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Though the Atlantic Forest (Máta Atlantica) used to be 6 times the size of the United Kingdom, it is now only a forest in name and has been reduced to small isolated fragments.
Prior to the colonisation of Brazil in the 16th century, the Atlantic Forest covered over 1,100,000 km2 of the national territory and stretched along its entire southern coast, extending into Argentina and Paraguay. Hunting, wind damage, vine colonisation, fires, the spread of invasive grasses, the exploitation of natural resources such as timber and water, the conversion of forested lands for agricultural use (cattle ranching and sugarcane and unsustainable coffee plantations), and the use of pesticides are just some of the threats to the Atlantic Forest.
Over the course of 20 years, it has lost over 80% of its original forest cover due to agricultural expansion. No other large tropical forest has suffered this much loss. Some patches are no larger than 50 hectares. In Pontal de Paranapanema, the extent of deforestation has left 3% of the original forest standing.
Despite having lost large swathes of its tree cover, the Atlantic Forest biome is considered one of the biggest repositories of biodiversity on the planet. The forest harbors around 2,200 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians – 5% of the vertebrates on Earth. This includes nearly 200 bird species found nowhere else, and 26 of Brazil’s 77 primate species (including 21 endemic species). The Atlantic Forest is also home to around 20,000 species of plants, representing 8% of the Earth’s plants.
Today between 7 and 10% of the original forest remains, and these remaining areas are highly fragmented, further threatening the populations of remaining species. The Máta Atlantica is among the most endangered ecosystems in the world.
WeForest has partnered with local organisations to create forest corridors between the Morro do Diabo State Park and the Iguaçu National Park, where some of the few remnants of the Atlantic Forest are found.
Reconnecting these parks and the isolated fragments scattered across the landscape allows fauna to access new habitats safely and breed with different populations. This is a vital step towards conserving the region’s biodiversity.
In order to boost the forest recovery, the WeForest team and local community workers combine several restoration methods, including assisted natural regeneration, farmer-assisted reforestation and agroforestry.
The location of the corridors is determined by the movement of big cat species tracked with GPS collars. Ecological surveys are carried out to assess tree species composition, tree growth and other indicators of the health of the forest corridors and camera traps are installed to monitor their functionality.
WeForest and their partners have partnered with women-run community-based nurseries in the collection of seeds and care of seedlings and contracts members of the Landless Workers Movement to carry out the planting activities.
If nothing is done to protect and restore the Atlantic Forest, this important biodiversity hotspot will continue to experience habitat degradation and biodiversity loss leading to local and global extinctions. This is not a fait accompli and WeForest is already seeing a positive impact since the project began.
In the northern Tigray region, rural communities are under further threat from the deforestation of the dry Afromontane forest as well as severe desertification and soil erosion. Large swathes of Tigray’s dry Afromontane forests and hillsides have been cleared primarily for agriculture and wood extraction, in addition to illegal charcoal production, leaving 0.5% of Tigray forested.
Since partnering with WeForest, Dukes has funded the planting of over 30,000 trees and restored over 25 hectares of deforested land in the Seret exclosure zone. In 20 years, these trees will have sequestered over 1000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. In Tigray, a joint re-greening effort of the government, community and NGOs work to stop land degradation, protect natural resources and improve food production. It does so mostly using ‘exclosures’ – areas where livestock is not allowed, to promote the rehabilitation of degraded land.
WeForest works with this movement through the enriching of encroached exclosures using native trees. The project works in close collaboration with the local community and supports them with training on natural resource management programs, income generating activities and providing material support.
The project specially targets landless youth and women groups to engage in income earning scheme activities such as through the two beekeeping cooperatives. Furthermore, the majority (63%) of the people working with WeForest in paid field work activities is female.
In 2020, this project reached capacity and we transitioned to a new restoration project in Brazil.