Saturday, 6 October 2018

Our Newton Fund Researcher Links workshop on dry forests

Posted by Stu & Christian Devenish

In early August, our Newton Fund Researcher Links workshop on dry forests took place in Lima, Peru. There has been a whole series of calls for workshops recently, usually in support of project proposal planning for the Newton Fund applications and bringing together early career researchers with more experienced academics. The Newton Fund is a £735M funding scheme managed by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The Newton fund builds research and innovation partnerships with 17 active partner countries to support their economic development and social welfare. Some of this research is in the environmental field so these funds could go a long way to bridging knowledge gaps on ecological/conservation issues in biodiverse countries, perhaps. Countries covered by the Newton Fund are those who are potential recipients of Overseas Development Agency funding – generally the lower and middle income countries of the world. The workshop was organised by MMU and our partner university in Peru, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, through Armando Valdes.

Above - Toby Pennington on dry forests generally and DRYFLOR in particular; Below - Armando Valdes introducing the session on capacity building (Photos: Alex Lees)

We were able to fund the attendance of around 36 people at the workshop, roughly split equally between UK scientists, those from Peru itself, and those from other eligible Latin American countries (Argentina and Colombia). We wanted folk from a mix of relevant disciplines, and also ones at different stages of their careers – from old silverbacks like myself to early career researchers. In addition to academics, we also wanted staff from NGOs and, of course, from government agencies. The aim of the workshop was to discuss and produce a road map for important research in the region’s dry forests.

Nice mix of dry forest ecologists at different stages of their research careers from Argentina, Peru and UK (Photo: Alex Lees)
The event started with a fantastically informative talk on South America’s dry forests by Toby Pennington from University of Exeter. He coordinates DRYFLOR, a network of (mainly) botanists mapping and tracking plant species in drylands across the region from Mexico and Colombia in the north to Argentina in the south. Toby stressed how extensive (more so than wet forests in South America) and how important in terms of carbon, biodiversity and livelihoods they are. They are neglected when compared to their more glamourous cousin in the Amazon Basin. We then turned our attention to the NGO perspective on what are the challenges in implementing dry forest conservation by Gina Rodríguez from Fundacion Ecosistemas Secos in Colombia).

Left - Gina Rodriguez presenting on challenges to dry forest conservation; Right - Kelvin Peh talking us through the TESSA toolkit for ecosystem service evaluation (Photos: Alex Lees)
 The second day focused on research approaches and methods that can help us to understand the important issues discussed on Day 1. This included a very informative talk by Kelvin Peh from University of Southampton on the TESSA toolkit for assessing ecosystem services. We broke into groups to discuss issues around measuring biodiversity, ecosystem services, remote sensing, and working with local communities. Finally, we heard about country-specific research needs from Colombia (Andrés Avella), Peru (Maria de los Angeles La Torre), and Argentina (led by Santiago Veron). The final day of the workshop, chaired by Armando Valdés, focussed on capacity building and how we can help to facilitate research linked to conservation action in the dry forests. 

We rarely escaped the confines of the workshop hotel but did see this urban Osprey and a few other nice species on the Miraflores oceanfront (Photo: Alex Lees)
After the workshop, we flew to Iquitos for the Peruvian Ornithological Congress at Universidad Científica del Perú. This was a very enjoyable and productive four days meeting local students as well as some of the big names in Neotropical ornithology. Stu delivered one of the plenaries on wildlife trade impacts, while Christian spoke about his research on Peruvian Plantcutters in northern Peru, and ran, alongside Renzo Piana, an ex-PhD student from MMU, a workshop on endangered species in Peru. Stu even managed a day of birding in the Reserva Nacional Allpahuayo-Mishana, which brought the only new bird of the trip, Mishana Tyrannulet.
Plenary speakers at the congress receiving Honorary Doctorates from UCP (Photo: Diego García Olaechea)
This work was supported by a Newton Fund Researcher Links grant ID 2017-RLWK9-359523202, under the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia partnership. The grant is funded by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and  CONCYTEC and delivered by the British Council. For further information, please visit

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