The Sabyinyo reforestation project has been a labor of love but a hugely successful exercise overall! The lodge property covers almost 20 acres of steeply sloping land which was originally part of Volcanoes National Park and therefore the natural habitat of the Mountain Gorillas.
Sabyinyo today, surrounded by beautiful indigenous trees and shrubs – photo credit Dana Allen
Many years ago, it had been encroached upon for cultivation and the natural forest cover was lost. The subsoils were leached and the land was in very poor condition. Eucalyptus had been introduced throughout much of Rwanda, which grew fast and to the detriment of the indigenous species. Today the eucalyptus continues to be harvested for both timber and firewood.
Hardly an indigenous tree in sight; the land upon which Sabyinyo was built – photo credit SSL
When we started the construction of Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge over ten years ago, the site which we built upon was originally a potato field – it had been heavily depleted from many years of continuous cropping. As our lodge went up, the land was finally left to ‘rest’. This was fortuitous as a natural regeneration of secondary growth and humus allowed the soil to recover.
Once a potato field, the original site of Sabyinyo – photo credit SSL
We set about planting ‘decorative gardens’ which comprised of largely natural and indigenous flowering shrubs and tubers. We also introduced a tree nursery that has encouraged the planting of numerous indigenous hardwoods to augment the natural seeding of the same that had occurred randomly around the property at one time. This has resulted in a riotous regrowth of primary cover and with this, the rebirth of a sound ecosystem within the substrata, which in turn has proved hugely beneficial to the growth and propagation of secondary tree cover.
Each of Sabyinyo’s cottages are surrounded by thick vegetation which is home to a
variety of smaller wildlife and a plethora of bird species – photo credit Dana Allen
Seedlings are planted on a regular basis in our nursery until they reach a good height to be replanted elsewhere; we must also wait for the correct season of course in order to give them the best chance of survival. Our last Tree Planting Day at Sabyinyo was the 27th April 2018 and the local community joined our staff members in planting 460 indigenous trees around the lodge: We planted Hagenia, Malcamia, Alnus, Fig, Pycnostachys Emini and Netobia Macrolyx. The Rwandan Government policy is ‘cut one tree and plant at least two’; well we can safely say that for any tree that we have had to cut down, we have planted more than 400!
Tree Planting Day at Sabyinyo (2018) – photo credit Leonard Harerimana
In addition to our own reforestation efforts, which we encourage both staff and guests to join us in, we have been able to provide numerous seedlings of both indigenous and exotic cropping trees to our neighbours, to plant in hedgerows which assists with wind shelter, fodder and firewood.
Somebody once said, “The true meaning of life is to plant a tree under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” At Sabyinyo, we have planted a forest for our grandchildren; please come and see it for yourself!
By Philip Mason, Manager Governors’ Camp Collection