Most people in the UK are unaware of the strong historical connection between Britain and Bolivia. Connections that were built on two major non-timber forest products from the Amazon: rubber, the congealed sap of Hevea brasiliensis and the incorrectly named Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa). The rubber tree had a great impact on the rise and fall of the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon during the 19thC and early 20thC; the Brazil Nut continues to be Bolivia and the Amazon’s major non timber forest export today. The UK played a key role in developing both markets and today remains the main buyer of Brazil Nuts from the Bolivian Amazon. Being presented with a pair of artesanal rubber shoes (below) by our partner community Palacio brought to life over 150 years of shared history that I was only vaguely aware of. Continue reading Rubber and Brazil Nuts, linking the histories of Bolivia, the UK and Kew
Projects always seem relatively straightforward when you plan them but of course the reality can be very different. We are working with two hard to predict phenomena: the fruiting time of our seed trees and the weather, coupled with one inflexible one: the harvest season for brazil nuts, and one which with hindsight we should have predicted, but did’t: the difficulty of hiring a vehicle to access our sites.
En-route to the Pando I took the opportunity to introduce our project to HM Government’s Ambassador in La Paz, His Excellency Ross Denny, and to learn of UK Government funded projects in Bolivia. I was also very interested to hear that whilst Governor of the Ascension Islands, Ross Denny had been involved in the protection of a rare endemic fern and in the conservation of a historic cloud forest planned by Joseph Hooker, founder of the RBG Kew on the advice of Charles Darwin!
We also discussed the possibility of arranging him to visit our project in the field which would be a great support to us with the local government and media.
Despite the impact cattle-ranching has had on the Amazon over the past 40 years many ranchers are not making money. Degradation of the soils and quality of the pasture results in farms with very low densities of cattle spread over large areas that are expensive to maintain. There is also significant encroachment by inedible (to cattle) shrubs and grasses. This generates demand for fresh pasture which is in-turn leads to further deforestation. In addition, diversification away from beef to more profitable dairy relies on cattle breeds, such as Frisians, that are not well adapted to the heat of the tropics and suffer from the lack of shade in the colossal fields.
Our project aims to reduce pressure on natural forests in the Pando by supporting Inga-based agroforest systems, identifying non-timber products and raising awareness of the economic and biodiversity value of these forests. This requires a dedicated team of people in Bolivia but also in the UK where some of the technical expertise and the funds reside. Our team comprises people from the Bolivian NGO Herencia, the Noel Kempf Mercado Natural History Museum in Santa Cruz, Bolivia and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Dary Rigueira and myself designed a sample protocol for characterising the vegetation growing on disturbed sites on bauxite. We are hoping that by contrasting sites of different ages and disturbance histories we will be able to identify patterns which point to what determines the assemblages of species growing at a site and help us identify species which may be suitable for the rehabilitation of mined sites. Our 44 study plots are between 3 and 20 years of age since deforestation and in which deforestation had been accompanied by top soil removal or burning and conversion to pasture or simply allowed to recover. Continue reading Secondary forest on bauxite in Bahia: methods and protocol