No ferns without fire: restoration of a highland rainforest ecosystem whilst supporting local people and meeting government commitments

Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda
Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda
No ferns without fire: restoration of a highland rainforest ecosystem whilst supporting local people and meeting government commitments
Tim Rayden/WCS

Help us to restore one of the most important montane rainforests in the rift valley highlands

We're helping to catalyse a massive new effort to restore the park's degraded forests to their former glory.
This landscape shows that natural regeneration work coupled with an innovative community programme can support a country’s ambition to reverse land degradation.


Nyungwe National Park is in bad need of restoration from the effects of fires and agricultural practices, whilst a solution is needed for honey harvesting.

Nyungwe in southwest Rwanda is the country’s largest and most biodiverse national protected area. The park has lost large areas of forest to fire, often resulting from the practice of smoking out bees to harvest wild honey from inside the park. Burned areas were rapidly colonised by bracken ferns Pteridium aquilinum, which suppress the regeneration of natural forest trees – creating a barrier to restoration – and increase the forest’s vulnerability to fire. As well as providing immense benefits for wildlife, restoration of Nyungwe is particularly important when considering the park’s highland situation: a fragile watershed that provides water critical to Rwanda’s agricultural sector in the valleys below, and half of the country’s power through hydroelectricity.

chimpanzee nyungwe


Fern removal and support for local farmers and beekeepers is securing and restoring Nyunge’s forest whilst helping meet the Rwandan government’s pledges of green development.

The Rwandan government was one of the first to sign up to the Bonn Challenge, and has pledged to restore 2 million hectares of degraded lands. Over the past 10 years, WCS has been testing methods to enhance forest regeneration through fern cutting in order to restore the degraded forest. This results in the natural regeneration of forest trees, as the seedbed remains viable. Pilot restoration efforts have shown that with three years of tending, the regenerating forest will naturally suppress the ferns and create a stable forest micro-climate, which also benefits much of Rwanda’s tea growing area.

This restoration effort is complemented with a community programme that is improving smallholder farming practices in the park buffer zone through a successful village savings and loans scheme, and supporting local beekeepers to produce and sell honey through the Ubwiza bwa modern honey cooperative without the need for smoking wild bees.   

WCS Rwanda team
fern clearing
new shoot - forest waterberry
Angolan black and white colobus
1 2 3 4 5
Prev Next
Scale of opportunity
Restoration of 6,000 hectares of rare African montane rainforest
Trees target
Successful restoration of Nyungwe’s degraded forest would add around 2.5 million new trees
Flagship biodiversity
13 species of primate, including eastern chimpanzees,1,323 recorded plant species, 278 bird species
Assisted natural regeneration, plus a successful Village Savings and Loans Association is benefiting vulnerable people in the park’s buffer zone who depend on the park.
Photo credits © WCS Rwanda