February 2012: New Ecosystems Mapping incorporates Darwin Savanna Map

A new revision of Belize's National Ecosystems map has been published by our partner BTFS

Jan Meerman, Director of BTFS explains "The new mapping provides far more detail about the savannas of Belize, since it incorporates the three different types of savanna land cover mapped for the first time by the Darwin project. Whilst the Darwin savanna map provided a significant advance in terms of spatial detail, it had to be incorporated within the framework of a national land cover classification before it could be used meaningfully for land use and conservation planning. That has now been achieved and the entire data set has been delivered to the Government of Belize and its Land Information Center, where it will form part of the new Land Use Strategy.


January 2012: Darwin Initiative Projects recognised in Award Ceremony in Belize

On 19th January, the Darwin Savanna Conservation project and Small Mammal Corridor project were formally thanked in a special Recognition Ceremony marking the first two years of Belize's new Environmental Research Institute at the University of Belize.

Dr Elma Kay, Director of the ERI explained to an audience of some 100 representatives of government, NGO and the international conservation community how "the Darwin projects were important inception projects for this new Environmental Research Institute; these projects enabled us to collaborate with UK scientists and for our staff to receive excellent training to build up our own capacity so we can now continue these biodiversity monitoring activities into the future".

Read more about the Award Ceremony on the ERI Website.


January 2012: New web mapping application allows users to explore savanna collections using maps

A new web mapping interface allows users to query all recorded savanna plant collections in Belize.

Through Google Maps, users can select collections by predefined geographical features such as Districts or Protected Areas. users can also search for collections around town names or define their own areas for searching within. The interface was developed by Go Sato for his MSc dissertation project in GIS in the Institute of Geography at Edinburgh University.


September 2011: Year 3 progress presented to UK-Belize Association

The 14th Meeting of the UK-Belize Association took place on 23rd September in the Senate House of University College, London.

ZoŽ Goodwin explained some of main findings about plant diversity in the Belizean savannas, whilst Neil Stuart illustrated this year's school visits to the Savanna Trail at Belize Botanic Gardens. Neil also announced that the re-curation work on the Belmopan Herbarium was nearing completion thanks to the continuing efforts of the Darwin Botanist, German Lopez.


July 2011: Savanna Project Headlines relaunched Darwin Newsletter

'Conservation of the lowland savanna ecosystem in Belize' is front page feature for the new Darwin Initiative Newsletter, relaunched in July 2011


The Darwin Newsletter, which features projects funded by DEFRA through the Darwin Initiative, is widely circulated throughout the British Government. The short cover story describes ongoing work by the project and is embellished with photographs of some beautiful endemic savanna plants.

The newsletter can be browsed and downloaded at http://darwin.defra.gov.uk/newsletter/DARWIN_NEWS_18.pdf/

15th June 2011: San Pastor Checklist Published

A checklist for the San Pastor Savanna has been published in the Edinburgh Journal of Botany.


The San Pastor Savanna is an isolated patch of upland savanna located in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. This paper presents a checklist of 126 vascular plant species, including 28 new records for the Chiquibul Forest Reserve and one species previously unrecorded for the country. Floristic affinities and vegetation classifications are discussed. The use of the San Pastor Savanna by illegal Chamaedorea (xatť) palm leaf harvesters and evidence of intense pine beetle (Dendroctonus spp.) attack are highlighted.

This paper is based upon a thesis by Jeff Hicks produced as part of his successful completion of the MSc in Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants at the University of Edinburgh and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) in 2007. The paper was then completed for publication by the lead author and by staff at RBGE as part of this Darwin Project.

The paper can also be found here.

13th April 2011: Savanna Science Meeting held at TEC

The Savanna Science Meeting was hosted by the Tropical Education Center (TEC) on Wednesday 13th April.


Researchers and protected area managers met at the TEC to review the present state of knowledge about the biological diversity of the savannas of Belize, to discuss the present state of protection, threats to the savanna and to prioritise areas of significant landscape value.

