Chagos Conservation Trust

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Chagossian Community Environment project

With our partners, led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) we are raising awareness of environmental conservation issues amongst Chagossian communities living in the UK. Watch this video interview with Yannick Mandarin, who speaks about how the environmental training course has changed his life.

Avek nou partener, Lasosyete Zoolozikal an Londre (ZSL), nou pe partaz lenformasyon lo konservasyon lanvironnman  dan kominote Chagossian dan Langleter. Klik sa video anba pou gany en lide lo sa progranm lantrennman.

 In April 2012, the Connect Chagos project started with the support of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT). This project has now been successfully delivered by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) for the third consecutive year. The main objective is to increase environmental awareness and capacity within the Chagossian community (initially in the UK and then internationally) that will contribute practically to the conservation of the natural environment of the Chagos archipelago.


Overall, the project achieves a high Chagos community engagement in Crawley and Manchester. Connect Chagos became a well-known and understood project within the community. The ZSL team has good relationship with the major social group such as Women Welfare Group, Chagos Island Community Association or Chagos Youth Group and organised tailored sessions in partnership with those groups. With a Facebook account consisting of more than 800 Chagos friends, the Outreach team has a strong network and presence within the community social media and engaged with many Facebook group such as Chagos News or Chagos Refugee Group.

Across three Chagos Environment training courses delivered to date, the project trained a total of 32 ambassadors who are still closely linked with ZSL. Four of the trainees have undertaken further advanced skills training, including PADI dive and chainsaw trainings; and there are currently six individual applications for further education and two group ones that are being reviewed. Finally, there are two places for the ambassadors in the Chagos expeditions 2015 for which ZSL Chagos team received a total of five applications.





2-    Outreach activities


a-    Open Day

At Tulley’s farm, Crawley, in June 2014, the ZSL Outreach team hosted a community event with 150 people from both Manchester and Crawley communities in a colourful barn, near Crawley centre. Two coaches were available for the Manchester community while a shuttle between Crawley Town Centre and the farm provided transport for the local community. Among many activities, each module of training was represented through a workshop that delivered a take home message. For example, the botany training course was represented by a “Grow your own workshop” while the coral module was symbolised by “Paint-a-Reef” activity. The community could also take part in many challenges such as a Scavenger Hunt where they could explore their local wildlife. Above all, the day was a chance to inspire people into taking part in the course. The Chagos Outreach team, with the precious help of volunteers, were showcasing the project and the training course.


Evaluation: The Open day was organised and improved based upon the evaluation of last year’s event. The Crawley community picked a date and a location, and the Manchester community joined them for the event as they felt left left out last year, plus the transport was made easy for everyone. Despite those considerations, the level of attendance was lower than expected and halved compared to last year. Unfortunately, one of the Manchester’s ambassadors was hospitalised the night before the Open Day and this event had a repercussion on the number of people joining the event (approximatively 50). The date chosen happened to be Father’s Day which resulted in many families not being able to attend due to family commitments. However, one advantage of the lower numbers was that the ZSL team were able to interact more with the community when compared to previous years. The activities available on the day were appreciated by all and the display of Mauritius community portraits and Chagos stories attracted many people.





b-    Tailored sessions

This year, ZSL launched a new outreach strategy called “Tailored sessions”. The aim is to provide continuous and inclusive engagement and learning within the community and to provide opportunities for people unable to commit to the full training course. The Chagos Outreach team delivered a total of five sessions to date in both Manchester and Crawley with an average of 15 young people attending. This year, the sessions delivered were a try dive, a minibeast hunt and tree climbing in both communities. These sessions provided inspiring activities directly linked with messages from the training course. The minibeast hunt and the tree climbing both introduced the concept of habitat management and botany while the diving was a good opportunity to talk about marine skills required for conservation.


Evaluation: The tailored sessions have proven to be a strong tool to build relationships with key community partners and social groups. They also enable to outreach to the right type of audience while complementing the training course. Most of the attendees are between 15 to 17 years old and their interests in conservation are shown by the fact that there were a number of individuals who attended multiple sessions.


