Welcome to my first blog. My name is John Bett and through this blog I want to regularly share insights into our work and the wonders of our coastal forests here in Lamu and Garissa Counties in north-east Kenya, supported through Size of Wales.
I head up a small team for WWF working with local communities to establish community based management of local forests and wildlife. We help improve local livelihoods and work with the Kenya Wildlife Service to better conserve the two largest reserves in Kenya – the Boni and Dodori National Reserves respectively. These reserves protect coastal forests and a wide range of animals including elephants, hippo, lions as well as rare species such as the small antelope, Ader’s Duiker and what is believed to be a completely new species of Elephant Shrew.
This month I want to update you on our efforts to get an important and intact area of coastal forest designated as a new Forest Reserve – the Lungi forest.
The Lungi forest contains creeks, river streams, ponds, wetlands, beaches, mangroves and a huge variety of wildlife. It also has fertile land with many medicinal plants as well as trees for timber and grasslands for grazing wildlife and livestock. The forest acts as a ‘wildlife corridor’, allowing wildlife to move freely between the Boni and Dodori National Reserves to the north and important wildlife areas to the south.
The local Awer people were traditionally hunter-gatherers, living and moving through the forests for centuries. Although they are now settled in villages, their lives and livelihoods remain interwoven with the forests. The Awer are poor, marginalised and lack many of the opportunities, services and infrastructure available to most Kenyans. They are heavily dependent on the forests – collecting timber, honey, fruit, tubers, medicinal plants and herbs and grazing livestock – and therefore are most at risk should their forests continue to be degraded and destroyed.
The Awer also have a deep understanding of the forest and its wildlife and are excellently placed to inform and contribute to conservation initiatives.
The Awer hold ancestral, cultural and customary ownership of the Lungi forests which must be respected. They are absolutely key in discussions, decisions and the management of the proposed Lungi Forest Reserve. We are working closely with the Kenya Forest Service, the Awer community and others to have the forest formally recognised and put under protection and management. We have held a series of meetings with government officials and led community meetings, garnering support from four neighbouring villages. A great start!
I will continue to update you on our progress through this blog as well as introduce you to the range of other work we are undertaking in these amazing forests.
The WWF Boni-Dodori project is grateful to the support provided by Size of Wales, the Darwin Initiative and the UK Department for International Development (DFID).