Echuya Central Forest Reserve

Muchuya or Behungi Swamp

UGATIPA10
Echuya Central Forest Reserve

Country: Uganda

Administrative region: Western (Region)

Central co-ordinates: 1.28474 S, 29.81995 E

Area: 35.9km²

Qualifying IPA Criteria

A(i)Site contains one or more globally threatened species

IPA assessment rationale

Echuya Central Forest Reserve qualifies as an IPA under sub-criterion A(i), with three trigger species: Kniphofia bequaertii (EN), Bothriocline ruwenzoriensis (VU) and Swertia adolfi-friderici (VU). This site is also of note as the only national locality, and globally only one of two localities, from which the subspecies Silene kigesiensis subsp. kigesiensis is known.

Site description

Echuya Central Forest Reserve is located in the Rukiga Highlands of southwestern Uganda and borders Rwanda in the south. The site is 5 km west of Lake Bunyonyi and 13 km east of Mgahinga National Park and falls within Kisoro and Rubanda Districts. At the centre of the site is Muchuya swamp, a permanent alpine swamp, while the Kabale-Kisoro road runs through the reserve to the north of this swamp. This site is important for four globally threatened plant species but is under pressure from timber and bamboo extraction and agricultural encroachment.

Botanical significance

Three threatened species are known from Echuya CFR. Kniphofia bequaertii is an Endangered perennial herb known only from this site, the Virunga Mountains and the Mahali Mountains in Tanzania. Echuya is only one of two sites known nationally for this species and K. bequaertii has previously been recorded as common in boggy valleys (Snowden #1514), very common in “water meadow” areas (Eggeling #961) and “moderately common” in bamboo forest (Tothilll 2745). There has not been a collection of K. bequaertii since 1948, however, 2021 transect surveys by Bitariho & Babaasa (2022) record K. thompsonii but this is more likely to be a misidentification of K. bequaertii, as K. thompsonii is only known east Uganda, on Mount Elgon and Mount Kadam, and is not associated with waterlogged habitats like those of this site (Whitehouse 2002). Additional survey work, including collection of voucher specimens, is needed to confirm its continued presence at this site.
Swertia adolfii- friderici is another herbaceous species associated with high-altitude wetland habitats. Assessed as Vulnerable, this species is an Albertine Rift endemic and is threatened at several sites by habitat loss including through agricultural expansion and peat extraction (Fischer et al. 2019). This species is only known from a single collection at this site (Eggeling #1054) which was likely made in the early 1930sgiven Eggeling’s collecting history. A second Vulnerable species, Bothriocline ruwenzoriensis, is a shrub known from montane forest and woodland in the Albertine Rift and southeastern D.R. Congo the last record of this species is from 1995 from bamboo forest (Friedberg & Yarom #17)
Silene (Lychnis) kigesiensis subsp. kigesiensis has been assessed as Least Concern, but remains of conservation importance as a subspecies that is known only from this site and Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda. The habitat at Echuya has been described as ditches in swamps (Thomas #1062; Burtt #2932). At least three collections have been made at this site and, given this species’ highly restricted range, Echuya represents an important opportunity to conserve this subspecies globally.

Habitat and geology

Surveys by Nature Uganda (2015) found that Echuya is dominated by broadleaf trees associated with secondary forest, most commonly Macaranga capensis, followed by Psychotria mahonii and Neoboutonia macrocalyx, with some areas of bamboo forest, consisting of Oldeania alpina (Nature Uganda 2015). The site is described by Langdale Brown as Hagenia-Rapanea Moist Montane Forest and Arundinaria (Oldeania) Montane Bamboo. The formermost forest species, Hagenia abyssinica and Myrsine (Rapanea) melanophloeos, have been reported as occasional at these sites in more recent studies (Bitariho & Babaasa 2022; Davenport et al. 1996). Much of the broadleaf forest is located on the higher ground above the swamp, while mixed bamboo forests occur adjacent to swamp areas. In the centre of the reserve is Muchuya swamp, a permanent, high-altitude swamp dominated by Carex and giant Lobelia spp. (Bitariho & Babaasa 2022).
The geology of the site is predominantly phyllites and shales with some quartz, quartzite and granitic outcrops of the Karagwe-Ankole System while soils are moderate to highly acidic humic, red loams (Nature Uganda 2015).

