CFAs monitor biodiversity to conserve Mt. Kenya Forest

Humans are dependent on the biodiversity and services provided by key ecosystems such as forests. Sustainable management of these important ecosystems is therefore critical for our survival. What better way to safeguard these ecosystems than to actively engage local communities in their conservation?

In Mt. Kenya forest, for instance, local communities are increasingly getting involved in biodiversity conservation. Through community forest associations (CFAs), local people have not only been restoring degraded forest areas but also monitoring biodiversity in their respective areas. All this is thanks to a series of ongoing trainings that seek to enhance the CFAs’ capacity to sustainably manage and conserve forests using a participatory approach.

Mt. Kenya forest is an irreplaceable biodiversity hotspot with unique flora and fauna of conservation importance, which underpins its Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) status and the extant government protection. The forest is a cornerstone of Kenya’s economy through provision of varied socio-economic and ecosystem services; Mt. Kenya forest is a major carbon sink and a major water tower. However, the forest is continually experiencing serious degradation mainly due to deforestation. Building the capacity of forest adjacent communities (CFAs) in Mt. Kenya forest to develop and adopt locally driven conservation initiatives and forest disturbance monitoring can leverage a rollback on the adverse impacts of the human-related threats.

In February, Nature Kenya conducted site-based training for seven CFAs (Chehe, Ragati, Hombe, Kabaru, Naromoru, Gathiuru and Ngare Ndare Trust) stationed in Mt. Kenya West. The training’s main aim was to build the CFAs’ capacity on participatory biodiversity and forest disturbance monitoring by enhancing members’ monitoring skills, creating a positive attitude towards biodiversity monitoring and empowering the communities to detect and report trends in forest threats. Common threats identified by the communities during the training include forest fire outbreaks, illegal logging, overgrazing, pollution of water bodies, illegal game hunting, degradation of riparian areas and over exploitation of forest products.

At each site, participants were engaged in developing a monitoring protocol, setting up of a monitoring transect and practicing on the filling of data capture forms. A total of 35 people from the CFAs participated in the training. The participants agreed to be conducting biodiversity and forest disturbance monitoring twice a year (in May and September).

Promotion of participatory forest and biodiversity monitoring in Mt. Kenya is anticipated to enhance the local community’s ability to detect and report changes and threats to forest and wildlife populations for appropriate remedial action. This was recently witnessed during a forest fire outbreak in Mt. Kenya. Members of various CFAs in the region were at hand to offer assistance in containing the inferno. Kenya Forest Service (KFS) acknowledged the CFAs’ support in fighting the forest fires, noting that without them things would have been much worse. According to KFS, more that 90 CFA members were actively involved in fighting the fires.

Nature Kenya, with support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and the Darwin Initiative, has partnered with the private sector and CFAs to plant 100,000 indigenous trees to restore degraded sections of the Mt. Kenya Forest KBA. This initiative seeks strategic commitment and support from the business sector to enhance the quantity and quality of water flowing from Mt. Kenya.

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for Wind Energy and Biodiversity in Kenya

Set in the right locations, wind power is a clean, green energy source with low environmental impacts. In the wrong places, it can be a serious threat to biodiversity, especially for certain bird and bat species. Understanding where such conflicts could arise is thus crucial to planning for wind power development.

Last month, the Ministry of Energy convened a consultative meeting on the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for Wind Power and Biodiversity in Kenya at the Nairobi National Museum. The meeting brought together participants drawn from government authorities and state corporations in the environment and energy sectors, civil society and private sector agencies (both investors and wind power developers).

“The Wind Energy and Biodiversity SEA seeks to identify places critical for the survival of bird species likely to be affected by wind power. It also seeks to identify areas of low biodiversity risk for wind power development; and propose mitigation measures and other management actions that will align with international good practice. The process will make it easier to save nature as we address our quest to grow our economy through wind energy” said Dr. Matiku, Executive Director, Nature Kenya.

The SEA is being supported by USAID through its Power Africa program implemented by Tetra Tech. Tetra Tech has contracted The Biodiversity Consultancy (TBC) to lead the SEA process. The Kenya Bird Conservation Consortium (Nature Kenya, BirdLife International and The Peregrine Fund) is working in partnership with the TBC.

The meeting presented key findings and initial recommendations of the draft Wind Power and Biodiversity SEA. This included updating of sector players on progress that The Biodiversity Consultancy (TBC) and partners have achieved in terms of work done so far, preliminary results, challenges and plan.

