Tana Delta Green Heart Initiative to spur economic growth, promote conservation efforts and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation

The Tana Delta is located in the coastal region of Kenya at the end of Kenya’s longest and largest river, the Tana River. Approximately 90% of the Delta lies in Tana River County and about 10% lies in Lamu County. The Delta is an Important Bird Area, a Ramsar Site, a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), a Global Biodiversity Hotspot, and part of the Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa Hotspot. The Delta provides valuable natural resources such as rich soils, vegetation, and wildlife. The aim of the project is to create an Indigenous and Community Conserved area (95,000ha), within the middle of the Delta which is around 130,000ha and home to 120,000 people. 

Nature Kenya has worked with Tana Delta communities since 2007, firstly mounting a national and international campaign against more than seven land-grabbing projects. Subsequently, Nature Kenya successfully encouraged and facilitated national and county governments to formulate a community-led Land Use Plan (LUP) informed by a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). During the development of the LUP, a lot of data on the Delta was gathered by Nature Kenya and partners. Nature Kenya has conducted numerous surveys in the Delta since 2012, including over 100 villages, consulting men and women, youth, heads of households, and village and area leaders and elders. Their views, aspirations, plight, and suggested solutions informed all the surveys and consultations that culminated to the highly consultative LUP. 

The project, led by RSPB, was designed to demonstrate how the LUP could be implemented in the heart of the Delta, where biodiversity is richest and access to water and land is hotly contested. The Darwin Initiative supported the implementation of the Tana River Delta Land Use Plan, a framework that guides the management of land and natural resources at the Delta. The plan incorporates the adaptation of climate-smart agriculture by farmers and pastoralists which is key in improving livelihoods, building resilience to climate change, and conserving the 130,000ha Delta. The project design was aligned to respond to biodiversity conservation provisions of The Wildlife Conservation and Management Act (that allows for development of wildlife conservancies) and the Forest Conservation and Management law (that provides for community forests) offering a framework for Indigenous Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs). 

Nature Kenya also explored sustainable financing options through the Tana Delta Green Heart Initiative, alongside a plan-vivo approach to generate carbon credits to enhance livelihoods and nature values within the Delta. Although the Darwin project has recently come to an end, the Green Heart Initiative is the future hope for climate smart solutions that generate jobs, improve livelihoods and conserve biodiversity. The Tana Delta Green Heart Initiative’s vision is designed to deliver the preferred strategy set out in the Tana River Delta Land Use Plan (2014). The initiative seeks to transform the lives of people living within and around the Tana River Delta by promoting sustainable economic growth and protection of the environment, creating new jobs and livelihoods, and boosting the regional and national economy. 

“Maintaining spaces for biodiversity alongside development will be beneficial, as these ecosystems will provide a range of benefits to humans. Tana Delta Green Heart Initiative will work towards achieving this,” says Dr Paul Matiku, Executive Director, Nature Kenya. 

A Green Heartland, covering the entire Delta, will be established to include farms where production services in the area will be based on green development principles. In the model, outgrowers will practice environmentally friendly means to boost production of fish, livestock meat, milk, vegetables, rice, fruits, honey, and prawns among others. It will also include conservancies where tourists will enjoy scenery and wildlife and river boat rides as well as industrial estates where private companies, including local entrepreneurs, will set up their manufacturing, processing, collection and packaging bases. Public funds will be made available to assist in the creation of basic infrastructure, including roads, electricity, and water and sanitation facilities. Warehouses for storage will be constructed by private investors. 

The European Union, through the Community Resilience Building in Livelihood and Disaster Risk Management (REBUILD) project, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), through the Restoration Initiative project, are supporting components to set the foundation and catalyse actions in line with the objectives of the initiative. Nature Kenya, working with the Tana River County government, is scouting for potential investors and partners to ensure that the initiative’s goal is realised. There are plans to develop a follow-on Darwin project to ensure that the dream unearthed by the project 24-013 is made into a reality.

This article by John Kiptum appears in the September 2021 Darwin Initiative newsletter.

Bird Ringing in 2021 Nairobi National Museum Gardens

Ringing sessions (and training), take place weekly at the Nairobi National Museum grounds. Nature Kenya members and the general public are welcome to come and appreciate birds at close range. 

The passage of migratory Willow Warblers, Garden Warblers, Red-backed Shrikes and Lesser Grey Shrikes was outstanding this year. On one April morning, the Nairobi Ringing Group caught, ringed and released 29 Willow Warblers at the Museum grounds in the heart of Nairobi. 

The Nairobi Ringing Group was started in June 1994 in recognition of the demand for training in the techniques of bird ringing, and monitoring bird distribution and movement around Nairobi. It is a practical and participatory means through which both scientists and bird enthusiasts have been encouraged to support conservation initiatives. The main objective of the group is to recruit and train bird ringers to a high ethical and scientific standard. Trainee bird ringers are drawn from both professional ornithologists and amateur bird watchers who are keen to learn the skills and techniques to be competent and independent in handling and ringing birds. 

With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, ringing activities were put on hold from March last year. Ringing activities slowly resumed in early October 2020. This coincided with the opening of the Michuki Memorial Park, now managed by the Kenya Forest Service, and enjoined to the Museums botanical garden as a single ecosystem. A fence, providing security for birders and the general public recreation area around the Museum, now encloses the park. Since the President declared the site a park, with full protection, we have realized an increase in species diversity and some species have even increased in numbers at our ringing site. 

In a span of five months from October 2020 to March of this year we captured – and released – a total of 241 birds, out of which 47 were recaptures. A total of 33 species were captured and ringed within Nairobi National Museums ground during this time. 

