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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2006  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1-35

From Forestry to Soil Conservation: British Tree Management in Lesotho's Grassland Ecosystem

Centre for World Environmental History, Arts C146, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, BN1, 9SJ, UK.

Correspondence Address:
Kate B Showers
11-275 Pelham Road, St. Catharines, Ont. L2S 3B9 Canada.

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Unlike wooded savannas closer to the equator, Lesotho's grassland ecosystem supports few trees. Where topography provides protection from cold winds, or concentrations of ground water mitigate atmospheric drought, hardy species of trees grow. Basotho valued their wooded patches, as well as individual trees, as defenses against cold and for construction. Trees were protected vegetation, managed as common property by the chiefs for the bene­fit of all. Arriving Europeans did not know about, or understand, this system of protection. Nineteenth century missionaries cut down most of the riparian trees for construction and fuel. The twentieth century British Basutoland gov­ernment implemented tree planting programmes, despite limited acceptance by the Basotho and high rates of mortality. An explanation for continued tree planting activities in the face of obvious failure can be found in an analysis of the importance of environmental narratives to government officials. A set of beliefs about trees' universal ecological benefits prevented officials from ac­cepting evidence to the contrary.

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