From Wasteland to Forest. The Story of Haller Park.
The rock at the Kenyan coast (made from old coral) can be used to make cement. When Bamburi cement factory had finished digging it up there was nothing left around the factory, but a barren wasteland.
The owners of the factory contacted Rene Haller, a gardener and environmentalist. Could he make the land green again? It seemed like an impossible task...
But when Mr Haller looked carefully at the bare land, he saw, to his surprise, that a few plants were managing to survive...
The plants Mr Haller found were 'Pioneers'. Pioneers are the first plants able to put their roots down in tough inhospitable conditions.
Casuarina equisetifolia (Swahili name: Mvinje)
The tough spiky fruit contains 100s of winged seeds to help it spread to new areas.
The leaves are tiny scales on small branchlets, to reduce water loss.
The roots have nodules to capture nitrogen. This improves the soil.
Mr Haller, and his team, planted lots of pioneer trees: Casuarinas, Coconuts and Damas Palms.
The trees grew well but there was a problem. Some, like the Casuarina, had leaves that are bitter and hard. Nothing could grow underneath them.
Mr Haller's team looked closely. They noticed that one tough animal was eating the leaves, turning them into nice organic soil. It was a millipede.
So they brought more millipedes. Lots more...
The millipedes ate up the leaves, helping to create better soil. Soon other plants began to grow between the pioneer trees.
Other animals, birds and insects also helped:-
Wild pigs cultivate the soil by digging.
Dung beetles bury manure into the soil, making it more fertile.
Birds, like the Turaco, spread seeds.
Today, the barren land has become a beautiful forest. More than 180 species of tree grow there. It is a green lung for Mombasa and a space where people can relax and be with Nature.
Mr Haller received a UN environment prize for his work, and the park was named after him.
Wastelands are a world-wide problem, caused by mining the earth, cutting trees, overgrazing and erosion. The story of Haller park shows how trees can help to bring a wasteland back to life.
Is there a wasteland near you?
If so, follow the example of Mr Haller and his team. Observe it very carefully. Can you spot some pioneer trees and animals that could help make it green again?
Check out the story of Owen and Mzee. These two unlikely friends lived happily together in Haller Park.