GUEST BLOG: Why the ‘Birds People’ of Kinangop grasslands, Kenya will continue singing for Sharpe’s Longclaw
World Land Trust (WLT) announced its first land purchase in Africa last year, now guest blogger Ms Joan Gichuki from Nature Kenya tells WLT about the launch of the reserve in Kenya and the African Regional Committee meeting of Birdlife, which was held at Kinangop.
“The launch of the Kinangop Leleshwa reserve coincided with the Africa Regional Committee of Birdlife held on 2ndApril 2011 at the Kinangop Eco-Resource centre. Dignitaries and members from Birdlife partners attended the meeting and the launch. The Chairman of Birdlife Council for African Partnership, Mr. Mourad Amari launched the Kinangop Leleshwa Nature Reserve and thanked WLT for supporting the noble project. He also congratulated the Friends of Kinangop Plateau (FoKP) members for enhancing development in the area; building capacity of its members and promoting livelihoods and conservation of grassland species. He added that Kenya was a good example of how local communities can drive the conservation agenda with support from local Birdlife partner Nature Kenya, and appreciated the support received from WLT in purchasing the Reserve. The launch of the Reserve also coincided with the birthday of the Chief Executive of WLT, Mr. John Burton and the launch of the reserve was a birthday present from Nature Kenya. The purchase of 51 acres of land through WLT’s funding in 2010 has brought a lot of joy to the local community. As I walked to the Community Eco Resource Centre, I could not help but notice the joy in their faces.The launch day was a big and special day to the locals. The indeed gigantic Aberdare Mountains to the south of the plateau seemed to be smiling and a whitish mist was rising above the vegetation on the slopes and a ray of sunlight passing through the dark clouds, it was a beautiful morning. Lake Naivasha was visible on the western side of the plateau and could be viewed within 100 metres from the Eco-resource Centre”.
Conservation and the local community
Joan retells the memories of Joakim Kiiru, one of the founder members of Friends of Kinangop Plateau and a committed conservationist, and explains how local communities are now involved in conserving their local biodiversity.
“Joakim Kiiru can remember vividly the beautiful expansive green grasslands in Kinangop in the 1960’s like back of his hand. The chilly damp air, big rivers with clean fresh water and thousands of beautiful birds, soft green grass for livestock are now a thing of the past. Out of 77,000 hectares of natural grasslands, only a small portion remains, much of the land is under intensive cultivation which is further fragmented due to population increase. Birds including Sharpe’s Longclaw and other important biodiversity no longer have a paradise to enjoy but a shrinking area which threatens their own survival. In the mid 1990’s a group of local community members formed a local conservation group, the Friends of Kinangop Plateau (FOKP) to promote conservation of the grasslands and key species and try to reverse the negative trends (the local community nicknamed the group the ‘Birds People’, meaning people who did not take development seriously but concentrated on watching birds). Since then, a number of interventions have been put in place including the purchase of 3 nature reserves including one with support from WLT. Other interventions include; construction of an Eco Resource Centre to promote environmental education and raise awareness of the importance of conserving the grassland. Development of alternative livelihood options such as sheep rearing, wool spinning and beekeeping also help preserve many acres of private land for conservation. The local leaders and community members no longer need to be convinced that birds can bring alternative development to the people and important visitors to Kinangop. They have found out that bird tourism is as important as the big game that Kenya is known for.”