In April of this year we at A Rocha Kenya have had the opportunity to resume/restart an exciting project in the Gede Ruins, a thirteenth-seventeenth century stone city, which is surrounded by a 44 hectare patch of forest (Robertson et al 2002). In the 1980′s the Gede village, surrounding the ruins, was expanding, and the forest surrounding the ruins was being cleared for cultivation, poles, and firewood (Robertson et al 2002), which stopped in 1991 once the Museum constructed a fence around the forest to protect it. A botanist living in Malinidi, Ann Robertson, worked with a curator at the museum, Mathias Ngonyo to replant a 5 hectare patch of the heavily degraded land with indigenous trees, with the end goal of restoring the land back to a healthy tropical dry forest.
After planting, the heights of the trees and the diameter at breast height of trees where d > 1 cm, were measured with the idea of obtaining valuable growth rate data, as nobody had previously studied growth rates of indigenous tropical dry forest tree species. These measurements were gathered annually each year after planting, starting in 1992 up through 1997.
Enter A Rocha Kenya….The project we are now involved in is a continuation of the project started by Ann and Mathias 20 years ago. The location of each planted tree was mapped, and with Mathias’ help a team from ARK has been able to go back through and re-label all of the trees, and thanks to Professor David MacFarlane (Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution from Rutgers University 2001, and current Associate Professor of Foresty at Michigan State University) take tree height and DBH measurements for all of the surviving trees which were planted. With support from the National Museums of Kenya, partnering with KEFRI (Kenya Forestry Research Institute), a team of entomologists led by Professor John Banks Ph.D. (Director of international programs and Director, Office of Undergraduate Education) and Professor David MacFarlane, we are hoping to gain a valuable data set on tropical dry forest growth rates, regrowth, and recruitment success of the trees, as well as examining the insect and bird species richness and biodiversity. It is an exciting project to be involved in, as nothing like his has been been done in tropical dry forests at least in Kenya, possibly all of East Africa. In the immediate are we have traditional slash and burn farms, we have our plot of regenerated forest, and we have the 400 year old forest surrounding the ruins to compare with each other.
Currently, Phase I of the project has been completed, basically re-labeling, recording, and measuring the status, height, and DBH of all the planted trees. The next phase, Phase II is going to be going back through the plot and measuring the recruits which have come in naturally, as well as assigning a competition index to each tree, both planted and recruit, to gain a better understanding of what could potentially be affecting growth rates across the study site.
It is true that when you plant a tree, you are blessing generations to come. Thanks to Ann and Mathias and their hard work we regularly encounter Suni, Fischer’s Turaco, Hadada Ibis, African Goshawks, Little Sparrowhawks, the occasional Bush-buck, and the endangered Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew while doing field work in the regenerated plot. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now…
Ann and her husband, Ian, came and visited the plot last month for the first time in close to 15 years. It was incredibly special to see her eyes light up, and listen to her tell stories about how the plot used to be, and to see her stand next to trees she planted years ago, enjoying their shade and relaxing out of the hot sun. Their way of saying “Thank You” to a woman with vision and conviction.
Robertson, A. Hankamer, C. Ngonyo, M. “Restoration of a Small Tropical Coastal Forest in Kenya: Gede National Monument Forest Restoration Project.” in: Plant Conservation in the Tropics: perspectives and practice. The Royal Botanical Gardens. 2002.