Bulletin 13 March 1981: Al Babha Plantation
Al Babha Plantation



Al Babha Plantation

by Dr. M.I.R. Khan, Forestry Expert

Introduction

Al Babha plantation in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi is one of the oldest and an interesting and important plantation. It is situated to the west of the Tarif-Liwa asphalted road running close and parallel to it for a distance of about 4.5 km between Habshan and Beda Zayed. No road traveler can miss seeing it. The total area of the plantation is 200 hectares of which 150 hectares have been planted so far. The remaining 50 hectares are scheduled for planting during 1980.

The raising of this plantation was originally taken up by Nasser bin Abdul Lateef of Dubai in 1973 but the contract subsequently was transferred to Agroplan, an afforestation company from the UK at the end of 1974. Agroplan also failed to make a success of this project and left it incomplete and dilapidated in 1975. The plantation was then entrusted to the newly created Forestry Department of the Abu Dhabi Municipality during 1975. As a result of stocktaking by the Forestry Department, the plantation over an area of 82 hectares was found to contain only about 4000 live plants at the end of 1975. Of the four deep wells sunk to irrigate the plantation, only one was in workable condition at that time. Arrangements were then made to sink more wells to provide adequate irrigation water to the plantation. Two deep wells and two open wells were sunk in 1976 to provide enough irrigation water to rehabilitate the plantation. All plants are irrigated by drip irrigation system and are planted at 7m by 7m spacing. Most of the dead and weak plants were replaced over the entire Al Babha plantation and by the end of 1976 the number of live, healthy plants rose to 16, 495 over an area of 82 hectares.

In 1977, irrigation of the plantation was further improved by digging another one open well and two more deep wells and the plantation was completed and maintained over an area of 90 hectares by the end of the year. During 1977, interplanting with fodder species like Atriplex, 'Markh" (Leptadenia pyrotechnica) and 'Arta' (Carlligonum comosum) was also started. The total number of plants in Al Babha plantation increased to 21,000 by the end of 1977.

An additional 30 hectares were planted and added in 1978 and the number of both trees and fodder species over 120 hectares went up to 34,018 by the end of 1978. During 1979, two more open wells were dug and another 30 hectares of Al Babha plantation were afforested, thus raising the total planted area to 150 hectares and the number of plants to 40,857. The planting stock now consists of over 9,000 plants of 'Gaaf' (Prosopis spicigera), more than 6,000 plants of 'Qarat' (Acacia arabica), about 6,000 plants of 'Sidr' (zizyphus spinachristi), over 4,000 plants of 'Guaif' (Eucalyptus camaludensis). The number of plants of fodder species such as Atriplex, 'Markh' (Leptadenia pyrotechnica) , and 'Arta' (Calligonum comosum) is over 7,000. There is also a block of about 1,000 plants of 'Rak' (Salvadora sps) plants and a small plantation of 181 date palm plants, most of which have started to bear fruit.

The remaining unplanted 50 hectares of the Al Babha plantation are due to be planted during this year, 1981. The area has been leveled and fenced. The layout of an automatic trickling irrigation system has just been completed and planting is being taken up in March, 1981.

Nursery

There is a small nursery attached to this plantation that measures about 40m by 15m. It is enclosed and protected by walling of asbestos sheets and live shelterbelts of plants raised inside the enclosed area. The nursery can hold up to 20,000 plants at a time and is producing 30,000 to 40,000 plants of a number of species annually. The nursery plants have been used for stocking the Al Babha plantation and other plantations in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi.

Shelterbelts

Shelterbelts or wind breaks of live trees have been raised along the outer boundaries of the plantation in order to reduce and slow down the velocity of fast moving winds and sand storms upon entering the plantation. This has helped a good deal in establishing the plantation. Two shelterbelts of Eucalyptus trees have been raised on the north and south of the campsite of the Al Babha plantation. Subsequent to the formation of these two tall tree shelterbelts, the camp is now very little affected by the sand storms and the labor and staff can live much more comfortably. Short-lived plants like the 'Sesban' (Sesbania aegyptica) and Ipil ipil (Leucane glauca) are also introduced in between the plants of the outermost row of trees to make the shelterbelt more compact and impregnable to wind. In the shelterbelts, the spacing of the plants is generally 3.5m by 3.5m.

Recovery of Natural Flora and Fauna

In the enclosed area of the plantation there has been a tremendous recover of natural flora and fauna. Plant bushes like 'Rims' (Haloxylon salicornicum), 'Arta' (Calligonum comosum), 'Haram' (Zygophyllum spp), 'Danun' (Cistanche sps), and 'Thamam' (Panicum turgidum) etc. have reappeared in profusion. The number of wild hares (Lepis capensis) has also increased, along with a variety of birds and insects.

Introduction of Gazelle

The older part of the Al Babha plantation was provided with an eight-foot-high deer-proof fence over an area of about 120 hectares during 1978. Four covered shelters constantly filled concrete water tanks to provide drinking water to the deer were also constructed. A pair of gazelle (Gazella gazella), a male and a female, were introduced and let loose in the plantation in late 1978. The pair is doing very well and we expect that they will multiply in the near future. Except for the salt lick provide from outside, the gazelle feed and thrive on the local vegetation growing in the plantation. They also drink the locally available subsoil water containing total salts varying between 6000 to 8000 part per million (ppm).




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