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VioletTuracosmallhollow

The Violet Turaco, Musophaga violacea; with open wings the scarlet of the flight-feathers is striking. Not wholly dependent on climax forest but certainly typical of it – the reason the bird was chosen locally for the logo of Farasuto Forest Community Nature Reserve

FarasutoHeader800

Previous development reports

See below for: 14 July 2010, 10 March 2010, mid November, 3 October, 8 September, 3 August 2009, 7 May 2009, 9 April, 9 March

 

Latest Developments 9

14 July 2010
Written by John in June reflecting on my visit to The Gambia in April 2010.

Contents
Background – 9.1
Thanks to so many people – 9.2
Phase 2: Action on the ground – 9.3
First priorities for Phase 2 – 9.4
The ‘Song & Dance’ about Farasuto – 9.5
STOP PRESS Cumbria University visit to TG – 9.6

 

9.1 Background
I flew out on 12 April for a fortnight and the intention was that Peter would join me for a week from 16/4; fate had other ideas. After a few days there Eyjafjallajökull erupted which meant that Peter was unable to join me but I returned on the scheduled 26/4. I took the Farasuto Forest Community Nature Reserve Management Plan with me, as the printed document, following its release as a number of Acrobat PDFs (website) several weeks earlier. I had a limited number of the full 64-page version of the Plan with me (we had 50 copies printed) and I took about 100 of the four-page Summary and Reserve Guide - Peter was to have brought most of the remainders of both with him.

The visit was always planned as a three-part exercise. First was the promotion of the Plan within government and local officials at all levels. Second was to take the printed Plan back to the community, the villages of Kuloro and Tunjina. Third, it was always going to be the biggest task, was to negotiate the potential purchase of buffer zone land around the site along with getting near-final costs for the list of Plan’s 18 Projects ready for grant applications for the work. The fortnight was indeed full with meeting followed by meetings, or waiting for them to happen, and scouring shops and businesses for prices and costs. I was able to spend an hour or so in the forest at Farasuto, once, and paid brief visits to five of eight small (smaller even than Farasuto itself) suspected forest patches identified using Google Earth before I went out. As for my bird list, it was restricted to species seen around my digs in Kololi.

9.2 Thanks to so many people
This section concentrates on the key individuals who made the visit so useful and constructive; I fear it fails to mention them all, for which I apologise.

The local team met me at the airport and two or three of them were with me every day. Masutapha Manneh (‘Mus’) provided transport at cost in his four-wheel drive vehicle on virtually every day and Mastapha Kassama (‘Taf’), President of the now Kuloro Bird Organisation (KBO, no longer the KBC) provided transport when Mus was unable to. Dawda Barry, Chairman of the KBO, was able to be with us on most days as was our long-term key contact for the last year Mamadou W Jallow, Publicity Officer for the KBO. All of them were taking unpaid time for their day-jobs as bird guides at the very end of the tourist season. Their endless kindness and help were highly valued and appreciated and their local knowledge was of course invaluable and I thank them all most sincerely.

I cannot list all the relevant individuals in the villages – for example the owners of the surrounding land with whom I discussed land purchase to create a buffer zone and enlarge the forest. The Alcalos (head men), the two Village Development Committees and their officers helped in discussing the idea of the Visitor Centre/Village Hall, it facilities and the land on which it might one day stand. We met and discussed specifications for various items with many people particularly in nearby Brikama and in Serrekunda and other commercial centres.

Gambia Tourism Support (GTS) (website) in Kololi, close to the Senegambia complex, provided more than adequate accommodation at a very reasonable price, with good food and a lot of local information, all again invaluable, much of it new even after a year of making enquiries through the local team. In particular Francis was a fund of knowledge about local administrative systems (and sewage systems, see 9.4, Option A below) and was good company throughout.

While Peter was unable to get away from England as scheduled but Annie Meadows did make it – readers of the Plan will have seen her photographs. A short-notice change of accommodation saw her moving to GTS on the second day of her week. Annie was very familiar with the Plan having virtually joined the UK team a couple of months earlier and the move to GTS was highly fortuitous. Annie joined me every day through the seemingly endless string of meetings and the hot and bumpy rides between and waiting for them to start, in town and in the villages; she took photographs of all our meetings ranging from that with the Minister for the Environment and Forestry to those with villagers about the potential of their land as additions to Farasuto’s forest. Her company and sound advice at all stages, in place of Peter, were greatly appreciated; had I been unaccompanied for the whole two weeks I could have felt quite isolated.

I did not manage to see everyone on my wish-list, notably Clive Barlow and Luc Paziaud. Clive Barlow helped so much with the Plan and I had hoped to be able to personally present him with his specially-imported jar of Marmite, small mammal-traps and his copies of the Plan. And I really wanted to meet Luc Paziaud of the Gambia Reptile Farm (website) to thank him in person for all his efforts for us. However time did not permit either meeting and I here present my sincere apologies to both of them.

