Prince of Wales helps launch Ecological Restoration Alliance
“I have seen too much evidence of what happens when the needs of land are disregarded,” His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales warned last week as some of the world’s leading botanists gathered to launch a major initiative to reverse damage to land and ecosystems.
Overgrazing, deforestation and drainage are annually turning 220,000 square miles of land into desert, the Prince added, welcoming the newly formed Ecological Restoration Alliance, masterminded by Botanic Gardens Conservation International and drawing together experts from the UK, Australia, North, South and Central America and Africa.
The Prince said that “For too many years degraded land has been seen as just another environmental issue but it is so much more than that”. It was an economic and social problem too. “By improving one we increase the chances of nurturing all three,” he urged. “That’s why many millions of people will be in your debt...I can only encourage you to be bold even if it looks sometimes as if all is lost.”
The Alliance has pledged to restore 100 damaged or destroyed habitats in six continents within 20 years. Its first 10 members have signed a Memorandum of Understanding committing to the ambitious target which supports the aims of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity and Millennium Development Goals. Botanic gardens in China, Venezuela, South Africa and other parts of the UK and US are backing the initiative and may also soon sign up. The Alliance is targeting a range of sites including tropical forests, wetlands and wild places in cities, all areas providing services that support life.
Some projects have already begun including the replanting of 100 acres (40 hectares) of tropical rainforest within the Brackenhurst Botanic Garden near Nairobi which was once so extensive that it hosted leopard, buffalo and elephant, and blocked city residents’ view of Mount Kilimanjaro. Less than 2% of original forest remained in the region before work began with the rest mostly transformed into tea and eucalyptus plantations. Mark Nicholson, Director of Brackenhurst, told guests at the Alliance launch at the UK’s House of Lords that Kenya had lost “150,000 hectares of the most beautiful forest” and had an “appalling deforestation rate”. “But trees grow quite fast and get quite a lot of rainfall here,” he continued. Only five acres (two hectares) were being replanted each year because the removal of non-native species was so costly. “But now, when I get to the forest, I’m hit by a wall of birdsong which wasn’t there 12 years ago. And to my amazement I saw a huge mob of fruit bats coming into my trees. It was the first time I had ever seen them there.” The forest now has 170 bird (up from 30) and 120 butterfly species. Nicholson now wants to attract back the black and white colobus monkey – “the most endearing monkey in the world”.
The diversity of species now seen at Brackenhurst is characteristic of other ongoing Alliance schemes. Experts from the National Tropical Botanic Garden in Hawaii have used fossil evidence to restore a plethora of native vegetation to damaged beach and forest where Hawaiian green sea turtles breed; the Rio de Janeiro Botanic Garden is helping rejuvenate Rio’s hillsides with rare and endemic plants; 11 communities are involved in the regeneration of Madagascan forests, overseen by the Missouri Botanical Garden, while Kings Park and Botanic Garden in Perth, Australia has been working with mining companies to replace damaged soil and vegetation in Jarrah Forest, luring back birds and mammals and storing water – a function the forestry plantations the companies used to plant could not perform.
Benefits such as these were highlighted by the Prince who has visited the restored Loess Plateau in China and an area near Manaus in Brazil where “rainforest had been torn down for farming” leaving soil “useless” and unable to “support the farming they had killed the trees to make way for.” Now, both areas are transformed proving “how genuine sustainability can be achieved”. At least 65 million hectares of land have been degraded in Brazil alone making the Alliance’s formation “a tremendously important step,” the Prince stressed. His support was echoed by Baroness D’Souza, Leader of the House of Lords, who in the 1970s witnessed the rapid destruction of Malaysia’s rainforests. “I have a personal commitment to what it is you are planning to do,” she said. Baroness Joan Walmsley, Chair of BGCI, highlighted the potential of land restoration to benefit mankind adding: “There is such a lot of knowledge in botanic gardens, excellent qualifications and an understanding of the needs of plants, all of which will be brought to bear.”
- To mark the Alliance launch, BGCI is establishing the Sylvia Scholarship Fund which will offer scholarships to young botanic garden staff to fund study, travel and conference attendance, gaining knowledge “they can take back to their gardens and disseminate,” Baroness Walmsley said.