Conservation issues

Echuya is thought to be dominated by secondary forest (Nature Uganda 2015). The bamboo forests at this site are thought to be a pre-climax, successional stage that arose over 2,000 years ago associated with anthropogenic influences in the area (Taylor 1992). At the time Echuya was first gazetted as a forest reserve in 1939, the site was dominated by bamboo, however, stands of hardwood trees have replaced bamboo stands over the last 70 years possibly due to the exclusion fire, herbivores and human activity (Banana & Tweheyo 2001).
Surveys by Nature Uganda have, however, found that, while major disturbances at this site may have declined over recent decades, at over half of the 122 sites they sampled within the reserve, human activity was observed. The site is the only source for bamboo in the Kigezi area, while livestock grazing has also been observed, particularly in the reserve edges, and in recent yearsagricultural encroachment has also been noted (Bitariho & Babaasa 2022). This encroachment appears to be in the northeast of the site, in the section along the Kabale-Kisoro Road, and appears to be mostly limited to areas that were previously pine plantation forest, although some broadleaf forest also appears to be impacted (Google Earth 2023). Nature Uganda (2015) recommend there should be greater efforts to exclude these activities from the Strict Nature Reserve within the park while other forest activities, such as bamboo extraction, should be regulated as recommended within the reserve management plan.
In 2018 the NFA undertook an understorey clearance of 3.6 km2 of bamboo forest, equivalent to 11% of Echuya CFR, removing all tree saplings, vines, shrubs and lianas. The clearance was undertaken to promote bamboo growth, as supply was observed to be depleted in the local area (Bitariho & Babaasa 2022). Species richness of shrubs, lianas, vines and herbaceous plants in Echuya CFR have all declined between 2015 and 2021, with this clearance thought to be the leading cause (Bitariho & Babaasa 2022).
As the rare and threatened species known from this site were collected in the decades where the bamboo forest continued to dominate, it is unclear what this reversion back to broadleaf forest has on these populations. Kniphofia bequaertii, for instance, was noted to be “moderately common in bamboo forest” (Tothill #2745) when collected in 1938 although this species is also known to be common in inundated grasslands from this site (Eggeling #961), so is perhaps not too impacted by this habitat change. Detailed habitat information is absent for the other IPA trigger species and, therefore, further research is needed to establish which habitats these species are associated with and the impact of changing habitats at Echuya CFR.
Nature Uganda has been collaborating with partners to enhance biodiversity conservation and support sustainable livelihoods around Echuya. Working with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in the 2000s, Nature Uganda undertook conservation actions including the development of Collaborative Forest Management agreements between local communities and the NFA, planting of 240,000 tree seedlings and 5,500 bamboo rhizomes outside the forest by communities and provision of training in sustainable, organic agriculture (RSPB 2023). More recently Nature Uganda worked with communities and local government to develop by-laws for the conservation of water and soil in Echuya, including an accompanying radio awareness campaign about the importance of water and soil conservation for climate resilience (Birdlife International 2015). Despite these conservation initiatives, some of the threats to this site remain, while signs of anthropogenic influence increased between 2015 to 2021 (Bitariho & Babaasa 2022).
Echuya has been recognised as a Key Biodiversity Area as the site hosts globally important populations of two threatened mammals, Endangered narrow-headed shrew (Crocidura stenocephala) and Vulnerable Delany's swamp mouse (Delanymys brooksi), and the Endangered bird species, Grauer's Rush Warbler (Bradypterus graueri). The site is also recognised as an IBA with 152 species known from Echuya (RSPB 2023).