9.3 Phase 2: Action on the Ground
With my main task now done, the Plan prepared, Peter is taking over the next stage – applying for the funds to put the eighteen Projects into action. The first funding bid was submitted in early April, prior to my leaving for The Gambia, and I returned to the UK to the news that the application had failed. We have several other potential sources in mind and access to lists of other charitable sources, for all or parts of the work. Further suggestions and indeed offers of financial help will of course always be welcomed. So Phase 2 is on hold until we receive financial support - the spending will then be managed by Peter.

9.4 First priorities for Phase 2
A bid is being prepared for a small grant from a charity based in the UK and it offers two options for the use of about £2,000; some buffer land for forest expansion with sustainable toilet facilities (parts of Projects 3 and 18) or the hide (Project 12). Either would make the reserve more attractive to visitors.

Option A
Mr Mutarr Barry has agreed in principle to sell (to the village, which owns the reserve) around 0.3ha of buffer zone land immediately to the east of the entrance to the reserve (to the right of the gate, as you approach) a 30m wide belt of land 100m long. The medium-term plan is to secure this land for forest expansion and on part of it to build a ‘gate-house’ with good toilet facilities for visitors - only one other reserve in The Gambia (Abuko) has them.

The original plan was for flush loos but they would be very difficult (and expensive) to maintain in working order. Advice from Francis at GTS put us onto the sustainable earth toilets currently being adopted at Gunjur. In line with WHO concerns about the pollution of groundwater and wells these earth closets are the answer and now the best option at Farasuto. The system involves two long-drop holes used for six months each, the product of each being brought to the surface after six months for a further six in the atmosphere to create a compost which can be safely used as a rich fertiliser to increase productivity in the vegetable gardens. The whole system is without smell and does not contaminate ground or well waters – it is sustainable.

Abdul Karimu, the potential gardener, is a warm, quietly confident man who is quite sure that he has seen female Senegal Palm Forester, Bebearia senegalensis, butterflies more than once at Farasuto. The Plan describes (page 45) how this rarity is currently only known in The Gambia from Abuko – and not confirmed there for several years. We hope that Abdul will be able to confirm the species at Farasuto by a photograph of it – if we can buy him a camera.

The sewage system at Gungur has been visited by ‘Taf’ and Dawda (for the KBO and the villages). Francis kindly took them to see it and the system is now the preferred option for Farasuto. It has the added advantage that one of the gate-men, is a gardener and would be able to demonstrate the system on a vegetable plot on some the new land near the gate. It is likely that when local people see its success the system could then be taken up in Kuloro and Tunjina, as is happening at Gunjur.

Option B
The Hide. The general idea of the three-storey hide was presented in the Plan. Consideration of the effects of termites on a wooden structures during the annual rains made us think again and we costed out a metal structure from a foundry in Brikama. The hide will one day make a fine addition to the facilities at the reserve, overlooking the pools and the river beyond, painted green and with an annual dressing of grass on the half the roof (the other half left open for raptor-watching) and around the sides.

9.5 Making a Song and Dance about the reserve
Of the many other things which could be expanded on here, from the April visit, I will restrict myself to the song and dance which came out of the first of the two village meetings at Kuloro/Tunjina. Representatives of the women of the village were at the meeting and during the question-time at the end they were quick to point out the obvious; few people in the village (population around 3,000?) know about the reserve and its importance and even fewer were able to read and find out about it from the written word. Their answer was (for a small fee) to compose a song and dance about the place, its value and its rules, and take it around the village. We welcomed the idea and Annie kindly sponsored the making of a video of it.

I had a demonstration of the performance, which was put on video, a few days before I left and before the second and last village meeting. Unfortunately by that that time Annie had returned to the UK, dodging the volcanic ash (she had been hoping that it would delay her return so that she could attend the inaugural performance). Regrettable technical problems with the recording mean that we don’t have a record of the event and regrettably cannot post an extract here as we had hoped. A full interpretation of the words is impossible but the narrator tells of Farasuto’s importance to nature and to the village and explains its rules – no cutting trees, no hunting and no fires.

STOP PRESS:
9.6 Dr Roy Armstrong of Cumbria University will leave the UK in mid July with a group of students who will stay in The Gambia for some time and undertake a number of biological studies. Amongst their projects they have kindly agreed to include some work at FFCNR including GPS mapping the larger trees, measuring and where possible identifying them to species. They also hope to check out a small number of possible relict forest patches located by a close look at Google Earth images.

 

 

 

Lastest developments 8. 10 March 2010

The four months since the last update have been filled with researching and writing the Management Plan. John and Peter in England and Mamadou with others in The Gambia worked on it, as they have for over a year, aided by the many other people listed in Plan Supplement 1, Acknowledgements. The design and pre-press process is now complete and we have necessary material to print the Management Plan.