The findings indicated that most areas with high potential for wind power are also key habitats and migratory routes for birds and bats, among other biodiversity. There is therefore need to apply caution when setting up wind farms in such areas to avert negative effects to biodiversity.  Mitigation hierarchy principles (avoidance of sensitive areas, minimization of impacts, restoration of impacted biodiversity and offsetting to ensure net biodiversity gain) and SEA recommendations need to be applied to ensure that wind power projects are indeed ‘green’.

The development of the SEA for Wind Power and Biodiversity was applauded by stakeholders present as a timely process which will promote development of sustainable wind power energy in Kenya. According to Mr. Paul Mbuthi, the Senior Assistant Director, Renewable Energy, in the Ministry of Energy, the SEA is a useful instrument in policy formulation and implementation by integrating biodiversity considerations into decisions that relate to wind power development.  He reiterated that though energy is one of the key enablers of national development, biodiversity conservation remains a matter of national priority for any meaningful sustainable development to be realized.

Vultures, Nature Kenya and Kipeto Wind Farm

Vultures are often depicted as sneaky and greedy. But these big birds are the “clean-up crew” of the vast open spaces. By feeding on dead animals, they keep the environment clean and free of disease.

Have you seen them in flight? Soaring on huge wingspans, they are a magnificent sight. Sadly, in the past few years, vultures have been on a steep decline. They are victims of poisoning, habitat loss and other threats.

Nature Kenya’s efforts to conserve vultures takes many forms. Below is the story of how a threat to vultures has been negotiated to provide a potentially good outcome.

  1. Kipeto Wind Energy Project (Kipeto) planned to build a wind farm on the edge of the Rift Valley in Kenya some years ago. The site is, unfortunately, not far from the Kwenia cliffs where Rüppell’s Vultures nest. It is also close to the ‘Karibu’ White-backed Vulture colony. Before the wind turbines could be set up, BirdLife International noted the steep decline in vulture numbers in Africa, and the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classified Rüppell’s and White-backed Vulture as Critically Endangered.
  2. A Bird Conservation Consortium (BCC) composed of Nature Kenya (BirdLife Partner in Kenya), BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat, The Peregrine Fund and the Kenya Birds of Prey Trust was formed to engage with Kipeto.
  3. The BCC recognises the need to develop wind power in Kenya. The BCC does not object to wind farms that are placed in locations that avoid significant biodiversity impacts.
  4. Unfortunately, by the time the BCC became aware of it, the Kipeto project was already well advanced in terms of design, financing, political and community support. The Kipeto
    developers recognised the biodiversity challenge and subjected the project to International Finance Corporation (IFC) performance standard 6. The only way the project could lead to net biodiversity gain was through a biodiversity offset mechanism.
  5. IFC Performance Standard 6 recognizes that protecting and conserving biodiversity, maintaining ecosystem services, and sustainably managing living natural resources are fundamental to sustainable development. As a matter of priority, the client should seek to avoid impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services. When avoidance of impacts is not possible, measures to minimize impacts and restore biodiversity and ecosystem services should be implemented. For the protection and conservation of biodiversity, the mitigation hierarchy includes biodiversity offsets, which may be considered only after appropriate avoidance, minimization, and restoration measures have been applied. A biodiversity offset is designed and implemented to achieve measurable conservation outcomes that can reasonably be expected to result in no net loss and preferably a net gain of biodiversity.
  6. The BCC initially opposed the Kipeto project because of its placement and the potential impact on threatened vultures. Vultures were likely to collide with the wind turbines and transmission lines. Although the developers offered resources for vulture conservation, the BCC did not see a credible plan for mitigation.
  7. With the leadership of Actis Limited, the Kipeto developers chose to positively engage with the BCC to look for a better solution. The BCC set specific conditions for engagement with the project. These covered, among others, plans for effective on-site mitigation and off-site offset activities, development of measures to demonstrate ‘net gain’, appropriate long-term governance and finance arrangements, recognition of the BCC’s ongoing watch-dog role, and recognition that BCC engagement does not imply endorsement of the project location.
  8. These conditions have been met. The BCC has since taken the measured decision to engage positively with the project and to bring our expertise to bear on mitigation and offset activities. Given the context at Kipeto, our judgment is that this approach has the best chances of positive long-term outcomes for vultures.
  9. Proposed on-site mitigation measures at the Kipeto site include, but are not limited to:
  • Continued pre-construction monitoring of vultures, resident raptors, migratory raptors and other migratory soaring birds, to understand seasonal and daily variation in activity patterns, inform the design of mitigation measures, and improve estimates of potential project impacts. Detection rate experiments for bird and bat carcasses beneath turbines will also be undertaken, to calibrate subsequent collision fatality monitoring. Further monitoring of bat activity at proposed turbine sites will also be carried out.
  • Shut-down on demand, carcass clearance and collision fatality monitoring on site.
  1. Offset measures are still being discussed. They include, but are not limited to:
  • Supporting a geographically-focused integrated anti-poisoning programme, to address one of the most serious threats facing these species in the region.
  • Offsets for other raptors and soaring birds, to achieve at least no net loss for these important components of the natural environment. These offsets will focus on retrofitting of dangerous electrical distribution lines, to prevent the deaths of birds from electrocution.
  1. The BCC has made decisions throughout based on obtaining the best outcomes for vulture conservation. This project has also provided valuable learning for financial institutions, governments, and developers for improving application of the mitigation hierarchy in future. For example, BCC has since been actively involved in the development of a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for Wind Energy and Biodiversity in Kenya, which is near completion. This will help in guiding developers and the government in optimal placement of future renewable energy developments to avoid cumulative negative impacts on vultures and other sensitive biodiversity.

