Working for birds in Africa

Nigerian community empowered by wetland project

Date posted: 
Friday, November 28, 2008

A collaborative project by BirdLife and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF; BirdLife in Nigeria) has empowered a community to improve a local wetland. Habitat management has greatly improved the wetland, and local people are already catching more and bigger fish. The forthcoming annual waterbird count will soon reveal how birds have also benefited.

The pilot scheme is part of the Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) project, a large collaborative initiative aimed at conserving migratory waterbirds and their habitats in the African-Eurasian region. WOW has been operational in Nigeria since the middle of 2007, and is working with local partners to foster local solutions to the environmental challenges they face with regard to the wetlands and their livelihoods.

The Hadejia Nguru wetlands are an Important Bird Area and Ramsar site in the Sahel zone of north-eastern Nigeria, and the location for the WOW demonstration project. The wetlands are an important wintering and stop-over site for waterbirds migrating between Europe and Africa. They offer respite and water for 68 species such as Ruff Philomachus pugnax and Spur-winged Goose Plectropterus gambensis.

The wetland is also very valuable to the 1.5 million farmers, herders and fishermen who depend on it for their income and subsistence. The area is a floodplain comprising permanent lakes and seasonal pools, all connected by channels. These pools are very important, as they allow fishermen to fish, and farmers to irrigate their land outside of the wet season.

However, the role of the plain, as both a habitat for birds and a livelihood resource, is under threat. Hydrological changes, caused by upstream dams and other land-use activities, have slowed the water flow through the channels, and have allowed the native Typha species - a type of reed - to thrive. This has blocked the waterways; stemming their flow, reducing the flooding needed to irrigate farms, and preventing pools from forming.

The WOW demonstration project is enabling one community - Dabar Magini - to restore an area of the wetlands. A village committee has been set up and provided with basic hand-tools to manually clear the Typha, and since the beginning of the year in excess of 10km of waterways have been reclaimed. Already local people are reporting benefits, saying pools are forming further from the lakes than before and that bigger and more fish are being caught. They're so impressed with the results that they've independently set-up a maintenance programme. An annual waterbird count will soon reveal how birds have also benefited.

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