The Size of Herefordshire is supporting two brave indigenous, the Wampis and the Awajun, in their ancestral rainforest in north-eastern Peru. Local people in the county, knowing how wonderful are our own woods and trees, are campaigning to raise enough money to protect tropical rainforest the size of Herefordshire.
The Wampis and the Awajun are up against powerful people. Big logging companies. Oil corporations. Gold mining outfits. They are Davids against Goliaths. They are taking brave action on their own. Expelling miners. Even taking a helicopter hostage by tying it down with vine ropes.
WHO ARE THE WAMPIS?
The Wampis are very resourceful indigenous people who live in an area of rainforest, about half the size of Wales, in north eastern Peru on the border with Ecuador. Their name probably derives from a fish which is particularly wily and hard to catch. The Wampis live off the riches of the forest, hunting with blowpipes, fishing and small-scale subsistence crop-growing.
They have inherited a tradition of resisting attempts to rule over, invade or dominate them that we know goes back at least to the 16th century. The Inca were repulsed but the Spanish, by the mid 16th century had driven them northwards in their search for slaves and gold. The Wampis took refuge in the Kampankis mountains, the heartland of their ancestral territory. Similarly, the efforts of Jesuit missionaries to convert and ‘civilise’ the Wampis also failed. The next centuries however saw further invasions and outrages visited upon the Wampis and their indigenous neighbours such as the Awajún – usually in search of resources, gold or later rubber and of course getting slaves. It was ever thus. Today, the invaders come in the form of logging companies, oil and mineral explorers, gold miners and palm oil planters.
Today, there are about thirteen thousand Wampis people, living in over 60 villages scattered through their territory, which is bisected bythe Kampankis mountain range remarkable for its,caves, waterfalls, salt and endemic species including several that had been unknown to science. On one side of the mountains runs the Santiago river and on the other the Morona which both drain into the mighty Marañon river which flows into the Amazon. Wampis mythology explains that once upon a time the peoples of the world were not differentiated but one day the sun set 3 brothers a challenge to imitate different parrots and cross over the Great River on a canoe. Everyone got lost and the different ethnicities were born. The brother who ended up in the Marañon became the Awajún, the brother on the Santiago and Morona rivers became the Wampis – and the brother who got lost on Great River itself (the Amazon) became the Apach (white people).
For the Wampis, their territory is much more than just land, a physical space. It’s also a social and spiritual place where vital relations between humans, animals and spirits are carefully observed which means that the circle of life is maintained. They and the Awajún have long toiled to get areas of their land protected and to date the Wampis have secured legal title over almost 400,000 hectares of their 1.4 million hectare territory. Finally in 1999 a protected area of over 600,000 hectares was also created – the Zona Reservada Santiago Comaina – and the Wampis have continually worked to make sure that the Park is not reclassified and opened up for mining and logging. This threat is very real as in 2007, the Ichigat Mujat National park was created after years of lobbying by the Awajún and the Wampis but the park was significantly smaller than that agreed and the remaining area was established as a mining concession! That speaks volumes for the priorities of the national government. However in August 2016 a license to exploit it was annulled after Wampis and Awajún opposition. This is why the Wampis are not waiting for the government to resolve their problems and are continually patrolling and monitoring their territory themselves. In July of this year over 300 Wampis including men, women and children evicted illegal gold miners from the Pastacillo area and continue to remain vigilant. It is thanks to these efforts that their vast forest territory remains largely intact and protected,
The Wampis (and the Awajun too) are a tough and resilient people, battling very powerful opponents. When the Size of Herefordshire sends donations to the Forest Peoples Programme and to Cool Earth, we can be sure we helping the very best guardians of the rainforest.
