Kirsty Connell-Skinner: Charities plant seed of hope

Royal Botanic Garden carries out conservation research across the globe. Picture: Scott Louden
Royal Botanic Garden carries out conservation research across the globe. Picture: Scott Louden
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From the Scottish Government’s £1 million funding for the Blantyre-Blantyre Clinical Research Project, ­connecting the health ­challenges of Malawi and West Central Scotland, to the work of charities like SCIAF and Mary’s Meals, Scottish people support multiple international development projects across the globe.

But with Brexit heralding a possible fall in ­funding, not to mention uncertainty over the humanitarian ­policies of major players like the USA, Scotland needs to be smarter in reducing ­inequality and poverty worldwide.

Such innovation may ­come from charities not usually regarded as international development organisations.

The Royal Botanic ­Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) works in 40 countries, identifying new plant species, training local ­botanists and contributing to major studies.

Climate change is a ­global phenomenon, but its impact is greater in developing countries, where dependence on ­natural resources makes ­people more vulnerable. In Scotland, conservation science led by RBGE assesses threats and proposes interventions, like our toolkit for woodland ­biodiversity management in trials by Scottish Natural ­Heritage to offset ­climate change and tree ­disease risks in Glen Creran.

We knew our plant expertise could be better deployed to assist forest conservation efforts across the globe, but good development work needs to combine capability, local partnerships and ­community engagement which an individual scientist might not be able to harness.

Since 2011, support from players of the People’s ­Postcode Lottery has ­transformed RBGE’s work in Scotland. When the opportunity arose in 2015 to apply for an Extra Award for projects in sub-Saharan Africa, we could take the next steps in our efforts to tackle climate change and poverty.

The Saving Forests, Changing Lives project united RBGE with partners including WWF Tanzania and the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology to measure coastal forest ­logging during 2016, with stark findings: high value ­timber species will be exhausted in 30 years.

Lasting change requires hearts as well as minds. We combined forest assessments with community surveys to understand the importance of charcoal production for livelihoods and barriers to local forest ownership. An animated film shown in more than 80 coastal forest schools to 37,000 children raised awareness of the value of forests. The project culminated in a workshop with Tanzanian officials and NGOs to discuss and develop the next steps to encourage shifts in policy and practice.

Achieving sustainable development goals requires long-term, resilient funding. But the need for each of us to do what we do best beyond our own borders has never been greater. When there’s an opportunity for Scottish charities to deliver sustainable change for conservation and development, we should be bold in uniting with funders, local partners and people to end poverty and protect the planet.

Kirsty Connell-Skinner is fundraising manager at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.