Why these species?
The ancient fruit-and-nut forests of Central Asia have often been described as the original Garden of Eden; bursting with flowers and edible fruits. These forests contain the wild, living relatives of many domesticated fruit and nut varieties (including apples, almonds and pears) but many of these wild relatives are rare and highly threatened, including Niedzwetzky’s apple and Bukharan pear.
The rarity of these species is partly because there is little habitat left; Conservation International reported in 2011 that the fruit and nut forests had declined by 90% from 1960 – 2010. Kyrgyzstan however, is thought to contain the largest extent of the remaining habitat in Central Asia.
Still, local people use Kyrgyzstan’s forests for many purposes, including the harvesting of food, fuel, construction materials and fodder for animals. Livestock grazing is a particular problem; the widespread and unmanaged grazing of sheep, cows and horses within the forest threatens the survival of rare fruit trees because saplings in particular are attractive to herbivores, so these young trees have almost no chance of surviving a year.
This problem with grazing is exacerbated by the extreme rarity of the threatened apple and pear trees in the forest. Niedzwetzky’s apple trees are often found growing alone, and many kilometres away from any other individuals, limiting the chance of cross-pollination with their own species. This means there are fewer saplings in the forest, even before the risk of grazing is taken into account.
Without specific, targeted actions to protect these very rare trees and their offspring, it is likely that they will slowly disappear from these ancient forests.
What are we doing about it?
FFI’s team in Kyrgyzstan has been working with forestry staff and communities since 2005 to reduce threats to the fruit-and-nut forest. Our current focus is to improve survival of the most threatened species in the forest and to do this we are undertaking the following key approaches:
- Protecting mature trees from illegal felling, and young saplings from grazing by livestock, through outreach events and construction of fencing,
- Increasing the number of individuals by planting new trees within proximity of existing Niedzwetzky’s apple and Bukharan pear populations,
- Working with local villagers to encourage planting and protection in fenced areas in the forest.
Training of forestry staff has been a core theme of the work in Kyrgyzstan; since 2011 we have trained forestry staff in core tree conservation skills including species identification, monitoring techniques and seed collection. In addition, we have established nurseries in order to produce threatened fruit tree seedlings for reinforcement in the wild. This has enabled the propagation and subsequent planting of Niedzwetzky’s apple trees, some of which are now capable of bearing fruit, and Bukharan pear. We continue to grow saplings with a view to plant them in the forest once they are mature enough to withstand grazing pressure.
Over time, FFI has developed strong links with communities surrounding key sites of the fruit and nut forest. We have built these relationships steadily over the years through awareness activities with schools, harvest festivals and supplying essential equipment. Co-funding from the Darwin Initiative and the Christenson Fund has strengthened this work; providing livelihood opportunities and reinforcement of traditional cultural values related to the forest. This has contributed to community members actively engaging in the conservation of Niedzwetzky’s apple and Bukharan pear through voluntarily planting seeds and raising saplings for reinforcement efforts.
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