International Partnership Aids Wildlife Conservation in Iraq
Richard Porter, a founder member of OSME, has been associated with conservation work in Iraq for more than a decade, especially with Nature Iraq. He was part of the BirdLife International team that worked with a wide-range of partners on this excellent UK Government funded Darwin Initiative project. OSME has supported Nature Iraq’s forthcoming Inventory of Key Biodiversity Areas, and is proud to be associated with this important NGO that often has to work in difficult and, at times, hostile environment.
Despite the all-too gloomy news of the terrible troubles in Iraq, there are still highlights – little jewels – that show the resilience and determination of the Iraqi people to treasure and protect their natural heritage.
For the last three years the country’s leading conservation NGO, Nature Iraq, has been undertaking a wildlife study and education programme in Iraqi Kurdistan, supported by DEFRA’s Darwin Initiative and co-partnered by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh-based Centre for Middle Eastern Plants (CMEP) and BirdLife International.
An on-line course in biodiversity and conservation, run in conjunction with the University of Sulaimani, is now in its third year. To date more than 60 students have successfully completed the course. A further 60 students and others involved in conservation have signed up for the latest course including participants from the University of Sulaimani (Agriculture and Science Faculties) KBF (Kurdistan Botanical Foundation), IOCN (Iraq Organization for Conservation of Nature).
Now that mobile phones are widespread, a citizen science project to study butterfly and dragonfly distribution was launched last autumn. Enthusiastically received, photos of these two insect groups are now being sent for identification from all over Iraq. Nature Iraq and Darwin have assembled a good team of international experts to help with difficult identifications. For example, in a pilot study, NI identified four new dragonfly species for the country.
A main focus of the Darwin Initiative has been the majestic mountain of Peramagroon. Here a comprehensive study of the plants has been undertaken. This has more than doubled the number of species known from the area to more than 650 and includes several species new to science. An interactive electronic image based guide to plants is nearing completion.
A study of land-use practices on Peramagroon will help guide the development of a conservation action plan. Peramagroon has also been the focus for student field visits and its local schools have developed some exciting projects, such as the making of nest boxes.
A unique bird identification App for the 130 bird species of Peremagroon mountain is currently being tested in the field by Iraqi students. If this model proves successful it could be used for other sites in the Middle East to encourage an interest by local people.
CMEP’s director Tony Miller, explained: “The project has been an opportunity to develop some practical and innovative conservation tools and has been successful at bringing environmental understanding to the wider public in Iraq. It is a huge pleasure to work with enthusiastic Iraqi colleagues in such a varied and beautiful environment.”
Bwar Khalid of Nature Iraq added: “Throughout last three years we have been working as a team to reach our goals and there have been lots of achievements. But, we still have a lot of hard work to do in order to protect, restore, and preserve Iraq’s natural environment and the rich cultural heritage, I hope we can do more projects and activities in the future, especially in our country where there was nothing except war and destruction.”
Their sentiments were echoed by BirdLife’s Middle East director, Dr Ibrahim Khader: “We are proud that our Iraq Partner, Nature Iraq, has developed these exciting initiatives, many of which will influence conservation education actions throughout the Middle East.”
You can read more about the project and project partners at the following links:-
Visit the project website: http://iraqdarwin.org/
Nature Iraq (www.natureiraq.org) is an Iraqi non-governmental organization registered in Iraq, accredited to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Iraq’s first and only Affiliate to Birdlife International, and the only Middle Eastern member of the Waterkeeper Alliance. Nature Iraq was created to protect, restore, and preserve Iraq’s natural environment and the rich cultural heritage that it nourishes. Our mission includes fulfillment of the following goals: Improve the capacity of Iraq’s institutions to protect its environment, including local and national governmental and non-governmental bodies, along with universities, colleges, and scientific institutes.
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (www.rbge.org.uk) and its Centre for Middle Eastern Plants (www.cmep.org.uk) has a long-standing interest in the flora and vegetation of the Middle East; institutional experience in the region and expertise in botany, education and conservation makes the RBGE uniquely positioned to deliver the innovative and effective capacity building required to meet the objectives of this project. Regionally Anthony Miller, under the auspices of the Arabian Plant Specialist Group has co-ordinated the IPA and red listing programmes aimed at meeting criteria 1 of the GSPC for the Arabian Peninsula. Other RBGE staff are involved in developing online learning courses in the Middle East and mobile phone technology which will be used in this project. RBGE has been involved through CMEP in delivering training to NI staff and others in Kurdistan over the last three years.
BirdLife International is the world’s largest nature conservation Partnership, with 120 country Partners worldwide. As such it has over 13 million members and supporters, works with 7,475 local groups and takes action in 2,750 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas. BirdLife Partners manage or own 1,553 reserves or protected areas covering 4.3 million ha of natural areas globally. It employs 7,400 staff with a combined budget of US$ 550 million. Website: www.birdlife.org
Darwin Initiative is a UK government grants scheme that helps to protect biodiversity and the natural environment through locally based projects worldwide. Website: www.gov.uk/government/groups/the-darwin-initiative