­ver­si­ties with coun­ter­parts in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries to cul­ti­vate more pro­duc­tive and re­silient agri­cul­tural sys­tems, in­clud­ing small­holder and com­mu­nity forestry, where the sus­tain­able use of forests to sup­port eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties is a pri­or­ity.

In Pa­pua New Guinea, for ex­am­ple, na­tive rain­forests are a key fac­tor in the coun­try’s eco­nomic fu­ture. These com­plex ecosys­tems cover 70 per cent of the coun­try’s land­mass; al­most all are owned by lo­cal peo­ple, and are vi­tal to ru­ral liveli­hoods. They’re also a buf­fer against cli­mate change, pro­tect bio­di­ver­sity and se­cure fresh wa­ter sup­plies. A four-year ACIAR

re­search project, man­aged by the Univer­sity of the Sun­shine Coast work­ing along­side the PNG gov­ern­ment and now in­cluded in the QCC, aims to in­crease the to­tal area of re-planted forests from 62,000ha to 150,000ha in PNG’s north.

Tony Bartlett, a pi­o­neer of ACIAR’s forestry re­search di­vi­sion, says that en­hanc­ing the benef its of forests for com­mu­ni­ties is cru­cial to their sur­vival. “When lo­cal peo­ple ben­e­fit from trees and forests they are will­ing to work to im­prove their man­age­ment of these im­por­tant nat­u­ral as­sets,” he ex­plains. In Uganda, an­other ACIAR project, now also un­der the QCC, works with lo­cals and par tner or­gan isa­tions to demon­strate that trees in agri­cul­tural land­scapes can en­hance crop pro­duc­tiv­ity and im­prove food se­cur it y for sma l l far mer s. It pro­motes cli­mate-friendly agro­forestry prac­tices that farm­ers are keen to adopt. “Hav­ing two ACIAR projects un­der the Canopy is a won­der­ful recog­ni­tion of both the ben­e­fit of ACIAR’s col­lab­o­ra­tive and prac­ti­cal ap­proach to­wards im­prov­ing the man­age­ment and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of forestry sys­tems in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries and the great work be­ing done by the project teams in PNG and Uganda,” Tony says.

In Aus­tralia, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s 2016 com­mit­ment to plant 20 mil­lion trees by 2020 through $50 mil­lion of fund­ing has so far seen 18-plus mil­lion saplings and seedlings planted.

James Walsh, Land­care Aus­tralia’s Na­tional Pro­gram Man­ager of 20 Mil­lion Trees ex­plains how the tree-plant­ing fund­ing scheme, now ded­i­cated to the QCC, re-cre­ates green cor­ri­dors to se­cure con­tigu­ous habi­tats for threat­ened and en­dan­gered species. “There are small-scale reveg­e­ta­tion projects that are more com­mu­nity-ori­ented, and large-scale projects where the com­mu­nity is in­volved; how­ever, it’s ul­ti­mately up to ser­vice providers like Land­care Aus­tralia to de­liver the gov­ern­ment’s con­tracted works,” James says. “We work with landown­ers and lo­cal Land­care and con­ser­va­tion groups who have pri­vate land that they would like to have re­stored to its orig­i­nal state. It’s a com­pet­i­tive process so the strong­est projects ul­ti­mately win the fund­ing and they, in turn, ben­e­fit threat­ened species through im­prov­ing habi­tat avail­abil­ity and land­scape con­nec­tiv­ity.”

Dakalanta Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary, a benef iciary of 20 Mil­lion Trees fund­ing, cov­ers 13,600ha of the Eyre Penin­sula, South Aus­tralia. His­tor­i­cal land clear­ing and graz­ing has dam­aged large ar­eas in its south, far be­yond its abil­ity to re­gen­er­ate nat­u­rally. Land­care Aus­tralia worked with the Aus­tralian Wildlife Con­ser­vancy to reveg­e­tate 1190ha with lo­cally sourced seed. “We brought to­gether a whole lot of stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing the pri­vate sec­tor, not-for-prof­its, tra­di­tional own­ers, com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tions and the state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments and worked col­lab­o­ra­tively,” James says. Lo­cal seed (1.2 tonnes) was sown, weeds con­trolled, tube stock planted, stock-proof fenc­ing re­in­stated and feral an­i­mals re­moved. To­day, more than 2 mil­lion new trees, shrubs and ground­cov­ers are thriv­ing across the site, and threat­ened eco­log­i­cal com­mu­ni­ties, such as the droop­ing she-oak grassy wood­lands, are bounc­ing back, as are the an­i­mals.

The Queens­land gov­ern­ment has ded­i­cated two of its unique rain­for­est ecosys­tems to the QCC. K’gari Fraser Is­land is the world’s largest veg­e­tated is­land dune sys­tem and boasts the tallest rain­for­est com­mu­ni­ties grow­ing on sand any­where in the world. The is­land’s soar­ing trees were heav­ily logged from the 1860s up to the 1990s. To­day the whole is­land, which was in­scribed on the UN­ESCO World Her­itage list in 1992, is pro­tected as a na­tional park. Ear­lier this year, the is­land’s forests were added to the Canopy dur­ing the visit of TRH The Prince Charles and the Duchess of Corn­wall to Queens­land for the 2018 Com­mon­wealth Games. Also added was less well-known Bul­burin Na­tional Park, 120km south of Glad­stone. This 34,000ha prop­erty has open eu­ca­lypt wood­lands and the largest tract of sub­trop­i­cal rem­nant rain­for­est in cen­tral Queens­land. The ter­rain is steep and moun­tain­ous and gives rise to the Boyne and Kolan rivers and Raff les Creek. It pro­vides valu­able habi­tat for more than 800 na­tive species of f lora and fauna.

Rain­forests such as these are vi­tal to the health of the Earth and cru­cial for mit­i­gat­ing cli­mate change. Once, they en­cir­cled the globe like a dark green safety belt. But to­day, these rain­forests are highly frag­mented. They gen­er­ate a f ifth of the world’s oxy­gen, pro­tect mas­sive lev­els of bio­di­ver­sity and yet con­tinue to be de­stroyed at alarm­ing rates, in­clud­ing forests here in Aus­tralia. Like oceans, for­est con­ser­va­tion de­mands a global ap­proach be­cause what hap­pens in one part af­fects the whole. The com­mit­ment of 53 coun­tries to the long­stand­ing con­cept of the Com­mon­wealth of Na­tions pro­vides a ready net­work of coun­tries able to unite in a spirit of co­op­er­a­tion and friend­ship, and the QCC is un­doubt­edly one of its best ideas. “In the global forestry arena, much ef­fort in try­ing to im­prove man­age­ment and con­ser­va­tion of for­est ar­eas is highly po­lit­i­cal,” Tony Bartlett says. “This ini­tia­tive op­er­ates out­side those con­straints and fo­cuses on col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Com­mon­wealth coun­tries and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to im­prove the con­di­tion of forests and the many ben­e­fits that they can bring.”

Like oceans, for­est con­ser­va­tion de­mands a global ap­proach.

Her Majesty Queen El­iz­a­beth II shows Sir David At­ten­bor­ough around the ex­ten­sive gar­dens of Buck­ing­ham Palace in Lon­don.

Tree plant­ing on agri­cul­tural land near Mt El­gon in Uganda helps re­duce ero­sion and takes pres­sure off nat­u­ral forests in the re­gion.

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