£700,000 in project funding awarded to 11 Whitley Award alumni to scale up proven approaches
Remaining on the front foot of supporting solutions to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and locally-led climate action, we’re pleased to announce our latest cohort of Continuation Funding grant recipients: 11 past Whitley Award winners who will receive a total of £700,000 in urgently needed project funding to scale up their work and address new challenges.
Providing continued, laddered support to conservationists we’ve previously boosted through our flagship Whitley Awards, this year’s Continuation Funding programme is supporting locally-led projects across 10 countries – enabling conservation leaders to alleviate habitat destruction, restore globally important Ramsar wetland sites, protect oceanic carbon sinks, and enlist local guardianship of critically endangered species.
Their projects will benefit more than 334,000 people across 30,000 km² of the Global South by focusing on landscape-level conservation across a range of solutions, including; habitat restoration, carbon sequestration, community-based training and education, health and women in society, policy and species advocacy. In total, the funding will support the conservation of around 1,500 animal species and thousands more insects and plants species.
Against the backdrop of COP27 and the Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 next month in Montreal, Canada, we’ve directed £175,000 of our Continuation Funding grants to support nature-based solutions that deliver holistic and community-led action against climate-driven conservation challenges – jointly addressing biodiversity loss, landscape degradation and climate change.
COP27 has highlighted the impeding funding gap that conservation organisations must bridge to tackle environmental damage and safeguard our future. After nearly three decades of funding grassroots conservationists in the Global South, WFN continues to work hard to channel vital funds to scalable community-led solutions now, when they need it most.
We are so grateful to all those donors who directly support our Continuation Funding programme to make these impactful grants possible – thank you for your sustained and important support.
MEET THE WINNERS
Sink or Swim: Protecting and restoring blue carbon sinks in Golfo Dulce’s Hammerhead Shark Sanctuary
Ilena Zanella (2019 Whitley Award)
Nature-Based Solution: £100,000 over two years
The Golfo Dulce, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, is one of only four tropical fjords in the world, and its unique nutrient cycle means its waters are teeming with life. However, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the area have led to drastic declines in marine biodiversity, and the people who live there have some of the lowest socioeconomic opportunities in the country. However, after Ilena Zanella and her team identified the area as an important nursery ground for the Critically Endangered scalloped hammerhead shark, the Costa Rican government declared the Golfo Dulce’s wetlands a Scalloped Hammerhead Shark Sanctuary (HSS), which now covers over 15,000 ha. Since then, Ilena and her NGO Misión Tiburón have been working with local stakeholders to scale up the protection of these important breeding grounds.
The mangroves that line this coastline have been degraded at an alarming rate, leaving the area vulnerable to threats such as sea level rise, erosion, and sedimentation. Recognising the important role these mangroves play as carbon sinks and the ecosystem services they provide to local people, Ilena and her team have established a pilot mangrove restoration plan for the HSS Golfo Dulce to further improving the health of this hammerhead shark nursery site.
Working with local stakeholders through participatory restoration and monitoring, this project will increase the mangrove restored area in the site by 200% in 3 years. It will also build on Ilena’s previous work engaging local communities in ocean conservation, promoting alternative livelihoods based on a blue economy, including the expansion of a newly established women’s initiative. Offering a collaborative and holistic solution, Ilena’s work is supporting the Costa Rican government in achieving its international climate commitments while benefiting communities and allowing endangered marine species to recover.
From Source to Sea: nature-based solutions for a river landscape
Lindy van Hasselt (1999 Whitley Award)
Nature-Based Solution: £75,000 over two years
Flowing within the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve in the Southern Cape – one of the most significantly biodiverse landscapes in South Africa – the Salt River provides forest catchment habitats for rare and vulnerable vegetation and several genera of aquatic invertebrates new to science. It is a key water source for the catchment and unique in its high biodiversity despite being fishless.
The entire estuary and upper catchment of the Salt River fall within the Garden Route National Park and are currently free of any development. However, the mid-catchment falls outside of the park and supports human settlements and agricultural areas. In the last decade, exacerbated by the impacts of COVID-19, it has attracted development at an unprecedented rate, bringing with it an influx of people and a demand for land, water and services. This, together with climate change, will impact water quality and reducing the river’s flow.
