Using historical data to restore fragile ecosystems

History PGR student Alex Worsfold has received funding to to show the value of historical data to modern efforts to restore and rewild wetlands in the Huleh Valley.

The Huleh valley is an area in northern Israel, situated between the Golan Heights to the East and the ante-Lebanon mountains to the West. It is also where a series of streams come together to form the upper basin of the Jordan River.

The area was historically a wetland, home to a large marshland spread around an eponymous lake. The marshlands and wider valley were drained by the Israeli state in the 1950s as part of wider projects of economic development and malaria prevention, which had a catastrophic ecological effect on the area. The massive reduction of habitat led to the extinction and endangering of a series of species, and the intensification of agriculture in the area led to pollution problems further down the Jordan River.

The area is now the focus of efforts to restore and rewild parts of the marshlands and the Jordan River. Alex Worsfold’s funding from the Wohl Clean Growth Alliance, a programme of the British Council in Israel, will enable him to work collaboratively with Dr Idan Barnea (Society for the Protection of Nature), Dr Oren Reichman (Tel Hai Academic College) and Dr Nir Arielli (University of Leeds) in developing a new methodology that will inform rewilding projects in the Huleh Valley utilising a combination of modern scientific techniques and historical research.

Alex’s work shows that there is a huge amount of valuable data in historical archives that charts the ways in which the wetlands were developed and modified, allowing modern restoration work to be carried out with greater accuracy. Modern re-wilding projects utilise satellite data to inform the process, but the drainage of the Huleh marshes was completed before the first satellite images were produced of the region.

The project will begin with collecting archival data in the form of maps, images and documents, before Alex travels out to Tel Hai Academic College to visit the area and develop the methodology with the other project partners, and seek out further archival material.

This project is very exciting, since it emphasises the importance of history in informing 21st century efforts in conservation and sustainability, acknowledging the continuity in anthropogenic impact on the environment.

Alex is a first year PhD student in the School of History at Leeds. His PhD research examines British colonial development of rivers, streams and surface water in Palestine during their occupation of the country and the following mandate (1917-1948). It builds on work from his Master’s which examined British perceptions of the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt, but changes the perspective to focus on the environmental aspects of the British administration. Development factored heavily into the obligations of Britain as the mandated power in the region, and his PhD research tracks changes and continuity in the plans for key water sources in the region, planned or actual. 

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Top image:  Salhyeh and Mansoura - Hooleh Morass may by Rob Roy –  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.