It is well established that many forest species are unable to survive for long in forest landscapes that have been severely fragmented by human actions. Therefore, whilst the acquisition and protection of surviving forest patches is the vital first step, it is sometimes not enough. Some habitat patches must then be expanded and reconnected if they are to sustain their characteristic wildlife.
WLT partners work in the world’s most important regions for biodiversity
The WLT works with partners in regions that have seen and continue to suffer very extensive habitat loss and damage. All of the regions in which we work are recognised as global biodiversity hotspots. These are regions that contain at least 1,500 species of vascular plants (> 0.5 percent of the world’s total) as endemics, and have lost at least 70% of their original habitat.
Fragmented forests need to be enlarged and linked to assure survival of their wildlife
It is widely recognised that fragmented habitats, such as small patches of forest surrounded by agriculture, are exposed to a range of damaging processes. Key problems facing small habitat patches include dessication and wind-throw of trees at the forest edge, invasion of early successional and non-native species and increased predation rates. This on-going damage makes both the habitat, and species that depend upon that habitat, highly vulnerable.
Having acquired blocks of surviving habitat and instigated sound conservation management, the WLT and its partners investigate options for enlarging and reconnecting them to nearby patches of habitat. Often, agricultural fields adjacent to forest reserves are purchased and protected and subsequently reforested by WLT’s partners, restoring vegetation cover to otherwise degraded lands.
WLT partners enlarge forests through tree planting and assisted natural regeneration
The process of enlarging forest patches can be acheived using two techniques; assisted natural regeneration and tree planting. Assisted natural regeneration accelerates the natural succession process and is achieved by removing barriers, such as soil degradation, competition with invasive species, and disturbances such as cattle grazing and fire. This normally requires an area to be fenced and existing saplings to be liberated through maintenance and cleaning actions. In some areas planting is required and a mixture of locally native tree and shrub species similar to the composition of the surrounding forest patches is used. This ensures that key locally native tree and shrub species that might otherwise fail to colonise the site are present.
For example, many tree species are known as ‘keystone resources’ because they provide a vital resource, such as fruits, for rain forest animals. By ensuring such species are present in the regenerating habitat, animals in adjacent forests are quickly provided with enhanced resources, bolstering their survival prospects.
The WLT Ecosystem Services team helps to restore forest cover in a number of regions.
WLT's reforestation programme
The WLT reforestation programme started in 2006 when the power company Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) approached the WLT with a view to launching a programme to establish six trees for every customer on one of its energy tariffs.
The programme is delivered by a number of local WLT partners in South America, Asia and Africa. Their reforestation efforts aim to expand existing forest reserves onto adjacent, cleared land. SSE’s funding commitment has now come to an end, but WLT’s project patners will continue to maintain the reforested areas.
A three-phase programme
Phases one and two
The first two phases of the reforestation programme ran from 2006 to 2008 and proved a great success. Tree planting and assisted natural regeneration took place at six sites in Ecuador and at sites in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil and Paraguay. The target was to ensure that sufficient trees were established to ensure 600,000 trees would be standing in ten years’ time. Although the trees are now well-established, they will take time to mature, so WLT partners continue to monitor and maintain planted areas to ensure new high-quality forest is established successfully.
The programme entered its third phase in 2009, and aims to establish a further 450,000 trees over three years. Planting and assisted natural regeneration is again taking place in sites in Ecuador and Atlantic Forest in Brazil, where capacity to cultivate and successfully establish trees has already been well developed. New project sites in India and Tanzania have also joined the programme.
A transformational partnership
The SSE-inspired reforestation programme has proved to be a transformational partnership. It has provided multiple benefits for biodiversity conservation, the wider natural environment, and for WLT’s project partners involved in its delivery.
The wealth of knowledge and first-hand experience gained means our partners are seen as in-country authorities on the cultivation, planting and care of trees for reforestation programmes. With the expansion of natural forests seen as vital both to biodiversity conservation and to foster Ecosystem Services such as carbon sequestration and water resource protection, demand for forest establishment expertise is likely to increase. Our partners have worked with local communities to establish well-run tree nurseries and we are already seeing demand for their services beyond our projects increase.
To find out more about where the Ecosystem Services team works, including our reforestation sites, please visit our project areas pages.