Bonn / Wakkerstroom, 31 March 2010 - A Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) Project Team and Steering Committee Meeting took place in Wakkerstroom, South Africa from 8-12 March 2010. With the WOW project currently in its final year of implementation, the two meetings brought together key international staff involved in the project and gave participants the opportunity to present the many achievements made in the context of this unique international flyway conservation initiative to date. The meetings were jointly organised by the WOW Project Coordination Unit (PCU) and the WOW Demonstration Project team at BirdLife South Africa.
The two meetings were held at the recently renovated BirdLife Visitor Centre located near the small town of Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga Province around 300 km southeast of Johannesburg. The Visitor Centre lies directly adjacent to the Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve, which is one of the eleven demonstration sites of the WOW Project and a renowned birding destination.
The meetings cooincided with the first phase of the projects final evaluation, which will be conducted throughout the course of 2010 and the evaluator also used the meeting to get acquainted with members of the WOW project team.
The presentations (see PDF versions of all powerpoint presentations on the right panel) showcased at the meeting gave the latest updates on all the WOW Demonstration Projects, WOW Regional Centres, the Critical Site Network (CSN) Tool and the Flyway Training Programme - highlighting how much has already been achieved over the course of the project.
For example, the eleven WOW Demonstration Projects, have now succesfully carried out most of their activities and each site has helped to address one or more key wetland and waterbird conservation related issues such as ecotourism, control of invasive species, education and alternative livelihoods. The development of the Critical Site Network (CSN) Tool, a state-of-the-art webportal for flyway-level information on waterbirds and the sites they use in the African-Eurasian region, is also well underway and is expected to be launched ahead of schedule at the AEWA 15th Anniversary Symposium in June this year. Furthermore, a Flyway Training Kit has been developed in the framework of the project, which can now be used to strengthen capacity for flyway conservation in Africa and Eurasia, while the four WOW Regional Centres established in Amman, Dakar, Nairobi and Moscow / Almaty have Regional Training Boards in place which can guide and help implement the actual flyway training needed in each region.
WOW Steering Committee Meeting
The fourth face-to-face WOW Steering Committee meeting was chaired by Dr. Gerard C. Boere and representatives from all the main WOW project partners (Wetlands International, BirdLife International, BfN, AEWA Secretariat, Ramsar Secretariat, UNOPS and UNEP) attended the meeting. The role of the Steering Committee is to guide and oversee the project's overall progress and performance, to coordinate the roles of the different lead organisations and to ensure that the objectives and activities of the project are considered in strategic decision-making processes within each partner organisations.
Presentation & Grand Tour of Wakkerstroom
On the final day of the meeting, Angus Burns (WWF South Africa and Coordinator of the Enkangala Grasslands Project) gave a presentation on the ecological importance of the Wakkerstroom Wetland area and an update on the latest developments surrounding the contested prospecting rights obtained by a British coal mining company in the Wakkerstroom/ Luneburg region. The case received considerable international attention (see: BirdLife International's Press Release from 14 November 2008) as the extraction of coal in the region would destroy habitats used by over 300 bird species including South Africa's national bird, the Blue Crane (Grus paradisea).
Following the presentation, meeting participants were first guided through the BirdLife Visitor Centre by Andre Steenkamp and Kristi Garland (Centre & Operations Managers of the BirdLife Visitor Centre), who highlighted the many improvements made to the facility through support from the WOW Project. This was followed by a visit of two of the community projects in Wakkerstroom town also initiated through the WOW project. Participants were then treated to a guided bus tour of the surrounding Wakkerstroom / Luneburg area, with plenty of stops for delegates to appreciate the incredible landscape, the vast wetlands and grasslands filled with abundant wildlife.
WOW Demonstration Project in Wakkerstroom
In an effort to promote the equitable distribution of tourism income around Wakkerstroom, BirdLife South Africa, through support from the WOW project, has managed to successfully develop the capacity of the local communities in and around Wakkerstroom to manage the key wetland sites and to protect Wakkerstroom's birdlife, while also enhancing community livelihoods through environmentally friendly and economically viable income-generating activities.
The community projects supported by WOW, include a "community garden" being run by a group of local women, where organically-grown vegetables are produced both for their own consumption and for sale to the hotels and restaurants in and around Wakkerstroom.
Another interesting initiative being carried out by BirdLife South Africa's Community Based Conservation Division through the support of WOW is the Indalo Carving Project, through which wood from non-native trees is being carved into sculptures of birds which are found around Wakkerstroom. The main aim of the project is to produce wooden works of art that are unique to Wakkerstroom, reflecting the cultural heritage and the theme of nature and the environment and to sell them to tourists visiting the area. As an example to others, the self-taught carver Mr. Muzi Makhubu has been able to establish an alternative livelihood in this way, which is not only contributing to local conservation by cutting down alien trees, but which also represents a healthy link between his income, the birdwatching tourism and the conservation of birds in Wakkerstroom.
BirdLife Visitor Centre
The BirdLife Visitor Centre, also known as the Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve and Training Centre lies directly adjacent to the Wakkerstroom wetlands, which are known to birdwatchers around the world as one of South Africa's best options for birding. The centre offers both accommodation and catering for tourists visiting the wetland area, basic conference and meeting services and also functions as a nature education centre for schools and provides work for a number of bird and nature guides from the surrounding rural area. The centre has recently been renovated in part through WOW support and is now being successfully managed by Andre Steenkamp and Kristi Garland, who can be contacted at: [email protected]
Wings over Wetlands (WOW) is a joint effort between UNEP/GEF (The Global Environment Facility), Wetlands International, BirdLife International, the African-Eurasian Waterbirds Agreement (AEWA), The German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and a range of donors and local partners along the African-Eurasian Flyways.
For more information please download our latest WOW Project Newsletter: Flyway Conservation at Work - Across Africa and Eurasia or contact us directly.