Mark Huxham and Jamie Pearson: Can’t put a price on woodlands

New sources of clean water, school buildings and textbooks for local pupils are a few of the projects supported. Picture: Contributed

New sources of clean water, school buildings and textbooks for local pupils are a few of the projects supported. Picture: Contributed

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‘MIKOKO Pamoja’ raises money for mangrove forest conservation and for those who live there, write Professor Mark Huxham and Jamie Pearson

You don’t need to be a tree- hugger to know that forests are very fine things. As homes to wildlife, protectors of watersheds, givers of oxygen, sinks for carbon and sublime galleries of wonders far excelling those found in any museum, the world’s woodlands are priceless.

But not all forests are equal. Some have negative effects: plantations can be damaging or dull, displacing native species with exotics or disturbing natural water and nutrient cycles. Others incite hyperbole with their beauty and value to humans, and mangroves are an example. These astonishing tropical habitats join surf with songbirds, fish with firewood, crabs with canopies; they are forests and foreshore combined.

A team at Edinburgh Napier University, led by Professor Mark Huxham and working with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute in Mombasa, has been exploring the ecology and management of mangroves in Kenya for the past 14 years. This work has traced fish migration from the forests to the coral reefs, restored land left barren and degraded four decades ago to health and helped show how management can lead to forest conservation.

It has also revealed the exceptional ability of these forests to trap and to store carbon. With an average of 1,500 tonnes per hectare buried in their soils, these mangroves are more than six times more carbon­-dense than most terrestrial forests. Keeping mangroves healthy, and re­foresting degraded areas, is an efficient way to trap more carbon, whilst removing the forests leads to rapid release of large amounts of greenhouse gases.

This scientific understanding of carbon stocks and flows laid the foundation for Mikoko Pamoja (‘mangroves together’ in Swahili), the World’s first community-­based mangrove conservation project funded by the sale of carbon offsets. By selling carbon credits to individuals and organisations concerned to reduce their carbon footprints, Mikoko Pamoja raises money for mangrove forest conservation and restoration in Kenya. It also generates funds for a community account, owned by the villagers who live in and next to the forests.

New sources of clean water, school buildings and textbooks for local pupils are a few of the projects this has supported. The project has third party accreditation, is managed by local people in Kenya and administered by volunteers working for a Scottish charity (ACES, charity no. SCO43978. www.aces­org.co.uk ). Supporters know that the credits they buy represent certifiable carbon reductions and that the money raised goes to conservation and development work with some of the world’s poorest people. The work was recently selected as one of the top 20 examples of UK science applied to practical development.

Edinburgh Napier, which has reduced carbon emissions associated with its campuses in and around the city by 36 per cent between 2006/7 and 2015/6, is now investing in Mikoko Pamoja to complement its progress at home. Travel emissions linked to university activities remain considerable, despite investment in electronic communications, including conference and web calls, and a significant number of computer programmes which allow students and staff to work remotely.

The university will invest £10,000 to procure 1,250tCO2e of carbon credits over 2016/7 and 2017/8, an investment which covers 40 per cent of all travel emissions.

The investment will not reduce the carbon emissions recorded or reported by Edinburgh Napier, but will recognise the impact of travel by the university’s 20,000­ strong population and positively invest in the community­-based project in Kenya.

The strategy reflects Edinburgh Napier’s continued commitment to developing best practice and reducing the environmental impact of the institution and associated community. The university is striving to implement a fully operational Environmental Management System and recently gained Gold EcoCampus accreditation, the penultimate award before Platinum.

Most of the reduction has come from projects enabling reduction in energy consumption, including lighting, heating and insulation improvements. One significant example involved replacing all 1,081 windows at the Merchiston campus with double glazing. Energy consumption constitutes around 90 per cent of overall emissions.

Vast investment and subsequent savings have basically been made by simply managing energy better, aiming to use only what’s needed and integrating more efficient technology into the estate.
• Professor Mark Huxham, Professor of Teaching and Research in Environmental Biology, and Jamie Pearson, Environmental Sustainability Manager.

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