Socio-Ecological Characterization of Forest Ecosystem Health in the Southwestern Mau Forest Reserve, Kenya
Assessment and documentation of the status of ecosystem health and analysis of the effects of human-induced changes on a Kenyan montane natural forest, characterized by a human-dominated landscape, were done. A socioeconomic assessment of the perceptions and attitudes of the inhabitants about the importance, status and causes of degradation was carried out between August 2006 and September 2007. The provisional capacity of the reserve for goods and services was also evaluated. In order to assess individual local actions at the household level and their effects on the overall health dynamics in the forest reserve, information about the direct and indirect drivers of forest degradation at the forest reserve level was sought from the time of inhabitation until the time of study. The perceptions and attitudes of the inhabitants regarding supply of ecosystem goods and services at the forest reserve scale were evaluated. This was executed using a household survey where one hundred and fifty household heads were interviewed using a semi-structured questionnaire. An integrated approach to defining the health of the ecosystem at the local level was attempted. Results indicated a chronological degradation in the condition of the forest over time. A continued reduction in the number and density of once dominant tree species as well as structural physiognomy was shown. Households in the South-western Mau experience an increasing decline in the supply of once abundant important goods, including fuelwood, timber, medicinal plants and poles. Disappearance of abundant and common wildlife species was also recorded. In the forest reserve, solutions to issues and problems related to encroachment on forestland and related disturbance activities lie in clear land use policy and legislation designating particular uses to particular land categories. This is urgently required to deal with the issues related to unsustainable land use.
Keywords: Socio-ecological well-being, characterisation, South-western Mau, Kenya