Wondo genet workshop and arboretum (155)

Ethiopia’s botanic gardens embark on a tree conservation journey

Posted on by Kirsty Shaw

With the aim to secure some of Ethiopia’s rarest trees, botanic gardens and arboreta have begun to build the skills and momentum to reverse tree species declines in the country. GTC training and support is helping pave the way for an action plan to conserve Ethiopia’s threatened trees.

Ethiopia is a centre of diversity with high levels of endemism, plants and animals living here can be found nowhere else on Earth. However, rapid rates of deforestation have led to largely denuded landscapes, resulting in soil erosion and biodiversity loss. This was highlighted in 2005, when GTC published The Red List of Endemic Trees and Shrubs of Ethiopia and Eritrea, identifying 46 woody taxa as Critically Endangered. As threats in this region continue to rise it is likely that more tree species will face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

Leaves of Hagenia abyssinica, an extremely important tree species in Ethiopia, both economically and ecologically, and of serious conservation concern within the country.

Leaves of Hagenia abyssinica, an extremely important tree species in Ethiopia, both economically and ecologically, and of serious conservation concern within the country.

The Ethiopian government as well as academic sectors are well aware of the risks, particularly the loss of ecosystem services provided by forests. In response the country has made a pledge to restore 15 million hectares of its forests under the ‘Bonn Challenge’ – an international target to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded lands by 2020.

As well as this landscape scale strategy, Ethiopian institutions are also aware of the risks posed by the loss of individual species. To prevent this loss, they are taking measures to conserve Ethiopia’s unique and threatened species by investing in the development of botanic gardens and seed banks – hubs for plant conservation and research that will help safeguard the diverse flora of Ethiopia.

So where do we fit in?

GTC delivers training courses on tree conservation techniques, focusing on countries with a high number of threatened trees and aimed at partners with limited conservation capacity. Ethiopia is a case in point.

Since an initial scoping trip to Ethiopia in 2014, GTC has been working in collaboration with the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute to help build capacity in Ethiopian botanic gardens. As part of this programme, in December 2015 we delivered a five day training course in collaboration with the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, UK, on establishing and maintaining conservation collections of endangered and important ecosystem trees. This practical workshop brought together 45 participants from Ethiopian botanic gardens, arboreta and similar institutions, to providie training on fundamental skills including tree seed collection, propagation, nursery management and tree planting.

Workshop participants learning how to record results of propagation trials in the nursery at Wondo Genet College

Workshop participants learning how to record results of propagation trials in the nursery at Wondo Genet College

The workshop also served as a crucial networking opportunity which enabled new partnerships to be made, friendships to be forged and collaboration between institutions. These links began the formation of a national network, that will encourage institutions to share plant material, providing increased security for target species by enabling more genetic diversity to be held within collections. Such partnerships also facilitate sharing of propagation and care tips, which can be critical for species with only a few remaining individuals.

Participants worked to identify their core mission and develop a collection policy for their garden that reflected this mission. Each institution was encouraged to “adopt” a threatened tree local to their botanic garden as a flagship for their institution, to drive the conservation mission of their gardens forward and generate wider interest and support for tree conservation locally. The skills developed during the training course will now be applied to these flagships to eventually prepare for population restoration programmes.

GTC is directly working with Wondo Genet College Arboretum and Gullele Botanic Garden in Addis Ababa to help them expand their tree collections, education and conservation programmes. By providing this support, we hope these institutions will act as exemplars and provide a stimulus for other institutions to follow.

With more than 46 Critically Endangered woody taxa in need of urgent conservation action in Ethiopia, the task ahead is not small, but there is a growing momentum and enthusiasm for tree conservation within the country. Each partner says “you must come and visit my institution to see what we’re developing!” The list of newly established institutions to invite to these workshops keeps increasing. But so do the threats facing Ethiopia’s trees.

By providing our Ethiopian partners with the skills to care for, propagate and restore their endemic and endangered trees, these organisations could be the lifeline for tree species whose remaining wild populations are on the edge, ensuring the country’s rich diversity is maintained for generations to come.

Written by Kirsty Shaw

Kirsty is a Head of Ecological Restoration and Tree Conservation at Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), working on the Global Trees Campaign and botanic garden led forest restoration initiatives in Africa.

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