Attendees were briefed on the botanical, vegetation mapping and soil survey results achieved by the Darwin project, followed by zoological observations made in savanna areas. Discussion then focused on the threats facing savannas and the priority areas in which knowledge is needed to aid their conservation and sustainable management.

Particular thanks are due to the Environmental Research Institute for local organisation and to Belize Tropical Forest Studies for facilitating the meeting. Powerpoint slides presented during the meeting will soon be available on the project website, whilst a report and recommendations from the meeting will be delivered to the ERI and APAMO for circulation amongst their members and onward presentation to relevant bodies such as the Government Forest Department and the National Protected Areas Secretariat.

8th April 2011: Annual Project Partners Meeting held at ERI

The third annual meeting of project partners was held in Belmopan on Friday 8th April.


Hosted by the Environmental Research Institute at the University of Belize the meeting was well attended by project partners. Attendees were briefed about activities and outputs achieved during project year 2 (April 2010 – March 2011) by each partner organisation. Discussion then focused on anticipated activities for the third and final year of the project. Attendees were impressed by the range of achievements during the past year, including not only the completion of the mapping and the botanical database but also the practical resources that had been created such as the plant identification guides and the educational and training resources.

We are grateful to all partners who attended for making it an informative and enjoyable morning. Powerpoint slides from the meeting will soon be available on the project website.

1st April 2011: Darwin Savanna Trail at Belize Botanic Gardens Opens

Belize Botanic Gardens are pleased to announce their Savanna Trail is now open to the public


Thanks to the hard work of the BBG staff, in little more than a year after the initial groundbreaking, the Savanna Trail is now open for visitors

BBG Director, John Pixler explains "The savanna plants have established themselves well in their new habitat. Some, such as the pines will continue to mature over the next few years".

BBG also announced that they will offer free entry to the Gardens every Sunday this year to local Belizeans and will also be arranging visits to the Savanna Trail for local schoolchildren.

25th March 2011: Savanna Plant Database Available Online

The latest version of the database of the lowland savanna plants of Belize developed as part of this Darwin project is now available at the BRAHMS online website hosted by the University of Oxford’s Department of Plant Sciences.


The database contains over 5,000 specimen records from the lowland savanna ecosystem of Belize and 1,500 species names. The data records are a combination of previously published data brought together from a variety of existing data sources and new data collected specifically for this project by staff from Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) of the University of Belize. Information about pre-existing collections has been mined from online herbaria catalogues (MO and E), obtained directly from herbarium specimens (BM and BRH) and sourced from published literature. The database was created by ZoŽ Goodwin (RBGE) and German Lopez (ERI) using the Botanical Research and Herbarium Management System (BRAHMS) software developed by the University of Oxford’s Department of Plant Sciences.

The current iteration of the database available online is not the final version. The final end of project database will be available online in early July 2011 and will be hosted both at the University of Oxford and by the ERI. The copy of the database hosted by the ERI will be updated beyond the lifetime of the project.

The latest version of the project's savanna plant database hosted by BRAHMS online can be found at http://dps.plants.ox.ac.uk/bol/seabelize/Home/Index.

1st February 2011: Savanna Ecosystems Map 2010 published

The Savanna Ecosystems Map 2010 can now be downloaded from websites in the UK and Belize.

The Project has developed an updated map of lowland savanna areas within Belize. The map provides a new baseline for assessing the remaining extent of savanna nationwide, and more detailed information about the composition of different savanna areas to support local management and conservation.


The new mapping, together with explanatory notes for users can be downloaded from our project website, and also from the Belize Environment and Data System (BERDS) website in Belize.

The mapping was created for the project by Dr Iain Cameron using a combination of optical and radar data sets providing currency upto late 2009 for most parts of the country. SPOT data was kindly donated by Planet Action

The new mapping is now being used by BTFS in formulating the new National Integrated Planning Framework for land resource development in Belize. Because the new mapping has finer resolution and identifies more subtypes of savanna than the previous Ecosystems Map of Belize (Meerman, 2005), an updated version of National Ecosystems Map incorporating the new data from this project is being created and is expected to be published in early 2012.