The Full Plan, 64 pages, will be available to download on publication, 19 March 2010 Farasuto Forest – Management Plan. The Plan’s Appendices, nearly all lists, are only available as downloads from the same web page. The four sides of the Short Plan, which for the moment also doubles as a Reserve Guide, is shown below.

The Plan’s production has been a team effort, Mamadou and his colleagues in the Kuloro Bird Club (KBC) in The Gambia, John doing most of the research and writing in the UK and Peter being responsible for considerable support during the process and the design of both versions. The results are self-evident.

The next stages are to promote the Plan in The Gambia and seek funding for Phase 2, action on the ground. John and Peter will visit The Gambia in April and secure the best available assistance from our contacts there, starting with the Hon Mr Jato Sillha, Minister of State for Forestry and the Environment, and Mr Alpha Jallow, Director of the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management. During this visit Peter will begin to take over the project’s next stage, Phase 2, securing action on the ground and managing the budget for them.

We are hopeful that grant aid applications already planned for April and May, and possibly others, will secure the funds for Phase 2 work to proceed on the 20 or so projects identified in the Plan (pages 1323) starting in November 2010.

FFCNRMPShort0082

Inside spread of the Reserve Guide/Management Plan – Short version

FFCNRMPShort0081

Back and front cover of the Reserve Guide/Management Plan – Short version

 

Latest developments 7. Mid November 2009.

Peter and John visited The Gambia 2–9 November sharing between them the grant’s provision for one and this report is a summary of the main points. They were both extremely busy all week, Peter largely in the field surveying relict coastal forest patches with Mus (Mustapha Manneh). Meanwhile John was usually meeting dignitaries and other key people with Mamadou W Jallow along with Alieu Barry and others from the Kuloro Bird Club (KBC), joining Peter and Mus in the field whenever he could.

Bad news

Peter and Mus checked the current state of the less-visited costal forest sites and found that, of the ten we knew about, the following no longer support the continuous tree cover of forest; Kachuma, Kartung, Gunjur and Tanji (west of the coast road). The patch reported to us between Sifo and Kite is not in fact forest but woodland which is owned by the President. We discovered this during a brief detention by an armed guard – we had inadvertently entered by an unmarked track. The forest patch at Brufut Woods was not checked by us but reported to be under pressure from tree clearance around its edges and one report had it as cut down. Thus of the ten known or suspected forest patch sites five are no more and the sixth has recently been eroded.

This all leaves Farasuto as one of now only four or five known remaining forest patches in coastal Western Division, not the one of ten as we thought a fortnight ago. The largest remaining patch is Pirang/Bonto (around 60ha) 2km E of Farasuto. Next is Abuko (area of forest yet to be checked from Google Earth images) 10km to the NW. The only other patches are Makasuto, barely bigger than Farasuto (area yet to be checked accurately from Google Earth map and our GPS survey) 4km north west and that at Brufut about 17km west. A sad situation but one which further emphasises the significance of Farasuto. We heard disturbing reports from the local bird guides about Abuko – they are finding it increasingly difficult to find the special forest birds there, further evidence of its suspected decline.

Good news

Many of us spent the Wednesday at Farasuto – a good day. We were visited for an hour or so by Clive Barlow and the students he was leading from Bangor University. It was Clive’s first visit to Farasuto and he was impressed, flattery indeed from a man who has studied The Gambia and its birds intensively for a quarter of a century. Clive was particularly pleased with good views of an African Goshawk, Accipiter tachiro. The students too were impressed by Farasuto Forest.

Jon Baker spend most of Wednesday checking for butterflies, he found 46 species. Jon plans to visit several more times in November and anticipates that his list should reach sixty species. We hope to offer some of Jon’s photographs on a monthly Farasuto computer backgrounds next year. Peter and members of the KBC spent their time GPS mapping various boundaries and paths and on other local tasks essential to the Plan.

Mamadou and John spent Wednesday in the vicinity with a series of meetings and with land-owners around the forest starting with the Alkalo (head man) of Tunjina and from him learned more about the history of Farasuto. It seems that the rice fields N of Farasuto were not cleared of forest in the 1960s as previously believed – the Alkalo’s grandmother apparently knew Farasuto in the form it is now. The Alkalo is in his 80s. The forest was believed to be used for female circumcision ceremonies with the last his daughter, about 50 years ago. Men however were circumcised under a fig tree south-east of where Tunjina stood, now-gone.

Among the many other meetings last week were those with Jato Sillah, now Minister for Forestry and of course Alpha Jallow, Director of Parks and Wildlife Management; Mamadou, Alieu and others made them all possible, guided John to and around the offices paticipating in all meetings. Peter and John had a long discussion with Clive Barlow late in the week while the students were enjoying the sun and a dip in the Atlantic south of Tanji on their last full day.

item5Probably the most important meeting of the week was that with the village officials and land-owners, plus onlookers, on Friday. The meeting went very well – the ethos of the project is well understood and there is overwhelming general support. We where all greatly heartened by the enthusiasm for the project and ended the day with a party and food for everyone with drumming and dancing by women coordinated in their special Kuloro fabric. The coloured stick-lights we took out with us became part of the dancing show!. Peter and John spent the night in a village compound, our special thanks go to Jariatou, her husband and family for their kind and warm welcome and their generous hospitality, including Baobab juice for breakfast.

