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Defence and Space

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Defence and Space

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Defence and Space

Amara, Ethiopia, very high quality satellite imagery - Pléiades Neo 30cm resolution

Forestry and Heritage: the Church Forests of Ethiopia

Over the past century, Ethiopia's Amhara region has witnessed the loss of 90% of its forests due to agricultural practices. Despite this extensive transformation, pockets of century-old tree groves persist, forming wooded islands that serve as home to burials, monasteries and Ethiopian Orthodox churches. This longstanding tradition, dating back to the 4th century, perserveres amid the changing landscape.


Amhara, once covered in forests, now retains only 4% of its original forest cover, mainly made up of church forests. These 35,000 sacred forests, varying in size from 3 to 300 hectares, are vital remnants of Ethiopia's primary forest. However, they now face threat from invasive species like eucalyptus trees. Acting as natural seed banks, church forests preserve the genetic diversity of local tree species and support reforestation efforts. Beyond conservation, these sanctuaries play a vital role in moderating temperatures, shielding against destructive winds and nurturing pollinators that increase yields – essential factors for the surrounding agriculture. 

Satellite imagery can be used to create a cartographic inventory of church forests.

At the center of these lush groves are round-shaped churches, their conic and sometimes colored roofs bestowing a sacred dimension upon the surrounding trees. Notably, some of these churches are in poor condition or lack roofs. Pléiades Neo satellite imagery makes it possible to carry out an inventorying of sites, assess tree conditions and evaluate the condition of religious buildings, the oldest of which date back 1500 years.

Did you know? 

Amhara, Ethiopia's second most populous region, has the largest number of World Heritage sites in the country. The region encompasses Ethiopia's largest inland body of water, Tana Lake, the source of the Blue Nile. 

Mapping of church forest locations for inventory

Satellite imagery can be used to create a cartographic inventory of church forests. Where some churches are well-maintained and listed, like the two churches visible in the Pléiades Neo satellite imagery shown here, there are also others in less favorable conditions, which remain to be listed. These churches are often located in rural areas, requiring travel to reach them.

Satellite monitoring of the forest ecosystem

Leaning against a hill, the church forest of Iva Michael has a circular roof painted in three colors, surrounded by a forest containing large trees spread across a grove measuring 250 meters at its longest stretch. The stark contrast between agricultural areas and the forest illustrates the significant deforestation trends of the 20th century.

Mapping forest space

In this Pléiades Neo image of the Church of Reverend Murcy, seen here with its blue circular roof, the organisation of forest space and the positioning of each tree is clearly visible. Shadows cast by these trees show that these are large trees, some of which surpass the central building in height.

Architecture and heritage

Two churches have lost their roofs, revealing the interior architecture in this Pléiades Neo imagery. A square structure in the center can be seen in both of the churches, serving as both the central pillar and the altar. However, the circular framework system supporting the roof differs: one is composed of a thick circular framework with 8 bays, while the other has a lighter framework spanning 16 bays.

Ethiopie_PNeo_20230301_church without Roof 1.jpg
Ethiopie_PNeo_20230301_chrurch without Roof 2.jpg


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