|Tropical deforestation is one of the gravest ecological tragedies of our age. Driven by global demand for timber, paper and land for crops and biofuels, over ten million hectares of tropical forest are being lost each year. The BirdLife Partnership is at the centre of global efforts to conserve and restore forests so that the profusion of life they contain and the vital services they provide are not lost to the world forever. An exciting new initiative is BirdLife’s Forests of Hope programme which aims to prevent deforestation or promote restoration of natural forest at up to 20 sites covering at least five million hectares of tropical forest by 2015.|
Nearly two-thirds of bird species are found in forests, chiefly in the tropics, and many can live nowhere else (). Yet more than ten million hectares of tropical forest are destroyed each year. The destruction and degradation of forests poses a major threat to the world’s birds. The majority (76%) of threatened species are found in forests, with most dependent on intact habitat for their survival ().
The vast majority of deforestation is for conversion to agriculture or rangeland, although often this is preceded by commercial clear-cutting or selective logging for timber (). Following forest clearance, remnant habitat patches are often too small and isolated to adequately safeguard complete biological communities (); however, even tiny habitat fragments can be critically important for some forest-dependent species (). Large parts of tropical Asia and South America are being cleared for the pulp and paper industry or converted to oil palm and rubber plantations (, ), resulting in the loss of most forest birds ().
Selective logging is widespread throughout the tropics. This practice almost always impoverishes bird communities (). It also facilitates further disturbance, including encroachment and increased hunting pressure, which can have greater and more lasting impacts than the logging itself. For example, forest ecosystems compromised by selective logging are more susceptible to devastating fires (). These are likely to become more frequent and intense as a consequence of global warming. Also as a result of climate change, many of the world’s montane tropical rainforests are expected to shrink, with potentially devastation consequences for the biodiversity they support ().
Deforestation accounts for about 15–20% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions every year. Tropical forests play a crucial role in sequestering and storing carbon, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, clearing forested land for so called 'carbon neutral' biofuel crops is a seriously flawed premise that will accelerate, rather than arrest, climate change (). Currently, there is no effective mechanism for realising the true value of intact forest, and consequently national governments focus on short-term financial gain (), regardless of the fact that conversion of forests makes no economic sense once unmarketed ecological services are taken into account ().
The BirdLife Partnership has been working in tropical forest conservation for decades. Around the world Partners are involved in numerous projects to conserve and restore degraded forest ecosystems and promote sustainable forest use (, ). For example, at the Arabuko–Sokoke Forest Reserve in Kenya, Nature Kenya (BirdLife in Kenya) has helped establish a diverse range of sustainable, forest-based industries including honey production, butterfly farming and ecotourism (). At Mount Oku in Cameroon, a similar project, run by the Cameroon Biodiversity Conservation Society (BirdLife in Cameroon), has resulted in significant forest regeneration, whilst also improving agricultural practices and generating additional sources of income for local people (). Working with Community Forest Users Groups, Bird Conservation Nepal (BirdLife in Nepal) has developed a number of sustainable, income-generating activities based on forest conservation (). In Madagascar, Asity Madagascar (BirdLife in Madagascar) is finding innovative ways to protect forests through collaboration with local people, the government and the private sector ().
BirdLife’s Forests of Hope programme brings together and builds on these many successes. Its aim is the prevention of deforestation and the restoration of natural forest at up to 20 sites covering at least five million hectares of tropical forest by 2015. One of the most exciting initiatives is underway at Harapan in Sumatra. Here, Burung Indonesia (BirdLife in Indonesia), the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and the BirdLife International Secretariat have collaborated with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry to allow private organisations to manage logging concessions in the interests of nature conservation. Without this initiative, the area would almost certainly have been destroyed like so much of the region’s rainforest before it ().
To access these and other case studies on forests, please click on the following links.
BirdLife International (2011) Spotlight on forests. Presented as part of the BirdLife State of the world's birds website. Available from: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone