The main success of the Opwall Trust over the 10 years since it was launched has been in demonstrating how funds can be used cost effectively in developing countries for wildlife conservation. Funding and follow-on levered funding associated with the projects has exceeded $3 million from sources such as World Bank, Global Environment Facility, Canadian International Development Agency, DANIDA, Wakatobi Government, European Union and UK Government Darwin Initiative. All projects have been completed successfully as assessed by the donors.
Apart from donations from Operation Wallacea and Garfield Weston Foundation all the funding received to date has been project related. Implementing these various projects has been instrumental in developing three distinctive principles that the Opwall Trust believes will have the greatest impact on conservation management at the study sites.
The Opwall Trust is now launching a £1 million appeal to raise funds from the private sector to achieve the same outcomes at a series of example sites: cloud forest in Honduras; Amazonian rainforest in Peru; dry and spiny forests in Madagascar; lowland forests in Indonesia; and contrasting reef systems in Indonesia, Mozambique and Cuba. These sites are where teams of academics funded through Operation Wallacea are completing annual biodiversity surveys, so projects the Trust supports can be well targeted and the effectiveness of the spend monitored. The objective is to produce a series of conservation management programmes in different habitats that can be used as best practice examples and will encourage imitation.
1. To ensure effective wildlife conservation by provision of financial incentives to local communities
One of the most successful ways of ensuring wildlife conservation is to make sure local communities or individuals have a greater financial interest in protecting their local habitats and species than in allowing them to be destroyed. Funding for wildlife conservation projects often includes provision of alternative income streams but in many cases these alternatives are not then linked to enhanced protection of the wildlife and habitats. In some cases this results in ‘additional’ rather than ‘alternative’ incomes with the damage continuing unabated. The Opwall Trust has pioneered the concept of tying business development investment in communities that agree to conservation contracts (Wildlife Conservation Products scheme) or to fishing licence replacement income (Kaledupa reef fisheries project). Once individuals or communities have a financial benefit in protecting their wildlife the effects can be spectacular. South Africa has led the way in demonstrating how tourism income can be substantial from wildlife protection and 60% of all protected wildlife areas in South Africa are privately run as businesses. The projects for the target sites include the extension of a peccary pelt certification scheme in Amazonia, a co-operatively owned carrageenan extraction plant as an alternative income for reef fishers in Indonesia, and the development of community-based tourism in dry forests of Madagascar.
2. To facilitate the development of local biodiversity expertise
One of the frequently encountered problems in completing biodiversity surveys in developing countries is the lack of skilled expertise within country. For example in Honduras there is no Masters or PhD university programme for biologists – all enthusiastic biologists have to go overseas to train if grants or other funding is available. Establishing a Masters programme in Honduras for conservation management would be a much more sustainable use of funds.
3. To provide part funding to disadvantaged UK students to widen their horizons and give them the opportunity to participate in biodiversity surveys in developing countries
Operation Wallacea has introduced the concept of completing work placements to sixth form and university students throughout the UK with more than 2500 students helping on the research programmes each summer. This not only funds large scale spatial and temporal biodiversity data sets but also broadens the horizons of the participating students, increases their interest in biodiversity and gives them experience of working in developing countries. Fundraising support is given by Operation Wallacea teams to all schools but there are a few schools where the students don’t participate because it is considered to be beyond their financial means. Yet these are the students who would probably benefit the most in terms of widening their horizons. Provision of full grants is counterproductive because it creates a spirit of entitlement and little effort has been made by the individual student to obtain the grant. However the award of partial grants would provide the kick-start needed to get the students to take this life-changing step, as has been seen when inner city London and Birmingham schools have succeeded in obtaining partial grants.