3-    Environmental training course


The Chagos Environmental training course focuses on providing an introduction to all aspects of conservation to encourage further interest. The course consists of 10 modules spread over eight weeks during the summer time. ZSL team recruited eight Chagossians to take part in this year’s training. The group were aged from 12 to 51 and were mostly from one Chagossian family (including siblings, daughter in law, mother and grandmother) from Crawley.

a.    Climate Change: ZSL

Delivered by Stephanie Pace, ZSL

This module is new in the plan and has been identified as necessary from last year’s evaluation. The session was an opportunity to do ice breaker and team building activities. The group has to prepare a short presentation on climate change to help them understand the key concepts of this complex theme. Stephanie Pace, ZSL Education Officer, enthusiastically delivered an interactive session where the trainees learnt about CO2 emissions and carbon footprint. The day was also an opportunity to introduced key terms in conservation and how climate change fits into the conservation agenda. At the end of the day, they could calculate their impact on the planet and take home some tips on how to reduce it.


b.    Habitat Management: Tower of Hamlet Cemetery park

Delivered by Ken Greenway, Friends of Tower Hamlet Cemetery

The Friends of Tower of Hamlet Cemetery is a new partner for this year’s course. Kenneth Greenway, the Park Manager, kept the interest of the trainees throughout the session. The day started with a tour of the Cemetery and an introduction to the fauna and flora. Ken talked the group through the challenges of habitat management and the concept of invasive species. The afternoon was dedicated to manual activities and site management. The trainees were hands-on dealing with a restoration area; including trimming overgrown branches, removing and clearing footpaths.


c.    Birds: Pulborough Brooks

Delivered by Ian Robinson, Royal Society for Protection of Birds

As part of this module and as homework preparation, the trainees have to observe the wildlife in their local area. The group reported a various set of species behaviours collected from their backyard or TV documentaries. Ian Robinson, Park Manager, introduced them to the terrestrial wildlife of Chagos with a focus on birds’ habitat and the impact of invasive species on the archipelago. The group has to plan their own Rat Eradication Plan. Ian arranged a mock up session with stuffed birds to provide an understanding of bird monitoring. In the afternoon, the group went bird watching and walked around the Pulborough reserve. The trainees were challenged with activities such as identification of species by song and counting flock of birds.


d.    Marine: Seven Sisters

Delivered by Rebecca Short, Zoological Society of London

Seven Sisters reserve is located on the south east coast. As per last year, the trainees completed a rocky shore ecology session which serves as an introduction to environmental adaptations. They encountered a variety of species from crabs, anemones, shrimps, and fishes. They had to identify species from the ID guides available and were introduced to evolutionary adaptations. The afternoon was spent in the classroom where the trainees learnt about Marine Protected Areas and various fishing methods. They finally been introduced to the concept of certification to promote sustainability, with some key logos identified such as “Marine Stewardship Council” or “Fairtrade”.


e.    Corals: ZSL

Delivered by Rachel Jones, Zoological Society of London

The coral session is one of the most complex of the training course. Rachel Jones, Team leader at ZSL Aquarium, taught with passion about the reefs of Chagos, explaining how it is important to the world. The day involved a tour behind the scenes of the ZSL Aquarium where the trainees used a coral key guide in order to identify eight different species of corals. The day ended with the complex notions of transects where the group had to calculate a percentage of live corals on a reef.


f.     Bursaries & Careers: Crawley Library

Delivered by Rebecca Short and Audrey Blancart, Zoological Society of London

This session was dedicated to an open discussion on career orientation and bursaries. The aim is to show examples of careers within conservation and the training available such as volunteering to build up professional experience. The session also covered expeditions, bursaries and application processes. The purpose of this module is to raise awareness about the many opportunities and support available.


g.    Communication: ZSL

Delivered by Cassandra Murray, Zoological Society of London

The communication module was delivered by Cassandra Murray, ZSL Evaluation Coordinator. Communication and campaigning for conservation are two important challenges. After learning about the key concepts of delivering a conservation message and planning an event, the trainees had to complete a short survey questionnaire with the zoo visitors in order to create and tailor their own fictional event, based on the collected results. As part of the day, the trainees did a role-play where they represented various stakeholders and defended their benefits. This activity helped them to understand other points of view while running a campaign.




h.    Try Dive: London School of Diving (LSD)

Delivered by Karim Takieddine, London School of Diving

The diving session was the first time that the entire group had experienced SCUBA diving. The session was delivered by two dive instructors from LSD that has been involved in the Connect Chagos project since the start. The trainees spent one hour in the pool getting use to diving techniques, health and safety and various items of equipment.


