World Wetlands Day 2002: South Africa

05/02/2002

Mondi Wetlands Project celebrates South Africa's successes on World Wetlands Day (2 February 2002)

In contrast to the doom and gloom in the news lately, this World Wetlands Day South Africa can feel proud of its world class wetlands conservation initiatives

South Africa is at forefront of wetland conservation internationally says Mondi Wetlands Project (MWP) manager, David Lindley, who has just returned from a two week study of Australia's wetlands.

Lindley made the keynote presentation at a conference organised by Wetland Care Australia. The conference theme was "Repairing Our Wetlands: Learning by Doing", and covered wetland awareness, rehabilitation, management, monitoring, lobbying and wetland dynamics. Lindley's address was entitled "The Mondi Miracle - facilitating conservation of wetlands outside declared nature reservations". It told the story of how the MWP managed to use wetland rehabilitation as the catalyst to kick start wetland conservation outside reserves in South Africa.

MWP also received a huge compliment when Bill Mitch (co-author of W Mitch and J Gosselink's world renowned wetland "bible" Wetlands) said that the MWP is unique in using wetland rehabilitation a vehicle for catalysing wetland conservation. Mitch has never heard of anybody else in the world doing this, and thought that it was an amazing concept (he also mentioned that some wetlands in the United States had been valued at US$ 14 785/ha)."

"Probably the most heartening conclusion I came to on the trip was that South Africa is right at the forefront of international wetlands conservation," says Lindley. "Perhaps the reason for this, and our biggest strength, is that in South Africa, all wetlanders work together, from government departments to NGOs. They also work towards the same objective of developing wetlands conservation."

"By contrast, in other countries, the many organisations and individuals working on wetlands often do their own thing and specialise in their own areas of interest. Because South African wetlanders collaborate, they also have a more holistic picture of wetland conservation. South Africa must maintain, nurture and strengthen this collaboration through existing communication platforms such as the South African Wetland Action Group and the e-mail wetland forum (see address below).

Lindley also found that South Africa is streets ahead of other countries (apart from North America, and some European countries) in wetland conservation outside reserves. "This is a real achievement considering the short history of wetlands work in SA, limited funds and scarcity of professional wetlanders in the field," Lindley points out.

"South Africa is also a world leader in wetland publicity, training and lobbying," he continues. "Many countries do not have any organisations such as the MWP running wetland management training courses, nor national wetland publicity programmes. South Africa is way ahead in having a comprehensive wetland rehabilitation manual, as well as the "Wetland Use" and "Wetland Fix" field guides on wetland management.

South Africa is extremely fortunate in having the National Water Act, and the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act prohibiting the destruction of wetlands without a permit, and controlling stream flow reduction activities, Lindley points out. Although the regulations enforcing these Acts are not always implemented as efficiently as we would like them to be, they are there for our use to protect wetlands. "Equivalent laws in other countries are not nearly as robust so we should make the best use of SA's two Acts," Lindley advises.

South Africa is also fortunate in having a network of agriculture and conservation extension services, even though they appear to be falling apart in some areas. "Australians were amazed at the South African agricultural extension services," he says. "Since we are lucky enough to have them, we should develop the capacity of these services about wetlands and get them to help us in our conservation efforts."

Lindley discovered that South Africa's rehabilitation programme 'Working for Wetlands' is much larger than any rehabilitation occurring in Australia. "Australians were utterly amazed that the government had provided R30 million a year for wetland rehabilitation and that 60% was reserved for wages, something that would never happen in Australia," says Lindley.

Lindley has returned to South Africa with great pride in South Africa's wetlands conservation record. "This does not mean we can become complacent," he warns. "We still have lots of work to do. But it's fantastic to gain international recognition for our work and realise that we are on the right track."

Hot on the heels of its study tour of Australia, MWP has just launched a brand new programme on sustainable management of wetlands. The main aim is to continue catalysing wetlands conservation on the ground, this time by teaching people to manage their wetlands wisely and sustainably, says Lindley. It will be aimed mainly at agricultural extension officers, emerging farmers and communities and will be an ideal initiative to showcase at the World Summit on Sustainable Development later this year.

· For more information, e-mail David Lindley on lindley@wetland.org.za
· To join the e-mail wetland forum contact Pete Illgner at Rhodes University on P.M.Illgner@ru.ac.za.
· To obtain the wetland rehabilitation manual, or "Wetland Use" or "Wetland Fix" field guides on wetland management contact Damian Walters at dame@worldonline.co.za

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