Dr Mary Gearey, Research Fellow from the School of Environment and Technology, presented the work from three University of Brighton research projects at the South African National Wetlands Indaba, held in the Eastern Cape town of Port Edward during 16th to 19th October 2017. The Indaba is a prestigious event, bringing together academics, environmental activists, NGOs and government officials from South Africa and beyond in a forum for mutual learning and policy development across sectors, with wetlands integrity at its heart.
Showcasing the school’s work at the conference, Dr Gearey presented the work that she and her colleagues have developed, exploring human wellbeing within a variety of UK wetlands. Particularly focusing upon community engagement to support the long term health of wetlands, Dr Gearey outlined work undertaken in the River Adur catchment, in support of the AHRC funded Towards Hydrocitizenshipand within the current WetlandLIFE project (www.wetlandlife.org) running until 2019.
As Dr Gearey explains: “The Indaba was a tremendous opportunity to learn from our African colleagues, who have consistently argued and championed for the right to a thriving and protected natural environment. Drawing upon examples of best practise from across the continent, the case studies presented at the Indaba highlighted the need to encourage practitioners, activists, and communities to collaboratively work together to problem solve in the context of both degraded environments and in light of potential climate change impacts.
Examples of collaborative interventions include the restoration of the Lake St Lucia estuarine wetlands in Kwa-Zulu Natal utilising GIS modelling to enable government departments to visualise, and so invest in, land use change; reappraising eldritch pre-colonial community totems for wetland protection in Benin and using cosmic ray probes to profile wetland hill-slope soil moisture in Swaziland in support of open source data for citizen science initiatives.
Presenting my inter-disciplinary wetlands research, with its strong focus on social science, was welcomed by the Indaba attendees. Although the social and economic contexts between the global South and North are vastly different, we all agreed that community support and engagement is essential to enable the security of wetland environments around the world. Walking through KwaZulu Natal’s beautiful San Lameer wetlands, a combination of protected indigenous wetland and constructed wetland to support the water needs of the local community, it is fantastic to see an example of both working with nature and leaving space for nature. I have been invited by wetland scientists at the University of Swaziland to share our School of Environment and Technology’s water and community work; so I very much hope to be returning to this beautiful part of the world as soon as I can.”