Rescue Earth System
Bird Habitat Restoration
The Rescue Earth System is a holistic suite of diverse regenerative solutions that can be applied to all levels of society, economy and the environment.
The Bird Habitat Restoration Initiative is a parallel effort to conserve / restore bird habitats that also serve as wildlife corridors. Initially the initiative will focus on the regenerative restoration of grasslands & wetlands in farmed areas.
After the bugs & bees have done the pollinating, and benefited from the nectar and pollen, birds get to devour the fruit / seeds of many shrubs and trees that are purposely planted into Permascapes.
South Africa’s Bird Report
The 2018 State of South Africa’s Bird Report provides a snapshot of the current conservation status of birds in our country. The outlook is not good, with the recently reviewed regional Red List indicating that 132 species are now threatened with extinction.
The number of Endangered and Critically Endangered bird species has increased significantly since the 2000 assessment, with 51 species now listed in these categories. Going further back, one sees that the status of our avifauna has deteriorated over the past three decades.
For example: Only 2.8% of South Africa’s Grassland Biome is currently formally protected in nature reserves and national parks, mostly in the Drakensberg Mountains. It is frightening that 65% of grassland habitat is already irreversibly transformed. Grasslands are heavily exploited for urban and agricultural development, commercial forestry and mining.
The Grassland Biome has high avifaunal significance, because it supports about 350 of the 846 bird species, 29 of the 125 Red Data bird species (Barnes 2000) and 53% of endemic bird species (Clancey 1986) occurring in South Africa. Consequently, 50 of South Africa’s 122 Important Bird Areas are in grasslands (Barnes 1998).
South African grasslands are considered an international Endemic Bird Area (EBA091; Stattersfield et al. 1998), with the priority ranked by BirdLife International as Critical due to the very high level of threat.
The White-winged Flufftail (Critically Endangered) has just been confirmed to be breeding in South Africa – not only Ethiopia as previously thought – thanks to a discovery by BirdLife South Africa’s hidden camera traps. This sheds new light on the bird’s conservation.
BirdLife South Africa
BirdLife South Africa bird-friendly burning and grazing best-practice guidelines are intended to promote awareness and conservation of threatened grassland bird species, primarily in the agricultural (red meat production) sector.
They are aimed at anyone working towards the parallel objectives of economically-viable livestock production, improved veld condition and biodiversity conservation in grasslands.
Most species of cranes depend on wetlands and grasslands for nesting and foraging. With the destruction of these habitats, for agriculture, the birds have been affected by human activities and most are classified as threatened, to critically endangered.
Regenerative Restoration Projects
Many threatened or endangered species have some part of their habitat on private land. We should be working in partnership with landowners to enhance habitat for rare species through voluntary efforts.
With our Regenerative Restoration Projects, landowners can enhance, restore and rehabilitate their landscapes with conservation approaches that can be financially beneficial.
The conservation and regenerative restoration of the Grassland Biome is of critical importance to the numbers and diversity of birds species in this rapidly degrading landscape.
Initial focus should be on livestock over-grazing (high stocking rates and grazing intensity) and unnatural fire regimes (burning too often and at the wrong time of year) that also pose serious threats to the Grassland Biome, especially to the grassland specialist species.
Bird conservation is complex and requires creative thinking, hard work and the utilisation of every tool in the conservationist’s toolbox if it is to be effective. It must also resonate with the farmer!
The most promising trend is the integration of bird conservation into ecosystem restoration using the many tools of agroecological systems. For example: natural farming systems — such as agroecology — use diverse cover crops that are highly beneficial to insects and thus insect eating birds.
Prairie strips are a new conservation technology designed to alleviate biodiversity loss and environmental damage associated with row-crop agriculture. Results from a multiyear, catchment-scale experiment comparing corn and soybean fields with and without prairie vegetation indicated prairie strips raised pollinator and bird abundance, decreased water runoff, and increased soil and nutrient retention.
These benefits accrued at levels disproportionately greater than the land area occupied by prairie strips. Social surveys revealed demand among both farm and nonfarm populations for the outcomes prairie strips produced. We estimated prairie strips could be used to improve biodiversity and ecosystem services across 3.9 million ha of cropland in Iowa and a large portion of the 69 million ha under similar management in the United States.
For birds, soil organisms, small mammals, and bees and butterflies, prairie strips also provide much-needed food and habitat. As the benefits of regenerative practices like these are made increasingly clear, the pressing question has become: What would it take to get more farms to use them?
Researchers in the USA have found that prairie strips have encouraged a 3.5-fold increase in pollinators and a 2.1-fold increase in bird species. The strips are composed of about 30 species. The native-species mixes are comprised primarily of wildflower species and between three to five grass species.
My hope is that the Audubon initiative, in addition to improving habitat for grassland birds, will inform the public of the potential for well-managed grazing operations to benefit our health and welfare, including fostering resilient landscapes, mitigating climate change and improving rural economies.
Premium Grass-fed Beef
Although there are many organisations that are committed to addressing the threats faced by South Africa’s bird populations, such as BirdLife South Africa, there is a need for a system that integrates non-traditional incentivised conservation methods, such as utilising birding tourism and the sale of premium grass-fed beef and organic produce, into the protection of birds and their habitats.
The Bird Habitat Restoration Project’s premium grass-fed red meat incentive is modeled upon Fibersheds’ very successful Climate Beneficial Verification program — instead of wool it is healthy premium grass-fed beef.
Carbon Farming Practices can be measured and monitored for the enhancement of permanent soil carbon storage, and therefore material coming from these landscapes can be verified as Climate Beneficial.
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