27th January 2011: Botanical Resources for Conservation and Taxonomy – training for the future of Belize

A short course designed to introduce Belizean conservation and research professionals to the process of plant collection and identification through to the production of photoguides, distribution maps and checklists was held at the Environmental Research Institute last week.


During the course participants learnt how to make effective use of three major botanical resources: herbarium specimens, literature and images. Building on the existing knowledge and experience of the participants, the students learnt the need for good quality herbarium specimens and were given practical instruction in plant collecting skills. Participants then learnt how to use taxonomic literature such as checklists, Floras and monographs more effectively, including the use and construction of identification keys. Finally the course covered the use of images in botanical work, and how herbarium specimen data can be applied to produce distribution mapping and conservation assessments.

This course was hosted and organised by the Environmental Research Institute at the University of Belize, training was provided by Dr Elspeth Haston & ZoŽ Goodwin of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and funded by the Darwin Initiative.

9th November 2010: An Introduction to the Vascular Plants of the Belizean Savanna course a success

A short course designed to introduce staff from NGOs to the basic skills of plant identification and specimen collection was held in Paynes Creek National Park last week.


Last week 11 participants from the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) and Ya'axchť Conservation Trust (YCT) attended a course organised by the Enviromental Research Institute (ERI) at the University of Belize in partnership with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE). The course from the 2nd to 5th November was designed to give attendees an introduction to the basic skills and knowledge required to identify plants in the lowland savanna and to collect a herbarium specimen for subsequent confirmation of the identification. During the course students became familiar with the diverse flora of the savanna, including a discussion focusing on some rare and endemic species. Although this course focused on savanna plants, the skills learnt by the students could be applied to the flora of any ecosystem.

The course would not have been possible without the logistical support of TIDE, who hosted the course at Paynes Creek National Park allowing students to readily access a wide variety of savanna plant species in the beautiful savanna habitat surrounding the Paynes Creek Ranger Station. Training was provided by staff from ERI, RBGE and Steven Brewer of the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education who provided his expertise in Belizean ecology for the benefit of the students.

1st October 2010: Savanna Trail at Belize Botanic Gardens Growing Well

The landscaping of the new savanna trail exhibit at Belize Botanic Gardens has only just finished yet already many of the plants are in full bloom.


Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Belize Botanic Gardens staff it is already possible to identify the distinctive zones of wet Eleocharis marsh, open grassland and denser oak and pine woodland. Many of the herbaceous plants collected so far have settled in so well during the start of the rainy season that they are already in full bloom; which is much appreciated by the dozens of butterflies, dragonflies and other insects that are visiting the exhibit already!

The savanna plant collections will continue to develop during the next year with further expeditions to acquire additional species before it becomes open to the public in 2011.

24th September 2010: Darwin Projects present progress at UK-Belize Conference

The 13th UKBA Conference in Oxford heard presentations about both Darwin projects currently taking place in Belize.


Neil Stuart and Patrick Doncaster, the PIs of the two current Darwin Projects in Belize (Savanna conservation and Large Mammal Corridor project, respectively), both gave talks at this years meeting of the UK-Belize Association. The meeting was convened at the University of Oxford's Department of Continuing Education by Caribbean specialist Dr David Howard

The one day meeting, which provides an update on current research projects taking place in Belize, also heard papers from international researchers on topics including Belize's patronage democracy, its 'outsourcing' of nature protection functions, the archaeological history of Ambergris Caye, the environmental history of Lamanai and the affect of the Chalillo Dam project on populations of Scarlet Macaws in the Chiquibul forest.

