A Nature’s Hero with a talent for building relationships
Dr Leylya Belyalova is a Nature’s Hero with a talent for building relationships between government, landowners and communities in and around IBAs in Uzbekistan.
Dr Leylya Belyalova, named a Nature's Hero by the Uzbekistan Society for the Protection of Birds (UzSPB), has been one of the most active members of the BirdLife Partner since it was formed in 2007. A lecturer at Samarkand State University, she was also a founder of the Student Birdwatching Clubs Network, and supervises the ‘Flamingo’ student club at the Faculty of Natural Sciences. She involves her students in surveys, monitoring and conservation work in Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) and Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA), including the Kattakurgan Reservoir and the Zarafshan State Nature Reserve.
For more than ten years, Dr Belyalova has been working as a volunteer and researcher at the Amankutan Pass, a proposed IBA/KBA in Uzbekistan's Samarkand region, conducting meetings to identify the most urgent conservation actions, and getting the consent of stakeholders. The pass is in the western part of the Pamir-Alai mountain system, which is important for mountain bird species including raptors.
Everything that has been done on IBAs in Samarkand region was agreed with local people, who came up with particular conservation ideas, and carry the work out voluntarily.
By 2011, UzSPB had identified 51 IBAs in Uzbekistan, but almost all the sites were unprotected, and there were no action plans for the conservation of unprotected areas in the country. Dr Belyalova was heavily involved in the project ‘Developing mechanisms for conservation and sustainable use of the main ecosystems of Uzbekistan’, which introduced and tested the Site Action Plans (SAPs) concept. This conservation approach, combining long-term biodiversity protection with direct benefits for local communities, is totally new on a regional (Central Asian) level. She has helped establish positive relationships between the UzSPB team and administrators, land-users, and government officials responsible for the IBAs in the Samarkand region.
As a project leader and volunteer, Dr Belyalova has played a key role in a number of UzSPB projects, including ‘IBA conservation: Monitoring by specially trained students in Uzbekistan’, and ‘Interactive Education Programme for Student Birdwatching Clubs: Building a New Generation of Conservationists in Uzbekistan’. As the co-author of the curriculum of the Education Programme for leaders and members of student bird clubs, she has helped prepare young professionals for careers in nature conservation. More than 50 young conservations trained by UzSPB have been given placements in government conservation bodies
She has also inspired the people who live around important sites to get involved in conservation action. At Amankutan Pass, she motivated the local community to join in hands-on activities such as cleaning up springs and planting trees, and clearing deadwood from mountain terraces. As a result, the village water supply was stabilised, and people now understand the benefits of deadwood utilisation as an alternative to logging, providing a new sustainable livelihood for some villagers. The project also addressed gender issues; women on the site were encouraged to lead teams responsible for cleaning springs and mountain terraces, and are mentoring and motivating other women.
“Leylya Belyalova is well known by local people and administrators of the sites as a good leader, talented organizer and researcher”, said UzSPB's Oleg Kashkarov. “She has used a participatory approach in all her work with local communities . Resources, including time, equipment, materials and the expertise of specialists, are invested in communities directly. Everything that has been done on IBAs in Samarkand region was agreed with local people, who came up with particular conservation ideas, and carry the work out voluntarily.”
Oleg added: “The work initiated by Leylya Belyalova on Amankutan pass was the first attempt by an environmental charity in our region to preserve the wildlife of a site with international importance on a long-term basis, which in my opinion deserves the special attention conferred by this award.”