Ecosystem services

Hardwood pole cutting, bamboo harvesting, livestock grazing, cultivation of crops (namely potatoes), beekeeping and firewood collection have all been reported from Echuya (Bitariho & Babaasa 2022; Nature Uganda 2015). Bamboo is of particular importance and is used to for fuel, construction and for producing household items such as granaries and baskets (Bitariho & McNeilage 2008). There have also been reports of people crossing over from Rwanda to extract bamboo and peat soils for fertiliser (Daily Monitor 2018).
The forests of this site play an important role in water catchment and soil stabilisation, while they also help to conserve several threatened faunal taxa (Bitariho & Babaasa 2022). There is some tourism at this site, particularly from birders who are also visiting Mhaginga and Bwindi National Parks (Daily Monitor 2018).

Site assessor(s)

IPA criterion A species

Species Qualifying sub-criterion ≥ 1% of global population ≥ 5% of national population 1 of 5 best sites nationally Entire global population Socio-economically important Abundance at site
Bothriocline ruwenzoriensis (S.Moore) C.Jeffrey A(i) True True True False False Unknown
Kniphofia bequaertii De Wild. A(i) True True True False False Common
Swertia adolfi-friderici Mildbr. & Gilg A(i) True True True False False Unknown

Bothriocline ruwenzoriensis (S.Moore) C.Jeffrey

Qualifying sub-criterion:
A(i)
≥ 1% of global population:
True
≥ 5% of national population:
True
1 of 5 best sites nationally:
True
Entire global population:
False
Socio-economically important:
False
Abundance at site:
Unknown

Kniphofia bequaertii De Wild.

Qualifying sub-criterion:
A(i)
≥ 1% of global population:
True
≥ 5% of national population:
True
1 of 5 best sites nationally:
True
Entire global population:
False
Socio-economically important:
False
Abundance at site:
Common

Swertia adolfi-friderici Mildbr. & Gilg

Qualifying sub-criterion:
A(i)
≥ 1% of global population:
True
≥ 5% of national population:
True
1 of 5 best sites nationally:
True
Entire global population:
False
Socio-economically important:
False
Abundance at site:
Unknown

General site habitats

General site habitat Percent coverage Importance
Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Swamp Forest No value Minor
Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Montane Forest No value Major
Wetlands (inland) - Bogs, Marshes, Swamps, Fens, Peatlands [generally over 8 ha] No value Major

Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Swamp Forest

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Minor

Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Montane Forest

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Major

Wetlands (inland) - Bogs, Marshes, Swamps, Fens, Peatlands [generally over 8 ha]

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Major

Land use types

Land use type Percent coverage Importance
Nature conservation No value Major
Agriculture (arable) No value Minor
Agriculture (pastoral) No value Minor
Tourism / Recreation No value Minor
Forestry No value Minor
Harvesting of wild resources No value Minor

Nature conservation

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Major

Agriculture (arable)

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Minor

Agriculture (pastoral)

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Minor

Tourism / Recreation

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Minor

Forestry

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Minor

Harvesting of wild resources

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Minor

Threats

Threat Severity Timing
Natural system modifications - Other ecosystem modifications Medium Past, not likely to return
Agriculture & aquaculture - Annual & perennial non-timber crops - Small-holder farming Medium Ongoing - increasing
Agriculture & aquaculture - Livestock farming & ranching - Small-holder grazing, ranching or farming Low Ongoing - trend unknown
Biological resource use - Logging & wood harvesting Low Ongoing - trend unknown

Natural system modifications - Other ecosystem modifications

Severity:
Medium
Timing:
Past, not likely to return

Agriculture & aquaculture - Annual & perennial non-timber crops - Small-holder farming

Severity:
Medium
Timing:
Ongoing - increasing

Agriculture & aquaculture - Livestock farming & ranching - Small-holder grazing, ranching or farming

