Aberdeen PhD student Jasper Kenter has recently won two prestigious European awards for his research in the Solomon Islands, a remote island chain in the South Pacific Ocean.
The prizes include the first ‘European spotlight on student research award’ by the Society for Conservation Biology, and the European Society for Ecological Economics prize for best student paper.
Jasper’s paper on valuing Solomon Islands rainforests was also recently published in the scientific journal Global Environmental Change, one of the top journals in environmental studies.
Jasper said “I received the economics prize during a conference, and I had not been told in advance, so it really took me by surprise.
“I am happy to have received the awards because they give my research a lot of extra exposure.
“It helps in getting the message across that we really need to understand how valuable nature is, and that we simply can’t afford to go on degrading it.”
Jasper is jointly based at Oceanlab and the Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability (ACES).
His ongoing research looks at why nature is important to people, and the economic benefits that nature brings, such as clean water, healthy soil, food and building materials. His particular focus is on developing novel methods for establishing these economic benefits through involvement of local people.
“Jasper’s research is highly innovative,” says Professor Martin Dieterich from the German University of Hohenheim, European president of the Society for Conservation Biology. “It has potentially remarkable implications for nature conservation and human development in the Solomon Islands.”
“Rainforests in the Solomon Islands have one of the highest numbers of rare and unique plants and animals in the world, but they are threatened by logging, mining and an increase in the growth of cash crops such as cocoa and oil palms,” explains Jasper.
“Local people have a sophisticated knowledge of their environment but at the same time they are challenged by the many changes happening. To manage forests sustainably we need research and development projects that involve and engage local people and respect traditional culture."
"It is quite rare for economic studies to take an interest in local culture and an approach that really recognises that local people have the capacity to address sustainability issues," says Dr Mark Reed, acting director of and Jasper's supervisor at ACES.
"The type of approach that Jasper is developing is crucial, because it can really make the huge benefits of conservation clear to both locals, and outsiders. That really improves the chances of long-term survival of forests."
Dr Martin Solan, Jasper's supervisor at Oceanlab, says that many of the insights of Jasper's research are not only valid for tropical islands.
"They have a much broader use. These techniques are also helping us understand how people in Scotland can adapt to the consequences of environmental change, such as rising sea levels and more extreme weather.
“The fact that Jasper has received recognition from both an economic and a biological conservation society reflects the importance and long term benefit of this kind of work."