Developing a global methodology and manual for biodiversity guides suitable for use in rural development
The aim of this project was to develop more user-friendly and useful field guides, and the project has combined participatory processes with botanical plant identification. A manual is being produced to document processes that should be followed in the writing of a field guide, aimed at a wide target audience from botanists to local communities and NGOs. Four guides have been produced in South America, all with different objectives, user groups and habitats, allowing comparison of methods under different circumstances. All four focused on the ways in which plant identification can help in conservation and development.
If biodiversity is to be valued, conserved and used more effectively, it is important that a wide range of people should be able to identify the taxa, and learn more about them, either by linking with scientific knowledge or documenting and enhancing local knowledge. There is considerable experience in producing field guides, written by scientists for scientists, and in the North, experience in producing guides which are more accessible to a general public. When using biodiversity in rural development, however, and when meeting the commitments made under the Convention on Biological Diversity, many institutions in tropical countries wish to provide field guides to facilitate accurate species identification and provide wider knowledge about those species. What are the challenges for botanists, of writing guides for local communities, extension workers, or ecotourists? Conversely, what should a development worker do to write guides that are scientifically accurate?
Two projects funded by the Forestry Research Programme of the UK Department for International Development are working in tandem to address these questions. The two projects together will produce a handbook (How to produce useful guides to forest plants in the tropics) intended to stimulate and facilitate the production of new field guides. This will be in two parts: Planning and process (coordinated by Anna Lawrence, of the Environment and Development Prgramme at the ECI), and Botanical aspects (coordinated by Colin Hughes and William Hawthorne, of the Department of Plant Sciences [DPS]), both within Oxford University.
The projects explored different approaches to writing field guides, by assessing the experience of writing and using existing guides, working with a range of user groups to define their information needs, and particularly through a process approach to the preparation and empirical field testing of guides in collaboration with user groups and specialists. The research will also involve the analysis of resources required to prepare different types of guides.
Our aim was to enable botanical and non-specialist authors to work together with potential users, to produce field guides which benefit rural livelihoods and biodiversity. To do this, we explored and will document ways to combine scientific and local knowledge in an effective and usable way. Guides have been written as the result of an iterative and collaborative process with user groups, ensuring that they are accurate and effective as resources allow, and meet real user-group demands.
Each project will be collaborating with institutions in tropical countries to write field guides and learn from the process of doing so. The ECI project links with Bolivia and Brazil, and is collaborating with the Fundación Amigos de la Naturaleza (FAN) and Centro de Investigación Agrícola Tropical (CIAT) in Bolivia, and with Universidade de Estadual de Feira de Santana, Bahia (UEFS), Assessoría e Serviços a Projetos em Agricultura Alternativa (AS-PTA), and the Centro Nordestino de Informação sobre Plantas (CNIP) of the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco in Brazil.
Outputs and Publications
- Plant Identification, Conservation and Management: methods for producing user-friendly field guides by Anna Lawrence and William Hawthorne will be published by Earthscan as part of the People and Plants Conservation Series produced by the WWF / UNESCO / RBG Kew People and Plants Network. Download chapter 2: Producing a successful guide: principles, purpose, people and process, by Anna Lawrence and Patricia Norrish.
- Process for producing a field guide diagram
- The Field Guides Project Newsletter (English) (Español)