(photo courtesy RGS with IBG)
In Nov 2021, the Secure Forests team had the privilege of presenting a summary of our work to an online audience at the Royal Geographical Society’s - Explore Conference.
This presentation was well timed, as only hours before more than one hundred leaders at the Climate Change (COP 26) meeting in Glasgow pledged to halt all illegal deforestation by the year 2030 with an agreement to underpin this commitment with a US$19 billion fund from public and private sources.
Backed not only by the G7 countries, but the declaration also received important support from forest-rich countries Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – who is combined forests cover totals more than thirty-four million hectares. This tremendous commitment not only reinforces the importance and value of the work undertaken by Secure Forests CIC but positions us favourably to help countries and conservation NGO’s turn the Glasgow Forest Declaration into meaningful action that not only strengthens forest protection efforts by local rangers but fully involves indigenous people in collaborative conservation partnerships aimed at keeping their forests SECURE!
As an organisation we are still young, having only formed in 2020 in responses to growing concerns of increased illegal deforestation during the Covid pandemic. However, as a group of former military veterans, we draw on over 75 years of successful careers in science, military strategy, and professional training. During 2020 when many forest rangers where in lockdown deforestation through illegal logging increased by over 200% as transnational criminal gangs took advantage of the global crisis and according to the UN up to 90% of logging in tropical rainforests is illegal.
Central America, West Africa and East Asia have some of the highest deforestation rates in the world and it is estimated that by 2030 if nothing is done these regions could lose over two hundred million hectares of natural forest, equivalent to 40 per cent of the projected global total.
Unsustainable demand for high-value hardwoods is a major driver of this forest loss with high value hardwoods gaining the same status and value as ivory in certain cultures. The logging of hardwoods has sadly become industrialised in many countries and criminal gangs now have the capacity to move into a forested area and rapidly extract all available high value hardwoods unchallenged and unhindered.
Despite the challenges and setbacks from the global pandemic, it has indeed highlighted one of our key strengths i.e., the capability and versatility of remote sensing capabilities through the integrated Forest Domain Awareness System® (FDAS). Throughout 2020 and 2021 with the support of The Oak Foundation, Rainforest Concern and Pook’s Hill Lodge we have been trailing and evaluating the FDAS in the small country of Belize.
This has allowed us to develop the best and most cost-effective solutions for protected area managers based on flexibility and needs. In fact, this is one of the FDAS key strengths, and we aim to get the best, most cost effective and most appropriate technology directly to the people who need it most
Forest Domain Awareness System ®
In January 2020 the team deployed to Belize in Central America to install 4 acoustic sensors provided by Rainforest Connection (www.rfcx.org). The RFCx monitoring system gives us the opportunity to protect key rainforest areas and respond to real-time alerts, while sharing large amounts of ecosystem data that help negotiate increased protections in these areas. Just by protecting the perimeter of a rainforest and controlling access into it we can secure everything behind it. Our pilot site, a small reserve at Pook’s Hill in Belize, is a haven for endangered birds, mammals, many species of flora and high valued tree species including Mahogany, Rosewood and Nargusta. It is surrounded on three sides by farmland and agriculture and thus provides a sanctuary for many of the following the species.
Images taken by the Pooks Hill reserve Rangers
The RFCx acoustic sensors use the latest Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to detect the acoustic frequencies of chainsaws, gunshots, and vehicles for example. Once detected these unnatural sounds are filtered and communicated via an instant text message sent to the Forest Rangers operations centre and the Secure Forest Monitoring Centre in Cornwall of the precise location of the detecting sensor. This allows the rangers to become situationally aware within the reserve 24/7 and assist them in making informed decisions on actions based upon these acoustic events. For example, they could react quickly by sending out send an armed patrol to the area or flying a response drone to get aerial recognisance images or a send a specially trained covert unit to gather further evidence of criminal activity without engaging in confrontation with the perpetrators.
The RFCX Guardian in operation Pooks Hill Belize
To create the full spectrum of above and below canopy protection the FDAS provides, we also utilise the latest satellite images from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel Satellite series and we work in partnership with space mapping experts EcoMetrica and Forest Watch, who produce useful interactive satellite maps that allow our team to inform the forest rangers on the ground of both the historic and "near live data" picture of their reserve. This has provided us with significant information which combined with our acoustics, seismic, photographic, and infra-red sensors on the ground gives the Forest Rangers the upper hand in the fight against illegal loggers.
Deforestation within the neighbouring reserve from Ecometrica platform
The image above shows the GLAD reports on the EcoMetrica platform detecting forest lost in Belize between Jan 2020 and Aug 2020. The purple area is the secured protected reserve at Pook’s Hill when the acoustic sensors where actively warning the rangers of incursions and increased chainsaw activity. However, activity in the area to the south of the Pook’s Hill reserve was also detected. This was in the neighbouring Tapir Mountain Reserve, note that the Pooks Hill reserve had no deforestation during this same period, but the acoustic sensors picked up additional vehicle traffic prior to these illegal deforestation occurrences.
This is an incredibly powerful asset for the rangers of any protected forests, who continued to work to protect forests from the ever-present and ever-increasing threats. As the Secure Forests team as project managers received the same live data instantaneously six thousand miles away 24/7, we were able to advise the Ranger team and provide help and support to them to develop tactics and patrol routes to counter the threats.
In our brief presentation to the RGS Explore Conference we were able to take the audience live into Belize so they could see and hear the forest! It was a privilege to have been able to present at such a prestigious event and to such an inspiring audience and to be working on the front line of conservation with dedicated forest rangers committed to Securing the worlds remaining Forests! We look forward to following on this blog with a review of the year, which will include some of our other projects and some emerging and exciting developments for 2022!
We would like to wish all our followers’ supporters and friends a very Merry Christmas and a safe and secure New Year!
Special Thanks for our supporters at: The Oak Foundation, Rainforest Concern, Rainforest Connection, EcoMetrica, Vulcan Earth Ranger and all at Pook’s Hill Reserve and the Royal Geographical Society with IBG.Wildlife from Pook’s Hill Ran
Central American Jaguar (Panthera Onca)