Connecting the UK with the reality of life in the rainforest

In this guest blog post, Sarah Hutchison from WWF-UK, tells us how the conservation organisation, a large media organisation and the government of Acre in Brazil (where Children of the Amazon was filmed) are working together to help reduce deforestation and improve the lives of forest people.

Sarah in Brazil © Sarah Hutchison / WWF-UK

Sarah in Brazil. Photo © Sarah Hutchison / WWF-UK

I’ve been at WWF-UK since 2001, and before that I spent eight years in Ecuador, working on conservation and sustainable development projects in the ‘cloudforests’ of the high Andes. My focus now is on the Amazon – and it’s an amazingly rewarding job!

In October 2009, WWF and Sky formed a partnership to help protect one billion trees in Acre state, Brazil, through Sky Rainforest Rescue.  The project aims to help tackle deforestation on a huge scale – covering about three million hectares of forest – bringing benefits for the people and species of Acre, as well representing an important step in tackling climate change.

Through Sky Rainforest Rescue we’re also showing people in the UK the wonders of Amazon but also the effects of deforestation, through news reports and programmes including special films like Children of the Amazon and high-profile celebrity expeditions with stars like Lily Allen.  We have also created an interactive virtual rainforest that has been touring the UK.

The BR364 highway (currently under construction) will run through the Sky Rainforest Rescue project area.  Photo © Sarah Hutchison / WWF-UK

The BR364 highway (currently under construction) will run through the Sky Rainforest Rescue project area. Photo © Sarah Hutchison / WWF-UK

Seeing the true value of the forests

The good news is that 88% of Acre is still forested – from the air you can see the breathtaking vastness of it all.

And these are not empty forests. They’re home to some uncontacted tribes (as Ivaneide Cardozo describes on this blog), 14 indigenous groups, rubber tappers, riberinhos (riverside dwellers) and subsistence farmers.

But trees, people and wildlife are all at risk from encroaching deforestation and development. The big challenge in the Amazon, as we know, is how to develop an economy where forests are considered just as financially attractive as cattle pastures or agricultural land.

However, unfortunately, forest land is often worth less than deforested land. The world economy doesn’t yet recognise the role that forests play in capturing and storing carbon from the atmosphere, helping generate rainfall, conserving soils and providing all sorts of benefits and services.

There’s been much discussion about an international approach to reducing deforestation – which has given rise to the concept of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries).

The Acre government is designing a policy that will help value the environmental services the forest provides and reward local people for protecting it. The aim is to put into practice the concept of REDD+ and Sky Rainforest Rescue will help pilot this policy on the ground.

I believe the great legacy of Chico Mendes has transformed Acre. The state government is striving to create a forest-based economy to challenge the kind of development seen in other Amazonian states such as Pará or Rondônia (which are in the so-called ‘arc of deforestation’).

A farmer, Senhor Nonato, and his family who are benefiting from a scheme that Sky Rainforest Rescue is supporting (© Sarah Hutchison / WWF-UK)

A farmer, Senhor Nonato, and his family who are benefiting from a project that Sky Rainforest Rescue is supporting. Photo © Sarah Hutchison / WWF-UK

How Sky Rainforest Rescue works

Some large businesses have started to see they can play their part in making change happen to reduce tropical deforestation.

Sky has a customer base of nearly10 million people in the UK – one in three homes receives Sky TV. Sky Rainforest Rescue asks people to join forces with Sky and WWF by making donations to help protect one billion trees in Acre.  Sky will match what the public donates up to £2milllion in order to help achieve the overall joint target of £4 million.

On the ground in Acre, I can see for myself how this money will help make a difference. The project is focusing on a particularly vulnerable area: the BR364 highway is still being paved in one section. In that region (between the towns of Feijo and Manuel Urbano) the subsistence farmers live a very marginalised life, with no electricity and very limited opportunities to sell their goods.

The forest in this area is still in very good condition, but as history has shown in the Amazon, with a paved road comes illegal occupation, illegal logging and deforestation. The challenge is to change this dynamic – starting now, before the road is finished.

If you’d like to know more about the Sky Rainforest Rescue’s work on the ground, please visit the website []

Bringing all this to the attention of the UK public is vital to the project’s success. And we are doing this by working in partnership with Sky.

My job has certainly been transformed in the last year. I’m glad to be able to work with my WWF colleagues in Brazil to make this project a success on the ground, and I’m thrilled to help bring the UK public along on the journey with me.

Oh, and by the way, anyone can help support the project, wherever you live – just visit our donations page.

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    One Response to “Connecting the UK with the reality of life in the rainforest”

    1. Abdi says:

      thats really nice of sky and the wwf. hope you are able to get the donations

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