Kyrgyzstan: Conserving Eden


An introduction to BGCI's exciting new project in the Tien Shan region of Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan lies at the heart of the internationally important biodiversity hotspot formed by the mountains of Central Asia. Featuring a variety of land forms, rock types and climatic conditions over a wide altitudinal range, this hotspot is home to an immensely rich diversity in animal and plant life. Especially in the Tien Shan region of the Kyrgyz Republic, broad-leaved forests form unique ecosystems predominantly composed of walnut (Juglans regia).

Walnut forest

In the walnut forest. All photographs in this article © Joachim Gratzfeld/BGCI

In these walnut forests, a number of other fruit/nut bearing trees and shrubs occur, including species of apples, pears, cherries, plums, apricots and almonds. The walnut forests have always been of vital importance to the livelihoods of the people living in the region as a source of firewood, timber and food. They also provide grazing grounds for livestock, and the under-storey pasture is cut for hay. Although an important source of income for rural communities, unsustainable rates of harvesting pose a tremendous threat to the forests. The recently published Red List of Trees of Central Asia identifies more than 40 species as globally threatened with extinction, including a number of wild fruit and nut bearing trees and shrubs.

The project

In a new 3-year project funded by the Darwin Initiative, BGCI is working with Kyrgyz scientists and international experts from Bournemouth University and Fauna and Flora International to strengthen national and local capacity for the participatory management of the walnut tree forests in the Tien Shan region. As part of the project, surveys are being undertaken to assess the distribution of threatened fruit and nut tree species throughout their range in Kyrgyzstan. These will be integrated with socio-economic surveys focussing on the use of walnut tree forests by local communities.

Prunus sodgiana

Prunus sodgiana, one of the threatened natives of the region

These surveys and a detailed assessment of the impact of human activities on forest structure and composition, will inform the development of participatory management plans. To raise further awareness of the importance of the walnut forests in Kyrgyzstan and building on the findings from the scientific surveys, community and public outreach programmes will be formulated that support and popularise sustainable land use practices.

View over Walnut Forest

View over walnut forest

Bishkek Botanical Garden

BGCI is working with the Botanical Garden of the National Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic in the capital Bishkek to strengthen the conservation collections of wild relatives of cultivated fruit and nut trees, and develop the educational and interpretational resources and capacity at the garden.

Bishkek Botanic Garden

Bishkek Botanical Garden offers great outreach for the project

Occupying a total area of some 150 ha, the Botanical Garden in Bishkek holds more than 5,000 taxa. The arboretum contains large areas with fruit tree cultivars, in particular apples and pears, as well as important collections of native and threatened fruit tree and shrub species, such as Malus niedzwetzkyana, Malus sieversii, Armeniaca vulgaris, Prunus sogdiana, Juglans regia and Vitis usunachmatica. Viable stocks of seedlings are being established for use in species recovery programmes, research and horticultural development.

Bishkek Botanic Garden

Bishkek botanic gardenAs part of the project, the central role of the Botanical Garden in environmental education and raising public awareness of the need to safeguard the genetic diversity of wild fruit and nut-bearing species will be further enhanced through training and the development of interpretation materials and facilities.

In a city with more than one million inhabitants, the Botanical Garden offers a tremendous outreach potential and provides an ideal platform to publicise the work of the project, translating research findings into accessible and comprehensible information. As many of the species researched under this project grow in the living collections of the garden, visitors will have the opportunity to see the live plants, while learning about the importance of these species and the threats they face in the wild.

This article first appeared in Cuttings (Jan 2010), BGCI's Newsletter. Every member of BGCI receives Cuttings.

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