i.      Botany: Wakehurst Place

Delivered by Helen Hicks, Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew

This training was carried out by Helen Hicks, a teacher at Wakehurst. The day focussed on global plant conservation initiatives, starting with a walk to the Millennium Seed Bank, a tour behind the scenes of the labs and a description of the different processes the seeds have to go through before being placed in the storage vault. The trainees saw how the seeds were cleaned and the step by step process of the different rooms the seeds go through. They saw the largest seed in the world (Coco de mer) from the Seychelles. In the classroom the trainees learnt how to classify plants according to their size, colours, viewed them using a microscope and observed the different parts of a flower. They also got a tour around the garden where they learnt about different plants, and found out about the conservation challenges in saving those species. The trainees were fully engaged and one of them would now like to pursue the botany experience by volunteering with Kew Gardens.


a.    The Wilderness weekend

This module was a closure session for the course and everyone met for a camping weekend at The Sustainability Centre, in Hampshire. The Saturday started with Sarah Furey, a Herbalist, who talked about the plants and ways they can be used in medicine or cooking. The second part of the day was focused on identifying local wildlife such as plants, insects and birds and a chance to apply learning from the course. In the evening, the group went for a night walk using bat detectors and tried to spot owls. The Sunday aimed to conduct evaluation and interviews of the trainees where the team collected experience from the course.


Evaluation:  For each module, the trainees had to prepare homework. This homework would support them in the preparation of learning the key concepts of each session while helping them to make the link between one session and another. This year, the homework was completed seriously and by everyone. The trainees also completed spreadsheets, watched documentaries and collected information from newspapers when required. Their work showed that their interest exceeded basic requirements.

The trainees were asked at the end of each session to fill in an evaluation form that aimed to test their understanding of the session and to rate their enjoyment. 90% of the training course was rated at the right pitch, meaning that trainees could readily understand the concepts taught to them. A pre and post learning evaluation sheet was also given to the trainees. This evaluation indicate that the knowledge pre course was higher than previous years. This indicates that the right audience has been reached this year. 


For the training course, ZSL team only received applications from Crawley community which might reveal a need for a stronger presence within the Manchester community. The tailored sessions have allowed ZSL outreach team to identify a group of ten Chagossian teenagers between 15 and 17 years old, who might be suitable and interested in next year’s training course.

At the end of the training, ZSL team held a focus group where the trainees could discuss their experience of the training. Overall, they were enthusiastic about the course and enjoyed learning and understanding more about Chagos. They learnt the key concepts of conservation and mentioned using them in their personal life. The youngest trainee (Nelson, 12) explained the concept of climate change - learnt during ZSL course - to his classmates at school, resulting in a reward from his teacher. The trainees have lived some new experiences such as catching a butterfly, using binoculars or studying animal behaviour that resulted in a higher interest in UK wildlife. Some also mentioned watching the nature channel every week, looking at sustainable products when shopping or buying their own outdoor equipment. As per every year, the marine modules (including ocean, diving and coral) were the favourites. However, when being asked, they could not name a least favourite session. As per last year as well, they mentioned the need for longer sessions (such as two days of each one).


The Connect Chagos team felt that this training course was the most successful of the three held to date. The session and the pitch level were optimised this year with a presence of new partners that brought a new dynamics. Finally, the engagement with the group was very high and enabled better communication with the community. They are currently spreading the word about the ZSL course and mentioned a high interest from their close family and friends in taking it next time. They have also planned their own award ceremony and have taken control of the event organisation.


4-    Future direction


A list of upcoming events for 2014/15 is available in Appendix 1. There is a real interest in the Chagos expeditions and bursaries from this year’s trainees, which indicate a need to develop the bursaries further both conceptually and financially. ZSL Chagos team received a 75% (6 out of 8) application rate from the group on bursaries, which has never happened previously.

A reunion weekend is planned in October, in partnership with the RSPB, to enable continuous engagement with all the Chagos ambassadors from the three years. A total of 23 trainees (out of 32 since first year) are expected at this event which is very encouraging. The weekend aims to reinforce the relationship of ZSL team with past trainees while linking them with each other.

There is also a high demand for bursaries, compared to previous years. There are currently eight applications in process (list in Appendix 2) and five applications for the upcoming Chagos expeditions (Appendix 3). There is also an increasing demand for an advanced training course that would provide existing trainees with in-depth learning.


Staff note

The Connect Chagos team has welcomed a new coordinator, Kirsty Richards, replacing Rebecca Short. The team also expects to recruit an intern from January to July 2015 to provide support on community engagement and events, who will likely come from the Chagossian community.