10th September 2010: Introduction to the Vascular Plants of the Belizean Savanna Course Announced

The Environmental Research Institute at the University of Belize in collaboration with the Darwin Initiative, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and local partners is offering a course entitled: An Introduction to the Vascular Plants of the Belizean Savanna

Interested? See the full course details or download the Full Advert

11th June 2010: Field Season 2 Complete

The second fieldwork period has been completed successfully. Despite an early start to the wet season, over 400 plant specimens were collected and many more observations made at 30 sites across the lowland savannas of Belize during May 2010


Our second field season is now complete. Botanists ZoŽ Goodwin of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and German Lopez of the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) at the University of Belize (UB) surveyed lowland savannas in a field season that ran from 27th April until 5th June. In addition, soil surveys were conducted at nine savanna sites in Northern Belize by Peter Furley and Alex Trevaskis between 22nd and 31st May

Plant surveys were conducted in the lowland savannas on the coastal plains of Stann Creek and Toledo Districts, taking advantage of the dry conditions to access some remote savannas in a region that is very poorly collected botanically. Then focus moved to the North of the country with surveys conducted in the districts of Belize, Orange Walk and Corozal. In total, 30 new sites were surveyed in addition to revisiting five sites from the first field season. Over 400 plant specimens were collected and plant observations recorded in a range of savanna habitats including dry oak and pine dominated savanna woodlands, freshwater marshlands and saline coastal savannas. Access into savanna areas became more difficult in the second half of May due to the early arrival of the wet season; however the fieldwork schedule was completed successfully.

This field season would not have been possible without the logistical support and assistance of various in-country organisations including UB, BFREE, TIDE, PfB and Wildtracks, to whom we extend our gratitude.

03 June 2010: Darwin Botanist make news at Mayan Site

The project was back in the Belize newspapers this week as Zoe Goodwin was invited to make plant collections at the well-known Mayan site of Marco Gonzalez on San Pedro. Zoe was asked by the Director of Excavations, Dr Elizabeth Graham (University College London) to identify flora and fauna at the site. The information will be used by the Department of Archaeology and the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) who are working to protect the site from development and have it turned into a reserve with an educational and visitor center for tourism.

Read the full article as it appears in the San Pedro Sun

Although we already work closely with the Forest Department, the universities and the NGO sector, working on high profile sites such as Marco Gonzalez allows us to demonstrate to the Department of Environment, the Minister of Tourism and to members of local Town Councils how field botany helps in the creation and sustainable use of reserves

20 May 2010: Training in Field Survey and GPS well received by staff from University of Belize

The course showed the researchers how to combine the benefits of field surveying for accurately laying out plots and measuring features, with the benefits of GPS for establishing the absolute position and orientation of the plot within a co-ordinate reference system


On the 19-20th May, Duncan Moss and Neil Stuart from Edinburgh University gave a practical training course entitled Field Survey and GPS Techniques for Environmental Scientists to the staff of the Environmental Research Institute. The course was designed in response to requests from ERI staff for a practically based course to assist them with laying out sampling plots, recording locations of features within such plots unambiguously and allowing researchers to return to plots to monitor changes in recorded features at future dates.

The group, which comprised staff members Santos Chicas and Eduardo Barrientos from UB and Celso Cawich and German Lopez from the ERI, followed an enjoyable schedule of field based and classroom based activities, learning how to set out precise rectangular plots of 40x40m or greater using prisms and tapes and recording positions of features within plots to within 10cm accuracy. They also learnt how averaging methods can be used to improve the positional accuracy of handheld GPS and the group compared the accuracy of the ground survey and GPS for providing individual point locations in order to devise the best solution for use in the field. The course also introduced a variety of utilities that can assist field scientists in downloading and manipulating GPS observations.

14 May 2010: Preview of Savanna Map at Annual Partner Meeting

Project partners had a further chance to see the progress of the new national savanna map when they attended the 2nd Annual Partners Meeting in Belmopan on 14th May.


A near-final version of the new savanna mapping was shown to all partners attending the 2nd Annual Partner Meeting on 14th May. The new mapping is being produced from a mosaic of 5 SPOT images supplied by our partner Planet Action. Iain Cameron has analysed these images to create a new nationwide classification in which many of the land cover types found within savannas, such as open grasslands, pine woodlands and wetlands with shrubs and trees are discriminated for the first time. The map is intended to support conservation planning and management of savanna areas throughout Belize. Identifying six classes of savanna vegetation throughout the country, the new map is intended for presentation at between 1:250,000 to 1:50,000 scale.

