x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Trees threatened by development get a new life ... in Mushrif Park

A 628-hectare stretch of land in Dubai is now home to more than 71,272 trees saved from the paths of bulldozers.

"What we've got now is the UAE's natural ecosystem," says Mohammed Abdul Rahman Al Awadhi, the head of Dubai Municipality's horticulture section, speaking about the Mushrif Forest.

DUBAI // Wrapped around Mushrif Park is a very special retirement home … for trees.

Affectionately known as Mushrif Forest to members of the horticulture section at Dubai Municipality, the 628-hectare area was fenced off to the public in 1992 to protect more than 10,000 Ghaf trees.

As the city began to expand, the municipality tried to rescue as many trees as it could - particularly the iconic Ghaf. Over a few years, thousands of trees were relocated to Mushrif.

"The first trees we moved were a group of 19 Ghafs that were located behind the World Trade Centre," said Mohammad Abdul Rahman Al Awadi, head of Dubai Municipality's horticulture section.

"What we've got now is the UAE's natural ecosystem. We haven't touched the original plants or trees. All we've done is add trees to their surroundings."

Mushrif Forest is home to 71,272 trees, more than 43,000 of which are Ghafs. It is irrigated with treated drainage water supplied by the municipality's sewage treatment plant. The trees in the area range from 20 to more than 150 years old.

"We are looking at removing any tree species that is not naturally found in the UAE to make room for the more traditional plants."

In 2008, when construction slowed, additions to the forest also slowed. Now that projects are being restarted, the section expects Mushrif Forest to get busy again.

"We are looking into being able to add a few more lines of irrigation from the drainage network," said Mr Al Awadi. "We want to be able to irrigate some of the elevated areas for which we have not had enough water in the past."

Not all trees survive the move. Those that don't make it are donated so their wood can be used in heritage projects. "Nothing goes to waste here, we manage to make use of everything we can."

A recent donation of a rare acacia species is also being cared for at the forest. The section hopes the three green-trunked acacias will soon multiply and become a common sight around the city.

The forest has also attracted a wide range of bird life. Branches are dotted with nests and quails can be seen skittering away as you walk through the forest.

"Mushrif Forest is not an official sanctuary - that would require a decree from the Ruler's Court - so we can't call it a nature reserve. But that is how we see it. It's very precious to us," Mr Al Awadi said.

Dr Reza Khan, wildlife expert and director of Dubai Zoo, said: "It's a beautiful place. I don't know why they haven't made it an official reserve. The area is home to many bird species that thrive in desert forests, like the Honey Buzzards. The old Ghaf trees that have holes in them have become home to owls including two Desert Eagle Owls, which is that largest night bird in the region."

Dr Khan said it is also home to the largest population of Eurasian Collard Doves in the UAE.

"It's the only large green area available and it's kept very clean. That's why it has attracted so many animals, including the Arabian fox and Arabian hare."

Though the forest is closed to the public, equestrian enthusiasts can enjoy a horse ride under the canopy of Ghaf branches.

malkhan@thenational.ae