Of course the landowners all have concerns about land ownership and its potential contribution to the enlargement of Farasuto. A great boost in this respect was the discovery during the week, of the developing Ballabu project. Ballabu is a Gambian government-lead with the help of James English and Lawrence Williams of Makasutu Culture Forest. It's intended to encourage: an urban regeneration initiative along the main highway south of the river; developing sustainable eco-tourism; and vital for Farasuto a woodland/forest expansion project taking in all villages from Abuko/Lamin to Pirang/Bonto and includes Tunjina and Farasuto. The Ballabu project provides a vital strategic context for our work and offers land-tenure security for owners of land entered into woodland and forest development. To find more about Ballabu click here.

John now starts a forteen-week programme of writing the Management Plan and seeking financial help for its implementation ahead of delivery to The Gambia when John travels out for the last time in April 2010.

John and Peter were both given local names by the Gambian Team, John: Bateh a Wolof name, and Peter: Kairo, a Mandinka name meaning Peace.

John and Peter 12 November 2009

 

 

 

Latest developments 7. Mid November 2009.

Peter and John visited The Gambia 2–9 November sharing between them the grant’s provision for one and this report is a summary of the main points. They were both extremely busy all week, Peter largely in the field surveying relict coastal forest patches with Mus (Mustapha Manneh). Meanwhile John was usually meeting dignitaries and other key people with Mamadou W Jallow along with Alieu Barry and others from the Kuloro Bird Club (KBC), joining Peter and Mus in the field whenever he could.

Bad news

Peter and Mus checked the current state of the less-visited costal forest sites and found that, of the ten we knew about, the following no longer support the continuous tree cover of forest; Kachuma, Kartung, Gunjur and Tanji (west of the coast road). The patch reported to us between Sifo and Kite is not in fact forest but woodland which is owned by the President. We discovered this during a brief detention by an armed guard – we had inadvertently entered by an unmarked track. The forest patch at Brufut Woods was not checked by us but reported to be under pressure from tree clearance around its edges and one report had it as cut down. Thus of the ten known or suspected forest patch sites five are no more and the sixth has recently been eroded.

This all leaves Farasuto as one of now only four or five known remaining forest patches in coastal Western Division, not the one of ten as we thought a fortnight ago. The largest remaining patch is Pirang/Bonto (around 60ha) 2km E of Farasuto. Next is Abuko (area of forest yet to be checked from Google Earth images) 10km to the NW. The only other patches are Makasuto, barely bigger than Farasuto (area yet to be checked accurately from Google Earth map and our GPS survey) 4km north west and that at Brufut about 17km west. A sad situation but one which further emphasises the significance of Farasuto. We heard disturbing reports from the local bird guides about Abuko – they are finding it increasingly difficult to find the special forest birds there, further evidence of its suspected decline.

Good news

Many of us spent the Wednesday at Farasuto – a good day. We were visited for an hour or so by Clive Barlow and the students he was leading from Bangor University. It was Clive’s first visit to Farasuto and he was impressed, flattery indeed from a man who has studied The Gambia and its birds intensively for a quarter of a century. Clive was particularly pleased with good views of an African Goshawk, Accipiter tachiro. The students too were impressed by Farasuto Forest.

Jon Baker spend most of Wednesday checking for butterflies, he found 46 species. Jon plans to visit several more times in November and anticipates that his list should reach sixty species. We hope to offer some of Jon’s photographs on a monthly Farasuto computer backgrounds next year. Peter and members of the KBC spent their time GPS mapping various boundaries and paths and on other local tasks essential to the Plan.

Mamadou and John spent Wednesday in the vicinity with a series of meetings and with land-owners around the forest starting with the Alkalo (head man) of Tunjina and from him learned more about the history of Farasuto. It seems that the rice fields N of Farasuto were not cleared of forest in the 1960s as previously believed – the Alkalo’s grandmother apparently knew Farasuto in the form it is now. The Alkalo is in his 80s. The forest was believed to be used for female circumcision ceremonies with the last his daughter, about 50 years ago. Men however were circumcised under a fig tree south-east of where Tunjina stood, now-gone.

Among the many other meetings last week were those with Jato Sillah, now Minister for Forestry and of course Alpha Jallow, Director of Parks and Wildlife Management; Mamadou, Alieu and others made them all possible, guided John to and around the offices paticipating in all meetings. Peter and John had a long discussion with Clive Barlow late in the week while the students were enjoying the sun and a dip in the Atlantic south of Tanji on their last full day.

