Marian Lechner, a PhD student from Tübingen, Germany, blogs on his volunteering experience with the Global Trees Campaign’s partner in Brazil, Sociedade Chauá.
It all started when I contacted Georgina Magin and David Gill at Fauna & Flora International (FFI) to ask about volunteering opportunities at one of FFI’s Global Trees Campaign projects in South America. As a biologist, with a special focus on sustainability issues and environmental education, the GTC represented a great opportunity to see conservation principles being put into practice.
As a result of FFI’s quick support, I was on my way to Paraná, Brazil, within a few months of my initial inquiry, for 10 days of volunteering with Sociedade Chauá. As I barely spoke a word of Portuguese and had never been to Brazil before, the success of this mission strongly depended on the collaboration with the local project partners and I was curious to meet them.
A warm welcome from Chauá
Pablo Hoffmann, the director of Chauá, picked me up from the local bus terminal and I quickly learned that this is a man of many talents who does everything he can to protect the local forest.
Sociedade Chauá preserves and restores the Araucária Forest in Brazil’s Paraná state. This ombrophilous mixed forest type has at least 28 tree or shrub species threatened by extinction and is severely fragmented: less than 1% of its original distribution remains. Therefore, most sites left for natural regeneration are isolated patches, unable to grow back with the full range of naturally occurring species.
Chauá’s restoration efforts offer a conservation solution, as they focus on species that are neglected by most tree-planting programs in Paraná. Brazil’s national legislation obliges landowners to restore up to 20% of their land with trees, making Chauá’s efforts especially relevant to the local situation. Pablo and his team create management plans as well as research projects for the protected forest areas. He also manages a threatened plants nursery together with his 17 collaborators, most of which are volunteers.
Getting to work
A big task during my volunteering at Chauá was to help prepare a protection strategy for a rare tree species from the Araucária Forest, called the “Imbuia” or Ocotea porosa.
This endemic species of southern Brazil produces a dark, high quality timber and was once emblematic for the region, but is an extreme rarity today. Its important role in the local ecosystem is in peril and requires protection, since its fruits feed many animals, and it supports water quality and soil integrity.
Protecting Imbuia is not without its challenges since the species grows very slowly. It is therefore rarely grown in Paraná’s tree nurseries and is seldom planted within restoration programs in the state. For my part, I had the chance to work with Pablo on starting a collaboration with other nurseries, community education about the importance of Imbuia, and helped to write a funding application the project’s financial support.
I also had the chance to visit primary Araucária Forest fragments to undertake monitoring and seed collection, helped Pablo’s team in the laboratory and the nursery and learned several plant cultivation techniques – all within my ten day experience!
My volunteering at a GTC project helped me to acquire profound skills in applied conservation practice and to understand what it really takes to initiate, carry out and monitor effective projects in nature conservation.
My time with Chauá was both a hugely interesting and enlightening experience for me. I would recommend not only to biologists, but to everyone who wants to experience and learn about wildlife, to engage with and help the people who work so hard to ensure its protection. What could be more satisfying?