The Gurkha Memorial Forest - honouring loyalty and valour.
As we are only too aware, the Climate Emergency is well and truly upon us and time is fast running out to save our lovely planet. The latest report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes for bleak reading. We are advised of the need for "rapid and deep" emissions reductions in "all sectors" of the global economy if we are to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. This advice at a time when emissions are continuing to rise rather than decrease.
Certainly it's a case of all of us doing our bit and, whilst our charity has limited scope to reduce our emissions, we can make a worthwhile contribution through planting trees. That's why in 2020 we called for a "Decade of Action" through which we will plant at least 1,000,000 trees in Nepal by 2030. This urgent programme will be comprised of a series of projects, the next of which will be The Gurkha Memorial Forest that will launch on the 28th May.
Community-based reforestation projects
Our programme has got off to a fabulous start! In May 2020 we began the restoration of a community forest at Bhatighadi, north of Janakpur, Dhanusha District. This 2.5-year project has been largely funded by the McGough Foundation in the UK (£132k), with saplings donated by the Department of Forestry (DFO). The project was implemented by the Bhatighadi Community Forest Users' Group (CFUG) supported by our NGO partner, The Mithila Wildlife Trust (MWT). In August 2021 this CFUG was awarded the Ganeshman Singh Prize - presented by the Prime Minister of Nepal - as the top CFUG out of 22,000 nationally. In March 2021 we launched a second, parallel, project at the nearby Murgiya Hariyali community forest with a further investment of £67k over 1.5 years by the McGough Foundation and continued donation of saplings by the DFO. In total, 77,700 saplings have been planted through these two projects. This work received prominent coverage in The Nepali Times, coming at a time when these community areas so badly needed paid work that would offer COVID lockdown relief.
In December 2021 we launched our third project as we began the development of The Dhanushadham Bird Park project. The concept was to create a small bird reserve by reforesting a small amount of public land near Dhanushadham village in southeast Nepal. This would involve pioneering in Nepal the rapid-growth Miyawaki Method that is ideal for creating dense small forests, these growing ten times faster than conventional forests. The Method has already been used in India, the UK, Holland and Germany. This project is being conducted over three Phases as funds become available. Phase 1 started in December, Phase 2 will begin later this month and Phase 3, subject to funding being secured, in May. The project has generated intense interest, helped along by centre-page coverage in the Nepali Times. Already there have been consultancy requests to MWT, including from the EU office in Kathmandu which aims to go carbon-neutral by funding a Miyawaki forest in Kathmandu valley that MWT will implement.
Since June 2020 we have planted 112,000 saplings, so, we are well on course to reach our one million saplings target.
Remembering our Gurkha friends
Over the course of this decade we will also be losing the last of the 120,000 Gurkha veterans who served so heroically in the British and Indian armies in the Second World War. Twelve Gurkha officers and soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry. We believe that these remarkable men should not be allowed to "fade away" without recognition of their valour, loyalty and contribution towards the fight for freedom that we all enjoy. So, as soon as funds become available, we will start planting saplings - one for each Gurkha who served with such distinction.
The forest will serve a dual purpose, for as well as commemorating heroism we will also be sequestering carbon and enhancing the natural environment. For we will be creating a wildlife corridor that will follow the course of the Baluwa river, running 10km south from our Bhatighadi plantation in the Chure range of hills before turning southwest for 2 km to connect with the Dhanushadham Protected Forest (DPF). DPF is an important last vestige of the forests that once covered the southern plains (Terai). This umbilical cord will cross flat arable land, providing cover along what is already a migratory route for wild elephants, sloth bears, hyenas, leopards and a range of other endangered animals. Tree cover will reduce the likelihood of human-wildlife conflicts. The reforestation will take place over two five-year phases. Phase 1 will involve reforesting the section that runs southwest, Phase 2 will see plantations taking root on the banks of the Baluwa river.
The Phase 1 development will consist of 12 Miyawaki forests within the southwest strip (one for each VC), interspersed with conventional plantations. The former will require land purchase by MWT to ensure that these can remain as long-term memorials. The latter will involve reforesting privately owned farmland, as we encourage local agreement by providing saplings that can yield non-timber forest products such as fruit and essential oils. Phase 2 is likely to consist of the 18-19 tree species that will be donated free of charge by DFO.
Upon completion, the project will incorporate the following elements:
- Forests with associated trails that allow visitors to access display panels relating to environmental history and wildlife
- A visitor centre that will:
- Tell the Gurkha story
- Give environmental and conservation information, including about the wildlife corridor
- Describe the project, project partners and how it fitted into our broader fight against climate change
- Offer merchandise, including goods made by Lily's Leaves, the Kathmandu-based social enterprise that we support.
- Art work - specifically a mosaic mural dedicated to the Gurkhas. This will be designed by Philip Holmes and constructed by deaf young people whom Philip has trained in mosaic techniques. The mural will be up to 25m in length. Quite an artistic statement!
Aside from our local partners in Nepal, we are thrilled to be working alongside:
- The Gurkha Museum in Winchester which is providing an historical input through archive material and imagery.
- The London-based non-profit Community Beyond Construction that will be designing the future visitor centre
- Leading media company Ocean Outdoor which has awarded us £500k in free advertising for one year on digital display screens in prime locations across the UK. This is part of their "Drops in the Ocean" programme.
- Design agency Outbrand will be providing pro bono design support for the display screens
- Our corporate sponsor VICTVS will be sponsoring our launch event on the 28th May at The Cinnamon Club in Westminster, attended by Dame Joanna Lumley DBE. It should be noted that this event is for those involved in implementing the project/campaign and towards attracting new individual supporters, Foundations and corporates. With a special Nepali vegan lunch prepared by BBC MasterChef, Santosh Shah (whose home is close to the forest location), we seem to have all the ingredients for success!
We will publish more information on the fundraising campaign nearer the time, but we are aiming to raise a total of £2 million over the lifetime of the project - that's £2 per sapling. The project should be fully sustainable beyond that through revenue earned by MWT from visitors. Indeed, we expect to generate a profit that will allow the reforestation work to proceed at other sites.
Nepal is the ninth most affected country in the world by climate change. The Gurkha Memorial Forest will be a very special project that will allow us to help those who are in the frontline of natural disasters while commemorating those who once stood in the frontline for us. Veterans like Captain Ram Bahadur Limbu VC, the last surviving Gurkha VC holder whom I had the great honour of meeting at his home in east Nepal in February.