Mitigating climate change effects through traditional land management practices

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh
Department Name: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Abstract

The Soqotra Archipelago - located in the north west Indian Ocean 380km south of Yemen and 80km east of Somalia - is rightly renowned for its natural heritage and was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2008 for its unique and rich biodiversity. However, it has also been the recipient of a range of large-scale international development and conservation programmes since 1990 focusing on environmental issues, and recent studies have suggested that these have been in part misguided and have left Soqotra largely dependent on external funding rather than leaving a sustainable legacy.
Further, these programmes have focused almost entirely on the biodiversity, or the natural heritage of Soqotra: the cultural heritage of Soqotra has been little studied despite demonstrated value by the Soqotri people themselves, and the links between natural and cultural heritage - a separation not recognised by Soqotri people - have been almost totally ignored. In addition, very limited research has been undertaken on the climate of Soqotra - and none at all on how the climate of Soqotra has changed and will continue to change in the future - which is somewhat surprising due to the current importance placed on the global climate emergency against a backdrop of unique heritage recognised as a World Heritage Site.
Soqotra is a small island system, with a diverse landscape and a complex climate. It is already being hit hard by extreme weather events which are increasing in severity and frequency, and fresh water is always in short supply. Within living memory, the people of Soqotra moved seasonally with their grazing animals to ensure healthy lives for themselves and their animals, but this knowledge is being lost as development proceeds and young people are less interested in their traditional ways of life. Yet, this traditional knowledge evolved to cope with extreme and unpredictable weather and may hold some answers as to how climate change can be adapted to locally. In order to achieve this, it is necessary not only to further study these systems of knowledge and the climate they evolved to cope with, but to ensure they are understood and valued on Soqotra by merging traditional knowledge with contemporary development and livelihoods for the future.
The proposed project will further document and update knowledge about traditional systems on Soqotra, assess how much knowledge has already been lost and which practises are no longer in use, and assess how they match climate in the past, present and future. It will establish how traditional knowledge is linked to climate management and recommend how such knowledge can be revived to help cope with climate change in the future.
Rather than undertaking scientific study and recommending management options to local stakeholders at a later stage, the research will be conducted in partnership with a team of heritage experts from Soqotra trained under the Soqotra Heritage Project and supported by expert scientists from the UK. This will be done in partnership not only with local experts, but also local communities and decision makers supported by experts in land management, climate change and the heritage of Soqotra. The result will be a better understanding of the linkages between climate and a traditional way of life that has contemporary relevance, and the ability to better predict and manage the effects of climate change on heritage and biodiversity on a unique island. The methods developed can be application in other island systems globally as well as areas affected by similar climates where heritage is under threat.

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