Probably the most important meeting of the week was that with the village officials and land-owners, plus onlookers, on Friday. The meeting went very well – the ethos of the project is well understood and there is overwhelming general support. We where all greatly heartened by the enthusiasm for the project and ended the day with a party and food for everyone with drumming and dancing by women coordinated in their special Kuloro fabric. The coloured stick-lights we took out with us became part of the dancing show!. Peter and John spent the night in a village compound, our special thanks go to Jariatou, her husband and family for their kind and warm welcome and their generous hospitality, including Baobab juice for breakfast.

Of course the landowners all have concerns about land ownership and its potential contribution to the enlargement of Farasuto. A great boost in this respect was the discovery during the week, of the developing Ballabu project. Ballabu is a Gambian government-lead with the help of James English and Lawrence Williams of Makasutu Culture Forest. It's intended to encourage: an urban regeneration initiative along the main highway south of the river; developing sustainable eco-tourism; and vital for Farasuto a woodland/forest expansion project taking in all villages from Abuko/Lamin to Pirang/Bonto and includes Tunjina and Farasuto. The Ballabu project provides a vital strategic context for our work and offers land-tenure security for owners of land entered into woodland and forest development. To find more about Ballabu click here.

John now starts a forteen-week programme of writing the Management Plan and seeking financial help for its implementation ahead of delivery to The Gambia when John travels out for the last time in April 2010.

John and Peter were both given local names by the Gambian Team, John: Bateh a Wolof name, and Peter: Kairo, a Mandinka name meaning Peace.

John and Peter 12 November 2009

 

Report 6. 3 October 2009

Since the grant award back in August huge advances have been made, especially in The Gambia as the money sent out is used by Mamadou and Alieu, on behalf of FFCNR and the Kuloro Bird Club. The money has funded their time, travel expenses and costs to spend a lot of their time on the project, not least keeping in regular contact with John and Peter in the UK, which involves their travel to Brikama to an Internet Café or occasionally by phone usually via Skype.

The site’s statutory designation as a forest reserve has been finalised by the Forestry Department. The contract is about to be signed for a Gambian team from the University and National Agricultural Research Institute to survey the plants and an expert botanist from the UK is currently researching the plants ready for spending a week in the forest, as a volunteer, in January. Clive Barlow has begun work on coastal primary forest birds and sites for us, under contract. Also on the bird front we now have links to the BTO and on to the “Out of Africa” programme one outcome of which may be to train members of the KBC, in November, in carrying out line transect migrant bird counts for the scheme. We now also have good contact with Birdlife International.

An expert on butterflies is scheduled to spend time in the forest, as a volunteer (expenses paid), at the end of this year and a dragonfly specialist from Sweden will be on site in November. The funds have also been able to equip Mamadou with a copy of David Penney’s butterfly book and a net and some other materials to help him develop his interest in butterflies. A training course in reptiles has been arranged for the Kuloro team along with a nocturnal site visit by the specialist later at the best time of year, both under contract. Water levels readings are now being taken every week at three wells around the site and they will continue (paid for) for at least a year; they will inform us about the annual cycle of ground-water below the forest. A contract is pending for a surveyor to make ground level determinations in and around the forest, especially at the wells, which will enable us to make much more meaningful use of the well water level measurements and to plan more accurately how the proposed forest extensions should be undertaken.

Peter has designed a Reserve Sign several copies of which will be printed and laminated for putting up when we visit The Gambia for a week in early November. Peter as also produced the Farasuto bird tick list for use by visitors. We are working on ideas for a car sticker promoting the site, if the budget can stand the cost, though sales should produce a profit for FFCNR.

On the short-term practical front, at the forest, volunteer work parties have been clearing the paths but NOT the one through the thicket which is to be left relatively undisturbed; in the past a path went right through the thicket. Materials have been purchased to make good three or four gaps in the fence, to keep out grazing cattle. In addition plans (and grant finds) are now in place to add a gate and parking area (plus a loo) outside the forest to the south to reduce disturbance. The site’s gate-man now has a bicycle for his daily journey from the village. Meanwhile Mamadou has begun to map land ownerships around the forest, information which will be essential as we develop plans to extend the forest, if the village is agreeable.

There is still some money left in the budget for specialist survey work on other groups not yet covered, notably small mammals (do we have bush-babies in the forest?) and for example beetles, fungi and snails to mention just a few. The money can be used to help with travel expenses (within The Gambia!) of specialists willing to devote some time to the forest reporting on groups they are proficient in – I await such requests.

 

Report 5 – 8 September 2009

Grant bid success

The project received a huge boost on 18 August when we heard of the success of our bid for grant aid. The charitable fund (which for the time being wishes to remain anonymous) offered the £8,200 requested and serious work is now underway – we have until April 2010 to research, write and present the Management Plan.

