Rooting for the future: the Brazilian conservationist nurturing wild plant diversity
Pablo Hoffmann has won a Whitley Award worth £40,000 from UK charity the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN). He is restoring wild plant diversity in Brazil which will sequester 40 times more carbon than monoculture plantations.
“Any ecosystem out of balance is a long-term global danger. New viruses, lack of food, lack of rain, chains of extinction… We are completely connected; the consequences of the destruction of forests in Brazil reach the UK with ease.”
Less than 1% of southern Brazil’s Araucaria Forest remains. While deforestation rampages, reforestation efforts have lacked the diversity of plants essential for a functional ecosystem that can support wildlife and adapt to climate change. Hoffmann is creating the most diverse Araucaria plant nursery in the world, containing over 80% of known tree species from the region including the charismatic ‘candelabra’ tree (pictured below).
With his Whitley Award he will map wild tree populations and collect seeds from mother trees across 40 sites, then produce over 60,000 seedlings for reintroduction to 20 areas as a nature-based solution to the climate and biodiversity crises.
Whitley Awards are world-leading prizes for wildlife conservation. On Wednesday, 27 April they were presented by WFN Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, to six grassroots conservationists pioneering solutions to the biodiversity crisis, live streamed to YouTube. With one million species at risk of extinction and warnings of inextricable links between biodiversity loss and climate change, Whitley Award winners will use the funding to accelerate their breakthrough work to reverse declines in species from Sumatran rhinos to red pandas in Nepal.
The Araucaria Forest covers three states in southern Brazil. But the forest is seen as a source of economic gain. Today, just 60,000ha of advanced secondary forests remain in small fragments, scattered among cattle farms, monoculture plantations and continual urban expansion.
“With each extinct species we lose a little bit about the natural history of the origin of life, as well as important connections in ecological chains. We work with endangered species, some with very small populations, and are probably one of the few chances these species have to survive.”
Currently, tree nurseries typically produce a limited selection of species, with almost none that are rare or threatened, and sites left for natural regeneration lack a diversity of plants. Hoffmann and his team at NGO, Sociedade Chauá, are changing this from the ground up, having created a nursery with more than 215 species including 80 rare plants, alongside efforts to reconnect people with the forest.
“Our nursery covers more than 80% of the known tree species in the Araucaria Forest and, for some, we were able to find new populations, more than doubling the number of individuals known in nature. We also have crucial information about how to grow or plant them back to the forest.”
Hoffmann’s Whitley Award-winning work is a nature-based solution to the interlinked climate and biodiversity crises, recognising that holistic action is needed to address runaway wildlife decline, landscape destruction and global warming. Native forest restoration will help all species mitigate, adapt to, and remain resilient in the face of environmental emergencies.
Danni Parks, WFN Director, said: “We are thrilled to recognise Pablo with a Whitley Award in support of his pioneering work with plants in Brazil, against a challenging political backdrop. Diverse ecosystems are more resilient to change and better able to adapt. Pablo’s work offers an effective nature-based solution to help address the climate and biodiversity crises, hand-in-hand with local people.”
WFN also recognised Whitley Award alumnus, Dr Charudutt Mishra, with its top prize – the Whitley Gold Award. A snow leopard conservationist working across the big cat’s range of 12 countries including India, Afghanistan, China and Russia, Mishra’s pioneering approach to community-led conservation has been named an outstanding global practice by the UN Biodiversity Conference. With ‘fortress conservation’ having displaced an estimated 130 million people worldwide, community-based conservation that champions the co-existence of people and wildlife offers a transformative solution to the biodiversity crisis. The Whitley Gold Award will enable Mishra to train conservationists on every continent in equitable approaches.
NOTES TO EDITORS
- Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK registered charity supporting grassroots conservation leaders in the Global South. Over 29 years it has channelled £19 million to more than 200 conservationists in 80 countries.
- A pioneer in the sector, WFN was one of the first charities to direct funding to locally-led projects. Its rigorous application process identifies inspiring individuals who combine the latest science with community-based action, to benefit wildlife, landscapes, and people.
- WFN’s flagship prizes – Whitley Awards – are presented by Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, at a prestigious annual ceremony in London. Winners receive funding, training and media profile including films narrated by charity Trustee, Sir David Attenborough.
- The 2022 Whitley Awards took place on Wednesday 27 April at the Royal Geographical Society, live streamed to YouTube. The 2022 Whitley Award winners are:
- Emmanuel Amoah, Ghana
Tales from the riverbank: safeguarding the last stronghold of West African slender-snouted crocodile
- Micaela Camino, Argentina
Empowering communities to defend their human rights and conserve Argentina’s Dry Chaco
- Pablo Hoffmann, Brazil
Rooting for the future: nurturing wild plant diversity in the Araucaria Forest region
- Sonam Lama, Nepal
People and red pandas: mutually beneficial conservation in the Himalayas
- Estrela Matilde, São Tomé and Príncipe
Stemming the tide of plastic pollution: an island-wide effort to save sea turtles
- Dedy Yansyah, Indonesia
Last stand for the Sumatran rhino: looking out for Leuser’s ecosystem engineers
- Whitley Award winners join an international alumni network eligible for WFN Continuation Funding, allowing successful conservation solutions to be scaled up. Projects receive up to £100,000 over two years and include nature-based solutions that jointly address the climate and biodiversity crises.
- Every year, a Whitley Award alumnus is chosen to receive the Whitley Gold Award, worth £100,000, in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the conservation sector. Joining the Judging Panel, the Whitley Gold Award recipient also acts as a mentor to Whitley Award winners. The 2022 Whitley Gold Award winner is world-leading snow leopard conservationist, Charudutt Mishra.
FOR HIGH-RES IMAGES, INTERVIEWS AND INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Amy Forshaw, Head of Communications at Whitley Fund for Nature
E: [email protected]
T: +44 (0)7746 412189
Images © Sociedade Chauá