After I went to Madagascar and fell in love with tropical nature and its inhabitants, I decided that I wanted to study nature conservation. I found the study called Forest and Nature Conservation, at a small green university of applied science. Instantly I knew that this was the study I was going for. The reason this study was so perfect for me is that they offer the specialisation ‘Tropical Forestry’, exactly what I wanted to do. That is how on 1st September 2015 I officially started my bachelor’s study!
The bachelor’s was 4 years long, and the first year was a propaedeutic year. This year was completely focused on Dutch nature and landscapes, not as interesting as the tropics… However, I was eager to learn more about nature, wildlife and ecosystems. After 1,5 years I managed to have a solid background in a lot of aspects of nature conservation, and it was time to finally switch to the tropical forests!
I was excited to learn more about nature, wildlife and ecosystems but this first year was all focused on Dutch nature and landscapes. Slightly less interesting than the tropics. The second year was still partly focused on the Netherlands. But after 1.5 years I could finally start with my tropical forestry specialisation. I had a good solid background in a lot of aspects of nature conservation, now it was time to alter this to fit the tropics.
The specialisation tropical forestry
During the specialisation in tropical forestry we learned about so many different topics. We had courses in ecology, doing research, local livelihoods, wildlife management and forestry. Besides the many theoretical lectures we had, there were also fun excursions. We went to a local zoo and big greenhouses, to learn identifying tropical plants. The day in the zoo was my favourite excursion. It was a regular day so the zoo was filled with people that came for all the animals. While we all walked through the tropical exhibition, behind our teacher, watching all the plants that were growing there. Must have been a funny sight for all the other people.
During one of our first lectures we played a game. We where we mimicking to bea household in rural Africa. Which in the beginning was mostly fun. We were making jokes who wanted our children so we could be able to work, trading your livestock to be able to eat that week… The fun quickly faded away when we realised this is reality for so many people. Local livelihoods was a huge component of this study. You cannot do any conservation work in Africa without taking their livelihoods into consideration. We cannot just say ‘stop cutting down the forests’ when their whole life depends on it.
Another major topic was agroforestry. In simple terms it is the combination of food crops and trees. We had a major project where we had to set up a plantation in Ghana, where we used agroforestry. This allows for an higher income, a higher food security as well as improved soil. It was a difficult project, but it provided us with so many new insights, ideas and knowledge about forestry in the tropical regions. We did make some mistakes however. It is very unrealistic to become a millioner from owning a forestry plantation in Ghana, our budget however showed we were…
We also had some small courses on the ecology of the tropical forest. These forest have an extremely high biodiversity and all the plants and animals depend on each other to prevent collapsion of these ecosystems. But what kind of processes are going on, why is the biodiversity so high. One o f the most interesting subjects was how the animals and plants work together. However, some were dependent on each other, some of these relationships only one had a benefit and others were even harmful. This is called symbiosis, and I wrote a blogpost about what exactly it is!
Besides the courses all altered to the tropical forests, we also had the more standard subjects you will find in any nature conservation study. We had lessons in GIS, but also in research methods and data analyzing. All the knowledges we had gathered in the big variety of courses we got to put in action during some fieldtrips!
Field trips during the tropical forestry bachelor
The first field trip we went on was to Faya Brava reserve in Portugal where we had a variety of activities. The major part of our time here was dedicated to our own research. My group conducted research about the biodiversity of frogs in the ponds in relation to water quality and pond size. Due to the short time frame and the many dried up ponds, we did not find any significant results. However, it was a good experience and great fun to design and set up your research.
Besides doing our own research we also had other projects we were participating in. We had some research with the stone oaks and we had visits to the museums. On our free days, we got to swim in the river and took our well-earned rest after the long and hot days in the field. Although Portugal was a very nice field trip, it was simply beaten by the field trip we made to Suriname.
We spend almost 3 weeks in this beautiful country and it was all amazing. During this trip we did many different things all focussed on forestry practices and towards the management plan we had to make after return. This plan was about how the local communities could best manage their communnity-owned forest. To ensure maximum productivity but also ensure the forest to remain healthy for generations to come. To be able to write this plan, we had to collect a lot of data about the current state of the forest as well as the livelihoods of the local people.
On our first location we practiced our method collection skills in a former plantation before starting the real work in the region of Pokigron. We went into the tropical forest to collect data about the tree species community while cutting our way through. The forest was so dense that when you turned around, you could not even see the path you had just cut. Besides the data collection in the forest, we also had interviews with the local people. To get a greater understanding of how they want to use the forest and what items they harvest.
After hard work comes …
As a reward for all the hard work in the warm and moist rainforest, the countless mosquitoes and ants biting your butt we got to travel further down in to the forest and spend two nights on a little eco-resort located deep in the forest on the river beds. There was no longer a road leading so deep in the forest, which means we had to travel by boat. Although boat might not be the best word, it were long kanoes that were packed as full as they could. Navigating the river was a challenge, due to the many rapids in the river. Everytime we encountered a rapid everybody had to get out of the boat, including their luggage, so the boat could make it up, after which we could all board the boat again.
The adventures continue…
With the field trip and the finished product from Suriname the theory part of my study was over. There were still 1,5 years left before I would graduate. These where filled with my minor, my practical placement and my thesis. Each of these was the duration of one semester (5 months). But I will not tell you about them right now. Otherwise, this blog will get three times as long. I have separate blog posts about the Erasmus exchange I did in Norway, my internship in Australia, and my thesis in South Africa!
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