23 Jul 2018

Irreplaceable: Dakatcha Woodland, Kenya

It’s a refuge for Endangered species found at only a handful of other sites. It stores rainwater, traps carbon and even regulates the local climate. But this unique and globally important forest has no formal protection. Read what’s being done in the fight to secure its survival.

The Sokoke Scops Owl weighs only 2 ounces (57g) and is the smallest Scops Owl © John Mwcharo
The Sokoke Scops Owl weighs only 2 ounces (57g) and inhabits just two sites © John Mwcharo
By Jessica Law

In our 'Irreplaceable' series, we cast a light on the globally-significant bird habitats that are in danger of disappearing forever.

Perched on rolling hills above the coastal town of Malindi stands the beautiful, spreading trees and thickets of the Dakatcha Woodland. The most northern forest of its kind in Africa, the woodland provides a vital refuge for the Clarke’s Weaver Ploceus golandi (Endangered), a species only found in coastal Kenya, and even then only at a few other sites, such as Arabuko-Sokoke forest. The Clarke’s Weaver is just one of many Endangered species who rely on the site for shelter, including the Sokoke Pipit Anthus sokokensis, the strikingly majestic Sokoke Scops-owl Otus ireneae, and the utterly charming Golden-rumped Sengi (elephant-shrew) Rhynchocyon chrysopygus.

The site is listed as an Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA), as well as a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), and performs invaluable ecosystem services for the surrounding community. Spanning nearly 2,000 square kilometres, it plays a key part in storing rainwater, preventing soil erosion, sequestering carbon and even regulating the local climate.

 

The Golden-rumped Sengi can be found in only six fragments of coastal forest © Marius Dobilas

 

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Yet, astonishingly, this incredibly diverse hotspot has no formal protection, leaving it completely vulnerable to the encroachment of uncontrolled logging, illegal charcoal burning and forest clearance for agriculture (to name but a few). In 2009, disaster loomed when an energy company proposed clearing 500 square kilometres of woodland to grow a single crop for biofuel. This destructive monoculture threatened to lay waste to vast swathes of unique and precious habitat. Fortunately, after years of tireless lobbying by Nature Kenya (BirdLife Partner), in 2012 the Kenyan government finally rejected the project. But the forest’s future is far from secure.

To date, 42 community forest scouts have been trained in the safeguarding of the Dakatcha Woodland. Beehives have been distributed to provide locals with a sustainable alternative income. These have been accompanied by an eco-resource centre and a honey-processing plant in the town of Marafa. But only legal recognition of the Dakatcha Woodland’s essential role will secure its long-term survival.