As East African countries marked Labour Day on May 1st, communities living around the Kenyan coastal region were making history. Through a partnership with local communities, The LEAF Charity, Kivukoni Indigenous Tree Nursery, Pwani University, and Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI, based out of Kew in London) engaged in the most biodiverse native tree-planting event in East African History.
The record-breaking tree-planting event saw 1,000 trees planted from 127 native species. Out of these, thirty Percent of the species are threatened or are coastal forest endemics (only found there!), 7 of them are vulnerable, 3 are endangered and one is a critically endangered species for which only a handful of individuals left in the wild. To ensure the survival of species, The LEAF is using modern techniques to clone such exceptionally rare individuals and ensure their survival ex-situ, with the eventual hope of restoring this species in situ.
Terming the event as a significant milestone in addressing the biodiversity crisis and the conservation of indigenous trees, BGCI and KEFRI (Kenya Forestry Research Institute) officials hailed the exercise as historical. “This is a record for the number of species planted on a single day in East Africa’s history.”
Dr Harry Fonseca Williams, The LEAF Chair, noted that the event will have a big impact. “In 20 years, this will have grown to be a small but incredibly biodiverse forest, supporting an array of wildlife we can’t even imagine, compared to the desert wasteland we had previously,” said the LEAF Chair.
The First Project is at Pwani University in Kilifi County in the Kenyan coastal region. The region is a biodiversity hotspot with 100% of its endemic (i.e., species restricted to the region) predicted to go extinct by 2050 without intervention. Pwani University has a population of approximately 8,000, most of whom are Kenyan students. The project aims at restoring the habitat to make a native forest and sequester carbon. It also serves as an entry point for most of the students, allowing them to join the planting area, get involved in biodiversity conservation, and become embedded in the conservation community that the organization is fostering in the area. The project also brings in local schools to teach them about conservation issues the world is facing and the part they can play in improving our situation.
While gracing the occasion, Norbert Rottcher, the Director Kivukoni Indigenous Tree Nursery, observed that they have created the beginnings of a protected and restored coastal forest inside the university’s grounds. “We hope that the Pwani Forest will continue to be planted and be allowed to expand, so that future generations of students will be inspired and get research opportunities from it as well as providing a safe repository of species for the future restoration of Kenya’s coastal forest heritage,” explained Nobert.
David Bartholomew, the Director of Science for LEAF, observed that the inclusion of native and threatened tree species in reforestation programs is important to restore fully functioning forests. “By including a wide range of tree species in our work, we will be able to recover the important functions that forests provide to local communities and the wider planet,” said David while appreciating the diverse nature and significance of the event.
The event, which was meant to draw the attention of tree planters away from the sheer numbers of trees and aimed instead at sensitizing the communities on the importance of diverse native forests. The diversity of native trees that were planted and the inclusion of threatened tree species are important steps towards habitat restoration. LEAF also describes diverse forests as much more resilient and stand a far better chance of surviving in the face of climate change. The organization observed that planting non-native tree species brings virtually no benefits to local fauna, fungi, and other flora.
Oscar Mwaura, LEAF Project Lead, acknowledged the participation of various parties including the university community, adding that this shows the enthusiasm of fraternity in the restoration of the habitat. “It was a great event with over 50 volunteers, students, casual workers, and university staff members joining wholeheartedly with their great love for trees,” explained Oscar, terming the event as historical not only in Kenya but also in East Africa at large.
About The LEAF Charity
The LEAF Charity works with local communities around the world to protect habitats and promote reforestation. With expertise in botany, zoology, marine biology, finance, conservation and sustainability, The LEAF Charity uses its diverse knowledge to make changes to the planet for the better.