Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) based in Kew in the UK is working on the side of Mt Mulanje to help protect Malawi’s national tree the Mulanje Cedar. The Mulanje Cedar (Widdringtonia whytei) only occurs naturally in the Mulanje Mountain Biosphere Reserve. Cedar forest cover has declined drastically in the last thirty years and as a result the Mulanje cedar is now almost extinct.

The drastic reduction in the Mulanje cedar population is a result of excessive harvesting for timber. It is termite resistant and durable making it the preferred material for construction and is also fragrant for carving so is a very popular wood for domestic use too. An increase in the number of fires occurring on the mountain has also exacerbated the problem by reducing natural regeneration of new trees. As a result, the tree is now critically endangered and at risk of extinction in its natural habitat if action is not taken immediately to restore it.

The steep decline in the cedar populations has resulted in a loss of valuable income for the communities living around the mountain, an area which has a high population density and levels of poverty.

Another side effect of the loss of the cedar tree species is increased soil erosion and floods, due to rapid water run-off from the mountain during rainy seasons. Flash flooding has already resulted in the loss of 18 lives in 2016 and more in 2022 and 2023, with many houses washed away completely.

BCGI, with funding from the Darwin Initiative, have established 8 community nurseries around Mount Mulanje. Creating more than 1000 jobs for the local community and training 200 people in nursery management and enterprise development they have planted over 500,000 Mulanje cedar seedlings. Using weather data from our Mt Mulanje weather station they are working out the best climatic conditions for these seedlings to become successful mature trees analysing survival and growth rates.