With Continuation Funding, Lindy will carry out a multi-disciplinary study to determine the river’s baseline ecological health, its value as a carbon sink, and the mechanisms that contribute to the functioning of the river system. Beginning with the Salt River catchment, Lindy and her team will use the study as a pilot initiative to understand the challenges and the actions required to restore, maintain and improve the resilience of these ecosystems for both society and biodiversity, using their findings to collaborate on an action plan with local stakeholders. Lindy’s project will develop strategies to maintain effective ecosystem services and preserve biodiversity in the face of climate change and development, with an aim to eventually replicate the model across the 13 river landscapes within the Garden Route National Park.
Preserving northeastern Turkey’s wetland biodiversity
Çağan Şekercioğlu (2013 Whitley Gold Award)
Continuation Funding: £75,000 over two years
Every year, millions of breeding, wintering and migrating birds arrive in northeastern Turkey from at least 36 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. Çağan Şekercioğlu and his team at KuzeyDoğa have worked in this extremely biodiverse region since 2004, home to globally important wetlands and 12 Important Bird Areas (IBAs). Çağan and his team were instrumental in seeing Lake Kuyucuk recognised as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, but the region faces mounting threats from largescale development projects, climate change, and water extraction.
Çağan will use his Continuation Funding to continue monitoring these IBAs, with a special emphasis on Lake Kuyucuk and the Aras River wetlands. As climate change leads to hotter summers and droughts, and local people’s water needs increase leading to unsustainable water extraction, wetlands have started to disappear all over Turkey, and Lake Kuyucuk is no exception, having laid dry for much of the last decade. Çağan and his team will work with villagers to find long-term solutions, freeing the streams feeding into Lake Kuyucuk while recognising local people’s water needs. In the Aras River wetlands, Çağan and his team have prevented the construction of a large dam since 2013 by bringing a regional lawsuit against the government, but this has since been overruled. Çağan will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, whilst continuing to collect data to demonstrate its global importance, with the eventual goal of the cancellation of the entire dam project and securing official protection of the Aras River wetlands.
The outcomes of this ambitious and wide-ranging project are crucial to securing these globally important sites for birds and people, with solutions that can be replicated to save the rest of Turkey’s rapidly disappearing wetlands.
Community outreach to protect hawksbill turtles in the Colombian Pacific
Diego Amorocho (2010 Whitley Award)
Continuation Funding: £35,000 over two years
Colombia is facing a dramatic decline of hawksbill turtles on the Pacific coast, where poverty rates are above the national average and the species is most at risk. These areas have also been hit hardest by the impact of COVID-19, exacerbated by weak economic re-activation of fishing and tourism following the pandemic. The lack of employment opportunities has led people to turn to poaching, illegal fishing and collecting turtle eggs to survive. CIMAD’s conservation projects were hit especially hard by a drastic increase in turtle poaching so Diego Amorocho and his team are working to re-engage communities on the importance of sea turtles and conservation post-COVID, while supporting local livelihoods.
They will design and launch a widespread public awareness campaign to educate people on the importance of protecting marine nesting and foraging hotpots, and will train over 75 fishers who work in Marine Protected Area (MPA) buffer zones in the region in responsible and sustainable fishing practices to reduce turtle bycatch while increasing the market value of their fish. Lastly, Diego will build technical capacity and provide green jobs by training local communities and state authorities on marine turtle monitoring, and will produce a standardised protocol to improve management of the region’s MPAs.
A new refuge for the Togo slippery frog
Caleb Ofori-Boateng (2019 Whitley Award)
£70,000 over two years
The Togo slippery frog was rediscovered in 2005 after being considered extinct for nearly 40 years. Found primarily in forest waterfalls along Ghana’s border with Togo, these frogs rely on naturally rare habitats that are increasingly threatened by continued deforestation. This Critically Endangered species is predicted to decline by 25% over the next 5 years without intervention, as their survival is restricted to fast flowing forest streams and waterfalls; any changes to forest cover and water courses could wipe out their entire population. Thanks to WFN funding in 2019, Caleb and his NGO, Herp Conservation Ghana, established a 485-hectare reserve – the first of its kind in the country – to protect Ghana’s Togo slippery frogs.
