Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 253–266 | Cite as

Forest cover change over four decades in the Blue Nile Basin, Ethiopia: comparison of three watersheds

  • Solomon Gebreyohannis GebrehiwotEmail author
  • Woldeamlak Bewket
  • Annemieke I. Gärdenäs
  • Kevin Bishop
Original Article


The objective of this study was to quantify forest cover changes in three watersheds (Gilgel Abbay (1,646 km2), Birr (980 km2), and Upper-Didesa (1,980 km2) of the Blue Nile Basin between 1957 and 2001. Four land cover maps were produced for each watershed for 1957/1958, 1975, 1986, and 2000/2001. Nine different types of land cover were identified, five of which were forest cover classes. Between 1957 and 2001, the total forest cover increased in Gilgel Abbay (from 10 to 22 % cover) and decreased in Birr (from 29 to 22 % cover) as well as in Upper-Didesa (from 89 to 45 % cover). The increase in Gilgel Abbay was primarily due to the expansion of eucalyptus plantations. Natural forest cover decreased in all three watersheds. Wooded grassland decreased by two-thirds, dry/moist mixed forests decreased by half, and riverine forests had disappeared by 1975 in Gilgel Abbay and Birr. Major deforestation had already taken place in the northern watersheds, Gilgel Abbay and Birr, before the 1960s and 1970s, while in the southern watershed, Upper-Didesa, much of the deforestation occurred after 1975. The southern watershed still remained by far the most forested watershed in 2001 despite the strong ongoing deforestation. The changes in forest cover could affect natural resource management, greenhouse gas emissions, water resources, and agricultural production including coffee production. The patterns of change are different in the three watersheds. We therefore recommend further studies of the local conditions and drivers of change as the basis for designing effective policy to halt further loss of natural forest, which offers a wealth of ecosystem services.


Birr Deforestation Eucalyptus plantation Gilgel Abbay Land cover change Upper-Didesa 



This research was supported by funds from SIDA (Swedish International Development Agency) and The Swedish Foreign Affairs Office project “Soil and water management in agricultural production”. Image processing and land cover classification for Gilgel Abbay and Birr were done by SEARCHERS Plc., Ethiopia.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Solomon Gebreyohannis Gebrehiwot
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Woldeamlak Bewket
    • 3
  • Annemieke I. Gärdenäs
    • 4
  • Kevin Bishop
    • 2
    • 5
  1. 1.Ethiopian Institute of Water ResourcesAddis Ababa UniversityAddis AbabaEthiopia
  2. 2.Department of Aquatic Sciences and AssessmentSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUppsalaSweden
  3. 3.Department of Geography and Environmental StudiesAddis Ababa UniversityAddis AbabaEthiopia
  4. 4.Department of Soil and EnvironmentSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUppsalaSweden
  5. 5.Department of Earth SciencesUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden

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