Conservation of African vultures takes center stage at global bird race

The spectacular ‘Champions of the Flyway’ global bird race will take place in Israel this month. For the first time ever, Kenya will be participating in the race with a team comprising of three Nature Kenya and three NABU (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union, BirdLife in Germany) staff. Conservation of African vultures is this year’s race focus, with proceeds raised from the event earmarked for this cause.

A project in Africa, Kenya to be precise, has been chosen as the beneficiary of funds raised by the event. The project – ‘Preventing Poisoning to Save Africa’s Vultures’ – is currently running in Maasai Mara, Narok County. Under this project, Nature Kenya, the Peregrine Fund, BirdLife International and the Kenya Birds of Prey Trust are involved in several initiatives aimed at reducing poisoning-related wildlife deaths. Teams signed up for the race are also independently raising funds to help tackle the rapid and catastrophic decline of African vultures.

‘Champions of the Flyway’ is an annual event organized by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (BirdLife in Israel) in partnership with BirdLife International. This year, seventeen teams of birders from across the globe will converge at Eilat, southern Israel, from 20th March to compete in a 24-hour race to identify bird species at a designated area (the whole of southern Israel). The race will take place on 26th March with the team identifying the most bird species being crowned the 2019 ‘Champions of the Flyway’.

Nature Kenya’s Paul Gacheru, Rebecca Ikachoi and James Mutunga will be joining forces with NABU’s Dirk Wegener, Thomas Tennhardt and Werner Schroeder under team ‘Zeiss Vultures Unlimited’. The team is raising funds to support community awareness on the negative impacts of wildlife poisoning, create local community champions for vulture conservation and train KWS rangers and community members on rapid response to wildlife poisoning incidents in the Maasai Mara area. They will be battling it out with teams of birders from the United Kingdom (UK), the United States (US), Holland (the Netherlands), Italy, Canada, South Africa, Switzerland and Israel.

The ‘Champions of the Flyway’ race is a culmination of an intensive fundraising exercise for the benefit of birds. Every year a conservation cause is chosen, in collaboration with BirdLife International, and all participating teams raise money and awareness for the chosen cause. The campaign has raised over $350,000 for bird conservation projects in Georgia, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Turkey, Serbia and Croatia.

The 24-hour bird-spotting race also generates great drama and excitement and reaches out to a huge international audience with over one million people being exposed to the project annually via social media platforms.

‘Champions of the Flyway’ is the brainchild of the Israel Ornithological Center of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. Having an exciting bird race at the peak of migration to catch the attention of birders was the idea behind the event.

Your support counts!

African vultures are under serious threat of extinction. These majestic birds that act as nature’s “clean-up crew” need your support to remain in the skies. You can participate in this cause to save African vultures by supporting team ‘Zeiss Vultures Unlimited’ achieve its fundraising target. To find out more or make a donation kindly type this link on your web browser: http://bit. ly/2D9WooL  and hit the enter key.

You can also visit the ‘Zeiss Vultures Unlimited’ official webpage http:// www.champions-of-the-flyway.com/vulturesunlimited/ or check out the ‘Champions of the Flyway’ film https://youtu.be/fFdUXCh1zGo to get a real feel of the event.

