In the south western region of Uganda, wetlands have been extensively degraded and fragmented due to agricultural encroachment, much to the detriment of Grey Crowned Crane habitats. In such situations, when wetlands have shrunk and become too fragmented to provide suitable breeding habitat for cranes, it is necessary to look beyond the mere protection of the remnant wetlands. One of our successful interventions in the Kabale District has been the introduction of community-based environmental actions aimed at restoring three interlinked aspects: wetland biophysical attributes, crane breeding habitats and socio-economic values attached to wetlands by local communities. We achieve these impacts through community-based wetland restoration. Community-based wetland restoration involves collective action by wetland users to re-introduce native plant species (mostly papyrus) in wetland sections degraded through unsustainable plant harvesting and land clearance for agriculture. It also involves delineation of wetland buffers and community agreements on permissible wetland-based livelihoods that are compatible with the maintenance of suitable crane breeding habitats.
Our model of community-based wetland restoration was pilot-tested at Nyamuriro Wetland between 2006 and 2014. The pilot initiative demonstrated that wetland restoration can lead to increased wetland vegetation cover, protection of wetland patches for enhanced nesting success of cranes and restoration of socio-economic benefits (e.g., papyrus used as raw material for crafts and construction of roofs, ceilings and fences). Inspired by these successes, we introduced the model at another key crane site, South Kiruruma Wetland, in October 2016. Three community groups have started replanting papyrus on one section of wetland and agreed that there would not allow agricultural expansion into the restoration zone. The process of initiating the restoration project and securing community commitment was facilitated by Jimmy Muheebwa, EcoTrust Uganda’s Project Coordinator. EcoTrust is one of our national partners in Uganda. The project was funded by the Whitley Fund for Nature. Going forward, we will monitor the ecological impact of the restoration process and how it will translate into tangible benefits for the local community.