Leading the fight against invasive plants in Zambia
Birdwatch Zambia's Nature's Heroes of 2017 are the Meembe Site Support and Farmers Group, who take care of the Lukanga Swamp IBA, an enormous wetland in central Zambia.
The Nature's Heroes award recognises the Meembe Site Support and Farmers Group success in working with the Zambian BirdLife Partner to stimulate interest in, and further the conservation of, wild birds and their habitats, through various conservation actions and awareness initiatives within and around the IBA.
The 330,000 ha IBA consists of a core of permanent swamp surrounded by the floodplains of several rivers. Most local people, who live on higher ground which remains dry throughout the year, are engaged in small scale fishing and farming.
The swamp has been invaded by Kariba weed
Over 300 bird species have been recorded in the swamp, including Wattled Crane and African Skimmer, and the wetland is home to many large mammals such as the threatened marsh antelope, the Sitatunga.
In recent years the swamp has been invaded by Kariba weed (Salvinia molesta), a floating plant native to Brazil which can form mats up to two feet thick on the surface of the water. The weed blocks access for fisherman, birds and mammals, and when it decays, starves fish and other aquatic life of oxygen. In the absence of a biological control, it can only be removed mechanically or manually, but is so prolific that it can return to cleared areas in as little as a month.
Among their other activities, the 22 members of the Meembe Site Support and Farmers Group have led the community in clearing Kariba weed.
“The overwhelming response that the ordinary community members have shown by getting involved in the annual removal of the invasive plant indicates that the conservation awareness promoted by the Meembe Site Support and Farmers Group is bearing positive results”, said Kelvin Mkandawire, BirdWatch Zambia's Site Support Group coordinator.
“The removal of the Kariba Weed from parts of the wetland helps the habitat recover lost oxygen, opens up blocked breeding areas for fish species, and makes movement of local fishermen easier”, Kelvin added. “The action also opens up foraging areas for waterbirds and waders, most of which are migratory species that depend on this Ramsar Site.” Fishermen, and the local traders who sell their fish, have reported improvements in their catches following weed clearance.
The Site Support Group works with the Zambian Government's Fisheries Department to enforce fishing regulations. In addition to Birdwatch Zambia, they collaborate with other conservation NGOs, and with research teams from institutions such as the Copperbelt University, and the University of Zambia.
Their work meets several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all, as part of a new sustainable development agenda with specific targets to be achieved by 2030