The Nyika Vwaza (UK) Trust works to improve the conservation of both the fauna and flora od the Nyika National Park and the Vwaza March Wildlife Reserve through its programme of education in the communities surrounding the protected areas and its work in applied research to find solutions to significant threats to the ecology of these areas.
The Trust provides funding for these activities largely through the generosity of its supporters.
What is so special about the Nyika National Park? Quite simply, the Nyika plateau is the largest area of high montane grassland and evergreeen forest left in Africa. It supports a large and diverse range of fauna and flora, much of it vulnerable or endangered.
The Nyika was Malawi's first national park and was established in 1965. It is the largest of Malawi's five national parks and now covers 3,000sq-km. It is one of central Africa's most beautiful montane plateaux. Rolling grasslands interspersed with small streams stretch to the horizon and there are patches of relict montane evergreen forest along with waterfalls that cascade over the edge of the plateau. Wildlife is abundant - zebra, roan, eland, reedbuck, bushbuck, common duiker, bush pig and klipspringer are common and the Nyika is home to a small herd of about 45 elephants. Leopard and serval are also seen and at one time the Nyika had the highest concentration of leopard in Africa. Bird life is rich, with the highest number of species recorded in any of Malawi's national parks and game reserves. The wildflowers on the Nyika are spectacular and the park boasts over 200 species of orchid.
But it also a fragile environment. Fires - some wild, some not - regularly sweep across the plateau and cause devastation. The relict patches of forest are particularly vulnerable to fire: grasslands recover quickly from burning but montane and evergreen forests - habitats that are endangered throughout the world - do not. It is generally accepted that the small patches of forest we have on the Nyika today were once much more extensive and that fires are the cause of this fragmentation.
The wildlife of the Nyika is also threatened. Subsistence poaching, particularly on the peripheries of the park, takes a toll. Historically, the Nyika has always experienced poaching but the significant increase in human population over the last 20 years has led to an increase in demand for poached bush meat.
The ecology of the Nyika is also under threat from introduced plant species, especially the European pine. In the 1950's and 60's a pine plantation was established in the centre of the Nyika with a view to establishing a commercial logging and wood product industry. The venture was unsuccessful but its legacy is 1,200 acres of mature pine sitting right on top of the plateau at about 2,400 metres. Pine seedlings spread and grow at an alarming rate and, with the prevailing easterly winds, the plantation has been growing unchecked westwards across the high plateau.
Other introduced species such as the Himalayan raspberry can also be found in all corners of the plateau, as it is spread by birds. The bracken fern, although indigenous, is also a problem as it spreads rapidly and is more resilient to fire than some grass species. .