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Action Plan for White-winged Flufftail must address migration question

Local community support essential

A workshop to develop an International Single Species Action Plan for Endangered White-winged Flufftail Sarothrura ayresi has been held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The workshop was convened by the Africa Partnership Secretariat of BirdLife International, and hosted by the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (EWNHS, BirdLife in Ethiopia).

Although the flufftail has been recorded at nine wetland sites in South Africa between November and March, the only evidence of breeding comes from three wetland sites in the central highlands of Ethiopia between July and September.

It is not known whether a single population migrates between Ethiopia and South Africa, or each country hosts its own sub-population. Studies by EWNHS have suggested that the birds, which breed in Ethiopia remain well into the dry season, and may wander within the country, rather than migrating.But the flufftail’s seasonal marshes in Ethiopia are threatened by excessive trampling and grazing by livestock, human disturbance, cutting of marsh vegetation, drainage, catchment erosion and water abstraction, among others.

During the workshop, existing National Species Action Plans for South Africa and Ethiopia, developed in 2003, were used as the basis for updating both the threats and the actions required to address them, on an international basis.

Three days of intensive work (including visits to two of the breeding sites) generated a realistic and achievable international species action plan, as well as a renewed sense of urgency and vigour for the activities needed to ensure the continued survival of this threatened species.

The action plan includes measures to increase the population by increasing the extent of suitable habitat. Key among these will be innovative actions to reduce habitat destruction, degradation and disturbance caused by intensive livestock grazing at the known core breeding areas in Ethiopia.However, it was recognised that the securing of suitable habitat at breeding areas in Ethiopia needs to be done through sustainable use under community-based conservation programmes.

“The marshes occupied by this species in Ethiopia are an integral part of the livelihoods of resident communities – mainly providing pasture for dairy cattle. The White-winged Flufftail habitats cannot therefore be secured without full engagement of these communities,” said Ato Geremew Gebre Selassie of EWNHS.

Much important work involving local communities is already being done by Site Support Groups like the Berga Bird Lovers IBA Local Conservation Group. These initiatives need to be extended to other sites.

But before environmental management plans can be developed, many substantial gaps in our knowledge must be filled – not least, the mystery over the flufftail’s seasonal movements.

Also attending the workshop was a representative from Middelpunt Wetland Trust in South Africa, a trust created specifically for conservation of the White-winged Flufftail. Local and national government representatives from both Ethiopia and South Africa contributed to the effectiveness of the workshop.

4th July 2014