The grant covers the expenses of the UK team (Peter and I) but does not pay for our time, which we are giving to the project. It provides that I visit The Gambia for a week in November and finally for two weeks, to take out and promote the Management Plan, in April next year. More importantly the grant pays for the expenses of the Gambian team from the KBC working on the scheme locally and pays for at least some of their time. The grant also provides for fixing a few immediate management problems on the site such as mending gaps in the cattle-roof fence and it pays for someone to take weekly water-level readings for a year.

Offers of help, some under contract and some volunteered

I am pleased to say that contact has been re-established with Clive Barlow, co-author of the “Birds of The Gambia and Senegal” and he will be giving invaluable ornithological expertise to the project.

Plants are the key to Farasuto – they are the forest! Mucktarr Darboe, schools science advisor in The Gambia, is very kindly putting together a team to examine the plant life of Farasuto’s forest. The contract’s team members will come from the university and the National Agricultural Research Institute and work will begin very soon. We have an enquiry out to another specialist in herptiles (amphibians and reptiles) and await a reply.

We have offers of help with butterfly survey from Jon Barker, currently working in The Gambia, along with Ragnhild Moller from Sweden who will look at dragonflies in November.

We also have the possibility of some level of involvement by two UK university courses which will be visiting The Gambia over the coming months, one certainly including Farasuto when Peter and I are there in November; Bangor and Cumbria.

Dr David Penney of Manchester University has given a considerable boost to our contacts network in The Gambia and in the UK. David has also recently published three important books about The Gambia and we will soon be using some of his fine images to brighten up this web site. His three books are:

Penney, D. 2009. Field Guide to Wildlife of The Gambia: an introduction to common flowers and animals. Siri Scientific Press, Manchester. 120 pp, 21 x 15 cm, 554 colour photos, 1 colour illustration. ISBN 978-0-9558636-1-5.

Penney, D. 2009. Field Guide to Butterflies of The Gambia, West Africa. Siri Scientific Press, Manchester. 80 pp, 21 x 15 cm, 235 colour photos. ISBN 978-0-9558636-2-2.

Penney, D. 2009. Common Spiders & Other Arachnids of The Gambia, West Africa. Siri Scientific Press, Manchester. 80 pp, 21 x 15 cm, 173 colour photos. ISBN 978-0-9558636-3-9.

Web Site: website. Contact: email

 

Report 4 – 3 August 2009

The Management Plan

Three months since the last update and much has been going on. Last week an application was lodged with a major charity seeking financial help with the costs of preparing a Management Plan for Farasuto Forest and its surrounds. A decision is expected in September.

If the application is successful then work will start in earnest with 30 weeks in which to write and publish a Management Plan to be taken out to The Gambia in mid April 2010. The Plan will include a costed programme of works and will, in effect, be a bidding document for further applications for funding to undertake those works.

The primary consideration of the Plan will be to secure the integrity and future of the remaining forest patch, one of we believe seven remaining pieces of West African coastal forest in The Gambia, and probably the smallest. Further, current positive ideas include taking adjoining land to the north back into forest, adding a buffer-zone to the east (where the forest abuts directly onto fields) and a further forest extension south to link with old Tunjina’s cemetery which is currently forest thicket.

Only 300m west of Farasuto’s woodland is a highly significant new site which it would be worth linking to Farasuto in some way. An Englishman has purchased several acres of bush there, has had wells dug and is greening the patch as a ringing site. This is within the recently-launched Out of Africa campaign to find out more about the fate in Africa of declining Europe-African migrant birds such as Wood Warbler, Cuckoo and Spotted Flycatcher.

The proposed work in the bid includes a contract for the Forestry Department to compile a plant list for the site and allows for some other specialist investigations if the right experts can be found. Offers of help are welcomed, possibly under contract, please contact us through here. The bid also includes provision for carrying out some essential works, for example completing the fencing to exclude the cattle which frequently wander into the forest edge to graze and browse.

Farasuto Bird List

I was in the The Gambia again in April to establish how the English and Gambian teams should work together on the Management Plan and to meet some key people. I took the opportunity to quiz assembled members of the KBC about the birds of Farasuto Forest and its immediate surrounds and we produced the first list; 301 species. That list now appears on the re-written Flora + Fauna – Birds pages.

 

Report 3 – 7 May 2009

7. I (John) spent a week in the Gambia 1926 April checking on the wisdom of our ideas back in January, to write the Management Plan.

I spent the week being guided around by members of the KBC. I say guided and I do not mean bird-guided; the only birding I did was accidental. In fact it was a week of meetings and field-walking and field survey at and around Farasuto. I did manage two ticks – the Pied-winged Swallow which eluded me in January and a Greyish Owl very close to Farasuto – discovered in February. And we saw Verreaux’s Eagle Owl in Pirang/Bonto forest and confirmed it breeding there with a flying youngster.

