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Plants for Life: Successful Reforestation of an African Forest

With a mission to restore and protect native African plant species and ecosystems, particularly recreating native forests, and undertaking targeted conservation programs for rare and/or threatened species – Plants for Life International have had a significant impact on the biodiversity at Brackenhurst Learning Center in Kenya.

Eastern Africa’s forests have been battling increasingly with human threats over the past ten years. Land conversion, over-harvesting for timber and fuel wood and industry development have placed the region’s forests under great pressure. As the global demand for East Africa’s natural resources increase, this often-undervalued asset is often exploited to a point of near extinction.

Sadly land conversion, coupled with the above-mentioned unsustainable trade of wood, has created chaos in terms of the region’s biodiversity. When land is needed, the process of ‘slash and burn’ clearing is implemented without even an afterthought of the destruction caused. Habitats and entire ecosystems are ruined and human-wildlife conflict increases due to displacement of animals. In Kenya the deforestation is evident, with a covering of only 1.7% in 2006, as opposed to 10% in 1963.

Within these serious challenges, Plants for Life International (PLI), under the leadership of Mark Nicholson, has become a shining light and example of a sustainable solution to the reforestation of Kenya’s natural resources. PLI is a non-governmental organisation operating at Brackenhurst, located in Tigoni, near Limuru, this location is a mere 30km north-north-west of Nairobi.

Brackenhurst Botanic Garden

Since 2001, Plants for Life has had the vision of reforesting fifty acres at Brackenhurst, converting this piece of land into a model of restored biodiversity. Through this they have developed an ecotourism and environmental education program. It also serves recreational purposes to the public. Clearing and preparing the soil has been a mammoth task. Exotic plantations needed to be removed, and soil needed to be prepared for the 600-900 trees per acre that had to be planted.

In 2004 Plants for Life reached its goal and covered fifty acres of land (20ha) with a diversity of plants. One third consists of trees and woody plants with a variety of 1000 species, including some extremely rare ones. To ensure the simulation of a forest that is as ‘natural’ as possible, plants were collected from all over East Africa (with a similar altitude). A tree nursery was created to nurture trees until they are ready to be planted. Plant life such as herbs, grasses, ferns, orchids, lichens, mosses, scramblers and climbers were established.

Plants for life species and flowers

The progress over the past sixteen years has been significant, not only in terms of the visual aesthetics, but more so in the visible increase of animal life within the forest.

Here are a few indicators of success:

  • A resident group of five Colobus monkeys
  • Kikuyu Three-horned Chameleons
  • Von Hoehnel’s Chameleons
  • Mountain buzzards
  • Eastern double-collared sunbirds
  • Variable sunbird
  • Home to 14% of Kenya’s bird count species
  • Seventeen species of mammals

The successful reforestation and recreation of an ecosystem with a measurable biodiversity contribute to the value of Plants for Life in science, as well as in natural heritage. PLI is vital to the safeguarding of animal and plant life for generations to come.

Learn more about Plants for Life’s success story with insights from the founder, Mark Nicholson. Start planning your Conservation and Ecology Faculty-Led program, Forest Restorationor get involved in our Forest Regeneration and Permaculture Service Learning project.