Immediate success at our Miyawaki rapid-growth forest in Nepal.

Written by Philip Holmes on Friday 15th July 2022

This morning, as I visited the Dhanushadham Bird Park in Dhanusha District, southeast Nepal, even the Chestnut-tailed Starlings in the trees above seemed to be chattering their admiration and surprise at the progress that we have made in such a short time. 

It is just over six months since the first saplings were planted in December as Phase 1 of the Dhanushadham Bird Park project. An adjacent area was planted in May and June under Phase 2 and, as soon as we receive some ground-quenching rains, Phase 3 should be able to get underway by the end of this month. Through our pioneering use of the rapid-reforestation "Miyawaki Method" in Nepal, the Phase 1 site is already beginning to look like a forest. We have seen a degree of growth that you would only expect after three or four years and the strip that we planted using a conventional method as a control appears decidedly underwhelming. But the dramatic impact of this project extends well beyond the confines of the plantation site, impressive as that is with its verdant growth complemented by the first two mosaic birds that I sited on plinths there in February. Let me explain:

If you ask me what is distinctive about our local partner NGO, The Mithila Wildlife Trust (MWT), I would offer two words - innovation and inclusion. Both are concepts championed by its Founder, Dev Narayan Mandal, who returned to his home area in 2013 after ten years' working in Delhi (including with SOS Animal Rescue), determined to make a difference to the threatened forests and beautiful natural environment that he knew and loved as a boy. He adopted an innovative approach by deciding that MWT would be a community-based NGO rather than being embedded in national parks like all the other conservation NGO's. He realised that if a sustainable balance with nature were to be achieved within the locality, it could only be by first securing the community's support rather than by foisting conservation plans onto sceptical villagers. 

So, since his return to his home District he has been working just as hard for social upliftment - and especially of marginalised religious and ethnic groups, women and girls - as he has been in planting trees, rescuing snakes and all the rest of it. Only by addressing basic needs first could the message be accepted that it was in everyone's interests to protect and develop the natural world, creating livelihoods in the process. This approach led to the inclusion that I noted last December when the Phase 1 plantation work was conducted by enthusiastic bands of schoolchildren and college students. Alongside their efforts, each household in the adjacent village was given one sapling to plant. It has to be said that villagers would now struggle to find "their" saplings in the midst of that developing thicket! But they know they're there, somewhere…. 

The inclusion works at other levels too in developing that all-important sense of ownership. Today Dev showed me the Phase 2 plantation that was planted in in May/June. A large section had been assigned to saplings donated by seven of Madhesh Province's eight District Forest Offices. And that is highly significant as these DFO's are keen to monitor from afar how their plots are progressing with a view to learning lessons and replication. Dev is even about to host a visit from the DFO in far-off Palpa District in west Nepal. The word has got around very quickly of the unrivalled results that his team has been achieving not only in this project but also in other larger conventional reforestation projects in the north of the District. In the latter he has been enjoying a sapling survival rate of over 90% against a national average of 20%, or less. Often, total failure has been the order of the day in other areas.

Mind you, you don't need to go too far beyond the hand-poured cement posts and hand-crafted chain-link fence that delineates the plantation boundary to see the wider impact. For even the local villagers are now planting trees on their land in a bid to emulate Dev's success! But there's more. Dev has now had meetings with four local communities to discuss how together they will set up Nepal's first Community Bird Conservation Area with the Dhanushadham Bird Park at its hub. That will inspire all ages - and especially children - so that birds come to be treasured rather than hunted. There is a particular scarcity of small birds in the Terai (Nepal's southern plains) that get swept up in the large-scale hunting and trapping of buntings, fuelled by the myth that their meat somehow enhances sexual prowess. That myth has to be exploded and, as an alternative, this Park and the surrounding locality developed as a bird-watchers' paradise that can only contribute to the local economy through ecotourism. The amplification effect that I personally so strongly subscribe to just goes on and on!

I will add to this blog post over the next few days as I share other activities from this visit, including the siting of another eight bird mosaics that I have brought over from my studio in the UK. But, for now, I will share some images from today that this very excited visitor captured on a stroll through environmental recovery.

These Miyawaki saplings were planted in December - just over six months ago.. A Miyawaki forest grows ten times faster than a conventional one.
Left and right planted at the same time in December 2021. The left was using a conventional approach with well-spaced saplings, the right using the innovative Miyawaki Method. That involves digging down six feet, laying a layer of compost and manure, replacing the topsoil and planting saplings closely together. Turbo-charged growth ensues!
It's important that the plantation site is fenced properly to exclude grazing wild and domestic animals. Cement posts have to be handmade and today I saw these being prepared for the Phase 3 development area that lies beyond. This ground will be prepared by the end of this month with another 6,000 saplings to be planted in addition to the 22,000 planted during the first two Phases.

 

I was intrigued to see this plant in the Phase 2 section that had the "Cuckoo Spit" and associated insect that I remember from my childhood in Northern Ireland (Google Cuckoo Spit!) A Miyawaki forest is twenty times more biodiverse than a conventional forest.
A humble Pipal Tree sapling awaiting the invigorating monsoon rains.
Ganesh Sah, field staff with MWT, inspecting the lair of a Bengal Fox that has taken residence. These days this is an endangered species, with numbers dwindling through attacks by stray dogs, roadkill and habitat destruction alongside the use of pesticides.
The difference a month makes - the area on the left was planted in May, the area on the right in June, both using the Miyawaki Method. 
My mosaic of a White-throated Kingfisher awaiting the arrival of eight new mosaic friends next week. The Phase 2 plantation is in the background.

 

 

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