“Education and Conservation of Lowland Savanna”, is a 3-year project funded by the Darwin Initiative that started in 2009. Guided by Dr. Neil Stuart of the University of Edinburgh, Duncan Moss of the UK Ordinance Survey, garden staff, along with botanist Zoe Goodwin and German Lopez of the University of Belize collected plants from several savanna areas and constructed a small Savanna Trail at Belize Botanic Garden (BBG). They also developed an education program showing the importance of this rapidly disappearing habitat.
At the implementation of the project in year one(1), the objectives were;
-To install a new savanna ecosystem with an interpretive trail in a natural setting at BBG.
-The trails will be a place for visitors, especially local school groups, to learn more about the importance of savanna ecosystems and the need to protect them.
-BBG will be responsible for producing educational materials for primary and secondary students in accordance with the curriculum.
-Make collections from the savanna in Belize to install/propagate in this area.
ACTIVITIES UNDERTAKEN IN YEAR TWO
During year two (2) of the project life, the savanna trail was completed and opened to the public. All plants collected from collection trips were installed/propagated in the savanna and most of the plants, especially the herbaceous plants, established themselves quite well in their new habitat. To maintain accurate information on these plants, they were properly accessioned in BBG’s Bauble database. To encourage Belizean visitors to the area, free entry was offered on Sundays and arrangements were made for school groups to visit the savanna trail. In addition, interpretive signs were made and installed on the trail for public use. Belize Botanic Gardens produced several educational materials for the children to reinforce information learned from the tour. Upon completion of a tour of the gardens and Savanna Trail, there were oral quizzes and games. The savanna game called “A Savanna Sam Play and Learn Game” and the coloring sheets were created by one of our board members, Heather duPlooy.
Marketing and advertising of the savanna education concept were developed and plant collecting and accessioning continued in year two.
ACTIVITIES UNDERTAKEN IN YEAR THREE
Various activities continue to be undertaken throughout year three to continue the conservation awareness of lowland savanna at BBG as envisioned during the first two years. These activities include: trail maintenance, school visits to the trail, educational materials created/distributed, additional signage for Belize Botanic Gardens trail, and supporting Dr. Elizabeth Mallroy with savanna sign and trails development at the Tropical Education Center (TEC)
Over 1,000 Primary school students, along with teachers and parents from the Cayo District and from as far away as Orange Walk have taken part in this educational program. The original number of students to be hosted was 480, but thanks to a bus donated by the Sonny Merryman Bus Company in Virginia, we were able to host an additional 624, along with teachers and parents.
The goals of this project are to document the species of plants found in savannas in Belize, to provide information for better vegetation mapping of these areas and to work with local institutions in Belize (Belize Botanic Gardens, University of Belize, Programme for Belize and the Belize Forest Department), make available and interpret the information gathered from this research for science and the public.
The surveys of the savanna vegetation was be carried out by Zoe Goodwin of the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh. Zoe donated many months of her time to the Belize Botanic Gardens in 2008 when she patiently identified and labeled many, many trees around the gardens. Sam Bridgewater, who was the project leader for the Darwin xate project that BBG participated in a couple year ago, is also back, this time as a consultant for the project, providing his expertise on the flora of Belize.
WHAT IS NEXT?
Presently, the vision of BBG is to continue:
1.) The educational implementation of the project and capacity building work along with the various educational institutions in Belize.
2.) To liaise with interested schools and community in promoting educational tours and information about the savanna.
3.) To raise awareness of the savanna ecosystem and threats to it by developing teaching materials for school children and university students.
During the three years of the grant and through the staffs’ dedication and hard work, BBG has accomplished most, if not all, of the objectives it envisioned during the inception of the savanna concept at BBG. This work continues and will continue. The results of these objectives can be seen both by the well-kept condition of the savanna and the gardens on a whole as well as the reaction of all participants visiting the gardens. For example, as mentioned previously, students who visit BBG for the first time came with the idea that savannas are used only for pastures and that savannas are wastelands. However, it is very positive to note that these students depart BBG much more informed about savannas – that savannas are not wastelands or used only for pastures. They learn that savannas are equally important as our lush rainforest or the great barrier reef. They learned that savannas have many beautiful exotic plants, some of which can only be found in savannas. They also learned that savannas are highly vulnerable to burning each year during the dry season, and that some of these fires are natural and man induced. Furthermore, students also take home the message to their parents or other adults about the importance of savannas.
It was also grateful to see that even the teachers and adults who accompanied the students, leave knowing much more about the savanna and about the other plants in the gardens. This is expressed by the positive remarks made upon departure that they would implement/include savanna ecosystems in their school lesson plans and the promise that they would visit again in the near future. All schools were also extremely grateful for the financial assistance given to them such as entrance fees waived and the bus transportation. Many expressed that the visit would not have been possible without the funding and express extreme gratitude to the DARWIN project.
The BBG staff who conduct the tours, are continuously expanding their knowledge through reading or research. This helps them to improve on their knowledge and to be able to give more informative tours. Even foreign visitors who visit the gardens are highly impressed with the staffs’ knowledge and the well-kept condition of the gardens’.
Much appreciation is given to the DARWIN funding for all of the above activities undertaken and will continue at Belize Botanic Gardens.
I encourage you to read all about this project at: http://www.eeo.ed.ac.uk/sea-belize/index.html