General Overview: Socio-cultural importance of church forests

In Ethiopia, there are thousands of “church forests” that surrounds churches and monasteries of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC), which is the oldest Christian churches in Africa. These church forests are the only surviving remnants of the original montane forest, serving as critical sanctuaries for many of Ethiopia’s endangered and endemic plants and animals. They are not only provide valuable habitats for plants and animals, but also protect cultural diversity and provide economic benefits for churches and surrounding communities.

However, forests have been destroyed and converted into farms and grazing lands over centuries, and the remaining church forest patches have been declining in area over recent decades. Such changes should be addressed to develop Ethiopian forests sustainably in the future. In this respect, this session will provide general overview of Ethiopian church forest and specially emphasize on its importance inside the society to understand socio-cultural context, and the changes in church forests.

Current Role and Challenges of Ethiopian Church Forests

Church forest creates a number of benefits in many aspects: economically, ecologically and socially. They do not only preserve ecological diversity including a variety of fauna and flora in areas threatened by deforestation and fragmentation, but also offer opportunities for the economic and religious activities. However, high historical land use pressure has resulted in widespread deforestation and land degradation in the Ethiopian highlands. This has led to small and isolated forest patches around churches and mountain areas, which is highly susceptible to edge effects, and there is a growing concern about their resilience to further threats. The degradation of church forests could lead to the extinction of endangered and rare vegetation species and reduce the availability and accessibility of indigenous species, which would aggravate degradation of church forests and biodiversity. This in turn hinders the effectiveness of the efforts of the restoration of degraded forests and ecosystems of church forests. More specific challenges will be faced in case the appropriate measures are not taken. Therefore, this session will explore its roles and challenges to find ways to conserve the remaining forests.

Structure and Diversity of species in Ethiopian Church Forests

Church forests are regional biodiversity hotspots. These forests are refugee for a variety of indigenous plants and animals, and cumulatively have the highest tree diversity in the region, which contribute to about 5% of the vegetation cover in the country. However, the forest structure and species composition have been influenced by the fragmentation and habitat loss. The forests are now small and isolated as they are surrounded by agriculture matrix and pasture. Reduction of habitat has been described as one of the main causes of diminishing biological diversity. In this regards, the patterns of species and structural composition of church forests will be discussed in this session.

Restoration options of degraded lands

This session will explore appropriate options to restore degraded land in Ethiopia, which has been disturbed by humans over the last decades. When a prolonged degradation of land continues, it will pose high risks to the ecosystem services and biodiversity of forests as well as surrounding areas. Degraded and fragmented land also leads to landscape with low connectivity which can make the species and populations depending on the areas easily isolated and vulnerable to exterior impacts. Therefore, the restoration of these areas is highly needed and should be discussed at the landscape level, based on local and international experiences, and considering the circumstances of the land and the needs of surrounding communities to improve landscape connectivity.

Spezielle Themen

  • Species composition and diversity
  • Ecosystem services
  • Socio-economic importance
  • Socio-ethical/cultural importance
  • Medicinal value
  • Soil seed banks
  • Changes in Church forests
  • Local community perception
  • Drivers of changes
  • Regeneration
  • Degradation
  • Restoration options
  • Forest fragments
  • Land rehabilitation
  • Conservation