The Liwonde Highlands consist of a chain of four round hills on a ridge 32 km long from west to east, rising from the Lake shore plain (to the north) and Lake Chilwa (to the east), with the Shire Highlands stretching to the south. Chikala Hill is the easternmost and highest of the four, with a rocky peak at 1,626 m. It bears one of the finest patches (285 ha, at 1,300–1,600 m) of mid-altitude rainforest in the country, with a 40-m-tall canopy dominated by Newtonia buchananii and Strombosia scheffleri. The forest is surrounded by miombo woodland, but large areas have been cleared on the eastern saddle where 800 people have established themselves illegally. There is still much well-preserved miombo on the three hills to the west of Chikala, although at lower levels 3,000 ha have disappeared under Eucalyptus plantations.
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. Over 160 species are known from the reserve. The forest on Chikala is important for its breeding population of Alethe choloensis and Oriolus chlorocephalus (both common, with c.15 pairs of the oriole and more of the alethe), with smaller numbers of Apalis chariessa. Zoothera guttata has not been recorded, but could occur as it is known from similar habitat and altitude elsewhere in southern Malawi. Dendropicos stierlingi has been recorded from Chinduzi Hill and Ploceus olivaceiceps from high-altitude woodland near hilltops.
Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The forest on Chikala Hill is still in good condition, but increasing pressure on the surrounding woodland by illegal settlers could eventually affect it. The miombo woodland to the west of Chikala is almost intact, but Eucalyptus plantations (3,000 ha in the year 2000) are likely to expand.