Raising butterflies to conserve forests

Butterflies are some of the most beautiful insects on earth. Fluttering their coloured and patterned wings, these charming creatures arouse awe and a sense of harmony wherever they fly. The Taita Hills forests are home to many of these flying beauties. As a matter of fact, there are three butterfly species that are endemic to these forests – found nowhere else on Earth.

Chawia forest is among the three remaining large forest fragments in the Taita Hills. At the fringe of this forest, a group of youth is engaged in butterfly farming, proving that there’s a financial stake in keeping the forest intact. Comprising of 14 members, the Chawia Youth Group rears and sells butterfly pupae as one of its core livelihood activities. What sets this group apart from others is its determination to keep Chawia forest conserved by encouraging the planting of indigenous trees.

“This forest is very important to us because the butterfly species found here are dependent on it and its indigenous trees,” explains Amos Mwamburi, a member of the group.

The group considers conservation of Chawia forest a priority as it is directly linked to their livelihoods. The group has a tree nursery with over 4,000 seedlings, mostly indigenous ones. This year they are planning to plant 1,000 trees as part of their forest restoration initiative. The trees intended for planting are those mostly preferred by butterflies. In addition, each member of group has planted trees in their farms.

To raise butterflies, they start with butterfly eggs, which hatch into tiny caterpillars. The caterpillars feed on the leaves of certain forest trees. They grow and grow. When they are big enough, the caterpillars turn into pupae. Inside the pupa, the caterpillar transforms into a. butterfly. After a few days or weeks, the adult butterfly will hatch from the pupa.

More than 25 types of butterflies inhabit Chawia forest, including Cymothoe teita and Papilio desmondi teita, a subspecies of Desmond’s Green-banded Swallowtail. These two butterflies are endemic to Taita Hills forests. Some species of swallowtails and pansies can also be found in Chawia forest.

According to Mwamburi, on average the group sells around 200 butterfly pupae per month, translating to Ksh.11,000. The pupae are either sold to Kipepeo Centre in Gede near Malindi or to brokers, depending on the butterfly type. The pupae are in turn exported abroad for live exhibits. Kenya has over 800 butterfly species and is ranked among the world’s leading producers of pupae.

“One good thing about butterflies is that they lay many eggs. A single butterfly can lay up to 150-200 eggs, and if these manage to reach the pupae stage, we are talking of over 100 pupae from just one butterfly,” says Mwamburi.

Although the group’s members rear two of the Taita endemic butterflies, Mwamburi is quick to point out that they do not sell their pupae.

“We do not sell the Papilio desmondi teita and Cymothoe teita pupae. We release adults of these two butterfly subspecies into the wild to increase their numbers,” he says.

Butterfly farming has enabled Mwamburi and his colleagues to not only earn a livelihood but also to actively advocate for conservation of Chawia forest.

“We carry out awareness activities around here, where we encourage community members to plant indigenous trees in their farms. People are now beginning to appreciate the importance of conserving our forests which also serve as sources of water. We stand to lose a lot if these forests are destroyed,” he adds.

Like the other surviving indigenous cloud forests of Taita Hills, Chawia has suffered substantial vegetation loss and degradation over the years. Currently, only about 86 ha of the original Chawia forest remains.

The Taita Hills comprise two main mountain massifs, Mbololo and Dawida, rising from the dryland below. The forests that remain on the hilltops are extensively fragmented. Taita Hills forests are part of the Eastern Arc, one of 34 global biodiversity hotspots, and are ranked as one of Kenya’s Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). Two Critically Endangered birds are only found in these forest remnants: Taita Thrush (Turdus helleri) and Taita Apalis (Apalis (thoracica) fuscigularis). Severe fragmentation, isolation and decline in quality and extent of indigenous forest cover in Taita Hills pose major threats which affect the breeding success and survival of the two bird species. Helping the community to conserve the forests is therefore vitally important.

Nature Kenya, under the ‘People Partner with Nature’ program, has been supporting communities living adjacent to the Taita Hills forests to engage in income generating activities, such as butterfly farming, beekeeping, eco-tourism, among others, that reduce pressure on the environment. The program is being implemented in partnership with DOF (BirdLife in Denmark) with financial support from DANIDA/ CISU. The overall objective of the program is to ‘reduce the destruction of forested KBAs and contribute to the realization of best participatory forest management practices for the benefit of all.’ This program is also running in Arabuko- Sokoke Forest and Dakatcha Woodland in Kilifi county.