The sustainable use of wetland resources can benefit both wildlife and local communities

Fishing is an important livelihood for communities at the Koshi Tappu wetland © B. Pandeya

Wetland ecosystems are critically important, not just for wildlife, but also for the livelihoods and well-being of people living in and around them. Unsustainable resource extraction has led to declines in biodiversity and is threatening many local livelihoods. BirdLife Partners are working with Local Conservation Groups around the world to tackle this issue, with some promising results.

Naturally-functioning wetlands are among the world’s most productive environments, providing a range of under-appreciated benefits and services for people's livelihoods and well-being (e.g., food, fibre, flood protection, water purification and cultural values). They are also extremely important habitats for wildlife such as waterbirds, fish and insects. At least 12% of all globally threatened birds depend on wetlands.

However, wetlands are often extremely vulnerable. Over recent decades, increasing demands for land, water, food and raw materials is putting wetland habitats under great pressure, reducing their ability to provide multiple benefits to people and seriously threatening native biodiversity. Unexpected flooding events, falling fishstocks and pollution are common outcomes of the impacts of unsustainable use. Demonstrating how sustainable wetland resource use can benefit both biodiversity and local people can provide a practical solution to this global issue.

BirdLife Partners are working with local communities around the world to address the key threats to biodiversity and support the livelihoods of local people.

One example is the Nyabarongo wetlands, which are a series of marshes in part of the flood-plain of the Nyanbarongo river, the longest river in Rwanda. This unprotected wetland Important Bird Area (IBA) has benefitted from recent work carried out by Association pour la Conservation de la Nature au Rwanda (ACNR, the BirdLife Partner in Rwanda). Until recently, the wetlands were being exploited unsustainably through fishing and harvesting of gull eggs leading to environmental degradation and increased poverty. Working with the local community, ACNR has supported the development of a local cooperative, CEDINYA. By building the capacity of this institution, helping them to defend their resources against illegal use by outsiders, raising awareness of relevant legislation, and helping to provide access to new markets, the project has benefitted both biodiversity and the local community. Providing training in the production of high quality products made from materials harvested from the wetland, such as baskets, has increased household incomes. Improving the efficiency of current processes for smoking fish has reduced the pressure on this food source for bird species and increased fishermen’s incomes by 18.5%.

A similar situation occurred in Burkina Faso’s Sourou Valley Wetlands IBA. Naturama (BirdLife in Burkina Faso) worked with women living around the lake, to develop a micro-credit scheme, providing money to these women to improve fish–smoking techniques including buying improved stoves to reduce firewood consumption. The results have been considerable: income from fish smoking and drying has increased the number of women who can afford to attend neonatal classes from 10% to 70%—a direct contribution to Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 on improving maternal health.

Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, an IBA and Ramsar site in the Terai of south-east Nepal, is by far the most significant wetland staging post for migratory waders and waterfowl in the country. Historically, the relationship between local people and the reserve has been poor. For marginalised and disadvantaged communities, the reserve regulations can seem oppressive—denying them access to much-needed resources and livelihood options. Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN, BirdLife in Nepal), in collaboration with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) helped establish fishponds in the indigenous Malaha community that has been suffering from dwindling fish resources—resulting in more destructive fishing practices, including indiscriminate gill-net fishing, electric fishing and the use of poisons. The creation of the ponds provided 40 households with a secure livelihood in aquaculture, whilst reducing the pressure on wild fish stocks. The project also promoted alternatives to fishing. For example, women from some of the most impoverished communities received training and materials to create handicrafts. This included learning to weave mats from the stems of Typha—a common wetland grass.

These examples from around the world demonstrate how it is possible to use wetlands sustainably at Important Bird Areas for the benefit of people and biodiversity.

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Compiled: 2012    Copyright: 2012   

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BirdLife International (2012) The sustainable use of wetland resources can benefit both wildlife and local communities. Downloaded from on 03/03/2024