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.
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.