• World Wetlands Day serves as an important reminder of the role of Wetland areas
  • More than 25 bird species inhabiting Wetland areas are listed as a conservation concern
  • Ford Ranger enables BirdLife South Africa to reach otherwise inaccessible areas
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA, 29 January 2021 - The 2nd of February each year is World Wetlands Day, it marks the date of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands which took place in 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea and was celebrated for the first time in 1997. Wetlands are a priority focus for BirdLife South Africa as part of its Critical Grasslands Project, which is supported by the Ford Wildlife Foundation with a Ford Ranger.

The life cycle of some bird species is particularly impacted by the wellbeing of the wetland areas. Ducks, geese and kingfishers depend wholly on wetlands, while other bird species use the reeds as a breeding habitat, to build their nest with the mud they collect or simply to quench their thirst.

“Many of our conservation efforts are focused on the preservation of species that inhabit wetlands. We aim to conserve the ecosystem services provided by estuaries, lakes and other water bodies in order to protect many bird species. Of particular focus are the more than 25 species that are listed as a conservation concern,” says Ernst Retief of BirdLife South Africa.

Apart from wetlands, BirdLife South Africa’s work also focuses on grasslands. You might ask what do grasslands and wetlands have to do with one another? But the two are closely linked.

“Grasslands are important water catchment areas and healthy grasslands can hold water for long periods of time,” explains Retief. “They also contain many rivers and smaller wetlands which host many threatened bird species such as the iconic and highly secretive Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail. It is therefore of crucial importance to ensure that grasslands remain intact and are managed correctly.”

BirdLife South Africa assisted with the declaration of several protected areas within the grassland biome. For example, the Sneeuwberg Protected Environment near Memel hosts many wetlands as well as smaller rivers and borders the Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve. The Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment near Dullstroom contains the Middelpunt Vlei which is inhabited by the White-winged Flufftail. The soon to be declared Upper Wilge Protected Environment is also an important catchment for the Wilge River. This area also provides water for the Gauteng Province, not only benefiting biodiversity, but also the human population in Gauteng.

Working with the landowners in these areas BirdLife South Africa aims to improve the quality of grasslands and their ability to catch water. This is done through the implementation of various management plans, robust discussions on burning and grazing practices and ensuring that current intact grasslands are not ploughed or destroyed. Protected area status also provides protection against unsuitable land management practices.

“Much of the work we do would not be possible without the assistance of donors like Ford South Africa. The Ford Ranger provided by the Ford Wildlife Foundation is used by BirdLife South Africa to visit landowners and to do biodiversity monitoring in otherwise inaccessible areas,” adds Retief.

The Ford Wildlife Foundation, which was established in 2014 has a long-standing involvement with conservation projects in Southern Africa through the provision of Ford Ranger Double Cab 4x4s to 25 projects across the region to ensure the sustainability of threatened and endangered animals, plant species and habitats.

“We are proud to be associated with BirdLife South Africa and the important conservation work they do. The philosophy behind the Ford Wildlife Foundation embodies one of our key Live the Ranger Life core values, ‘can’t help but help’. The loan of the capable Ford Ranger lives up to this ethos by empowering our FWF partner organisations to protect and preserve our precious natural resources,” concludes Lynda Du Plessis of the Ford Wildlife Foundation.

In addition to the Ford Ranger BirdLife South Africa are currently using for their Critical Grasslands Project, they will receive an additional Ford Ranger this month which will be used for their Threatened Species Project and Landscape Conservation Programme.