The Queen Elizabeth Parks Project is bringing conservation communities together

By Steve Peach, Senior Rangerin Queen Elizabeth Country Park, UK

Steve Peach, Senior Ranger and Project Leader of the Queen Elizabeth Parks Twinning Project, writes about why working together with others is key to conservation outcomes.

I am because we are and, since we are, therefore I am.

This was written by Canon John Mbiti, a Kenyan theologian and writer, as he strived to explain the role of the individual within the family (and the wider community) in African society. As rangers we have an understanding of this concept that the success of the individual is nothing without the understanding of their place within the wider family or community. Not only is it a recognisable ecological or biological concept, it is also fundamental to our wider role in community conservation.

The Queen Elizabeth Parks Twinning Project was born out of a chance meeting between two rangers (I was one of those) who attended the IRF Congress in South Africa – realising that not only did their two parks share the same name, but those parks shared the same community conservation philosophy. This sharing of a philosophy led to the creation of the Twinning Project, which is based around a partnership of rangers and other park staff with conservation at its core, and a key understanding that…

We are rangers because of the community and, since there are communities, therefore we are rangers.

We believe that adhering to this key understanding, rangers from both Queen Elizabeth Parks have started to build more meaningful relationships with the individuals and communities, which will lead to longer term sustainable conservation benefits. There is also a tangible sense of rangers from both parks being equal partners in a global conservation relationship.

We rangers serve the worldwide community interest, as well as being the instrument of the local community interest. It is a great conundrum and it is also one of the reasons that the Nature’s Frontline initiative was launched.

Nature’s Frontline is an extension of the Twinning Project and seeks to take the role of the ranger to a worldwide community. We believe that by showcasing the stories and thoughts of rangers we can help to create a greater understanding among not only the communities we seek to serve, but also our fellow rangers.

To some extent Nature’s Frontline is also an antidote to the increasingly stylised personality-dominated TV wildlife programme. These programmes often miss the real story, or worse, misrepresent what’s actually happening in the field.

Engaging with communities

There are real stories out there of rangers doing incredible community engagement work.

For example, Judith, a Community Ranger working in Queen Elizabeth National Park (Uganda), who has been the catalyst for a community and its school embracing the Twinning Project and getting involved in cultural exchange, sustainability education and wildlife conservation. And this commitment has spread to its twin school in England which is involved in a range of environmental projects that has seen Liss Junior School, Hampshire, nominated for a national award.

In the same park, rangers carry out vital enforcement patrols ensuring that wildlife is protected. These patrols often carry risks, not only personal, but also in terms of the relationship with the community. But these rangers are skilled practitioners, they know where the balance lies and what is at stake. There is a perennial compromise to manage that seeks to match sustainable futures for both the community and wildlife.

Last year I experienced at first hand the complexities of community engagement work. While visiting a secondary school on the Ugandan border with the Democratic Republic of Congo I was asked to address the school’s conservation club. After talking about the similarities and differences in UK and Ugandan wildlife I called for questions. The first came from the young chairman of the wildlife club who asked…

Which is more important, wildlife or people?

I asked the young man the reasons for his question and he replied that he had heard that rangers shoot people who are caught poaching. He asked…

Surely it is OK for people to take wildlife when they are hungry?

This is the dilemma that faces rangers on a daily basis. My reply?

The only thing worth more than people is other people.

With the help of a very skilled teacher, we went on to explain that while we understood the perceived short term benefit of poaching, there is a longer term impact not only on the wildlife, but more importantly on the futures of all people.

I am because we are and, since we are, therefore I am.