A forest for the city
Lying to the East of Israel and the West of Saudi Arabia, Jordan’s landscape boasts grand expanses of dusty, dry desert and spectacular mountains. But just fifty miles north of the capital, Amman, is an extraordinary green oasis – the Dibeen Forest Reserve. Here the landscape slowly transforms from dusty hillsides, neatly terraced with olive groves, to a richly layered forest - a symphony of green even at the height of summer.
This is a landscape at once beautiful and valuable. It’s one of the last Pine and Oak forests in the Middle East, set within one of the region’s driest areas, where temperatures can soar to 40C. While much of the Jordanian landscape relies on irrigation to produce vegetation - whether productive or decorative - the Dibeen forest gets by with an average of just 400mm of rain each year, captured by its hills and wadis (valleys).
Ranged at heights varying from 500m to 1000m, elevation dictates the tree varieties. At the highest altitude Aleppo or Cyprus Oaks (Quercus infectoria) can be found. The pine-oak woodland lies in the middle, with Aleppo Pines (Pinus halepensis) mixing with Palestine Oak (Quercus calliprinos). In the lower elevations Aleppo pines dominate. Also present are the Strawberry Tree (Arbutusandrachine) with its striking bark, Pistachio trees (Pistachia palestina) and Wild Olive (Olea europea).
Beneath the trees a vigorous understory flourishes, layered with endemic species of orchids, as well as tulips, Rock Rose (Cistus spp.), Sea Squill (Urginea maritima), Asphodel (Asphodelus aestivus) and Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa).
This richly layered oasis is a biodiversity hotspot, creating habitats for seventeen endangered species, including the Persian squirrel, the striped hyena and the grey wolf. Wild cats roam the forest and land tortoises munch through the undergrowth.
Members of the Bristol team explored the Reserve while seeking inspiration for an exciting new project - a masterplan renewing a university campus on the edge of Amman. Home to the Royal Scientific Society (RSS) and the Princess Somaiya University for Technology (PSUT), the campus is currently shaded by pine trees - but lacks the rich biodiversity found in the Reserve.
Our masterplan brings a bit of the Dibeen magic to the city edge, recreating a rich, drought-tolerant ‘forest’ to wrap around the campus. The existing pine trees will gain a verdant new understory, creating habitats and a beautiful new aesthetic. Just like the Dibeen forest, this landscape will get by with a minimum of water by planting local species adapted to the climate. What’s more, the unique qualities of the forest will become accessible to city dwellers, unable to make the journey to the reserve.
The Dibeen Reserve is a natural masterclass in water management – a reminder of the extraordinary variety of life that can be supported by a small amount of rainwater. In a rapidly warming climate that’s a lesson worth applying well beyond Jordan’s borders.