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Nature walks for conservation and awareness in Mauritius

Volume 5 Number 2 - July 2008

P Khurun

The Forestry Service of the Ministry of gro-Industry and Fisheries is the oldest institution on the island of Mauritius. Established in 1777 by the Dutch, the aim of the Forestry Service was the logging of timber species such as ebony (Diospyros spp.) and other native species like tatamaka (Calophyllum inophyllum), and bois de natte (Labourdonnaisia glauca). Forests were also cleared to make room for the early settlers and their infrastructural as well as agricultural developments. During this process of colonization, the introduction of exotic species of fauna and flora caused a misbalance in the natural ecosystem of the island. As a result, the very survival of native species was called into question and many are now threatened with extinction. Conservation and sensitisation campaigning for conservation awareness have always been a major part of the work of the Forestry Service. Being a small island, land space is a limiting factor for development and the conservation of forest areas is a challenge. Efforts for conservation have been multi-pronged, including in situ and ex situ conservation activities, awareness programmes and re-afforestation programmes. The article below showcases two concrete examples of conservation activities undertaken in urban areas that contribute to our efforts to preserve our biodiversity.

The Monvert Nature Walk

Monvert Nature Walk, located about 3 km from the city centre of Curepipe, was a highly degraded native forest, heavily infested by invasive alien species like Psidium cattlelianum, Ardisia crenata, Ravenala madagascariensis and Rubus alceifolius with two industrial installations and a cattle farm in its neighbourhood. Without intervention, Monvert forest would have ended up as either an industrial site or a grazing area. However with a view to provide a recreational facility for the city dwellers and extend conservation efforts, the Monvert Nature Walk was conceived by the Forestry Service.

Efforts to rehabilitate the forest were initiated in 2003, with the removal of the invasive alien species in small parcels of the forest area. On-site training was provided to the labourers to help them properly identify native plant species and with the supervision of Forest Officers, care was taken to ensure no damage was caused to native species. In parallel, the Forestry Service started a propagation programme for plants that would be used for enrichment planting. Over a period of three years, the invasive species were removed and appropriate native species were re-introduced into the open spaces. The species that were used for enrichment planting in the nature walk were from a predetermined list of plants that used to occur naturally within that area, including trees, shrubs and ground cover. Some tree species that were introduced are listed in Table 1. The rehabilitation of the forest was followed by the creation of trails leading to various points of interest, such as ponds, rare plants and view points of the forest and marshes. The tracing out of the trails was one of the most challenging tasks, since new trails had to be created through the forest while causing minimal disturbances to the key areas of interest. Some additional infrastructures were also installed for the convenience of the visitors and trekkers. There include two kiosks, one elevated platform to have a bird’s eye view of the area and a boardwalk. Coupled with this Nature Walk, the Forestry Service also created a Visitor Centre with audiovisual facilities, and this compound has been converted into an arboretum, with a fernery and an open-air lecture theatre. The Visitor Centre has a photographic collection of native flora and fauna with information in a simple language emphasizing why conservation is important. The audiovisual centre runs two tailor-made films, regarding conservation activities, the importance of mountains and their role as water-catchment areas and how to conserve nature. Two Forest Officers are attached to the Visitor Centre to assist visitors and to act as guides. The audio-visual room is also a meeting place where small workshops and training courses in conservation, eco-tourism and awareness raising can be held.

The compound of the Visitor Centre has been landscaped exclusively with endemic/indigenous plants and all the plants have been properly labelled with their names and description. The plant species that were introduced into the arboretum were selected from a list of plants that have been classified as Critically Endangered and in need of ex situ conservation action. A list of critically endangered plants cultivated in the arboretum is provided in Table 2. The fernery has a collection of native species of ferns and orchids. It is the only fernery on the island and here one can view a collection of some 250 species of ferns together with 86 species of orchids, all in one place. Since its creation, the Monvert Nature Walk has welcomed many types of visitors, including students, families, tourists and nature lovers. On an average the Monvert Nature Walk receives around 40,000 visitors annually. The recreation of the native vegetation at Monvert Forest can be said to have been successful up to now. However the rehabilitation work continues as the recurrence of invasive alien species is constant. A team of 18 labourers is attached to the Nature Walk to continue with weeding exercises as an ongoing process.

Nature Corner in Schools

In an attempt to promote ex situ conservation in urban areas, the Forestry Service has also launched a very challenging project to create nature corners in schools and colleges. Small areas, normally 20m x 20m are identified within the school compound, the area is fenced and endemic plants are introduced into these areas by the students themselves.

The Forestry Service provides planting materials and fencing free of charge, including labour, to set up the nature corners. Lectures and talks are also delivered in the schools by Forest Officers. The topic of the lectures is always focused on the conservation of endemic plants.

This project has helped the in the creation of new areas for:

  • Ex situ conservation of endemic species
  • Increased tree cover
  • Popularization of endemic species as landscaping components

Up to now about 80 schools have benefited from this programme. The Forestry Service believes that conservation awareness and education should start from the Primary level, where these values are instilled in young children for the development of a more conservation-conscious generation. Normally the school curriculum does promote conservation education. However having these specimens in the school backyard is an added advantage for teachers. Thus a win-win situation arises for the both the Forestry Service, with more sites for ex situ conservation and increased tree cover and for school teachers who are able to conduct more lively classes without leaving the school compound. The role of the Forestry Service is a continuous one as it provides advice on aftercare management of these nature corners.

The Forestry Service believes that environmental education and conservation awareness programmes are vitally important and should start at a very tender age. The Forestry Service believes in involving citizens in the conservation of their biodiversity and natural resources. Encouraging children to take an interest in nature is an important part of this process. Like the Monvert Nature Walk, two more nature walks have already been created in other distinct areas and a fourth nature walk with a strong component of fauna is presently being established.

Key references

  • Font, X. and Tribe, J. (Eds) 2000. Forest tourism and recreation. Case studies in environmental management. CAB International UK.
  • Government of Mauritius, 2006. National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan 2006-2015. Available at: http://www.gov.mu/portal/site/moa.
  • National Forest Policy. 2006. Available at: http://www.gov.mu/portal/site/forestry
  • Rouillard, G. and Guého, J., 1985. Histoire des Plantes d’interet Horticole, Medicinal et Economique a L’ile Maurice. Henry & Cie Ltée, Ile Maurice.
P Khurun,
Acting Deputy Conservator of Forests,
Forestry Service Headquarters,
Botanical Gardens Street,
Curepipe, Mauritius.
Email: pkhurun@mail.gov.mu