Hannah is Programme Manager for FFI’s Conservation Science & Design team. Having started her career in development in the Middle East, six years of working for FFI has seen Hannah support the design, management & monitoring of projects across FFI’s portfolio as well as directly managing the East Africa marine programme. Hannah is passionate about holistic approaches to conservation and natural resource governance which strive to achieve both social and ecological justice.
Flying over the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve, you can understand how it got its name. Home to all five wild cat species native to Central America, this corridor stretches from the Maya Mountains to the Caribbean Sea and represents one of the last unbroken expanses of broadleaf forest in Central America.
In 1998, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) started working with the Ya’axché Conservation Trust (Ya’axché) – then a small, newly formed community organisation – to protect this important area. Our partnership began with the purchase of two vital parcels of land at the heart of the Maya Golden Landscape. These sites were connected to areas already under protection, but were threatened with conversion to citrus and shrimp farms.
Purchasing these plots laid the foundations of our conservation efforts across the landscape, none of which would have been possible without the generosity and foresight of the Arcadia Fund – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing & Peter Baldwin – who partnered with FFI in 1998 to establish the Halcyon Land & Sea Fund to protect places of exceptional conservation value in perpetuity.
The trust’s name is derived from the sacred ceiba or ya’axché tree. Credit: Ya’axché Conservation Trust
Since those early days, the partnership between Ya’axché and FFI has blossomed, and we have worked together to protect this globally important watershed forest and the wondrous wildlife found there. Additionally, key partnerships have been formed with local communities to help them establish sustainable livelihoods from the forest.
The partnership has also supported the growth of Ya’axché itself, which is now recognised as a leading Belizean NGO, with management responsibility not only for the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve, but also for two national protected areas on behalf of the government.
As we celebrate 20 years since the founding of both Ya’axché and the Halcyon Land & Sea Fund, we thought it would be interesting to dig into the archives and speak with our colleagues both at FFI and Ya’axché to reflect on the achievements and lessons from our long-term partnership in this remarkable landscape.
1. The Maya Golden Landscape is now protected from the Maya Mountains to the coast
From strategic, initial purchases of 6,070 ha of tropical forest (known as the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve) at the core of the Maya Golden Landscape, Ya’axché now actively manages 55,038 ha, and works with partners to influence protection across the entire 311,600 ha area.
As Michael P. Wells & Associates noted in their independent review in 2016, “The Maya Golden Landscape is one of the few remaining areas in Belize where rivers still meet the sea unimpeded, providing an invaluable wildlife corridor.”
Camera trap footage of a jaguar. Credit: Ya’axché Conservation Trust
2. Threatened species across the Maya Golden Landscape are now protected and recovering
Thanks to Ya’axché’s protection of the corridor, wildlife populations and forest ecosystems are healthy and species are recovering: howler monkeys have returned; jaguar and all Central American wild cat species are found; foraging scarlet macaws have become a regular sighting; and harpy eagles, thought to be extinct in Belize, have been discovered nesting.
A long-term monitoring programme is in place to follow the progress of these and other key species, which in turn enables informed, science-based management decisions to be made.
3. The threat of commercial logging to endangered rosewood has been curbed
Seriously unsustainable logging of Honduran rosewood for export was causing devastating forest losses. Ya’axché’s efforts in lobbying government to ban its logging activities resulted in a moratorium on harvesting the species, a nationwide survey and official regulation of international rosewood trade.
Thanks to the combination of the ban and persistent patrolling, there has been no rosewood logging since 2016 in two major sites managed by Ya’axché.
Honduran rosewood is now protected. Credit: Ya’axché Conservation Trust
4. Ya’axché is a recognised national authority on protected areas management
Ya’axché has grown to a credible, independent, national conservation organisation, with staff leading the way in Belizean conservation.
Ya’axché’s involvement in policy led to stronger legislation governing protected areas and recognition of Belize’s private protected areas. The trust’s former Executive Director, Lisel Alamilla, was elevated to Minister of Forestry, Fisheries & Sustainable Development (2012-2015), and their current Director, Christina Garcia, sits on the Board of Belize’s main decision-making body for private protected areas. Ya’axché has also formalised training for Belize’s national ranger programme, and their staff now co-manage two state protected areas with the government.
5. Despite its national acclaim, Ya’axché remains rooted in the communities from which it grew, ensuring lasting impact of its conservation efforts
The trust’s name was developed with the Maya communities it grew from and is centred on the sacred Ceiba, or Ya’axché, tree. The Maya people are engaged as staff, board members, and through livelihoods activities to establish more sustainable ways of living with the forest. For example, over 100 families have participated in Ya’axché’s agroforestry programme, pioneering novel cropping systems and diversifying income to support conservation.
“Prior to working with Ya’axché, my father did mostly small-scale, slash-and-burn farming and monocultures; and now, we are proud of what we have done on our cacao farm – animals such as agoutis, tapirs and jaguars have returned because of cacao agroforestry,” says Daniel Chiquin, a local cacao farmer.
Daniel Chiquin, a local cacao agroforestry farmer. Credit: Max Caal/Ya’axché Conservation Trust
From promoting meaningful biodiversity change to inspiring primary school students and building community resilience in the face of climate change, Ya’axché’s evolution and impact over the past 20 years sets it up for continued success for years to come. FFI is proud to be a partner of this pioneering organisation.
Want to learn more? Take a look at our case study.
Hannah is passionate about holistic approaches to conservation and natural resource governance which strive to achieve both social and ecological justice.