This valuable work with the Thai Forest Restoration Research Unit was designed to not only help preserve species but to create livelihoods and help reduce landslides.

A culture and ecology under threat

Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, in north-west Thailand, attracts over three million people annually. It's an important cultural centre, home to both a Buddhist temple and the royal family’s winter palace. The place is also internationally renowned as a biodiversity hot-spot, boasting over 600 tree species and 300 bird species.

But, in recent decades, the forest has been degraded by slash-and-burn agriculture and rapidly expanding tourism, which has reduced surface water supply, increased erosion and caused landslides in the area.

A unique approach to forest restoration

The Forest Restoration Research Unit (FORRU), which began as a collaboration between scientists at Chiang Mai University and the national park, is helping to transform this barren landscape into a rich tropical forest, thanks to a special forest restoration method and a focus on local community involvement.

Quick wins

FORRU has adopted the 'framework species' approach, which relies on planting a small number (20-30, say) of indigenous tree species which are carefully chosen to accelerate biodiversity recovery, enhance natural regeneration and lead to the rapid creation of a self-sustaining forest ecosystem. These initial trees include species that are:

  • fast-growing
  • dense, shading out competing weeds
  • flowering or fruiting, so attracting wildlife that then disperses seeds

Community involvement

Participation by the local people that live in the park is key to restoration project's success.

The first village to get involved was Ban Mae Sa Mai, who had initially cleared forest to grow opium, then vegetables. FORRU staff worked with villagers to create a community tree nursery and offered them training in tree propagation. Together with FORRU and the national park, the villagers planted over 65,000 trees between 1998 and 2006.

Because inhabitants are motivated by the personal benefits from the new forests - less soil erosion and more reliable water supplies - they are building better relations with the national park authorities. The village has now set up an environmental group to encourage more responsible forest practices.

How Eden has made a difference

The Eden Project has supported several major projects with FORRU since 2002, including:

  • A three-year research project to test the efficacy of the framework species method in restoring degraded forest land. This provided employment for the community, as field researchers, assistants and casual labour and enabled the production of native seedlings in tree nurseries.
  • A three-year project to develop greater understanding of the social aspects of working with local community groups when scaling up forest restoration from experimental plots to landscape-scale.
  • Over 100 on-site capacity-building events for villagers; the establishment of 12 community tree nurseries across northern Thailand; the planting of 12,500 trees of 50 species; and three networking workshops for all participating communities.
  • Staff exchanges. FORRU staff have benefited from horticultural training at Eden and contributed to on-site public events - and Eden staff members have gained direct experience of FORRU’s work first hand.

Having started as a small, technically-focused academic project in just one area of Thailand, FORRU has expanded its successful model of research, community engagement and capacity building from a single village in north-west Thailand, to a variety of projects across Thailand and other south-east Asian countries.