Project Management and possible future payment

At my first meeting with the KBC I raised the issue of project management in the Gambia and the fact that Peter and I (as the England Team) need to communicate with just one person. That person would have to be the Project Manager at the Gambian end. Further, the considerable amount of time involved in managing the project, over what is expected to 15 months, should if possible be paid for by the grant of money we propose applying for.

No payments will be made to John and Peter for their time, only for their agreed expenses.

9. The full draft grant application will have to be considered by the Gambia Team, the KBC and Kuloro village, and approved by them in writing, before being submitted in England by John. The application may be made in June or July depending upon progress in other areas.

10. A Gambian Team for FFCNR will be formed from members of the KBC. They will decide who among them who will share the tasks of replying to the questions which must be answered in order that I can write the Plan.

11. In the section on education are pictures of the school and of the head being presented with a framed copy of the painting the Violet Turaco logo-bird of the reserve.

12. I found out where the site’s name comes from. Back in the days of the old village of Tunjina, before Kuloro, the fields on the north site of the forest, on the river Gambia’s flood-plain, where known as the ‘near rice fields’ – ‘farasuto’. At that stage the forest had of course been retained as the site of circumcision ceremonies, now discontinued.

13. I was able to spend some time with Clive Barlow, the co-author of ‘Birds of Gambia and Senegal’ telling him about our plans and learning from some of his experience of 25 years living in the Gambia. Given all the difficulties of achieving anything in the Gambia his advice was timely and instructive. Nevertheless my decision is, for the moment, to proceed.

14. I forced the issue of a bird-list for the site (my repeated requests for one had all failed). Thus at my last meeting with the KBC we went through the entire Gambian bird list, on computer, and produced one. The combined knowledge of the KBC (rather than ‘records’, which have been started) was a list 299 species in or very close to the forest.

The bird list also showed that of the 16 species currently known (to us all) as forest obligates (that is species which never venture outside forest) a staggering 75% (12) occur within Farasuto.

The bird list has been left with the KBC for a final check (will they find number 300?) before Peter produces a Farasuto tick-list. The result of that check are awaited. That tick-list will also be made available on the site as will individual species Record Cards which the KBC is now going to start using and analysing. People visiting the – the Gambian tourist season begins in October/November – are asked to record all species (not just birds) and to submit their lists and Records to the KBC or direct to this web site.

15. Bird lists for the other six coastal forest patches have been requested from the KBC, for their own significance and for comparison with Farasuto. The KBC has been left with a printout of a spreadsheet on the which lists can be entered and the results are keenly awaited; they are a crucial element of the Management Plan.

16. A list of the plants of Farasuto, with notes on their significance, will be an essential corner-stone of the Management Plan. I discussed this with the Divisional head of Forestry for Western District and we have a potential arrangement. Mr Sanneh has the staff who can do the field-work make the list for us but he needs the money for their transport. In the hope that we will be able to obtain this money from the grant we plan to apply for I will draft a contact for Mr Sanneh’s department with a view to achieving the list we need.

17. The palm-tappers who live in the forest are to be evicted. They are not people from Kuloro or Tunjina and the village has agreed that their activities are not compatible with the nature reserve.

18. A closer look at land-levels in April quickly showed that the ground slopes slightly downhill northwards to the river and the mangroves there. The fall across the site is something like 2-3m over 100m. Ground-water levels on the north site are close to 1m down and on the south side more like 5m or more. The planned dip-well within the forest (due in before the rains, with luck and some funding) will have water depth reading taken weekly and reveal, over years, the pattern of the annual cycle of water-table depths

19. On the subject of water we now have rainfall data from the site of the airport, the nearest weather station to Farasuto; data since 1961. The trend is for reduced total annual rainfall, perhaps as much as 20% less in 50 years. We will try to have the data analysed in detail. (The Birdlife International web site suggests that the dying out in the tops of the biggest trees at Abuko may be attributable to lowering water-tables. Are there records of the water table at Abuko? Perhaps the problem is reduced rainfall and/or a lowered water-table).

In parallel we also have temperature data from the same site from the 1950s onwards. The trend for temperatures, for all months, is for increases; their extent needs systematic analysis, which we will try to obtain.

We have Saihou Colley to thank for access to the meteorological data.

20. On the subject of things below ground-level I noticed what I though were interesting sediments revealed by the excavations for the clay pits on the north side of the forest – dark bands of sediments lower down with red/pale layers above them. I have my own explanation for them, too long to put there, but do ask me if you’d like to know more, especially if you think you have the right answer – mine may well be wrong.

DSC3502Pools

Contrasting sediments revealed in the side of the clay pits.