As usual, the most captured species were Baglafecht Weaver (167 individuals), Red-billed Firefinch (144 individuals) and for the first time, Willow Warbler (75 individuals — the highest number of Willow Warblers captured at the Nairobi Museum ringing site). This was followed by Streaky Seedeater (48 individuals) and Northern Olive (Abyssinian) Thrush (37 individuals). Sunbirds are the most species-rich group of birds in the Museum grounds, with eight species captured. None of these have been recaptured at the site. 

Besides Willow Warblers, a good number of other Palearctic warblers were captured from November until May, with many recaptured. These included Marsh Warbler (35 individuals), Blackcap (8 individuals), and Garden Warbler (23 individuals). A Common Rock Thrush was captured for the first time on the Museum grounds. This first year (immature) bird was among early southward migrants. Most (82%) of the migrants were captured in March and April, including three Sedge Warblers, which were all captured in April. Our last migrants were captured in late mid-May. 

Some special Afrotropical species have included Green-backed Honeybird and Lemon Dove. One amazing record was of a Blue-spotted Wood Dove, a species that was not just new for the Museum grounds, but also new for the entire Nairobi region. 

All these success stories, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, show how consistent bird ringing at a common site can provide important ecological information on both local and migratory bird species. 

(We want to express our appreciation for interns at the Museums’ Ornithology Section, who regularly turned out to put up nets in the evening even during rainy days in readiness for the morning’s ringing) 

This article by Titus Imboma and Fleur Ng’weno appears in the current issue of Kenya Birding magazine.

Kamale Nature Reserve

Dakatcha Woodland Forest — a safe haven for Kilifi (Clarke’s) Weaver 

The Kamale Nature Reserve is made up of forest and several wetlands. The wetlands provide nesting habitat for the endemic and Endangered Kilifi (Clarke’s) Weaver. 

Other bird species recorded in the reserve include Fischer’s Turaco, Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Great (Black) Sparrowhawk, Chestnut-fronted and Retz’s helmetshrikes, and Eastern Black-headed Oriole. It is also home to the Endangered Golden-rumped Sengi (elephant shrew), and there have been field signs of buffalo. Through working closely with scientists from the National Museums of Kenya the local community has identified varieties of edible mushrooms. The mushrooms are now harvested for local consumption, and for sale to the tourist hotels in Malindi. 

The local Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group oversees and monitors the reserve on an ongoing basis and, where necessary, moves to mitigate illegal activities, like charcoal burning. Plans are underway to develop a site management plan, which will guide species conservation and day-to-day management of the nature reserve. 

The land was purchased by Nature Kenya with financial support from the World Land Trust, African Bird Club (ABC), RESOLVE, and DANIDA/Civil Society in Development. 

This article by Edwin Utumbi appears in the current issue of Kenya Birding magazine. 

Role of culture in the sustainable management of Mijikenda Kaya forests

Kaya forests (Ma–Kaya) are found in coastal Kenya, along a strip that is approximately 50 km wide x 300 km long. They are residual areas of once extensive, lowland forest that are relatively small in size, ranging from 10 to 400 ha. There are currently 42 Kaya forests found in the counties of Kwale, Mombasa and Kilifi that are regarded as sacred by the Mijikenda community.

 All Kaya forests bear a rich history or tradition of settlement. The word Kaya means home in most Mijikenda dialects. All ‘true’ Kaya forests once contained hidden fortified villages where the Mijikenda took refuge from their enemies when they first migrated to the region. These citadels are thought of as the resting places of their ancestors and still bear marks of human activity, particularly clearings and paths that have cultural and historical significance.

Some communities still bury their dead and perform various other traditional rituals and ceremonies in Kaya forests. For example, at the beginning of the Mijikenda year, before the rainy season, Kaya elders go to the shrines in these forests to pray for rainfall and to pray over their crop seeds.

There are a number of cultural beliefs and practices of the Mijikenda that have helped conserve Kaya forests:

  • Kaya shrines are only accessible to bonafide Kaya elders. Trespassers risk inviting the wrath of ancestral spirits, thereby deterring would-be poachers, illegal grazing and firewood collection.
  • Local community members are afraid of damaging any part of Kaya forests for fear of being summoned, grilled and reprimanded by the elders. The elders are looked upon with trepidation for being able to curse or expel a defiant individual from the clan.
  • Mijikenda communities also hold mentoring sessions (known as dhome) for young men and women in Kaya forests. Here, life skills are taught to youth transitioning from childhood to adulthood and these include teachings on the wise-use and management of natural resources.
  • For curing diseases, local communities are still very dependent on medicinal herbs, havested in Kaya forests.
  • Income-generating activities like cultural dancing and tours are also incentives for the conservation of Kaya forests.
  • Big trees mark the boundaries of Kaya forests, and felling them is prohibited. There’s a belief that bad luck will befall anyone who dares to cut down such a tree.

Kaya forests continue to be conserved by communities, and they play an increasingly important role in the protection of coastal birds, such as, Fischer’s Turaco, Southern Banded Snake Eagle, African Golden Oriole, Plain-backed and Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbirds, Sokoke Pipit, and Spotted Ground Thrush.

Examples of Kaya forests: Kaya Chonyi Forest Reserve and Kaya Jibana Forest Reserve in Kilifi County, Kaya Kwale and Kaya Bombo in Kwale, and Kaya Shonda in Mombasa County.

This article by Gibson Kitsao Mwatete appears in the current issue of Kenya Birding magazine.