There are about thirteen thousand Wampis people, living in 65 villages scattered through their territory, which is bisected by a large mountain range remarkable for its caves and waterfalls and salt. On one side of the mountains runs the Santiago river and on the other the Morona. Myth has it that the sun set everyone a challenge to imitate three different parrots and cross over the Great River on a canoe. Everyone got lost. The Awajun ended up in the Maranon area, the Wampis by the Santiago and Morona rivers – and the Apach(white people) got lost on Great River itself.
For the Wampis, their territory is much more than just land, a physical space. It’s also a social and spiritual space where vital relations between humans and animals and spirits are exchanged. They and the Awajun long toiled to get areas of their land protected. Finally in 2007 a National Park was created – the Zona Reservada Santiago Comaina - but the park was significantly smaller than that agreed with the Awajun and the Wampis – the remaining area was established as a mining concession! That speaks volumes for the priorities of the national government. However in August 2016 a license to exploit it was annulled after Wampis opposition. Only the month before the Wampis effectively threw out gold miners from the Pastacillo area.
Why DO THESE FOREST DWELLERS MATTER?
Because they are the guardians of the rainforest. They can protect the rainforest better than anyone else. So helping the Wampis and the Awajun, for instance, is much the best way to protect the fabulous rainforest of Peru. Much better than Westerners trying to buy bits of rainforest.
Tropical rainforests play an absolutely vital role in fighting climate change. Currently, they absorb nearly one-fifth of the world’s man-made carbon emissions every year. We need to reduce our CO2 output urgently - and yet the way the loggers and farmers and prospectors are destroying the tropical rainforest contributes between 15 to 20 per cent of global carbon dioxide annually. We need to consume less fossil fuel - but that won’t be enough. We also need to stop the destruction of the tropical rainforests.
Tropical rainforests are also amazing eco-systems - and extraordinary habitats for flora and fauna that live in them. For the native people of the rainforest, they are everything. One single hectare of rainforest can contain over 200 different kinds of trees, some over 60 metres tall, and around 40,000 species of insects. And The Size of Herefordshire wants to protect 218,000 hectares.
Rainforests are crucial for providing a lot of the world’s oxygen and they are critical for regulating rainfall, storing water and preventing floods and soil erosion.
Rainforests cover only 6 per cent of the world’s surface but they contain two thirds of its species.
They are also home to 200 million indigenous people, now on the deforestation frontline. These people are not only the traditional owners of the rainforest, but also its custodians - and that’s why The Size of Herefordshire is supporting charities that work with the people of the forest to fight the loggers, miners and oilmen.
Half of the world’s rainforests have gone in the last 40 years. We have got to keep the second half!
The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and a vital part of it lies in Peru. Historically, Peru’s forests have been less attacked that those in other Amazonian countries. However, the loggers and prospectors and agri-businessmen have been upping their game this century and the rate of deforestation has ramped up in recent years. Some claim the rate of deforestation has doubled since 2012 - to an area a bit larger than the size of Herefordshire, about 250,000 hectares every year.
Rampant illegal logging is going on in Peru - about 80 per cent of Peru’s timber export is illegally logged!
THE WAMPIS AND OIL
Oil pipelines are major nightmares for the Wampis. An oil pipeline that runs across their land ruptured catastrophically on January 25th and February 3rd, causing huge pollution to the rivers that run through the territories of the Wampis and the Awajun. The water supplies of 10,000 people have been affected.
The pipeline, run by the state oil company PetroPeru, is in poor condition. In the autumn, the Wampis took direct action: a group of visiting government and oil company officials were taken hostage, their helicopter tied up with ropes and vines. Only after a number of concessions were made were the hostages released.
Peru is in a mess with regard to its rainforests. With endemic corruption and criminal gangs, much of what is going in the rainforest is illegal. In the rainforest area of Madre de Dios where there’s major gold prospecting going on, over 97 per cent of the gold found is illegal.
There is poor environmental planning, weak and corrupt national and local government. There are loopholes everywhere, allowing primary forest to be classed as ripe for agriculture.
