By Jabes Okumu, Mary Waweru and Obaka Torto
Lake Ol’ Bolossat, Kenya © Fabian Haas
With funding support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership (CEPF), three organisations working in the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot have been at the forefront to conserve Lake Ol’Bolossat, a freshwater lake in central Kenya. These organisations are the East African Wildlife Society (EAWLS), the Cranes Conservation Volunteers (CCV) and the National Museums of Kenya (NMK).
In 2016, Lake Ol’Bolossat was listed as an "IBA in danger" by BirdLife International - a designation that called for urgent measures to combat threats to the lake. ("IBA" stands for "Important Bird and Biodiversity Area". The lake is also an Eastern Afromontane Key Biodiversity Area.)
Water is life
According to an interview conducted by EAWLS in 2017, the majority of inhabitants around the lake, which measures 43.3km2, would lose their livelihoods in 10 to 15 years if urgent conservation measures were not implemented. The lake supplies water to the famous Thomson Falls in Nyahururu Town and the Ewaso Ngiro River, supporting a large population of people, livestock and wildlife downstream.
Human influences caused significant changes in the function and quality of the lake. Widespread land development and clearing have caused increased erosion. Stream channelization, dam construction, discharge of industrial wastes and sewage have become a source of pollution. The use of the wetland as drainage for agriculture and filling for industrial or residential development have imposed irreversible impacts to the lake, including massive shrinking of the lake itself. As a result, wildlife around the lake compete for diminishing water, pasture and food resources with people and livestock.
Fishermen on Lake Ol’ Bolossat, Kenya © Fabian Haas
However, with the recent designation of Lake Ol’ Bolossat as a protected wetland, the area is now on an upward spiral to full revival.
Gazetted, protected, managed
Supported by EAWLS, the cabinet secretary in charge of Environment and Forestry, through gazette notice no 179, declared Lake Ol’ Bolossat a wetland protected area under Kenya’s Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA) effective July 4th, 2018. This designation was made possible by the County Government of Nyandarua, relevant national government agencies, conservation NGOs and representatives from the local communities. EAWLS also facilitated the production of a new management plan for the, now protected, lake.
A proposed new conservation model for Lake Ol’ Bolossat puts the local community at the centre of the lake's sustainable management. EAWLS brought together the different local community groups and resource users around the lake to deliberate on how best to collaborate in their conservation efforts. This process led to the formation of an umbrella community-based organisation, the Lake Ol’Bolossat Community Conservation Group (LOCCOG). This Group will act as liaison for the local community groups and link them to potential partners and other stakeholders. LOCCOG will help manage the KBA, in line with the new management plan.
In order to track the impacts of the gazettement, and of the new co-management agreement, on the biodiversity status of the KBA, the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) conducted a Rapid Biodiversity Assessment (RBA) within the lake and surrounding area, to establish a biodiversity baseline and a monitoring protocol. The RBA results (as yet unpublished) include 311 plant species, 264 bird species, 96 species of invertebrates, 7 species of fish and 7 mammalian species.
Grey Crowned Cranes at Lake Ol’ Bolossat, Kenya © Fabian Haas
Crane poaching attempt stopped
One of the flagship bird species of lake Ol' Bolossat KBA is the Grey-crowned crane. In collaboration with EAWLS and NMK, Cranes Conservation Volunteers (CCV) implemented a project to directly address the threats to cranes in Lake Ol’Bolossat from August 2018 to September 2019. The project involved close and continuous engagement with the local communities through awareness campaigns, training and active participation in conservation activities. CCV reached out to thirteen different community forums, ten primary schools, and five secondary schools. Twenty-one local crane observers were trained in the basic characteristics of cranes, and then assigned to crane breeding sites to 'observe and protect'. In one incident, local community crane volunteers stopped an attempted poaching event - thus proving that they fully understood the value of crane conservation. Local community appreciation for the Grey-crowned crane also led to the rise of CCV membership by seven per cent during the project period and the number of fledgling crane chicks have been on the rise, which is further indication of successful conservation in the area. CCV members also assisted with NMK's Rapid Biodiversity Assessment, providing useful local knowledge while learning new skills.
Integrated conservation efforts
In the case of Lake Ol' Bolossat, CEPF supported three different, but complementary, types of interventions: (1) local engagement, awareness, and tangible conservation action on the ground; (2) protected area advocacy, and a highly inclusive process of management planning; and (3) establishment of a scientific baseline and a monitoring protocol, as well as the production of a visual baseline of lake Ol' Bolossat before it was gazetted: watch the video here (Fabian Haas/Pixels on Screen).
It is obvious that the lake is worth protecting, for its beauty, its biodiversity, and for the services it provides to the people. The building blocks are now in place to make it all happen, for real.
BirdLife International runs the Regional Implementation Team (RIT) for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) investment in the Eastern Afromontane Hotspot (2012 -2019). The investment is now completed and the programme closes on 31 March 2020. See the interactive map of all projects implemented under the CEPF Eastern Afromontane Hotspot programme here.
The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of l'Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation. More information on the CEPF can be found at www.cepf.net.