Kyrgyzstan’s fruit and nut forest is a pretty spectacular sight. Set against a backdrop of towering toblerone-esque mountains and a clear blue sky, the springtime blossoms of the wild apple and pear trees look dazzlingly beautiful. Until one hits you square in the face as your horse sidesteps a particularly muddy patch.
The forest is famed as the ancestral home of many of the common fruits we find on our tables today, including apples, pears and apricots. Many wild relatives of domesticated species can still be found here, like this pear below.
People are intrinsically intertwined with the forest; they use its resources for grazing livestock, construction and food. The picture below shows foods collected from the forest including apples, walnuts and apricot compote; a sweet soft drink made from preserved fruit and sugar. Threatened apples and pears often have small fruit that are not consumed by people but may be harvested for other purposes, including decoration.
However, this close connection with people is also a threat to the forest; as populations grow, grazing pressure on livestock can limit forest regeneration. Throughout the forest we bumped into free-roaming cows, sheep, horses and donkeys.
In addition to the grazing issue, hybridisation with domesticated fruit trees can lead to ‘genetic erosion’ of wild species. Endangered species such as this Niedzwetzky’s apple (Malus niedzwetzkyana) are frequently found isolated from other individuals of their species – increasing the risk of hybridisation with other wild and domesticated apple species that surround them.
The GTC are working with Kyrgyzstan’s forest department to grow threatened apple and pear trees to restore them to the forest and build up populations.
Rangers are also helping us to fence off mother trees in the forest, to protect them from hungry livestock.
With the aim to make many more of these;