The importance of outreach and conservation awareness for Protected Area management

Md. Shams Uddin, Manager-Landscape Planning, Ecosystems and Biodiversity, USAID Climate-Resilient Ecosystems and Biodiversity (CREL) project, Winrock International, Bangladesh.

The Protected Areas (PAs) of Bangladesh are the most biodiversity rich areas of the country.  Sadly, they are threatened by a range of pressures including land encroachment, illegal and excessive extraction of forest products and a lack of funding for management and enforcement. This is exacerbated by the steadily increasing human population living in and around the PAs and their increased demand for forest products and services.

People-centered forest management approaches have been sponsored by the Bangladesh government to meet increased demand for forest products, conserve biodiversity and maintain ecosystem services. These approaches have included community forestry, social forestry and engaging communities in the co-management of protected areas.

Protected Area (wide)

Protected area – Bangladesh

While these approaches have made progress, a greater focus on outreach and conservation awareness that builds on and integrates into these efforts has the potential to further reduce threats to biodiversity in protected areas. Outreach and conservation awareness could target and engage rural populations living in and around PAs to build positive attitudes and behaviors to reduce threats to biodiversity.

Awareness initiatives use a variety of media directed at community leaders, forest resource users, students and government partners. They create opportunities to engage a diversity of stakeholders in jointly improving the understanding of the importance of biodiversity, develop positive attitudes for conservation and initiate action towards sustainable solutions for biodiversity conservation.

Government and non-government organizations have successfully engaged in outreach and conservation initiatives including: tree plantation campaigns; celebrating globally recognized biodiversity days (e.g. World Environment Day, World Forest Day, World Wildlife Day); organizing conservation awareness campaigns in schools; supporting interactive and popular theatre (drama, songs); sponsoring forest visit programs for journalists, youth, and students; and writing and publishing biodiversity related stories targeting radio, newspapers and TV. The use of social media such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram for scaling outreach is only just beginning to be capitalized upon.

Mangrove restoration (wide)

Mangrove restoration site

To achieve sustainable conservation of biodiversity in PAs, a program that integrates outreach and awareness initiatives into mainstream protected area management is needed. In achieving this goal, it is important to establish a unit within the Forest Department that is integrated into the existing PA Management Unit with funding for adequate staffing. A key initiative overseen by this new unit would be the establishment of working groups in Forest Divisions comprised of the FD, the District Cultural Officer, the Education Officer and the Cultural Group representative. The working group would be tasked with reaching a consensus on the priority threats for their specific protected areas and designing effective outreach and conservation awareness activities that target key stakeholders in the PA to include students, women, youth, religious leaders, local elites, potential political leaders, business associations, clubs, social issue associations, community members and local journalists. Importantly, such outreach and conservation awareness programs must be coordinated with local government departments, civil society and non-government organizations (NGOs) to raise awareness of and support for wildlife and forest management rules and acts.   

Co-management committee meeting (wide)

Co-management committee meeting

It is important to work with local communities to raise awareness of biodiversity issues, and to ensure that local people are at the forefront of conservation. Local communities are often most impacted by environmental degradation, have a significant stake in maintaining healthy landscapes, and have cultural and economic ties with forests.

By working with communities and with a dedicated Outreach and Conservation Awareness Unit under the overall leadership of the FD, biodiversity conservation efforts could be strongly enhanced to achieve national goals for sustainable biodiversity conservation.

Contact: msuddin.shams@gmail.com

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