Science of the total environment vol:407 issue:8 pages:2749-2755
A collection of sepia photographs, taken during Great Britain's military expedition to Abyssinia in 1868, are the oldest landscape photographs from northern Ethiopia, and have been used to compare the status of vegetation and land management 140 years ago with that of contemporary times. Thirteen repeat landscape photographs, taken during the dry seasons of 1868 and 2008, were analyzed for various environmental indicators and show a significant improvement of vegetation cover. New eucalypt woodlands, introduced since the 1950s are visible and have provided a valuable alternative for house construction and fuel-wood, but more importantly there has also been locally important natural regeneration of indigenous trees and shrubs. The situation in respect to soil and water conservation measures in farmlands has also improved. According to both historical information and measured climatic data, rainfall conditions around 1868 and in the late 19th century were similar to those of the late 20th/early 21st century. Furthermore, despite a ten-fold increase in population density, land rehabilitation has been accomplished over extensive areas by large-scale implementation of reforestation and terracing activities, especially in the last two decades. in some cases repeat photography shows however that riparian vegetation has been washed away. This is related to river widening in recent degradation periods, particularly in the 1970s-1980s. More recently, riverbeds have become stabilized, and indicate a decreased runoff response. Environmental recovery programmes could not heal all scars, but this study shows that overall there has been a remarkable recovery of vegetation and also improved soil protection over the last 140 years, thereby invalidating hypotheses of the irreversibility of land degradation in semi-arid areas. in a highly degraded environment with high pressure on the land, rural communities were left with no alternative but to improve land husbandry: in northern Ethiopia such interventions have been demonstrably successful. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.