Soche Mountain is situated right on the edge of the city of Blantyre and is one of several isolated peaks that form part of the Shire Highlands on the eastern side of the Rift Valley in southern Malawi. It rises to a height of 1,533 m and supported some 150 ha of mid-altitude rainforest in the early 1980s; the Brachystegia woodland on the lower slopes provided a buffer zone against human pressure, but the south-east slopes (both woodland and forest) have been laid bare. The 30-m-tall forest on the ridge is fairly luxuriant and still largely intact, with Albizia schimperana, Cassipourea malosana, Chrysophyllum gorungosanum, Drypetes gerrardii and two strangling Ficus spp. as dominant trees.
See Box for key species. Some 75 species have been recorded; of the East African Coast biome species, Batis soror is known from the woodland while Oriolus chlorocephalus has been recorded in the past, probably as visitor. Soche is still important for the occurrence of Zoothera guttata (of the Malawi endemic race belcheri), Alethe choloensis and Apalis chariessa; the first has been recorded breeding (the only nest record in Malawi comes from Soche) and was still present in 2000, the other two are common.
Non-bird biodiversity: Vegetation: Soche is one of only two sites for the Malawi endemic shrub Buxus nyasica, which is common in the forest understorey (it has also been recorded very locally on Mchese, northern Mulanje). A tall Cola tree, collected sterile, probably represents a new species and fertile material needs collecting urgently.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The patch of forest on nearby Ndirande Hill (on the northern edge of Blantyre) was entirely destroyed in the 1990s. The fact that some forest has remained on Soche so close to the city is probably due to its being used as a shrine, but the south-eastern slopes have been cleared, and a few trees taken elsewhere. Its proximity to Blantyre should make it an ideal site for wildlife education. Urgent action needs to be taken about this.
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Soche Mountain Forest Reserve. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 26/10/2021.