Severity:
Low
Timing:
Ongoing - trend unknown

Biological resource use - Logging & wood harvesting

Severity:
Low
Timing:
Ongoing - trend unknown

Protected areas

Protected area name Protected area type Relationship with IPA Areal overlap
Echuya Central Forest Reserve Forest Reserve (conservation) protected/conservation area matches IPA 36

Echuya Central Forest Reserve

Protected area type:
Forest Reserve (conservation)
Relationship with IPA:
protected/conservation area matches IPA
Areal overlap:
36

Conservation designation

Designation name Protected area Relationship with IPA Areal overlap
Echuya Central Forest Reserve Important Bird Area protected/conservation area matches IPA 36
Echuya Central Forest Reserve Key Biodiversity Area protected/conservation area matches IPA 36

Echuya Central Forest Reserve

Protected area:
Important Bird Area
Relationship with IPA:
protected/conservation area matches IPA
Areal overlap:
36

Echuya Central Forest Reserve

Protected area:
Key Biodiversity Area
Relationship with IPA:
protected/conservation area matches IPA
Areal overlap:
36

Management type

Management type Description Year started Year finished
Site management plan in place No value No value

Site management plan in place

Year started:
No value
Year finished:
No value

Bibliography

Plumptre, A. J., Ayebare, S., Behangana, M., Forrest, T. G., Hatanga, P., Kabuye, C., Kirunda, B., Kityo, R., Mugabe, H., Namaganda, M., Nampindo, S., Nangendo, G., Nkuutu, D. N., Pomeroy, D., Tushabe, H. & Prinsloo, S., 2019

Conservation of vertebrates and plants in Uganda: Identifying Key Biodiversity Areas and other sites of national importance

Conservation Science and Practice, Vol 1, page(s) 1-12 Available online

Langdale-Brown, I., Osmaston, H. A., & Wilson, J. G., 1964

The Vegetation of Uganda and its Bearing on Land-Use

Banana, A.Y. & Tweheyo, M., 2001

The Ecological Changes of Echuya Afromontane Bamboo Forest, Uganda

African Journal of Ecology, Vol 39, page(s) 366-373 Available online

BirdLife International, 2015

Building Resilient Montane Landscapes in Uganda Is Helping People and Birds Adapt

Available online

Bitariho, R. & Babaasa, D., 2022

A comparative assessment of biodiversity changes in Echuya Central Forest Reserve following anthropogenic activities between 2015 and 2021

Bitariho, R. & McNeilage, A., 2008

Population Structure of Montane Bamboo and Causes of Its Decline in Echuya Central Forest Reserve, South West Uganda

African Journal of Ecology, Vol 46, page(s) 325-332 Available online

Daily Monitor, 2018

Soil Mining, Tree Cutting Threaten Echuya Forest

Daily Monitor Available online

Davenport, T., Howard, P. & Matthews, R., 1996

Echuya and Mafuga Forest Reserves Biodiversity Report

Fischer, E., Beentje, H. J., Kabuye, C., Kalema, J., Luke, W. R. Q., Nshutiyayesu, S. & Ntore, S., 2019

Swertia adolfi-friderici. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: E.T103647233A103648522

Available online

Nature Uganda, 2015

The Status of Biodiversity in Echuya Central Forest Reserve

RSPB, 2023

Conserving Echuya forest, Uganda Conservation Project - The RSPB

Available online

Taylor, D., 1992

Pollen evidence from Muchoya Swamp, Rukiga Highlands (Uganda), forabrupt changes in vegetation during the last ca. 21 000 years

Bulletin de La Societe Geologique de France, Vol 168, page(s) 77-82 Available online

Recommended citation

(2024) Tropical Important Plant Areas Explorer: Echuya Central Forest Reserve (Uganda). https://tipas.kew.org/site/echuya-central-forest-reserve/ (Accessed on 21/05/2024)