Watching sustainable logging, seeing humming birds and caiman, visiting Brazilian homes - Lancaster’s first student field trip to the Amazon.  

First stop for the sixteen undergraduate and masters students was the city of Belém at the mouth of the Amazon, before traveling on to the Jari region of Brazil to study biodiversity, urbanisation and development issues.

“We wanted to explore a microcosm of Amazonia,” said Dr Luke Parry, who has spent the last ten years studying human-wildlife interactions in the region. “Knowing the area well, we could help the students understand it from both the human and environmental points of view.”

The students, whose are studying either Geography or Ecology and Conservation, learnt about rural-urban development issues. They visited rural communities, urban neighbourhoods under construction and homes in established neighbourhoods, talking to families about their work, aspirations and access to public services.  

Luke focused on the human geography aspect of the trip while Dr Jos Barlow, a colleague from Lancaster Environment Centre, led on the ecology of the region which he has been researching since 2003. 

Challenging assumptions

“The idea was to challenge them, question their assumptions and to encourage the geographers to become ecologists and the ecologists to become geographers, to see the world through another lens,” said Luke.

“It helps them understand the place as a system, the interaction between people and the environment, rather than looking at scattered unconnected case studies. We wanted students to see linkages and challenges and grasp the fallacy of silver bullet solutions. You can’t easily solve the Amazon's social and environmental challenges.”

“Initially I found the multi-disciplined approach of the trip challenging and was sceptical of the role human geography had to play in ecology and conservation,” said third year Ecology and Conservation student Arran Greenop. “However, after visiting the rural communities and seeing the forestry operations I found the human aspects of the trip increasingly more interesting.” 

“It provided me with a deeper insight into how humans are reliant on the rainforests for their livelihood. Before the trip I was aware of this reliance but I still felt they should be conserved in a pristine state regardless of the affect that would have on human populations.

“Key experiences from the trip - including visiting a small holding farm and receiving fresh bananas from plantations on areas of slash and burn forest, plus visiting Brazil nut groves and seeing how this non-timber forest product supported a large network of people from both rural communities and towns - changed my opinion.

“I now understand that the conservation of tropical forests will only be possible if the relationships between people and forests are taken into account.”

Logging, carbon storage and biodiversity

The students explored ways in which standing tropical forests have value, either for local people, forestry companies, or as a global ecosystem service in terms of biodiversity conservation or the storage and sequestration of carbon.

The students were able to evaluate the logging of tropical forests first hand, visiting a sustainable forest management operation and witnessing the company felling and removing the valuable hardwoods from the forest.

They then visited a protected area, to assess ways in which we can measure biodiversity in pristine forests as well as finding out about the politics involved in environmental protection.

“It was a pleasure to be able to show the students the bird and tree species I started researching a decade ago” said Dr Jos Barlow. “The Jari ecological station is incredibly beautiful, but it is also very difficult to get to. Lancaster university students were one of just three groups to visit last year”.

Entomologist Professor Julio Louzada, who works jointly for the Federal University of Lavras in Brazil and Lancaster University, helped show the students the incredible invertebrate diversity within the ecological station, where he manages a biodiversity project run by the two universities. 

The academics were supported by an expert tracker, who works for the research project and took the students into the forest to give them first hand experience of the insects, birds and mammals of the region.. 

“For me the highlight of the trip was visiting the pristine primary rainforest in the nature reserve,” said Arran. “Seeing animals such as Hummingbirds and Caiman and hearing the wealth of noises from Howler Monkeys and birds such as the Screaming Piha was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.”

The students themselves had helped shape the field trip during preparation seminars on sustainability, environmental policy and environmental justice before they left Lancaster. They developed the questions they wanted answering, which became the basis of their work while in the Amazon. 

The field trip is now set to become an annual event. Lancaster Environment Centre students get many opportunities to go on field trips, in the beautiful countryside surrounding Lancaster, and further afield in the UK and abroad.