(For this web version of the newsletter, click on any image to open a larger version use the Back button to return)
In May, after extensive revisions, the ABCP website was moved to a new server with a permanent domain name- http://www.blackwoodconservation.org. All of the existing photographs on the site were rescanned and many new ones added. Much more information about mpingo as a woodworking material and extensive information about conservation issues regarding it have been added. An editorial citing a review of the current conservation literature makes a compelling argument for the mission of the ABCP.
The ABCP website has developed into a considerable resource for information about the tree, its uses and related issues so stop by and see the new site if you are Internet-enabled. A web version of this newsletter with all the photographs in color may be viewed there also.
Cambridge Mpingo Project
Expeditions in 1996 and 1998 and one ongoing in the summer of 1999 involving students from Cambridge University have traveled to Tanzania to do research on the mpingo. This project is focusing on botanical studies, interviews with local people to understand their attitudes towards the tree, studying the ecology of the species and research into the socio-economic aspects of mpingo logging.
This long-term research effort is concentrating on obtaining quantitative data on the ecology of the tree and the impact of exploitation. Some interesting information is being developed. For example, in the Tanzanian Mpingo 96 research near Lindi in southeast Tanzania, a rather large database of mpingo trees was studied and it was determined that the population of trees was highly skewed towards younger trees. It generally seems that many of the older, more mature trees have died or been harvested. One effect of this may be to limit genetic diversity because the base population serving to resupply seed stock is heavily weighted towards younger rather than older trees which have proven their desirable traits of long-term survivability.
Steve Ball, project leader in 1996-8, states in his Report on Tanzanian Mpingo 96 that, "Perhaps through strong, pro-active measures Dalbergia melanoxylon can serve as a flagship species for the conservation of Tanzanian woodlands as a whole. A strategy for sustainable harvesting could save the mpingo as an ecological, economic and artistic resource for future generations." Steve has generously shared his research with the ABCP and reports and photographs from the first two Cambridge Mpingo Project (editor's note: renamed to Mpingo Conservation Project in March 2004) expeditions may be viewed on the ABCP website from a link in the Sitemap on the homepage.
From a review of recent conservation literature regarding mpingos, the following statements are extracted. Hazel Sharman writes in her 1995 Masters Thesis for the University of Edinburgh that "The case of Dalbergia melanoxylon is a classic example of a species which although of local, national and international value and importance is being totally neglected in terms of conservation .(it) is in fact the most highly valued traded timber in the world and is of cultural, ecological and economic significance where it grows. This is particularly true for Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, where the species is important at local, national and international scales. The combination of these facts imply that the trade and use of Dalbergia melanoxylon are not likely to stop, and without the implementation of carefully designed management plans the exploitation may continue until it is no longer economically viable, which may, unfortunately correspond with extinction.".
Also in a Masters Thesis for the University of Edinburgh in the same year, David Beale writes that in a process known as "high grading" only the most mature and straightest (most marketable) trees are removed from the ecosystem. This "pattern of exploitation could signal the beginning of a downward spiral of increasing costs and a declining mpingo stock which could lead towards commercial extinction." Biological extinction may not be imminent in the short term, but studies such as cited above buttress the argument that it is time to take concrete and direct action for conservation of this species to maintain its genetic diversity and long-term viability
We note with regret the passing this past year of Roger Davies, past editor of the Society of Ornamental Turners Bulletin. As a master craftsman and mechanic whom I and my fellow ornamental turners held in the highest esteem, Roger appreciated that there was more to the craft of ornamental turning than just the mechanical manipulation of wood by tools. He had the vision to realize that there was also an aspect of responsibility for the materials that made such exquisite work as he practiced possible. He supported the replanting of mpingo trees by the African Blackwood Conservation Project both by his words through his editorial position with the Bulletin and with his pocketbook. His presence among us as a master craftsman and expert on the machinery of ornamental turning, as well as an outspoken advocate for blackwood conservation will indeed be missed. I knew him as a thoughtful, helpful and witty man, and my acquaintance with him, however brief, graced my life. Roger, the mpingo trees you have helped to plant are a living memory to the generosity of your spirit. Rest in peace. JH
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Last revised 21 Apr 2008.