Restoring islands of refuge
Reforestation and sustainable management of church forests
Due to severe deforestation, natural forest has disappeared almost completely in the Lake Tana region. Today only small fragments of near-natural forest remain, the so-called “church forests”, typically located around churches and monasteries. These “islands” have survived thanks to the patronage of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. They are rich in plant and animal species, many of which are endangered and endemic, and have acted as a refuge for these species which have disappeared in most other places. Furthermore they provide a store of genetically adapted local species and are an important source of seeds for the rehabilitation of other degraded areas.
In spite of traditional conservation methods and the importance of the church forests, they are currently under extreme pressure and are in danger of being lost forever. They are in urgent need of rehabilitation, which is why this project is planning several measures to address the issue. This is the first project of its kind and will serve as a pilot project for the region as a whole.
In collaboration with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, 10 representative church forests will be selected for rehabilitation. The objective of this component is primarily to assess the ecological status of the church forests in Dera Woreda, South Gondar Zone, Ethiopia and to develop schemes for the conservation and restoration of the church forests.
First, the ecological status of these selected forests was assessed. Detailed participatory management plans are being developed for five selected church forests. These plans will help to reduce grazing intensity and logging, as well as carrying out forest regeneration measures such as tree planting. To increase the role of these forests as ecological corridors, vegetation corridors are being created between the church forests (with due consideration of ecological conditions and land ownership). Based on the experience of the Organisation for the Rehabilitation and the Development of Amhara (ORDA), GIZ, and the Bureau of Agriculture (BoA), tree nurseries are being established and by-laws developed, including local contracts on natural resource use for the local communities. To compensate for any loss of use, fuel-saving stoves and beekeeping are being introduced at the pilot sites.