New research involving the ECI reveals the scale of misguided reforestation projects across Africa.

A study published in the journal Science reveals that an area the size of France is threatened by forest restoration initiatives, such as the AFR100 initiative (African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative), due to inappropriate restoration in the form of tree-planting. 

Researchers believe that the inclusion in these programmes of non-forest systems such as savannas and grasslands, which are threatened by increased tree cover, is the key issue.

They warn that planting trees in these grassy areas, which are structurally, functionally and compositionally distinct from forests, could be a risk to wildlife such as rhinos and wildebeest, as well as people who depend on these ecosystems.

Co-author Dr Nicola Stevens, Senior Researcher at the Environmental Change Institute and Trapnell Research Fellow in African Environments said:

The urgency of implementing large-scale tree planting is prompting funding of inadequately assessed projects that will most likely have negligible sequestration benefits and cause potential social and ecological harm.” 

Jason Donaldson

The study also highlights that the issues raised are not unique to Africa, and many other non-forest areas, for example the open savannas and grasslands of India and Brazil, could face a similar future due to inappropriate 'restoration' with trees. 

Co-author Kate Parr, Professor of Tropical Ecology at the University’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “Restoration of ecosystems is needed and important, but it must be done in a way that is appropriate to each system. 

“Non-forest systems such as savannas are misclassified as forest and therefore considered in need of restoration with trees.

“There is an urgent need to revise definitions so that savannas are not confused with forest because increasing trees is a threat to the integrity and persistence of savannas and grasslands.”

The ECI worked alongside the University of Liverpool and Utrect University.

Read the paper in full: Conflation of reforestation with restoration is widespread