Kew reforestation: Fighting to save the Huarango Tree on Peru’s desert coast

Amidst the doom and gloom of environmental predictions there are always elements of light shining through. Environmental scientist Oliver Whaley is one such enlightened individual. Based at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew near London, Oliver and his team are dedicated to a three-year project supported by the UK Darwin Initiative to save the last few remnants of the Huarango forest on the south coast of Peru, on the edge of the Atacama Desert. Felled for charcoal or to make way for agriculture, this destruction is opening the door to spreading desertification.

This ancient Huarango Tree forest once played a vital role in sustaining the Nazca peoples, (responsible for the enigmatic Nazca Lines) and has supported local people for thousands of years, supplying food, timber, fodder and other resources. It is also home to the Huarango (prosopis pallida) tree, a unique specimen with deep-tap roots and feathery foliage capable of trapping desert mists – a handy trick in an area which receives less than 1mm of rain per year.

Working in collaboration with a host of local Peruvian organisations, including the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, Grupo Pro-Aves and the Universidad de Ica, the team is facilitating and encouraging reforestation via research, the development of a tree nursery, local education and capacity building, national and international education and habitat regeneration research and dissemination. Oliver is hopeful of the outcome, “This is a very exciting moment, but also a very critical one. We’re down to the last remnants of an ecosystem that serves as a lynchpin both for local livelihoods and biodiversity. But with the resources we now have for the project, backed by enthusiastic local support, there’s an opportunity to make a real difference to the region.”

To visit the Huarango Forest and the many other attractions on the southern coast of Peru, such as the Nazca Lines, the Ballestas Islands and the unique haciendas in the area, please contact your Aracari representative.

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