22 Jan 2018

Satellite tracking app empowers communities to protect their own forest

This year we’re launching an innovative new programme that uses satellite technology and a mobile phone app to help local people monitor their forest homes. The Asia-Pacific Forest Governance Project, led by BirdLife and funded by the European Union, aims to enhance the involvement of local communities in conservation and policy-making.

The Helmeted Hornbill (Critically Endangered) is one of innumerable bird species that will benefit from the Program © Bjorn Olesen
The Helmeted Hornbill (Critically Endangered) is one of innumerable bird species that will benefit from the Program © Bjorn Olesen
By Jessica Law

Water drips from the green ceiling of leaves above you as you make your way along a forest path, barely visible to the untrained eye, but used for generations by your village. The undergrowth snags at your clothes as your feet break the rich, fragrant mulch of the soil. All is calm until you hear it – the sound you’ve been waiting to hear. A loud, maniacal, cackling laughter. But not human laughter – this is the laughter of the Helmeted Hornbill.

As you reach into your pocket to record your finding, you get a notification on your phone. Far, far above the umbrella of green under which you are standing, a satellite has detected a bare spot in the canopy half a mile away. That’s strange – it wasn’t there before. You set off to investigate.


Local people are the answer


We already know that forests provide priceless services for the planet – but they are also people’s homes. And when it comes to gathering information, there is no substitute for local knowledge. Local people know the lie of the land and can see the health of the ecosystem first-hand. So it stands to reason that they should play an important role in monitoring and making decisions about the forest in which they live.


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Papua New Guinean culture and conservation will go hand in hand © Mark Hanlin / Tenkile Conservation Alliance


Sadly, the power of local communities and indigenous people is often constrained by lack of technical knowledge, experience and political influence. Over the coming five years, Asia-Pacific Forest Governance Project plans to change that.

Because the tropical forests of Asia and the Western Pacific are special. Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines host over 154 million hectares of globally significant Biodiversity hotspots, many of them Key Biodiversity Areas. These havens house amazing Critically Endangered species such as the Golden-mantled Tree Kangaroo Dendrolagus pulcherrimus of Papua New Guinea, and the Helmeted Hornbill Rhinoplax Vigil of Malaysia.

The Asia-Pacific Forest Governance Project is empowering local people to manage and protect their own forest.

But they are also under great threat from deforestation. That’s why the Forest Governance Project is training people on the ground, empowering them to manage and protect their own forest.


The Golden-mantled Tree Kangaroo is found in the Toricelli Mountains of Papua New Guinea, one of the Program's key sites © Matt West


The satellite app watching over rainforests


If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Maybe not, but with new state-of-the-art remote sensing technology, we can certainly see it. Forest Watcher is a revolutionary new app developed by Global Forest Watch, which uses satellites to watch over the earth’s forest canopies. When one pixel in their image changes, which could signify trees being felled, the app alerts the user so that they can respond.

Through collaboration between BirdLife and Global Forest Watch, this technology will be rolled out to local partners in the field. Their findings are then used to bring about real policy change – an approach that is truly local to global.

From the local eyes and ears on the forest floor, to the satellites above the treetops, the Forest Governance Project will ensure that these precious forests are protected from roots to canopy.

Find out more about the Forest Governance Project at www.birdlife.org/forest-governance



Between Roots & Canopy: Growing local involvement in forest governance and monitoring

Official title: Strengthening non-state actor involvement in forest governance in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea

Funded by: European Union

Lead Partner: BirdLife International

National Partners: Burung Indonesia (BirdLife Indonesia); Malaysian Nature Society (BirdLife Malaysia); Haribon Foundation (BirdLife the Philippines); Tenkile Conservation Alliance (Papua New Guinea).

Training and Techincal Partners: University of Papua New Guinea; Centre for International Development & Training


 This article has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of BirdLife International and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.