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Environmental Restoration – How to Turn Wasteland Into a Paradise

For many years, large parts of Kenya’s forests were cleared. But in recent decades, the attitude of Kenyans towards the nature around them has changed.

A man who plays an important role in this development is Dr. Rene Haller.

The story began in 1970, when Dr. Haller started an ecological experiment, trying to restore an ecosystem in the area of ​​a former limestone quarry.

Since the area was relatively close to the coast, the salt content of the groundwater was quite high – at the same time, the level of the groundwater varies due to the tides. Most of the fertile soil had been eroded, so no green grew on its own. The wind from the coast tended to dry up all the newly planted trees. In short: The soil was very unsuitable for any kind of plant.

Haller decided to restore the natural diversity of the area’s flora and fauna, rather than simply cover the area with greenery. The main difference is that a restoration (if successful) would result in a self-sustaining ecosystem, while covering the area with fast-growing greenery just for aesthetic reasons would require a lot of support and intensive care without providing significant benefits.

Twenty different species of trees were planted to begin the restoration, of which three survived. Of these three, Casuarina trees withstand the stress of wind and dryness best. But even this robust species could not survive the difficult climate and scarcity of resources – until the mycorrhizal symbiosis that Casuarina gains in its natural environment, providing the tree roots with minerals bound by the fungi involved in the symbiosis.

The withered leaves that fell from the trees were turned into humus by centipedes and microorganisms, allowing Dr. Haller to plant a secondary vegetation of more than 350 different native tree species.

Every imbalance in Rene Haller’s fledgling ecosystem was resolved without the use of chemical pesticides. Instead, he invested time in discovering what kinds of ways nature provided to overcome these issues. Whenever a pest began to upset the balance of his system (such as a beetle that heavily destroys secondary vegetation), Haller looked for a natural (preferably native) predator that he could introduce into the system to regulate its population. pest (to regulate the number of bark beetles, owls were released into the area).

Dr. Haller had developed the vision of a landscape that includes lakes, forests and swamp. He planned to collect wood, fodder, honey and fruit. Part of what later became known as “Haller Park” was a fish farm that produced mostly Tilapia. One advantage of Tilapia was the fact that this species could be fed a completely vegetarian diet — so it’s easy to avoid ecologically questionable additives. Fish droppings were used as fertilizer for rice paddies that were also part of Haller Park, providing value instead of polluting nearby waters. To make it possible to keep tilapia, 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 conservation wasn’t the only issue René Haller had to deal with – rats attracted to the fish feed became a scourge. Again, the system was balanced through biological pest control: Snakes were introduced to regulate the rat population, monitor lizards were used to limit the number of snakes while birds of prey and crocodiles fed on the lizards.

Since then, Haller Park has grown into an amazing terrain that includes lakes, wetlands and savanna grasslands with hiking and biking trails, as well as a nature park and wildlife sanctuary with a huge variety of animals – antelopes live here as well as giraffes, hippos, buffalo and giant tortoises. Over 80 species of palms can be found in Haller Park, many of which have been collected by Dr. himself.

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

Haller Park has brought a remarkable number of benefits to the region and its residents. First, it provides habitat for hundreds of species. In addition to this, the timber harvested in this area helps to protect the rare mangrove forests by providing substitute materials that replace the mangrove wood. Twenty-five tons of rice are harvested each year in the rice fields, 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. Because of the nearby beach and hotels, Haller Park is heavily visited by tourists — in 2002 the number of visitors was close to 100,000. The facility provides 400 jobs for local residents.

Although it showed little response, the Haller Park vegetable garden was designed as an example for local farmers, trying to demonstrate simple techniques to increase their yield. In addition to this, the garden itself is another source of food.

Rene Haller’s work has contributed greatly to establishing 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 of improving 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 that destroy the national park’s vegetation.

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

(c) Dino Schachten 2010. All rights reserved worldwide.

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