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In the global effort to preserve the planet's biodiversity, the role of cultural diversity is an often overlooked but integral part of the conservation equation. With 122 national Partners in 118 countries, our local-to-global approach champions diverse perspectives and practices to address the complex challenges facing our natural world.

By Charlie Malcolm-McKay

It was recently reported that on average wildlife populations have declined by almost 70% since 1970. At the heart of this drastic loss, lies a division between nature and culture where the environment is increasingly viewed as something separate from human life, leading to unceasing exploitation and degradation. Recognising the vital interconnection between people and nature, BirdLife works with more than 6,000 Local and Indigenous communities to protect and restore biodiversity across the globe.

Engagement with Local Conservation Groups (LGCs) is a key priority for BirdLife. This is because Local and Indigenous groups are custodians of traditional knowledge systems and practices that have been refined and adapted over generations to nurture ecological diversity. By integrating our conservation science with such knowledge systems, we are able to develop a deeper understanding of species interactions, seasonal cycles and landscape dynamics. This collaboration not only enriches our scientific research but also empowers LGCs to ensure long-term social and environmental sustainability. 

A case in point is the BirdLife Partner in Lebanon, The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL). SPNL has revitalized the Hima approach to conservation, which is an ancient system of resource management that originated in the Arabian Peninsula approximately 1,500 years ago. Hima, meaning “a protected place” in Arabic, emphasises the sustainable use of natural resources, balancing ecological health with the needs of the community. This includes practices such as controlled grazing, regulated hunting and the preservation of water resources. Managed through consensus decision-making, SPNL has established a total of 25 Hima, representing 6% of Lebanese territory and enhancing ecosystem resilience for generations to come.

Much of the world’s biodiversity exists in landscapes and seascapes owned and managed by Local and Indigenous communities. In fact, 80% global biodiversity is found on Indigenous territory despite them making up less than 5% of the total global population. Effective long-term conservation of biodiversity is therefore achieved when Local and Indigenous communities are empowered and supported. 

BirdLife Partner Guyra Paraguay recently demonstrated their commitment to this through a historic transfer of 548 hectares of land to the Mbya Guaraní Indigenous community. A key aspect of this transfer is the conservation of the “Tekoha Gasu” forest in the San Rafael National Park, an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA). For the Mbya Guarani, “Tekoha Gasu” means “Gran Hogar” or ‘Great home’, which highlights the profound connection between natural and cultural heritage. Not only does this achievement honour the ancestral land rights of Indigenous People in Paraguay, it also benefits several globally threatened bird species in the territory, including the Pipile Jacutinga and Vinaceous-breasted Amazon.

Effective and inclusive conservation governance acknowledges the irreplaceable expertise that LCGs possess about their environment. In Mbeliling, a biodiverse ecosystem on the island of Flores, Burung Indonesia (BirdLife Partner) collaborates with local groups, such as the MamaMama Penjaga Mbeliling, to ensure that conservation efforts protect forests while also supporting livelihoods. Central to this approach is community participation, where villagers, particularly women, work to monitor forests that are home to dozens of endemic bird species, such as the Flores Hawk-eagle and Flores Scops-owl. This inclusive model not only safeguards the local biodiversity but also improves the quality of life for those living in the communities.

In Africa, BirdLife Partner Guinée Ecologie deploys a similar community-driven approach to ecosystem restoration on the Tristao islands, Northen Guinea. The mangroves on Tristao islands are essential habitats for wildlife with more than 200 species of bird and several marine turtle species. In collaboration with local communities, 1,400 hectares of mangrove have been restored, boosting local livelihoods and demonstrating the success of participatory conservation on both biodiversity and socio-cultural heritage.

Serving as a snapshot, it is through these examples that we celebrate the International Day of Biodiversity 2024. Without the array of diverse communities working across the BirdLife Partnership, we would not be able to protect and restore nature as successfully. The United Nations theme for this year, ‘Be part of the Plan’ is a timely reflection of the importance of BirdLife’s partner-centred, civil society conservation model.

While we are proud of our strengths, we also acknowledge that this journey is ongoing and we are constantly learning and improving. As part of this, the BirdLife Partnership is engaged in debates on decolonising conservation. A term gaining increasing importance, it is generally understood as a critical evaluation of the historical and ongoing impacts of colonialism on conservation. At its heart is a desire to step towards creating a more equitable and inclusive world, where people and planet thrive together.

The Endangered Vinaceous-breasted Amazon Amazona vinacea. © Diego Grandi/Shuttterstock
‘Hima for Peace’, a historic walking trail in Lebanon. © Diego Ibarra Sanchez / SPNL
Moment of land transfer to the Mbya Guaraní Community. © BirdLifeAmericas

“At BirdLife International, we understand and believe in the fundamental role that Indigenous communities and nationalities play as custodians of forests, rivers, nature, birds, and biodiversity. We want to work together to recognize and empower these communities as the ancestral owners and guardians of these sites.” 

Michael Seager, BirdLife Americas Forest Program Manager.
The Mama-Mama gather to monitor the forests of Mbeliling © Burung Indonesia/Muhammad Meisa