The local, indigenous people of Peru are up against it. Often they are criminalised for trying to protect their forests. And although about 20 per cent of the Peruvian Amazon currently enjoys some form of recognition as indigenous lands, there’s great overlaps with oil and mining concessions, so that a 'protected forest area' may turn out to have a major oil company producing there.
There is a national plan to recognise a further 20 per cent of Peru’s forests as belonging to the indigenous peoples, but this plan is in the 'pending' folder, and has no legal protection. With Peru’s government intent on maximum economic growth and massive investment into oil and gas, the peoples of the forest need all the help they can get.
This is why The Size of Herefordshire has chosen two charities to support, both doing vital and marvellous work with the peoples of the Peruvian rainforest.
One of them is the Forest Peoples’ Programme. From its base in Gloucestershire, the FPP supports indigenous forest people all over the world. It is particularly effective in Peruvian rainforest.
The other charity we will be supporting is Cool Earth which has a particularly effective and innovative approach to saving rainforest.
We feel that Herefordshire people will have a natural sympathy with the plight of forest peoples - and will realise the value of the great tropical forests. Herefordshire contains a third of the ancient woodland in the West Midlands, though it makes up only a sixth of the region.
We have a wonderful variety of woodlands and forests, from Queen’s Wood at Dinmore Hill to the great woods that flank the Dore Valley, to name just two.
And surely, Herefordians are on the side of the underdogs?
Herefordshire also has a major problem with its carbon emissions. As a county, we emit more carbon dioxide per head than many other counties. Each Herefordshire person emitted on average 7.9 tons of carbon dioxide, on the latest figures available. Yet Worcestershire people emitted 7 tons of CO2 per head, Shropshire folk 7.6 tons per head and the West Midlands as a whole 6.7 tons per head. There are reasons why Herefordshire has such a high total. We are a county with a lot of small villages scattered throughout it, so journey times are long. Much of the industry we have uses a lot of energy, which is then averaged out across a relatively small population.
Nonetheless, the Herefordshire figure is high, which is why Herefordshire Council has a whole section aiming to get our CO2 right down so we are carbon neutral. But The Size of Herefordshire will help this process - every hectare of rainforest we keep standing means a lot less CO2 in the atmosphere.
How Will We Do It?
We plan to raise at least £109,000, which at the rate of 50p a hectare, will be enough to sustain for the foreseeable future no less than 218,000 hectares, the area of the county. (A hectare is roughly the size of a football or rugby pitch.) We’re going to funnel the money we raise to our two charities.
Giving us three years, we hope to get £100,000 for the Forest Peoples’ Programme (FPP) and £9,000 for Cool Earth. FPP can deliver rainforest protection at about 25p a hectare, because much of its work consists in getting legal recognition for the land of the peoples of the rainforest. Cool Earth’s innovative approaches work out more expensive, at around £3.45 a hectare.
Just Who Are We?
+ We are not a charity: we are fund-raisers for two terrific charities who know their business and the Peruvian rainforest.
This means than none of the money we raise for Cool Earth and the FPP will go to The Size of Herefordshire. Our group, The Size of Herefordshire, will be run entirely on a voluntary and cost-free basis. Many green and aid charities have their own costs and charges - and then pass on the remainder to front-line charities which do the actual work. Donations collected by The Size of Herefordshire will go entirely to Cool Earth and the FPP.
+ We are just people who happen to live in Herefordshire and are concerned about the great tropical rainforests.
We want to do something other than tear our hair out. We want to act. So we’ve set up The Size of Herefordshire.
The Size of Herefordshire has a steering group:
Chair: Sue Bell, formerly the first chief executive of the National Forest
Treasurer: Geoff Petty, author and educationalist.
Ingrid Heatly, experienced environmentalist and senior teacher in geography studies.
Will Bullough, naturalist and expert in harvesting sustainably English hardwoods.
Jeremy Bugler (Secretary & Co-ordinator), small-scale Herefordshire farmer and first environment correspondent on a UK national newspaper.