Environmental Restoration – How to Turn Wasteland Into a Paradise

Environmental Restoration – How to Turn Wasteland Into a Paradise

Over many years, major parts of Kenyan forests were cleared. But within the last decades, the attitude of the people of Kenya towards the nature surrounding them has changed.

One man who plays a major role in this development is Dr. Rene Haller.

The story began in 1970, when Dr. Haller started an ecological experiment, attempting to re-establish an ecosystem in the area of a former limestone quarry.

Since the area was relatively close to the coast, the salt content of the ground water was rather high – at the same time, the level of ground water varied due to the tide. Most of the fertile ground had been eroded, which is why no greenery developed by itself. The wind from the coast tended to dry out all newly planted trees. In short: The terrain was highly unsuitable for any kind of plant.

Haller decided to rehabilitate the natural diversity of flora and fauna of the region, instead of simply covering the area with greenery. The major difference is that a rehabilitation (in case of success) would result in a self-sustaining ecosystem, while covering the area with fast growing greenery for cosmetic reasons only would have required a lot of support and intensive care without offering significant benefits.

In order to start the rehabilitation, twenty different species of trees were planted of which three survived. Out of these three, the Casuarina Trees put up best with the strain of wind and dryness. But even this robust species could not survive the difficult climate and scarcity of resources – until the mycorrhiza symbiosis the Casuarina profits from in its natural habitat was established, providing the roots of the trees with minerals bound by the fungi involved in the symbiosis.

The withered leaves dropped by the trees were transformed to humus by centipedes and micro-organisms, allowing Dr. Haller to plant a secondary vegetation of over 350 different indigenous tree species.

Every imbalance in Rene Haller’s newly established ecosystem was solved without the use of chemical pesticides. Instead, he invested time in finding out what kinds of ways nature provided to overcome these issues. Whenever a pest started to disturb the balance of his system (like a bark beetle heavily damaging the secondary vegetation), Haller searched for a natural (preferably indigenous) predator he could introduce to the system to regulate the population of the pest (in order to regulate the number of bark beetles, owls were released in the area).

Dr. Haller had developed the vision of a landscape including lakes, forest and swamp. He planned to harvest wood, feed, honey, and fruit. Part of what later became known as the “Haller Park” was a fish farm producing mainly Tilapia. An advantage of Tilapia was the fact that this species could be fed completely vegetarian — thus it is easy to avoid ecologically questionable additives. The excrement of the fish was used as a fertilizer for rice paddies that were also part of the Haller Park, providing value instead of polluting nearby waters. To make the keeping of Tilapia possible, Haller had to study the behavior of the species and design special fish tanks that would make it possible to profitably maintain the farm. But the keeping was not the only issue Rene Haller had to deal with – attracted by the fish food, rats became a plague. Again, the system was balanced by means of biological pest control: Snakes were introduced to regulate the population of rats, monitor lizards were used to contain the amount of snakes while predatory birds and crocodiles fed on the lizards.

Since then, the Haller Park has developed into an astonishing terrain including lakes, wetlands and savannah grasslands with walking and cycling trails, as well as a nature park and wildlife sanctuary with an enormous diversity of animals – antelopes live here as well as giraffes, hippopotamuses, buffaloes, and giant tortoises. Over 80 species of palms can be found in the Haller Park, many of them being collected by Dr. Haller himself.

Surrounded by the beauty of the abundant nature, visitors can eat a restaurant called “Whistling Pine”.

The Haller Park has brought a remarkable number of benefits to the region and its inhabitants. Firstly, it provides a habitat for hundreds of species. Apart from that, the timber harvested in this area helps protecting the rare mangrove forests by providing substitute materials that replace the mangrove wood. Twenty-five tons of rice are harvested every year in the paddies, the fish grown in the tanks are fed to animals in the park and sold locally to hotels.

While antelopes and crocodiles provide meat, other exotic animals attract tourists and thus provide another source of income. Due to the nearby beach and hotels, the Haller Park is highly frequented by tourists — in the year 2002 the number of visitors was close to 100,000. The facility provides 400 jobs for inhabitants of the region.

Even though only showing little response, the vegetable garden of the Haller Park was planned as an example for local farmers, trying to demonstrate simple techniques to increase their yield. Apart from that, the garden itself is another source of food.

The work of Rene Haller has contributed a lot to the establishment of an environmental consciousness with the local population. Following the motto “Never give up, just find another way to achieve your goals!”, Dr. Haller founded the “Baobab Trust” with the aim to improve the food supply of the local population. One of his recent projects is the protection of the Shimba Hills National Park in Kenya. For this purpose, Dr. Haller bought land around the national park to provide a new habitat for the elephants destroying the vegetation of the national park.

Visit the official website of the Haller Foundation for more information: http://www.haller.org.uk/

(c) Dino Schachten 2010. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.