 

21. One the discoveries of the visit was the old cemetery of Tunjina – the site of village among baobabs (up with 14m in girth), before the population moved a mile south to be beside the main road at what is now Kuloro. The cemetery is highly significant for Farasuto forest because it too is low forest thicket – too thick for cattle to get in and graze it and with a few sizeable trees. The cemetery shows up on Google Earth as a slightly oval (E-W) dark area 300m due south of the forest at an east-pointing indentation in the fence-line between it and the plantation woodland (Farasuto Forest is 300m E-W). Needless to say a long-term objective of the Management Plan will be to try and link the cemetery to Farasuto with similar habitat.

22. Thanks to a morning on the topic by Mamadou Jallow we have a very presentable map of the paths around the site – Mamadou has an artistic eye and a good appreciation of maps. His map shows clearly the path going through the centre of the forest and the main thicket. It has been agreed that this path will be allowed to close over with vegetation during the coming rains and will not be re-opened. This will deliver a much greater measure of seclusion and security for the thicket specialists, in the bird line especially the Ahanta Fracolins and (expected to return during the rains) the White-spotted Flufftail.

23. Another discovery (new to me anyway) was the nature of privately-owned land within the village; I had imagined that all the land within the village was in some form of common ownership.

24. We walked the land to the north and to the east of the forest, considering the village’s resolve to allow the forest to regenerate in both directions. Back in England I had visions of taking on new land to the east and moving the field there; in fact all the available land to the east is already under cultivation as vegetable gardens and fields. With the KBC it was agreed that the compromise position would be to take the fields to the north back into an enlarged forest along with a 30m zone along the eastern edge. The eastern margin extension would allow for a buffer zone between the existing forest and fields, currently immediately adjacent to each other.

25. Very interesting was the chance discovery (no-one had thought to tell me about it) that one Dean Roizer from England recently purchased around 1 ha of open land just 400m west of the forest; I met Dean on 26th. He has bought it as a ringing site, has already sunk two wells and begun to encourage the vegetation there, plans to build accommodation on part of it and will be there ringing throughout November 2009. Needless to say a long-term objective of the Management Plan will be to try and link the ringing site, along with the old cemetery, to become a single ‘greater Farasuto forest’ reserve’.

26. The main result from my week in the Gambia was my decision, announced to KBC and village meetings on my last day, that I will go ahead and try and write a Management Plan for the forest and immediately surrounding area, now looking like a more coherent and significant whole.

However I can only do that if I am supplied with a steady stream of the information I need and it has yet to be shown that it will be forthcoming.

 

Report2 9 April 2009

5. John will return to the Gambia in mid April 2009 for a week and a round of meetings. He hopes to find time to have a look at the other remaining relict forest patches in the coastal region. Writing a Management Plan for a site 2,700 miles away is not going to be easy and John wants to be sure that the support and information he needs for the task are really going to be forthcoming. If all the answers are reassuringly positive then a grant will be applied for to cover costs, together with some income for the Gambian team. If that application is successful then the 12-18 months of work on the plan will get under way.

6. Anna has completed the fine painting of a Violet Turaco, the logo bird for the reserve. A colouring-in version is available for use in schools etc. See the Education page.

 

Report 1 9 March 2009

1. It transpires that the forest surrounding Farasuto was cut down about 60 years ago (from local information), that is in the late 1940s. The section which is now the reserve was left as the place for ceremonial male and female circumcisions.

PGT0971

John, not looking quite sure about trying some Farasuto palm juice, unfermented at this stage

The forest is still occupied by Palm-tappers from Kuloro and a small area is used for their ‘distillery’.

2. The fact that the surrounding forest was removed about six decades ago is encouraging - Farasuto has succeeded in maintaining isolated populations of 13 forest specialist birds (KBC bird list of early March 2009, under revision). The populations are currently presumed to be isolated, that is with no gene-flow to other forest patches, the nearest probably near Pirang a few miles east. In Europe it might be assumed that in six decades there could have been 2025 generations of small passerines such as Robins, fewer of larger species such as woodpeckers. At Farasuto the 13 forest specialists have endured that long; populations of others may have started out at the time of the surrounding felling but since died out. Only extensive ringing work at both sites could establish the movements of individuals between Farasuto and other forest patches and that is most unlikely in the foreseeable future.

I have read suggestions that resident birds of truly evergreen forest have longer life-spans than birds of similar size in variable habitats – perhaps they have fewer stress-points in their annual food and breeding cycles. Farasuto does experience a degree of dry-out in the dry season (Peter and I hope to see the place in the rains this year) but the extent to which this puts stress on resident birds is currently not known and as yet unresearched.

3. We (in the UK) have also learned that the forest does not flood during the rains despite being very close to the high water-line of the River Gambia. It seems that the river’s high water-mark is determined more by tides from the west than fresh-water flow from the east; the open Atlantic is only a dozen miles away.

4. The KBC have sent us (in the UK) a bird species list for Farasuto. The list clearly and justifiably includes species seen within and also around and over the site. There are a few gaps revealed by listing them in systematic order so it is still in preparation. The complete list will be posted on this web site as soon as it is ready.