Urban forests are a vital component of a city. They play an important role in maintaining the natural balance in urban areas. The social, psychological, recreational, and economic benefits of these forests are innumerable. However, of greater importance is the cooling urban heat island effect and climate moderation effects that these environmental ecosystems provide, resulting in a more relaxed urban life.
The City of Nairobi has three main gazetted forests, namely Ngong Forest, Karura Forest and Ololua Forest. Over the years these forests have been the subject of massive deforestation as the city continues to expand. The Karura Forest is the largest of the three, with an area of about 1041.3 hectares, and is under the management of the Kenya Forest Service and other partners.
Karura Forest is located just a few kilometers from Nairobi’s central commercial district. Today, the forest is a pale shadow of it’s large and magnificent former self that existed in 1932 when it was gazetted. Due to a high demand for more development area, the late 80s and early 90s saw a huge chunk of the forest degazetted and land allotted to private house developers. Various international and local organizations, including the late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai, protested the move. It was only after a change of government in 2003 that saw protection of the forest from further loss. However, nothing much was done to counter the illegal solid waste disposal and various crimes that were undertaken in the forest until 2009. This was the year an organization called Friends of Karura Forest was formed. Through various initiatives, some as simple as constructing a fence around the forest, the organization has transformed the forest into an irresistible tourist attraction.
Today, Karura Forest offers its visitors well-marked and maintained nature trails, a waterfall, the Mau Mau caves, and bird watching. The forest is also home to numerous butterfly species in addition to monkeys, bush babies, and antelopes. The forest also offers several bike trails and dog walking has become a common trend in the forest.
Friends of Karura have also established the Karura Forest Environmental Education Trust (KFEET), providing environmental education. KFEET runs a learning center and provides recreation facilities within the forest.
Urban Planners have a role in the protection and conservation of urban forests. Major cities have recognized how important these factors are for the sustainable development of a city. A good example of this recognition is in the city of Johannesburg, where the city has created the largest man-made urban forest in the world.
In Australia, the city of Adelaide has also engaged its residents in the restoration of urban forests and the creation of new ones. Through the creation and protection of urban forests, cities stand to gain from an improved urban life, heritage preservation, and green tourism.
What are the measures that your city has put in place to protect its urban forests? Are there any plans in place to create new urban forest areas?
Credits: Images by Joseph Waithuki. Data linked to sources.