Dr Mark O’Connell
Head of Research
Wetlands Biodiversity Monitoring Scheme (WBMS)
~ Eastern Africa ~
National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi.
18th November 2003.
Honourable Assistant Minister, your excellencies, ambassadors and high commissioners, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
More than ten years ago the UK Government took part in what has become known as the ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro. At this meeting four important things happened. First, a convention on climate change was signed, in an attempt to take practical measures to reduce human influences on global climates. Second, the government agreed to implement a national strategy aimed at protecting wildlife and habitats. This is called the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
But two other events also took place at the summit, and both of these are intimately connected with tonight’s launch of the WBMS. A second international convention was signed, which provides a framework for species and habitat conservation around the globe. This is known as the Convention on Biological Diversity or CBD for short. In order that they might make a lasting contribution to the CBD, the British Government also established a fund of money which would financially support partnership conservation projects around the world. Fittingly, this fund is known as the Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species, and the WBMS is the result of a three year Darwin Initiative project.
The Darwin project is a collaboration between nine countries in eastern Africa, Wetlands International, and my own organisation called the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (or WWT). WWT is a UK based organisation dedicated to the international conservation of wetlands and their biodiversity. We are financially supported by having 107,000 members, as well as income generated by the million visitors who come to our nine nature reserves and education centres. I am head of the Research Department at WWT, and we have 24 scientists who undertake a range of research to underpin wetland and waterbird conservation.
The Darwin project started in early 2002, and has another year and a half to run. It has five main objectives:
1. To establish a regional monitoring scheme in eastern Africa – the WBMS.
2. To develop a new database specifically designed to manage data generated by WBMS.
3. To provide training within the WBMS partnership in wetland monitoring and how to use the new database.
4. To draft a wetland management plan for a site in each of the nine participating WBMS countries.
5. To develop and implement an exit strategy. We want WBMS to carry on long after the initial funding from the Darwin Project has ended, and we need a plan to ensure the scheme’s long term sustainability.
But what does my organisation bring to the WBMS partnership ? WWT has four key roles. We have coordinated the different elements within the Darwin project to actually establish the WBMS. We have produced the new WBMS database. Last week we delivered the WBMS training event at the KWSTI at Naivasha. Lastly, we have been tasked by our African partners to support the development of the WBMS exit strategy.
WWT is well placed to be involved in this work. In the UK, WWT’s Research Department is the Secretariat for a national monitoring scheme called the Wetland Bird Survey or WeBS. This scheme is a partnership between four organisations, has been running for forty years, and monitors two thousand wetlands six times each year using up to 3000 volunteers. These data are stored in a huge database managed by WWT. We disseminate this information to many different organisations, including the government and its agencies. It was this experience that prompted our involvement in the Darwin Initiative project to create the WBMS.
The underlying rationale for the WBMS and the original Darwin project is very simple: wetlands in eastern Africa are incredibly important for their biodiversity, but they are also vital social and economic resources. Humans cannot exist without water and wetlands, and like almost everywhere in the world today, wetlands in the region are threatened by human activities. We drain wetlands, we pollute them, we take too many resources from them, and we have introduced a variety of invasive alien species into many wetland habitats.
Given the importance of wetlands and their biodiversity, and the range of threats facing them, it has never been more important that we should establish a monitoring scheme to collect data to underpin their conservation. WBMS data will provide information about the types of species and habitats at key sites, and how these are changing with time. Only when we have this kind of information can management plans be developed by relevant stakeholders to try to improve the situation.
I and my colleagues from WWT are extremely proud to have been involved in the development of the WBMS. The scheme has already had an excellent start. As you have heard, it is based on the solid foundation of the AfWC and has been launched through funding from the Darwin Initiative. Having a scheme with a name and an identity is so important in ensuring that it will survive into the future. With a ‘badged’ scheme the WBMS partners are better placed to attract support, funding, and new volunteers to monitor sites. The scheme already has a range of core activities involving waterbird monitoring. But it is hoped that the WBMS will not only maintain its current work programme, but will with time develop new areas of work to support the conservation of wetlands and their biodiversity.