Life in the field: Forest degradation surveys

Shabani_SqBy Shabani Soah, Field Assistant

Our field work in the coastal forests started on 17th July until 28th August 2016.

One of the forests we visited was Rondo Nature Reserve. It is a coastal forest on the Rondo plateau in Lindi Region, which is at an altitude of 465-885m above sea level and approximately 60km from Lindi town.

We arrived there on 4th August 2016 and spent four days surveying the forest. The unusual thing I saw in Rondo was the big peeled tree, Newtonia buchananii, popularly known as the Mwalimu Nyerere tree. The tree was named after the late president of Tanzania Mwalimu J.K.Nyerere who used the bark of the tree. People believe that if they were cursed they will be healed by the bark. They use the barks by boiling and then taking a shower.

We faced several challenges while we were completing the forest surveys.

Reaching Ngarama Forests was difficult because our car broke down. We had to find alternative transport which was a motor cycle from the hotel in Tatu village so that we could complete our work on time. Ngarama Forest was easy to carry out our work. Most places are woodland so it was easy work to measure trees.

Another challenge that we met was taking measurements. Some of the trees had a bigger circumference than our tape measure, which was capable of taking measurement for trees below 150cm. To solve this we joined up our tape measures for trees or stems that were greater than 150cm circumference at breast height (CBH)!

In forests like Ngumburuni which are encroached, land conflict was a greater. When some people saw us they thought we were government officials coming to remove them from their settlements. We were worried about our security but because we went there with a village leader adjacent to the forest he was able to explain to them what we were doing and allow us to continue with our work. Here in Tanzania, land conflict is so great that wherever you conduct research it is important not to ignore the presence of local people.

Another challenge which we found was the presence of Mucuna sp. The seed pods irritate the skin. In our site it was a big challenge, especially during the afternoon. We found most Mucuna sp. in Rondo, Tongomba, Ngumburuni, Kiwengoma and Chitoa.

I studied wildlife science because I like nature, but participating in the degradation surveys of the ten coastal forests has allowed me to see a greater diversity of vegetation and developed my interests in botany. I started to develop my carrier in botany. I learnt all of the herbarium techniques, how to take notes in the field and how to collect specimens. I started doing my own collections in the field and identified specimens at University of Dar es Salaam. I really enjoyed the nature of the forest with different habitats, singing birds, and the beautiful scenes of Rondo plateau.

For me, there are many challenges to becoming a botanist: lack of learning materials such as books, especially for beginners, and field gear, such as cameras. Another challenge is the availability of field work which I believe will facilitate my learning. If there are no obstacles I have already planned that I will start my Master’s degree in botany in October 2017.

Find out more about the forest degradation surveys.