World Wetlands Day

“What do you know about wetlands?”, facilitator, Nkanyiso Ndlela, asked the team from the Rock Farm wetland rehabilitation project  when they settled down in the shade at the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Reserve, this week.  After establishing that they were indeed very wet places, everyone shared stories about the interesting creatures, the plants, the cultural beliefs associated with wetlands.   It came as a surprise to the group to realise how important wetlands were to humanity too – storing and cleaning water and providing numerous other ecosystem services.   This day of celebrating wetlands was to teach those engaged in the restoration programme about why their work is important.

In the past, wetlands were misunderstood and many were drained for agriculture, development and dams.  Nowadays, the value of the eco-system services they provide humanity is being increasingly understood.  A healthy wetland has richer species diversity than other eco-systems and plays an important role in traditional Africa culture with medicinal plants and spiritual beliefs. Throughout the world wetlands are used to sustain livelihoods, providing access to a unique array of natural resources. They store and clean water, are havens for wildlife, provide useful materials (eg reeds) and offer fishing, recreation and tourism opportunities too.  They also help protect people and homes from floods by slowing down the flow of water through the landscape.   Small wonder then, that there are many efforts in process to protect and restore them.

One such project is the midlands wetland rehabilitation project, funded by NLDTF and implemented by Eastern Wetland Rehabilitation.  This project aims to rehabilitate four wetlands in the Nottingham road area, all of which are important for biodiversity, including the critically endangered Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus).  It is for this reason that this project is acknowledged and fully supported by the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s African Crane Conservation Programme Programme.  Wetland rehabilitation often includes the construction of gabions and weirs that are carefully placed within the wetland to slow the flow of water and reinstitute wetland functioning.  It is estimated that KwaZulu-Natal has lost the functioning and ecosystem services of approximately 50% of our wetlands.  Wetland rehabilitation is slowly giving back some of the essential services wetlands are so effective at delivering.

World Wetlands Day is celebrated around the globe in February to highlight their importance.  The rehabilitation team at Rock Farm in Nottingham Road celebrated by spending the day at the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Nature Reserve, owned and managed by the KZN Crane Foundation in Nottingham Road, learning all about the importance of wetlands and having fun at the same time.

Tanya Smith of Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), spoke about the importance of wetlands for Cranes – particularly as there is a pair nesting on Rock Farm now.  Pat McKrill brought along some snakes to help dispel myths and fear around these creatures and, after a while, even those who were nervous to begin with, held the snakes gently and realised that not all snakes were dangerous. Other activities included: playing the Windows on our World Wetland picture building game, with everyone vying to show off their newly acquired information and beat their colleagues; taking soil samples to see the differences between wetland and grassland areas and constructing model wetlands from sponges and plastic bottles to demonstrate their cleaning abilities.

Before the team, wearing their bright bandanas declaring “Nginakekela amaxhaphozi!” (I save wetlands), headed back to Rock Farm, Laila Smith-Blose thanked everyone saying “Your work is critical for the survival of our planet and we have also learned a lot from you today.”  Participant Vusi Lamula commented “I learnt a lot, especially about the crane birds. I have never seen one, but everywhere I go now, I will look for them.”  This enjoyable learning and sharing experience will go a long way to helping cranes and wetlands in the KZN Midlands.

Contact Laila Smith-Blose 072 867 0462 to find out about future workshops.

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