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Archive for December, 2012

We have organisations working hard to implement payments for ecosystem services (PES) approaches in the UK, often in water management. As novel approaches they often face implementation challenges. Payments for ecosystem services are eminently suited to the case of water supply management in Colombia: 70% of the population’s water supply originates from upland areas, such as the area known as the Chingaza from which most of Bogota’s water flows. These areas are also home to significant biodiversity, including species endemic to the Central Andean highlands (including the spectacled bear).

The policy framework is supportive of the principle of PES: local government authorities are obliged to spend a percentage of their revenues from water fees on water source management. However, these have to be spent within the regional environmental authority boundaries, which are aligned along sub-catchment boundaries. Given that the most populous areas are rarely in the upland areas with the highest rainfall, so little of this money finds its way to these highland habitats.

In fact a PES arrangement has been organised outside this formal water source management structure, with the City of Bogota water authority supporting the management of Chingaza, from which the majority of its water supply flows. So there is nearly a fantastic PES setup, but the laws restricting the expenditure of water fees to local areas clearly weren’t drafted by a hydrologist.

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I am currently applying the cowburps principles in an evaluation of Colombian biodiversity polices. Unfortunately for my colleagues’ jetlag, the meetings are being held in a hotel basement conference room, but I undertook some first hand research of this ‘mega-biodiverse’ country for a few days before the meeting started.

The highlight was visiting a private nature reserve – financed by entry fees, rock climbing and horse riding services, and accommodation provided in an impressive wooden ‘refugio’ (lodge) where I stayed – nature tourism in action. Reaching the lodge involved a 2km hike from the entrance, which started at 2,630m above sea level and dropped 450m through cloud forest on the slopes of the central Andes. They limit entrance to 120 people per day, and I encountered a dozen Europeans, mainly Germans, but the majority of the visitors where Colombians, from the country’s new middle class.

This walk could be covered in 20 minutes, but it took me 2 and a quarter hours, because there were simply too many birds to see. I encountered 3 mixed flocks of birds moving through the forest, which take a lot of concentration to follow as birds move at all different heights from the neck-straining canopy to underneath the leaf litter, each pursuing its ecological niche. I saw 17 species of bird I’d never seen before, including four from genus (family groups) I’d never seen before. To put this in context, seeing more than one new species per day when birdwatching in Europe would be good. As a nature-tourist, it was worth every penny.

As I emerged into the forest clearing near the Lodge, I puffed out my cheeks in exhaustion and rested my hands on my binoculars. An American teacher saw me breathing heavily and holding my chest and came over to ask if I was alright – I reassured him that I wasn’t having a heartattack. It did make me think that the name ‘refugio’ was apt, as going in doors was the only way to take refuge from this overwhelming ornithological diversity. I could just listen to the howler monkeys, and sneak a glimpse at the hummingbirds outside the window.

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