1 Jun 2018

These millennials are changing the future of conservation

Young minds can give us fresh answers. These young people’s conservation ideas were so impressive that they were awarded grants to carry out their work. Check out ten projects that are shaping the conservation world for the next generation.

The "Panda Team" will be preserving the habitat of the Giant Panda - along with the birds it shares it with
The "Panda Team" will preserve the habitat shared by endemic birds and Giant Pandas © Wanyong Ge
By Charlotte Klinting

We believe it’s important to support young people in conservation, giving them the resources they need to kick-start long and successful careers. That’s why we’re part of not one, but two programmes: BirdLife Young Conservation Leaders (YCL) and the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP).

2018’s competitions focused on young conservationists from Asia and the Pacific, whose work covers subjects as diverse as pandas, firefighting and Vulture Safe Zones. Here are this year’s winners.


Young Conservation Leaders 2018


In the Pacific, three teams of young conservationists will be putting their plans into action. These projects are made possible thanks to the generous support from the British Birdwatching Fair.


1. Saving Suwarrow Atoll


Suwarrow Atoll's protected status was recently revoked © Te Ipukarea Society


The status of the first National Park in the Cook Islands – the Suwarrow Atoll – is at risk. New legislation means that this Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) is no longer formally protected, which makes it vulnerable to development projects and the reintroduction of invasive species. The project team will work to make sure this does not happen. They plan to gather support for re-establishing the Atoll as a National Park, by working in partnership with other NGOs, communities and governments.

Team leader Liam Kokaua was delighted by the recognition: "Our YCL team is absolutely stoked to be a recipient of this award. We were a little bit shocked that our application was successful but we are happy that we can use this award to build our capacity as conservationists and channel funds towards the betterment of our country’s only national park, the beautiful Suwarrow Atoll."


2. Fighting fire in Fiji


Uncontrolled fires risk destroying this lush habitat © Jon-Eric Melsæter


Local communities in Fiji have long used fire as a land management tool. However, if used indiscriminately, it can have a devastating effect on biodiversity and soil fertility. The Fiji YCL team is planning to work with villagers, giving workshops and consultations to raise awareness and minimise the damage caused to Fiji’s Greater Tomaniivi IBA.


3. Weeding out plant invaders


Team Leader Tehani Withers (Right) plans to restore Rapa Iti's forests © Fred Jacq


Another YCL team will be working to restore two key forest areas on the island of Rapa Iti, by removing invasive plant species and putting biosecurity measures in place. Upon receiving the news of the award, team leader, Tehani Withers said; “This Island is one of the most isolated in French Polynesia, with no airport and only one commercial boat every 2 months, which does not make it easy to start conservation projects, even with all the fantastic support from the local community. We hope to do so much more with the funding provided by this award.”

You may recognise Rapa Iti as BirdFair 2017’s beneficiary project, for which a staggering £333,000 was raised. The YCL team will build on the achievements of this ambitious restoration project.


In Asia, four projects are going beyond birds to tackle threats to the environment. The Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation has provided the funding to make these a reality.


4. Panda-monium


The "Panda Team" protects both pandas and endemic birds from livestock grazing © Wanyong Ge


The Giant panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca sounds like an unlikely target species for BirdLife Young Conservation Leaders. However, its range and habitat overlaps with 70% of endemic forest birds in China, and livestock grazing disturbs both. The team will be surveying within three IBAs (Wanglang, Xuebaoding, and Xiaohegou Nature Reserves) to determine how many livestock can safely graze in these areas without threatening wildlife and their habitats. The team also plans to work with local communities to better understand the cause of grazing conflicts.

Team leader Cui Liu confessed she “was supposed to focus on preparing for a big presentation when this thrilling news came. After immediately sharing the news with my team, I could hardly go back to work because I was so excited!”


5. Helping the Rufous-headed Hornbill


In the Philippines, the team will be teaching local people to love their Hornbill © Haribon Foundation


The Rufous-headed Hornbill Rhabdotorrhinus waldeni (Critically Endangered) is one the rarest Hornbills in the world, and found only in the islands of Negros and Panay in the Philippines. A team from the Haribon Foundation is looking to conserve this charismatic species by collaborating with local communities and establish local protected areas.


6. Bay watch


The Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Critically Endangered) needs China's wetlands © Chaiwat Chinuparawat


The coastal wetlands in China’s Bohai Bay is an important stopover for migratory birds along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF). Despite this, most of the 600km-long coastline is currently without official protected areas. A team of enthusiastic volunteer bird watchers are planning to survey the bay and lobby towards protection of the site.


7. Keeping Vulture Safe Zones safe


These young Conservation Leaders will be making sure Vulture Safe Zones last in the long term © BCN


Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN) pioneered the use of Vulture Safe Zones to protect vultures against poisoning from the veterinary drug diclofenac. Now their team of Young Conservation Leaders are working to validate the zones, which cover an impressive 100 km2. This will involve regular monitoring, safe food supplies for the vultures, and empowering communities to make these zones sustainable.


Conservation Leadership Programme 2018


The Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) is a partnerships between BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International and the Wildlife Conservation Society. This year, all three CLP projects focus on species that are endangered due to their high economic value. The CLP grants were made possible thanks to support from Global Trees Campaign and Arcadia (a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin) channelled through CLP partner Fauna & Flora International.


8. What are yew looking at?


Knowledge is power when working out how to conserve cancer-curing yew trees © CLP


The Maire’s Yew Taxus mairei in Nepal is heavily exploited, as its leaves are used in the production of taxol, a drug used in cancer treatments. The key priority for this team is finding the range of the tree and working to ensure sustainable harvesting.


9. Blue blood


Protecting Horseshoe Crab breeding sites will help reverse their downward trend © CLP


Likewise, the pale blue blood of the Horseshoe Crab Tachypleus gigas is harvested in India for use in biomedical technologies. Due to their high economic value, compounded by bycatch in fishing gear and loss of breeding grounds, their numbers have significantly declined. The team aims to reverse the trend by creating adequate protection along the coast of Odisha.


10. Threshing about


It may look fearsome, but the Thresher Shark needs protection © Thomas Alexander


The final project focuses on the Thresher Shark Alopias sp. In Indonesia, this family of shark has only recently been added to the Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This trade is not adequately controlled, and the team aims to get a better understanding of the species in order to make management recommendations.


Along with the awards, the 10 winning teams get unique capacity development opportunities through an international training course organised by the Conservation Leadership Programme, along with expert guidance from an ever-growing network of alumni.

2019’s Young Conservation Leaders Awards will focus on the Americas.


With thanks to: