14 October 2017

Kenya: Restoring a Degraded Ecosystem At Brackenhurst

The well-kept grounds and neighbouring forest of Brackenhurst Hotel create a serene environment for visitors and conference guests. But few know that the flourishing woods are the result of restoration of the ecosystem.

Located about 40km outside of Nairobi, Brackenhurst started as a settler-owned farm in 1914. Exotic grevillea and eucalyptus trees were planted to dry up the land and make it suitable for farming.

The exotic forest soon became a "silent plantation" with the absence of birds and animals. The land was so degraded that the river and marshland dried up.

Mark Nicholson, the director of Plants for Life, a Kenyan NGO that has been driving the restoration project, approached the management of Brackenhurst and suggested converting it to a forest.

In 2000, he embarked on a 30-year project to turn a 40-acre section of the plantation back to upland habitat. To restore the land, the team identified suitable trees.

"We looked at nearby patches of native forest and the Getamayu forest on the southern Aberdares mountain, then copied it," Nicholson said.

The reforestation plan was accomplished in stages, beginning with pioneer species, fast-growing and short-lived plants.

"Once you have the shade, you can grow the climax canopy plants. We started with grass species and the forest species," said Nicholson. Slow-growing and long-lasting canopy trees have thrived.

Approximately 90,000 trees have been planted so far, and visitors can enjoy a stroll through leaf-strewn paths under tall canopies, passing blooming shrubs and butterflies.

You can hear birds chirping, and the occasional call of colobus monkeys that have returned. The river now flows again, benefitting the forest and the communities downstream.

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