School Children set to visit Bedgebury to help save Endangered Trees

Children from four local primary schools (Goudhurst, Lamberhurst, Sandhurst and Downe) will visit the Forestry Commission’s Bedgebury National Pinetum, near Goudhurst, Kent on 18 and 19 April 2018. Each of the local schools have links to schools in Malawi through the work of the charity Starfish Malawi, and during the visit to the Pinetum they will learn about the lives of children in Malawi, hear about their critically endangered national tree, the Mulanje cedar, and tour the pinetum to learn about the tree conservation work of the pinetum and meet some rare trees.

The Bedgebury National Pinetum tree conservation team and learning team, together with representatives from Botanic Gardens Conservation International and the local charity, Starfish Malawi, will welcome the children to the Pinetum where they will learn about the plight of the Mulanje cedar before planting wild-collected seeds from the critically endangered trees in the Pinetum nursery. The seedlings will form part of the propagation trials for the “Save Our Cedar” project, which Bedgebury National Pinetum is supporting.

Bedgebury’s Collection Manager, Dan Luscombe, said:

'After visiting Malawi to collect the seed from the Mulanje cedar myself (as part of a 3-year international tree conservation project to help save the critically endangered Mulanje cedar) it is wonderful to be able to educate school children about the importance of our trees and let them know how some, without our help, are at risk of extinction in their natural environment if action is not taken soon.'

The project in Malawi will map the mountain, identifying remaining cedar trees and the best planting sites. Local community members will receive training in nursery techniques and enterprise development and will be supported in setting up nurseries around Mulanje Mountain.

The Mulanje cedar (scientific name: Widdringtonia whytei) is endemic to Mulanje Mountain in Malawi. This unique tree produces valuable timber that is durable, termite-proof and used for construction and wood-carving. Its value has led to overexploitation and very few Mulanje cedar trees now remain on the mountain. This has resulted in a loss of income for communities living around the mountain and increased soil erosion and floods due to rapid water run-off from the mountain during rainy seasons.

Previous efforts to replant the cedar populations on Mulanje Mountain have had limited results, but the Mulanje cedar grows well on Zomba and in other locations. The reasons for this are not well understood. This project will work with geneticists, foresters and botanists to improve propagation results and planting success. Alongside the restoration project, work will be conducted across Malawi to test and promote the Mulanje cedar as a sustainable timber resource that can be grown from household to plantation scales. These efforts will develop a long-term market for cedar seedlings, ensuring the survival of this tree as well as a sustainable income for nursery workers.

Forestry Commission staff travel the world to collect seeds from rare and endangered species for propagation and are supported in this work by the Friends of Bedgebury Pinetum