Jan Meerman from Belize Environmental Data Services (BERDS) and author of the widely used National Ecosystems Map of Belize, explained that Iain’s work to process and to classify the satellite imagery has now been completed and that Jan has now taken delivery of the new mapping from Edinburgh University. Over the next six months, BERDS will now undertake a careful comparison of the new savanna map against existing mapping and ground observations to validate the mapping before it is made available for general release via the BERDS website in early 2011.

25th March 2010: Savanna Specimens on Display at RBGE

The launch demonstration of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s ‘Behind the Scenes at the Botanics’ featured a herbarium specimen mounting demonstration that featured Belizean savanna plant specimens collected by past MSc students.


‘Behind the Scenes at the Botanics’ is a regular weekly event where visitors can find out about what goes on at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE). The first session on Wednesday 24th March focused on the plants of the Belizean savanna. Taking the form of a herbarium mounting demonstration by RBGE staff member Jane Corrie, Jane discussed with members of the public about the process and function of mounting plant specimens. This was accompanied by Jane’s stories about the plants, the area they come from and the importance of herbarium specimens to the work of RBGE.

These demonstration sessions will be continued at the Real Life Science Studio in the John Hope Gateway between 2-3pm on the following dates: March 31st, April 21st, April 28th, May 5th, May 19th and May 26th.

22nd January 2010: Basic Herbarium User Course a Success

A three day course delivered at the Environmental Resources Institute (ERI) in Belmopan by experts from the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE) successfuly taught staff from local NGOs the basics of herbarium taxonomy.


A three day course delivered by curators of the herbarium of the RBGE taught attendees the basics of how to use a herbarium. The course was held jointly at University of Belize Belmopan campus and at the Forest Department herbarium from the 19th to the 21st of January 2010. Attendees included staff from many of Belize’s environmental NGOs, students from University of Belize and academic researchers from Mexico. Delegates learnt about herbarium taxonomy and gained practical experience of how a herbarium can be of use to them in disciplines such as conservation management and forestry. They also gained experience in identifying plants using literature and were introduced to a range of online resources that can continue to aid them throughout their working careers.

17th January 2010: Botanical Field Course a Success

23 students braved wet weather to attend a field course to learn about field botany and plant collection.

The University of Edinburgh MSc Biodiversity & Taxonomy of Plants field course was held from the 7th to the 17th of January 2010 (10 days) at Hill Bank research station, in the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area, Orange Walk District. Taught by experts from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), the course was primarily focused on tropical field botany & was designed to teach students the following skills:

  1. Botanical field experience and skills in plant collecting and specimen processing.
  2. Qualitative and quantitative habitat survey techniques.
  3. Detailed and rapid ecological assessments.
  4. Vegetative and floristic characters of some of the important tropical plant families and genera, and to understand the processes involved in field identification.

23 students braved wet weather to attend the course. Attendees included international students from seven countries from the MSc Biodiversity & Taxonomy of Plants (taught at the RBGE) and four Belizean nationals: German Lopez (University of Belize), Celeshia Guy (student, University of Belize), Federico Choc (student, University of Belize) & Freddy Tut (Belize Botanic Gardens). The students learnt a great deal from the course, gaining experience of Belizean ecology and field botany, as well as Belizean culture and history. The RBCMA provided the ideal location for this course due to the variety of forests, wetlands and savannas that surround the field station.

Delivering this comprehensive course at the Hillbank Station would not have been possible without the combination of the expertise of the staff of Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, the support of the Darwin Savanna conservation project and the valuable logistical organisation provided by the Programme for Belize.

27th November 2009: Introduction to Herbarium Curation Course Announced

University of Belize & Forest Department Herbarium, Belmopan

19th-21st January 2010

As part of your studies or job you may need to identify plants. One of the easiest ways to identify plants is to make a dried specimen of the plant and compare it to the plant specimens which are kept in a herbarium.

This is an introductory course designed to provide attendees with the basic skills & knowledge to make use of a herbarium.

Interested? Full details here

1st November 2009: First Field Season Complete


Our first field season in Belize is now complete. Over September 2009 Neil Stuart, Duncan Moss, Iain Cameron, ZoŽ Goodwin, Sam Bridgewater and Peter Furley initiated our in country activities, with Zoe staying on till late October.

