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World Land Trust and Programme for Belize reach a conservation milestone

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3 June, 2014 - 12:32 -- World Land Trust
Edilberto Romero.

In 1989 Programme for Belize (PfB) was the first project of a new conservation charity. Today, World Land Trust (WLT) is a leading international conservation charity and PfB manages more than a quarter of a million acres of tropical forest.

After 25 years, both organisations can look back on a quarter century of conservation success and an enduring partnership.

Edilberto Romero is Managing Director of Programme for Belize. During WLT’s 25th Anniversary Partners Symposium in May 2014 he reflected on PfB’s achievements and the role the alliance with WLT has played in PfB’s success.

From an initial 110,000 acres saved with funding from WLT, PfB now owns and manages the Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area, a protected area of extraordinary biodiversity measuring 254,000 acres (more than 100,000 hectares).

The reserve is home to 130 species of birds, 70 species of mammals (including 15 endangered species) and 200 species of trees. In addition Rio Bravo is home to Belize’s highest population density of Jaguars, and rare species such as the Ocellated Turkey are returning to the protected area.

In reviewing PfB’s conservation success, Edilberto comments: “It essentially demonstrates that the work is paying, is giving results, that we are protecting these species and that the numbers are increasing.”

However, despite PfB’s success, deforestation on the borders of the reserve is putting pressure on the conservation area.

Edilberto explains: “Over the 25 years that we have been working we have seen deforestation closing in on us. It has reached all the way to our border. So we need to ensure that we have adequate funding for protecting and monitoring the site. We need to make sure that we also maintain connectivity with other sites, so that species like the Jaguars are not trapped within our area but are free to move within the other protected areas in Belize and the other protected areas in Guatemala and Mexico.”

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WLT provides ongoing support to PfB with funding for a wildlife ranger. Please help keep Rio Bravo safe by donating to Keepers of the Wild.

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I have often considered participating in such schemes. But there is one concern always holding me back (which I will break down for better clarity): a) the legal frameworks for land ownership are often non-existent or fragile in developing countries (not only there - Greece is an EU member and still hasn't got it right). This is shown by the problems not only indigenous people often have when it comes to land rights issues but also raises its ugly head when some commodity-hungry corporation "all of a sudden" has claims to land that for centuries seemed to "belong" to e.g. smallholders. b) Being tied up in a national legal framework these ownerships share the fate of the political system they are embedded in. If e.g. a kind of Chavez like in Venezuela gets the idea that WLT is a harbinger of international exploitative interest - poof! goes the legal framework that "Westerners" have poured their savings into. Which leads me to question any such conservational land deals if they are not backed by a framework whereby the land becomes kind of extraterritorial. Even that is not always a guarantee, as the fate of the Catholic church's lands in France during the revolution shows. But the WLT and others should, I believe, first try and become a supranational entity like the Red Cross or the Knights of Malta etc. to safeguard their holding?!

Submitted by John on

All valid comments, but the World Land Trust has been doing it successfully for over 25 years (including in Venezuela, with the support of Hugo Chavez, who introduced us to the Minister of Environment). And while there may be some risks, the alternative is doing nothing. Which as far as I am concerned is not an option. For me the testimonials of our partners are enough. And the reality, as pointed out, is that nowhere is ever 100% safe from corrupt governments -- whether it is in Britain, elsewhere in the EU or anywhere else. But we can at least say that 25 years on, the land we helped buy in Belize is in better shape now than when it was first purchased.

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