Rainforests are the lungs and beating heart of our planet: they stabilise the climate, are home to over half the world’s species, and provide us with freshwater, food, medicines and clean air. But habitat degradation, overexploitation and human expansion mean we are losing rainforests at an unprecedented rate. Reading this sentence only takes a second, but in that time around 5 acres of rainforest will have been destroyed, pushing countless species closer to the brink of extinction.
Determined to change this trend, the Rainforest Partnership launched World Rainforest Day, celebrated annually on June 22nd, to raise awareness and inspire positive, decisive action against deforestation. Since its establishment in 2017, World Rainforest Day has grown to over 60 global partners (including BNF!) and a diverse programme of virtual events, education initiatives and charity projects, which see community participation on a massive scale.
Last week, following the success of 2021’s Rainforest Ambitions Global Summit, the Rainforest Partnership hosted an online World Rainforest Day Summit, with a broad network of speakers from scientists and educators to activists and policy representatives. This year’s theme was The Time is Now, a rallying cry to affect immediate change for the Earth’s rainforests. The summit focused on solutions being pioneered and implemented today, on the basis that “we know where we need to be; let’s explore what the path there looks like.”
Among the 2022 summit’s invited attendees was Dr Susan Cheyne, Director of Research at BNF International. Susan spoke on two panels: Science x Storytelling, unpacking ways to make science accessible and incite action through the power of storytelling; and Rainforests and Wildlife Conservation, a deep dive into the nuances of conservation work and the need for strong community relationships.
In case you missed it, we’ve compiled a few highlights from these sessions, so read on for a round-up of BNF’s contributions to the 2022 World Rainforest Day Summit!
Science x Storytelling
The Science x Storytelling panel saw an hour’s lively discussion between Susan and her three fellow panellists, Cat Kutz (XPRIZE), Dr Sweta Chakraborty (We Don’t Have Time) and Celina Chien (Panthera, Reserva Youth Land Trust). The group touched upon a broad range of topics, but one of the first talking points to emerge was the importance of finding and selecting the right medium for your conservation message. It’s far easier to communicate when you have a clear audience in mind. However, when it comes to these pressing environmental issues, we want to reach as many people as quickly as possible. So how do we target the right people in the most effective way? And how can we avoid leaving anyone out of the conversation?
In 2016, BNF published The Little Gibbon Who Lost His Song, a children’s storybook in English and Indonesian. Susan acknowledged that whilst this represented an exciting step forward, books can be expensive and aren’t always easily accessible. Rather than just selling or donating copies of the book, BNF’s Education Team in Indonesia frequently perform the Little Gibbon story as a play for schoolchildren and youth groups. In 2021, BNF teamed up with a software developer and released Little Gibbon as a mobile phone app, available for free download with audio options in English and Indonesian and animated illustrations. The app has proven very popular and even boosted our book sales! This underscores the value of trying out different forms of storytelling, even when the message remains the same.
On young people, Susan said “they know that all these environmental problems are happening, but they’re scared and don’t know what to do. As scientists and storytellers, we have a duty to reach out to younger generations and give them hope, not just the worst-case scenarios. We shouldn’t sugar-coat matters either, but we need to explain things honestly and engage with their concerns.”
The discussion finally turned to the role of science communication in decolonising conservation science, posing the question: how we can avoid misrepresenting stories when they aren’t ours to tell?
Susan observed, “recently there has been a welcome push to decolonise conservation, and that’s very important when it comes to storytelling. I’m Scottish, not Indonesian, so one of the key things I can do is help people in Borneo tell their story, rather than overwriting it with my own.”
“Animals have always been a part of our mythology, it’s not just a Western concept. Gibbons in China, Hanuman langurs in India… there are so many examples, and in a lot of cultures these are oral traditions, so they aren’t written down. If communities want, we can help revive the old stories and translate them for a wider audience to learn from.”
Rainforests and Wildlife Conservation
Due to time differences, Susan was unable to join the session live. However, she sent in a pre-recorded video, giving a brief overview of BNF’s work in Indonesian Borneo stretching back over the last 20 years.
As Susan explained, “conservation issues are highly diverse, which can seem overwhelming and challenging, but I think this also presents us with the opportunity to explore many possible solutions.” BNF takes a multi-faceted approach to conservation, working with communities at the landscape-level to protect Borneo’s rainforests and the species that rely on them.
Susan went on to illustrate the wide range of conservation strategies within BNF, from low-tech solutions, such as the use of books, published in-house to support our Education Programme, to deploying high-tech innovative research equipment, like thermal drones and camera traps.
She also highlighted the fact that BNF works across three different landscapes in Indonesian Borneo, each with its own unique challenges, threats and solutions. For instance, one of these landscapes is a peat-swamp forest and, while many panel attendees would be familiar with the issues surrounding palm oil and deforestation, few realise that fire presents a huge problem for peatlands in particular.
Ultimately, stressed Susan, that our conservation action must be underpinned by good science, “whether that science takes the form of animal behaviour or forest ecology, or sociology and working with communities to pick up on local knowledge.”
Understanding rainforests, including the cultures and wildlife that call them home, is paramount; not only for scientists and land managers, but for members of the public as well, whose support is a major driving force in conservation.
“If we don’t know what species live in these places, or what threats they’re facing, how can we mobilise to protect them?” Susan summarised.
BNF is proud to be an official partner of World Rainforest Day and would like to extend our thanks to the Rainforest Partnership for all their hard work making this year’s Global Summit such a success.
World Rainforest Day 2022 might be over, but it’s never too early to start thinking about next year! In the meantime, find out more by visiting the World Rainforest Day website or become a fundraiser to support our rainforest conservation projects in Indonesian Borneo.
By: Olivia Pilmore-Bedford, Communications Officer, BNF International