The 2019 Nyika-Vwaza (UK) Trust Lecture and Social Evening

Report on Annual Lecture and Social Evening – Wednesday 6 November 2019

“The Role of Environmental Education in Conservation in Malawi” – talk by Jonny Vaughan


Who better to talk at our autumn event than Jonny Vaughan, CEO of the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (LWT), who run the environmental education programme for the Nyika Plateau and Vwaza Marsh? He knows, more than anyone, the possibilities and challenges of conservation in the north of Malawi, though he is always quick to credit his very able team.

He started by quoting Senegalise forestry engineer Baba Dioum’s words from a major conservation convention in 1968: “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”

There has been huge growth in environmental understanding, but Jonny posed the question of whether it has made any difference? It seems that Malawi has seen significant deforestation and a decline in fish stocks since Dioum’s inspirational words, so do we need to reach more people or do things differently? Climate change is adding to the woes, with animals bereft of habitat, water and food forced to eat community crops to satisfy their hunger. No wonder then that human-wildlife conflict exists.

LWT started in 2007 as an animal sanctuary and is now a registered trust in both Malawi and the UK with around 115 staff with a mission to “Safeguard Malawi’s wildlife and empower guardians of the wild”. The environmental education programme, part funded by NVT UK, aims to create the next generation of conservationists. To do that, the subject needs to be included in mainstream formal education. That is starting to happen, but it is slow and remains an aspiration and LWT wants learning to take place outside the classroom and to give people direct experience of wildlife.

You may have read the impressive statistics of numbers of people sensitised (made aware) to the impact of wild life crime in previous newsletters, and Jonny was able to add a whole rich layer of meaning. We are in stage 2 of the programme and the difference in this stage is a significant increase in the number of individuals and adults interacting with nature. This harks back to Dioum’s quote about the importance of understanding. The transition is to a more holistic approach of education and prevention. Shifting from issues-led campaigns to behaviour change has meant working at high level with government officials and magistrates in Malawi. The law has been strengthened, with the National Parks and Wildlife Act resulting in the more serious wildlife crimes carrying prison sentences of up to 30 years. Since the act there have been 383 wildlife crime arrests and 1623 kg of ivory have been seized. This has been achieved by institutional change, not just change at poacher level. It takes serious skills to poach an elephant and these are only found by adding the know-how of organised groups to the local knowledge of the hands-on poacher.

Hearing Jonny talk about what has been achieved was very encouraging and to hear about what might still be done was inspirational. His leadership in this field has been recognised when he was awarded an MBE in April 2019. It was pleasing to see many young people in the audience who have either already been to Malawi or now wish to go there and do their bit to become guardians of the wild by helping more people to understand.