Since then, Caleb and his team have recently discovered a new population of 350 individuals outside of the reserve – by far the largest known population. A recent national campaign to increase tourism investment in this region, however, has catapulted the demand for land with large tracts being acquired for tourism infrastructure. Using Continuation Funding, Caleb will establish a 1000 ha community-based protected area to secure a future for this newly discovered population, as well as for other wildlife including the endangered tree pangolin. He will raise conservation awareness in the region, enhance community capacity to protect the species and develop a low impact sustainable ecotourism plan for the site and associated landscape, working with government. Through strong community partnerships and building on his past work, Caleb is taking swift action to preserve this new Togo slippery frog population and their forest ecosystem.
Rare ‘Rere’: Saving the Critically Endangered Madagascar Side-Necked Turtle
Juliette Velosoa (2016 Whitley Award)
£70,000 over two years
The Critically Endangered Madagascar side-necked turtle, or “rere” in Malagasy, is the country’s only endemic freshwater turtle. Found exclusively across eight watersheds in western Madagascar, the species is a flagship for wetland conservation. Wetlands are Madagascar’s most threatened ecosystem due to mass conversion, siltation and the presence of invasive species, and their exploitation is exacerbated by a lack of understanding of the vital ecosystem services they provide.
One of the most important sites for rere is Ankarafantsika National Park, where Juliette’s Whitley Award supported the development of a village co-management vision for wetlands. Now, with Continuation Funding, she will build on previous work and strengthening conservation of two key Ramsar sites where rere are found: Ankarafantsika and Ambondrobe. Juliette will support local communities to monitor the species, protect rere nests, reduce major threats such as illegal fishing and invasive species, and restore wetland habitat by 40 ha per year. She and her team will also work to finalise the Rere Species Action Plan, and to implement it by developing a network for rere conservation across other sites. Working with communities, Juliette and her team are rebuilding healthy, functioning wetlands for the wildlife and people that rely on them.
Strengthening and scaling an integrated model for gorilla conservation and human health
Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka (2009 Whitley Gold Award)
£70,000 over two years
Home to just under half of the 1063 mountain gorillas that remain in the wild, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) in southwestern Uganda is one of only two mountain gorilla strongholds and is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. However, high human population growth, with resulting pressures on gorilla habitat and the associated risk of cross-species disease transmission are threatening endangered mountain gorillas and their habitat around BINP, with COVID-19 and the risk of transmission highlighting the fragility of these remaining populations. Gladys’s NGO Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) uses a One Health approach to address these threats by improving the health and wellbeing of impoverished communities in and around the park whilst simultaneously improving gorilla health by preventing the transmission of disease between species.
Continuation Funding will enable Gladys to further scale up this integrated conservation and health model. She will grow her proven Village Health and Conservation Team (VHCT) programme, which sees trained volunteers reach remote communities around BINP with information and services focusing on gorilla and forest conservation, hygiene, sanitation, infectious disease prevention, family planning, sustainable agriculture, and alternative livelihoods – improving health while reducing dependence on forest resources. Working with the Ministry of Health, Gladys and her team will expand this programme to two additional parishes, and provide further training to existing and new VHCT teams, bolstering capacity and reach. The project will also strengthen gorilla health monitoring, deworming at-risk communities and monitoring the reduction of cross-species transmission.
supporting cotton-top tamarin conservation in Colombia through FOREST RESTORATION AND LIVELIHOOD IMPROVEMENTS
Rosamira Guillen (2015 Whitley Award)
£35,000 over one year
Cotton-top tamarins are found only in northern Colombia, but these tiny one-pound primates are Critically Endangered due to extensive deforestation and habitat fragmentation. Much of their range was also at the centre of more than five decades of civil unrest in the country, which displaced many farmers in rural areas. In 2016, the Colombian government signed a Peace Accord with illegally armed groups, enabling many farmers to return to their land, but a lack of resources meant landowners were left with limited means to improve productivity.
Rosamira and her NGO Proyecto Tití work to restore forest connectivity for cotton-top tamarins by establishing conservation agreements with local landowners – an attractive opportunity for farmers to increase productivity and improve their livelihoods, while restoring hectares of forests. With past WFN funding, and working in partnership with Colombia’s National Park Service and other local NGOs, Rosamira and her team have already established agreements with more than 170 families, creating over 1,000 ha of forest corridors currently under restoration. Building on her past success, Rosamira will now scale up her approach to the village of Páramo, establishing agreements with farmers to restore an additional 45 ha with 15,000 saplings of native species. By further restoring and connecting this threatened primate’s forest habitat, Rosamira and her team are benefitting local farmers and engaging them in conservation, while giving cotton-top tamarins and other wildlife the space they need to thrive.