Our objectives were: 1) To coordinate with and strengthen our relationships with Belizean organisations; 2) Conduct a rapid reconnaissance of savannas across Belize and; 3) Start detailed botanical survey.

The first field trip was a clear success with new connections made with a number of Belizean organisations which we will be developing throughout the project. 17 sites were visited during the reconnaissance and a further 9 sites were visited for detailed botanical survey. On the 16th Sept the Flight Army Air Corps very kindly provided a 2-hour helicopter overflight, which gave an invaluable perspective on of the southern coastal savannas. These insights will be invaluable for planning the next phase of in-country activity

26th October 2009: Poster Presentation at MSBC Belize City

Poster on the provisional mapping of the savanna ecosystem from SPOT imagery presented at the 13th International congress of the Mesoamerican Society for Biology and Conservation in Belize City.

You can see a reduced size copy of our poster here.

3rd September 2009: Project Launch Event at the British High Commission, Belmopan Belize.


A launch party for our project and the Darwin Belize large mammal corridor project was hosted by the British High Commissioner at his residence in Belmopan, Belize. Over 50 delegates attended from national and international NGOs, government agencies, British Forces and private institutions involved in savanna conservation. This has already proven its value as an excellent opportunity to connect with interested parties in Belize and get the message out.

01 July 2009: ZoŽ Goodwin joins project

The project welcomes ZoŽ Goodwin to the staff in the capacity of full-time research assistant. ZoŽ is a botanist based at RBGE who will lead the field collection, identification and curation of botanical samples collected in Belize. In addition she will be involved in botanical and taxonomic training and knowledge transfer activities. We are very lucky to have someone with as wide a range of skills and in country experience as ZoŽ, and look forward to working with her.

05 May 2009: Planet action support project

Planet Action is a non-for-profit collaborative initiative launched in June 2007 by Spot Image. Its purpose is to encourage the Earth Observation industry and geographic information professional communities to help and tackle the climate change related issues.

They have kindly agreed to provide our project with 6 high-resolution SPOT scenes of the savannas of Belize, which will form the base dataset for the mapping element of our project. Planet action partners ESRI have also provided us with 2 ArcGIS licences for the duration of the project. These awards greatly enhance our abilities to meet the project objectives. You can visit our Planet Action project website to find out more.

01 April 2009: News Release

Researchers seek to protect Belize's savanna ecosystem

It is one of the most fragile ecosystems in Central America now steps are being taken to ensure the rich plant and animal life found in the savannas of Belize does not disappear.

Scientists will help protect the region's biodiversity by identifying priority conservation zones that will be safeguarded from the effects of excessive farming and forestry.

Although Belize is already taking steps to develop protected areas, little is known about the ecosystems of many of its savanna regions.

The new three-year study, led by the University of Edinburgh (UoE) and the University of Belize (UB), will map and classify vegetation in those regions, helping planners to make informed decisions as to where conservation work should be targeted.

Data will be used to identify hotspots for conservation, as well as areas that are more suitable for broader economic use. The study builds on UoE research work that has been carried out in Belize since the early 1960s and on the long standing partnership between UoE and UB. UB faculty and students in the Natural Resources Management Program will be involved in the project.

Dr. Neil Stuart, of the School of Geosciences, said: Whilst Belize recognises the importance of conserving its savanna ecosystems, it lacks the necessary information to pin down which areas must be considered priorities for conservation. This project will help to ensure the country's most biodiverse and ecologically valuable savanna areas can be protected."

The project is a collaboration between the UoE, UB and several other international and local organizations including the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh, the Belize Forest Department and the Belize Botanic Garden. The study has been funded by the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Darwin Initiative.

Dr. Elma Kay, Assistant Professor in the Natural Resources Management Programme at UB, said: Through this collaborative effort we not only get to produce information for the sustainable use and protection of vulnerable ecosystems such as savannas, which usually receive little attention, but we also get to build local capacity and expertise in taxonomy and the use of geographic information systems.

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