What happened to the Critically Endangered Mount Mulanje Cedar following the completion of a project funded by IUCN’s SOS - Save Our Species?
For Carl Bruessow of the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT), Malawi a recent survey counting just eight mature seed-bearing trees on the mountain would be cause for great concern normally. But the development of nurseries and subsequent planting out of hundreds of thousands of saplings has been successful he elaborates. Despite climate shocks which hit Mount Mulanje in 2014 and 2015 – floods and a severe drought respectively - a large percentage of seedlings survived and the future is looking brighter for Malawi’s national tree.
Establishing nurseries using wild-collected seeds was a component in the development of a holistic Cedar Management Plan supported by SOS funding from 2014-2015. This process gave local concerned stakeholders including traditional local authorities and timber users such as artisanal carvers, the opportunity to work together and determine ways for broader public participation in protecting the tree.
Today the successful implementation of that plan continues with further conservation funding from the UK Government’s Department for International Development through its Darwin Initiative project branded Save Our Cedar.
Focused on the domestication of Mulanje Cedar to help improve livelihoods, the project involves several international partners providing technical support including the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) assisted by the UK Forestry Commission and the United States Forest Service. Locally, team-members from the Forestry Research Institute, the National Herbarium & Botanic Garden and MMCT have joined forces to train and enable twelve local volunteer community groups to grow cedar as a business opportunity. Year one will see each nursery raise 50,000 cedar seedlings alongside other useful local tree seedlings and these will be procured by the MMCT for planting out on the mountain.
Mount Mulanje is a priority one Key Biodiversity Area in remote southeast Malawi. Geologically, it is a prominent inselberg – a solitary mountain rising above surrounding plains. This isolation has resulted in significant local especiation with a possible 500 endemic and near-endemic animal and plant species. The high-altitude cloud forests have been dominated by Mulanje Cedar (Widdringtonia whytei). This endemic tree grows to a towering 50m height, offers a very fine timber and a highly fragrant scent. These factors in tandem with low management capacity in forestry management have been the cause of its demise.
Thus an imminent cedar crisis is being addressed through the continued application of the Cedar Management Plan and the development of initiatives that support its objectives. These further developments through the Save Our Cedar project indicate there is a way to protect a Critically Endangered species and support local community needs by co-collaborating in generating sustainable commercial solutions.
This story concerns just one of more than 250 threatened species supported by more than 100 projects in the SOS portfolio. Each one offers a wealth of practical lessons and insights into conservation action across numerous taxonomic groups and challenges. Explore the SOS interactive map and sign up for the SOS newsletter to keep up to date on further news from our grantees.