Above and beyond: Securing the Grauer’s gorillas’ last stronghold
John Kahekwa (2013 Whitley Award)
£35,000 over one year
The Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP) hosts some of Central Africa’s highest levels of biodiversity and is home to the Critically Endangered Grauer’s gorilla. It is also on the World Heritage Site’s ‘danger list’. Since the civil war in 1996, food insecurity, poverty, and unsustainable development have led to increased human pressures on the park’s natural resources, with poaching and logging seeing gorilla populations decline by as much as 40%. Patrols in the park have also decreased in recent years due to lack of supplies and equipment for rangers, allowing illegal activities and poaching to persist. Rangers are only able to cover limited areas of the park and are unable to reach other hotspots of illegal activities beyond those known by park authorities.
To combat these challenges, John and his team at The Pole Pole Foundation will increase law enforcement and surveillance in two key areas of KBNP – the highlands and the eco-corridor. Better equipping rangers on foot and providing additional drones to support patrol efforts, John’s team will increase coverage to suppress poaching rates and secure wildlife. This project will also support local youth initiatives for self-sustainable development of communities living alongside KBNP to improve socio-economic conditions and build trust in conservation initiatives. Through this approach, John and his team will reduce human pressure on KBNP and the gorillas which reside there, while increasing the capacity of ranger teams to patrol the park and safeguard its wildlife. With decades of experience working in and around the park, and an Earthshot prize finalist in 2021, John is well-placed to deliver results in this challenging and important landscape.
Sustaining fragile chimpanzee populations in southwestern Nigeria
Rachel Ikemeh (2020 Whitley Award)
£70,000 over two years
After several years of research, Rachel Ikemeh and her team revealed that populations of Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees in southwestern Nigeria were in fact a unique, genetically distinct subgroup – and one that was already on the brink of extinction. Using this discovery to bolster the need to conserve their forest habitat, Rachel successfully established the Ise Forest Conservation Area with her Whitley Award in 2020. Since then, wildlife and surrounding communities in the Ise-Ekiti forests are already benefitting from new protection and management efforts, making this one of Nigeria’s most optimistic conservation stories, and Rachel’s multi-stakeholder approach is being considered for adoption by other NGOs across the country.
Despite this success, the area remains vulnerable to multiple pressures, such as illegal logging, and increased economic hardship and rising inflation rates are driving opposition to conservation efforts which prevent the use of natural resources as a commodity. To add to these challenges, an upcoming change of administration brings uncertainty around future government support of conservation initiatives.
Rachel will use Continuation Funding to sustain forest management efforts and bolster law enforcement in the Ise Forest Conservation Area, expanding her participatory surveillance network to additional communities, and increasing the number of rangers while building their capacity to patrol and monitor the region. She will also engage the new government administration, and enhance socio-economic benefits for communities by developing domestic tourism enterprises, encouraging multi-stakeholder support for chimpanzee protection in the region for years to come.
Community guardians of the Helmeted Hornbill
Yokyok Hadiprakarsa (2020 Whitley Award)
£70,000 over two years
The last decade has seen a drastic decline in Helmeted Hornbill numbers, as global demand for their ornate casques has led to a surge in poaching. In Indonesia, where the largest population remains, limited economic opportunities are driving local people to hunt the birds, despite having lived alongside them for generations. The Helmeted Hornbill is also very susceptible to natural limitations, such as the limited availability of nesting cavities, which are very susceptible to natural damage. Regrettably, during the pandemic, many active hornbill nests found near to human settlements were poached by community members, both for pets as well as additional sources of protein – potentially devastating hornbill populations.
With Continuation Funding, Yoki and his team will increase the number of hornbill nests under community protection through their nest adoption programme, and expand community monitoring patrols to cover more forest, reducing nest disturbances. They will also repair damaged nest cavities, restoring availability of suitable nests for the species. Lastly, the project will progress hornbill ecotourism initiatives across three villages, providing sustainable economic alternatives for local people. Building on the work supported by his Whitley Award in 2020, Yoki’s approach is turning hunters into guardians by ensuring that Helmeted Hornbills are worth more alive.