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Caring for Wetlands

…part of the solution to climate change

Today is World Wetlands Day and this year’s theme – Caring for wetlands: an answer to climate change – highlights the bonds between wetlands, biodiversity and climate change. “Caring for wetlands is part of the solution to climate change”, said Melanie Heath – Senior Advisor on Climate Change at BirdLife. “If we manage them well, wetland ecosystems and their biodiversity have a vital role to play in mitigating against, and adapting to, climate change”.

Freshwater ecosystems are vital to life on earth, despite occupying less than 1% of the earth’s surface. They provide ecosystem services – such as water, fish, water purification and flood control. “The functions provided by wetlands are essential for human survival and aid our resilience to climate change”, added Melanie. “For example, due to their ability to store and slowly release water, wetlands can be a vital lifeline in periods of extreme drought”.

But the existence of these wetlands, which are part of the solution to climate change, are themselves vulnerable to climate change, as highlighted by this year’s World Wetlands Day theme. There is plenty of evidence that modern living is causing unparalleled losses of species at the global level, and that climate change is making the situation much worse.“Wetlands are being lost and degraded faster than any other ecosystem”, said Dr Jonathan Barnard – BirdLife’s Senior Programme Manager. Nearly one in five waterbird species in the world are considered Globally Threatened by BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN Red List, and where their population’s trends are quantified 41% are in decline. “If wetland species are in trouble, wetland ecosystems are in trouble, and this is of serious concern for people everywhere”.

The importance of wetlands for people, biodiversity and climate change adaptation is something that is of crucial importance to BirdLife and our Partnership.

The Hadejia-Nguru Wetlands, an Important Bird Area and Ramsar site, lies on the southern edge of the Sahel savanna in north-eastern Nigeria, and is a floodplain comprising permanent lakes and seasonal pools, all connected by channels. The seasonal pools are particularly important as they support irrigation of land outside of the wet season, livestock grazing and fishing for the majority of the 1.5 million people of the floodplain.

Climate change has compounded wetland shrinkage caused by upstream dams built to supply water for irrigated agriculture. These developments did not consider downstream effects, and as waters have dropped and slowed Typha - a native wetland plant species - has thrived and blocked the waterways. This has prevented a natural flooding regime so that water has not been able to reach the floodplain and pools, whilst at the same time flooding areas of productive farmland upstream.As part of the ‘Wings Over Wetlands’ Project, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF / BirdLife Partner), has empowered local communities to counter the impacts of the dams by restoring wetland ecosystems through clearing the Typha. This work has not only restored a more natural flood pattern, but has also increased household incomes. Building on this success, the communities have now set up their own maintenance programme, and NCF are celebrating their achievements today at an event held at Hadejia-Nguru to coincide with World Wetlands Day.

"I am lost for words to express appreciation on behalf of my people for the effort of NCF … towards improving our livelihoods”, said The Emir (leader) of Nguru Alhaji Mustapha Ibn Galadima Kyari. “The channelisation exercise … has done so much that there is now a significant improvement in crop production, fishing and livestock rearing”.

“We in NCF, BirdLife International and the people of Hadejia–Nguru wetlands are fighting real climate change”,
said Professor Emmanuel Obot - Executive Director of NCF. “Join us because doing nothing can do a lot of damage”.

This is just one example from the BirdLife Partnership of over 110 nature conservation organisations around the world, who are jointly official partners of International Year of Biodiversity. For BirdLife the International Year of Biodiversity is an important focus of attention on the failure of nations to meet their 2010 targets of halting rates of loss. It also spotlights the need for real and binding future targets to be agreed at the next conference of the Convention of Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan this October.

4th July 2014